Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (19) Death

Death rides, armoured in black steel, against the white fire of the rising sun. Somehow resplendent in his fuliginous robes, the gaunt figure on a pale horse strikes fear into every watching soul. In long and skilful hands, Death wields a scythe; he sometimes bears a flag unfurling to reveal a single silver rose. It is almost too obvious a symbol. Yet, near the hooves of his charger, a small child plays, fearless and unmoved by the grim sight above.

The image here is one of Transformation, from one state to another of almost-equal potential. Death is the facilitator here, a catalyst which shifts the nature of the landscape, from the familiar to the unknown, from one perspective to another; and of course, Death walks the thin line, the boundary or terminus between Life and what lies beyond it. Yet, Death is also Change, the progression from one state to another quite different - from night to day as the sun rises, from darkness to light, from childhood to maturity. Death is the harbinger of the new.


It's odd how often one returns to T S Eliot. And yet, he was one of the great prophets of the Age of Decay - so perhaps we should not be surprised. In his Dans le Restaurant, and again in his magnum opus, The Waste Land, Eliot returns to the theme of Death as transformation.

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


Phlébas, le Phénicien, pendant quinze jours noyé,
Oubliait les cris des mouettes et la houle de Cornouaille,
Et les profits et les pertes, et la cargaison d’étain:
Un courant de sous-mer l’emporta très loin,
Le repassant aux étapes de sa vie antérieure.
Figurez-vous donc, c’était un sort pénible,
Cependant, ce fut jadis un bel homme, de haute taille.

Death transforms us all; the death of self and the resultant transformation, while still in this flesh, may be one for the better.

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Interlude 4: Self-Portraits

It is the curse of the man of books that when he tries to find words to express himself, he knows that many have expressed his sentiments with purer lines and better turns of phrase. Yet, there is a challenge in that which tempers the iridium-tipped quill and in the end makes it limn an image better.

But here is Browning first, from Andrea del Sarto, called the Faultless Painter:

I, painting from myself and to myself,
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
“Had I been two, another and myself,
Our head would have o’erlooked the world!” No doubt.

It is very close to a sketch of myself, or at least the part that interfaces with my work. It has a self-mocking irony that comes with being confident. Such confidence is not the confidence of success, but the belief that failure diminishes the self by very little if at all - the glorious attempt or the truth of self are, either one, sufficient. And having made myself uneasy by the recollection, let us move on to Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

This is the other side of me, the part that interfaces with the world. It has no irony at all; it is genuine self-deprecation, not of false humility, but of consciousness of role. I am no Hamlet, no great Dane. But I make good filler, and I write reports and documents that augment the presence and capability of my superiors. Perhaps the greatest unease is evoked by Ted Hughes, though. Here is an excerpt from his tragic poem, Wolfwatching:

But all the time
The awful thing is happening: the iron inheritance,
The incredible rich will, torn up
In neurotic boredom and eaten,
Now indigestible. All that restlessness
And lifting of ears, and aiming, and re-aiming
Of nose, is like a trembling
Of nervous breakdown, afflicted by voices.
Is he hearing the deer? Is he listening
To gossip of non-existent forest? Pestered
By the hour-glass panic of lemmings
Dwindling out of reach? He's run a long way
Now to find nothing and be patient.
Patience is suffocating in all those folds
Of deep fur. The fairy tales
Grow stale all around him
And go back into pebbles.

Sometimes, this too is part of me. It is an itch I can't scratch. And so, as we stagger towards completion and the end of all things, I pray a lot that the journey will feel worthwhile - for while intellect accepts worth as abstraction, emotion demands value as instantiation.

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The Greater Trumps: (18) The Hanged Man

There is a mighty cross in a still place. A man (a Fool?) dangles from it by one foot, with his other ankle tucked behind the suspended knee. On his face is a look of utter calm, total peace. Sometimes, his arms are folded, sometimes they dangle. His pockets are emptying themselves of coins and the other debris one normally finds in pockets. Some of the fallen pieces have begun to form words on the ground, but none of them are readable as yet.

The Hanged Man will depend from his cross for nine days. On the ninth day, he will find Wisdom, say the old myths. Some say he will be harvested, like John Barleycorn. Some say he will gain the knowledge of the future, like Odin on Yggdrasil. Whatever it is, the enlightenment of the Hanged Man is the reason for his odd position, suspended between heaven and earth. With his suspension, he loses his cares and his coins, and comes to be at rest.

This image symbolises Sacrifice - the surrender of all earthly attachments and perspectives. It also symbolises Insight, for the Hanged Man sees himself endlessly, at the centre of the universe for a brief instant before he falls into the sea of knowledge.


The Hanged Man has always been at or near the centre of the Greater Trumps. I think of this image a lot - the 'surrender that leads to serenity' is what comes to my mind. Yet the Hanged Man isn't hanging there to escape, or to have fun. He is hanging there in order to gain knowledge from the loss of his material attachments. It's hard work.

Here's something from one of my favourite poems, T S Eliot's The Waste Land:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Why was the Hanged Man not found? The answer is clear - in a wasteland, there is no wisdom to be had, even with sacrifice.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (17) Justice

Justice is a female of stern and unseeing aspect, conventionally portrayed as blind, with the scales in one hand and a sword in the other. This representation has its roots in the Qabbala, and even earlier: it was in the past quite conventional to portray Justice as female and Mercy as male. Only in this present age have these roles been more frequently reversed, to the discomfiture and bane of society.

But why is it that we think of Justice as blind? Some representations have her as fully sighted, the better to assess the findings of the scales and to deliver the judgement of the sword. The idea of 'blind Justice' is a Greek idea - that Justice should be the equal right of all who were qualified to receive it, without fear or favour. This is the seed of an idea - that it is honourable to be perfectly just.

