18 November 2013

Introduction & Disclaimer[1]

The nineteenth post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I engage with card 17: the Star.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. In addition, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichols’ (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series, then, embodies my reactions to and commentaries on Nichols’ commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck chapter by chapter as Nichol’s book does in order from 0 to 21.

The Star: Ray of Hope[6]

EDITED: for those following, in what follows I especially emphasize the sense of the Star as it relates to the emergence of a new sense of destiny, to the detriment or seeming negligence of it as “simply” a source of spiritual illumination. Of course, one may easily see how these two instances represent similar moments at different “scales” of spiritual life. Still, in order not to seem to neglect entirely this aspect, the following insert gives a quick sketch of this more “immediate” sense of the Star and may also seem familiar in its imagery, especially in the falling five-pointed stars. Jung (1912) [3a] writes:

This symbolism is expressed very plastically in the third logos of the Dieterich papyus: after the second prayer, stars float down toward the neophyte from the disc of the sun–“five pointed, in great numbers an filling the whole air.” “When the sun’s disc has opened, you will see an immense circle, and fiery doors which are closed.” the neophyte then utters the following prayer:

Give ear to me, her me, Lord, who has fastened the fiery bolts of heaven with thy spirit, double-bodied, fire-ruler, creator of light, fire-breathing, fiery-hearted, shining spirit, rejoicing in fire, beautiful light, Lord of light, fiery-bodied, giver of light, sower of fire, confounding with fire, living light, whirling fire, mover of light, hurler of thunderbolts, glorious light, multiplier of light, holder of fiery light, conqueror of the stars (quoted in Jung, ¶135)

In my understanding of the Major Arcana arranged (excluding card 0 the Fool and card 21 the World) in sequences of four cards each (1–4, 5–8, 9–12, 13–16, and 17–20), where the first four sequences represent one of the puruṣartha or life-purposes (e.g., pleasure, power, dharma or service, and liberation, respectively), then the fifth sequence represents that state of one’s atman or spirit in an intermediate state in-between lives. From card 17 (the Star), through the Moon (card 18), the Sun (card 19), and then Judgment (card 20), these steps point to a process one undergoes during what I will call the Bardö state—whether you want to read this liminal life-state in a literal or figurative sense does not change the argument, only its application.

I find it helpful to think of myself as having chosen the whole course of my life—everything good, bad, indifferent—even if I often enough forget this assumption or get all gripey about something. I imagine I chose it all in advance during my previous Bardö stateforeseeing all of the details of it in advance, of course, because in the Bardö state I become (as we all do) omniscient—though, in my present (limited, physical) incarnation, I no longer remember any of those details.

I say this in this slightly tortured way, because I do not want to give the impression I require some commitment to any specific metaphysical reality for this “approach” or idea to remain consistent. Whether a Bardö state actually exists or not, I can choose to look at my life as if every detail in it I chose in advance.[7] Thus, instead of the absurdly tortured Christian theodicy in order to explain suffering in a context of an omniscient, omnipotent, and (theoretically) omnibenevolent divine being, the question, “Why do I suffer” gets answered, simply, “I chose it.” Perhaps as a challenge. Perhaps it arises as a consequence of some other detail in my life. The simplicity of the answer thus answers what remains an eternally vexing and thoroughly unfair situation—that I got born into a world without permission, and now I experience suffering as a result—and permits me to get past the problem of blame (e.g., my parents, or some divine being) and to move forward.

The power of this in my life personally stands in marked contrast to the inhumanity of it when advocated to others: to tell the child starving in Darfur, the woman sexually assaulted in the Congo, the cancer-ridden Chinese worker, or the Arab man unjustly tortured in Guantanamo that they chose those fates becomes, at times, not just a cornerstone in a grotesque indifference to human suffering but even a justification for it. In the notion, for instance, that suffering builds character (or what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger), then simple logic dictates that we should beat the fuck out of children, the younger the better, so as to truly build up their character into saints or captains of industry or whatnot.

