Notes from a participant in the first Hermetic Conversation—June 8, 2016:
Tarot Study, 6/8
Fragments of quite a rich conversation….
June, Joel, and Phillip were present.
We began by lighting the candle and saying the Lord’s Prayer through the chakras.
June spoke the invocation, which was the two quotes at the beginning of the first Letter.
We took out The Magician, and let our gaze and thoughts dwell on him for about five minutes.
Then we shared our afterimages:
– It feels ever more alive the more one ponders it
– it feels as though he might do anything at any moment
– there is a great Silence behind and above him, with great activity below
– on closer inspection, there is a diagonal line created by the baton he is holding. Above this line, all is tranquility and infinity; below there is variety and activity. We find the four suits of the Minor Arcana – above, the batons and cups (the higher levels of the Sephiroth) and below the swords and coins (the lower levels of the Sephiroth). The dice represent the 10 numbered cards. It appears the Magician has “analyzed the synthesis;” he has unpacked his bag and is studying (playing with?) the Minor Arcana.
– with whom did these images originate? what occult stream?
– images in existence from the 15th century; writings on the images from the 17th century onward
– in the Rosicrucian schools, they would omit “Christo” from the phrase “In Christo Morimur;” the name was too holy to say. The implied but unseen element in the Wheel of Fortune is the Cross – a signature of the Rosicrucians?
– Marsilio Ficino – Catholic Priest, astrologer, Neoplatonist – possible source?
Pondering the imagery lead naturally into an attempt to reconstruct the first Letter. Our discussion wove in and out of this reconstruction.
Secret, Arcanum, Mystery. What are they? MOT vs. occult school of Mebes.
Christian Hermeticism – we are all students, our master is Christ, the Second Birth is our Initiation and Mystery.
St. Anthony – reminiscent of “The healthy social life is found when in the mirror of each human soul the whole community finds its reflection; and when, in the community, the virtue of each one is living.”
In some spiritual groups (including Anthroposophy), the attempt is made to “leave the personality at the door;” to empty ourselves in order to be filled with the spirit.
For the Hermeticist, the Personality should become an Arcanum; it should not be discarded, it should become the garment of Christ. Christ initiates the other through us, sometimes without us being aware of it.
If we leave the personality behind, we don’t confront our shadow. This is dangerous. We also lose our heart-warmth.
“Fire within did burn” – the arcanum must exist within to enliven the arcanum without.
Personality marrying individuality; image marrying likeness; Platonic marrying Aristotelian. Individuation.
The Parable of Talents (pg 38). Goethe says the Personality is the highest treasure.
How do we confront the shadow? Moral purification must precede silent concentration. Schiller – Spirit permeated by the passion of the Shadow; shadow purified by the light of the Spirit. This turns work into play.
St. Peter = Head; St. John = Heart. The contrast between page 6 and 10. What is the task of the Church of John if the Church is “beheaded?”
A tightrope walker (thinking heart) vs the pure thinking a la Philosophy of Freedom. We forget that pure thinking is only exercise for something higher, not an end in itself.
The simple way of describing the Arcanum is the Rules of the Game. We cannot accomplish anything until we learn the rules. Like learning an instrument – first it is incomprehensible, then very difficult, then a joy.
Are we tuning our instrument, practicing, when we read these Letter Meditations?
Psychosynthesis. Roberto Assagioli. Redeeming the Shadow.
The redeemed Shadow within is the “secret weapon” against the Shadow without. A Good that could not be without the Fall.
We closed with the Lord’s Prayer in the Tree of Life and PT 1 of the practice.
We’ve gotten through about page 7 in our recapitulation of the first Letter.
Notes from another participant:
Thoughts from our first meeting
The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.
(John iii, 8)
“The words of the Master cited above have served me the key for opening the door to comprehension of the first Major Arcanum of the Tarot.” (p3.)