Other cultures were not so idealistic - the Egyptian image of the jackal-headed god Anubis, peering with shrewd and exacting eyes at the scales of justice, comes to mind. Anubis, of course, did not wield a sword; rather, he would have pounced upon the guilty heart and thrown it into the darkness to be devoured. But Anubis was not Justice; rather, he was the Guardian of the Dead, holding a watching brief over the souls undergoing the process of judgement. More a bailiff, perhaps.

The image of Justice, therefore signifies Honour and Rectitude - the righting of the scales for everyone, regardless of place or position.


I have always thought of Justice as a feminine aspect. My mother could descend upon me and pronounce sentence with exquisite exactness for all my youthful failings. It was my father who was merciful. I will always remember the day my A-level results came out. Mother's response: "Whaaaaat??? That's not very good!" Father's response: "You passed everything? Let's buy a CD player."

And so, to Kipling, and his peculiarly British awareness of God's justice:

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

It's a sobering thought to realise that in the long term, Justice prevails by balance, by the natural internal adjustment of societal forces. When Justice can no longer prevail, society fails. Sometimes, individuals must take upon themselves the terrible burden of being Justice to the world around them. It is one of the most painful and exacting of burdens.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is...

So said Hopkins, and his Jesuitical eye certainly saw the truth of it.

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The Greater Trumps: (16) The Future

He is an ordinary man, but well-built, with the eye and aspect of a roosting hawk. He bears a staff in one hand, shields his eyes from the sun with the other. He stands on a cliff, and looks out to sea. In the distance are approaching ships, but he cannot see what colour their sails are, and he cannot remember why that should be important. The look on his face is difficult to describe; he is perplexed, perhaps a little angry - at himself or at another. He is a little grim as he wills himself to recall the past, but there is an openness about his gaze, about the crows' feet around his eyes, that speaks of wonderment at what is to come - and the will to meet it with all his powers.

That is the nature of this image. The Future signifies the indomitable Will, that which is armour against the unlooked-for disaster and that which is proof against the too-early acceptance of joy. Not only does it speak of the Will, but of Perspective, that sense which compares one thing against another and assesses its significance against a broader background. In many ways, the Future complements the Past; and neither is the other's inferior.


The one thing I hope for all the future is a simple thing: I pray that God forgives us for all we have done that was grievous and all we have failed to do which would have made life better than it was before. Kipling, for all his tendencies toward jingoistic imperialism, understood this very well. Auden, for all his elegant cynicism, yearned for that healing.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

The future ends for each of us when the prison door opens. We will be free then, in that day when the words in our head say, "Terminus est" - here is the line of division.

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Interlude 3: Halfway

I felt a great sense of loss today.

Looking through old school magazines, looking at empty desks soon to be filled by new teachers and students, looking at young people who are losing their innocence (remember, this word means the quality of being non-poisonous) - and those who have lost all pretentions to youthful naïveté; all this makes me feel that some things are being lost.

Brian Duffy says in Tim Powers's The Drawing of the Dark, "Much has been lost, and there is yet much to lose." It is even worse to think about what may yet be lost. But that is why blogs are good things. Some day, the generation that is in high school right now will look back and be able to see their angst-filled teenage years in all their glory, and they will see what has been gained and what has been lost.

So in the end, I don't feel the impact of that loss so much. I am armoured by the thought of what is good and right about the contentiousness, the angst, the flippancy, the sheer teenagerhood of it all. And most of all, I am armoured by the fact that I have never lost sight of my own fallibility, as both man and boy (although I must admit that it is easy to accept a little dimming of the view of one's own youthful excesses).

Perhaps it is indeed time to turn from the past at least halfway, and look towards the future. Who knows whether the best is yet to be or not? We can only hope.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (15) The Past

She is a stately figure, tall, elegant, beautiful and wise. Her long hair is as white as snow, and her robes are as dark as night. She looks out of a window, down into a distant courtyard. In that courtyard a child is playing - and that child is the person she once was. Beyond the courtyard are walls; beyond the walls, a river flows. As we look upon this scene, certain ambiguities begin to manifest: the window looks like a mirror's frame, or perhaps the frame of a picture; the woman's face shows both triumph and regret; her robes are rich velvet or austere fuligin. Do the walls constrain, or do they protect?

And that is the nature of this image. The Past portrays our capacity for Reflection and Retrospection - we learn from History, both personal and public; the Past defines us somehow. We might feel regret or triumph, having survived the Past and paid a certain cost. We never escape it, and yet the fact that it remains with us gives us a sense of existence and something to think about - always.


I'm probably over-romanticising this image, but it brings to mind a particular piece by Lord Byron...

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

The Past is always with us. It's both a comforting and a disconcerting thought; but the way I am, I think of it mostly with fondness, forgetting the ill that is gone by and remembering the good times that continue to encourage me.

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The Greater Trumps: (14) The Sphinx

In the far wastelands of the world, in the white desert under the cold stars, the Sphinx sits. It is certainly large; its body is that of a titanic lion and its head is that of a noble human. Some portray it as a female form, hungry for wisdom and with a weakness for riddles; some portray it as a male form, contemplative and static, bound to a specific place. In either form, it has presence and exerts a kind of pressure on its surroundings - the pressure of its existence and the weight of years.

It is this influence which the Sphinx symbolises - the weight of Time as it moves on inexorably, or the sheer influence of Duration, of perdurability and the property of being there all the time. To invoke the image of the Sphinx is to evoke both time and timelessness, both duration and decay, both existence and entropy - for each pair is a coin with two sides.


