Tarot Philosophy: The Very Hungry Card: Aquinas, Buddhism, David Lynch and Eric Carle 

“On Saturday, he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon
That night he had a stomach ache.”
―Eric Carle  

We all love to eat and sometimes to overeat till we reach the state of gluttony. Our meals offer us the culinary pleasure of filling our plates again and again until we feel the sweet taste of satiety. However, after the delightful feast the pleasure is often replaced with a sense of emotional emptiness. This emptiness is manifested by the point that we cannot understand how, just a while ago, our plates were filled without hesitation with loads of food and now we cannot even look at them. We rush to pack the leftovers of our dying pleasure and put them quickly into the refrigerator until tomorrow. We often have the experience of guilt after overeating. We feel that our moral obligation is to “burn” the calories we have just accumulated and we are ready to take any measure to ease the agony of our bodies.

One of the most interesting children’s books which deal with the phenomenon of gluttony is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle (1929- ). In this wonderful story we follow a little caterpillar for seven days from the moment of its birth until its turning into a cocoon and then into a butterfly. The consciousness of the caterpillar develops through the story according to the gluttony motif: from the early days of controlled eating of fruits and vegetables to the compulsive gluttony of junk food just sixth days after. The caterpillar moves from eating fruits and vegetables to overeating synthetic products such as sausage and a lollipop thus the book describes the relationship between the naïve little caterpillar at the beginning of the story and the capitalist society to which he was born. Eventually, the caterpillar returns to its original nature by eating green leaves and in the seventh day it mends his eating habits and discovers his fate as a beautiful butterfly. However, if we take it to the human aspect, the story leaves the reader wondering whether we are sentenced to eat those synthetic products as a necessary step of growing-up. Actually, it is a complex metaphor of the human condition: do we enjoy consuming those products or is it a necessary ingredient of our reality? Is the Sisyphean and erroneous process of growing up is something we have to go through in order to fulfill our destiny in the world?

One possible answer to that question is that the desire to eat (properly or improperly) is related to the process of fertility: both of them occur in the abdomen and both fill us with inner beauty and glamour coming from inside-out. Our nature automatically starts the mechanism of eating in order to keep ourselves fit for reproduction and similarly the caterpillar feels it has to eat in order to develop into something else.

The Tarot offer us a similar mechanism of “gut feelings” associated with eating and fertility. If we will examine the Empress card we will notice she points to her stomach and maybe this gesture indicates that our productivity and growth will come from there. Generally speaking, the card describes our connection to the divine feminine and the application of our feminine side to our souls and bodies. When we say we have a “gut-feeling” we are always united with the empress through her great maternal abdomen and her large pelvis. Both in the caterpillar story and in the card the idea that the food we eat represents both the material world and the world of passions is fully expressed. 

 The Empress is pointing at her belly and her wide hips in a suggestive fashion which unites passion and matter. Even her grip at the end of the wand is both delicate and confident and therefore represents the unification of passion with material security. Like the caterpillar story this unification will lead us to our destination. In this way, the empress and the caterpillar never lose their spiritual and material grip of the world. In addition, we see the empress embraces her shield with the engraved image of the eagle. The royal eagle suggests that her maternal gut feelings will someday make her fly away from the daily routine to the royal rebirth of her nature. Like the caterpillar story which eventually becomes a colorful butterfly, we can confidently say that both narratives claim that the balance of matter and passion is the key to be the master of your own domain.  The way to achieve the balance won’t be easy and sometimes our passions will win the battle of attention: we see that the eagle and empress gazes are directed towards the tip of the wand and not towards the belly as if telling us that we can surrender to our passions for a moment. Similarly, In order to eventually discover its destiny the caterpillar was extremely passionate to eat the industrial food that does not come directly from nature such as sausage, cakes and more. Likewise, we notice that the empress is sitting in an artificial yellow frame indicating that the reconnection to our maternal feelings cannot happen without breaking the structural and maybe institutional frameworks of society.

Our discussion concerning the Empress card still does not answer the question why Carle and many other writers think that gluttony is such a terrible thing?  The medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas discusses in length the phenomenon of gluttony and it’s relation to sin. According to Christian faith gluttony is regarded as one of the seven deadly sins and thus it raises a few questions which Aquinas is keen to answer: Could gluttony be considered a sin? Is it a mortal sin? Is gluttony the greatest sin of all sins? Aquinas’s method of writing is always fascinating: he always bothers to present the most convincing arguments of his opponents, then he raises his thesis on the subject, and for conclusion he addresses all the objections raised.

Is gluttony a sin? Aquinas claims that although we feel regret and shame after overeating, the vast majority of people don’t consider gluttony to be a sin. Aquinas tells us that if gluttony was a sin then we would have felt its burden already from the first sip or bite. But at the beginning of the meal we do not feel sinful and therefore gluttony is not a sin. In addition, we cannot refrain from eating and drinking, therefore gluttony, even if it is an excessive form of eating, cannot be regarded as a sin because sometimes it is inevitable. In spite of those convincing arguments for not considering gluttony a sin, Aquinas argues that gluttony is a sin. Gluttony is an excessive desire to eat and drink which causes us to act not according to reason and we actually turn against our nature. 

Concerning the claim that gluttony is not a sin because we don’t feel sinful at the beginning of the meal Aquinas believes that when it comes to gluttony it is not a normal and healthy appetite. In fact, the healthy appetite does not involve morality at all because it is unrelated to moral standards. There is a different kind of appetite which is passionate and gluttony is the immoral side of it. In gluttony we devour from the first moment in frenzy acts which are against the rules of logic and reason so gluttony is a sin. 

The second claim was that gluttony is inevitable but we have already seen that Aquinas doesn’t regard it as an expression of normal and healthy appetite. In fact, there are two types of overeating and only one of them is considered gluttony and a sin in the eyes of Aquinas: the first type is an unconscious and exaggerated overeating which is not a sin but an expression of immature personality. Only when the excessive eating is done out of conscious thought to consume everything in sight, then it is considered gluttony and sin.

Food and sex are frequently regarded as the basic needs of all human species. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) famously claimed that if we do not provide those needs, we cannot climb the pyramid ruled by self-fulfillment. The problem with this model is that we never really fulfill our basic needs because the fulfillment is always accompanied by the irrational feelings of guilt and regret. We commit the sin of gluttony on a daily (and sometimes even hourly) basis and thus maybe we can think of it as the most deadly sin of all sins. Is gluttony the worst sin of all sins? Aquinas does not think so. His opponents will claim that gluttony is the worst of all sins because Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden due to their gluttony. Likewise, the flood, the destruction of Sodom and more: all occurred as a result of sin involving gluttony. Secondly, it seems that gluttony forms many other sins like lust, greed and pride. Since the cause is always more powerful than the effect gluttony is the severest of all sins. 

Aquinas believes that the severity of sin is measured by three aspects: first, it depends on the object of sin. Sins related to God are of the worst kind and therefore we can’t say that gluttony is a severe sin because it is associated with physical desire. Second, the degree of severity of sin depends on the person doing the sin. Grave sins are done by few people and hence it easy to see that gluttony is not a grave sin because we all, without exception, must eat and sometimes we have no choice but to overeat. Third, the degree of severity of the sin is measured by the severity of the outcome. It is agreed that the result of gluttony is not serious at all so gluttony is not a severe sin. Concerning the Torah punishments, Aquinas argues that those sinners have done the real severe sin before the sin of gluttony and actually gluttony just accompanies grave sins done earlier. Gluttony might be the reason for many sins but even if we accept this claim it does not mean that gluttony is a more grievous sin than them.

We have seen that Aquinas mentions the story of Genesis and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden as part of his discussion on gluttony. Now we will examine what the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and the Tarot cards have to tell us about these founding myths. Beyond the almost trivial fact that the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” takes place over seven days, the downward spiral of the caterpillar begins when he eats the apple. The act of eating is accompanied by the caterpillar crawling through the apple hinting us that sin is not accidental but is calculated and has a defined route. Likewise, Adam and Eve have realized from the outset that they have deteriorated to the slippery path of righteousness, temptation and guilt. Our consciousness is born in the biblical story on the sixth day and the first notion of Adam is that he can take advantage of the natural food surrounding him. Similarly, the caterpillar discovers the diversity of food in his world on the same day. So “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” story hints that the initial consciousness of food is actually the initial consciousness of sin. 

The connection between crawling on the ground and the phenomenon of gluttony is represented in the Tarot as well. If we examine the Temperance card we see that she pours water from two jars which may represent two opposite sides of a particular matter. The mid liquid generated from these two jars might be a symbol for balance and more explicitly calls for moderation on the subject of food and beverage consumption. However, this harmony of the temperance is always in danger. If we look at the legs of card we find that they are deeply established in the ground and the hem of her dress is wrapped with hungry caterpillars and snakes. Thus the card implies that the process of achieving harmony with the universe might disconnect us from the mundane reality. The message is that we cannot completely eliminate the part of the “Hungry Caterpillar” in our personal identity. It is very clear that we must think of our healthy consumption of food but we can overeat occasionally as well. Our preoccupation with ourselves and our dietary habits disconnects us from reality, which includes worldly temptations.

But what exactly is the personal identity of this gluttonous person? Is it real? One can suggest a Buddhist interpretation of Carle story which undermines our previous conclusions.    

The story of the hungry caterpillar may metaphorically illustrates the concept of emptiness (Sanskrit; Pali: suññatā) in Buddhism as a whole and in Mahayana Buddhism in particular. According to Theravada Buddhism we do not have a permanent self-identity that continues from moment to moment. There is an illusion of continuity, but in fact there is only a sequence of moments called Dharma and it establishes reality. In the story the caterpillar eats series of leaves, then eats a series of fruits of the same kind, and finally comes a chaotic sequence of foods of various kinds. However, the caterpillar’s self is not formed by any sequence. The last series of chaotic foodstuffs emphasizes that the only thing which really changes is the nature of the sequence itself. The caterpillar is still “hungry” for finding his “true” self.

Mahayana Buddhism goes beyond this concept of the self and not only negates the existence of an ongoing self but also denies the very reality of the selfhood moments themselves. The Dharma is a simple concept because the nature of things is their emptiness. We are left with two paradoxical truths: according to the first truth, everything is an illusion and there is no self-identity to anything in the world. According to the second truth, we must attribute identities to all distinguishable things in our mind in order to act in the world. Mahayana Buddhism steps into this paradox and simultaneously holds both truths. It solves the unbridgeable by saying that the relationship between the two truths is not static but rather a process of an endless meditative thought. In the first stage, we distinguish between things according to their selfhood, and in the second stage we do not make any distinction. In the third stage, Mahayana Buddhism asks whether the very distinction between the stages is real. This question brings us back to the practice of identities and the distinction between things and so on.