As Kateb (1972)[8] remarks, in his discussion of pain and pleasure, “At times it seems that the antiutopians favor pain as men would favor it who never felt very much of it and think it may be good for themselves and surely could not be too bad for others” (126). This preference for physical pain over pleasure and an aversion to the flesh obviously go hand in hand; worse, that exponents of pain think that it “surely could not be too bad for others” provides a very ominous concomitant, since it remains a very short step from this idea to deliberate violence, if not to the sadism that masquerades as moral instruction. How many wives have been thrashed by domestic sadists to “teach her a lesson” in fidelity? How many teachers had erections as they paddled the naked buttocks of their pupils? How often was something other than atonement going through the minds of abbots or priests as they witnessed the physical penance of their monks? Kateb alternatively offers that “at other times, the antiutopians speak as men who have seen or had so much pain that they have become incapable of imagining that there could come a time when pain—at least in its more brutalizing forms—could cease to be” (126–7).

So, any choice to view one’s life as chosen in the sense I describe above may only rest on the choosing individual’s authority.  And if one makes such a choice, then the Star card represents that moment when, out of all the varieties of destiny or fate that one might choose for oneself, one in particular gets selected.[9] The Star in this sense represents a kind of center of gravity or a (literally) guiding star for the whole course of one’s life.[10] If we imagine life as an answer to a question, then the Star point to or symbolizes that question. In this sense, the conventional sense of the star (as one’s ultimate hopes or dreams) comes out, with the addition that one’s hopes and dreams (in this context) get discovered or uncovered or realized. If this seems to threaten too much a sense of predestination, for one thing, once one lies on one’s deathbed, when one’s capacity to choose outcomes or fates seems at its absolute nadir, then one can look back over the whole course of a life and say, “Well, here is exactly where I wound up.” All the other branching possibilities of life have gotten trimmed off (or shown as illusions), and there remains only the actual paths followed. That outcome, which we generally do not find unsatisfying unless we have chosen profoundly wrongly throughout life, every bit embodies predestination as the only possible outcome. The primary requirement, it seems, revolves around our maintaining a sense of choice, even as we choose the only possible outcome. So this all hinges on our knowledge, what we know—and that points to why, despite in the Bardö state already knowing how everything will turn out after all—we necessarily induce amnesia in ourselves, in order that the experience of life “startles us” or surprises us or catches us off-guard.

Nichols, commenting on the card in her deck, notes how a naked female figure pours water from two jugs, one into a stream the other onto the earth. She notes, “Psychologically speaking, the kneeling figure might be dividing and sorting out insights newly available to consciousness, separating out the personal from the transpersonal” (295–6). Nichols’ reading continues the terrestrial adventure of the soul (card 0, the Fool) from the previous sequence of cards, culminating in card 16, the Tower, but whether we should understand the sequence as a literal or physical continuation of one life, or the entry into the Bardö state to germinate a next life, does not matter: the argument scales not only in that direction but “backward” to smaller scales as well, i.e., when we go to sleep, we may understand this as “death” (with dreaming as the Bardö state), and waking the next morning as rebirth, &c.[11] Whatever the scale, this “dividing and sorting out insights newly available to consciousness, separating out the personal from the transpersonal” seem the crucial point in all cases.

Sine our hyperindividualistic culture tends to disregard the transpersonal entirely, the mere emphasis of it already portends a potentially transformative factor in our (literally “out”) life(s).

The card Nichols examines features seven, eight, or nine stars, depending upon how we parse them. Seven individual eight-pointed stars surround a central double star, formed by the superimposition of one eight-pointed star on a second one. Besides digging out these details by looking more closely at the card, the impression remains of seven lesser stars and one central one (making eight in all, perhaps signaled also in the eight-pointedness of each), and the fact that the central star itself (because of the alternation of the points) results in a 16-pointed star. That we have sixteen points (two groups of eight) on card 17 points to the sort of “transcendent” (or transcending) summary this card gets at. It seems technically redundant, if we remain sensitive to how this row of cards (17 through 20) functions relative to the proceeding sixteen cards. Meanwhile, the seven lesser stars themselves (each eight-pointed) suggest the days of the week, the chakras, “the seven stages of the alchemical process” (297), and (of course) the predominant astrological figures, with the double-star suggesting the sun itself.

Emphasizing trees as simultaneously “symbolic of the transpersonal, universal self” (298) but also representations of “the unique way the transpersonal self is made manifest in each individual” (298), Nichols then belittles her text:

The two trees in The Star might also remind one of the twin trees in the garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Perhaps, like Eden’s trees, the two in this picture stand for two impulses rooted in the human psyche which move us to action—the one which impel us to live life, and the other which motivates us to know life (298).