Yeats's peculiar magical vision in The Second Coming is often dominated in our minds by the image of the falcon "turning and turning in the widening gyre". The centripetal effect of entropy, of spiritual loss leading to things falling apart, blots out the equally compelling image in the second half of the poem:

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

It is clear what Yeats had in mind when he penned these ominous words. What is troubling and less clear is whether our fragile modernity can withstand the weight of that monstrous image when it finally manifests, perdurable and insulting to our human world.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (13) The Wheel Of Fortune

A wheel this is, its struts and essence forged of a hundred different metals. It flames with light, it turns its many spokes in sequence to the sky. Oddly, unusually and disturbingly, a man and a woman, the beasts of their acquaintance, the symbols of their language are here too, all turning upon the wheel while an angel with a flaming sword (or a sphinx, or some other inscrutable Power) looks down. What is on the lips of the noble observer, no mortal can fathom.

The wheel seems to turn always from darkness to light; it is almost always the symbol of Fortune, and sometimes rarely of Chance which does not quite seem fortunate. It is the ridiculous but happy optimism of one kind of Fool - and it galls the pessimist because this kind of Fool always seems to have it right. Life, according to the Wheel of Fortune, is generally good. Or almost always so.


When I had just begun dating, I had the misfortune to encounter that extremely persistent song, Noel Harrison's The Windmills Of Your Mind. It seeped into the gaps between the bricks of my consciousness and could not be grouted out. The first part goes:

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning, running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes on its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find, in the windmills of your mind

But the part that really made every subsequent date an adventure on the brink of fatalism (perhaps seasoned with a touch of terror) were these penultimate stanzas:

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly? Was it something that you said?
Lovers walk along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?

Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half-remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over, were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the colour of her hair?

Yes, indeed one ought to savour every moment of youth, every last drop of summer wine. Yet, as Ecclesiastes seems to hint, with the sweet comes the bitter - and time brings out every poignant aftertaste there is. Every heady dose of fortune comes with its little chances and the potential for great loss.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Interlude 2: Gaming

People play games all the time. There is a natural tendency to believe that every interaction between people is a game; some people are born players, or think they are, or think that players can be born. And, just as in the last entry of this kind, there are people who will take what is not a game and behave as if it were, with points being scored in terms of money, power, sex, property, combinations thereof, or combinations in spite of.

There are even people who will write books purporting that this is all true.

But not everything is a game. And yet, everything can be treated as one. It is a problem to those who have the itch, and a worse one to those who try not to itch. For the more perverse of minds will insist: "He who does not play games is himself playing one."

The Greater Trumps: (12) The Family

A man and a woman, with two children; a traditional family to the casual eye. But look at the background: that forest foliage is a single great tree - a twining entanglement of darkness and light, and the knowledge thereof. A huge serpent awaits in the shade of the tree. And this traditional family has two very dissimilar sons, one handling a lamb, the other holding wheatsheaves.

The imagery is ancient; in ancient Egypt, the father and mother might have been Shu and Tefnut - the twin powers of dry hot radiance and moist cool darkness. More likely, they would have been Geb and Nut - the heavens and the earth - whose children Osiris and Set would war against each other, the bright king of fertile crops and the evil prince of animals, and lay waste to the land of Egypt. The serpent would have been Apophis, the monster that chases the sun on its path through the underworld.

But those familiar with the Biblical account of Adam and Eve would see a different symbolism: this is the family outside Eden, an allusion to the fallen nature of man. It is not a happy family - soon, the two sons will grow older and Cain the elder (whose sacrifice of grain is rejected) will kill Abel the younger (whose sacrifice of a lamb is accepted). The tree in the background is that of the knowledge of Good and Evil, whose fruit it was death to consume; the serpent is the agent of Satan, or Satan himself.

The Family is the symbol of Nature, animal and vegetable, dark and light, good and evil, male and female. Like Nature, it always appears to be in balance. But this balance is an illusion; Nature is as inexorable in change and progress as anything else. Like the Chariot, it moves; like the Lovers, it has duality and complementarity; but Nature moves towards its own inscrutable and imbalanced end. It is an end which is buried in Entropy and the end of all songs; there is no 'happily ever after'.


To my mind, this image really exposes the false dichotomy between Nature and Nurture. It is natural for humans to do things to their world, to impose their strength upon the world and remake it in their own image. We are Nature's unnatural offspring, but we are part of Nature nevertheless - and the other face of Nature is Entropy.

The last two verses of Auden's intriguing poem, After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics, describe that odd dilemma we face: are we of Nature or not? Is it Sin to want to know?

This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

It has chosen once, it seems,
And whether our concern
For magnitude's extremes
Really become a creature
Who comes in a median size,
Or politicizing Nature
Be altogether wise,
Is something we shall learn.

And so, we work our own uncertain way within the Family of Man, trying to control Nature (of which we are a part), accusing one another of perverting Nature and perverting ourselves. Perhaps the only neutral arbiter is He who made Nature, and often, He does not comply with our incessant and importunate requests.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (11) Strength

In some representations of Strength, he is Heracles, the Lady's own champion, clad in the skin of the Nemaean Lion. The dead beast's skull is his helm. He has mastered the untameable by breaking its neck; he has taken its totemic power for his own. And now, he sees no challenges before him - the mastery of challenge has left the champion bereft. Or perhaps, he is his own master, and the circle is closed.

In most representations of Strength, however, she is Koré - the ever-virginal, the Maiden. The Lion is very much alive, but her gentle hands are stroking its jaws, and the jaws are either closing or opening at her persuasion. Innocent belief, coupled with the will towards mastery, has achieved the impossible. This is another kind of strength, the strength of innocence which calms the savage beast.

Either of these representations reveals that Strength is not about strength, really, but about Discipline and Mastery. Whereas the Chariot unites opposites, pitting them against each other until a useful outcome is produced, Strength pits the inner self against an external challenge, and balance is attained when both come to an agreement. So both Heracles and Koré become the Lion, in a metaphorical sense, and in doing so, harness energy for their future tasks.


