Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spaemann, Meditations on Tarot Fan, Critical of Pope Francis

Celebrated German Catholic professor
Robert Spaemann.
Robert Spaemann has been hailed as the foremost Catholic scholar in Germany. You may recall he also wrote an afterword for Meditations on the Tarot, by Valentin Tomberg, and may have given Pope St. John Paul II a copy. It appears that the 1983 two-volume set published by Herder, Basel, can be seen on the pontiff's desk in a photograph. Unsourced hearsay from people supposedly associated with Spaemann say the gift came from him. While not proven, there is nothing implausible about the Spaemann connection The attribution (oddly reversed in relation to the photo) claims the photo article appeared in the magazine Weltbilt (Worldview), November 18, 1988. (The cover picture on that edition of the book? The Pope.)

Pope Benedict thought so highly of Spaemann he dedicated one of his books to him. This is a highly respected man with access to at least two popes, who apparently still maintains contacts in the Vatican. His relationship with Pope Francis has not been so cozy, however.

Last year, in an article in the magazine Herder Correspondence -- the same publisher of the Tarot book -- the 87 year-old Spaemann cuts loose on Pope Francis. You can read about it at Life Site News. He talks about the perils of the Synod on the Family, the dangers of splitting teachings from practice, and the chaos at the Vatican.


  1. Fascinating. I have also been curious about that Tarot book for a few years, but I've been unsure about the subject matter. Perhaps I will peruse the Kindle sample.

    1. I just finished the first chapter, "The Magician," and so far so good. He talks about the synthesis of conscience and unconscience in the Jungian sense, the phenomenon of "flow," or being absorbed in a task so that concentration is effortless and joyful. He links that to becoming like a little child, where work turns into "play." His main point seems to be to "baptize" the famous Hermetic maxim, "As above, so below" by showing how Jesus used it in his a fortiori parables such as if you, who are evil, know how to give your children good things, how much more does your Father in Heaven know how to give you good things. He also says that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure made use of "analogy," and were called "two olive trees" by two different popes.

      He uses the old Marseilles deck, not one of the more modern "esoteric" decks where the symbolism is more obvious. The Bear is skeptical that any "secret knowledge" was encoded in Tarot cards, which only go back to the early 1400s and were used for gaming purposes. Not sure where Tomberg stood. Perhaps he found the intriguing tableaux good to use as starting points, since he doesn't seem to do very much in linking the points in his chapter to the picture on the card. Or, maybe he accepted them as an underground stream that didn't pop up until the 15th century.

      One of the earliest references, a Dominican preacher, called it "The Devil's Picture Book," although there's no indication the decks were used for anything but gaming. In a more recent development, they did come to be used for divination, of course, which was most recently condemned by Pope Francis.

      Of course, that has nothing to do with the way Tomberg is using the cards, i.e. not fortune-telling, but a way to organize a treatise on the Western Mystery Tradition's "baptism" into the Catholic Church. On Church matters, he seems very conservative.

      By happy coincidence (?) the number of "Major Arcana" cards is 22, the same number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unfortunately, there seem to be correspondences between the two for as many as there are occultists. Even the order of the cards are disputed.

      The Bear bets that the cards are a mix of classical myths and motifs, plus medieval "triumphs," or floats, where the people got a parade to depict various edifying subjects like the virtues, death, etc. In other words, the Church was the origin of Tarot cards! The idea that they are the embodiment of ancient wisdom is, however appealing, probably not true.

      Also, check your mail.

    2. William Biersach's latest novel in his entertaining "Fr. John Baptist" mystery series actually includes a rather long exposition on the Tarot deck and how it was appropriated by occultists from mainly orthodox sources. While I did have some lingering concerns about the Tarot deck itself, Fr. von Balthasar's endorsement of the book was more off-putting than any potential occultism. But I suppose I oughtn't allow his presence to drive me away from something potentially worthwhile.

    3. I would not touch any of this occult business with a ten-foot barge pole. It comes down to what 'forces' such activity permits to enter one's world, either by chance, curiosity, or invitation.

      Even if one were to predict the winner of the next steeplechase! It is small potatoes for demons, who are spirits, to know what human activity is being conducted remotely any where in the world, say in Biloxi, and to insinuate that information to someone dabbling with Tarot cards, Ouija boards, etc.

      Have a read of Samuel 28:7-9 to appreciate why the Church condemns spiritism and divination as grave sins against the first commandment.

