We Do and We Hear

In the movie Julie and Julia there’s a moment when Julia Child is waiting in a train station for Avis, a friend of many years and many letters back and forth. A bit nervously Julia tells the woman who has come with her to the station that Avis has said she will be wearing a plaid jacket and that is how Julia will recognize her.

The friend is confused. Has Julia never met Avis? No, Julia says, they’ve only written letters.

The friend is amazed, and clearly we in the audience are meant to be as well. How can you have a years long correspondence with someone you’ve never met? To me this is quite ordinary. I have been writing letters for years with nine or ten people, only three of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting face to face (and them only once or twice).

I collect fountain pens. Some are brand new, others as much as 100 years old.

Fountain Pens

Fountain Pens

[Group of Wahl pens from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. The gold pen, second from left, inspired my story “Master Matyas” in my bookThe Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales. Look closely and you can see the inscription, “M. Matyas”.]

The pens are not for show, I write with them. I write almost all my books and stories and articles by hand, in journals with blank pages (I don’t want to draw between the lines, why should I write in them?)

And I write letters. There’s a whole community of us, connected by online forums (my favorite— www.Pentrace.net) but then branching off into actual letters, sometimes running eight or nine pages. When I first starting doing this a friend asked “What do you write about?” (considering that I didn’t know any of the people). I kind of mumbled “Well, mostly what pens we’re using, and where we got them.”

That’s changed. With some people I write about politics (including a friend in Baltimore who’s as far right as I’m left), some it’s metaphysics, some it’s issues of psyche and identity, and with some it’s just about our lives. My pen pals include a horse rancher in Texas (formerly of the intelligence community), an Indian-American physicist in Anne Arbor, and a poet and academic in New Zealand (okay, her I met first, before we began writing),

One of my favorite correspondents is a woman deeply versed in Jewish history, Talmud, and other spiritual traditions, including early Christianity. Her name is Myra Love, and she’s one of the people I’ve met (twice now). Myra’s letters are long and rich, covering a lot of territory.

In the most recent, she wrote that when the Israelites heard the divine voice at Mt. Sinai they responded “We do and we hear.” This, as Myra says, is an odd construction, since we’d expect the opposite. I wrote back that what they were being told was not immediately clear to them, and that the only way it could ever become clear, be really heard, was by doing what was asked of them.

Some things cannot be theorized. We have to do them to know what they’re about, and often, keep doing them before we can start to get what they are. Tarot reading is like this. Some people try to study books, and memorize meanings before they try out reading the cards. But reading cards is so fluid and dynamic, changing every time we do it, that the only way to learn is by doing. We do and we hear.

I decided to ask the Tarot about this issue—literally do a reading and see if I could hear what the cards were telling me. Two cards, one for doing, one for hearing, from The Shining Tribe Tarot.



Doing—Justice. One of the primary attributes of this card is seeing, looking. The Tarot version of Justice does not wear a blindfold. And of course, the first thing we do with a card is look at it. But the seeing of Justice is also a commitment to truth. We do readings justly. In my book Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings, I quoted a line from the Torah: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Thus, one of the main things the Israelites pledged to do before they could hear was pursue justice.



Hearing—the Chariot. The Chariot is a vehicle of action, of will, but not just the will of the ego. By reaching up into the light, the Charioteer connects his will to something higher. The Chariot is a vehicle. Two thousand years ago mystics traveled to heavenly “palaces” through intense visualizations of a divine chariot. “Hearing” is not a physical act but a total experience that takes us to unknown places.

We do and we hear.

The Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales

Tarot of Perfection

Tarot of Perfection

The Shining Tribe Tarot, Revised and Expanded

The Shining Tribe Tarot

The Shining Tribe Tarot

Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings

Tarot Wisdom

Tarot Wisdom

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 5:10 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. very glad the blog is back.
    those are some good looking fountain pens.

  2. Your reflections when the Israelites heard the divine voice at Mt. Sinai they responded “We do and we hear.” reminded me of that now classed text by the late Julian Jaynes THE ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND.
    That doing preceeds hearing is an aspect of the intact bicameral mind. Hearing is an after echo of the command. The voice of God is action without the the interference of reflective qualities of hearing as delay or choice of conscience.
    Even though his neuorobiology is a bit outdated the works does suggest a complex stage of human being where self-consciousness is not necessary.
    Likewise Justice proceeds choice, if we take the chariot a well armoured-self (ego). Here the the armour is the collectivity of selves, roles, that make a whole person.

    • Thank you, Paul. Jaynes’s book has been sitting on my shelf for at least 15 years. One of these days…

      As I understand it, he assumes the Gods (not to mention God) were manifestations of the split brain talking to itself. is that a sort of atheistic interpretation, the Gods as a delusional state? Just a thought.

  3. So what would be a good fountain pen to start with? I have had this on my want list for a long time, but which to start with? Nothing too expensive, but not cheap. Any suggestions?

    When I was a little girl rummaging in my mothers desk I came across an old plain fountain pen I used it for as long as the nub lasted, I’ve wanted one ever sense. Silly how we dream of something and yet don’t take the action to make it happen.

    • Somehow I think I missed this. On getting a modern fountain pen,two companies that have a whole range, and generally good quality, are Waterman and Pelikan. the waterman Phileas, which costs about $50, is very attractive and usually reliable (I say usually because a friend has one that seems to have stopped writing). Lamy has a nice inexpensive pen called the Safari. I find the nib too stiff but a log of people love it. Good luck, and let me know what you choose.

  4. Yes that is what reviewers said. And Jaynes himself was agnostic but it is actually a trivialization of the points and views proposed. The bicameral mind was quite adaptive to make elaborate social organization. Delusion as we might understand it is less sustainable.

    I think Jaynes was more interested that sovereign ego consciousness was not necessary for social health or sophisticated social organization. Also he promised but never delivered to demonstrate how the reflexivity of the bicamerial command-response demonstrated the language basis of self-consciousness. A common conceit of phenomenology, the necessity of language for consciousness and memory I do not think has been convincingly demonstrated.

    One reason Jaynes book took hold of me was that years before I had read some tome on the “Problems of Historical Psychology” that made the same points as Jaynes about the lack of Self-consciousness in Homer and his language of the Iliad.

    This hallucinated view of awareness has some more contemporary variations of note by Stan Gooch in his The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind (Inner Traditions) 978-1-59477-164-4.

    I think you might, after reading his neurobiological theories, come to some interesting ways that tarot reading may engage this primitive neurophysiology. Gooch’s research takes into account aspects of brain physiology studies done in the 90s that Jaynes’ work does not reflect (death does put a cramp in keeping up with research!)

  5. Good grief, all these years reading and admiring your work and you turn out to have a fountain pen jones. Who would have thought?
    All of my fountain pens are Sheaffers; they are simple, proletariat, functional and reasonably accessible from NOS dealers like Teri at Peyton Street.

    I would enjoy tremendously exchanging just one, brief written correspondence.

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