THE SEE OF LOGOS–August 1, 2013

Recently I’ve been working with Robert Place on our joint project, THE BURNING SERPENT ORACLE a creative version of the classic Lenormand fortune-telling deck. Today I was reading of some exciting research done in the British Museum by Mary Greer, Marcus Katz, and Tali Goodwin. In the middle of reading this news I decided to take out my SEE OF LOGOS, a hand-written oracle deck composed of 32 predictions.

The title card reads as follows:
The See of Logos
Dreams and Prophecies
Guaranteed 100% Accuracy!

I originally did this as a kind of surreal satire on the vague predictions we sometimes see from newspaper psychics. In the See, predictions are the absurd opposite of vague! And yet, they have taken on a strange and powerful relevance, if not truth, to the moment.

So here is what came up (random shuffle, of course) when I was pondering the origins of cartomancy:

Your body is an Engine of Prophecy. Thousands of years old, you were constructed by a team of seers and alchemists. Evert hair, every fold of skin, every bend of your joints, they all symbolize hermetic wisdom of future events. All the people you know–your parents, your teachers, even your childhood friends, are all magicians who have come to study you, your gestures, the length of your fingernails, the fall of your hair, as they search for clues to God’s messages on how to find a path through this blindly terrifying world.

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm  Comments (5)  

HEARING MY BOOKS READ OUT LOUD

Lately I’ve been indulging myself in listening to the audio of my two novels.

There’s something very exciting about hearing your own words read by serious actors, almost as if they have nothing to do with you.

Probably some readers of this blog will know my Tarot books more than my fiction (or for that matter, my comic books). Some of my fiction does indeed have tarot content, especially the collection Tarot Of Perfection. And in fact, a couple of people have actually read stories from the book on Youtube.

As wonderful as it is to have my readers like a story enough to put it on Youtube (thanks, guys!), hearing a whole book read is just a special treat.

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm  Comments (1)  

PRAYING WITH THE TAROT–CAITLIN MATTHEWS AND THE SHINING TRIBE

I’m taking the unusual step here of using this space to link directly to another blog, that of Caitlin Matthews, author, scholar, and spiritual teacher.

http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/praying-with-tarot.html

Together with her husband John, Caitlin has produced a truly astonishing body of work, both in its scope and the very high level of art and commitment to spiritual tradition. This past December John decided to give Caitlin a copy of my limited “Art Deck” edition of the Shining Tribe Tarot. This set consists of individually made archival prints of the original artwork, plus five extra cards. The run is limited to 78 copies (the number of cards in the traditional Tarot), and when we began it I honestly thought we’d sell a handful of copies. We’ve so far sold 54 (Caitlin’s was 52, which of course is the number of cards in a regular deck).

What I love about Caitlin’s article is that it exemplifies what I consider the best use of the Tarot. Not to predict the future, or even to provide psychological insights–valuable as both these qualities are–but as a genuine spiritual guide, even a partner as we move through difficult times. Once, during one of my own hard times, I took up the deck and said to it “Take me home.” The three cards I turned up did just that, lifting me out of my despond into a wider awareness of myself and the situation.

What I also love about what Caitlin did is that it doesn’t work from a pre-determined spread. Instead, there is a back and forth dialogue between her and the cards, allowing not just “prayer” as she calls it, but a real conversation.

http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/praying-with-tarot.html

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm  Comments (5)  

A CONTRACT WITH THE TAROT

(On Dec. 8, 2012, a small group, 12, met to try a kind of experiment. We would make a personal contract with the Tarot, letting the Tarot offer benefits but also what it expected from us, accepting or rejecting different parts, and offering our own terms as well. The results were very exciting. Below, slightly edited, is the description I wrote up ahead of time.)

What if we could make an actual contract with the Tarot, laying out what we expect from it? We might include spiritual guidance,, or clarity, or the ability to let us help people, or maybe make a living as a professional card reader. At the same time we also would have to include what we will commit to from our side. This might be daily readings for a period of time, or promising never to use the cards for manipulation. How would we create such a contract?

The idea to do this comes from a story a friend told me of a medium she knew. As I recall the story, when the woman’s medium powers began to emerge she found it exciting but also frightening. She knew the stories of mediums whose lives became overwhelmed and she didn’t want that to happen. So she offered a contract with her guides. She would be fully available to them at specified times, as long as they backed off otherwise. And it worked, my friend said. The woman’s mediumship was doing really well, and so was her life.