    4. I am entirely with Liam Ronan on this. I would have absolutely nothing to do with tarot cards, and scripture makes it clear we are to have nothing to do with tarot cards, no matter how they have been presented or by whom. To do so is to potentially invite demons in and the warnings against divination, spiritism, etc., ought to be enough to keep us away. This is the stuff of damnation.

    5. For the sake of accuracy, no fortune-telling is involved here. We are judging a book on its dangerousness, despite laying traditional Catholicism on think. Nonetheless, my detailed opinion has been posted.

  2. 'Cuts loose' on Pope Francis, eh, Bear? Are you suggesting it was in the cards?

    1. The Bear doubts you'd want to make an enemy of Herr Doktor Spaemann. How do you imagine he keeps up with what's going o it the Vatican? And the Bear is just guessing here, but he suspects Herder publishing house is right-of-center. It was started in Germany in 1942 under difficult circumstances, as you might imagine.

    2. I imagine Herr Doktor keeps up with what's going on in the Vatican by reading your blog, Bear. Just as I do.

  3. There have been some interesting writers in the past who have obviously had some experience with the "occult" and have either been converted to Christianity through their contact with it (mostly because to accept the occult is already to accept the existence of a realm rejected by modern empiricist materialism) or who have realized that things like numerology, Tarot, etc. could be the opening of a door for their practitioners - if someone leads them through that door.

    Charles Williams, part of the Tolkien/Lewis set, is interesting in this respect. And of course, there is the famous example of the convert Huysmans, who did more than dabble in the occult, but was then led to the Faith, particularly through his acceptance of Marian apparitions. So it's an interesting topic, and I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with Spaemann doing research into it.

    1. The Bear has thought long and hard about this. In the best case scenario, if you're Robert Spaemann, or Pope St. John Paul II, you may be able to get at the honey without being stung, but the Bear has always found that difficult. The Bear is sure others have had the chokehold of materialism broken by elements of the Western Mystery Tradition. The French seem to have a genius for combining Catholicism with Hermeticism. They gave us Martinism, which is kind of cool, because everybody is masked.

      But the Bear also has to consider the more likely scenario: that someone of ordinary intelligence and education, but zero experience in occultism, is going to be led down the primrose path that slopes ever so gradually. The Bear would definitely not want that to happen on account of anything he said.

      Discernment is the virtue of Malkuth, the lowest realm on the Otz Chaim. (Essentially Earth, so welcome to the bottom of the rung on the universal ladder.) There's a reason for that. Even the Qabbalists recognized the dangers, and knew that a seeker must have developed the spiritual sense that is able to discern true and false, good and evil before he even begins.

      However, "discernment of spirits" is called a gift of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

      The seeker is, in fact, The Fool, if you want to talk about cards. Tomberg goes with older French attributions, but most modern Hermeticists start with Key 0, the Fool, and aleph, the first Hebrew letter. (Each card, or Key, gets a number and a Hebrew letter, and is freighted with various other occult correspondences.) At any rate Paul Foster Case of Builders Of The Adytum did, and he's as trustworthy as any so-called adept, and more so than most, cuz he was an American! Not a proper bisexual Englishman like Crowley.

      Anyway, the cards are learned in sequence. The Fool in most esoteric decks therefore comes first.

      The picture is very apt: a young man is on a journey, with his belongings in a bag on a stick over his shoulder. His head is pointed toward the sky as he smells a rose. A little dog frisks at his feet.

      The problem he has is that he is about to step off the edge of a cliff. Now how does that journey into Hermeticism look? Even the Hermeticists are warning you. The first thing they tell you is that you're a Fool. A tip-off to the whole enterprise as an inside joke? A blind? Or some symbolism, or all of the above? (The Law of Contradiction runs not in these realms.)

      If all that made perfect sense to you, and you can fill in all the blanks, you might at least know enough Hermeticism to navigate Meditations on the Tarot.

      Some lodges are obviously dangerous, if not evil. e.g. the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO. Yet there is no lack of people willing to be corrupted. Others, like BOTA and SOL are more "respectable," and decent.

      The Bear does not know any of them that will get you into Heaven, though. And what you're looking for is always in the next lesson, the next phase of training, the next initiation. It's a strip tease where the best you get are tantalizing glimpses. All for a modest monthly fee, of course.

      For the Bear's readers, if you are ever tempted, remember The Fool. That's what you would be if you succumbed to the "harmless" purchase of an interesting looking book, or a deck of Tarot cards.


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