These three stages are actually the three metamorphoses of the caterpillar: in the first stage it emerged into the world as a leaf-eating creature, in the second stage it realized that the rampage eating did not establish any self-identity but only a abdominal ache. In the third stage, it underwent a metamorphosis from a golem to a butterfly whose existence is detached from identity of the gluttonous caterpillar. The caterpillar crawls into the paradox and becomes a beautiful Buddhist butterfly: It now holds that we must live every single moment of our lives as a butterfly emerging from the golem. It is the liberating thought that everything is possible for those who can be emptied from their previous thoughts. It is in fact the way we experience our lives and our identity through a story we tell ourselves that includes the disintegration and re-integration of our identity. 

One of the world’s best-known film directors associated with Buddhism in general and its Transcendental Meditation in particular is the American director David Lynch (1946- ). The motif of dissertation and re-integration of our self-identity is woven throughout Lynch’s films and culminates to its artistic perfection in his latest film, “Inland Empire”. The film describes the fragmented self-identity of a girl who is “imported” from poverty in Poland to a miserable reality in the United States. She is forced to work as a prostitute but he cannot cope with it and thus loses her grip in the world as a sentient person. In the beginning of the film she is already portrayed as both a heroine in a Hollywood melodrama and the glamorous actress who plays the heroine in melodrama. This dual distinction is undermined as the film progresses and the heroine a series of torn identities appears on the screen: she is also a failed actress who plays the role of the glamorous actress, an actress who plays someone who fantasizes that she is the glamorous actress, a whore who escapes from the daily horrid reality, a failed murderer and all sorts of fragmented identities. At this stage her self-identity is destroyed and sheer terror consumes her soul. Like the Mahayana Buddhism, which poses to the question of the distinction between identity and non-identity of the self, Lynch portrays his fragmented identities in order to challenge this distinction. In “Inland Empire” he creates an inner world which is very close to the way we compose (and decompose) our self-identity on a daily basis: we experience our identity through a story we tell ourselves about and this story which itself falls apart sooner or later, and all these identity-pieces reunite into another story that contains the bits and pieces of our dusty, old self-identity. Lynch, Buddhism and even the hungry caterpillar tell us about the incoherent way we experience of our self-identity:  life is a Sisyphean effort to tell ourselves why we are what we are or why we are so hungry.

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01/22/2022 · 4:39 am

Tarot Philosophy: Non, Je Regrette Tout: Aristotle and Edith Piaf

We all sometimes feel regret about things we have said or done but does the feeling of regret changes anything at all?  In general, is it good or bad to be too regretful? Spinoza thinks that regret is a pain opposed to pleasure and that regret is a special kind of pain: when we regret, we add a second-order pain to the first-order pain we have now or had in the past. First, we hurt ourselves (or others) and then we torment ourselves in vain. 

According to Aristotle, the genuine reflexive positive nature of regret makes it a virtue. Regret affirms the existence of a virtue that aspires to become part of our character. Therefore, regret does not concern, as is commonly thought, the evil deed we have done but the fact that we could not be in the harmonious existence of virtue.

What involves the fact that we are often so determined to regret? What are the actual facts that may lead us to regret? We basically believe that we feel regret because we assume that now we are correctly grasping our moral state; what happened?

It is generally believed that regret is a moral problem concerning our ever changing needs. Occasionally those feelings lack moral coherence and causing us to prefer one of them. But is it really the case? We know that we might feel regret and still morally err, we might feel regret and not be evil.

Perhaps regret is not defined as a lack of moral coherence but as a relation between knowledge and the lack of knowledge. Therefore, we may feel regret because we now know things we did not know at all in the past or we will not acknowledge in the future. But if regret is a relation between knowledge and the lack of knowledge, then the feelings accompanying the fact that I could do things differently and yet consciously (or unconsciously) chose to do otherwise are unreasonable. Why we cannot just avoid the sense of regret? We need to define the connection between regret and morality. This is exactly what Aristotle tells us in his book the “Nicomachean Ethics”. 

In the “Nicomachean Ethics” Aristotle defines our involuntary actions and passions (Akousios). He claims that our involuntary actions and passions (as opposed to voluntary ones) are performed out of compulsion or not in agreement with our inner nature and will. When the cause of our actions or passions is out of our control then the action (or passion) is purely compulsory. The actions and passions are partially compulsory when the choice to act is ours and is made in order to avoid some unwanted consequence. 

If our involuntary actions are done not according to our will then they are performed by reason of ignorance. Acting by reason of ignorance is unlike acting in ignorance: when I am drunk, I act in ignorance but not by reason of ignorance; and when I accidently shoot a deer, I act by reason of ignorance and not in ignorance. We are not responsible for actions done by reason of ignorance. They are casually determined from the outside world and do not belong to our will.  

The actions done by reason of ignorance are involuntary (Akousios) or non-voluntary (Ouch Hekousios). We can regret our involuntary actions; we would not have done them if we only knew the state of affairs. The non-voluntary actions done by reason of ignorance involve no regret; it is possible that we would have done them anyway. If we do not regret an action done by reasons of ignorance then we were and still non-willing. If we do regret an involuntary action done by reasons of ignorance then we were unwilling and now we are regretful.

We must stress here that Aristotle thinks that neither voluntary inner natured actions (of any kind) nor compulsory non-voluntary ignorant action involve regret. I can only regret actions done by reason of ignorance and are involuntary. For example, I can regret that I have (against my will) cheated in the test (involuntary action) but not that I have urgently taken a piss in public (non-voluntary ignorant action) or that I have chosen to pretend that I am ill and not go to the test (voluntary action done by reason of ignorance). Only our involuntary actions can testify for the existence of unaccomplished virtue. Involuntary actions are those that we regretfully realize that they were done against our will and Non-voluntary actions are not related to our will at all so we cannot regret them. 

Aristotle would like us to understand how we judge a particular action as not virtuous if we do not understand the state of affairs at the time of its execution. 

If I do not feel regret at all then my will was not involved in my action. Everything happened without my agency, I was unwilling. On the other hand, if I know that I could have acted differently than I have acted, it likely that I would feel regret for not being willingly virtuous. Regret is an active and positive mental force which prevents us from being indifferent to our mental life. Aristotle writes that the object of our regret is always involuntary actions done by people and not the existence of non-living things. If an earthquake destroys my house then I regret my decision to live in that region and not the unexpected tectonic movement.

Regret also plays a key role in differentiating between the intemperate and the incontinent persons. The incontinent lack of self-control is expressed by her weakness of the will (Akrasia). The intemperate person is wicked and does not feel regret at all.

She is incurable, since she totally abides by her decision when she acts. Thus our regret is not the passionate outcome of embarrassment or humiliation but a misconception of ourselves as moral creatures accompanied afterwards by the awareness to our immoral nature. Aristotle takes here an empirical approach: the akratic person feels regret due to her intelligent use of her wisdom and not her injudicious passions. Emotional acts such as outbursts of anger are not deeds done knowingly and intentionally and therefore we cannot regret them. We can regret our Akrasia or lack of self-control because we did, knowingly and voluntarily, the opposite of what we believes in.  We are therefore held responsible for our acts and regret is possible. Akrasia is a power taking control of our minds and we can regretfully acknowledge it. The akratic person acts contrary to reason as a result of a certain pathos (emotion). The non-akratic person experiences pathos as well, but she operates in accordance with her logic. The acratic person not only experiences the pathos, but she also succumbed to it more often.

We said earlier that the intemperate person is wicked and does not feel regret at all. In what sense is she different from the akratic?  The akratic has a weak sense of knowing on which even when she involuntary loses control, she still has knowledge of the good action; but it is not durable enough to be displayed in her behavior. The intemperate has her practical moral inference as well but she does not possess the knowledge of the morally good action. We have to pay attention that Aristotle does not claim that the weak reason of the akratic was defeated by the strong pathos (emotion); the pathos could be weak but its reasoning could prevail the morally good wisdom and cause Akrasia. The akratic is like an actress on stage: she could express similar words to those who have real knowledge; however, this does not prove that she really does have such knowledge. We said earlier that according to Aristotle, the genuine reflexive positive nature of regret makes it a virtue. When the akratic person regrets her involuntary actions she actually affirms the existence of knowledge of the good that aspires to become part of her character; even though she acted differently. 

The Lover and Tower cards in the Tarot can tell us a lot about regret. Apparently, the Lover card tells us the story of falling in love, a romantic relationship. Actually, the lovers in the card are in a strenuous emotional mess. The middle figure is in a tense dilemma between reason (right figure) and passion (left figure). He is incontinent (akratic) and his regret in manifested in his hesitant gestures. Like the incontinent, he knows reason and can even feel its gentle touch but his emotions (pathos) lays their heavy hands (burden) on his shoulders. He lived a life of desire and lack of confidence and now his present tells him to go forward and choose. It will not be easy: the arrows of wisdom can hurt him. It seems that we encounter him when he is willing to choose a life of reason even though he knows that his choice has some far-reaching consequences. His regret unifies present reason with past emotion to their intellectual promise.

 Incontinence involve a conflict between reason and passion and according to Aristotle, continence involves the same conflict. The incontinent (akratic) gives in to passion while the continent person feels the same passions, but resists them and choses reason. In this context, we can understand the meaning of the Tower card as the therapist of the Lover card. We saw that the Lover was incontinent but the sudden rational realization of the Tower have healed the Lover from its Akrasia. We can heal our weakness of will by a sudden insight or idea that undermines the existing emotional structures we have built.

At first sight, we think that the figures in the Tower card are falling down as a result of a catastrophic physical disaster, but they are actually happy to find again their new moral ground. Aristotle claims that the incontinent are ignorant of a particular premise, not the universal premise. The Tower card displays the striking of a specific truth in a specific place; thus it symbolizes the striking of a new particular premise which leads to a new moral choice. 

For example, the incontinent knows that cigarettes are bad for every person; he also knows that he is person. He chooses to smoke because he is partially unaware of the premise that “This is a cigarette”. The continent is exposed to the same temptation but resists it.