So I thought, what if we could do something similar with the cards? The idea may seem strange but in fact it invokes an old magical tradition. In the West, such ideas are usually demonized, and so we get the many stories of deals with the Devil signed in blood.

But maybe such stories are meant to scare people from an underlying truth. We can make a contract, not with some evil being, but with spiritual energy, including the life-giving power in the cards. In some African traditions priests and priestesses make specific commitments with their ancestral spirits. Shamans form partnerships with their guides and powers.

“Magic always has a price,” people say. Maybe we can make a contract instead of just blindly paying whatever price is demanded of us!

(Following are the instructions given to the class)

HOW TO MAKE A CONTRACT WITH THE TAROT

Choose a card to represent the Tarot in the contract “discussion.” You can do this by consciously choosing a card. (The Devil? Justice? King of Swords?) or shuffling and picking three cards at random, then seeing which is best.

Shuffle. Choose three cards to represent what the Tarot is offering you. Discuss with group. Make notes of your impressions, then discuss further. Select between one and three for what you will be willing to accept of what the Tarot is offering. Since you are negotiating a contract you are not required to blindly accept whatever the Tarot is offering you.

If you reject all three, take two more, then choose one or both (you don’t get to go back to the first three but now have to work with the two on offer, just as in any contract negotiation). If you reject both of those, take one more for Tarot’s final offer (again, the two are now off the table).

After you have chosen, set aside whatever cards or cards you decide you would like from what the Tarot is offering you. Return the other cards to the deck.

Shuffle. Choose three cards for what the Tarot is asking of you. Follow same process as above, including discussion and taking notes to develop your ideas. Again, you can reject the first group of three, and ask for two more, then one more. Once again, set aside the cards you chose.

You now have the Tarot’s position—what it’s offering, and what it’s asking of you.

Now you need to develop your own position.

Look through the deck face up and choose one to three cards to represent what you would like to get from this contract. The High Priestess might say you want the Tarot to give you wisdom and insight, the Hermit that you want to hold out a light of guidance to others. On the other hand, the 10 of Pentacles, or the World, might say you hope to make money and become a famous Tarot reader. Take notes and set aside as before.

Look through the deck again and choose one to three cards to represent what you are offering the Tarot. For instance, Justice might say you will promise to be honest and fair in your readings, or the Queen of Cups might say you will be compassionate and dedicated, the 8 of Pentacles in the Rider deck that you will be hard-working and dedicated.

Add, if you wish, a card or cards that might represent limitations. For example, the 10 of Cups in the Rider (a happy family celebrating the rainbow) might say you don’t want the cards to interfere with your family life. The 4 of Swords might say “I don’t want to be woken up by dreams of Tarot or people wanting emergency readings.”

Now you should have a group of cards representing what the Tarot is offering you and what it is asking of you, and another group representing what you are offering the Tarot and hope to get from it. Based on these cards and your understanding of them, write up your contract.

You don’t have to include everything the cards are asking of you, or everything you would like to get. Try to make it a contract that the card you chose at the beginning to represent the deck—Justice, or the Devil, or the King of Swords—would be willing to sign, as well as something meaningful to you.

(Those were the instructions. I then gave them elegant parchment-like paper to write their contracts, had them sign and date it, with the person they’d worked with signing as a witness, then they each gave the contract to me for me to sign as the teacher and include a stamp that showed a house with mysterious writing filling the structure. Thus the contract was official.)

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 2:11 am  Comments (7)  

An interview and a review on my birthday

Just in time for my birthday (August 17–reading to come, and an exciting announcement!) I received the links for a special interview concerning my story “Jack Shade In The Forest Of Souls” in the current issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Here is the link, followed by the text:

http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/blog/2012/08/16/interview-rachel-pollack-on-jack-shade-in-the-forest-of-souls/

- Tell us a little about “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls.”

I would refer to this story as shamanic noir. Jack is a present day private eye occultist shaman, who deals with the supernatural, and travels to other dimensions for people who hire him. Jack is tough, smart, sophisticated, but as in the classic noir stories, is likely to be scammed by his clients who have their own agendas. Again, as with the noir tradition, Jack has a tortured past, a terrible secret which gets revealed, but not resolved, at the end of the story. I envision “Forest of Souls” as the first of a series featuring Jack, and his attempts to undo the disastrous mistake he made early in his career.

