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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Agla's Hierophant

[Because someone has to write new content around here. I wanted to add her as an author but she declares that to be 'too much bother', so I get these by email instead.

See also my Hierophant.]

The Hierophant is one of those cards that just about everyone who comments on Tarot is down on. The letter of the law as opposed to the spirit, organised religion crushing individual spirituality, etc. And I agree that that is part of him. But. It isn't all.

If you want to meet the Hierophant, get some idea of what he's all about, go to the library. Any old library. There's probably one in your town. Go to the non-fiction section. Don't get any books off the shelves or anything. Just stand there for a second, really take it in. Look at all those titles, those authors. The Dewey numbers on the spines for ease of reference.

That's him.

The Hierophant is a note-taker. An organiser. A lover of clipboards.(Ponder Stibbons of Discworld is in some ways very Hierophantic.)He's an absolute pest at times but you just can't do without him. He's not the one who does things-he writes them down. 'Hiero', remember? Writing. If all the trumps were having a discussion, he'd be the one keeping the minutes. It's terribly boring at times, but unfortunately we do often need that paperwork. He doesn't do things or invent things-he records them. It's pretty common knowledge that the Gospels were not written until quite a while after all the events recorded in them had happened. The Christian religion had been going awhile, and people were joining who hadn't actually met Jesus by this point. So some of the apostles decided to set down their version of events, so's to inform these new believers.

It's worth wondering how long Christianity would have lasted if they hadn't done that. But then, hey, if those particular men hadn't, someone in the congregation probably would've!

Now. Think of those Gospels. Think of the later New Testament stuff-preserved letters mostly, plus the long tripped-out vision of Revelation. Think of someone collating all that and putting it into more or less the form that we recognise today.

Then think of all the commentaries, the translations, scholarly essays on this or that point of theology or ethics or imagery, different interpretations...Everything that's ever been written about the New Testament and what it contains. All those riffs on one big theme. From the time they were first put on paper, to the present day. Some of it's been lost, manuscripts getting destroyed for one reason or another, but there is still so much of it all that is still available to us today. All those people just need to go to the library, and guess what, they're talking to you.

The Hierophant bothers about this sort of thing. The High Priestess, his opposite number (I always see these two trumps as a pair of complementary/antagonistic opposites, like the Empress and the Emperor) doesn't write things down; she dreams and smiles and keeps her counsel. She reckons that if you have to ask, you aren't ever going to know. There's that deep pool of water behind her veil, and she'll point the way to it...but don't ask her to lend you any scuba gear. She won't tell you where the sharks are, either.

Not that I'm making her out to be the bad guy. My point is, she's just limited, like all the cards. She does her thing, and that happens not to include much communication. The Hierophant is all about communication. In the Rider-Waite he's got these two monkish fellows listening to him or being blessed by him. Probably both. The whole system of the Church, of any church, is centred around passing on the teachings.

Now, here's the big thing. The Hierophant is in charge of the orthodoxy. But you don't have to believe him. He may try to make you, but when you get down to it, only you can make you believe something, and you always have the option of disagreeing.

You still need him though. All his information, his history, his commentary-that gives you a starting point. When you've studied it all, you can decide to disagree. But you're still reacting to him, you aren't operating in a vacuum.

So far I've been talking about the Hierophant in religious terms, but that's just one side of him. He's there in science, too-not in the whole idea of science, but in all the discoveries yet made, the body of knowledge amassed so far. A lot of the biggest discoveries of science have been debunking earlier bits. "No, I don't believe that, I don't think gravity is a 'force' per se," for instance. And Einstein goes on to describe gravity as the consequence of the curvature of space. Big chaos in the scientific community as they try to assimilate this new idea. But he didn't just pull it out of a top hat, you know. He looked at Newton's work, at the work of other physicists, and thought about it. Then he decided they were wrong. The best innovators always ground themselves in a tradition first-whether we're talking religion, science, art, whatever.

Here's a quote from Goethe for you. "He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth."

Of course, the Hierophant makes muddles. Most people who read the Gospels are astounded by how utterly stupid the disciples manage to be a lot of the time. Even the believers often feel that Jesus must've needed Divine patience just to put up with them! The Hierophant is a follower, and sometimes he screws up. That happens, when you're only following the path, not inventing it. As I said earlier, he also has this tendency to try to pigeonhole people, to fit them into his worldview, and that can be harmful. But focusing solely on his negative aspects make it look like the pack and the world would be better off without him-that he's an aberration, a mistake, a useless bit of trouble. And this is not true. He's just as vital as any of the other trumps.

I think most Tarot commentators have a negative-skewed view of the Hierophant 'cause they've had bad experiences with official religion and so forth. Not trying to psychologise here, just pointing things out. Okay, slightly psychologising. But the point is valid.

For myself? I think my better-than-usual view of the Hierophant probably goes back to a few good books on Christian theology...particularly and centrally the books that got me into it in the first place, the apologetics tomes by C.S. Lewis. I started reading these books in my early teens, and I've never got tired of them. There's always something to agree with and something to disagree with. I love reading them because it makes me think about my own position, helps me formulate it.

Good old Jack. You and I will never agree on so many things, but you're still one of my all-time favourite authors and thinkers. And one thing we can both agree on is that the questions are important ones, whatever the answers are.

I finish this ramble with one last literary reference, this one for all those out there who've read Perdido Street Station. Remember Palgolak?

Best. Hierophant. EVAR.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

a useful thought:

From a Christian thread on Feministe

When I say that religious doctrine is a “social construct,” I mean that individual religious believers don’t need doctrine to explain their experience. Religious institutions need doctrine to explain the experience of believers to nonbelievers, which, to my mind, means doctrine is meant to fill a social rather than a religious need.

This is something I run up against in my head. Often. I don't have that social construct, and the lack of it makes me feel a bit insecure and adrift with all this; humans have social needs, and these are real needs even at the religious level. I have no means of explaining my experience to nonbelievers. My intention was that this blog would help out with that, but I've found it hard to push the writing past the practical - cards and what they do in the consensual world, to consensual people. I get nervous any time a post tiptoes past that. Like the Emperor one, though I'd promised myself I'd do that, because it is true.

Well. The Strength post is up (no thanks to me) and I should be back to regular updates within the next few days. I have about 30 cards left. Beyond that, I don't know how far I can go, but, hope.