Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Urge to Merge

2013 is numerically the year of The Lovers, traditionally number 6 in Tarot. I don’t want to spoil the romance for anyone, so I guess I won’t. If you have the opportunity to find the person of your dreams, go for it. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is ablaze with symbols and has evolved from the older Marseilles-style depictions. The Lovers card is a good example of the changes in concepts depicted in Tarot. Despite the traditionally accepted concept of archetypes displayed in the major arcana, the ideas and situations shown in Lovers cards have changed over time.

I’m going to give those of you who need it just a little break to catch your breath. What?? Tarot card symbols aren’t timeless, unchanging and universal? Please have a seat just in case the shock is too much.

OK, so cards, those little things made of paper usually, not always, a handy size for the human hand, were made by people who lived in certain times and places and had their own cultural, geographical, spiritual, ethnic and other characteristics making up their context, their template of understanding. And with that background and expectation they created images on the little pieces of paper that were meaningful within their context. (Whew, and you guys think reading cards is mumbo-jumbo!!)

Basically, people only knew what they knew when they created the pictures that are on the cards we think of as the oldest Tarot cards. For instance, in 14th century northern Italian provinces, you would not expect to see people depicted using cell phones and computers and automobiles. When we see a picture of someone talking on a cell phone, we assume there’s someone else on another phone somewhere talking back. We think “communication.” Otherwise, without that understanding of context, you could just as easily assume that the person was holding a rather odd-looking rock to his or her jaw and conclude the topic was toothache. You might reach out in empathy, connecting your common experience and wonder if a rock like that could make your tooth feel better, too.

Just in case you’re feeling superior in the “that was then, this is now” scenario with all the benefits of knowing the outcomes of events in the past and how the world will change, that “hindsight is 20-20” thing doesn’t really hold up. Think about it: You are somehow transported to the past, not just the 1940’s and you know how the war will end, but much farther back. If you have half a brain, you’ll figure out that you are the one who talks funny, you are the one who doesn’t know what’s going on and while you may conclude that later in the 15th century some guy named Columbus will take three ships and land, vaguely, in a place we will call “America” you have no idea how to negotiate the simplest of life’s transactions. If you’re lucky, you’ll be considered backwards, but in the context of the times that classification is likely to get you poor treatment. You’ll be the equivalent of a wild animal or alien species to your fellow humans. And yet, you will have the urge to merge.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps you’ll choose to be a hermit, living a feral life. Again you may find out that simply hunting or foraging for food is considered stealing and you may be punished for that.

If it sounds like I’m against time-travel, I protest. Far from it! I think it is a “project” too expensive to pursue in our current times when so many other projects are more urgent. Secretly, though, I hope someone is working on it, in spite of the frivolous nature of the effort.

It’s not that I expect it all to have good outcomes. Somehow, I expect all explorations to have unforeseen ramifications like those described in one of my favorite books, The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. The smallest thing misunderstood may have wildly wide-reaching consequences. From Wikipedia, which some may consider a large source of misunderstandings: “A reviewer at the Library Journal felt that this book was mistakenly categorized as science fiction, and that it is really ‘a philosophical novel about the nature of good and evil and what happens when a man tries to do the right thing, for the right reasons and ends up causing incalculable harm’.”

While The Sparrow isn’t about time travel but about travel to an alien culture, we sometimes forget that in observing the imagery of people from the past, even what seems like the familiar past, is in many ways an alien culture. The space explorers knew they were meeting with creatures whose world is completely different from our own. In our own view of history, it’s too easy for us to place our expectations and understandings upon an image out of context and come up with a (probably) wrong conclusion.

For instance, in the petroglyphs in the American southwest, there are some (I have to say it) totally cool depictions of what we, in our experience of space exploration and science fiction movies, are pretty sure are people in space suits. They look a lot like Neil Armstrong taking one small step. But that’s because we’ve seen the images of astronauts and what they had to wear to breathe, etc and in looking at the bubble-headed people carved into the side of a sandstone cliff, we think, “Dude. Aliens.” That’s us coming up with that conclusion; the Puebloans very likely had something else completely different in mind.

Yet, misguided as we are, we have that urge to merge images into our understanding, experiences into our world. We have the urge to merge other people into our family of experience. The trait has all the elements of humanity. It’s a little sweet. It’s a little rude. It’s a little bit wise. It’s a little ignorant. It’s a little optimistic. It’s a little tragic.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

I love winter here because my cats love to snuggle in the winter. I think of their doting and purring and demands for lap or shoulder time as affection. In some ways it is affection from them, as long as you don’t inspect it too closely. Cats like a room temperature just a little warmer than the ideal for people, so when winter comes, they seek a little extra warmth. Because I prefer to view the world through my cat-lover’s template, I ignore the fact that they probably also love the heat register nearly as much as they do me. The advantage to coming to me is that I am softer and give better ear-rubs than the heat register, plus, due to my metabolism and theirs, my heat appears to be constant rather than periodic jets of warm air. The ramifications of my purposeful misunderstanding are minimal so I’m happy and the cats are happy.

In the year of the Lovers, we see our differences and how those differences can work together to complement each other. We may have to make difficult choices with long-lasting impacts. We may naively assume that we are in synch with each other when there are misunderstandings at the essence of meanings. Most importantly, we have the urge to resolve those issues and become closer. While all of this sounds very little like romance in what starts out to be a romantic topic, it serves to remind us that the urge to merge may have many motivations and in this year, we will be reminded of that.

Best wishes.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Marcia! It reminds me of a fresco in the Mtskheta church in the Republic of Georgia. There's this bright, almost jelly-fish like thing shining from the sky. Many people believe it's an image of a UFO, but given the medieval time period, I suspect it's just the artist's representation of the Holy Spirit, or some sort of holy "rays" coming down from heaven. Still, the UFO interpretation tickles the fancy...