- What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

This has been one of the fun aspects of this story. It was inspired by two very different works, and merging them together was part of what drove the writing. Some months back I was on a road trip and brought along an audio of Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece Pale Fire. The book takes the form of a long poem, the “Pale Fire” of the title, followed by an extensive commentary supposedly written by a lunatic professor who believes the poem is secretly about him. I’d read it years ago but now as I listened to the poem itself I was struck by its beauty and poignancy. The fictional poet writes about his lifelong fascination with death and the afterlife, now made urgent by the suicide of his daughter. He also tells how his daughter was fascinated by the occult and tried to organize a ghost hunt. The name of the poet is John Shade, and as I listened I began to play with the name, Jack Shade, and how it sounded both tough and occult. Suddenly I thought of the old TV show, Have Gun, Will Travel, a noir Western with Richard Boone as a decadent poker player in San Francisco who secretly makes his money as a hired gunslinger. Bringing these together was a real delight. The title, by the way, is a kind of shout-out to the readers of my books on tarot, one of which is called The Forest of Souls. The title of that book is metaphoric; in the short story the Forest of Souls is an actual place.

- What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

Well, aside from my half century or so of reading works on occultism, magic, shamanism, Kabbalah, and mythology–not much. Seriously, while there are some actual references to the occult–notably “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Sage”–most of the magic in the story is invented. My goal (as in other of my works) was to create contemporary versions of traditional shamanic practices. Thus, the entrance to the Forest of Souls is a door marked “Employees Only,” in a garage on 57th St. in Manhattan.

- What might you want a reader to take away from “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls”?

Excitement at a good story and a likable character, fascination with Jack’s “tradition,” and hopefully a desire to read further adventures.

- Some authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, then in what way is this story personal?

It brings together some of my favorite things–urban fantasy grounded in both occultism and shamanic practice, private eye stories, and, incidentally, my love of poker. In the old “Have Gun, Will Travel” series Paladin would often be playing poker in his elegant hotel, only to be interrupted by his servant bringing the famous business card on a silver tray. I borrowed this for my opening, updating the poker game to Texas Hold ‘Em.

- What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a novel, The Child Eater, and then I look forward to writing the next Jack Shade story, “The Queen of Eyes.”

- Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I hope Nabokov would have been entertained by my unusual tribute.

And further–I also received a great review of my book Tarot Wisdom.

http://www.thenewageblog.com/book-review-rachel-pollacks-tarot-wisdom/

And as I said above, I’ll be posting a special birthday reading in the next few days, along with an exciting announcement.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm  Comments (3)  

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK?

Suppose you could go back in time 100 years. Imagine that you suddenly found yourself in London, in 1912. What would you do first? Stare at the buildings, take a ride in a hansom cab? Maybe buy some stamps or collect a few coins to take back with you? Go to a book store to buy first editions, or maybe a newsstand for the latest Sherlock Holmes story? Dash over to the British Museum to see what treasures they have brought back (plundered) from Egypt or India?

But suppose you saw a poster, “Mr. Arthur Edward Waite and Miss Pamela Colman Smith will speak about their recently published ‘Rectified Tarot Pack,’ Atlantis Book Shop, Museum St., this evening.” Might that be your first choice? And as you rushed excitedly to the Atlantis, what would be in your mind? What would you want to ask?

Maybe you would ask whose idea it was to have action scenes on all the cards. Or how those scenes were chosen. Were they based on some over-riding idea–the Holy Grail for the Cups, Masonic myth for the Pentacles, as Mary Greer has suggested–or were they derived from the fortune telling meanings they were meant to illustrate? Or was it all based on the Kabbalah Tree of Life? Or maybe you’d ask about the mysterious “stages” that some characters seem to be standing on. Or whether the Court cards were based on actual people.

Most of all, you might want to ask, “What truths can I learn from these cards? What will help me become a better reader?”

Well, as far as I know, no time machine is available (unless, of course, H. G. Wells should show up in his own invention and say to you “Quick! Get in, we’re going off to meet Waite and Smith”), but something along those lines will be happening in just a few days at the Omega Institute

http://eomega.org/workshops/omega-tarot-conference

The third annual Omega Tarot Conference will be held July 27-29. Mary Greer and I have been teaching at the gorgeous Omega campus every summer for 24 years (we might be Omega’s longest-standing teachers). Two years ago Omega asked us if we would like to host a conference, the two of us plus three other teachers.

