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Friday, 24 June 2016

Hierophantic Revisitings


I like the Tarot. It bears ample witness to the joined-up nature of reality. In particular, it revels in the styles adopted by conditionality (the Buddhist term) that exist outside the linear cause-and-effect type insisted upon as the only one by crusty, boring modern rationalists, academics, and one-eyed scientists (come on out, Mr Dawkins - we know you're in there). In particular, Tarot brings forth correspondence and synchronicity, everpresent yet often missed elements in the fabric of experience that is being constantly woven.

Tarot can be related to on as superficial or profound a level as the subject wishes. And, with the plethora of different Tarot decks available nowadays, the interface between subjective experience (the creator of the particular Tarot) and the universal themes (as represented in the Major and Minor Arcana) can be studied, experienced, and played with.

It's a funny thing, really. I came across the Tarot in the early 1970s, when living in commune. While I had always managed to negotiate a trip on high-dose, high-quality Operation Julie LSD, it took the Tarot to freak me out. I would throw the Tarot for myself or for friends, or sometimes just pick out a card or two and see what happened. The images spoke strongly and directly to me. Too many hanged men, figures of death riding horses, and towers collapsing all around me, and it was too much. I really didn't like what was going on; the Tarot just had to go.

Nowadays, I am back with the Tarot. Not in any big way: some people are real experts, it's their full-time thing. But I'm back with Tarot sufficiently for it to make a difference.

Of the many Tarot decks around these days, the classic one, comprising the cards most people will be familiar with, remains the Rider-Waite Tarot (more correctly, it should be called the Waite-Smith deck, since Rider were simply the publishers, while Arthur Waite was creator-in-chief and Pamela Colman Smith the illustrator). The Waite-Smith deck comes oozing esoteric and mystical symbolism, originating with the Order of the Golden Dawn, mystical Kabbala, and Waite's own Secret Order, along with various other places. This in itself makes the deck a true university of learning about life and the workings of the universe. The style of the pictures is that medieval-cum-theatrical one, which is simple, clear, and as a result extremely effective.

There are, however, other tarot decks. In this modern day and age, loads of them. I shall unpack a little of this theme in a further post. But for now I'm back with my personal bane, the Hierophant. The riddle of the Hierophant, explored initially in 'the Buddhist Inventory Trilogy' a month or two back. The Waite-Smith card seemed to point up all the mess that comes with the authority of religiosity, even the soft-core religiosity of organised Buddhism. With the Thoth Tarot Hierophant, a bit of non-Christian light came to bear upon the figure; the perspective was expanded. It was while I was taking an internet stroll through the different Tarots in search of further illumination on the riddle of the Hierophant that I came upon this.  It is the Hierophant from the Royo Dark Tarot.

The moment I set eyes upon the Hierophant of the Dark Tarot, I almost wept on the spot. To this day, I remain in awe. Rarely have I came upon a re-working of an image, an archetype, so bold, so innovative, so magnificent. Everything that I had associated, brought to bear, brought into being, with regard to the Hierophant seemed to be turned on its head. Instead of the crusty dignitary of the Waite-Smith, trussed up in the heavy regalia of orthodox religiosity, there appears a radiant female figure. What genius, to present the hierophantic energy as female. Instead of dispensing patriarchal authority (the 'normal' Tarot hierophant is pictured with a couple of 'papal dignitaries', as one book calls them, sitting in a position of deferment and submission beneath the Big Boss in the hierarchy), the focus of our Hierophantess lies in receptivity: she is sitting at the foot  of the dragon, dispenser of Wisdom. The orthodox Hierophant is impermeable to the influence of true Wisdom coming from outside him - his heavy clothes act as protection, armour; while the Royo Hierophant is clothed lightly, almost naked, open to the influence of the Higher, the Greater, the more Beautiful. What's more, she sits with the books of knowledge, scripture, and undoubtedly rules and regulations. But they lie unkempt around; her focus is on the Dragon's Wondrous Wisdom.

This, at least, is what I saw. A gander at a number of Tarot-type internet postings revealed to me, however, that other people saw something completely different. The female was not the Hierophant at all; it was the dragon. The female was the disciple (me - us) in rapt yet completely balanced and centred attention. The manner in which the image can be read so variously only adds to its wonder for me. This interpretation also came redolent with meaning. The Hierophant manifests breathing Knowledge directly, dragon's breath, serpent wisdom, inviting a total reworking of the twisted Garden of Eden myth which has caused so much pain and suffering over the centuries. Most importantly, the disciple, the receiver of Wisdom, is centrepiece, not peripheral like the papal lackeys in the orthodox Tarot depictions. The Hierophant is not just about some bloody religious authority, or 'organised Buddhism' in my case. It asks questions about the querent's own relationship with Knowledge-Bearers, and his/her own responsibilty in spiritual growth.    

The image from the Royo Dark Tarot manifested so much of what the Hierophant could be about on a deeper, purer level, than that of the distorted images of popes, priests, and other figures of disempowerment. On the basis of this one card, I gladly parted with money in order to have a Dark Tarot deck in my living space. There's plenty to muse over with the Dark Tarot, but this will wait for another time.

Meanwhile, the question remains. I come across somebody like I was forty years ago. Idealistic, inspired, motivated, yet confused and in need of spiritual guidance, direction. What do I recommend them to do? I'm still not sure. The day of the guru is passed, thankfully, to quote or paraphrase Neil Kramer from a number of years ago. But there is a time and a place for the Hierophant card, when guidance and support is needed. Maybe I would say something like this. Do your retreats, make your contacts and friends; live and work even, in spiritual community, should you feel so inclined. But remember: the paramount concern is your own soul, your higher self, call it as you will. Remain in strong intuitive connection with the inner voice, and listen to it more seriously than any other sound. Do not give away yourself to any 'greater good'. Do not turn into a distorted version of the Tarot Hanged Man. The faintest sniff of anyone asking you to give away your own dream in exchange for somebody else's version and run a mile. Quickly. All groups, teachers, guides, all hierophantic representations, are means not ends. And as such, entirely dispensable when the time arises. The journey is unique, long, and in a sense uncharted. In its mystery lies its magnificence.  

    Images: Cheery Hierophant from a Marseilles deck (top)
                  Hierophant from Royo Dark Tarot (centre)
                  The final solution: Hierophant from Gummy Bear Tarot                                       (bottom)