Sampling the Forbidden Fruit

Sampling the Forbidden Fruit

Since I wrote on the difference between mechanistic and phenomenological worldviews, there has been an explosion of interest in esoterica in Twitter circles—astrology in particular is enjoying a tremendous boom in popularity. However, discussing these domains of esoteric knowledge coherently is uncommon. In astrological terms, discussion revolves around simplistic, vague statements regarding Sun, Moon, and Ascendant sign placements, or a brief explanation of how a current transit (a traveling planet) will affect things in a certain way.

Rarely is esoterica discussed in a manner that shows its comprehensive nature. Rather, a lot of sampling of information is taking place—and this goes doubly so for more mystical sources, where even less is commonly known about the origin of this information than with a more mainstream outlet such as astrology.

A Slice of Energy

Esoterica is a comprehensive world. It is a world that is interrelated and referential, and full of things to experience. If viewed as a great pie, then it is one with carefully selected ingredients that match and enhance the flavors of the rest. The recipe has been adapted upon and improved for millennia.

As demonstrated in Tarot Portrait of Our Times, Astrology and Tarot are quite complementary. This is not a coincidence. The Tarot is heavily influenced by astrology in its development, and there have long been theories in esotericism that the Tarot trump cards, the Major Arcana cards, can be tightly correlated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac, seven classical planets, and three of the four classical elements (leaving the fourth, earth, to correspond with the querent in divinatory practices). Another deep influence on the Tarot was alchemy, which in turn has also been influenced by astrology (astrology is probably the oldest of the western esoteric practices, and thus has its fingers in many pies).

Furthermore, within the Tarot itself, there is interrelatedness. There are the cards, and then there are the “spaces” between the cards. It is these spaces that link them. The Empress does not exist in isolation. Her existence implies that there’s an Emperor. The Emperor that there’s a Hierophant. The Hierophant implies that there is a Devil, and so on and so forth. This may seem strange, but the energy of each of the Major Arcana is aspect, an expression of a greater whole. Nothing is stationary, locked in stone. These are living, breathing expressions of what it is like to live life. They are all interrelated.

Energy is a story, and stories are dynamic. They flow from one place to another, from high tension to low, and then back again. What is the meaning of one card, say Temperance, without the rest of the story? Why would you learn Temperance? Why do we care? A question we we moderns constantly ask ourselves over the course of our lives, but when you are in the middle of an intense experience, when you are truly alive, who has time to ask questions like that?

It’s obvious, in any case. You don’t need to think about it, you simply do. Because the experience just is, it needs no further justification. Everything is accepted in the realization of a moment. And, after you’ve experienced something like this even a few times, the interrelatedness is obvious even when you aren’t in these most intense of moments. Because the story is still ongoing. You’re still living. That’s what the spaces between the cards are about.

All of esoterica is like this. This is also what makes it so difficult to “get into it”. Esoteric means “hidden knowledge”, after all. Most religious and spiritual traditions keep a sharp delineation between those who have been initiated and those who have not, and keep much of their practices and beliefs reserved for initiates. Esoteric traditions are often much more extreme in this regard, partly due to their frequent repression by authorities of the orthodoxy, partly because of the understanding that knowledge can be dangerous to those who are not ready for it. Many of the symbols are designed to appear completely innocuous to the uninitiated. Tarot can be used as playing cards, alchemy can easily be disguised as chemistry…the significance of a symbol or an act or ritual is lost upon those unfamiliar with the story that is being told.

Esoterica is something you must immerse yourself into in order to make use of it. It’s not something you can simply ‘extract value’ from. But, that is exactly what some in ‘esoteric Twitter’ circles do.

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, “What a good boy am I!”

Little Jack Horner may be an unusual choice to use in a comparison with esoteric Twitter, being a nursery rhyme, but if you watch the video linked above, you will see that there’s a good reason that the rhyme has survived as long as it has. The symbolic structure Jonathan Pageau lays out is one that appears everywhere in religious art and stories, and it is a very powerful one indeed: it underpins the entire celebration of Christmas. But, as Pageau says, the version of the pattern that plays out in the rhyme is in fact a “dark”, upside down version of the Christmas pattern. This is the same pattern we see playing out with certain figures in esoteric circles now.

Pageau helps to understand the symbolism, so I will only summarize the pattern here. There is a trickster figure that has moved into a hidden space of extremes (the corner), where he has gotten ahold of an enclosed context of complexity and nuance (the pie). From within this context, he plucks out a piece of value, the best part (the plum), and praises his own cleverness. The pattern is one of an act of self-aggrandizement and selfish profiteering. Here we can begin to see how the pattern is playing out on Twitter (definitely a place of extremes).

The pie, esoterica, is being mined for discrete bits of value by individuals who turn around and sell it as their own wisdom to the multitude. Why would you explore a rich world of symbolism and hidden meaning when you can just stick your thumb into Wikipedia and pluck out a ripe, juicy plum of information that will turn you into the insta-authority, an informational Superman? Unfortunately, this is all that is needed to attract people who will accept such authority. There is no easy way to differentiate between the master of a tradition and a charlatan when you don’t know the first thing about said tradition. Indeed, most people don’t even know that there is a tradition.

Beware of False Prophets

We are seeing the formation of private, walled-garden groups around these people. Not a problem in and of itself, but the same attitude that has given these people “authority” pervades their activities. These people study esoterica because they seek to empower themselves above others. They don’t care about the burden of knowledge at this juncture, if they ever did in the first place. It is merely something they search through, hoping to discover more plums of information to pluck out and show to the world. Needless to say, this is an abhorrent attitude to take towards any kind of knowledge, but it’s particularly egregious with esoterica, due to the nature of the field.

Hidden knowledge is meant to be accepted as a gift in order to bring us closer to God. Super natural, as opposed to supernatural, if that makes sense. Extra ordinary, not extraordinary. It is not a destination in of itself. These Twitter charlatans seek to become masters of reality, holders of the keys to the secrets of the universe. They are on an ego trip, the classic trap those who study the esoteric face.

Soon we will begin to see a separation between those taking this egoic approach to esoterica, and those who do not. It will begin with the older types—for they have had more time to mature, and now shall begin to bear fruit.

“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Matthew 7:15-17

Many will be seen to be bearing bad fruit, while others will be witnessed as bearing good fruit. Esoteric truths will not make you master of reality, or give you the keys to the universe. But esoteric knowledge can teach you something far less glamorous, yet far more valuable. It can give you the keys to understanding your own experiences, and to see the world as we experience it clearly. Immerse yourself in it carefully, understand its nature and our own, and you learn how to use it to transform yourself.


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