The funny thing is that in the same year of my life, I read W H Auden, Dylan Thomas, G M Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Those of you who went through the same English Literature course will remember it. Along the way, our encounter with Auden revealed a very disciplined poet whose mastery of language was too great. Because he was able to select the exactly appropriate word for each line, and select them all with ironic (and sometimes bitter) wit, he was sometimes thought to be trite; he was often seen as a facile dabbler, an amateur who played too much. Yet on deeper digging, one finds the oddly rueful and pathetic:

Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine,
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off chaos at arm's length.

My Eden landscapes and their climes
Are constructs from Edwardian times,
When bath-rooms took up lots of space,
And, before eating, one said Grace.

This is strength drawn from the ambience of tradition, from the comfort of the surroundings which generate affection. But there are those who find strength in more heroic vein, and here, as most would, I must quote a far less cynical (but not less powerful) poet - Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Strength - whether of the desperate, urgent kind or of the gentler and more reflective kind - is the mark of the heroic. And as Ulysses looks into the twilight, he sees where that strength can yet lead him.

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The Greater Trumps: (10) Desire

The figure is in love with himself, or herself. It is hard to tell which, or even if there is one person, or if there are two. It is a convoluted fleshscape, saved from a pornographic fate by garlands of roses and the white cloth of purity. Purity? Yes, even Eros is portrayed as a cherub in white raiment - for the passion that is thinly veiled here is the purity of emotion, whose fire is a fountain of roses, whose drink is the blessing of music, and whose poetry flows like water.

Desire is not all bad. True, there are dangers here - thorns among the roses, barbed and painful. But it is also true that the intensity of passion is limited by its purity, its intent to communicate and not to harm. The desire here is not a base passion for self-fulfilment or material things; it is a passion for the benediction of touch, of talk, of familiarity and shared experience.

Desire here is Emotion, made pure. And it is also Passion, the intense expression of the emotion within. What is your passion? And does it draw its power from emotion? Or is it a paltry and enfeebled infatuation?


It is an oddity of my education that when I read about Passion, I think of it theological and poetic terms. And of all the poets who most passionately limned passion, I remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. Specifically, I remember his tour de force, 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'. Its seventh stanza is given below:

It dates from the day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay...

It is hard going, to read and try to understand Hopkins's powerful lines. But it rewards the passionate reader with a passion of its own, paid out in the raw and perilous gold of pure emotion.

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The Greater Trumps: (09) The Chariot

It careens towards you, lethal and unstoppable. Yet, the Chariot and its charioteer are your allies. Perhaps. A warrior in jet and gold looks sternly at you. He holds the reins of two fantastic beasts, one as dark as night and the other as pale as ice. Sometimes, they are sphinxes; sometimes, horses - or pegasi. Sometimes the warrior is female, and lions draw her chariot.

What does it all mean? The Chariot, as with the other images, has at least two meanings. Seen from without, it signifies Precession - the inexorable progress of change. It is the same process which causes the Pole Star to change over the millennia, the same process that causes the rotation of seasons. Seen from within, it signifies Syzygy - the yoking together of opposites. This harnessing of opposing forces - light and dark, male and female - can lead to fruitful and harmonious action. Or not.

The overall theme of the Chariot, then, is Progress or Movement. It may mean victory over inertia, or change for the sake of change. But still it moves, as Galileo was heard to whisper.


I love the word syzygy. It has won me endless games of Hangman; by the time people get through all the five usual vowels they're normally almost hanged. But the time for the Hanged Man is not now. Instead, I leave you with a thought on the trustworthiness of progress:

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help;
and rely on horses,
and trust in chariots,
because they are many;
and in horsemen,
because they are very strong;
but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel,
neither seek the LORD!

Indeed, a blind trust in progress and movement, without asking what all that harnessed dynamism is for, is a great way to careen (or career) towards a rather final demolition of the soul.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (08) The Lovers

In ancient times, this image was that of Isis and Osiris, or Eve and Adam, with a sword dividing the couple - or bringing them together before it. It is the image of the offering of a Choice - which will be concluded by Isis taking up the challenge of recovering her lord's scattered body - or Adam taking up the challenge of exile with his lady wife - forever and ever till the ending of the age. Of course, the image goes beyond that stark brutality of decision: there is always happily ever after, once things have been worked out; once Osiris is whole; when Humanity is redeemed through the children of Eve.

But to get there, one needs a picture that can end well - two complementary halves must exist before the choice that leads to unity can be made. That is why the Lovers is also the image of the Complement, that which matches the one and makes the other whole. The potential tragedy of the Lovers is when Choice exists in the absence of Complement.


Without a doubt, this is the poem which comes to my mind when I think of the Lovers: Dylan Thomas's And Death Shall Have No Dominion. It is more than just a rant against the fall of night; it is a plea for time and space and humanity. It is also filled with the most wonderful images about that plaint. I reproduce it in full below.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

The Lovers make an image which attempts to survive death; it is the first of the trumps which makes active cause against that particular boundary of human existence. We would be much less as a race without this.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (07) The Hierophant

He is obviously intended to be a holy man, hand upraised in blessing; he is obviously portrayed as a leader of the faith, with his staff of office and his seat of power. The Hierophant is framed between two pillars (of Justice and Mercy? of Faith and Hope?) and supported by two acolytes. Some say he is Moses, the violent and irascible leader of a stiff-necked people; some say he is another, of either a younger or an older tradition.

What is not in doubt is that he stands on the ground he has chosen, to defend it for good or evil. You would have to hope that he has chosen aright; for the Hierophant is the champion of Tradition in his normal aspect. Like all such, he will not bend, even if he must break. And yet, the Hierophant has felt the favour of his faith for so long that he has begun to act from Intuition. Whether normal or reversed in aspect, he does not favour Reason - it is too mechanical, reeks too much of artifice to him. There is of course some irony here, but not much.


