On Narrative Structures...

#1
Hello All,

I would like to ramble a little bit.

Yesterday I was reading The Newyorker and found something interesting: some people in the media has criticized James Cameron’s Avatar because “the movie fails to devote itself to a Christian narrative” !!!!!!! This is from the Newyorker:

“Ross Douthat, in The Times, deplored its celebration of pantheism and the absence of redemption”.

Taken at face value, we may just be witnessing pure Christian bigotry, but I think there is something more interesting underneath. For me, this has to do with one of the main problems we face with the tarot: its relationship with Christianity. Below the bigotry of these comments I detect an ontological urge that goes to the heart of what of what we can see as the strong imprint that redemption has in the way we craft our narratives and understand the world from a Western perspective.

One of the main problems I have with the strong emphasis many contemporary tarot-lovers put in that mix of Eastern philosophy and Jungian thought they like to think the tarot’s ‘message’ is, is that I find it not only a-historical, but as some sort of denial for what we could define as a Western Mind. I understand that these approaches emerged in the 70’s as part of the New Age movement, whose main agenda was to procure an spiritual alternative to the traditional, and fundamentally male-oriented, religions. In other words, I understand the political take-over of the tarot executed by feminist and pagan groups. I am sure that, from a historical perspective, this will be worth studying at some point. The problem I have with over imposing an Eastern-ish ideal of ‘enlightenment’ to the tarot is precisely its lack of redemption. The search for spiritual enlightenment, as suggested by Eastern philosophies suggests an ascendant narrative in which the individual progressively transcends his engagement with reality, either by finding enlightenment of by perfecting that quest via successive reincarnations. Within the ideal on ‘enlightenment’, one may say “Today is raining. Tomorrow it won’t” while understanding that neither option should be more or less desirable, but the ultimate goal is to position ourselves beyond such conundrum. Redemption -and I would argue, the Western Mind- doesn’t work like that. Our Western narrative, that narrative of redemption, suggests to us that we may very well endure the rain today at the expenses of the possibility of tomorrow’s blue sky (This is, after all, the big selling point of Christianity: the transcendence of an earthly life via resurrection).

We are of course talking about to different fictions, one that says “reality shouldn’t matter. Transcend it” and another one that says “reality matters. Cope with it”.

I am inclined to believe that, when it comes to the tarot, a circular narrative (immanence-redemption) is more likely to be iconographically verified than one of Enlightenment/Individuation (development of the Self). The "Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo" in our Wheel of Fortune mirrors the Circulus Vicissitudinis Rerum Humanarum, and the many works that in such fashion present to us an idea of impermanence that can be overcome. While these works may be inviting us to put in perspective the unsubstantial nature of our earthly life when contrasted with eternal life, its rhythm stills rings true when it comes to cope with our daily disappointments.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that, instead of taking the tarot’s images apart trying to make the parts add more than the whole, we may understand that the narrative that orients the tarot has become so ingrained in the culture that produced it as to surpass any religious affiliation. Yes, it is possible that the christian zealot may like to impose his ‘savior’ in every movie, buy beyond that, we all root for a second chance, either for us or for others. To define the extent of the relevance that out little game of images may have in our contemporary world, and more precisely, the kind of relevance that the narrative of redemption may have from a non-christian perspective, we must realize how ingrained this narrative of redemption is in the Western Mind as a mechanism to deal with the downturns of life. We are wired to endure the rain because it won’t rain tomorrow. In a success-oriented culture like ours, redemption is a very useful fiction to cope with failure.

End or the rambling.


All my Best,


EE
What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#2
EnriqueEnriquez wrote:I understand the political take-over of the tarot executed by feminist and pagan groups.
Eh? I was there. I don't recall a political take-over (storm the Tower! Toss out the Old Guard!). Tarot was the domain of the gypsy witch fortunetellers and their superstitious but ever-hopeful clientele, and going nowhere, at least in the US, until the new age people started working with it. They didn't take it over, they raised it from the dead.

Your characterization of new age vs. traditional Christian spirituality confuses me. It is the traditional Christian approach to suffer all this now, because one will transcend later with God's grace. The "work hard to make things better" approach is primarily capitalist, not religious; found not only in the Protestant lands (Max Weber's idea in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitialism) but in Catholic countries as well, independently of religion.