The tree, as a symbol of the transpersonal and personal—the transcendent and the immanent—simultaneously does not need an analytical distinction between “Life” and “Knowledge of Good and Evil”. This redundancy offers an unnecessary distinction that ultimately gets reified into good and evil itself (“good” and “evil” falling on “life” or “knowledge” depending upon the inclinations of the philosopher or commentating carrying on about it). But we might live with this error were it not compounded by the prohibition on eating from the second tree, since whatever high-falutin claims one might hear about necessary falls and the like, the prohibition itself gets lost as a gesture of power—in a fable written by men who sought to secure their power over others, &c.

So if we connect this gesture back to the sense of the Star as it relates to the Bardö state, then this Power would amount to esoteric Power (hoarded by specialists, men generally), magic most generally and thus all of the appurtenances of priests, shamans, &c. And whatever histories we may identify in India regarding claims of exclusive access to esoteric knowledge, the Bhagavad-Gītā shamelessly declares openly the “ultimate secrets” for anyone who happens to hear it. The obvious largesse of this stands in distinct contrast to most “revelations”. So I see no reason whatsoever to imagine, even for a moment, that the two trees here must represent the false and politically interested dichotomy of Eden’s two trees.

Nor must we even put too much on the fact of two trees at all. As images (in the background of the card, hence in the “past” of the card) of the immanent expression of the transpersonal, universal self, they may refer simply to our previous lives.[12] And if I had to pick something else they might symbolize, I’d incline to link them to the recurring dominance of duality occurring on the car—the balanced opposition of the many stars’ points and the doubled duality of water and earth, each with their own jug of pouring water. For me, this duality—which carries through this whole row of cards, by the way—point still to those two modes of consciousness: the radiant n the reflective (extroverted and introverted). However, if I find a “justification” for this in the card, it arises from the two jugs, and not from the fact of two trees—the trees seem more the historical fact of previous incarnations, rooted in the (literal) ground of eternity.[13]

Somewhat like trees as symbols, which simultaneously display the traces of a very distant past while also manifesting immediately in the present, stars too represent something like time machines. Imagined vividly enough, we can resolve the paradox of their (on the one hand) unimaginable size in contrast to their (on the other) utterly minuscule dimness of light by placing them at what amounts to an infinite distance away. The form of guidance they offer does not resemble a lamp or a moon, in other words, but only their relative position in the sky (relatively fixed or at least predictably in motion) as it relates to our own journey. Thus, Nichols notes, “In this way, the stars connect each individual moment with transcendental time” (299).

Eliade (1959)[14] notes how this connection with transcendental time crucially informs the broadest conceptions of New Years’ rites.  First, insofar as all “real acts” occur only in mythical time (through repetition), what we might call our archaic mentality therefore exhibits an “ahistorical” character. Thus, the abolition of time entailed by exemplary repetition—by repeating the acts of mythological culture heroes—shows itself as an abolition of profane (non-sacred) time; that time taken up by all the non-important acts of life not preserved as exemplary gestures in myth. Eliade later convincingly illuminates the advantages of such a view; principally that it makes the terror of history, with its suffering, misfortune, social injustice and so forth, tolerable. Moreover, by annulling personal history:

archaic man recovers the possibility of definitely transcending time and living in eternity. Insofar as he fails to do so, insofar as he “sins,” that is, falls into historical existence, into time, he each year thwarts the possibility. At least he retains the freedom to annul his faults, to wipe out the memory of his “fall into history,” and to make another attempt to escape definitively from time (158).

This access to freedom has a correlate implication of access to power and creativity. This seems obvious in the re-creation of the world in events like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Festival, or new years’ rites generally, but every repetition involves the re-creation of a first gesture, and hence becomes an act performed for the first time. Eliade further demonstrates the ubiquity of this type of personal creative power as cosmogenesis in ritual: in temple building and for lands conquered by war, at times of coronation, consummation of marriage, and the birth of children, or even as a response to bad crops or bad luck.

For the cosmos and man are regenerated ceaselessly and by all kinds of means, the past is destroyed, evils and sins are eliminated, etc. Differing in their formulas, all these instruments of regeneration tend toward the same end: to annul past time, to abolish history by a continuous return in illo tempore, by the repetition of the cosmogonic act (81).