The song sounds like a hymn and the lyrics tell us that the storyteller “regret nothing”. She does not regret the good things that have been done to her nor the bad things; she does not regret her past troubles and pleasures and claims that she does not need them anymore, they are “swept away, forgotten”. 

If we understand the figures in the Tower card as healing from incontinence towards continence, we can claim that their old perceptual knowledge (tower) has collapsed, but they see their crisis as an opportunity for a personal growth. The continent person falls on his moral ground and so are they. This is the joy of finding their new-born wisdom; they dance their new personal reality around the old tower of ignorance with no regret in their hearts. 

The song “Non, Je ne regrette rien” (“No, I regret nothing”) performed by the French cabaret singer, songwriter and actress Edith Piaf (1915-1963) is one of the most famous songs of all times. Piaf charismatic voice breaks from the French chanson norms by her vocal presentation, emphasizing the emotional lyrics. Piaf sings the fantastic blend of regret and her freedom of will, a blending of electrifying opposites. She does not sing from her heart, she sings her personal life story. When Piaf heard the song for the second time she cried: “this is the song I have been waiting for. It will be my biggest success! I want it for my coming performance at L’Olympia!”

I grasp Piaf’s mental condition as “ascending the cliffs” of incontinence. Her continence is so weak that she is prone to abandon every belief she had. I see her losing her mastery and acts against her reason. Her new love and life makes her submit, maybe for the first time in her life, to pathos (emotion). She is ready to give in to her involuntary feelings rather than reason.  The song is about the denial of regret but in its final lines we feel that the annihilation of regret of unsuccessful; like the sphinx, it rises up out of Piaf’s emotional desert. As the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams said, she regains her identity as a person in the world.

We clearly notice that Piaf’s denial of regret is almost justified in the Aristotelian terms. Mostly she does not regret the “things that have been done” to her and her passive emotions. We saw that the regretful Aristotelian akratic person can regret her involuntary actions due to his previous weakness of will, but her actions are always non-compulsory and active. Hence the non-akratic Piaf cannot regret things done to her against her will or without her genuine choice. We have to mention here that Piaf’s denial of regret is in non-Spinozistic as well because she does not support her denial by the reason of an excessive redundant emotion.

But as the song continues, her attitude becomes more passive and she undermines her previous denial of regret. She does not care about the past; it’s all the same for her. She is swept away and hopes to start again from zero. Her new life and joys will begin “today…with you”. We clearly notice that in the Aristotelian sense she is not a temperate person because she hints us about her excessive or dishonorable past desires. She cannot be a strong continent person as well: She was not an active desiring person who did something improper due to weakness of her will.  Although some of her desires were good, the state that prevented her from following them were weak. In Aristotelian terms, her continence “is nothing impressive”.

The song’s ending tells us that her new love makes her choose to start over. But is it really a choice? She says rather passively that her life begins with her new object of love. Thus her extremely weak continence makes her, in Aristotle words, “prone to abide by every belief”. She accepts every false (or true) belief as long as it is new.

I grasp Piaf’s mental condition as “ascending the cliffs” of incontinence. Her continence is so weak that she is prone to abandon every belief she had. I see her losing her mastery and acts against her reason. Her new love and life makes her submit, maybe for the first time in her life, to pathos (emotion). She is ready to give in to her involuntary feelings rather than reason.  The song is about the denial of regret but in its final lines we feel that the annihilation of regret of unsuccessful; like the sphinx, it rises up out of Piaf’s emotional desert. As the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams said, she regains her identity as a person in the world.

We have seen that human emotions like anger and regret reflect on our mental and physiological states. This reflection involves a meta-information about our persona as whole. According to Jung, the persona is a mixture of masks, behind which we can hide our psyche. The persona is like a hall of mirrors where our thoughts and feelings are twisted in endless and socio-elastic shapes. 

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01/21/2022 · 1:38 pm

Tarot Philosophy: Game of Thrones Tarot and Theater: Marcus Aurelius

“Only he who is capable of a genuine encounter with the other is capable of an authentic encounter with himself, and the converse is equally true…From this perspective, every spiritual exercise is a dialogue, insofar as it is an exercise of authentic presence, to oneself and to others.” ―Pierre Hadot

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180) is an unusual figure in the history of ideas. His figure is so unique because he was not only a Roman Emperor, but also and a Stoic philosopher. Unlike his predecessors, he rejected the pleasures of wealth and power and lived a modest life inspired by the teachings of Stoicism. For him, being the emperor of Rome was utter mandatory job. In solitude, he wrote his “Meditations” for himself. His battle tent was a philosophical shelter, an inner citadel from the entire Roman world.

Marcus wrote almost every day, even in the frontline of battle when he returned to his modest tent. His innermost thoughts were written “for himself”; no doubt he would be surprised to find that 2000 years later these thoughts will be considered as one of the most important books which have survived from the late roman Stoicism.

He was in constant conflict: on the one hand, the fate of the Roman empire rested on his shoulders; on the other hand, he aspired to live a Stoic way of life away from trouble. He fluctuated between faith and skepticism. Therefore, he constantly had to overcome himself: “throw away your books; no longer distract yourself: it is not allowed.” he writes.

 Marcus is the definite illustration that Plato’s dream concerning the ruler-philosopher will never come true. The Emperor card illustrates this duality which governed Marcus’ life. On the one hand, the emperor’s figure holds his wand in authority and control; on the other hand, we notice that he almost slips from his affluent chair. The emperor sits with his legs crossed as a sign for self-discipline but perhaps he conceals his inconvenience from his emperorship.

The wand which is hoisted forward suggests that the emperor tends to solve issues by his assertive power. This power often finds its expression through the archetypal male phallus of dictatorship, military and war. However, we see that the commanding wand slants towards the emperor and not really forward. This could suggest that the emperor’s power is just a façade.  Power, leadership, and responsibility could be a mask for the philosopher sitting on the royal throne.

 In his “Meditations” Marcus is revealed as one of the most devoted pantheist of all Stoic philosophers. By pantheism I mean that Markus believed that the world is an absolute unity of all things. Everything in nature is harmonically connected in a causal chain emanating from the one, from god.  God or the one is found in all things and beings, He is the sole logos of the universe. Unlike Stoic philosophers who preceded him, Marcus does not believe that the one cares for each individual separately. He argues that only God actually exists in the world, he is everything, and no other. The universe is a living organism with a single sentient mind.

The Emperor card displays a similar viewpoint when its character holds the wand imitating the figure of the number one. In order to find a meaning for this imitation we can trace the emperor’s gaze. We will find that he is staring at the Cross attached to his wand’s top. Thus, the emperor’s imitation could imply that that all human beings are unified under the power of the Cross. The emperor is the ruler of the civilized human world; his gaze and gestures imply that the existence of humanity must be defined by the oneness of the cross.

Although the unity of the Cross is a powerful one, we find in the card a unity which governs it. This is the unity of the entire universe which is represented by the card’s number in the Tarot deck, the number four. We can see the number four as a symbol for the unity of the universal four elements. The card’s number lies above the emperor’s wand, thus the unity of all humans under the Cross is a mere manifestation of the unity of the universe.

Marcus believes that God (or nature) is a perfect being while man is not. Man existence is determined by nature’s laws of causality.  Man must recognize that he is part of nature, a piece in an endless chain of casual determinations of God. Everything in this world is constantly changing and ultimately forgotten, even the glory of the Emperor.

We find this temporality in the Tarot as well. We notice that the emperor holds his wand in a slight tilt to the right and not in stable grip. Thus, the card could imply that the unity of the four elements is superior to the emperor’s decrees. Man can’t hold his wand straight and firm without giving-up to the laws of nature. He is submitted to causality, to God’s nature.

Not only this submission has a physical aspect, but it has a psychological one as well. A closer examination of the emperor’s wand reveals that it looks very similar to the opium plant. A further observation reveals that perhaps the emperor inhales the scents of this wand-opium plant through his nose. 

The link to Markus is a written testimony by the learned doctor Aelius Galenus who was one of Markus’ contemporaries. According to Galenus, Marcus was an opium addict and consumed it on a daily basis. Thus, Markus and the emperor in the card know they are submitted to the laws of nature but tragically seek to escape from this dominance to an alternate world. In this world they can rule without any disquieting philosophical meditations

The Stoic philosophers believed that all creatures are part of nature in such a way that they all operate according to a cyclical movement of a single living organism. According to their deterministic philosophy, all things are governed by the Logos, the rational force. The Logos is the guiding spirit of the world and there is no redundancy in it. Everything has a role in the Logos and its cycle is beyond the control of humans. Therefore they must surrender to the will of God and accept the fact that they can’t control the appearance of things.

Although the universe is deterministic, people have the freedom to shape their approach to events. From all creatures, our nature is the closest to God because he has an intellect (Nous) which is emanating from God. Thus, we have a great mental strength and freedom to do God’s will. We are part of God’s nature and by doing our will we are actually doing God’s will. Being part of God’s nature, our mind is also eternal; the human mind will not disappear with the death of the body but will return to God, to the one unity. We see that the consolation of emperor Marcus Aurelius was that his soul will return to the one which it was originally emanated from in a harmonious and balanced cycle. Similarly, the Emperor in the Tarot finds his balance and consolation in the Temperance card. 

 The emperor and the temperance cards share the number four: the emperor is the fourth card, while the temperance is the fourteenth. In the Tarot, the number four symbolizes personal accomplishment. The temperance is the guardian angel of the emperor: without temperance, the emperor’s triumph is selfish and domineering: if we place the temperance card facing the emperor, it might heal him from his selfishness. The healing process starts when the emperor realizes that the world is not dominated by his material wealth but by the rule of an internal circulation and harmony. Everything will be poured back into the same jar it came from, even his wealth and kingdom. Acting according laws of nature is the emperor’s intellectual medicine. This is perhaps the harmony reached in silence after the “OM” mantra of mediation. We can even notice the shapes of the letters M (or E) which appear on the emperor’s neck. These initials could stand for Emperor Markus as well.

Without the emperor, temperance is immaterial and futile: the Emperor unveils the definitive material manifestation of the infinite matter to her. Being written in a biographic tone, Markus’ philosophy is not only intended to demonstrate how to be a better emperor, but also how Plato’s “Philosopher-King” is actually possible.