As for Avatar: An essential part of the "story" line, such as it is, involves the fate of Dr. Grace Augustine (get it?! Grace? Augustine?). She gets to be with the One Big One through grace and communal love.

My husband said that if this puerile story conveys ecological consciousness to 14-year old boys-wanna-be-heroes, it was worth suffering through.

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#3
debra wrote:
EnriqueEnriquez wrote: It is the traditional Christian approach to suffer all this now, because one will transcend later with God's grace. The "work hard to make things better" approach is primarily capitalist, not religious; found not only in the Protestant lands (Max Weber's idea in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitialism) but in Catholic countries as well, independently of religion.
It is still the same cosmogony. But what you are saying is exactly my point.
debra wrote:My husband said that if this puerile story conveys ecological consciousness to 14-year old boys-wanna-be-heroes, it was worth suffering through.
Interesting redemptive thought...

Best,


EE
What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#4
Yikes, I can't believe I'm going to try to participate in this thread. :-ss

I'm not sure I really understand what you're after Enrique, but I think that might be because there are many layers to this discussion, each worth thought and comment, but not always clear how to follow the thread.

I'm not even sure I understand "redemption". It seems such an obscure concept to me. I never really understood the "lamb of god dying for the sins of the world" redemption angle. It took me a long time to figure out that that is what so many people were on about. I always focused on the words of Jesus, the teachings, and sort of thought that at the end of the story he got busted for being a political rebel. Well, I'm not even sure I understood that when I was young, but the idea of redemption was never one that really resonated with me. So I've read through this thread several times trying to make some sense of the point.

I do believe there is an anti-Christian element to popular tarot, which as you say, shouldn't be surprising considering that it's commonly used as part of a world-view that seeks an alternate spiritual perspective than the mainstream. It's also easy enough to sense an underlying misanthropy to the way some of the subjects are approached. How many threads are there on AT complaining "I just don't understand the energy of the High Priest card" or describing him as "Dogma" or "Traditional Religion" (meaning not the cool spiritual alternative being practised). Same for the Emperor with his "Authoritarian" and "Dominating" behaviour, yet their female counterparts get to be fonts of wisdom and fertility. If you did a survey on AT of least favourite cards, the Pope and Emperor would top the list, even above the Tower, Death and Devil, I suspect.

It even goes beyond that too. It's always interesting to me when people pair up the Magician and Popess and Emperor and Empress, a further disconnection from the evil Pope, where the Popess has been paired instead with the positive manifestor.

Over and over the cards have been altered. The Hanged Man now reads as "Sacrifice" instead of "Betrayal", or on a funner note "seeing the world from a new perspective!" The Wheel of Fortune has gone from a warning about trusting in the false and fickle fortunes of this world to "Luck, almost always good fortune! Abundance, happiness..." The Bateleur has turned from a trickster out to separate you from your wallet into a Magus out to weld his will using the elements of the universe. The Fool has turned from social outcast and warning of folly, to an innocent soul on a spiritual journey... etc.. etc. An entirely new narrative has been placed on the cards, individually and collectively, that loses the original story, (which I believe you are suggesting is a story of redemption), to forge a story of "the fool's journey" where the lesson is to place each of the cards in a relative (and often "softened") view where Death means "transformation" and the Tower means "breakthrough" and the Devil means "pleasure, abandon" and at the worst, "addictive tendencies".

Of course, fooling around with the imagery has been going on since the beginning. We can probably argue that much of the "meaning" of the cards remained fairly consistent until the infamous "French Occultists" got their gloves on them. Waite and Crowley building even further on that.

What I'm having more trouble understanding is how a non-redemptive viewpoint is incompatable with the tarot, especially when looked at from the viewpoint of modern decks where much of the original iconography has been modified as to enhance different interpretations of the cards to fall more in line with that non-redemptive viewpoint.

Or maybe I'm just missing this entirely, and I'm babbling. 8-}
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#5
Hmmmmm....and another hmmmmmm. :-?

Well I am not sure I believe that the Tarot is a redemptive narrative- except in that how it imitates Christianity.
The object was that you won the game. That is Western philosophy. It is also Christian thought.
The Key word is imitates.