This year our theme is “Readers and Deck Creators,” with Caitlin Matthews, creator of the Arthurian Tarot and many others, in a rare American appearance, Robert Place, creator of the Alchemical Tarot and many others, and possibly the supreme Tarot artist in the world right now, and Joanna Powell-Colbert, whose Gaian Tarot has been leading Tarot readers around the world to new and profound insights into what the cards can teach us. And of course Mary Greer, who worked with Ed Buryn on the William Blake Tarot, and myself, creator of the Shining Tribe Tarot, and the Vertigo Tarot, with Neil Gaiman and inspired artist Dave McKean.

So–what would you ask people who actually create the decks? What could you learn that would make you a better reader–no matter what deck you use? How could you see the cards–again, no matter what deck you prefer–in new and dynamic ways?

I have to say, I am excited every year when we do Omega, but this is special. There has never been a Tarot conference quite like this before. At the same time, this is not about the teachers, or how we made our decks, or what they mean to us. As with every Omega Tarot class for the past 24 years it’s all about the participants. How you can become a better reader. How you can develop a new relationship with the cards. How you can discover the Tarot’s deeper messages, and what they mean in your life.

http://eomega.org/workshops/omega-tarot-conference

And now, as they say on late night television–Wait! There’s more!

5 days more, to be precise. Immediately following the weekend conference Mary and I will be teaching a Monday to Friday workshop, Reading Tarot Cards With Magic and Wisdom. We will be drawing on the wisdom of the Tarot’s ancient traditions but also the individual wisdom of each person’s life. And we will experience the magic when the cards come alive in a reading, when the cards act as an opening for intuitive understanding to pass between the reader and the questioner.

Come for the weekend. Come for the five day. Join us at Omega for a wonderful experience!

Here is the link for the 5 day:  http://eomega.org/workshops/omega-tarot-conference

Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 1:02 am  Comments (7)  

THE LISBON WORKSHOP

Last week I was in Lisbon for the International Tarot Month. What a wonderful event, with speakers from Portugal but also Brazil, and along with my own participation for the U.S., Lisa de St. Croix. Even as I was teaching I was learning, and now that I’m back I wanted to bring some of the exciting ideas to my Tarot on The Hudson Class. And even though most of you reading this cannot attend, I thought the ideas might be interesting.

This is actually a big travel year for me. In July I go to Brazil for a week of Tarot with Arto Tudjarian, Mary Greer, Marcus Katz, and Tali Goodwin. Then, much closer to home (six miles from my house!), there’s the Omega Institute, again with Mary Greer, plus this year, Caitlin Matthews, Robert Place, and Joanna Powell-Colbert (www.eomega.org). Then in October it’s off to London, Amsterdam, and several appearances in Germany!

THE LISBON WORKSHOP

For this gathering we will be looking at some ideas about Tarot inspired by my trip to Lisbon, and how to apply them in our readings. Here are some possibilities. We probably won’t do them all, but that just means it gives us something to look forward to for next time.

1. What is the real relationship between the higher and lower numbers of the Major Arcana? From numerology, or the concept of personal life cards we know that, for example, 18, the Moon, “reduces” to 9, the Hermit (1+8=9). But how do we work with this dynamic in readings, or in considering our life or year cards? If we get the Moon in a reading does it automatically invoke the Hermit? Is it different if they both appear? Does the Hermit call forth the Moon in the same way the Moon evokes the Hermit? Or is there a subtle difference?

2. Readings are usually individual, for one person, at a particular moment. But is it possible there is always a larger context, belonging to the times we all live in? I’ve been thinking how the last century, 1900 to 1999, was the century of the Sun, card 19. On the one hand, science made great advances, and on a simple level electric light brought the sun to the night. But it also was the century of nuclear fire, the energy which actually powers the sun. Now we are in the century of 20__, the century of Judgement. What will this be like? How might it lurk behind all our readings, whether card 20 shows up or not? Let’s bring Judgement cards from different decks (it’s called Awakening in the Shining Tribe deck) and we’ll look at them together to see if we come up with some sense of this card’s messages for the century—and the readings we do.

3. Here is a very interesting idea I encountered from a Portuguese astrologer: the three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, all represent large archetypal energies, based partly on their positions, but also on the mythological associations of the names they were given. And yet, she told us, these energies, which she emphasized are not physical, could not actually manifest in our psychic world until the physical planets were discovered by astronomers. If I understood her, it was not just that people were not aware of these energies in their lives, the energies actually were not active. So what does this tell us about the power of Tarot images, and how they work in our lives?