We can’t really tell whether Marcus’ soul has reached the eternal sphere, but amazingly enough, his striking bronze statue is the only intact Pagan Roman statue left today. The statue shows the victorious Marcus riding his horse and one of its most interesting details is the fact that Markus is unarmed. In the Tarot the figure of the Emperor is not armed as well; one can assume that both of them wear their philosophical armor which is the core of their power 

:In the closing paragraph of his “Meditations”, Markus writes

 “Man, you have been a citizen in this great state [the world]; what difference does it make to you whether for five years [or three]? for that which is conformable to the laws is just for all. Where is the hardship then, if no tyrant nor yet an unjust judge sends you away from the state, but nature, who brought you into it? The same as if a praetor who has employed an actor dismisses him from the stage —”But I have not finished the five acts, but only three of them.”—you say well, but in life the three acts are the whole drama; for what shall be a complete drama is determined by him who was once the cause of its composition, and now of its dissolution: but you are the cause of neither. Depart then satisfied, for he also who releases you is satisfied.

It is interesting to note that the number four of the Emperor card is the mean number of three and five, as if the figure in the card tries vainly to close the conceptual gap between mortality and immortality. 

Markus words remind us that life is eventually a stage and we can add that Tarot is agame played by two people on the reading stage. We can’t avoid mentioning Shakespeare’s famous lines from the pastoral comedy “As You Like” which curiously resemble the lines quoted from Markus: 

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”

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11/12/2021 · 4:36 am

Tarot Philosophy: Levitate Like a Saint: Brueghel, Tarkowsky, St. Thomas Aquinas and Muhammad Ali

“Any fool with fast hands can take a tiger by the balls, but it takes a hero to keep on squeezing.” ― Stephen King

The Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c. 1525–1569) is one of the most influential artists in the history of western painting in general and painting in particular. Many of Brueghel’s paintings depict the Flemish village life which takes place in landscapes defined by early modern reality. Those paintings sometimes imply to events from the Bible or classical Mythology and generally speaking, faith and religion hover above all of them. Breughel is interested in depicting the special connection between sin and its embodiment in village life. The dramatic tension between faith and village life is achieved by the feeling that death and religion lurk, symbolically or explicitly, in every corner of our lives. 

The tension between these poles is present in the Tarot cards as well. We will study some details from two of Brueghel’s paintings and reveal similar ideas to those expressed in Tarot cards.

One of Breughel’s most impressive and terrifying paintings explicitly dealing with death is “The Triumph of Death” from 1562. The painting depicts the absolute reign of death over life. The people in the painting surrender unconditionally to death which in turn destroys any attempt from those people to attain an earthly meaning to their lives. Death’s representatives on earth are crushing life under their murderous spears and life has no hope for the future. Brueghel skillfully describes this theme on a variety of expressions: the king who lost his fortune, the beggar who lost her meager possessions, the religious believer who holds his cross in vain, the adventurer who unsuccessfully flees to the mountains, the educated man who reads his books in the midst of terror, the brave who vainly try to resist death, the musicians and artists – all of them, without exception, are doomed to surrender unequivocally to the triumph of death.

However, a detailed examination of the painting reveals that there is still hope for life. Hope is not shown explicitly in the painting but is implied by a movement toward new life made by one of the painting’s characters. The chance for a new life is embodied in the image of the fool who crawls under the table. It seems that the fool understands, contrary to the entire human inferno which surrounds him that he must do everything in his power to save his life. He crawls under the table in a quest for the unknown future and abandons his past which is represented by the dice and cards. The murderous skeletons gazes are not directed towards him so the probability of saving his life is greater than the risk of losing them. In fact, he is the only human character in the painting that has a real chance to survive the mayhem.

Placed side by side, the Tower and the Fool card show a resemblance to Breughel’s death (and survival) theme. The lightning which destroyed the tower of his old life triggered the fool to find a better future. Like Brueghel’s painting, our peaceful lives in the “tower of safety” are, following the appearance of death, heading towards a catastrophe. However, those who accept destruction as an opportunity for a new start can begin to march in those unknown paths like the fool. We can imagine the tower as a phallus after ejaculation and thus it may symbolize the debauchery before dying in Brueghel’s painting. We feel that only few of us are willing, like the fool, to forget their carnal past and without delay to break free to a new life. This is a break in consciousness which involves a significant change of all we knew until now. We have to “levitate” above our current reality and personal choices to the creation of a new reality.

Speaking about “levitation” we can mention the intuitive link to Christ levitating above the Sea of Galilee water. The linkage between levitation and spiritual powers revealed to man in the process of enlightenment appears in eastern religions as well. In Hinduism the Guru has the spiritual power to levitate above the ground during meditation and even during sleep. One of the miracles of Buddhism mentions Buddha levitating above the water with his legs crossed. But not only in the Eastern religions: throughout history, mystics, psychics and various theosophists claimed for some ability of levitation. The most famous philosopher whose name has been linked to the phenomenon of levitation is the medieval scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). 

In 1272 Aquinas left the University of Paris in order to establish a new Dominican Order in Naples. As the head of the new order, Aquinas could manage it as he pleased. But a year later something happened to Aquinas in Naples: In the 6th December 1273 Aquinas seemed to levitate in the air while praying before the icon of the crucified Christ with tears running down his cheeks. According to Christian tradition, Jesus turned to Aquinas and said, “You wrote so beautifully about me. What is the prize you ask for your work?” and Aquinas replied, “I do not need anything but you, my lord.” 

After the levitation experience Aquinas stopped writing philosophy, he abandoned his daily routine and refused to dictate his teachings to his students. When his disciples begged him that he will begin to write philosophy again Aquinas replied, “I can’t, everything I have written seems like straw to me.” The supernatural experience of levitation has changed Aquinas forever; he could not be the man he was.

The association between levitation and Brueghel’s paintings becomes more significant through the work of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986). His movie “Solaris” displays a particularly long-shot on Breughel’s work from 1565 “Hunters in the Snow”. Generally, we can say that Solaris is one of the most sophisticated science-fiction movies ever made. Solaris explores the possibilities of the human mind to create a new humanity as the film’s central theme is love as a force that disintegrates and integrates worlds. The disintegration of any rational explanation for love in our current logical world pushes the movie into the abyss of cosmological madness. The abyss is located in an endless vortex where the unfamiliar fourth dimension of love ends the journey in space. Memory, fantasy, collective delusions – Solaris is an immersion in a parallel universe, a paradoxical world where the present confronts the past, fantasy challenges reality, sleep meets death, and of course – gravity meets levitation. Tarkovsky’s movies float in the midst of these paradoxical realities and that’s what makes them so disturbing and profound.

The scene which presents a long-shot of “Hunters in the Snow” is called “Levitation”. It shows the loss of gravity in the room where the painting is hanged. But as we have seen, Tarkovsky’s movies offer a profounder kind of levitation which is performed between our imagination, dreams and reality. The painting depicts hunters and their dogs returning to their small village: the fierce winter is cold, the hunting loot is quite scant, the hunters stare quietly at the snowy ground, the dark dogs tremble, the naked tree branches are piercing like knives – all contribute to the hostile and gloomy atmosphere of the painting. However, in the background we see cheerful children skating, playing games, falling and frolicking. Thus, according to Brueghel the return to childhood always accompanies the impossible mixture of a hostile environment with a sense of playfulness and game. Our childhood memories are a paradoxical combination of hostility with sweetness: we return to our intimate childhood memories which are wrapped with layers of sweetness and tenderness but fear and hostility are integral components of those memories as well. Finally, we wake up from our dreams, drenched in sweat and for a few moments we levitate. We levitate because we are in the midst of dream and reality: on the one hand we can still feel the dream’s tenderness on the other hand we are trying to make sense of dread. The combination of sweetness with horror is the only truth we know, and we levitate spiritually. In fact, after a few moments, all that remains for us is a reflection. We dismiss the matter by telling ourselves that “This was just a dream” but the nature of this reflection, which always strives to an objective perspective is exactly what Tarkovsky seeks to refute. In his view, science strips reality from its true emotions and thus only his art (or Breughel’s) can conquer the exiting realms of emotion and imagination.

The Moon card of the Tarot depicts the ungraspable line between dream and reality, imagination and rational science. The moon is our cosmic mother: before we go to sleep, we ask her to keep us from harm coming in our dreams and also to give them their positive meaning. She is femininity who is endowed with deep intuition and has the ability to understand the deep meaning of our dreams. We notice the same mysterious and dreamlike atmosphere of Brueghel’s paintings in the card: the magical moon threatens to expose the secret thoughts from our deep water of the soul and she entices the dogs and the world around her to float into her lap. Like Tarkovsky, the card shows us that the understanding of our dreams cannot rely only on rational tools. The moon attracts the dogs to stare at her and forget their natural environment, the cancer is emerging from its safety rocks and the drops float in air against the laws of nature. Late at night, when imagination and dream begin their reign on our minds, we fly to the planet of Solaris, to the paintings of Brueghel, to the mind’s hidden alchemy.

The famous boxer Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) was known for his speed and amazing flexible body. One of his tricks was done as he turned his back to the public in the arena, pressed his heels together and then seemed to levitate a few inches above the ground. As he converted to Islam Ali claimed that Islam forbids cheating and explained that it was just an illusion. Ali had a remarkable ability to stand on the tip of his left thumb and then lean his weight on it so it looked as if he was levitating. One of Ali’s famous quotes is “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. We can now conclude that after Ali converted to Islam his famous quote could be rephrased:  He levitated like a fool not to get stung by his being.

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Tarot Philosophy: All That I Can See is Just another Lemon Sea: Fourier, Utopia and Time-Travel

“The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place… But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy” ―Michelle Foucault

The French philosopher and early socialist thinker Charles Fourier (1772-1837) is considered one of the founding fathers of utopian socialism. He despised the ideas of the industrial revolution and wrote against the exploitation of workers. The industrialization is compared by him with madness because it makes the work unpleasant, obligatory, and monotonous. The main idea behind Fourier’s utopia is making the working time as attractive as leisure time. Fourier was one of the first thinkers who suggested that sharing the burden of work is the lever to make the work attractive and enriching for workers in the manufacturing process.

The Chariot card symbolizes the ability to dare and defeat the existing social order. It describes the world of action which requires the proper ambition and the arrogance of the prince. While Fourier wants to create a new harmonious world order and destroy the existing industrial order, the prince wants to conquer the world by establishing his known power and status. However, it is unclear if the prince-rider controls the horses or the horses pull him towards his left and past. The rider has no reins and it seems that his soul is wallowing in her past. In this context, the assumption that market forces will do their work stems from the reliance on the past; material things will not change their fundamental nature as a commodity market. However, as indicated in the card, this reliance may cover a weak personality and an unclear emotional basis. In Fourier terms we can say that the capitalist mechanism causes humans to feel alienated to the work they perform and it becomes ineffective.