"In a success-oriented culture like ours, redemption is a very useful fiction to cope with failure."

So is the excuse that you did not draw good cards. So redeem yourself and play a better game next time.
In other words, I understand the political take-over of the tarot executed by feminist and pagan groups.
Well I don't understand. The take over of Tarot by Magical Magi in the 19th Century- I believe that has more to do with the 70's change than feminism; in speaking thereof I have it on good authority that the game was originally for Women and children and when the Kid's grew up they went on to more manly things like Chess and warfare.
As another generalisation- women like games, men like to gamble.
It is strange neh? how all these things comes back to a gender issues.

As to the strong Pantheism and absence of Redemption in Avatar. Did nobody win? Not even Love? =((

I too could ramble- but that will have to do...
~Lorredan
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#6
Hello Enrique,
very interesting thoughts :)
EnriqueEnriquez wrote: I am inclined to believe that, when it comes to the tarot, a circular narrative (immanence-redemption) is more likely to be iconographically verified than one of Enlightenment/Individuation (development of the Self).
Here I got lost: immanence-redemption, the Christian point of view, is not circular. Immanence-redemption-immanence would be circular, but that implies reincarnation and is not Christian.
I would say that the fact that immanence-redemption is iconographically verifiable in (ancient) tarot derives from this Christian view being historically more correct.

Marco

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#7
Here's Douthat's NYTimes column on Avatar, from December 21 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/opini ... .html?_r=1

It really just uses Avatar as the starting point for reflections on the deficiencies of pantheism, as he sees them. He doesn't say Avatar has no redemption (at least not directly) - Jake is certainly redeemed, since his mission begins for an evil purpose, but turns to good in the end. He also receives a new body - more of a reincarnation than a resurrection, but a new life nonetheless.

Tarot is certainly a redemptive narrative - everybody dies, but it ends with the Resurrection (or apotheosis, or the second coming of Christ, or however you want to read the World card) - but in any case it is the Christian story, which is all about redemption. It doesn't end with Death, but goes on to Resurrection - that's the Christian promise. There's no arguing what the Angel or Judgement card shows.
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Re: On Narrative Structures...

#8
debra wrote:
EnriqueEnriquez wrote:I understand the political take-over of the tarot executed by feminist and pagan groups.
Eh? I was there. I don't recall a political take-over (storm the Tower! Toss out the Old Guard!). Tarot was the domain of the gypsy witch fortunetellers and their superstitious but ever-hopeful clientele, and going nowhere, at least in the US, until the new age people started working with it. They didn't take it over, they raised it from the dead.
I think Enrique is thinking of commentators like Jess Karlin, who coined the term "cartofeminism" for the phenomenon. Your phrases "storm the Tower" and especially "Toss out the Old Guard" are exactly what characterizes the approach of many people coming to the study of the two classic occult decks, Waite-Smith and Crowley-Harris. The cartofeminist approach is to minimize or completely reject Waite's and Crowley's part in the creation of their decks, for which Angeles Arrien's book on the Thoth deck is usually cited as Exhibit A.

Since most people who come to occult Tarot these days, at least in English, begin by reading an "easy" book on Tarot, or a Tarot influenced by the "cartofeminist" and neo-pagan cultures, and not Waite's or Crowley's own works - which most people hardly ever "graduate" to - then it is rightfully called a "take-over."

Cartofeminism is much more than that of course, and I won't try to summarize how Karlin proves his thesis - which to my mind he has done thoroughly. However, both Enrique and Robert point out aspects of it, which include the tendency to put a positive spin on the "bad" cards, to the point of obliterating their literal meaning. I would argue that this is more the result of an American "positive thinking" culture than a specifically feminist one, however. Every dark cloud may have a silver lining, but positive thinking would have you believe that the clouds are made of silver.
Image

Re: On Narrative Structures...

