Posts Tagged ‘common sense’


The Clapham Omnibus – Courtesy Wikemedia Commons

Dear sir,

As I grow older, the less I realize I know. Perhaps you feel the same? It’s more than simply forgetting what I’ve learned. It’s realizing what I know is of vanishing consequence in a rapidly changing and morally dubious world. If the trend continues, it suggests I will soon be waking to find the rise and fall of my own breath is the only certainty I possess.

Such feelings have had a sobering effect on my writing, which has now slowed to a ponderous circling while I look out of the window for a safe place to land. But since I know less with each passing story, it’s harder to wrap them up in neat conclusions. As for a safe position, I doubt there is one, and would value your opinion on that. Where, dear sir, lies the hope?

Casting our eyes across the pond, the situation in America is perplexing. Climate change is accelerating the desertification of California while, politically, our dear cousins seem to be approaching an authoritarian dictatorship, replete with rag-tag armed militias. Thank goodness we do not have the right to bear arms here, or we might be following down the same rocky path. Still, all is far from well at home. Our proud nation is to be awarded the dubious crown of pariah state, as we break international law, reneging on an already ratified BREXIT position. Can this be true? And is it also true, we are now stripped of our European identity? True, our country is now facing the likely break-up of its precious union? And of course, to cap it all, we have Covid, warming up for its second wave, while conspiricists – who have evidently never ridden the Clapham Omnibus – are still saying it’s a hoax.

The times are indeed uncertain, and the great despairing roar of it has me looking instinctively for shelter while I try to work out what’s going on. Answers on a postcard please, for I am at a loss. I am certain only that, in the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference what I think or write, if I tie my stories up with a neat little bow, or leave them flapping in the chill wind of existential oblivion. Having explored the nature of the times we’re living, in my present story, the only conclusion that makes sense, is to have my hero and all his friends crushed under a rain of ruthless hammer blows. But surely, sir, that cannot be right.

Indeed, my characters have been grumbling about this, demanding I keep going until the way is clearer. Try harder, they say. But they have forgotten that’s not how it works. I just take notes. It’s them I look to for the answers, and it troubles me to see them as bewildered as I. Ask the man on the Clapham Omnibus, they say. So here I am, sir, asking.

The only meaningful conclusion I can draw, and one that is half-way hopeful, is we should stop groping for external solutions to perceived threats, the nature of which, we know nothing about. It is to stop gazing up at the sky, and to look instead to others, to friends, to family, to whatever grounds us in reality. This is not to seek answers to the world’s ills, more we seek personal meaning, and all in spite of the turbulent moral landscape we find ourselves abroad in. It is to rediscover and to encourage what is honourable in all our selves, and let our story close with the whisper of that, because that’s what honour does: it whispers. It does not go out with a bang of righteous indignation.

Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad conclusion. What do you think?

The movers and the shakers have decided the best way to change the world is to move fast, and break things, to make a fine art of lying about it and to blame others for the resulting mess. But the solution to such duplicity is not a golden trumpet blasting out a revelatory truth – whether we are blowing it ourselves or not. We all know any reasonable attempt at the truth will be cut down at the gates by rabid trolls, before it’s even got its pants on.

Thus, the last bastion of moral rectitude resides with each of us and, as it always has, with you, dear sir, the man on the Clapham Omnibus. But if you’ll forgive me, I’m thinking the best we can do right now, is shield our flame lest the ill winds puff it out. We should plant our honour like a seed in the earth, then cover it and hunker down for better times, and a different season, because this is not that season. Come spring, who knows? But who knows when spring will come?

Writing in his farewell book “A man without a country”, that genial, old curmudgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, said: “If there’s anything they hate, it’s a wise human. So be one anyway. Save our lives and your own. Be honourable.

No, dear sir, sadly neither you nor I can influence the potential disasters of BREXIT, or Covid, or the coming US elections. But then, however these things turn out, they aren’t going to provide anything by way of lasting meaning to our beleaguered souls. All we’re looking at, in whatever future unfolds, is more division, tribalism, and shouting at one another, because there’s always someone who doesn’t get what they want. Our world is defined by self-identifying victims – genuine or otherwise – whose purpose in life is to nurture only their sense of perpetual hurt, and to cast for perpetrators to be vilified. But if others have forgotten what it means to be honourable, right-minded riders of the Clapham Omnibus, or have simply abandoned it as an inconvenient anachronism for these, our modern times, it doesn’t mean we should all do the same.

Perhaps then, I have answered my own question.

What do you think, sir?

