Saturday, September 24, 2016

Martin Luther as "The Fool"

Fool as Luther.
The images on the 22 Tarot trumps are derived from Medieval "triumphs," or edifying floats that were used in religious processions. Theories that they are mystic symbols from ancient Egypt or whatever are nonsense. The 56 "pip cards" of four suits were added later to create a popular card game. It was only much later still that someone decided to employ the evocative illustrated deck in fortune telling.

Fortune telling is a very bad idea.

The "wicked pack of cards" remains compelling, however, because many of the cards are symbolic expressions of psychological features. The Moon, for example, is beloved in poetry because it is such a perfect illustration of the subconscious. T.S. Eliot alludes to Tarot in The Wasteland, but takes much artistic license, inventing cards out of whole cloth.

Around the turn of the 20th century, some Victorian English occultists tackled the subject with the obsessiveness, creativity and wackiness characteristic of their time and place. Although they were not the first to do so (France has long been ground zero for Tarot) they attempted to make the symbolism obvious. The coincidence that Tarot has the same number of cards as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (which doubles as numbers) was too good to pass up.  Eventually, Tarot was seen as a kind of shorthand encyclopedia of the occult. Never mind that occultists could never entirely settle on the same attributions.

Fortune telling is the sin of superstition. How ironic that religious imagery would be expropriated in this manner.

Perhaps The Fool has seen more variations than any other card. It is a unique card, bearing the integer zero. Originally, The Fool was a beggar being chased off by a dog. Sometimes it is a wolf, and sometimes whatever it is, is biting him. Artist Pamela Coleman Smith executed Victorian occultist Arthur E. Waite's vision that fixed the images in both popular and esoteric cultures. In their The Fool, he is gayly stepping off the edge of a cliff while a little white dog frolics at his heels.

Much more benign than an attacking wolf, although perhaps a wolf attack would alert him to the danger of ignoring the real world!

The Tarot is nothing, if not ironic.

The most interesting version of The Fool the Bear has found is the one pictured. The Fool is none other than Martin Luther. The Bear thinks this is hilarious, and if The Devil's Picture Book can have a legitimate use, this is it. The wolf is apparently drawing up short of the edge. Luther is reading his truncated version of the Bible.  Perhaps the rest of it is in his bindle. The Bear isn't sure about the watch, unless it is a "cheap and unreliable watch." In any event, he has his watch, out, but is not looking at it. 

The Bear sees a man who is no longer oriented in space and time. A proud man who thinks the law of gravity does not apply to him. A man whose eyes are fixed on the best of books, as John Bunyan's pilgrim would say, but oblivious to the rest of the story.


  1. "Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?" (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

    Sadly, so many people have followed Martin Luther.


  2. It's frightening to think about being separated from God in a timeless space. Time is short in this life. We don't know when our time is up, and it's foolish to be presumptuous about it. Times up for Luther.

  3. I was having a cup of coffee in a bookstore one time and a group of people with their "Tarot reader" sat down. The conversation that followed, which I couldn't help but overhear (before I simply left) was the single most laughable thing I have ever heard (apart from whitewashing analyses of Footnote 351, that is). It was like listening to the Wizard of Oz, in his Kansas persona, telling Dorothy all about her inmediate predicament while pawing through her basket of stuff.

    "Well, Susan, that's the Jack of (Whatever) for you. Which means . . . I presume . . . you are single?"

    "I'm newly married, actually."

    "Of course! Well! Single people and the newly married are journeying towards wholeness, so either way, the Jack of (Whatever) means . . ."

    I kept wondering how we have lost so many people, and how with people like Matthew Kelly around to conflate sanctification with seeking our "best selves," we will ever get them back again. I for one am not journeying towards wholeness, but towards Heaven, even if I should have to enter maimed when I finally, through the grace of Almighty God and the sacraments of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, arrive.

    1. Sounds like the tarotista committed the rookie mistake of committing to a fact she did not know to be true. She should have determined that beforehand, along with everything else she was going to tell the poor woman. "Alright, before we begin, we need to choose a significator. Are you single or married?"

    2. I was hoping to induce you to comment, Bear, on the "Dynamic Catholic" phenomenon and its substitution of "best selfism" for sanctification. What Matthew Kelly sells (or, more precisely, gives away) strikes me as New Ageism all slathered over with Christian-sounding rhetorical frosting. I suppose that "becoming our best selves" could be equated with becoming saints, but I don't hear that message coming across--not the way that, say, Padre Pio would get it across. If I just want to make the most of each day, and have a positive mental attitude, and seek wholeness and all that, wouldn't Tarot cards serve me instead of sacraments? What do you think?

    3. Someone dumped a box load of his book at our church. I read part of it, but I didn't finish it. Kelly had previously published "allocutions" (channelled material) from God, until Church authorities put a stop to it. There is a lot of New Age Catholic stuff out there. Go to a Catholic gift shop, and if they have books, it will probably be Rohr, or The Shack. You can certainly have a sort of satisfying spirituality with Tarot cards, but at best it will be shallow, and worst, plug you into Pandemonium Central. I probably won't bring myself to read Kelly just in order to review him. There does seem to be a disconnect with classic spiritual advice.

  4. Bear, maybe you could send the card to Pope Francis with nice note being that he a great admirer of Luther.

  5. Um, you do understand that I was being tongue-in-cheek about using Tarot cards? The practice is ridiculous at best and dangerously demonic at worst. What I meant to point out is that,if people set their sights short of sanctification, the sacraments themselves become a sort of "magical" means of self-help, and we simply cannot allow it. Why, when boxes of Matthew Kelly books are dumped off at parishes, do pastors permit it? People are being gravely misled. Anyway, thanks for responding, Bear. I think I am going to give the combox thing a rest. But I will be keeping an eye on all you have to say.

  6. Justina, it's easy to misunderstand things. I never for a second thought you were serious. And if you feel like commenting on the Bear's disreputable ephemeris, why, you go right ahead and do it. Maybe move into the woodlands. I thought your comments were fine.


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