 Fourier believed that both industrial and agricultural work can be combined together in a game. This is a role-playing game where labor is harmonically done by different people at different times. For example, if I like to drive my car in the mornings then I will serve as the community driver during those hours and if my friend likes to exercise then he can use his bike do deliver the morning papers. This is a dynamic method and we must change our roles frequently during the day. One can argue against the method that it is not effective because frequent job changes reduce the production efficiency and decrease the overall communal wealth. Fourier answers that quite the contrary; his strange arithmetic calculations showed that the overall wealth will be tripled. Fourier was neither a mystic nor a revolutionist. He does not even consider his ideas as utopian although defined so by Karl Marx (1818-1883). The harmony he offers does not involve self-sacrifice, but it is the natural and inevitable result of human behavior according to the laws of his new science. Fourier thought that he was the Newton of social theory. The purpose of his new science is to link human desire to cosmic passion. Therefore, Fourier’s socialism does not tell us, unlike Marxism, what should happen when the revolution will come, but what will rationally happen without a social revolution.

The Chariot card, with its colorful image of the prince, suggests that  one has the material means to go further in his life but he or she lacks the knowledge where and how to move forward. While the Chariot card symbolizes our material victory in the world through the understanding of existing social forces, the Star card symbolizes the spiritual victory thorough understanding the harmony and the laws of nature. If the prince will adopt the harmony of the Star card, he could get rid of the doubts surrounding him. The character in the star card is part of the cosmic harmony in nature. Fourier derives his principles from the laws of the cosmos as well. The universal love of the Star card and Fourier’s utopia is manifested in the reflection of the cosmos in the earthly world.

Fourier was a great admirer of order and harmony. Therefore, he believed that people will freely join a harmonious and collective community called the phalanx. The phalanx members will establish a joint property with equal rights for men and women. In fact, Fourier was the first thinker who coined the term “feminism” and in the phalanx women are working outside the family circle and take part in public life. Fourier’s vision emphasizes the unlimited possibilities available to each individual to change society: every person is a star and the phalanx is in this analogy the harmony of all its stars. The cosmic order must be symmetric in order to support the founding principle of society. Maintaining the harmonic order in the phalanx includes the appointment of a female minister of love to the phalanx. The minister of love is responsible in peacetime and especially in times of war for the acts of free love. Those acts are intended to raise the morale and the raise is calculated by Fourier in his love games theory. The love games are open to all members and are scientifically calculated. The ideal society, according to Fourier, requires that desires will be organized. Passions are God’s gift to mankind and therefore the phalanx members should engage in many sexual acts.

We can compare the image of the minister of love to the kneeling figure in of the star card. The figure is naked in nature and embodies the perfect union of consciousness with the magical nature. She reveals herself spiritually and physically in all her flaws, and thus presenting her exemplary individual harmony with the cosmos. She wants to disclose the natural principle of sex when it is not imposed on us from a position of the ego, but sex is with the feeling of adequacy and relevance to the environment. The return to nature involves the removal of all boundaries and barriers: the card’s intermingling of colors shows us, poetically, how to coincide with our neighbors so that the boundaries between the environment and man will be vanished. The minister of love is responsible that we can allow ourselves to understand the harmony of the cosmos by letting our bodies and mind flow. More critically, the small black bird in the card may symbolize Fourier’s critic stands outside of his the system: if we adopt the seemingly strange position about the minister of love, others may look at us with suspicion for having given too much trust in the other’s ability to change.

 The Star card is not just showing the possibility for a harmonious future but also, and perhaps primarily, is showing the possible consequences of the Fourieristic perception of social reality. The card shows us that something might get wasted when we try to achieve the complete harmony with nature. This excess can be manifested in the over-detailed descriptive texts by Fourier. In fact, any description of a harmonious utopia invites a loquacious text. Another criticism about Fourier’s utopia is in the card when we notice that the figure spills her spiritual energy on things from the past. Similarly, Fourier’s position about the attractive work offers a nostalgic look to the past when people would engage in various agriculture and domestic works.  We also notice in the card that the figure is excessively influenced by the astrological aspect of her personality. This effect makes her lose grip of reality around her. One of the clearest signs of losing the grip is that we assume, as Fourier assumes, that human beings are endowed with altruism which will make them “spill” all their abilities for the community’s future profitability.

Fourier wrote vigorously almost every hour and added elements to his utopia. He refers in the same seriousness to the calculation of the amount of sugar and the calculation of weapons in the phalanx. This stems from his obsession with details as the numeric data in his utopia are calculated to the last grains of dust. However, the gap between this obsessive descriptive list of compounds and the refusal to suggest any practical way of how to get it is very prominent in Fourier’s writings. Fourier was a fantastic dreamer but also an obsessed madman. He offers some of the oddest ideas in the history of philosophy: Fourier predicted that his harmony will rule the entire cosmos in six years from now and that it will survive for 70,000 years. In this harmony there will be 37 million poets in the stature of Homer and the same number of mathematicians in the stature of Newton. All intercourses will be fantastic and agreeable, especially for women, the ferocious animals like lions will be like pets, the new Earth will have 5 moons, the wine and food will be tasty and delicious and the amount of food will be tripled from that of the current productive society. Even when the Earth will be destroyed, we will travel to another civilization and continue our perfect harmony there. Fourier did not write about time-travel but his alternate universe is compatible with current theories about alternate history. Nowadays, we can only imagine how his future society could liberate people from the shackles of work.

The possible existence of an alternative reality to the actual reality in which we live has many logical paradoxes. These paradoxes can be of an inconsistent reality, different from the reality which preceded it, and resulting in an inconsistency. For example, we take an imaginary journey in time to our past and change the events so they will affect the future. We can imagine different types of paradoxes of a consistent reality in which human actions may violate the principle of causality. For example, many science fiction books describe endless consistent causal loops moving back and forth between cause and effect.

The most important philosophical objection to the logical possibility of an alternative reality is the grandmother’s paradox. The paradox describes a time-traveler returning to the time period before the birth of her parents, and killing his maternal grandmother. Since his grandmother was killed before she could give birth to his mother, he himself was never born, so he could not go back in time to kill his grandmother. Therefore killing the grandmother creates an endless loop of two alternative realities, each of which eventually contradicts its own possibility of existence. In fact, at that moment there is no necessary condition for the actuality of the journey.  We must determine that the journey did not happen at all and the grandmother’s killing did not take place.  If the grandmother remains somehow alive, we must explain why our time-traveler has failed. In this scenario, her grandmother gives birth to her mother, and so is she is born, and in time she returns to kill her grandmother, but it is a useless loop.

The High Priest card explicates the grandfather’s paradox in its own unique way. We notice that the figure of the High Priest makes a pointing gun gesture using his right hand (left side of the card denotes the past) while his gaze towards the future (right side of the card denotes the future). We can almost hear the High Priest telling us that we cannot kill him in the past because it cannot be changed. Our critical gaze must be directed towards the future, flowing in the arrow of time. Furthermore, it seems that the High Priest asks the two kneeling students if they could have killed him in the past. The student on the left side of the card (the past) does not comprehend his teacher’s metaphor and therefore does not attempt to stop his teacher’s “pointing gun” from firing. His fellow on the right (the future) understands his teacher’s gesture; he raises his open hand upwards as if he tells his teacher that killing himself in the past is impossible. Therefore, we can notice that the High Priest favors the right-side student and the card’s theme suggests that it is pointless to change the past. A student who is interested in real knowledge must concentrate on the implications of our present actions on the future. The priest’s authoritative figure tells us that the arrow of time is a necessary condition for acquiring true knowledge.

Back to Fourier’s “alternate history”, we can summarize that the Chariot card deals with the gap between the real world and the imagined one. We can see that the figure of the rider is isolated in his cell from the outside world; his stand is firm and certain but he is not fully aware of what happens outside the carriage. He is daring and imaginative, but his voyage may turn out to be a farce. In our imagination, we want to conquer the world, but our absolute reliance on the material world is liable to sabotage our journey. The “horses” of the outside world could derail our conscious “chariot” and sometimes pull it in opposite directions. The card tells us that dreaming and daring is pleasing, but at the same time we must recognize the material limitations of the cosmos. We can say that Fourier’s “chariot of thought” is beautiful but the alternate reality it describes is not achievable according to the existing market forces (horses). 

In this way, Fourier rejects the normal on the basis of presenting the abnormal as the new normal. The most cited prediction in Fourier’s writings is that the oceans would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade. In the Star card this prediction is manifested when the figure casts the yellow liquid from the jug back to nature. The yellow liquid symbolizes the spiritual and the blue one symbolizes sexuality. Therefore the figure is sharing her spirituality with nature and changes it: we can see the change when the colors of the stars overhead her are alternating between those colors. Fourier wrote that he will wait every day at a certain time for a wealthy savior who will come to invest his capital in Fourier’s phalanges. Of course he never appeared in Fourier’s modest apartment. It is interesting to note in this context that the star card is called in French “L’ Étoile” which means in dissolution of syllables: “your island”. Fourier waited on his island for his special star to appear in the utopian horizon. He never drew back from his ideas till the end of his life and he never admitted to be a madman or at least to have some sort of mental illness. His profound seriousness concerning his ideas suggests the existence of an elaborate defensive mechanism as part of his psych. It can be said that almost all utopian visions require a chatty description of all their social elements. The utopian must be an arrogant “all knowing” narrator of his unusual world.

In this chapter we have met a utopian definition of political thought: we have briefly presented a Tarot-philosophical reading about the creation and distribution of goods and services within the Fourier’s utopia. Our focus in the next chapter will be a Tarot-philosophical reading concerning a more practical theme in political thought: the concepts of truth, justice and power in the political thought of Noam Chomsky and Michelle Foucault. We shall see that while Fourier’s society is alienated to civilization, Chomsky and Foucault are both concerned about the same imminent dangers to it. They disagree about whether the masses should pursue reform or revolution as a means to this end. 