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Tarot cards have an interesting history, most of it the invention of nineteenth century occultists, thus lending them the darker tones of diabolism, at least in popular culture – all of which makes them even more interesting of course. Still, today, the merest sight of the Tarot is enough to cause palpitations in the breast of any God fearing Christian, so deeply scarred is the ancestral memory, and that’s also interesting because the origin of the cards is quite innocent. Fake news, fake narrative has a lot to answer for.

Pictorially intriguing and often very beautiful, the earliest reliable records place the Tarot in Italy in the fifteenth century where it was simply a popular card game. Predating the printing press, each deck of cards was hand made, hand-painted, so each deck was an original, making them rare and powerful symbols of the status of their owners.

Unlike a modern deck of 52, the Tarot has 78 cards, split into the major (22 cards) and minor (56 cards) arcana – arcana meaning secrets. The minor arcana are split into four “suits” of 14 cards each which comprise the number (or pip) cards from ace to ten, and four royal cards of King, Queen, Knight and Page. The major arcana are also known as the “trumps”. This structure is roughly familiar and suggests somewhere along the line card games simply evolved away from using a full deck, requiring instead only the minor arcana, so the rest were ditched.

The early cards had no associations with occult practices. This was an invention of mostly Victorian mystics and ceremonial magicians who adopted them for their own purposes, and it’s easy to understand why when you look at the images of the major arcana. These can be interpreted in an allegorical or an archetypal sense, that to draw certain cards might have a deeper meaning for the individual, or be suggestive of a future fate. But occult writings on the subject go further, attempting a complete revisioning of history, tracing the origins of the Tarot to the mythical, alchemical and hermetic traditions of ancient Egypt. It’s an evocative thesis, and one that’s often picked up by uncritical scholarly writings, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual historical evidence to back it up, which means most of what you think you know is probably wrong.

Most of the earliest Tarot decks, restricted their pictorial artistry to the major arcana with the exception of the Sola Busca Deck, dated around 1500. This was prpbably use as the basis for a later popular deck, the so called Rider-Waite-Smith version, which came out around 1910. Brainchild of the occult writer A E Waite, it was created by the illustrator and mystic Pamela Coleman Smith, and is very much in the esoteric, mystical tradition. Indeed if you’re into alchemy, cartomancy, dark or light path magical traditions, you’ll most likely be familiar with this deck.

The anxiety caused by the Tarot arises from its use as a fortune telling device, also its association with occult magic, with occasional diabolism, and with controversial figures like Aleister Crowley, also an over-literal interpretation of the meaning of the Death card. I’m open minded about the paranormal in general but personally sceptical regarding anyone’s ability to foretell future events with any great accuracy, and suspect our futures are more probabilistic than fixed anyway. It would therefore be unnecessarily dangerous to assume a too literal interpretation of one’s future in the cards, especially if that future did not seem fortuitous, and we did not feel able to avoid it.

Where I have found cartomancy and other forms of divination useful is in understanding the complexities of the present moment. But I’m of the opinion this knowledge comes out of the personal unconscious. We already possess the information we need for understanding a particular situation, but it’s jumbled up and we just can’t get at it. But by judicious use of archetypal imagery, and thinking metaphorically, we invite projection from the unconscious and a corresponding “aha!” moment, a moment of insight.

In this way the Tarot might yield some practical wisdom on an issue we’re facing, a bit of lateral thinking, an angle we’ve not considered, but it’s not the cards themselves that wield the power, nor some omnipotent diabolic entity that’s called down upon their shuffling. You can believe that if you want, and many do, but it’s not necessary in order to read wisdom in the cards themselves. There is mystery enough in the phenomenon of unconscious projection without inventing devils and angels as facilitators.

Sadly, popular media hasn’t helped. All too often in film and fiction the death card is drawn and strikes fear into the heart of the receiver – or even strikes them dead on the spot. Interpreted metaphorically however, the death card can mean change and renewal, sweeping away the old to make way for the new, abandoning old ideas when they are no longer useful, all of which is quite different to being actually struck dead. There’s also the “Live and Let Die” James Bond outing in which the Tarot touting Jane Seymour draws “The Lovers” for a swivel eyed Roger Moore. The only likely outcome of that of course being their future coupling, and one that’s far from metaphorical.

I’d probably spend some time writing more on a common sense approach to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, but that’s a big job, and it’s already been done here. I’m not sure what use or what answer the cards have for me, if any, nor if the question is one I’ve already posed, or has yet to crop up, but I’m glad at least to have blown the dust away and brought the cards out, if only from the shadows of my own mind.

They get a bit of a raw deal in popular culture, one that’s not entirely deserved.

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