I've never really liked the Hierophant. He is, like the High Priestess, a dispenser of advice and knowledge. But where you feel the High Priestess might know the truth, or at least be convincing about it, the Hierophant gives the impression that there is no other truth but what he says - even if it isn't true. After all, 'hierophant' comes from the Greek for 'he who displays (the essence of) holiness'.

For some odd reason, the poem which reminds me of the Hierophant is a rather dire one by W H Auden; the following is an excerpt from it. Note that 'clever' below has a slightly negative connotation - it implies artifice.

He wasn't clever at all: he merely told
the unhappy Present to recite the Past
like a poetry lesson till sooner
or later it faltered at the line where

long ago the accusations had begun,
and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
how rich life had been and how silly,
and was life-forgiven and more humble,

able to approach the Future as a friend
without a wardrobe of excuses, without
a set mask of rectitude or an
embarrassing over-familiar gesture.

You can find the original here, and if you can seek out its heart in the convoluted silence, you will learn why Intuition and Tradition are the two faces of the Hierophant.

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Interlude 1: Interludes

An interlude is that period between two games, or two parts of a game. In modern times (especially when watching Arsenal beat Hamburg SV 3-1), the phrase 'half-time break' comes to mind. As I move through this world, I notice in particular two kinds of people who are blind with respect to games: those who know there is a game, but are playing the wrong game (or do not know which game is being played); those who do not recognize that there is a game, or who are convinced that there is no game.

The word 'game' itself has come to describe something not to be taken seriously or in earnest. It has met a similar fate to 'trivia'. In the latter case, 'trivia' referred to the three ways (tri + via) of mastering reason through language - grammar, logic and rhetoric. This trinity was called, as a whole, the Trivium.

Back to 'interlude'. The Latin word 'ludens' means 'playing' - Huizinga's homo ludens means '(game)-playing man', just as homo sapiens means 'intelligence-using man'. I was once speaking with a rich young man who was an heir to a large fortune. I asked him why he wanted to make more money. He replied, "Money is just a point-scoring device in human society. Although you can use it for many things, one major use people don't get is its use in establishing a pecking order."

That was just before I wiped him out in a friendly poker game (not something I'm extremely proud of, but it was fun, and this post is about games after all). We played a lot of bridge at penny-a-point in those days, too. But while all this was going on, the ongoing conversation on money and games in general became very interesting. The question behind it all was, "What is the game of life all about?"

It isn't a new question. Paul of Tarsus used to routinely compare the Christian life to boxing, wrestling, and foot-racing. A selective analysis of his theological writings would show a person whom you might suspect of being a secret jock, with his obvious interest in Olympic events.

And so, with all the gaming analogies and metaphors put on the board, it has become easy to think of life as a trivial pursuit, or as not a game at all, or as nothing but a game. As the song says, "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run..."

But life isn't quite so simple. Life is a game for the highest stakes of all - the quest for meaning. It is in the game of life that we discover life's meaning. Whether atheist or agnostic, sinner or saint, pantheist or polytheist, if meaning is not discovered by the time the timer runs out, then life has been wasted, and it is 'Game Over'.

This is why we should never give in to the meaningless or the mindless. To do work which your hand finds to do, with all your might, presupposes that it is work - that it is the directed use of energy towards a specific goal. For the quantity that is not-work is heat - the random distribution of energy towards no particular goal. Sometimes, much heat is generated without real work being done. This is what we must resist.

But what differentiates heat from work? The key point is information. Unless we have information, we cannot tell if there is a goal or a direction or a guiding consciousness. Then all work might as well be heat. Information is what we make of data, what our conscious and intelligent minds (or what we think of as our minds) do with our apprehension of the universe. We work towards comprehension, we strive to make meaning. This is what makes us human.

In the end, life will fail us in at least one sense. We will die, and information will be lost. This is mortality. We might fail in another sense, in making incorrect though well-meant use of information. This is fallibility. And we can be hurt by information, because we have feelings and weaknesses. This is vulnerability. But none of these failings takes away from us the quest for meaning, and what we stand to gain from it. For we are not only sapiens, but ludens - and we have been given the greatest game of all to play.

The Greater Trumps: (06) The Emperor

He is austere, majestic, and sits on a throne carved from the stony roots of the world. His rod is of a gravely luminous metal, his orb of kingship symbolizes the world. Rams' horns speak of his ability to lead, to call forth, and to engage. Behind him is the oak, above him is the eagle (sometimes looking both east and west), and the only symbol left unseen is the thunderbolt behind his eyes - or hidden in the roiling clouds above.

The Emperor is the archetype of leadership, of the will to power given form and shape. The Austrians wrote AEIOU, meaning Austriae est imperare orbi universo, and that was but one modern incarnation of that drive. Where the Empress was the Great Mother, the Emperor is the High Father, whose patronage ensures no excuse for failure - and the expectation of success.

We see Power as his face, true; but to see behind the mask of his face and find Authority - that is the difficult essence of rulership. Not everyone who wields power can summon the imperative aura, and it is Authority that is the source of Power. Yet the Emperor is also a creative force enchained and not necessarily happy to be so - the strategist and logistician made to sit upon a throne that is an onerous burden to him.

The Greeks used kratos, dünamis and bia to describe three kinds of Power. The first is that which comes from force of authority, the second is that which comes from the ability to move through force of personality, and the third is that which comes from the ability to coerce through force of violence. The Emperor is of the first kind.