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Tarot Philosophy: The Power Above: Zhang Zai, Spinoza, Sartre and Frankie goes to Hollywood

“The power of love
A force from above
Cleaning my soul
Flame on burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal” ― Frankie goes to Hollywood

The integration between the heavenly and earthly elements of human existence has fascinated philosophers and artists throughout the ages. For example, in our current culture the song “The Power of Love” by the British band “Frankie goes to Hollywood” is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written in pop music. The lyrics describe the connection between celestial and terrestrial powers of love. According to Frankie, human desire is the expression of this power; it is the manifested flames of divine love. Our earthly desire purifies the mind; therefore, we should make love our primary goal in life. It seems that the original performance by Holly Johnson, the vocalist of Frankie, will forever be an engaging fusion of voice, charisma and lyrics embodied in distilled forms of love

The Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhang Zai is one of the most important philosophers of the Song Dynasty (宋). Zhang lived in a period of time (1022-1077) when Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism philosophies were erratically competing or seeking for mutual integration between them. Many thinkers in China attacked the fundamental concepts of the Buddhist position; paradoxically, those attacks could not avoid the synthesis, although partial one, between Buddhism and the old schools of thought in China

In relation to his predecessors, Zhang’s philosophical innovation is the priority he gives to the concept of Chi (qi 氣.( Zhang argues that all phenomena in nature can be understood in terms of one material force called Chi. Chi is associated with the world (the totality of things existing in our world) as one thing. The changes in the world are due to constant flux and change of Chi. Chi is invisible when it’s fully dispersed and solid when fully-condensed; it has two aspects: dispersion (Yang) and condensation (Yin) changing forever by the laws of nature. 

Contrary to his predecessors, Yin and Yang are mere aspects of Chi in Zhang philosophy and therefore are essentially one. Yin and yang movements are jointly linked by virtue of being made ​​of the same material. Concerning the nature of human beings Zhang distinguishes between two expressions of Chi: spiritual nature and material nature. Yang Chi movement is called the spiritual soul of the world. Yin Chi movement is called the material soul of the world. The spiritual nature is eternal, does not change and is associated with the good; the material nature is earthly, temporary, changes frequently and impedes humans to achieve their heavenly spiritual nature. Zhang attributes the cosmos the duality of movement of the same basic element: heaven and earth are carrying the same nature and the same basic fundamental concept

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza defines Nature or God as the only substance that exists in the world. What we humans can know about the world as God/Nature is called an attribute by him. God or nature has infinite attributes but humans, due to their limited minds know only two them: the attribute of extension (body) and the attribute of thought (mind). Thus the attributes don’t have an existence for themselves and can be defined as different perspectives of the same phenomenon, i.e. god or nature. The attributes are governed by the law of cause and effect. For example, the attribute of thought can be described as a casual chain of thoughts. Each one of us has his/her unique place in that casual matrix of extended/thought. Spinoza’s theory of attributes can be compared to Zhang’s Yin and Yang Chi doctrine. Like the attributes relation to god, yin and yang chi have no real existence of their own but are presumed to describe certain angle about the same phenomenon – the one Chi. The exact place in the structure of the attributes or the particular movements of yin and yang is the individual’s genuine aspect of the same unity they represent

Understanding of the one principle behind the whole universe is shared by Spinoza and Zhang. They also share the method for the right and moral way of living: we should know our unique place in the whole universe, in the one unity. Similarly, Frankie tells us in their song that we should understand the power of love through the recognition that earthly and heavenly power is one. Love is the interplay of the divine and the earthly elements. We should “make love our goal”, that is, to understand that our goal is to make love with the universe. Spinoza is famously “making love” with God as well: the highest level of human knowledge, the intellectual love of God is the only way to achieve the moral salvation of the soul

The Temperance card reveals similar ideas to Zhang, Spinoza and Frankie. The card’s peaceful character is really an angel whose wings almost touching the sky and feet touch the snake on the ground. The peacefulness of temperance is explained by his/her balance between the terrestrial and the celestial circulation of elements. The balance is harmonious because the card represents the unity of nature: the fluid which infinitely moves upwards and downwards between the two jugs is suggesting that we can understand the one fundamental nature of the nature. Our soul must find the balance between heaven and earth which will achieve the desired peace of mind. Being moderate is not a weakness but an expression of the wisdom of the mind and understanding of the processes of the cosmos.

The ​​magic liquid in the card flows in all directions and sometimes against the power of gravity. Consequently we are implied that temperance is a rare human skill or gift. The understanding that the material soul and spiritual soul are one material is rare as well. Zhang says that the wise man has the rarest gift to combine the spiritual and material one earthly matter. 

In their brilliant love hymn Frankie also says that love is also a dangerous game, a lurking deadly force: “With my undying death-defying love for you, envy will hurt itself”. We have seen that Spinoza’s perception of love as expressing our active desire to know our place in God-Nature has some links to Neo-Confucian philosophies. They both differ from the conception of love a dangerous death struggle for authenticity. This view is presented by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in his celebrated book “Being and Nothingness”. We shall see that when he writes about love, Sartre borrows some key factors from the “Master-Slave dialectic developed by the 18th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

We generally think that love is related to the desire for perfection, but Sartre wants to describe it as a struggle for authenticity. Love is being with the other person, being there for her but at the same time a struggle for self-authenticity. Sartre emphasizes that love relationships bare a concealed struggle for power in their definition and the uniqueness of love involves strategic and forceful control of temptation. When we fall in love, we are preoccupied with the way in which we can get the other to think of us as we think of ourselves. The other side in the love-struggle relationship thinks exactly the same as we do, and therefore the birth of temptation always involves a hidden decision of the parties to finish their struggle. For example, the inherent concealment of love forceful agreements finds its expression in our sexual lives: Sartre argues that when we have sex we concentrate on the boy’s most passive and less humanoid parts: buttocks, breasts, hips and body hair. This is the actual result of the concealment of the struggle for authenticity. This does not mean that our partner becomes an object of sex, but rather an awareness of the powerful existence of the other. It is a dialectical struggle for power: we want to please the other so that she will tell us everything we wanted to hear about ourselves, but if we succeed too much, the other will lose credibility and authenticity will be destroyed. Pleasure is the means by which we control the other: we strive to satisfy our sexual appetites and bring the other to think of us in an authentic manner, but pleasure must be forcefully measured otherwise it cannot be used as a manipulative mean.

Thus Love is not an aspiration for divine perfection. As Sartre points out, when love fails, the immediate result is not only the end of the relationship, but also the emergence of a different sentiment than love: when one side showed too much power in order to win the love of the other side, we say that he was sadistic in the manipulative sense of the notion. When one side surrenders in order to win the love of the other side, we say that masochism in its manipulative sense has ended the relationship. “Frankie” says that when love thrives “envy will hurt itself” and they actually describe the powerful rules of love: envy is constantly trying to destroy itself so that the relationship of power will not suffer from over-exposure and remain hidden

The absence of perfection in love is also expressed in the Lovers card of the Tarot. The figure of Cupid shoots its arrows at the figure in the center but we notice that Cupid may miss and the arrow will land at the feet of the right female figure. It is not rare that love will miss its enjoyable goals and we will be left with our earthly socializing.  Thus we may infer that pure love is unattainable, all we do have is a game of power that sometimes climaxes to love peaks and sometimes misses it. The three figures in the card display the complexity of the act of love by showing a mess of touching hands. The central male character seems to be confused between his mind (the old figure on the left side) and his bodily desire (the young figure on the right side). Love’s arrows do not unfold this three polar emotional mess but rather make it manifest 

The three figures in the card can be compared to the characters in Sartre’s play “No Exit”: Joseph Garcin is the middle man who cannot chose between intellect and passion, Inès Serrano who is manipulative, inspired but not voluptuous is the female figure to the left and Estelle Rigault who strives to be passionate as long as her partner will tell the right manly words is the female figure to the right. It seems that the woman to the right wants to please the man and she will tell him everything he wants to hear and the woman to the left has won the man’s attention but not his desire. The card’s deeper meaning is that love’s authenticity is destroyed. Sartre’s figures are trapped in hell in an impossible relationship where intellect on the one hand and desire on the other will never reach their full potential. Sartre and the card state that love is a struggle for harmony but is not harmonious or celestial in itself; although they tend to be more physical and lustful in their nature, the arrows of Cupid will always miss their heavenly target

Frankie says: “Dreams are like angels, they keep bad at bay; love is the light scaring darkness away”: the understanding that earthly human dreams and heavenly angels have a common element is rare just like to keep bad at bay; just like the rarest love of God in Spinoza’s Ethics

We saw Sartre’s philosophy aspired to demonstrate how that we love the other person because she was doing the same thing. Contrary to Spinoza and Sartre’s naturalistic approach, the Bible explains how our conscience needs to be trained, that we love God because he first loved us. The earthly love is always pre-dominated and controlled by the heavenly love

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Tarot Philosophy: Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Plato, Wayang Kulit, Werner Herzog and Tarot

The film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (2011), by the German director Werner Herzog, portrays the singular opportunity to shoot in a 32,000 years old cave of the Prehistoric man. The cave was only recently discovered in southern France. It is so fragile that only authorized researchers are allowed to enter. The frescoes in the cave are spectacular and mesmerizing: horses, bulls and other animals are vividly living in the beautiful darkness. Herzog chronicles them in 3D through a slow exposure of the relationship between them and the researchers. The film dives slowly to the melancholy of the cave and the viewer’s mind: it describes how the fascinating images inside the cave become rich in their details the more we go deeper into the cave and along with it into our souls. The researches themselves testify that every time they come out of the cave they are unable to be released from the haunting images of the cave and they yearn to return inside – sometimes just hours after they have left the darkness. Generally speaking, this metaphorical depth of the “cave of thoughts”  is a constitutive motif in western culture. The allegory of the cave by Plato is one of the most quoted phrases of this metaphor.

The allegory of the Cave is one of the most influential texts in the history of philosophy and thought in general. In fact, the shadows of the things around us accompany our lives almost every day. We meet people and talk, consume art in various forms and the experience remains as shadows deep in our minds. They play a kind of dance game – often vivid and consuming but not always accurate in comparison to the original experience. Like our fellow prehistoric man, we reserve our best cave images or thoughts to the depths of our soul. Those shadows are carved into our souls and stay with us for years. Other images vanish and leave only a pale sign at the entrance to our cave of thoughts. Like the allegory of Plato’s cave, we are prisoners watching the shadow images on our cave walls. Plato also argues that, unfortunately, we  are prisoners of our minds and we do not need a philosopher to teach us about the true sunlight outside.


