Thursday, April 7, 2016

Want Occultism? Here's the Real Deal

The Bear has written about an historical curiosity. A book entitled Meditations on the Tarot appears to be sitting on Pope St. John Paul II's desk. Its Catholic bona fides are established by afterwords by Robert Spaemann, celebrated as the greatest Catholic scholar in Germany. In all likelihood, it was Spaemann that gave the book to Pope St. John Paul II. Hans Urs von Balthasar (Pope Benedict's favorite theologian) also wrote a laudatory afterword.

The Bear fears that he may have given the impression that the book is sound. Well, it is sound, in many particulars. In many, however, such as reincarnation, the book is in error. The premise of the book is Christian Hermeticism -- an attempt to express the underground stream of Western esoteric knowledge in Catholicism. However, the Bear's opinion is that this is a volatile mixture. Unless you are one in a million Catholics who have the background and discernment to separate the wheat from the tares, it will blow up in your face.

There are many Catholic trappings. But Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for less. The Bear has no reason to doubt the sincerity of the author. But here is what the Church says. The Bear will leave it to the reader to decide if it applies.

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.
No, it is not a perfect match. There is no magic, no divination here. However, the book teaches  a matrix for all aberrant practices. Hermeticism is a "weltbilt," or world view. The relevant phrase from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is: "Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes." If it is Catholic Hermeticism, it still carries all the baggage Hermeticism carries. It is very near to "Catholic Masonry." The unspoken assumption is that this esoteric knowledge supplements or provides an alternative to"official" Church teachings. It is esoteric; for an elite in the know.

Is the Church really so lacking that it needs esoteric knowledge to supplement the writings of Her great saints? (Although Tomberg recognizes the superiority of the saints, in practice, what does his book stand for?)

Robert Spaemann, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pope St. John Paul II; Abbot Thomas Keating -- none of these people, no matter how deep their scholarship; or how exalted their theological credentials and name; or how shining their holiness; or how popular their books, is qualified to make a judgment of this book.

It is dazzling, sometimes true, and painted over with a thick coat of traditional Catholicism. But remember this: "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour." (1 Peter 5:8 RSV)

A Man Who Is Qualified to Speak on the Book

So, who is qualified to speak on this book? The Bear knew a man who joined a nice-sounding, "fully contacted mystery school." He had no intention of doing anything wrong. The name of the school invoked "the Light." That had to be good, right? On a regular basis, he would get lessons in the mail from the leader, who lived on the isle of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. (He saved the stamps for the Bear.)

It was nice, and friendly. The first lessons evidently involved visualizing centers of power in your "aura," the best the Bear understood his explanation. He said they used Hebrew names of God to activate healing. That didn't sound too bad, the Bear thought at the time. There was also  a lot of work memorizing Hebrew letters and their numeric values -- Qabbalism -- which he said was tiresome. He liked the meditation, and visualizations, though, and once briefly showed the Bear a meticulously kept journal.

He had a guide, or teacher, to whom he would send the results of his meditation sessions, and exercises like circulating his "light" through his aura, plus simple banishing rituals. His guide would make notes and send them back. The Bear's friend seemed anxious to share his knowledge, and taught the Bear a banishing ritual, although the Bear felt a little silly, and wondered if holy water, liberally applied, might do a better job. The Bear suspected, at times, that he was being recruited.

Each Tarot card had an association with everything, it seemed, including those Hebrew letters. This goes to the idea of analogy in the first chapter of Meditations on the Tarot, and the famous Hermetic maxim: As Above, So Below. The Bear's friend meditated on each Tarot card, and even colored a black and white deck with colored pencils. He showed the Bear, so the Bear knows this is true. He spoke in riddles, like, "I feel very Two of Cups today."

Occasionally he would take a trip down to Atlanta for workshops and group rituals at the lodge there. He told the Bear that they trained him to "safely" channel "god forms " (i.e. invite demons into his body, or so it seemed to the Bear). His lodge portrayed Lucifer in a positive "light," as the original "Light Bearer." That was just one element of the whole program, and kind of made sense to the Bear, at least as it was explained to him at the time, but the Bear's friend confessed it made him uncomfortable. (The Bear was not really a believing or practicing Catholic back then.)