Against the notion that such a connection to transcendental time amounts to nothing, Eliade notes how the archaic mentality has served in good stead “tens of millions…century after century” (152), particularly even since the original publication of his work we may still say that “a very considerable fraction of the population of Europe, to say nothing of other continents, still lives today by the light of the traditional, anti-‘historicistic’ viewpoint” (152).

As no small aside, Nichols reframes the alchemical notion of “as above, so below” in psychological terms as “between the self and the ego” (299). This reiterates that the literal reading of the phrase, involving actual stars, represents a projection; hence, one remembers also Thomas Moore’s (1982)[15] now long out-of-print The Planets Within as well of course as other essential projections such as identified in Jean Shinoda Bolen’s (1984)[16] Goddesses in Everywoman and (1989)[17] Gods in Everyman. For Nichols, she links the symbology of stars to archetype, i.e., “they symbolize the archetypes which are the images that influence our lives and through which we experience the myriad aspects of the godhead” (300).

Because only a naked human figure appears on Nichols’ card, a figure she describes as wholly human (i.e., not divine), it becomes unsettling that she says, “Significantly, the hero himself does not appear in this picture” (300). Perhaps he does not, but why can’t the female figure constitute the hero—especially since Nichols has insisted this figure represents no divine character: “in The Star we see for the first time a naked human. Stripped of all identification and robbed of every pretension, her essential self is exposed to the elements. Wearing no social persona or mask, she reveals her basic nature” (295); moreover, “she is a human figure without wings, and the urns are blood red, symbolic of physical nature and human feeling” (296).

This unambiguous  designation of the figure as human—even if a human who straddles the transcendental and immanent realms and sorts out psychological experiences from that vantage point—points, I would say, very clearly to an unnecessary sexism that can’t understand—or wants to make some amount of hay out of the fact—that the “hero himself” does not appear in this picture. We would have to further understand—if we would fantasize that the (masculine) “hero” remains the subject of the transit of the soul through the entire sequence of Major Arcana—why the hero has appeared in single, double, and triple form previously, as well as in both (apparent) genders, i.e., Empress, Emperor, Hierophant, Temperance, the three-fold imagery on the Lovers, &c. Just as the imagery and the term “mother “ has served part of humanity metaphorically as the most thoroughgoing symbolization of the Source (or that which we must remain separate from, even as we acknowledge it as our origin), and just as the imagery and the term “death” has served part of humanity metaphorically as the most thoroughgoing symbolization of the Other (or that which by definition we do not wish to integrate but must), so the imagery and terms “male” and “female” would seem to have served metaphorically as two of the most thoroughgoing representations for (incommensurable) difference. While the reification of these terms, as also the terms “mother” and “death,” have made literal and perilous (if not destructive) what (if left symbolic) portends liberation and growth.

So it seems wholly misguided, and misguiding, to fret over any disappearance or non-appearance of the hero in this card, just as it seems misguided or misguiding to think that this card would have (or could have, or should have) nothing for male-bodied individuals because the human figure in this card seems female-bodied. In  pitiful statement, Nichols contrasts the male hubris of card 16, which experienced a complete reversal in the previous card, so that “Now he discovers that he is nobody” (301). I find this pitiful because it inadvertently means that the woman on the card constitutes this nobody. Nichols does not intend this, but if the “hero” has disappeared (temporarily), who occupies this card? Moreover, this masculine ego can ‘only through the ministrations of the Star Woman … be saved” (301).

We see in this an abrupt reversal of the humanization this figure had earlier from Nichols; suddenly, she represents something more divine, a Star Woman (with capital letters). Now suddenly, “this woman is an archetypal creature of the deeps. She lives and moves in the timeless world of the planets—a world that existed millenniums ago, long before the advent of man and his clocks” (301). In light of such an abrupt re-definition, I feel compelled to repeat what Nichols wrote a couple of pages earlier:

“in The Star we see for the first time a naked human. Stripped of all identification and robbed of every pretension, her essential self is exposed to the elements. Wearing no social persona or mask, she reveals her basic nature” (295); moreover, “she is a human figure without wings, and the urns are blood red, symbolic of physical nature and human feeling” (296, quotation marks carried over from the original above).