I have never wanted to be an Emperor, or to be a power behind Power. When I was young, I took to heart the sinister lesson found in Sailing To Byzantium by W B Yeats. I shall just quote the last verse of that poem, leaving the rest (as they say) as an exercise for the student:

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

The Emperor drowses, tired from being the centre of Power, and yet being powerless to abdicate. He is cozened by courtiers, flattered by lackeys, and has turned the faithful away to be looked after by priests in the outer city. It is a sad fate, and one I strive to avoid.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (05) The Empress

She stands or sits enthroned, assured and powerful in a field of wheat, the queen of fertile seasons and the lady of rich lands. White is her raiment, and she is pleasant in all her ways. Her crown is of stars, and her rod is of the Cyprian metal. Her smile is the joyous reply to the sun's golden heat, and her touch is that of the kindly breezes. It is she who brings seeds to fruition, and this can be seen in her gentle and inviting curves.

Yet it is good for the wanderer to realise that she is indeed a Power, the Green Mother and the Lady. She is Fertility, and can withhold it; she is Action, and can frustrate it. She is the womb of every holt, the blaze on every hill - and he who walks in her lands, the lands of all the Earth, should tread lightly and with thoughtful care.


There are few who are like this, and I have met many who are not. This aspect of the feminine is more Gaia than Aphrodite, and thus to be greatly honoured and revered. Robert Graves feared her; John Keats, whether he knew it or not, adored her:

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

I miss my childhood under the casuarina and the cypress. I miss the warm sun and the cut grass. It isn't that I cannot have these things now; it is that I am not the child I used to be.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (04) The Ghost

There is nothing here. No image, and if this were a card, the card would be blank.

Then again, there is still something to see. There is a space. And anyone can see things in a space. Things unseen but present, things unknown but absent.

And so this trump is nothing. Worse, it is Nothing, and the Unknown. And even this is not fully known.


I am no ghost.

high on the mountain
turns the crane against the sky
white on white unseen

I am no ghost.

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The Greater Trumps: (03) The High Priestess

She is veiled, hooded, and yet one sees a beautiful and dangerous eye gazing out upon the world. She has secrets, this one, and every one of the mysteries is a dagger aimed at someone's life. She can be kind - her secrets may guide a person towards better health or gentler paths - and yet, her stillness, her immobile and secretive poise intimidate the casual questioner.

In many ways, she is an opposite of the Magician: she juggles nothing, and she stands or sits regally in a quiet place. Sometimes, she is reading a book; sometimes, she is reading the reader. And always, she is self-aware, beautiful, and terribly mysterious. Always, the moon is behind her, and the colours of her place are midnight hues: black, white, deep and evocative shades of blue.

That is her essence - she is the calm certainty of fact, of something that exists whether or not you know it does. She is Knowledge, and she is Memory. Which is why one ought to be wary of her, for Knowledge is always power, and not always wisdom; and Memory is often not what you thought it was.


I've never been comfortable with the High Priestess. She knows too much. And yet, between Thought and Memory, one has often to fall back upon the comfort of Memory - whether true or false. Oberon recounts, as he plots against his wife Titania, the tale of Eros (Cupid) who shoots at such a priestess and is unable to hit the mark.

That very time I saw, but thou couldst not,
Flying between the cold moon and the earth
Cupid, all arm'd; a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal, throned by the west,
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon;
And the imperial vot'ress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.

Yes, the High Priestess is fancy-free, for Memory leaves no space for What-Might-Have-Been-But-Wasn't. And the most certain Knowledge of lesser things is not as desirable as the slenderest Knowledge of the greater things, as Aquinas said. I will avoid her, but I know that eventually, I will find myself looking fondly upon her in some unguarded moment, tempted by the need to Know.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Greater Trumps: (02) The Magician

He stands in precarious equilibrium, as if on a knife-edge; as we note his delicate poise, we suddenly realise he is blind, or perhaps only blind-folded. And yet (and what a big yet!) he is juggling a series of balls, each of which might be a world! What prestidigitation this is - what sleight-of-hand! Or perhaps it is lightness of touch - legerdemain.

The Magician is a one-person balancing act. Always still, and yet obviously in motion, it is hard to tell if he was born like this or has learnt to do this through the most arduous learning and practice. It is also obvious that he is technically very good - so good that is seems contrived. Yet, his balance seems natural - so natural that he might be the avatar of some primal force.

He stands in the gap, not as an arbiter or a guardian but as a sign that there is always a balance. And that is why the Magician is both Skill and Balance - he engages in a most precise and yet instinctive use of skill which displays an appreciation for opposing forces around him.


I am no Magician, though some have called me so. Some confuse alchemy with magic, some think magic a form of evil. But magic is merely the uneven wisdom of men, some of it more instinctive than other kinds, some of it darker than other kinds. I've read books by the man known as the Last Magician though. And no, his name is not Crowley, but Williams.

Here is a quotation from his Taliessin's Return to Logres:

At the falling of the first
chaos behind me checked;
at the falling of the second
the wood showed the worst;
at the falling of the third
I had come to the king’s camp;
the harp on my back
syllabled the signal word.

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The Greater Trumps: (01) The Fool

We see him as he is, a young man of indeterminate youth, on a journey or perhaps setting out on one - which might be about to end soon. He is dressed in motley; whether he began that way or became that way along the journey is impossible to tell. In fact, there is much that cannot be determined in this Trump.

Looking at his path, we see a cliff-edge. And - horrors! - the Fool is about to step over it. Then again, perhaps we have mistaken his action and he is withdrawing his foot from the edge. Again, we feel a frisson of unease as we wonder which is true.

And that, my friends, is the nature of the Fool. He is obviously Folly, but on closer inspection, perhaps not. Perhaps he is being prudent, or foolhardy, or tentative, or suicidal. We do not know, we cannot tell: the Fool is both Folly and Unknowledge, and only the way this Trump falls (upright or reversed) can tell us anything at all.