#9
Lorredan wrote: Well I am not sure I believe that the Tarot is a redemptive narrative- except in that how it imitates Christianity.
The object was that you won the game. That is Western philosophy. It is also Christian thought.
The Key word is imitates.
I think Enrique is alluding to the narrative of the trump sequence, not to the principle of winning in the game. Of course not everyone agrees there IS a narrative in the standard trump sequence, and among those who think there is, there is no consensus as to what it is beyond that it has three parts, and uses subjects common to late medieval Western Christianity.
In other words, I understand the political take-over of the tarot executed by feminist and pagan groups.
Well I don't understand. The take over of Tarot by Magical Magi in the 19th Century- I believe that has more to do with the 70's change than feminism; in speaking thereof I have it on good authority that the game was originally for Women and children and when the Kid's grew up they went on to more manly things like Chess and warfare.
As another generalisation- women like games, men like to gamble.
It is strange neh? how all these things comes back to a gender issues.
It's true that the esoteric Tarot paved the way for what Mary Greer calls the "Renaissance of Tarot" in the 1970s -
http://marygreer.wordpress.com/2008/05/ ... naissance/
Certainly 1781 (the birth of the occult tarot), 1854, 1870, 1888/9, 1909 and 1945 are hugely significant dates and turning points in tarot history, but these are the works of individuals in single years, not mass-movements. They didn’t directly affect the creative output of a large segment of the culture until we come to the 60s and especially 1969, when there was a popular groundswell that has continued to grow and spread.
This Renaissance was precipitated by US Games' reprinting of the Waite-Smith Tarot, and Eden Gray's popular books using this pack. But Enrique is referring to something else, which is from the early 1980s onward, conveniently datable to the publication of the Motherpeace Tarot - this deck aimed to completely remove any trace of "The Patriarchy" from Tarot, and even changed the rigid rectangular form of the cards to a round one, indicating the cyclical nature of the view of Goddess, Great Mother, worhsippers. Purging Crowley from Thoth, and Waite from Pamela's deck, is part of this mindset.

Personally, I could care very little less about it, since if you want to learn esoteric Tarot the way it was meant to be learned, you are free to do so. The only little bit of care I have is for people who DO care to learn about the main esoteric traditions being misled by people who claim to be explaining them but are really only aduterating them, if not obliterating their meanings entirely in favour of the Motherpeace-like view of things, which this is not at all what Waite and Crowley intended, nor what Smith or Harris understood they were portraying.

It is as if you picked up a book that told you it would teach you to read Egyptian hieroglyphs just by looking at them and making up a story, rather than studying all those old books by Egyptologists about Egyptian language and grammar.

Ross
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Re: On Narrative Structures...

#10
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote: I would argue that this is more the result of an American "positive thinking" culture than a specifically feminist one, however. Every dark cloud may have a silver lining, but positive thinking would have you believe that the clouds are made of silver.
Yes, I think this too. I think the desire for creative expression had a lot to do with it, and a desire for the systems to be adapted to work with different spiritual and cultural outlooks and identities. I tend to be a bit bothered by the heavy culpability placed on Greer and Kaplan in some of the discussion of this subject, and doubt that there was as much intention as assumed. It seems more to me as if there is an adaptable format in tarot suitable to allowing almost any system and theme one wishes to be placed on top of it. Yes, this has been commercialised to the ridiculous state I satirised with the Angelic Vampire Pirate Cats Tarot.



On the other hand, I really like some of the manifestations. I like Place's Saints tarot, the Prague, Cosmic Tribe, Greenwood, and Blake.. and most of these take their systems even further than a run-of-the-mill Waite/Smith clone.

I guess I don't really care about Waite or Crowley's systems, which seem to me like just additional adaptations of the systems of people before them in what is a long tradition within the occult tarot of reinventing the systems. What would Etteilla have thought!!?? How dare they! :(|)

And yes, there is a silly faux spiritualism attached to this. There is a thread on AT where (thankfully) everyone was making fun of the "Tarot Grandmaster" title and certification, and someone came in to scold everyone for being so shallow and hateful and, without recognising the irony, said:
silly person on AT wrote:I feel sad - so much space is wasted here making fun of other people. I am reminded that people are people - quite often petty and vindictive and I should stop expecting otherwise just because I happen to be in a group of esoterically and spiritually inclined individuals...
Well, that told us! =))

So, I'm not even sure all of us could agree that there is a "redemptive" story in the historic decks (although I certainly think there is with cards like the virtues, Devil, Death and Judgement as prime examples), and I'm not sure we could agree when it turned from that into something else? Late 18th century? Early 20th century? Late 20th century?
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

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