SUGGESTION: Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Fri, Feb 5 2021 11:32 PM

by Robert Powell (Translator), Hans Urs von Balthasar (Afterword) ISBN-13 : 978-1585421619

Amazon blurb: Published for the first time with an index and Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar’s afterword, this new English publication of Meditations on the Tarot is the landmark edition of one of the most important works of esoteric Christianity. Written anonymously and published posthumously, as was the author’s wish, the intention of this work is for the reader to find a relationship with the author in the spiritual dimensions of existence. The author wanted not to be thought of as a personality who lived from 1900 to 1973, but as a friend who is communicating with us from beyond the boundaries of ordinary life. Using the 22 major arcana of the tarot deck as a means to explore some of humanity’s most penetrating spiritual questions, Meditations on the Tarot has attracted an unprecedented range of praise from across the spiritual spectrum.

This book is valuable if only for its afterword. It is rare in the 20th century to be able to read a contemporary theologian on an esoteric tradition.

Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism | Faithlife Feedback

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 5 2021 2:40 PM

Sounds like a terrible idea to me. I guess it depends on your interpretation of what Christianity is, but the fact that this type of book is rare from a contemporary (or otherwise) theologian might be a clue.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 5 2021 2:53 PM

David:

Sounds like a terrible idea to me. I guess it depends on your interpretation of what Christianity is, but the fact that this type of book is rare from a contemporary (or otherwise) theologian might be a clue.

There are a couple of unspoken rules in the forum which early on where actually spoken:

  1. Don't knock someone else's suggestions. If you don't like it, suggest alternatives that you believe cover the same material better.
  2. If you are going ahead to knock a suggested book, make sure you have actually read and understood the book and be explicit about what needs improving.

Then there is the explicit rule against discussing theology, which is implicit is your statement.

A quote from the web:

What is the essence of Christian Hermeticism? (R.C. Sproul) The essence of Christian Hermeticism is the same as the essence of conventional Christianity, except that one actually practices and realizes this essence instead of merely believing it. This essence is summarized in the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (or the Eucharist), and the realization of the Trinity.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 5:53 AM

I guess polite rules of discussion would be fair enough under normal circumstance.. However books about the OCCULT, no matter how sincere is analagous to encouraging young children to play on railway lines!

I would be suprised if at least 9 out of 10 protestant or catholic Christians weren’t sympathetic to the the view I’ve just given - I dont think this is a minority view, more the majority view.

I’ve given you the benefit of the doubt by reading some book reviews, given you’ve quoted RC Sproul - who wasn’t refering to Tarot or the occult!,

but this is clearly a book that endorses the use of Tarot cards, and the author uses them to ‘reflect on his spirituality’.

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David Thomas | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 7:53 AM

I guess the value of this suggestion needs to be measured against the Faithlife mission statement. Taken from the "about Faithlife" page - "We use technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible. This is the mission behind everything we make—from Bible software, to Christian books, to mobile apps, and more."

Then one must ask if a study into the Tarot "equips the Church to grow in the light of the Bible" or if it is a foray into esoteric spirituality BEYOND the light of the Bible.

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 8:25 AM

Not really seeing the value of voting for this work, TBH. It’s one thing to study non-Christian texts to gain a greater understanding of those we dialogue with or what the Jews and Christians were up against. This feels more like a curiosity than a resource.

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EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 8:53 AM

David Thomas:

I guess the value of this suggestion needs to be measured against the Faithlife mission statement. Taken from the "about Faithlife" page - "We use technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible. This is the mission behind everything we make—from Bible software, to Christian books, to mobile apps, and more."

Then one must ask if a study into the Tarot "equips the Church to grow in the light of the Bible" or if it is a foray into esoteric spirituality BEYOND the light of the Bible.

David Wanat:

Not really seeing the value of voting for this work, TBH. It’s one thing to study non-Christian texts to gain a greater understanding of those we dialogue with or what the Jews and Christians were up against. This feels more like a curiosity than a resource.