Many scholars have written about Plato’s cave and here we will briefly present it. The allegory of the cave is an educational allegory about prisoners chained in a cave since childhood. They are tightly chained so they do not change their position at all – even their heads. The entrance path to the cave is long and narrow and a fire is burning at the end of it. Behind the chained prisoners things passes through and their shadows fall on the cave’s walls. In this way, the prisoners are condemned to see the shadows on interior wall without realizing their source, the fire. The cave prisoners are like spectators in a shadow theater but they believe these shadows are reality itself. One of the prisoners who represent the figure of the philosopher breaks his chains and goes out of the cave to see the sunshine. He returns to the cave to tell his fellow prisoners what he saw. However, the prisoners do not welcome the liberated with love: They do not even want to listen and venture to kill him.


The Tarot card number 13 is traditionally called in different cultures “The Card with No Name” but sometimes the image of death is mistakenly attributed to him . Thus,the card’s meaning is not death but a state of fundamental change we are going through. In this context, the image of the skeleton figure may represent the prisoner from Plato’s cave which was released from his fetters. As the liberated prisoner, the skeleton has shed all his skin, i.e, his former life. The skeleton wishes to revolutionize his life on the, he realizes that this is the end of an illusion according to which he spent his life so far. This change can be defined as a radical change “to the flesh and bone” – literally and figuratively speaking. The prisoner or the skeleton undergo a metamorphosis: his mind transforms from seeing the shadows and speculating according to his senses that these things are real – to the direct intellectual observation of the sun and the true knowledge of things themselves.


The bottom section of the card, which contains mostly the black earth, may represent the cave and its prisoners. This is a fruitful comparison: we see the skeleton’s yellow scythe which yellow color symbolizes cognition and knowledge. Thus, he is like the released prisoner seeking his way up in the of Plato’s cave. He is leaving behind two figure heads; they are the prisoners who are still in it. Like Plato, who is not specific about the identity of the prisoners in his cave, the card implies that kings and perhaps even our parents may be among the cave dwellers. Quite clearly we see that the heads of the prisoners in the card’s cave turn their eyes from the golden grass that may represent the fire burning in the cave. In fact, these characters are looking at us and they seem to be telling us about their spiritual decadence. In this way, we and the figures in the card share the same fate. Similar to the liberated prisoner in Plato’s cave, the skeleton wants to restore his social contacts with the people he left behind. He wants to show them his new yellow scythe or the new knowledge he has acquired, but they do not even look at him.

Beyond the fact that he is ignored, one may ask what does the future holds for the philosopher in the cave ? Does he is destined to be presumed as an “intellectual skeleton” while the prisoners disregard his knowledge? These questions continue to accompany Plato’s “Republic”; however, they take an interesting turn in the Indonesian shadow theater called “Wayang Kulit”. One can find it fascinating that parallel ideas bridge the geo-cultural distance between this ancient theater and the Greek cave. In fact, Wayang offers an interesting alternative ending to the allegory of the cave.


The Wayang Kulit draws its inspiration from the Hindu scripture stories. Itadds to those scriptures elements from classical drama like the hero/villain conflict, comedy and even parody. The theater puppets are made ​​from leather of buffalo and are stuck on bamboo sticks. The Shadow of the dolls is displayed on a white screen. The master puppeteer Indonesian name is “Dalang”. The dalang is not just a puppeteer; he is the mediator between the spectator and the divine. Hours before the show, the dalang meets with his future viewers and hears about their troubles. The show will contain clues for possible solutions for these troubles, often in the form of the good against the bad theme. Before the show, the dalang lights his oil lamp, talks to the dolls like they were humans in all respects, sits cross-legged before the white screen, and the orchestra, the Gamelan, begins to play. Soon after, with the start of the show approaching, the dalang burns some incense and prays to the gods to protect him. The actual show is continued throughout the night until dawn and always adopts its themes, as mentioned above, from the Indian Mahabharata and Ramayana. The dalang is governing the puppets with both hands while tapping on a wooden box. He changes his voice tone depending on the figure: sometimes his voice was like soothing melted chocolate and sometimes it is like a thunder storm. He laughs whispers, shouts, groans, mocks. Each puppet figure has its gestures and manner of speech. An average performance consists of 80 shadow puppets. The bulk part of the show is spoken in a language the villagers don’t understand – the Kawi. However, this does not bother the spectators who know the stories and characters by heart. Just in case, the dalang recruits a local clown who presents the basics of the story in the local language or dialect.


The dalang, just like our cave’s prisoner- philosopher, aims to entertain his audience – he strives to be understood. This is a most difficult profession – much more than just convincing the prisoners to escape their cave. The dalang must remember long religious texts and simultaneously keep the collective tradition intact and improvise in a creative manner. Thus, the dalang is not like the gloomy cave’s philosopher – he is a philosopher and an artist in one act. In every performance he must regain the balance between these kingdoms. In fact, the dalang is a prisoner in Plato’s cave but not a regular one: he is the prisoner-philosopher that is not bound with chains. He chose to stay in the cave and view the shadows in his artistic and creative wisdoms. The Waiang Theater tells us that we should strive to be like the dalang, that is, to re-experience our inner shadows and not just watch them passively. It might not get us out of the cave but we could ascended beyond our human condition and create our own walls.


The Tarot card “The Sun” describes the arrival of the released prisoner-philosopher to the cave. The boy on the right had just discovered the sun, the good. Until now, he bathed in the wise ray-lights of his cosmic father and now he wants to share his knowledge with the boy on the left. However, the boy on the left has a little tail which signifies that the animal sensory impulses still control him. He wants to achieve the happiness of knowledge but will not give up his tail so effortlessly. We see it in his gestures: while the boy on the right is trying to help and trust her hands on the shoulders of his fellow, the boy on the left hand is reaching to his fellow stomach. We can only speculate that they maybe share a collective consciousness but we can also imagine that the boy on the left is trying to reach his fellow heart and limbs. Like Wayang Kulit’s atmosphere, the card is telling us that one must strive to reach solidarity in order to be understood by your fellow people. However, the road to knowledge of the common good for all of us is not easy: we may encounter the beast inside us. The Sun card, the card without a name, The Allegory of the Cave, Werner Herzog and theater of Waiang will guide us in our journey.


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Tarot Philosophy: The Pyramid of Social Networking: Maslow, Heidegger and Tarot

One of the famous quotes made by Abraham Maslow is: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Nowadays, organizational development consultants use this statement as part of their Power Point presentations to encourage creativity among employees. Unfortunately, the only genuine creative thing in most modern multi-global companies is the varied ratio between the amount of water and the amount of cream and sugar in every time a cup of coffee is being poured.


Coffee is sometimes associated with health issues like heart diseases. In early June 1970 Abraham Maslow visited his cardiologist. He sensed something was wrong and second level of his hierarchy of needs, that is, the security of his physical body began to be unfulfilled. Maslow’s cardiologist recommended him to run around the neighborhood swimming pool. On June 8, 1970 Maslow, who wanted to climb back his pyramid by fulfilling the second level of physical security, suddenly fell while jogging and died on the spot from a heart attack. His life’s pyramid of needs was destroyed forever. It was the final nail in his coffin. Maslow was not a healthy man.

However, years after he died Maslow have won some kind of eternal life and climbed back to the fourth level of his pyramid (self-esteem and achievement). Years after his death, every student in Social Sciences and Humanities knows the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In fact, his pyramid lives in every undergraduate student’s notebook or laptop or iPad. According to Maslow, we climb up the pyramid by fulfilling our needs: from the most basic first level of basic needs (sex, food, etc.) to the self-actualization of the highest level (moral and creative realization). The basic law of the hierarchical pyramid is the one can’t climb to the next level before he or she fulfills the previous one. Maslow thinks that reaching the top and fifth level of the pyramid (self-actualization) is almost impossible for most people. The motif of the unreachable peak of a pyramid is not an invention of Maslow: The classic German philosopher Immanuel Kant uses it when he describes the feeling of the sublime while viewing a work of art. Kant thinks that the tension between our practical wisdom and the free imagination creates the sublime. We feel like standing in the center of a pyramid, looking up and imagining its layers to infinity – despite the fact that our intelligence tells us that the pyramid is a one final object. Like Kant, Maslow pyramid’s edge has a mystical significance: his highest need, that is, man’s need to use his unique skills to live creatively is so rare that few, if any, can be reach that sublimity.


What makes us climb the pyramid of needs? modern German philosopher Martin Heidegger sees technology as the only force responsible to social and cultural changes in our world. Technology is the only factor that can create social codes and values ​​in such a way that they’re growing beyond our initial control. Technology is our ladder in Maslow’s pyramid. In order to define the essence of technology, Heidegger uses the German word “Gestell” meaning roughly the act of positioning in a frame. This active positioning describes the condition of modern man in light of the influence of technology: technology places humans in such a framework that they might feel as items in an inventory list. Although Heidegger insists that technology is an essential and positive way of being for us all, it has a dangerous side. By itself, technology is not dangerous but it may enslave the human world, make the person an item, and shape his destiny in her own curves and twists. Technology has a tendency to grab the hearts and minds and we have to be alert all the time and feel that we are always live on the edge of the abyss. Our ladder might break and we may drop to the bottom of the pyramid in such a way that we will even smash a reinforced concrete.


