Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Hierophant and Art, or Temperance

April 2016: The Hierophant by Tania Pryputniewicz

In the Aquarian deck, the Hierophant’s gloved hands remind me of falconry and I step right into the world of Robert Duncan’s poem “My Mother Would be a Falconress.” When I first read the poem in the heartland, I recognized that form of psychic connection bordering on bondage that Duncan captures, though it is a fertile way of relating I associate more with my father than my mother.

In the Hierophant’s red scepter I see the telephone poles and redwing blackbirds of my Illinois childhood. Two keys sit in the left hand corner of the card. Which door does the Hierophant guard or welcome me to unlock? His pale pink and pewter complexion makes him appear invincible. Intellectually I know he often represents formal religion, as in the Pope and other more rigid traditions of spirituality as defined by large groups that appoint a leader to embody their teachings.

As I write new poems about the Illinois commune I lived on as a child, I’m thinking about borrowed religions and ideas.  Raised as they were by Christian and Catholic parents and struggling under the duress of a breakdown my father suffered, my parents opted to start over on the commune after reading The Ultimate Frontier (a book written by our leader detailing his spiritual journey and the lessons of many prior civilizations). We moved from upstate New York to Illinois to join the Stelle community.

Our leader, we were taught, incarnated as King David and further back in time, as the Pharaoh Akhenaton. We drew on diverse traditions to shape our daily ways—out of yarn we made Eyes of God; on Easter we walked a spiral bordered by lit candles. The literature of those commune days still fills my imagination from The Education of Oversoul Seven by Jane Roberts to The Sun Rises (a book written by Dr. Stelle about cavemen Rhu and Hut and the White Brotherhood our leader claimed carved an insignia on his hip).

Knowing there were multiple incarnations made this one seem optional, mundane. Traipsing around on our various field trips, I wondered: Why learn about fertilizer for seed crops or butchering methods at the slaughterhouse or chemical mixtures for sewage? Why would we, the chosen children, need to know these things, if we were once Lemurians or Atlanteans? Why did we fall from grace? How was it possible to skin a knee? To lose a cat to a car on a hot tar road in summer? And how am I to know which past incarnation’s work I need to complete in this incarnation?

I’m using poetry to call a Truce against the pressure of the commune’s unconscious, absorbed, and borrowed beliefs. I begin to make peace with my parents’ pilgrimage in the corn when I look through not only their eyes, but those of the other adults operating at that time in my circumference: the practical, simple, daily “teachers” acting as collective counterbalance to the Hierophant, our leader, at the helm.

When the leader was exiled for alleged inappropriate relations with the mothers of Stelle, our family left the group. The door swung open and out we went into the free bright air, traveling in a Maroon 57 Chevy with wooden camper my father built for hand by us. In California where we landed, I spent years mistrusting the Hierophant. Neither traditional nor wildly creative forms of religion seemed real though memories of the past both haunted and inspired.

When I look at the Thoth Hierophant, I see the comforting earth-tone browns of a robed man and in front of him, in his path, a barefoot Egyptian woman in Blue. Who wouldn’t want to be that agile, graceful, poised Egyptian queen, crescent moon in one hand with downbent sword at the ready?  And yet in this image, I see nothing real or of this world I live in at present.

But maybe that is the point, we are to feel outside of the card, eager and wanting the state of grace the Hierophant and female in front of him seem to possess. Trust in me, they seem to say—I know the way. I don’t think we are meant to revere symbols, Hierophants, our parents, or other human beings so much as we are meant to revere the process of searching, looking, and listening to our responses to them.

And maybe the Truce is realizing we can learn just as much, if not more, from a derailed Hierophant as a pure, perfect Hierophant.

April 7, 2016: Art, or Temperance by Mary Allen

My card of the month was Art, or Temperance, as it’s sometimes called.  It’s the fourteenth major arcana card, the one that follows Death.  I love this card and was overjoyed to see it come up when I picked it. In the Thoth deck it shows a woman with what I can only call a two-sided face—one side dark, the other side light—mixing fire and water together over a cauldron. There’s a bluish-white lion standing on one side of the cauldron and an orange eagle on the other side, both of them with their feet in the pointy orange flames that are heating up whatever’s up in the pot.  This is a beautiful card with many strange and arresting images:  a circle in the woman’s chest holding a clutch of celestial blue balls, a large oval of pale yellow light behind the woman, with writing in it (what does that writing mean? I don’t even know what language it’s in), the woman’s green dress decorated with bees.

When this card comes up I think it’s talking, not so much about art as we think about it but about the art of life, the alchemy of mixing things together—a little of this, a little of that, sorrow, happiness, darkness, light, and what you do with all of that—to create a life.  Living a life is the ultimate creative act, I read somewhere, and to me this card is talking about that.  And I guess it’s an apt card for my month that just passed. 

Angeles Arrien says that every symbol on the Art card “represents the union of opposition which creates something new.”  Something really great happened to me last month, and something not so great, or actually a few not-so-great things, happened too.  The nice thing was huge and the not-so-nice things were all kind of small, but on balance, in some metaphorical weighing scale of suffering versus pleasure, the not-great things probably at least equaled the nice ones if they weren’t heavier.  They didn’t cancel them out though; all those things were just mixed together, creating a month.

The wonderful thing was:  I was on vacation in the desert for two weeks, writing and hiking, resting and thinking and laughing and talking with my friend.  The not-so-great involved being sick for two weeks before I left, losing a bunch of sleep and feeling sort of sick again after I got back, and, in the middle of the vacation, like a drop of black ink falling into a glass of clear liquid, a rejection letter that arrived in my inbox, for a memoir I’d spent the last two years rewriting after spending at least fifteen years writing.  Just one little rejection letter, I know—everybody knows you have to get thousands of no’s before you get a yes, and blah blah blah.  But, for various reasons, psychological and otherwise, I found it discouraging, disheartening, dispiriting, faith-in-my-writing-diminishing, and a whole bunch of other things.  Still, later on in the day it came, my friend and I went out and hiked through the desert, baking in the sun, buffeted by the wind, and I started the work of digesting that letter, making sense of it in the context of my story, scrounging up the courage to try again.  By the end of the day I was ready to go back to the cauldron of life, to keep mixing in new ingredients, creating more faith.  

Related Link:

A discussion the formative influences of the Stelle commune on Tania's writing life, poetry, and a bit about the beauty of Tarot writing:

Podcast, This Choice, hosted by poet Ren Powell