02 July 2003

Divination is silly, but homiletics is fun

So I've been studying magical (magickal) symbol systems a little bit--like the Tarot and the Sefirot of the Kabbalah. For a long time I've been fascinated by symbols and their combinations into things like patterns and stories. I think in our rational, classical-Greek-influenced culture, we devalue symbols and stories. "That's just a story." "That's a myth." "She was only speaking metaphorically." It's related to the situation Robert Pirsig talks a lot about, the triumph of reason over value in our culture. We think that there's something called objective reality on the one hand, and then there are symbols and stories and myths that at best can point at that objective reality, but more often misrepresent or distort it. The Buddha seems to have felt that those symbols and patterns we form in our minds (and by extension, with our mouths, or with pens, computers, or Tarot cards) are reality. There is no other. Everything is empty of intrinsic existence.

I'm more with the Buddha than the Greeks on this one, although I tend to believe that it is valid to talk about objective reality, insofar as there's this phenomomen in which our subjective realities seem to agree with each other to an awfully great extent, by and large. And I also think that it's necessary to remember that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. This seems to be true whether or not the moon exists in some realm of objective realness. My point is simply that the finger is important. Without it, you'd never notice the moon. So symbols and patterns and stories are important. They're our way of processing and understanding--as well as communicating--both "reality" (whatever that is) and our internal thoughts, feelings, and imagination.

So they fascinate me, especially symbolic systems with what the Tibetans call "lineage"--meaning they go back far enough that people have worked a lot of the bugs out. It's interesting to do a Tarot reading and use the pictures on the cards to tell a story about the topic you're interested in--a story that you wouldn't have otherwise told, and which may make you think about the situation in a way you otherwise would have missed. I'm very skeptical that magickal symbolism can be used to influence or discover things about reality or other people (living or dead), or to foretell the future. I also don't particularly think that one's subconscious mind influences which cards come up in any mysterious way. I'm more interested in the other way around--the influence the cards have on your subconscious (and conscious) mind. There's power in performing symbolic acts (Christians call them Sacraments) and in telling stories--the power to change and broaden your mind. Nothing more (I think), and nothing less. But IMHO, that's a pretty big thing.

All right, getting down off the philosphical soapbox before somebody kicks my ass down.