4. Here is a grouping I call the Three Sisters: Destiny Divination Desire. What is the actual function of divination in this group? Does divination simply report destiny, or does it in some way allow desire to transform destined events (or maybe just give us a fighting chance)?

5. Some may remember the biographies we did of the Magician and High Priestess (remember how the Magician was a carnival huckster until he met a woman lion tamer?). In Lisbon I decided to look at the life of the Empress.

a. What is her empire? 3 of Cups
b. How did she come to rule it? 9 of Wands
c. What is her relationship to the Emperor? Queen of Wands
d. What will she do to protect it? 9 of Cups

So how does this strike you? What do you think of her life secrets? If time permits, we will lay this out and discuss it (and I will see how it compares to what the Lisbon folks came up with).

Published in: on May 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Comments (5)  

READING FOR THE DAY FROM THE SEE OF LOGOS

Some time ago, I created a 32 card oracle deck, called The See Of Logos. Unlike most oracle decks, such as Lenormand, which contain simple pictures that you can interpret as you will, The See takes the daring step of actually telling you what will happen.

32 exact prophecies! In fact, the title page of the (unpublished) deck reads “Guaranteed 100% Accuracy!” Can’t get better than that, can you?

So, for today, Saturday, April 7, which happens to be Easter Sunday Eve, and also the first day of Passover, I pulled a card at random. Here is what it said:

You will break every commandment in the Torah but one. God will smile at you and tell you, “It’s okay. You got the right one.”

See? 100% accuracy.

Published in: on April 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  

A LONG AGO DREAM

A LONG AGO DREAM

The story below comes out of my thoughts about Teiresias and Oedipus from working on Tyrant Oidipous, my and Davd Vine’s translation of Sophocles’s ancient play, usually called Oedipus Rex. for more on this, see the play’s site, www.TyrantOidipous.com. Teiresia also is on my mind because it’s April, the month of T. S. Eliot’s great epic, The Wasteland. Eliot described Teiresias as the poem’s “secret hero.” This is interesting, because the poem is based on the Grail myth, and the Tarot, not the Ancient Greek stories. Teiresias is the secret hero of Tyrant Oidipous as well.

And now, the dream, and the story behind it.

Three times in my life I have traveled to Greece. The second time, in 1990, I visited temples, Cretan ruins, caves, and other sacred sites, in particular Delphi and Eleusis, to understand and experience them for my book The Body of the Goddess.

A few years ago I led a group of people on a return to some of these same places in a sacred journey to celebrate the Mysteries. Here, too, Delphi was central. We performed a ritual there that I called The Opening To Apollo (described below) that continues to resonate in my life in powerful ways—including Tyrant Oidipous, in which Apollo never appears, but looms behind every moment.

In contrast to the two later journeys, my first trip to Greece, in 1975, was primarily to visit two friends who’d bought a yacht to sail and live in as their home. My partner and I were living in Amsterdam at the time, where we’d met the boat women, so we took a “Magic Bus” (hippie express) to Athens and then a ferry to Samos, where the boat was docked.

It was a strange journey. The tyranny of the “Colonels” (military junta) had collapsed just months before. Though people rejoiced at the return of democracy, fear and sorrow still hung in the air. At one point our ferry boat stopped briefly at a small island, and Edith and I remarked to a Greek man we’d met on board that it looked very pleasant. No, he told us, his body suddenly stiff and white. It was a place of terror. The Colonels had built a concentration camp there to hold dissidents, those they did not simply kill. We were all glad when the boat set sail again.

Though I’d always loved mythology I did not do any special reading or research before the journey. I did not even know that Samos had been the home of the mathematician, mystic, musician, and philosopher Pythagoras, whose vision of numbers as the basis of existence partly underlay the Tarot deck that Edith and I carried with us wherever we traveled. I did, however, bring along one work of ancient Greek literature—David Grene’s translation of the Oidipous Tyrannos.

Our friends’ boat was beautiful, all polished brass and mahogany. But they were having engine problems and couldn’t launch it, a problem compounded by the lack of cooperation from the people in the small town where the boat was moored. They might have assumed prejudice, either against two women or two foreigners, except for a Greek businessman who’d told them how the town’s one garage had completely destroyed his boat’s battery. So my friends worked on the boat, and I gave what little help I could, and we ate in the taverna and drank retsina. And I read Grene’s Oedipus the King.

