The anonymously-written spiritual classic Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism is popularly ascribed to the author Valentin Tomberg. It was published posthumously from Tomberg’s estate with an afterword explaining his wish that it remain anonymous. The author specifies the book was written anonymously to prevent people from reading for the writer and not the content. Given that Tomberg has been dead since 1980, it feels right to give him the respect he is due for writing this Christian mystic classic.
In Meditations on the Tarot, Tomberg hearkens back to a tradition that has become quite obscure within Christianity; Christian Hermeticism. Though once quite common in its own right with famous practitioners and theurgists like WB Yeats, Eliphas Levi, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, it has faded into obscurity. However, the ripples of its influence can still be felt in the modern occult movements. Christian Hermeticism inspired the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, many fragment groups from the Rosicrucians and Freemasons, and is a core part of the identity of our own Order which you can read about here.
Christian Hermeticism believes that the ancient philosophical tradition, Hermeticism, which believed the material universe is contained within the expansive mind of a transcendent God (called Nous to the Hermetics) who bears many similarities to the Christian theological understanding of God the Father. The generative and animating force of Hermeticism, the Logos, has much in common with the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the existence of Jesus prior to his incarnation. The Hermetics were pure philosophers, yet their understanding of and reasoning about the origins of the universe, life, and humanity share many insights with Christianity. Explaining more on this topic will be the subject of a later blog post, which we’ll link here when it is published.
Contrary to what one might expect, the author of Meditations on the Tarot never endorses actually reading the Tarot in a modern sense, either for oneself or for others. Instead, the Major Arcana are treated as what “arcana” literally means: secrets, or mysteries to be meditated upon. These mysteries, in Tomberg’s own words, are “…that which it is necessary to ‘know’ in order to be fruitful in a given domain of spiritual life. … a ‘ferment’ or an ‘enzyme’ whose presence stimulates the spiritual and the psychic life of man.” (Chapter 1: The Magician). Basically, meditation on these Arcana is meant to improve and stimulate your spiritual life.
You might notice the quotation above is a little hard to read. That’s a consistent theme in Meditations on the Tarot. It is dense. Sometimes it’s hard to follow. It’s a translation from French which is a process that always results in some inaccuracy of tone, intent, and vocabulary. The chapters are all about the same size, 40-50 pages in my e-reader. It does not digest easily, and like many other spiritual classics, it defies attempts at reading straight through to the end in a few days. So, here is my advice to you before your first reading of Meditations on the Tarot:
- Pace yourself! In the words of Thomas Cranmer, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the contents, in all the time it takes to do so. This could mean getting a journal, buying a physical copy and annotating, setting a goal of one chapter a week, or even one a month if it takes you longer to return to the text.
- Don’t skip around. The chapters build from one to the next and rely on knowledge of previous concepts to make their new points clear.
- Do some pre-reading. Your first reading of Meditations on the Tarot would benefit greatly from having read the Gospel of John, Eliphas Levi’s “Dogma and Ritual” duology, and at least a little bit of the Corpus Hermeticum. The concepts in all three of these works are referenced heavily throughout Meditations, and in the case of the first and last, are referenced very frequently by the author.
- Figure out what you believe first. Tomberg presents many ideas that are contrary to that of most established churches (including his own native Roman Catholicism), and gently calls into question many pre-Christian ideologies and cultures.
Armed with these insights, your experience with Meditations on the Tarot should hopefully bear wonderful fruits. Have courage, take your time, and meditate well on the Meditations.