These two comments capture the way I would look at it. I have no desire to dictate what anyone else should or shouldn't read. But some things do seem to fall outside FaithLife's stated mission - and their commitment as a company to that mission is something that's important to me as a customer.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 12:14 PM

David:
I guess polite rules of discussion would be fair enough under normal circumstance.. However books about the OCCULT, no matter how sincere is analagous to encouraging young children to play on railway lines!

David Wanat:

Not really seeing the value of voting for this work, TBH. It’s one thing to study non-Christian texts to gain a greater understanding of those we dialogue with or what the Jews and Christians were up against. This feels more like a curiosity than a resource.

David Thomas:

I guess the value of this suggestion needs to be measured against the Faithlife mission statement. Taken from the "about Faithlife" page - "We use technology to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible. This is the mission behind everything we make—from Bible software, to Christian books, to mobile apps, and more."

Then one must ask if a study into the Tarot "equips the Church to grow in the light of the Bible" or if it is a foray into esoteric spirituality BEYOND the light of the Bible.

My apologies in advance for being insulting but my immediate reaction to this thread was "What ignorant prejudice is being shown in these remarks from people from whom I would not expect it. It appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the word "Tarot". It appears that if the book was called "Meditations on archetypes and Christian hermeticism," there would be a very different reaction..

Let's start with some facts about the resource:

FACT 1: It is not an occult book in the standard definition

occult (adj.)

1530s, "secret, not divulged," from French occulte and directly from Latin occultus "hidden, concealed, secret," past participle of occulere "cover over, conceal," from assimilated form of ob "over" (see ob-) + a verb related to celare "to hide" (from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save"). Meaning "not apprehended by the mind, beyond the range of understanding" is from 1540s. The association with the supernatural sciences (magic, alchemy, astrology, etc.) dates from 1630s. A verb occult "to keep secret, conceal" (c.1500, from Latin occultare) is obsolete.

The fact that the afterword is by Hans Urs von Balthasar (Afterword)  should have been sufficient to dissuade you from that erronous assumption.

FACT 2: The book does fit into the Faithlife mission of "to equip the Church to grow in the light of the Bible" 

Yes, the focus is on individual growth as Christians in the same sense as the quote from Sproul I provided in the previous post..

What is the essence of Christian Hermeticism? (R.C. Sproul) The essence of Christian Hermeticism is the same as the essence of conventional Christianity, except that one actually practices and realizes this essence instead of merely believing it. This essence is summarized in the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (or the Eucharist), and the realization of the Trinity.

FACT 3: The book is institutional church oriented and anti-gnostic

The abstract from a review published in Modern Theology:

The essay examines Hans Urs von Balthasar's little‐known Foreword to the Christian esoteric text, Meditations on the Tarot by Valentin Tomberg. It argues that von Balthasar respected and advocated this ostensibly occult text because he found its capacious understanding of Christian faith as true gnosis similar to his own. The essay explains that both Tomberg and von Balthasar practice a rule‐governed Christian esotericism whose goal is support for a fruitful ecclesial spirituality and resistance to non‐ecclesial esoteric Gnosticism. Both Tomberg and von Balthasar believe that esotericism without prayer and institutional grounding can become narcissistic and self‐righteous to the point of megalomania, and consequently it tends to become manipulative and coercive to the point of violence. Both authors maintain that authentic esotericism, by contrast, is marked by radical humility and non‐violence; it is biblical, ecclesial, and committed to the unity of metaphysical reason and prayerful faith. The essay also draws attention to Tomberg's innovatively irenic approach to Christian anti‐Gnosticism.

Oops, the author used the equally knee-jerk invoking term "esoteric" which is another term that is widely misunderstood in certain Christian circles.