One night I dreamed a strange dream. I dream literally every time I fall asleep, and forget most of them, for if I kept a dream journal I would have little time for anything else. This one I have always remembered, almost as clear now as when I dreamt it, thirty-seven years ago.

It began with a situation similar to the current reality, that is, a group of people on a boat seeking assistance from an uncooperative town. The group was larger, with an official captain, and none of the real life people, just a kind of anonymous cast of actors in the story.

In the dream there was a strange house on the edge of town, that people believed housed an oracle. Our group decided that we might gain favor if we pretended to believe in this local superstition. So, a bit giddy, we all traveled to the mystery house.

It was built on a steep hillside, so that you entered at the top, descended several levels, and emerged at the bottom of the hill. The stairs were narrow, so that we had to walk down in single file. I was next to last, just before the captain, whom I remember as a bearded middle-aged man with a blue captain’s hat, and maybe a naval jacket.

As the stairs went down and down the hallway became narrower, darker, the walls and steps now stone, the passage smoky. Ahead of me my friends whispered and giggled, but I was happy when I saw the end approach. Everyone before me had emerged, and I could see the open doorway, with bright sunshine outside, though the light did not penetrate into the passageway.

I was just about to step out, into the sun, when suddenly, behind me, a girl in a long elaborate dress, her body young but her face creased and ancient, stepped out of the darkness, as if she’d been waiting in a room I couldn’t see. She walked up to the captain, right behind me, and screamed “Oedipus! There is a curse upon your house!”

And then I was outside, stunned, unable to speak, while all my friends seemed to be at a party, drinking wine from elegant glasses in the bright sunshine as they joked about what fools the silly townspeople were to believe that stuffy old house contained something magical.

I woke up gasping for breath.

Recently I have been re-reading Peter Lamborn Wilson’s wonderful book Shower of Stars: Dream And Book, about people who are initiated in dreams, either by a master whom they cannot visit in person, or by a spirit. It strikes me now that the girl in my dream was Teiresias (or Teiresia, her female form), and she was not a symbol, or a character in a story, but the seer herself, a genuine visitation. It was not long after this that I began to teach the tarot, something I had never planned to do.

Published in: on April 5, 2012 at 2:44 am  Comments (4)  

OIDIPOUS AND TEIRESIAS

Over on TyrantOidipous.com I’ve posted my first Journal entry, a blog about my long-standing fascination with the play Oidipous Tyrannos (Oedipus Rex), which Davd Vine and I have just translated, as Tyrant Oidipous. I thought I would post it here as well. First, the link to the other site is here.

Recently on Facebook, Camelia Elias, publisher of Tyrant Oidipous, quoted one of her favorite moments from the play, when the blind seer Teiresias denounces Oidipous. The two of them have been jousting, sneering at each other, accusing each other, and Teiresias is about to leave when suddenly he states:

“I declare that unawares you live with those closest to you
in a shameful bond. You do not see that you are doing something evil.”

I was struck by her singling out this speech and wrote the following reply.

“Camelia, this is a wonderful moment to feature. Besides its inherent drama, it shows us the power of the oracular voice. Before this there has been a somewhat comic battle of egos between Oidipous and Teiresias, a kind of “Oh yeah? Well, take that!” But when Teiresias speaks as the seer something very different emerges, a divine aspect. It’s interesting that with so much on Delphi and the “message” from the oracle (as Oidipous puts it) we never actually learn the precise words of Apollo spoken by the Pythia (the woman who delivers the prophecy at Delphi). The only time we experience the real divine voice it’s through the seer.”

Now, thinking about this some more, I thought it might be interesting to explore the image of Teiresias.

Teiresias is portrayed in the play, and elsewhere, especially the Odyssey, as the very image of a seer. Originally the name may have described a whole class of people, diviners and what today we would call psychics. Mythology, the power of stories, has made Teiresias a single figure who appears in many tales. The name has various interpretations, and is sometimes translated (loosely) as “Delights in signs,” in other words, someone who goes deeply into the oracular experience. T. S. Eliot said that Teiresias was the secret hero of his great poem, The Wasteland, a true modern epic.

