A spiritual path is, among other things, a way of seeing the world. That is to say, a spiritual path is a way of understanding or interpreting our relationships with the many things, events, people, and places in the world. In most cases, the path will be expressed or configured by a logic of correspondences. In accord with this logic, the appearance of a certain animal, or plant, or weather event, or whatever, signifies realities beyond itself. Similarly, every spiritual path will have meditations, rituals, techniques, practices, and so on, designed to help the practitioner recognise those signs and read the messages they convey. The co-ordinates of the correspondences will vary in accord with language, culture, climate, geography, and other factors. They can grow ever more complicated and intricate, in order to accommodate an ever growing range of things and events in an ever-changing world. The associations of the four classical elements to cardinal directions, colours, ritual objects, seasons of the year, times of day, and so on, are well known examples. Yet the logic of correspondence can appear in things as simple as children’s rhymes. The game of counting crows: “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy”, and so on, is also a logic of magical correspondences.
This isn’t big news to those who study religion, and certainly not new to anyone who studies occultism or esoterica. But there is at least one set of correspondences that tend not to be mentioned very often, even though it is staring us all in the face. Implicit in every logic of correspondence there is also a logic of ethics. Very few writers in occultism and esoterica draw much attention to the ethical dimension of the correspondences. I find this surprising since, that dimension appears everywhere. The Tarot deck names three of the four Classical Virtues in its major arcana: Strength (a.k.a. Courage), Justice, and Temperance. Only Prudence is missing: but perhaps prudence is implied in the figures of the Emperor and Empress, the enlightened rulers of a just and prosperous society. For that matter, the Tarot includes teachers of ethics, such as the Heirophant and the High Priestess, and it offers models of knowledgeable and enlightened people, such as the Empress, and the Hermit. And it offers in the figure of the Fool the seeker himself, who like each of us, once in a while, may think himself wise, but knows not how he is about to step off a cliff. (Of course, the Tarot also offers a teacher in the form of that other fellow, fifteenth in line for the throne. But even this guy implies the very ethical concepts he appears to subvert.) The minor arcana can be read as the model of a well ordered feudal society, with its kings and queens at the top, its nobility in the knights and pages, and in the numbered cards its population of farm workers, craftspeople, artists, merchants, soldiers, and village idiots. Continue reading »