Channeling Set

On one of these trips, something extraordinary happened. The Bear wasn't there, of course, but heard the details from his friend afterwards.

It was a ritual with about a dozen people, all dressed in the usual black, hooded, robes. The Bear's friend was chosen to play the role of Set, who is, for all intents and purposes, the ancient Egyptian devil. He was given a hideous mask to wear. The drama also included Horus, Set's brother and Egyptian Sun god. Other people had lesser roles.

The Bear's friend "assumed the god form" as he had been taught. (He told the Bear how to do this, but the Bear will not repeat it here.) He told the Bear he felt like Set. The script called for him to plead his case for sympathy and indict Horus for things like maliciously breaking Set's toys when they were young. (The Bear remembers that because it sounded silly.) It all went on a long time, apparently, and the Bear's memory of the rest of the details is hazy and he has no idea what the purpose or outcome were.


The first time Bear saw him after he returned from that ritual, the Bear could tell that there was something different, and it wasn't good. In the following months he had marital strife and started drinking too much. Call the Bear crazy, but it is as if having put on Set, he could't get him off. None of his new behaviors were characteristic of the Bear's friend.

We lost contact for several months. The Bear doesn't know if he was still involved with his school or lodge. Eventually, a mutual friend informed me that my friend had slashed his wrists. Providentially, his wife found him before he succeeded in killing himself. A desperate measure to escape from Set? Or an oblation by Set for Set? Or depression caused by a powerfully resonating psychodrama that made a mess of his life? The Bear does not know. The Bear is embarrassed to say it, but he mostly avoided contact. The Bear hopes he has learned his lesson.

The Bear would say his friend is qualified to deliver an opinion on Meditations on the Tarot. The Bear does not know what he would say, though.

The Bear's Opinion: Not Recommended

Here's a man who played another role, besides Set. It was Eve. Her curiosity aroused, the beauty and apparent wholesomeness of the fruit, the lure of forbidden knowledge, and behind it all, a cunning deceiver --- Satan. "Light! That can't be bad, can it?" But Satan can appear as an angel of light, can't he? Here was a normal, intelligent man, that deliberately invited Satan into himself.

You might be able to read Meditations on the Tarot for the truth it contains without absorbing particular errors. Those are easy, since you see them coming. The book is curious and undeniably fascinating, although neophytes will be lost. It's that subtle matrix of Hermeticism that is more dangerous.

If your curiosity is piqued, what book will you read next? Which one is relatively safe, and which one is dangerous? The roads meander, but once you start, it's hard to stop. It is the little steps that slowly take you where you never intended to go. Perhaps you will be impressed by the Tarot tome and even search out your own mystery school. They're easy to find on the internet nowadays. Most look harmless, even good for knowledge. The apple always does, and the cunning hawker is always convincing.   

To the extent his second-hand knowledge of the trajectory of an actual occultist in one of the more well-run and tame groups qualify the Bear, he does not recommend Meditations on the Tarot, in case he has given mixed signals before.


  1. There already exists within the Catholic Church a safe and effective developmental path leading to union with Christ-Jesus, and that is the meditative/infused contemplative path of Mystic-Christianity. This tried and true developmental system has been successfully practiced within the various monastic orders for centuries, and exclusively employs meditative scenes from the life of Christ-Jesus―not from ancient Egypt or Renaissance Europe.

    Rather than meditating on “The Magician and the other non-biblical images, Mystic-Christianity focuses on the Gospel of John and seven profound events in the life of Christ.

  2. Why anyone―especially devout Catholics―would think that meditating on the images of the tarot is a superior method of Christian development, instead of that used in Mystic-Christianity, is certainly difficult to comprehend.

    And what exactly is the goal, the end result of the Tombergian tarot meditations? It certainly can’t be mystical union with Christ-Jesus. If becoming Christ-like requires that the disciple follow in the footsteps of the Master, it’s not likely that our Saviour would be leading us through the labyrinthine symbolic imagery of a pseudo-Egyptian deck of cards so that we can finally reach him.