In the reality of social networking the term “Hyper Reality” is used by philosophers to describe the way in which the social networks weakens our social connections. Hyper reality is related to the fact that instead of dealing with the complexity of our identity in real-life, the social network allows us to introduce an improved version of ourselves. We feel the power of our hyper identity as we find ourselves often angry shortly after the disengagement from the social network. Real life requires persistence, tolerance, and sometimes even courage – all those qualities are not required in social networking life. Thus, our real life seems dull and tasteless during our first moments in reality. More generally: the social network life has no volume and real resonance which can stimulate our minds. In social networking life we are the global citizens of a world which has lost its power. To paraphrase Kant, our imagined reality has exceeded our practical reasoning and did not leave any free space to flourish. Nowadays, it seems that Maslow’s pyramid has turned upside-down. In order to climb our pyramid we start with our self-fulfillment online and as for sex, food and health: they will be fulfilled later when we reach the top. Actually, we climb this upside-down pyramid erratically: frequently we keep reaching its top and falling down over and over again. The hyper reality, self- fulfillment driven network keeps drawing us down all the time

Our situation reminds the hanged man’s position in the Tarot. The dramatic reversal in the hierarchy of needs is a period of time where any progress has a painful price and we see that hanged man needs his meditation in order to understand what happened to him. His Meditation can be seen in the card as he holds his hands back like he wants to understand how reality was turned upside-down for him. As the hanged man understands, we need to realize that this is a waiting period for us as well. As Heideggerian inventory items, we are forced to deal online with new and sometimes interesting forms of unemployment and laziness. Like the hanged man, we think we are socially connected to some network but our social needs are not really satisfied and we feel disconnected. This sense of alienation expressed by social networking interactions makes us feel emotionally empty, sometimes expressed by feelings of punishment and guilt. The hanged man is in punishment too. The tree’s pointed twigs surrounding his body are aiming to hurt him, so he can’t really move. Concerning technology, we recall Heidegger’s act of positioning in a frame and now we see that the hanged man is in an active frame that could hurt him at any given point. Modern man’s condition in the light of the social network hyper reality is like a person whose pyramid of needs has reversed. Like the hanged man he is surrounded by a dynamic network of limits and prohibitions.


The inversion of the pyramid of needs is not necessarily negative. We said that the social network engages us in fulfilling our highest need. Similarly, the hanged man head is located deep in a ground pit which could be interpreted as deeply connected to oneself. In addition, the social network encourages us to express ourselves and for example, the “Like” on Facebook could be interpreted as a sign to rise from the pit and stop meditating. After we post online, we are forced to wait for those “likes” and similarly the hanged man card symbolizes a progress with pain which leaves us emotionally empty. Heidegger argued that technology has a tendency to grab the hearts and minds and given this maneuver we feel that we are always standing near the brink of the abyss. However, most of us feel that this abyss is not negative at all. Fortunately or unfortunately, Silicon Valley’s server is a pit which knows all our history.

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Tarot Philosophy: Fortune Kills: Boethius, Boccaccio, Pasolini

The idea that there is a hidden force behind human actions known as fate or fortune was prevalent in the middle ages. One of the most important books from that period is “The consolation of philosophy”. “The Consolation of philosophy” was written by the Roman philosopher from sixth century AD, Boethius. It was one of the most revered books in the middle ages and even though today it is almost forgotten, its vivid ideas still prevail in our culture. The book is a semi – autobiographical dialog, which expresses a rare philosophical profundity. It was written in prison before the execution of Boethius and expressed its ideas through allegory, vision, human drama and even humor and self-irony. Boethius sits in his cell, waiting for his death by the cruel and despotic ruler; he gets a visit from a woman – Philosophy and they talk heartedly. The consolation of philosophy ultimately becomes a double victory of spirit: the victory over human body and over cruel destiny.

consolation of philosophy

According to Boethius, inner happiness is the only thing which is immune to the vagaries of fortune. The whims of fortune are inevitable and only God knows the plan of the world. History is like a large Ferris wheel whose essence is fickle, thus you should not complain if you will be thrown back into the abyss. Good times pass, but so bad ones. The ability to change is our obstacle, but at the same time it is our only hope. Boethius describes how destiny is haphazard and undirected in the eyes of the common people and wants to offer a true model for a better life.

“The Consolation of philosophy” influenced many Renaissance writers and its central motif received many beautiful literary adaptations in Italy of the 14th century. The Image of Lady Fortuna captured the hearts of many poets such as Petrarch and other excellent writers. In literature Lady Fortuna gave favors and gifts for some, and snatched cruelly from others what they thought they rightly deserved. Her image was used for explaining why the nobility fall from grace and their place in society is taken by the common but talented people.


Fortune is one of the central motifs in the work “Decameron” by the 14th -century writer and Italian Renaissance man Giovanni Boccaccio. For 10 days of its occurrence, the work of Boccaccio does not skip any branch or curve in the twisted fate human life: corruption, lust and licentiousness, greed, deception to death, fraud, religion, mocking the weak, exploitation of women, impoverishment of assets, wastefulness church, vengeful cannibalism, human predation by mad dogs, ugliness and body convulsions – all these are described in 100 groundbreaking stories – in a graphically and erotic manner. The name “Decameron” in ancient Greek indicates the 10 days in the life cycle. Interestingly, 10 is also the number of the wheel card which itself indicates the end of a life cycle that started with the fool card.

Decameron can be likened to a giant wheel of life: the book starts from the worst case of the human condition – the epidemic of “Black Death” and ends after 10 days with a spiritual and intellectual ascension back in Florence. Decameron is a frame story, innovative for its time (Novellino): the framework is a plague that causes 10 young men and women from the upper class to flee from Florence to a village in the outskirts of Florence. The work’s body contains 100 stories told by those young men and woman. Each tells 10 stories in 10 days and every day the topic is changed by the group leader. The circular motif is present in the content of the stories as well: The stories describe how the elite view of the impurity of the lower class that wants to act like the higher class. Even the author himself is trapped in such a circular frame: Boccaccio was the bastard son of a lower-class merchant and an aristocracy woman. In this manner, the bastard tells a story about the mixing of the nobility with the common folk. The motif of beginning and end, high and low are present through the entire work.

Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was a modern Renaissance man: a poet, writer, philosopher, artist, publicist and especially a gifted filmmaker. For the intellectual crowd his films are celebrating the festival of life in all their ugliness and beauty – with an extra sauce of unique Marxism. However, Pasolini himself wanted to reach the masses and puff a magical Marxist fart in their face. Thus, his tragic figure as an artist is manifested in the fact that he directed his films for the masses but they did not understand his worldview and brutally murdered him in cold blood. Pasolini life moved erratically on the wheel of fortune: from a haunted poor poet to an estimated poet; then a famous director and finally a hated Marxist murdered by the masses. Like Boccaccio, Pasolini climbed to the heart of the Italian enlightenment from a remote town. Pasolini’s films weave the lowest with the highest form of human existence too. Pasolini liked night-walking in the toughest of Rome suburbs and perhaps under the influence of the Roman Boethius, Pasolini loved to tease wheel of fortune and challenge it again and again. In his films Pasolini renowned some literary classics and added a spice of erotic scent to them.


One of the monumental films of Pasolini works is the interesting adaptation for the Decameron. Pasolini’s version is unfaithful to the original text but this is not the film main purpose. Pasolini is interested in criticizing the contemporary Italian society through ancient metaphors. Pasolini carefully selects 10 stories from the Decameron. The characters in these stories are manipulated and displayed in the context of their socio – economic status to support his unique Marxist position.

The first story in the film tells the quirky adventures of Andreuccio, a naive merchant (played by the wonderful Ninetto Davoli ) . Andreuccio fortune is spinning on the wheel: in the first scene he appears as a carefree successful merchant in the market, but one day he is seduced by a beautiful young woman to come to her home. She makes him a delicious dinner, after dinner his stomach hurts and he wants to make his needs. He goes to the shit pit but pushed into the hole. The scheming young woman locks the toilet door and steals the money of Andreuccio. Stinking from head to toe he is forced to swim in the sewage and climb to the upper window. He comes down from the gutter and stands dirty outside the house. When he shouts the woman’s name in order to get his money back the neighbors stoned him and threaten to murder him. Smelly and painful he is picked up by two people who tell him that he was actually a fortunate man. They tell him about a treasure which is hidden in the grave and offer him a partnership provided he will agree to enter the tomb and take the jewelry and gold. The grave belongs to a rich bishop who died the day before and the thieves claim that the bishop was buried along with his many treasures. Andreuccio the naive goes with them and enters and the grave. He throws the treasures which to his partners but when he wants to get out they close in the stone cover of the tomb and leave him in the dark with the body of a bishop. Andreuccio yells and screams but no one can hear him. After a while, another two thieves come and are trying to enter the tomb as well. Andreuccio bites the leg of one of them and smuggles the panicked thieves. He takes the gold ring from the Bishop’s finger and leaves the church, happy about his newly found fortune.


The wheel card describes the various life cycles and the opening and closing of the circle of life. Like Andreuccio story the card may describe a person whose fortune is dependent upon external circumstances rather than as an internal act of choice. Thus, Andreuccio entrust his fortune to the caprice of life. The card implies that we should accept life on its ups and downs. Anyone whose life is currently going upward must accept that it will go downhill someday. Like the reader’s track in the Decameron frame, the movement of the animals in the card is framed too. They move from left to right, i.e., from downward track to the rising in the future. Perhaps the opposite direction is true as well: the card tells us that what is now on the top may drop down. Generally speaking, the Decameron’s motif of beginning and end, high and low runs through the card interpretation. The knowledge that life may change is comforting us. We accept the whims of fate but not surrender ourselves to them. The key is knowledge: We remember that Boethius’s initial motivation was to be comforted in the arms of philosophy and the comforting atmosphere is also present in the card. The beast which is coming down now may exceed in another life and form. One of the deepest insights of Boethius was that the cycle of death and rebirth was always moving and its movement is the key to understanding the victory of the spirit.


However, if we go back to Pasolini, it seems that the fortune of Andreuccio is being varied by external forces outside of his own control and knowledge. Thus, Pasolini is implying to us that the wheel of fortune is very dangerous: Andreuccio is spinning on it carelessly and almost dies. The card shows the same rhetorical tone in the complacency of the sphinx at the height of the wheel. The danger to the Sphinx and Andreuccio occurs where they feel secured and safe holding their fortune. In a Marxist manner of speaking: the individual who looks strong today may find his real wealth only in the grave. Just as no one rotates the wheel in the card and the wheel is located on a land that is not stable, the capitalist economy mechanism will not be able to roll on forever. Andreuccio victory at the end of the scene is ironic because he was holding a stinking golden ring.

As described in the card and by Boccaccio and Pasolini as well – life could be a gamble which sometimes can be capricious. We open one circle and close another and vice versa sometimes. Thus, we must adapt ourselves to the routine of everyday life and perceive our fortunes on their ups and downs. Pasolini and Boccaccio want to formulate the rules behind the cycle of death and birth – each in his own unique way. The process of formulating the rules has an artistic conclusion: At the ending scene of the Decameron by Pasolini, the artist, played by Pasolini himself is asking: Why to create the work of art when it is such a great thing to dream about it? The key to answer that question is to look on the wheel of our life: We are the artist who strives to manifest the beauty of his/her dreams in reality, but this striving is actually manifested in real life by celebrating the beautiful and the ugly – just like the spinning wheel of fortune.

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