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A.M. Murphy
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Not Always So


What the Magician Left Us

"The secret of Zen is just two words: not always so." -Shrunryu Suzuki

Esoteric. Occult. Strange. Paranormal. Weird.

Those of us devoted to these topics -- "devoted" being a kinder word than "obsessed" -- have a hard time understanding why so many people just do not care. Perhaps only a few of us will ever be drawn, over and over, to the rippling edge of reality.

To me, esoteric research is like hunching over an ancient stream, panning for a tiny flake of gold. I'm hunting for the Holy Grail, that bit of proof so real that you could, in the words of researcher Jeff Ritzmann, "ping it with a rock." But, also, I keep coming back to this lonely place because I have fallen in love with the stream itself, the endless flow of dream, real, not-real, hoax, sighting, confabulation, truth. Again and again, the stream fools us; we mistake our own shifting reflection for something fantastic. But occasionally, we do get a momentary glimpse of something else, a flash of gold among ordinary rocks.

Finding answers is important, especially now.

I've devoted the last ten years of my life to studying and reconstructing the language of the unconscious. That makes it sound like I've got a fancy resume -- I don't. In plainer terms, I've been obsessed with the Tarot. I believe these cards hold the encoded psychic imagery of the human soul and perhaps, as the final Tarot card suggests, the World around us as well. That is its real promise.

A hundred or so years ago, the great -- and greatly misunderstood -- magician Aleister Crowley announced the beginning of a new age. Almost no one paid attention. Crowley took occult secrets that had been closely guarded for centuries, on penalty of death, and tossed them into the street. Now anyone could go into a bookstore and get it all for just a few bucks. He also created a brilliant new Tarot, enriching the symbolism and utilizing modern artwork for the first time.

Crowley didn't do this just for attention, though he certainly got that attention, and relished it. Perhaps he sensed that in the new age we might need all the help we could get. The true adepts of the Western magical tradition have always understood that magic has never been about love potions or get-rich-quick schemes (Crowley's own attempt at the latter was a pathetic failure). Calling it the "yoga of the West," Crowley viewed the magical tradition as attempting something much deeper than worldly success: namely, a sort of crazy-quilt attempt at enlightenment. With his outpouring of magical secrets, Crowley metaphorically opened the Age of Aquarius, symbolized by the astrological symbol of the Water-bearer pouring out the contents of his water jar. Now everyone might have a try.

A century later, Crowley is remembered not as a genius and a holy man, but as a Satanist, a pervert, and a drug addict -- and it's true that he was all of these things. The accumulated arcane wisdom of the Western world, which he made accessible to everyone, remains largely ignored except by the devoted few, but fortunately it's still in print. Most of it is even free now, thanks to the Internet. (Crowley would have adored the Internet.)

Crowley died in 1947, at the very beginning of the nuclear age, precisely when humanity acquired the ability to destroy itself. So far, against all of our human inclinations and impulses, we have managed not to do this, but just barely. Talk about a miracle. Now, decades later, we have made the disappointing discovery that just refraining from killing ourselves en masse is not going to be enough. Now we must change all of our most deeply ingrained and funnest habits (breeding, littering, farting, sprawling) or risk triggering a runaway greenhouse effect that could destroy all life on our planet.

So basically, we have to change ourselves from within, big time, and quickly. Jesus, the herald of the last Age, knew how to do this. Crowley knew how to do it, too. The great men and women among us have always known how to transform themselves, but the ordinary person? Not so much. I can't even give up the habit of biting my fingernails.

Fortunately, the Tarot offers many doors. In this column, I hope to open a few of them.