Teiresias has long fascinated me. Described as a blind hermaphrodite who sees everything, s/he would seem to be an alchemical figure who transcends ordinary humanity. There are various stories, some just jokes, really, of how Teiresias became a blind seer. One states that because he was first a man, then a woman, and then a man again, he was asked to judge an argument between Zeus and Hera over whether men or women enjoy sex more. In typical married couple manipulation, each one insisted the other side had the advantage. So they decided to ask the only person who had been both. Teiresias said that if enjoyment were ten parts, women would have nine and men one. Furious, Hera struck him blind, then Zeus, to compensate, gave him the power of oracular sight. This is clearly a kind of sit-com gloss on mythology!

Sophocles treats the issues of seeing, blindness, and knowing much more intensely. Oidipous ridicules Teiresias’s blindness, treating him as someone handicapped and therefore weak, despite Teiresias’s clear power. At the end of the play, after his own desire for the truth has made him see the reality of who he is and what he is done, Oidipoius blinds himself. Without conscious thought (he had a lot on his mind!) he has fulfilled the curse he earlier made on the killer he did not know was himself. No man of Thebes shall look upon the murderer’s face, he declared. Thus he puts out his own eyes, that he might never see himself in a mirror, a pool of water.

One of the stories about Teiresias, the sex changing, clearly points to esoteric practices, what I call alchemy. Supposedly a shepherd when young, Teiresias came across two snakes copulating. Some versions say he killed the female and became magically changed to a woman. Others, however, say that he thrust his shepherd’s staff—Tarotists might say his Wand—in between them, and was transformed.

A stick between two snakes forms the caduceus, the magic staff of Hermes, who uses it to guide dead souls on their journey (the association with the medical profession might be a mistake, for the healing wand of Aesclapious, founder of medicine, was a stick with one snake wound around it.

The caduceus forms an image of awakened kundalini, which yoga teachings describe as a snake at the bottom of the spine that uncoils as two streams wind around the spine until they reach the crown of the head where the energy opens into mystical light. The caduceus is pictured with wings at the top, and sometimes light.

Teiresias—or Teiresia, to use what would be the feminine version—lives seven years as a woman, seven being the number of the planetary spheres, and thus a complete cycle. Then, the myth tells us, she once again sees two snakes copulating and either repeats the trick with a staff, or once more kills one of them, the male this time, and again becomes a man.

All this can illustrate the deep mystery of kundalini, which is said to bring out the female in a man, the male in a woman (see also the famous Gospel of Thomas), producing a complete person, what the alchemists call The Crowned Hermaphrodite. The World card in the Tarot, symbol of perfection, is often associated with this figure.

A couple of years ago I had a chapbook of Tarot inspired poems published, Fortune’s Lover. The poem for The Lovers featured Teiresias and the caduceus. Here it is:

LOVERS

He was out walking with the sheep

when he saw the snakes,

two of them, copulating. He pushed his

staff, his Ace of Wands,

between them and became, briefly,

the Caduceus, a spine of light

entwined with serpents.

And when the human stepped back she’d

become a woman.

Seven years passed, as she traveled

through the seven planetary spheres,

the seven palaces supported on seven wise pillars.

Then she saw the snakes again,

the same pair or another, it makes no difference,

she moved her Cup between them,

and became—

not a man again, but something

more, beyond addition and subtraction,

a Knower, a Speaker,

blinded by Hera, sighted by Zeus,

Teiresias, whose name means

The One Who Delights In Signs.

The card of the Lovers—

a man on the right, a woman on the left,

and above and between them an angel

with outstretched arms and fiery hair—

together they are all Teiresas,

bright Caduceus in a single life.

A Praise Poem For Teiresias

Delighter in signs, ancestor,

you are always right.

You see beyond sight.

You see all the way through.

Delighter in signs, ancestor,

you read correctly.

Delighter in signs, ancestor,

You are always right.

Your body is snakes,

your face is wings.

your hair is plumage.

Delighter in signs, ancestor,

you question the owls,

they cannot refuse you.

Delighter of signs, ancestor,

you read correctly.

You know the secrets of men,

you know the secrets of women,

you know between and beyond,

above and below.

Delighter of signs, ancestor,

you taste the tongues of angels.

Delighter of signs, ancestor,

you are always right.

You open the door,

you see beyond windows.

You know all the meanings,

you know reversed and upright,

you know all the spreads.

Delighter of signs, ancestor,

you read correctly.

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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