FACT 4: Symbolism of the tarot has been suggested for children's religious education

From the abstract of "Transforming ourselves/transforming curriculum: spiritual education and Tarot symbolism" by Inna Semetsky  in International Journal of Children's Spirituality:
This paper is threefold. It is grounded in the philosophical work of two educational theorists: John Dewey and our contemporary Nel Noddings. It also brings into the conversation the ancient system of Tarot, arguing that its pictorial symbolism embodies intellectual, moral, and spiritual ‘lessons’ derived from collective human experiences across times, places, and cultures. For Dewey, to call somebody spiritual never meant to invoke some mysterious and non‐natural entity outside of the real world. As a system of communication and interpretation, Tarot is oriented toward the discovery of meanings in the real experience and performs two functions, existential and educational, focusing on the ethical and spiritual dimension of experience. The pictorial images create an adventure story of the journey through the school of life, each new life experience contributing to self‐understanding and, ultimately, spiritual rebirth. Tarot not only speaks in a different voice, therefore bringing forth the subtleties of Gilligan and Noddings’ relational ethics, but also enables a process of critical self‐reflection analogous to the ancient Socratic ‘Know thyself’ principle that makes life examined and thus meaningful. As a techne, it can and should become a valuable tool to complement an existing set of educational aids in the area of moral and spiritual education.
FACT 5: Tarot cards as fortune telling is new and primarily English Check Tarot - Wikipedia to see that in France etc. they are playing card. This book is French and should be viewed in light of the French sense of Tarot.

In my opinion, there is nothing more harmful to authentic Christianity, than Christians rejecting without knowing. It reinforces the stereotype that one cannot be both educated and Christian and that Christian are gullible, credulous chumps. 

Please don't knock my suggestions unless you are qualified to do so i.e. have read and understood the book. And please don't insult me personally by implying that I don't know the mission of Faithlife and/or am unwilling to respect it.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 2:04 PM

David Wanat:

Not really seeing the value of voting for this work, TBH. It’s one thing to study non-Christian texts to gain a greater understanding of those we dialogue with or what the Jews and Christians were up against. This feels more like a curiosity than a resource.

If you are the David Wanat I believe you to be (you've not provided your biographic data on Faithlife), you are one whom I would expect to find the book useful. Think of the type of Christian who is drawn to intentional communities --  popular authors such as Kathleen Norris, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton are precursors -- as the target audience. It seems like a curiosity only because you are reading "Tarot" with the English connotations; the book is French so use the French connotations and the curiosity disappears. If I am wrong about your identity, ignore everything I've said here.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 2:26 PM

MJ. Smith:

My apologies in advance for being insulting but my immediate reaction to this thread was "What ignorant prejudice is being shown in these remarks from people from whom I would not expect it. It appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the word "Tarot". It appears that if the book was called "Meditations on archetypes and Christian hermeticism," there would be a very different reaction.

Alternatively, you're making your own knee-jerk assumptions that we're reacting negatively on account of one word.

Personally, I found the description you provided to be of no use to assess the value of the work. So, again, I see it more as a curiosity than a resource.

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NB.Mick | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 2:29 PM

For what's it worth, the author of this book seems to be Valentin Tomberg, a Lutheran who turned Anthroposophist and then Roman-Catholic. One of his other books https://www.amazon.com/-/en/Valentin-Tomberg-ebook/dp/B005IQDW06/ref=sr_1_7?qid=1615067952&refinements=p_27%3AValentin+Tomberg&s=books&sr=1-7&text=Valentin+Tomberg has a long biographical sketch that is readable through the 'Look Inside' feature. 

The current German edition of "Meditations on the Tarot" has been published by Robert Spaeman, a very well-known catholic philosopher. I wouldn't expect anything having to do with trying to prophesy the future from a deck of cards.   