“At the head of the whole school was the professor of special mathematics from Pages College (Pageskiy Korpus) in St. Petersburg, Professor Gregory Ottonovitch Mebes. … Although the teaching and the experiences of this group of St. Petersburg Esotericists lives now in the soul of the author of these Letters only as a general impulse received in his youth to penetrate the symbolism of the Tarot more deeply — indeed, until now he has not at all drawn upon this teaching for these Letters (the Tarot having been revealed to him during the forty-five years which followed in a new light and surpassing, with respect to its significance and its depth, all that he had learnt from the teaching and experience of the St. Petersburg group).” (p590-91)
In the work by Mouni Sadhu, The Tarot, he describes that this book is essentially the same content as what was taught by Mebes:
“As a basis for the lectures, I used, apart from the works of other competent exponents, the unique book by prof. Gegory Ossipowitch Mebes, a leading authority on Hermeticism in Russia prior to 1917. Actually, it was not even a proper book, but rather a series of lectures duplicated on very large sheets of thick paper (about 12” x 15”), with all the diagrams made by the author’s own experienced hand.
“It was never for sale on the open market as a book and only a few initiated circles of students were lucky enough to get a copy. We bought ours from a Russian refugee who brought the book with him in 1919, when fleeing from his country which had just fallen into Communist hands.
“Gradually, as our knowledge grew in the course of seven years spent on intensive study, I began to write my own work, which was intended to be a synthesis and condensation of all that we were able to learn about the Tarot and its practical use. Under this use, I understand the application of ideas expressed in the Major Arcana (these are given under three ‘veils’, according to the three worlds recognized in the Tarot’s sister system—the Kabbalah) as being: a guide to creative thinking; for the development of the ability of concentrated, deliberate thinking; for the direction of thoughts and feelings into channels as indicated in the Arcana, and finally, as an approach to the ultimate mystery of the Tarot-Kabbalah-Magic unity, the Unmanifested Spirit, the Ain-Soph, the Unknowable.” (pps. 12-13)
In the first Chapter he discusses the nature of Arcana as symbols, placing them in the context of the threefold continuum of Secret – Arcanum – Mystery, just as the unknown author does in MoTT:
“In Hermeticism, INITIATION is based on what are known as ARCANA, or mysteries. Here should be explained the difference between the three terms known in Latin as Arcanum, mysterium and secretum.
‘Arcanum’ (in English also often called Trump) is a mystery, necessary for the cognition of a definite kind and number of things, laws or principles; a mystery without which one cannot operate, since the necessity of that cognition has been born in us; a mystery accessible to a mind strong and curious enough to see that knowledge. Used broadly, all scientific sentences which explain any kind of practical activity can be placed under this term. ‘Mysterium’ is the magnificent system of Arcana and their secrets which are used as a synthesis by a definite occult school (Hermetic). It is also a basis for that school’s activity and contemplation.”
However, one significant difference stands out. Sadhu describes that the level of Mystery is attained by the comprehension of the totality of the 22 Arcana. Whereas the UA describes the level of mystery as “comparable to physical birth or death”, placing as the goal of this level of experience the “mystery or sacrament, known as that of the Second Birth” the topic of conversation from which the heading of the chapter, John 3:8 is taken.
His comments quoted above, that this discussion between Christ and Nicodemus on the second birth served as the key to comprehension, as well as the later quote saying that he has not drawn specifically on these teachings from Mebes for his letters on the Tarot point to something that is quite obvious to one who has read this book. Whereas the school around Mebes placed as the height of accomplishment the mastery of the totality of the Arcana – this being the attainment of the level of Mystery, Tomberg places as the ideal above the Arcana the “great initiation”, that of the second birth from above (this also serves as the key to unlocking understanding of the first aracanum and in turn all the other major arcane).
One question that stands out in my mind is this: If the seven sacraments are the 7 prismatic colors of the Sacrament of the Second Birth, how do the 7 sacraments relate to the Arcana?
The second heading
Into this happy night
In secret, seen of none,
Nor saw I aught,
Without other light or guide,
Save that which in my heart did burn
“because it has the virtue of awakening the deeper layers of the soul”
“It is that which must be actively present in our consciousness – or even in our subconscious – in order to render us … fertile in our creative pursuits, in whatever domain of spiritual life.”
These quotes in relation to the topics of humility (in relation to St. Anthony), the art of learning how to learn (as well as others in the first letter) seem very rich to me.
One topic that came up was the significance of the personality: “The highest treasure of the children of earth is surely the personality” Goethe (p.38)
I would sum up the heading as saying that the symbol becomes an Arcanum in us when it becomes something that burns in our heart, making us perceptive through its light.