I loved Ann’s article in the last issue of this magazine, in which she described how she and Geoff started Cygnus. Elements of it are still echoing through my mind. Most of all I was touched by these words:
Over the years we had become convinced that the great tome I had been shown in my dream was not a book in the conventional sense, but the Book of Life, sometimes known as the Book of Nature or the Book M (standing for Mundi – Latin for ‘world’). And the reason why it ‘can be read or understood by only a very few’ is that it is not so much a book as a language, inscribed in the natural world around us and in our own hearts, a language that can only be read with the eyes of the awakening soul…
Ann’s writing here is so calm and imbued with a careful and humble wisdom. The whole of life, it suggests, is filled with mystery and meaning, and through calm contemplation, we can begin to expand our consciousness and discover what lies beneath the obvious world of appearances. This is the perfect attitude of the mystical student, isn’t it?
All the great mystical traditions have suggested that spiritual enquiry requires a tranquil and reflective attitude, so spiritual seekers often seek retreat in monasteries, convents, sympathetic communities and in mountains, deserts and nature. You too may have a small space in your home or favourite places you regularly go to retreat. It is important for all of us that we are able to be and live like The Hermit when we need – just for a few minutes every day or sometimes for a life-time.
This quiet attitude is not an optional add-on to the spiritual journey but an essential component, which we build into our foundations. I first learned about it when I began to study the great esoteric traditions and was fascinated, for example, by Pythagoras’ demand that his students first spend three years in silence before he would begin their education.
I learned again about how important calm is when, for my doctorate, I was researching psychological attitudes during international crises. When decision-makers get aroused — for example, today in Israel where politicians and the military are worried about Iran’s nuclear threat — their ability to think intelligently is dumbed down as they get caught up in basic survival instincts and are no longer able to consider options.
Recognising this problem, some psychologists have suggested that there be at least one brave ‘joker’ in every important decision-making group. The Joker’s job is to challenge ‘groupthink’ and make sure other options are considered.
The groupthink challenge
The Joker is like The Fool in the Tarot pack. Everyone else in the group is stuck in the group groove, but The Fool has the courage to take a completely new route, stepping off the cliff if necessary and falling into the unknown.
Being The Fool is often a painful role, because people may not understand and be threatened by your behaviour. One of my spiritual teachers once suggested to me that Christ was the most noble example of The Holy Fool. It takes courage to go against the instincts of the herd.
Perhaps, in your own way, you have been The Fool in your family or work place or group of friends. Perhaps you are The Joker, the odd one out, who has not gone along with the pack. Perhaps you are the only one in your family or circle who has woken up to cosmic reality and now view the world with ‘the eyes of the awakening soul.’
This may have put you in a difficult position. You know that everything is not as it seems and there is an inner dimension to everything, that we are spiritual consciousness as well as flesh and blood. And so you may have a natural instinct to become The Hermit, escape the agitation of human affairs and explore other realities.
Sometimes, however, just being The Hermit can be provocative and we are misunderstood and attacked just for being quiet. This can be painful. We thought we were being The Hermit but others see us as threatening, The Holy Fool.
Images and archetypes
The originators of The Tarot cards, however, knew that life was not so simply summed up in just two archetypal images — The Fool or The Hermit — and they built up a gallery of images and archetypes to inspire, stimulate and encourage us.
You will probably be familiar with some of the most well known cards of the Tarot pack: The Magician. The High Priestess. The Empress. The Emperor. The Hierophant. The Chariot. The Wheel of Fortune. The Moon. The Sun. The Hanged Man. And so on.
Recently, facing a challenging meeting, I did a Tarot reading for myself hoping for insights on how best to handle it. The cards told me that I had to trust everyone and be patient. The final card that I drew — the card which hints at the final outcome of the affair — was Judgment, a dramatic image of an Angel blasting a trumpet and heralding a new beginning. I laughed. It was an encouraging inspiration.
The great gift of The Tarot is that it asserts the diversity of life, cosmos and human experience. Life is never as simple as Good or Bad. We might want to stay fixed in one role or behaviour — I know several Hermits, Fools, Empresses and Magicians — but in fact we are complex creatures and life makes complex demands on us. Sometimes, it is appropriate to be The Hermit. At other times we need to glow like The Sun or be forceful and moving like The Chariot. There are many options, many archetypes, many angels and spirits.
So if we return to Ann’s insight again, yes, life is a book to be carefully read by the awakened soul. But remember, that book is not only around us; it is also inside us. In the words of Hermetic wisdom As it is above, so it is below. The macrocosm, all creation, is within the microcosm, within you and me. And The Tarot with its careful evocative images remains an inspiring and useful tool for that spiritual contemplation.
All my love, William