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 2:47 PM

Looking it up on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Meditations-Tarot-Journey-Christian-Hermeticism-ebook/dp/B00B1FG9PI/ref=pd_sbs_1?pd_rd_w=ED9TJ&pf_rd_p=5e0f7f8d-f321-4a3e-bdac-3142fcd848d7&pf_rd_r=KGD6EG8D1Z2HB9FSM6XY&pd_rd_r=85919927-dfc5-4158-943f-98621d80ab9e&pd_rd_wg=1wj1h&pd_rd_i=B00B1FG9PI&psc=1) doesn’t seem to help. The reviews themselves seem to differ over the purpose of the work. But, I’m not seeing the answer to the question, “how will it benefit me to get it?”

As a result, I’m still not seeing a compelling reason to sign on yet.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 2:52 PM

David Wanat:
As a result, I’m still not seeing a compelling reason to sign on yet.

No problem. We each upvote the resources we personally want to support.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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David | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 3:25 PM

While I think some of your 'facts' are debatable, I however can't see this book being listed in Logos anytime soon.

However, MJ I think that you're misled by thinking this isn't an OCCULT book, the book review referred to it as 'ostensibly occult', and I think they were being generous. It's very much debatable at the least.

Last point is more of a personal warning from scripture.

Luke 17:2

Jesus said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks will come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 3:31 PM

MJ. Smith:

David Wanat:
As a result, I’m still not seeing a compelling reason to sign on yet.

No problem. We each upvote the resources we personally want to support.

Agreed. I have no objection to you suggesting it.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 3:46 PM

David:
However, MJ I think that you're misled by thinking this isn't an OCCULT book,

Once you have read and understood the book, I would be very interested in your opinion. And Faithlife (and Amazon) provide space for you to provide that opinion.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Angela Meister | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 4:13 PM

Well, people, even naming the name of Christ, have had to get deliverance after repenting of doing such things. Just because something uses the name of Christ doesn't mean it is of God. I'm not sure I see the value in this other than research purposes.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 4:31 PM

Angela Meister:
Well, people, even naming the name of Christ, have had to get deliverance after repenting of doing such things. Just because something uses the name of Christ doesn't mean it is of God. I'm not sure I see the value in this other than research purposes.

Have you read the book? If so, I assume by research you mean applying the contents of the book to yourself and observing the results (think Exploring Mysticism by Fritz Staal).  Otherwise,

Angela Meister:
after repenting of doing such things

I'll need to consider this advice - repent for praying, studying scripture, being attentive in church, living a moral life, ... Sorry, I think I have to pass.

 

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 7:31 PM

MJ. Smith:

And please don't insult me personally by implying that I don't know the mission of Faithlife and/or am unwilling to respect it.

MJ, I don't know if you had me in mind when you said that or not. If so, I certainly meant no personal insult by what I said. I respect you, and I've personally benefited by many of your insights on the forums. But I don't think simply asking whether a resource falls within the scope of FaithLife's mission - and perhaps disagreeing with you over it - in any way implies that you are either unaware of that mission or unwilling to respect it. Every large organization I've been a part of has had frequent, vigorous internal debates over whether some seemingly mundane daily decision furthers the mission or not. That's both natural and healthy. It's not surprising that customers would, in good faith, have an even wider range of views.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 6 2021 9:56 PM

EastTN:
MJ, I don't know if you had me in mind when you said that or not.

I didn't have you in mind. And I agree with you that it is good to ask if resources fall within Faithlife's mission before requesting them. I try to do that by asking not only for resources from my own tradition but also for under-represented traditions that I know something about. What gets to me is people speaking out on resources they do not actually know. I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell them. Objecting based on knowledge from having read the book and referring to other works that cover the same material better or provide an alternative interpretation of the material is admirable - we all gain from it.

I would look like a complete idiot if I were to try to judge the suitability of many reformed, pentecostal, or 7th day adventist works - anything beyond "I found this useful", "I didn't find this useful", (or "I found this so bad I couldn't get through it") would be dishonest. It was the apparent audacity of speaking from ignorance that put me in a foul mood ... in my mind the corollary is that the same sloppiness is used when approaching scripture.  The later is much harder to detect even within oneself.

But it's time to give it a rest - and remember it has been recommended before without the pushback. 

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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