The only artifact I have from my childhood is a deck of Tarot cards I acquired when I was 14. I didn’t share my interest in Tarot with anybody back then. It was just something I explored by myself whenever I had a chance to be alone. It was a traditional Waite-Ryder-Smith deck and the only guide I had was the small paper one included with the deck. My interest waned quickly but I kept the deck.
Throughout the ensuing years I have occasionally picked it up and done a spread but it has mostly laid dormant. I have no idea how I managed to hold onto the deck because I used to have a compulsive habit to purge myself of all material possessions every couple of years. Yet here it is, like a lifelong faithful companion.
I’ve been using it again recently, having had my interest rekindled by a visit with an artist friend, Kim, who collects Tarot decks. We spent a weekend with her a few months ago and she inspired a creative wave in me, centered around the Tarot and art, that I’m still surfing.
Pam and I recently discovered a new esoteric practices store in our extended neighborhood. It’s a practitioner’s resource with shelves of herbs, crystals, trinkets, baubles, candles, incense, and, best of all, books.
I’ve been trying not to buy books lately because I’ve got so many that I haven’t started yet. But I can’t help myself. Sometimes I see a book and I can’t resist. As happened on this occasion. The book is, “The Way of Tarot,” by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa.
Jodorowsky is a prolific poet, essayist, artist, screenwriter, actor, film producer, director, composer, musician, comics writer… the list is seemingly endless. I know him primarily as a film director of the cult movies, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre, but I have also read his book, “Psychomagic.”
“The Way of Tarot,” is a gorgeous book to behold. Everything about it is stunning, the cover design, the type, the paper, the illustrations, even the heft and weight. I’ve been using it for a few weeks as a Tarot reference but this morning I decided to read it as it was meant to be read, from front to back in sequence. It’s so much more than a typical Tarot reference. It’s a master class in Tarot.
Yesterday I bought another book on impulse (see what I mean?), “Initiation, The Living Reality of an Archetype,” which is a collection of essays by Jungian analysts and scholars. The book builds on the work of Joe Henderson who, in 1967, published the seminal work on initiation as archetype, “Thresholds of Initiation.” Henderson was co-founder of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.
I have come to see the key traumatic incidents of my childhood as ersatz initiations. I first stumbled on this idea while doing research for an invocation on the theme of “trial by fire.” In many of my poems I touch on this theme. I have always felt that the dominant culture of the US is bankrupt and devoid of any of the coherent mythological frameworks that most indigenous and enduring cultural groups use to help navigate the world of being human in the realm of a mysterious and seemingly unknowable universe.
One of the most amazing things we humans can do is to transform ourselves as we mature and grow. This is ability is especially astounding in the aftermath of tragedy. If my abuse was an initiation, it was still grotesque and deplorable. Not to mention, inefficient. A conscious initiation ritual would include guidance and safe return. Wisdom to help the initiate re-integrate and make sense of their trial. To provide meaning and bonding within a community of fellow initiates. In my case, and for so many others, the initiation was a crushing and debilitating experience. It vaulted me into a lifetime of dysfunction and hardship. But it also has provided the opportunity for transformation, however difficult and delayed.
These have been only a few of the results for me: depression, anxiety, paranoia, social awkwardness, agitation, failure to thrive, fear and loathing of my body and my memories. No so curiously, these are all symptoms not only CPTSD but also of non-attachment disorder. It’s a wonder that I survived. Not all Children of the Secret do.
Yesterday afternoon, my new book on initiation arrived. With this morning’s coffee I began reading the first chapter of, “The Way of Tarot,” entitled, “Opening.” Jodorowsky starts by explaining that the Tarot can’t be considered as a collection of individual cards, each with their own meaning. A true study of the tarot must consider the entire deck as a whole. Every detail of every card is linked to ever other card. The 78 cards make up a temple, a mandala. I’ll close with the passage that inspired this episode,
“The initiatory work consists of gathering together the fragments until the original unit has been restored. You start with a pack of cards, you mix up the Arcana and display them flat, which is to say you cut God up into pieces. You interpret them and put them back together in sentences. In a sacred quest the initiate reader (Isis, the soul) puts the pieces back together. The God is resuscitated not in an immaterial dimension but in the material world.”