    Therefore, one does not need to read very much of Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot to conclude that the entire enterprise is a blind occult alleyway leading to spiritual darkness, rather than to the true light of Christ.

    1. The Bear would answer that to the average Catholic, legitimate spiritual practices (outside of popular devotions) are more mysterious than the Tarot! There is no one to teach them, but there is Fr. Richard Rohr, and Abbot Thomas Keating, and the Charismatic Movement. You can pick up their books at any Catholic bookstore.

      St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, these and the Church's other great mystic are hidden treasures. (The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin is a good overview of`Catholic mysticism, but even so, St. Theresa of Avila is at least as difficult to read as Tomberg, and the same might be said of St. John or the Cross.)

      And yes, it is a blind alleyway, as are all such books. Read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. You won't understand that, either, but at least you'll see a send-up of ancient occult knowledge, and especially conspiracies involving the Templars.

    2. If I may be so bold, I think one important reason moderns find St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross difficult is not the difficulty of the language and concepts. There are many books which can help explain these.

      Moderns find these two saints difficult because to follow them is too hard. We seem to look for something easier and there is no lack of authors willing to introduce us to something nice and easy, and in the case of Tarot etc., attractive to the eye and imagination.

  3. With TV programs like Lucifer [which I hope no one watches], who can be in doubt about our society reverting to paganism? It is all out in the open and the practitioners are increasingly brazen.
    This is serious stuff. Easy to invite in the entities, difficult to be rid of them. Not sure if Bears practice fraternal correction and charity but I am sure the Bear's Saint Corbinian, after prayer and sacrifice, would reach out to such a friend and encourage them perhaps to chat with their priest of the exorcist in their diocese.

    1. [...] their priest or the exorcist in their diocese.

    2. This has been long ago, and the Bear completely lost track of him. The Bear is wiser now than he was then -- that was in one of his bad periods -- but, sadly, it does not do his friend any good now.

    3. The humorous paradox of our modern world is that your priest will send you to a psychiatrist, and your psychiatrist sends you back to your priest. With psychiatry supposedly able to account for nearly anything, a poor Catholic is not likely to get exorcized unless his head is making 360 degree turns while he recites the Epic of Gilgamesh in the original Akkadian.

    4. Thank you Bear and thank you for highlighting this present danger that some just casually walk into.

  4. In my younger, wilder days I dabbled in all kinds of New Age crap like this. But thanks to my S. Baptist upbringing-----once I heard the name Lucifer, I was out of there. Fortunately, all of it seemed pointless to me, and so I never got too caught up in it.

    Seattle Kim

  5. Yours are wise words and strong, if not subtle, regarding superstition. The story of your friend is sad, but probably happens to more than we'd like to know. It is dangerous.

  6. As someone who had sadly been involved in some New Age practices and believed some of the malarkey, but was saved by The Cross(because it denies the Cross and suffering), I would suggest that people stay away from this. It can sound good and fascinating, but therein lies the seduction. Delving into this kind of thing is pure temptation towards things that are non-Catholic and therefore non- Scriptural, aka against the Word of God. Read the Bible, the Catechism, and time - tested writings of the saints. Stay clear of these fantastical writings.

  7. Thanks Bear. I just received the Tarot book from Amazon. And now, given your commentary, I will abandon it. I have enough spiritually dangerous things in my life without adding to them. And by the way, I would place Centering Prayer in the same category as it teaches self induced spiritual states. And then there's Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar who some consider a borderline heretic with his nearly 'all are saved' doctrine.
    The best books I have read on the spiritual life is the two volume 'The Three Ages of the Interior Life' by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. It is most orthodox.

    1. Glad to hear it, Michael. Smart move.

    2. Sorry if I induced you to waste some money. Thomas "centering prayer" Keating was another who gave a blurb for the back cover. How they missed Fr. Richard Rohr I don't know. These people are even more deceptive, because at least Tomberg made the subject matter clear and didn't hide behind a collar.


Moderation is On.

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