Most assuredly, the atman (the Self) that “dwells” in the Bardö state (in between lives) does indeed inhabit  timeless world, i.e., eternity, which does not just preexist but precludes any notion of clocks. And if we wanted, we could mull over in what sense or for what reason we have the atman expressed (on this card) in female form, though that seems beside the point at this juncture, but Nichols does not let it rest. Identifying the Star Woman as something like an archetypal timepiece in rhythm with the sidereal motion of the stars (in contrast to the artificial motion of man-made clocks), then, “In the psychology of a man, such  female figure represents his anima, or unconscious feminine side. In a woman’s journey this figure, being of the same sex, would symbolize a shadow aspect of the personality” (301).

I almost never find any discussion of the anima by Jung (or, apparently Nichols) rooted in truthfulness, for want of a better word. The fact that here the Star Woman gets construed as basically a man’s essential Muse and a woman’s discardable or dangerous enemy shows the emptiness of trying to populate “male” and “female” psychologies with identically valenced complexes. And continuously stupid as I find it, Jung’s psychological theory also explains why he could have so continuously repeated this error—above and beyond, of course, the world of patriarchal sexism he inherited by birth. As a numinous  figure, the anima (and animus) have the capacity to possess us as complex—Jung’s theory provides this psychological mechanism and explanation, and I believe such possession explains the bulk of his commentary on the distinctions between male and female psychology, especially where the anima and animus get concerned.

If we ask an extravert—more properly, someone in an extraverted mode of consciousness—to describe herself, she might say “gregarious, outgoing, sociable” and if asked to describe an introvert might say “socially awkward, retiring, standoffish.” Similarly, if we ask an introvert—i.e., someone in an introverted mode of consciousness—to describe himself, he might say “thoughtful, tactful, reflective” while if asked to describe an extravert might say “overbearing, loud, thoughtless.” Keeping this in mind, and that we all at different times operate in either an extraverted or introverted mode of consciousness, then (to use the extravert as an example), at those times when an extravert feels socially inhibited from expressing herself in an extraverted mode, then she might “switch over” to an introverted mode of consciousness or being. But for her, to act in an introverted mode involves being socially awkward, standoffish, &c. Similarly, the introvert who “switches over” to his idea of extraversion will tend toward thoughtlessness and/or loud and overbearing behavior. The person who gets too drunk at the party and stands on top of a table dancing with his shirt off and waving it around may, more likely, constitute someone more prone to introversion who has switched over, just as the bitter, carping loner out in the backyard all by herself, who wants no one to talk to her, more likely constitutes an extravert who has switched over to her parody of the introverted mode of being.

In both cases, when we switch over from our more dominant or comfortable mode of consciousness, we take up a mode of consciousness based on an Other, but it represents little more than a parody, an ugly satire, of that Other’s mode of being. And since Jung insists that the difference between extraversion and introversion tends toward ‘fundamentally irritating,” the incommensurability of that distinction links it in type to the incommensurability of difference between “male” and “female” as well. And over and over in this commentary on Nichols commentary, the proposal that extraversion and introversion represent modes of consciousness (the radiant and the reflective respectively) has butted up against the conundrum of trying to link these things to gender, e.g., in the case of card 3, the Empress, and card 4, the Emperor. But when we understand that what a man means by “woman” and what a woman means by “man” falls into the same kind of parodying trap that extraversion and introversion represent, then we may already begin to start finding our way out of the futility at work in Jung’s distinction of anima and animus (and gender-identified differences generally).

At a minimum, it permits one to add a massive horse-block of salt to the dominantly patriarchal discourse, which Jung (and Freud even more egregiously) and “thoughtlessly” expressed in their attempts to universalize human psychology—with the difference that Jung’s psychology shows us a mechanism for understanding how this could have come about, while Freud’s theorizing does not. We can ask, with the feminists,[18] whether something like an incommensurably female psyche has a reality apart from the male psyche, or perhaps Jung’s admirably non-gendered psychological types more or less provide all of the incommensurable templates we might encounter.

