Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tarot, Horoscopes, and Meditation (Eek!)

 You're all about to watch a train wreck, because I'm about to talk about three relatively new-age concepts on a blog that got its start talking about catholicism, specifically my conversion to it, and much of its initial readership from a fundamentalist catholic forum. If any of the original readers are still clinging on to the hope I might go back to my older style of writing I would have to apologize and hope that they can find some degree of understanding in the idea that the same open mind to things supernatural that brought me into their religion also means that all other ideas and influences get equal time.

This is going to sound like a weird position to take given the growing number of science articles I've written for the blog and the usual position of skepticism I take in day to day life. Of course fairies, nixies, spirits, ghosts, goblins, and aliens don't actually exist. Ah, but I can't make that statement declaritive. I can only say "absent any evidence of the aforementioned, I choose not to believe in them".

When I was in late middle school and early high school I spent quite a bit of time studying what people commonly call the occult but what would more accurately be known as a small collection of non-Christian cultural tropes and associated "magic". Specifically, I saved up my allowance and bought myself a shiny new Ryder-Waite Tarot Deck. I remember that the cards came with a book that taught you how to do a few different spreads, and the symbolism of each card - more importantly, though, it contained two injunctions:

  1. When studying the symbols on the card, if a meaning springs readily to mind, consider that its primary, and;
  2. Never provide readings for others except those with whom you are very familiar.
Now, the second injunction I took simply as a cultural norm like the old tradition that one does not sell their sourdough starter, Amish bread recipe, or kombucha culture. Clearly lots of mystics with more experience than I at reading the Tarot made a good living off of doing it, and no great ill had befallen them. I do however notice that such readings are often considered wildly innacurate (when honest) or demonstrative of cold-reading (when dishonest), where as readings I preformed just for myself actually tended to have a seed of truth.

Looking back on it now I realize exactly what had happened. For one thing, I rarely asked questions about the future of myself because I don't believe the future is fixed - once again, see Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I asked questions about events in my past, people in my life, and facets of my nature, and I found out less than you would think (being fifteen tends to make you bad at introspection). Then, by and large I met Kat and after a while having a good companion to talk to and play with ended most of my interest in the occult for now. I don't have that tarot deck any more.

What I'm realizing now though is that the cards were a tool, and one I considered useful at the time, in the same way that I considered lectio divina useful for a time until I suddenly became bad at it again. While the cards drawn are more than somewhat influenced by chance, the mind's interpretation of those cards is done through a lens of the concern of the moment. The symbolic meaning, whether remembered (I no longer require the book) or referenced, speaks through and to those concerns and answers are only found after careful consideration. The tarot is a deck of cue-cards, and a helpful one at that, used for finding answers to the question of the day.

Where it becomes dangerous, and it rarely is, is when it becomes subject to absolute faith in inerrant truth of its results. I met a person who was like that, albeit with futhark runes. It was just as grating as faith in inerrant predictive power of the book of Revelation.

Now, I also mentioned horoscopes in the above, and it is well and good that I did, because they are another matter altogether. For one thing, I don't read broad-cast horoscopes of the sort found on facebook or in the local papers, which are cast for everyone born in every year under the dates of the same astrological sign. For one thing, I was born very close to the start of the "season" for my sign, and when you draw up a proper, charted horoscope, the line between the sign I've always claimed to be and the sign before it are fuzzy, which some would say is a nod to my dual nature and I simply say is an interesting artefact of the horoscope system with regard to the time and location of my birth. I don't have any real belief in the power of horoscopes - I'm just exactly anal enough to enjoy making and analyzing the charts. I've used them before as props for characters in role-plays. It is especially worth noting that I do not behave as a cancer should, but that same recognition is fuelled by the fact that most people exhibit the personality traits of most of the horoscopes in different amounts. For me, the construction of these charts by hand is an interesting intellectual exercise and one I enjoy doing a few times a year. It's not a science and it's certainly not a predictive tool. It's a fun little way to create a unique representation of yourself without a camera.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a very real and useful practice. While I doubt very much I'm about to become an old Zen master, acquire the Buddha nature, or begin doing supernatural feats, careful reflective meditation is an important part of keeping myself sane, with or without medication. We have to remember that meditation is thinking. Carefully unpacking and examining one issue at a time is a way to stop our multi-tasking brains and focus our full intellect on a single question, premise, or truth. I don't drink watered-down Oolong while sitting in full lotus on a cushion in the middle of my room with flute music in the background and incense everywhere. For one thing, my fire inspector landlord would probably have a fit if I put myself in a position to fall asleep with things burning all around me. Careful reflection, aided by whatever means we like, is itself a form of meditation. While often Buddhist monks are contemplating the Buddha nature, I'm usually trying to think about a new angle from which to bind my angry, impulsive, or irrational states, or trying to suss my way through a problem. And, to be fair, I'm usually doing it with a steaming hot cup of Dan Cong in my lap.

The trappings of mysticism we surround ourselves with are, by and large, tools. It's why I never believed in the efficacy of prayer quite as strongly as most. If it was something entirely out of my hands, it was indeed very theraputic to leave it up to God - it lead, however, to a state of thanking him if it worked and blaming myself if it didn't, which wasn't healthy either. Instead, if it IS something I myself have domain over, I myself take ownership of it. Budget's getting tighter? No problem, I can cut stuff yet. Low traffic at work? No problem, nothing anybody can do about that.

I honestly thought I still had my tarot deck somewhere, but I guess I don't. Just as well, I suppose. I do occasionally cast the Futhark to the same end on scraps of paper. Not nearly as fun, but, as a deck of cue-cards, it doesn't work that badly. Reflection is a helpful thing, however we choose to do it.

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