I always think of myself as partly the Fool. I used to answer, "The Fool," when asked, "What do you play?" (in any context - games, music etc), And of course, my friends will recognize one of my favourite quotes from T S Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

It's very like me, except that I am perhaps not such an 'easy tool' as some have found to their disappointment and regret.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Greater and Lesser Trumps: Introduction

The story is told that in Ancient Egypt of fond and mysterious memory, the bureaucrats of Imhotep (whom men called the son of Ptah, God of Engineers and Ways) were wont to classify and pontificate about their classifications. And in the fullness of time, these bureaucrats who were also priests and arbiters and officers of the court, these servants of the Pharaoh - they had assembled a hundred thumbnail profiles of human character which could be used to classify the many kinds of men.

The total number of profiles was 42000, with variants thereof, but the core of the system was a series of a hundred images - thirty greater archetypes and seventy lesser archetypes, each descriptive of a particular kind of human character.

These wise and complex servants of the Son of Ra made themselves particularly adept in the use of these images to quickly and appropriately assign new recruits to different areas of the bureaucracy of the Twin Crown. A man whose character was one of the Great Thirty would be placed on a career path which might go unto the threshold of the Crown, as a close advisor or implementor of the Sun-God's earthly viceroy. A man of the Lesser Seventy might yet be a foreman among the builders of the pyramids.

Eventually, because this ancient instance of personality profiling seemed like sorcery or theurgy or divination to the untutored masses, the set of images became used (illegally at first) as a tool of divination. The children used it for games. The Great Thirty became 22, and then dwindled, as people realised they weren't useful in simple games. The modern set has only 2 or 3, and we call them Jokers. These are sometimes called the Greater Trumps.

What of the Lesser Seventy? They were divided into five sub-sets: Builders, Designers, Priests, Traders, and Nobility. Each sub-set had 14 images in it. Over the years, the common people did away with nobility, and the ideas were conflated. The five sets became four suits: Staves, Swords, Cups and Coins - we call them Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds now. And each suit has only 13 cards, for a total of 52, instead of 70. These are sometimes called the Lesser Trumps. Many card games use only these, and omit the Greater Trumps altogether.

People still abuse these greatly diminished decks to tell fortunes, completely having forgotten their origin as a tool of the bureaucracy for personality profiling. Or so the story goes.


Note: This account of the development of modern playing cards (and their ancestor, the Tarot deck) comes from a wide range of sources. I would however like to specifically acknowledge the author Piers Anthony, who first hypothesized what the missing cards should have been and gave his own ideas literary flesh. Subsequent posts owe much to Anthony and the imagery of the last four millennia.

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Friday, November 17, 2006


When I was young, I was the kind of little boy that teachers used to swap stories about in the staff room. In other words, I never was the model kind of student. I was always the one who did odd things, who didn't quite play the game, who was called weird and other names which only the perplexed would use.

One day, I became the colleague of some of these teachers. And not a few of them expressed peculiar and mixed sentiments about my choice of profession. One revealed, through a third party, that I had driven her to smoking. One swore I had been born with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A couple of very senior and respected teachers nodded knowingly and uttered sentiments along the lines of set a thief to catch a thief. I have always been interested in students who were 'like me'. I've always felt they must be getting just as bad a deal.

And so, I take tests like the Wired Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test. I shall post results when I can summon the attention span to do so.


They lied to me. I am not autistic. I only got 29/50 and that isn't enough. Bah. Haha!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I am frequently enlightened when reading the works and messages of the fathers of the Church. It so happened that, this morning, my self-directed reading (actually, the leading of the Spirit as crudely interpreted by the leanings of the human mind) led me to a missal propagated in 1215 by St Francis of Assisi.

I have a weakness for that saint. His words speak to me a lot, and I carry them in my wallet (to remind me about what money ought to be used for) and in my heart (to remind me to give more of it to others) and in my head (to remind me to be reminded). They repose, as he intended, at a lower level than the words of his Master, but they are here with me anyway.

Specifically, the reading for today which leapt off the screen and ambushed me was this:

The man who is in authority and is regarded as the superior should become the least of all and serve his brothers, and he should be as sympathetic with each one of them as he would wish others to be with him if he were in a similar position. If one of his brothers falls into sin, he should not be angry with him; on the contrary, he should correct him gently, with all patience and humility, and encourage him.

It is not for us to be wise and calculating in the world's fashion; we should be guileless, lowly, and pure. We should hold our lower nature in contempt, as a source of shame to us, because through our own fault we are wretched and utterly corrupt, nothing more than worms, as our Lord tells us by the Prophet,
I am a worm; the scorn of men, despised by the people (Ps. 21: 7).

We should not want to be in charge of others; we are to be servants, and should be subject to every human creature for God's sake (1Pet. 2: 13). On all those who do this and endure to the last the Spirit of God will rest (cf. Is. 11: 2); he will make his dwelling in them and there he will stay, and they will be children of your Father in heaven (Mt. 5: 45) whose work they do.

And this is the Word of God that liberates, as taught from by one of His saints. I listen, and I cry out that I might be granted the privilege of humility and obedience to such a call. To serve the Great King, that High King of Heaven - this is the grandest of callings and of services. There is no spiritual lowliness about it, but rather, holiness. I wish it were always mine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The last month has been enlightening to me. I have been lightened, the way has been lit, all things are light and momentary troubles with the bright end of the tunnel in view. And so I asked myself, am I willing really now to surrender all things? The answer, which I am human enough to feel uncomfortable about, is Yes.

It was a simple idea which led me to this. The question has always been, "What is best for those who we serve?" Somehow, the answer has always looked suspiciously like, "Whatever we decide," or "Whatever is not too inconvenient." And it is easy to say that we are resource-poor and cannot afford it, and so many things are inconvenient. It is easy to end up with a definition of 'those who we serve' that really means 'ourselves'.

Well, as I once said to Arthur on a quiet hillside, "If you cannot live with the decisions of society, you have only a few choices: 1) accept them, and forever put your life aside; 2) rebel, and attempt their overthrow; 3) turn aside, and choose not to partake of the chalice again."