However these large issues flesh out, to pretend that the “hero” disappears in card 17 represents a swerve into possession by a complex that distorts Nichols’ commentary, I believe. But, again to the credit of Jung’s theory, he provides a way to understand this. I have shown from the text how Nichols switches, with an impressive abruptness, from identifying the figure on the card as wholly human to one that represents instead the Star Woman “an archetypal creature of the deeps” (300, emphasis mine)—not even human, but a creature, this resurgence of the anima—a Muse in the psychology of a man—gets construed as a shadow in the psychology of a woman; so this manifestation of the anima represents (literally) a mistake by Nichols’ lights. That projections involve blindspots further explains how Nichols gives no sign of noticing this switch—once possessed by the anima, it speaks through her rather than her speaking for it. In the following, one can almost literally hear Nichol’s star “blowing up” (expanding), growing bigger by the moment, until the phrase “in either case”:

Since the Star Woman is drawn on the grand scale, larger than life, she could personify a quality far beyond the personal shadow and more akin to the self, that all-encompassing archetype which is the central star of our psychic constellation. In either case, the kneeling figure represents a hitherto inaccessible aspect of the psyche which, like a  fairytale princess, was formerly imprisoned in a tower and held captive there by cruel King Logos, ruler of our masculine-oriented society (301)

After “that all-encompassing archetype which is the central star of our psychic constellation” which also represents an almost total aphelion away from the notion of the card’s figure as a mere human being,[19] the phrase “in either case,” rings with a touch of calm down, after which point we suddenly enter a fairytale realm where the “hero” (the heroine) in fact appears, in the form of the princess held captive by cruel King Logos.

I suspect I will have to split a hair here. In card 16, Nichols identifies the hubristic hero (masculine) as the one imprisoned in the tower.[20] Here, in card 17 (as Nichols builds it up in this passage) we have a princess imprisoned in a tower as well, thus linking her with the hero of card 16. In such fairytales, we frequently find some Prince Charming who comes to rescue the princess, and in this current absence we might try to read the absence of the hero Nichols asserts. However, we also might recall that men relate such myths n stories, and that in historical epochs when women have penned such adventures, as occurred in droves near the end of the eighteenth century when female-authored Gothic fiction proliferated rampantly on the literary scene,[21] precisely female agency—not Prince Charmings—helped to get heroines out of the towers in which heavy fathers and cruel King Logoi had imprisoned them. Understood in this light, we need no Prince Charming to appear—the fairytale princess (heroically realized) has already the pugnacious wherewithal to save herself.

All of this goes far afield of the Star card, of course, even as it illustrates what seems a case of anima-possession on Nichol’s part, i.e., identification with archetypal imagery.

Briefly, Nichols alludes to the presence of the four elements of air, water, fire, and earth represented together “for the first time” (303) in this card, and that “not all analytical psychologists agree as to which element best symbolizes which [Jungian] function” (303).

My own notion is that air and water might represent thinking and feeling; whereas fire an earth might symbolize intuition and sensation. No doubt one’s function type influences the way [she] experiences and classifies the functions. The reader might find it useful to pause here and ponder on which classification feels right (303).

Instead, I would rather emphasize the dyadic relationship Jung propose for the four functions. Distinguish irrational and rational functions, which itself proposes a dyadic contrast, he contrast intuition & sensation (irrational) and feeling & thinking (rational). By this, he definitively insists on a sense of different but equal, though each of us will by habit or inclination favor one more than the others, which Nichols points to when she says “no doubt one’s function type influences the way [she] experiences and classifies the functions.” The mutual exclusivity of thinking compared to feeling or intuition compared to sensation largely involves a definitional exclusivity: we “think-feel’ all the time but in the moment of (rational) analysis we declare that we employ one or the other function and thereby assign by fit the precedence of thinking or feeling in that moment. The same applies for intuition and sensation. So that what I want to emphasize involves less that we preferentially declare various functions in various ways, but that to declare one function comes with a ‘value-structure” that simultaneously does not choose some other function. To employ the thinking function places the feeling function in the dark and vice versa, &c. This mutual exclusivity amounts to an incommensurability as well, between thinking and feeling or intuition and sensation, but also the irrational and irrational functions themselves.

With this in mind, it becomes clear how fruitlessly we might debate any absolutely “correct assignment” of the functions to the elements. Whatever scheme we might settle on must necessarily exhibit internal consistency, but the “rational” paradigm or the “irrational” paradigm itself (as only two examples) would not hold water, because we each assert our schemes from within “interested” positions. Related to this, Jung admits plainly that every psychological description represents a person’s own psychology; any talk of universal psychology then cannot rest at the level of form or content, but only at the level of (human) doing, in transactions between people.[22] For example, if I describe someone as predominating in an extraverted mode of consciousness, then I might further describe her behavior as remaining consistent with that description or “switching over” to a (parody of an) introverted mode of being or consciousness.  This mechanism of switching over—as the manifesting of a difference relative to a (recently observed) past—remains the only “universal” feature within the domain of my description of this other person.

