The chances are good that most readers of this book are disillusioned with both organized religion and science. Neither seems to provide the insight into our human condition demanded by an increased and world-wide sophistication. We have learned so much through the wonders of technology and modern communications, that the explanations of our fathers appear more placebo than panacea.
Many of those so disillusioned turn to occultism and mysticism in the hope of finding broader meaning and truth. They do so in the essential belief that direct knowledge of the Cosmic Order, enlightenment, is possible.
The Mystery schools teach that what we can see, touch and feel presents us with only a relative reality. Beyond that which is considered "real" by most people are worlds of an even greater reality, which every individual has the capacity to explore. Enlightenment means emergence from the darkness of our limited sense-perceptions and thought framework into a consciousness of the greater reality. It is of that from which we are born, and into this that we shall return at the end of our brief life cycle.
The Qabalah is a system once traditionally claimed (prior to the work of Scholem) to have been given to Adam by God, to have been the province of a few chosen adepts until it became "Hellenized" by the Greeks and began to form a sub-current of western civilization. The value of the system is that it divides the Universe into specific categories, allowing for the establishment of correspondences between all cults and religions. The Tarot cards, also, may be equated with the major aspects of most religious systems.
Esoteric tradition, as represented by the Tarot, makes some very basic statements about man and the nature of the Universe which is his ultimate environment. It says that there is a perfect order which one has the capacity to perceive, and that there is no such thing as an accident. For every movement of every leaf on every tree there is a reason, and every movement of every thing is inter-related. Separateness is a myth. We are all part of one great unity.
These principles have been expressed for thousands of years, and in thousands of ways. And somehow, as expressed, they are always so simple. The concept that All is One, and we are All has a certain poetry to it. It may strike a deep-rooted chord and then be quickly forgotten. But there is a feeling that the statement has merit. The words of prophets may imbue us with a strange and momentary silence, as if our minds are straining to recall something.
Students may respond in this way to a small book from 1912, called The Kybalion. This work involves all of the key principles of Tarot, and purports to sum up ancient Hermeticism. The ideas here are actually the same sorts of Gnostic thought that produced the Qabalah. Hermeticism and Qabalah both date from the period of earliest Christianity. When we describe the Hermetic-Qabalah we mean the later amalgam of the principles of both.
The Kybalion gives seven Hermetic Principles.5 These are, quite literally, a distillation of the universal principles on which the Tarot is based, and deserve to be the subject of every student's meditation.
1. The Principle of Mentalism
"The ALL is MIND; The Universe is Mental."
2. The Principal of Correspondence
"As Above, so below; as below, so above."
3. The Principle of Vibration
"Nothing rests; everything moves everything vibrates."
"Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled."
"Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates."
"Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law."
7. The Principle of Gender
"Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and its Feminine Principles; gender manifests on all planes."
The doctrine that our universe is so precisely ordered is basic to the Tarot, as is the idea that the Tarot images accurately symbolize the very framework of the Universe. As MacGregor Mathers stated: "I have not only transcribed the symbolism, but have tested, studied, compared and examined it both clairvoyantly and in other ways. The result has been to show me how absolutely correct the symbolism of the Book T [meaning Tarot] is, and how exactly it represents the occult forces of the universe."6
Eliphas Lévi described the Tarot in even more flamboyant terms: ". .. although it is popular in a sense and may be found everywhere, this is of all most occult and unknown, because it is the key to the rest. . . It is, in truth, a monumental and extraordinary work, strong and simple as the architecture of the pyramids, and consequently enduring like those-a book which is a summary of all sciences, which can resolve all problems by its infinite combinations, which speaks by evoking thought, it is an inspirer and moderator of all possible conceptions, and the masterpiece perhaps of the human mind. It is to be counted unquestionably among the great gifts bequeathed to us by antiquity."7 Lévi was among the first to declare publicly that the Tarot was more than merely a quaint device for telling fortunes, and that it was virtually the key to all occult science.
Clearly, for one to take this approach to the Tarot requires a considerable amount of faith. But this should be a faith which is understood to represent merely a suspension of judgement. One who fails to exercise rational judgment, or who accepts any esoteric principle unquestioningly, is a poor candidate for inner development. We must engage our every capacity, and the capacity to reason is our greatest protection against being led astray in these matters. One might also suggest that the methods of the Hermetic Qabalah will be particularly attractive to those who are natively intellectual, artistic, or both. These methods are not for everyone, and to study them efficiently requires a significant commitment. The pursuit of any specific method of spiritual development represents a choice. And herein lies another important principle. This principle is frequently encountered in popular literature, couched in aphoristic terms such as "We are masters of our own destiny," or "The Stars impell, they do not compel." We are, in fact, the authors of our every experience, from the non-accident of our birth and the parents whom we choose, to the very time and circumstances of our death. Some of the inspired religious literature of the west hints at this idea. It is a principle which has been stated openly and explicitly in eastern religions for thousands of years.