There is a fourth choice, as somehow there always is. That fourth choice is to make a new society. Then you would have to make decisions that you yourself could live with. It need not be a society of flesh and blood, or bricks and mortar. Rather, it might be a society of the mind, of the heart, of the will. Where will and power are one, so let it be.

The renewing of your mind is an excellent thing. It is a pity that many who speak of it hold on too fervently to their own mindsets. It just isn't ethical to preach one thing and do another, though. And so, one must step aside and think, and having thought, act on what has been thought.

Monday, November 13, 2006


The Fool looked about for a shelter from the storm. But he found none. The landlord had never thought about defensibility seriously, and so the Fool had no shelter.

"What shall I do?" he thought to himself.

The answer came to him in a Vision. He laughed, and stepped off the cliff.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It is Saturday.

The Fool stays in. He watches the Hierophant, the Magician, the Lovers, the Chariot, the many major arcana. But part of him is outside, and is happy.


It is Sunday now.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


It is Friday.

The Fool steps out through his doorway. As always, the Sun greets him. "Hello hello! Where do you go this day?"

The Fool replies, but not as always. In fact, he seems rather incensed. "Old Sun, what a fool you are! And yet not a Fool, because you don't know you are a fool."

"What?!" replies the Sun, sputtering somewhat.

The Fool laughs. He looks down the hill on which he stands. "Sun, Sun, Sun. It's Friday, and school's out. If you don't know what that means, then stay there, locked in your endless precession of sunrise and sunset. Enjoy yourself; I'm off!"


It is Saturday now. Sh'ma Yisroel: Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echod.

Friday, November 10, 2006


It is Thursday.

The Fool steps out through his doorway. As always, the Sun greets him. "Hello hello! Where do you go this day?"

The Fool replies, as always, "Old Sun, you know where everyone goes unless they hide from you. And I am not one for hiding!"

"Do you know you are a very repetitive Fool? You are supposed to be random and a little silly, if you really want to know," replies the Sun, looking slightly inflamed and heated.

The Fool laughs. He looks down the hill on which he stands. "But I am a Fool! Even as a Fool, it is possible for me to fail. And you know something? You should ask who has been changing the script everyday."


It is Friday now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


It is Wednesday.

The Fool steps out through his doorway. As always, the Sun greets him. "Hello hello! Where do you go this day?"

The Fool replies, as always, "Old Sun, you know where everyone goes unless they hide from you. And I am not one for hiding!"

"Everyone knows where I am and why. But while everyone knows that you let them see where you go, not everyone sees where you go and why!" replies the Sun, swatting some wisps of forest-fire haze away.

The Fool laughs. He looks down the hill on which he stands. "Sun, old Sun, if I don't know where I am going, and I don't know why I'm going there, how can I tell anybody?"


It is Thursday now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


It is Tuesday.

The Fool steps out through his doorway. As always, the Sun greets him. "Hello hello! Where do you go this day?"

The Fool replies, as always, "Old Sun, you know where everyone goes unless they hide from you. And I am not one for hiding!"

"Well, neither am I, so that makes two of us. But apart from this, we are not very alike, are we?" replies the Sun, smiling severely down upon the Fool's well-shielded head.

The Fool laughs. He looks down the hill on which he stands. "Sun, old Sun, we are more alike than you think. We both follow pre-ordained paths. The difference is that Physics guides you, while God, who looks after Fools, guides me."


It is Wednesday now.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Murphy Rules

The University of Chicago Magazine recently ran an article on economist Kevin Murphy. It provides some rather interesting insights on what true genius really is about. In the presence of immense and natural human genius, there is no tendency to bow down and worship - rather, there seems to be a less dangerous tendency to admire with awe, while celebrating the wonder of doing human things.

This is what intelligence is about. It's about massively empowering people without wanting to be (or thinking that you are, or behaving as if you are) God. Being a hub for other people to do their best work can be rewarding. And ego need not come into it.

A Completely Significant Insight

The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton has been reviewed on Guy Kawasaki's blog. I think I should go out and buy it, despite my dislike of public profanity. Everyone should at least read this very useful and entertaining book review. Yes. Everyone.

The other half of this insight is not so much what should be avoided as what should be embraced. Innovation and enterprise both sound like good things. The main problem is to receive them 'pure', without the contamination of other retarding factors. To extinguish a spark in a charcoal fire and then say, "Hey, we have hot ash and a hole full of unburnt fuel here, so we can do a barbecue!" is somewhat reasonable (I suppose) if you are interested in the short term only. Certainly, for long-term effect, some means of sustaining the spark(s) should be developed.

Then again, the cold and beautiful stars might not want competition from a barbecue pit, as I've often reflected while looking outward from the south coast of where I live. And that, of course, is a perfectly valid aesthetic judgement.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


If it is a line that joins us to ourselves, it is a difficult line to follow. But if the eye looks at the self as it is reflected in a glass, in a mirror, in the eyes of another - ah, that is an easier line of perception, and it leads to actions less difficult. So this is who I am, as I see it in the lenses of others.


I am the fishing town -
replete with odd tourists,
the sights of leftovers,
the leftovers of smells,
incredible odours of sound.

I am the wolf alone -
at your door I guard children,
the offspring of Adam,
first to know, last to leave,
undefeated and not your friend.

I am the burning torch -
smoke lacing my light with dark,
the dark banished in fits,
the fitness of the light,
unbearable being to some.

I am the death of hope -
coldly engaging darkness,
innocent night armoured,
a cavalier at large
setting a new hope free to soar.

I am the slave to all -
a quiet road not taken,
en prise a sacrifice,
holiness much tarnished
yet burnished in a flame and bright.

Who knows me? I myself
am not to know my essence;
a cloud of witnesses
describes me in its eyes -
but when all eyes are closed, what then?