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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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The Mesa World Retreat: The Tarot Exercise

Paul Kiritsis - Friday, December 06, 2013

Another exercise at the retreat involved projecting onto tarot cards. After blindly selecting a card from the spread, we had to ponder whether the prevailing sentiments evoked were mostly positive or negative. Then we had to assume the role of devil’s advocate and imagine that the initial impressions were of the opposing polarity; in other words if the first authentic impression to the card was favourable and positive it now became unfavourable and negative and vice versa.  Lying behind this practical exercise is the philosophical abstraction that we perceive outer reality through the discrimination of opposites, and that further, we perceive according to the psychospiritual topography within us. What we see reflected in the world exists in a much more ethereal, intangible state within our individual psyches. Everything is within us. Finally, we had to circumscribe and relate the prevailing sentiments to our personal lives.

The card that I ended up pulling out from the deck was the Nine of Pentacles. There was no hesitation in identifying the image as quintessentially benign, altruistic, and spiritual in nature. In my mind it radiated positive vibrations of love and light. And how did I come to this conclusion? First and foremost the ground on which the woman stands is peppered with white-petalled flowers, indicating Mother Nature’s cyclic movement towards a time of the year when the vital life force of the universe is exalted, at its sturdiest one might say. Behind her we see a stone wall etched with encircled pentacles; the latter are explicitly symbolic of esoteric correspondences and the Aristotelian elements–Fire, Air, Water, Earth, and the Universal Ether. Knowledge is power, and the card utilizes the magical five-pointed symbol to convey the idea that the unknown woman is an encyclopaedia of knowledge and a fount of inner wisdom. These sentiments are also substantiated by the fact that she is dressed in the heavenly colour of all virgin priestesses of the Great Mother Goddess that have preceded her.

On a different note, her solemn physiognomy betrays royalty, magnanimity, and inner fortitude; she holds a flowering branch, revealing her identification with the Earth and the interdependence of all living things subsisting on its crust. Nothing is static, I can hear her whispering in the wind. We must not allow ourselves to become apprehensive when comprehending the fact that everything in the cosmos is forever mutable because the alchemical nigredo, the dark night of the soul, will always followed by the salvation, revelation, and of the alchemical albedo. This is an unshakable law; life will always prevail over death, the good over evil. Accompanying the unknown woman is the great owl–a totemic counterpart of the great Hellenic goddess Pallas Athena–beckoning us to remember the reality that the inner mental processes are mirrored by physical and chemical processes of the natural world. Basically, this tarot card is a metaphor for the omnipresence of spirit or pneuma.

From an opposing viewpoint one could say that the card is negative in that the unknown woman clad in religious garb is reminiscent of the ancient mystery schools of late antiquity which discriminated and accepted only those who were decreed pneumatically ‘ready’ to receive the higher wisdom and knowledge. Hence the card might be an implicit acceptance of elitism, aristocracy, and highbrow brotherhoods wishing to subjugate and control by cultivating and preserving ignorance in the masses. Furthermore the owl links her to Pallas Athena, the virgin goddess through which both positive and negative qualities manifest. Athena was the patron of war and war is in essence the establishment of inauthentic relationships between a domineering party enforcing its personal views and values and a dominated party which accepts them conditionally. War means disintegration, destruction, dissolution, and death–an ending of one kind or another. She nurtures and loves all created things, but she can also severe the life-bestowing connection to these potentials at any moment. War also means discrimination and hierarchical order; not all individuals are worthy of mystical illumination, she warns.

It stands to reason that the mutability of the natural world and the cosmos portrayed in the card is to be found within our personal inner spheres of existence. We live and commune with others in an ever-changing world but we also live and commune with other dynamic aspects of ourselves within our own shape-shifting mind-space. We all recognize the seasons within. During winter we overidentify with problems, anxieties, neuroses and specific faculties of the psyche-soma so that the personal centre of I-consciousness constricts whilst during summer we dis-identify from the aforementioned and experience rapid expansions of consciousness that deconstruct mental abysses and mould them into bridges. In the height of winter we rely on armchair abstractions verbalized by others however during summer solstice we come to understand the world through the meaningful nexus of our own experiences. I have become acutely aware of this archetypal process within myself and fervently jump at the chance of pulling the plugs on autumn when it arrives…        

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