This is not an easy concept to accept, because it lays full credit or blame for all that occurs in our lives squarely on our own shoulders. But this does not imply that we are necessarily aware of the decision making process. That is the province of the Higher Self, that spiritual part of ourselves which endures, while the personalities molded for each successive incarnation dissipate and cease to be (save as they represent experience assimilated by the Higher Self). The pursuit of enlightenment is the pursuit of the "Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel," aspect of the Higher Self. This means the development of a conscious awareness of, and contact with, an innermost spiritual nature which is the essence of God. The goal is a lofty one. The decision to pursue it seriously, as well as the means of pursuit, pivotal choices. And here one must not lose sight of the fact that whatever the chosen path, whether that be Tarot or Yoga or Catholic mysticism, it is a means of self-exploration, and not an end in itself. Yet as Jung points out, some people try to escape into a system:
People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian Yoga in all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world—all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their own souls.8
It is a sad fact that many disturbed people are attracted to all forms of occult work. These are people who look for an escape, but do not find it. An unbalanced personality, unable to cope with its own earthly environment, will find little solace in the Tarot or in any other facet of the Mysteries. Instead, such persons may find esoteric research very disconcerting, as they discover themselves required to face aspects of their personalities with which they cannot cope, or increasingly immersed in their own fantasies and losing touch with reality. The dawning awareness of the truth of the Universal Order is difficult for the most balanced personality, because it involves concepts that totally refute what most people believe themselves to be. There is a cause and effect here, which is the reason that so many esoteric works include a warning. Anyone can learn to manipulate the Kundalini forces of their own body, and open the channels by which Light descends. The methods are basically very simple, and are openly described in works such as Regardie's Middle Pillar and his Foundations of Practical Magic.9 Yet if the basic preparatory work has been ignored, or done casually, the result may be a systemic imbalance, rather than balance and increased vitality and awareness. These dangers are one reason that the Mysteries maintained strict secrecy for so many centuries.
Tradition states that the Mysteries maintained secrecy as a matter of keeping sacred ideas from the profane, although we appreciate that in some ages past secrecy has also kept the metaphysician from being burned at the stake. But those who have been the guardians of the orally-transmitted Mystery Tradition over the centuries, have also understood the responsibility of conveying practical techniques to those who might misunderstand or misapply the principles of their use.10
Even today one could argue reasonably that the practical esoteric techniques should be kept secret, although so much has now been published that the point is purely moot. And the fact is that there are no real "secrets," as most people understand the word. Herein lies the crux of all occultism, mysticism and esoteric religion. In fact, one important "secret" is so simple that it can be conveyed in a single paragraph:
What is called enlightenment depends on the physical opening of channels so that the consciousness of the personality can directly contact the consciousness of the greater universe. What this means is a manipulation of vibrations within the body and a subtle change in physiochemistry. It is all a form of yoga, where one experiences what feels like an electromagnetic current in the body. Everyone has felt this current and anyone can learn to manipulate it. Moreover, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the school of mysticism or occultism in which one operates. The directive "Inflame thyself with prayer," meaning to excite the inner currents of the body, is the practical essence of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and every legitimate form of mystery religion or cult. To the technique of manipulation of body energies, the Hermetic Qabalah adds a program of inner visualization. One begins by imagining an inner scene, a tightly created and directed daydream. Soon, however, one discovers that what is happening is not his own invention.
The Tarot is, of course, ideal for this kind of visualization, known as Path Working or Rising on the Planes. To focus on any given Key is to turn attention to a specific intelligent energy as anthropomorphized in a card. This very focus of attention tends to affect an unconscious link with the energy which the card symbolizes. This is not to suggest, however, that the Tarot offers any shortcuts, for it does not. One who chooses to study the Tarot by the Qabalistic method must do so with discretion, sensitivity, completeness and acceptance of a certain disciplined boredom until positive results are obtained, which may take years. Those who make the system work do so by disciplined attention to meditative exercises, without concern for result.
But results do come, and one begins to perceive the entire system very differently, appreciating the fluidity with which the cards must be interpreted. A Key may have several possible interpretations (some even apparently contradictory), particularly when it represents a Path on the upper levels of the Tree of Life. Thus, the values inherent in a card can never be attributed to a few catch phrases easily memorized.
Aleister Crowley, in his Book of Thoth makes the point that what he can say about a card may either represent a small part of its meaning, or may not necessarily appear to make sense. Often, in that work, Crowley finds a card so profound that he must resort to the word symbols of poetry to approach its most serious implications.
He was also uniquely honest in his assertion, published in the Confessions of Aleister Crowley, that he did not completely understand all of the cards. He wrote:
The true significance of the Atus of Tahuti, or Tarot Trumps, also awaits full understanding. I have satisfied myself that these twenty-two cards compose a complete system of hieroglyphs, representing the total energies of the universe. In the case of some cards [presumably referring to his own deck] I have succeeded in restoring the original form and giving a complete account of their meaning. Others, however, I understand imperfectly, and of some few I have at present obtained no more than a general idea.11
Certainly, the Tarot offers us great potential for self-deception. We can believe we have understood some aspect of the study, yet still be working within a very personal and distorted framework. For this reason, it is best to refer, at every step of the learning experience, to the time honored documents on the subject. For the Tarot, this means the Sepher Yetzirah, a very brief work by which we relate the Hebrew letters to the Tarot Keys. Another great work is the source book of the Jewish Qabalah, The Zohar, a mystical commentary in many volumes which has never been fully translated into a European language.
The greatest Qabalistic work of all is the Pentateuch of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. The study of the first four books, in Hebrew, and on the basis of numerology, is the essence of Jewish Qabalah.
On the surface all of this may seem unapproachably complex. But the intellectual Qabalah, as opposed to the practical work, is easily understood by anyone willing to consider it with the intensity and diligence that one would apply to the learning of a new language.
The Qabalah is essentially artificial. It is a defining pattern imposed on qualities which would otherwise be too impossibly fluid to grasp. By example, one could cite the idea of periodization in history. There is, obviously, no line of demarcation between the centuries. But to place blocks of ideas and social styles within the brackets arbitrarily established as the eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth centuries is useful.
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