Tarot and Christian Esotericism

TarotChristianHermeticismHi All,

Take a look at this book, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, penned by an Anonymous author (1985, published posthumously). The author is usually identified as Valentin Tomberg, the esotericist.

The book has a following among Catholics and was endorsed by Hans Urs Van Balthasar. An Ignatian article (no longer available) nicely articulates how the book transmits a so-called hermetic wisdom: “At its orthodox core, the Hermetic wisdom boils down to the doctrine of analogy: ‘As above, so below.'” (From a Catholic perspective, see: Catholic Perspective on Tarot; and Meditations on the Tarot and the Vatican.)

Here’s an excerpt, in which the author distinguishes Allegory, Secret, Arcana, and Mystery. The Tarot, in the Major Arcana, he maintains, offer us symbols of the hidden things (i.e. Arcana) which catalyze necessary spiritual insights. These insights, in turn, prepare us for Mysteries, like the mystery of the Second Birth, which, according to the esoteric traditions of Christianity, is likened to a Great Initiation. There must be a proper spiritual receptivity, moreover, so that the devotee may receive from the Tarot the truths of soul to which they may point.

Here’s a passage from the book:

The Major Arcana of the Tarot are neither allegories nor secrets, because alle- gories are. in fact, only figurative represenrations of abstract notions, and secrets are only facts, procedures, practices, or whatever doctrines that one keeps to oneself for a personal motive, since they are able to be understood and put into practice by others to whom one does not want to reveal them. The Major Arcana of the Tarot are authentic symbols. They conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time according to the depth of meditation. That which they reveal are not secrets, i.e. things hidden by human will, but are arcana, which is something quite different. An arcanum is that which it is necessary to “know” in order to be fruit- ful in a given domain of spiritual life. It is that which must be actively present in our consciousness —or even in our subconscious —in order to render us capable of making discoveries, engendering new ideas, conceiving of new artistic subjects. In a word, it makes us fertile in our creative pursuits, in whatever domain of spiritual life. An arcanum is a “ferment” or an “enzyme” whose presence stimulates the spiritual and the psychic life of man. And it is symbols which are the bearers of these “ferments” or “enzymes” and which communicate them —if the mentality and morality of the recipient is ready, i.e. if he is “poor in spirit” and does not, suffer from the most serious spiritual malady: self-complacency.

Just as the arcanum is superior to the secret, so is the mystery superior to the arcanum. The mystery is more than a stimulating “ferment”. It is a spiritual event comparable to physical birth or death. It is a change of the entire spiritual and psychic motivation, or a complete change of the plane of consciousness. The seven sacraments of the Church are the prismatic colours of the white light of one sole Mystery or Sacrament, known as that of the Second Birth, which the Master pointed out to Nicodemus in the nocturnal initiation conversation which He had with him. It is this which Christian Hermeticism understands by the Great Initiation.


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