We need, then, all of the varieties of (attempted) “correct assignment” we might get. Rather than never making an descriptive assignment because objective description remains impossible, we might desist instead in the habit of oppressively forcing others to admit only our absolute assignment represents the correct one—social injustice, oppression, and violence (I resort to redundancy) all begin in such a gesture. And at root, despite those times when Jung gets possessed by a complex (as we all do) and gets swept up into some hubristically overextended descriptive claim, Jung’s psychology supports the assertion of and recognition of (radical, incommensurable) difference.

Nichols seems more back on track when she notes:

Despite the fact that the ego is “out of the picture,” perhaps even because this is the case, it can now become passively aware of an expanding universe with dimensions hitherto undreamed. Flat on its back, the ego cannot participate in ordinary human activity; it can only lie inert in a deep depression. When the ego is immobilized, intuitions are free to soar. At this point the ego begins to be filled with a new sense of destiny and to experience its individual fate as part of the universal design. Purely ego-centered ambitions are now lost in contemplation of the stars, and life begins to revolve around a new center (304).

Widening the scale of this a moment, the disappearance of the ego during the Bardö state merely signals the disincarnation of whatever specific, limited life one’s atman had just experienced. Thus, the ego in its limited form, by definition, learns nothing because it has passed out of existence entirely. Now, to say this invokes the question to what extent can one even speak of a “course” or a “career” of one’s soul (atman) if, at the termination of each incarnation, we return to an omniscient, omnipotent state from which we select our next incarnated life-adventure. A simplest resort involves our omniscient self “preselecting” (so to speak) a whole series of “sub-lives,’ where each return to the Bardö does not automatically offer access again to absolute knowledge—thus, the process of one’s development over many lifetimes becomes conceivable.

But rather than remaining so literal, I would rather wonder what sense or value might get extracted from the notion that any “restart” might offer a total “disconnect” from whatever previous state we’d found ourselves in. We might enjoy finding ourselves stepped in some (lengthy) “journey,” but anyone who has played a video game knows sometimes the preference simply to end the current game (mid-stream) and start over, which seems the same thing as saying changing games in mid-game as well. In Cirillo and Wapner’s (1985)[23] very aptly named Value Presuppositions in Theories of Human Development, they point out that even the fundamental idea that we start in some kind of simpler or chaotic state and only gradually “develop” represents an untested hypothesis, that such a presupposition provides a way of thinking about how human beings experience time, but doesn’t automatically provide a priori some reason to assume that earlier represents something inferior, that later represents something superior, that normal development even exists or that we should regard certain kinds of development as abnormal or aberrant.

But if we assume a human need to (literally) make sense of our disparate experiences, if only because we live in a world where other people seem to insist on doing so, then we might speak of the self, whether in daily life or even in the Bardö state, as in a temporary suspension while a “bigger picture” gets more grasped t. This, precisely, seems the moment of sense making, when we construct (as authors) the necessary fiction of our life. For even the atman in the Bardö finds itself in that circumstance in media res (in the middle of things). It “wakes up” and says, “Whoa, here I am. What now?” so that the Star represents the moment of sense-making that answers that question. The point to emphasize here, it seems: the strictly delimited ego-consciousness does not serve as the primary author. The limited ego-consciousness, who more or less had the helm in each previous incarnation, now gets pushed out—something like a character in a play whose run has finished. And, insofar as the Self by definition stands in distinction to the ego-consciousness’s limited conception of itself, we might say that the author, therefore, stands as the audience (the watcher)[24]

So, whatever the scale we might settle on, the moment of the Star has a funny relationship to the star of a theatrical production. The old star and her performance enters into the annals of (theatrical, personal) history—the audience (the watchers) write reviews, the role maybe gets reprised or taken up by someone else, someone decides to write a musical of the play, &c—and meanwhile, a new star in  new play gets chosen. The important part of this metaphor seems the dissolution of the previous character (ego-consciousness?), even if the actor (ego-consciousness?) who played her winds up cast in the next production. Here, we find the tricky bit—the specific relationship of the actor to the character—and perhaps it would illuminate something to imagine the complex interplay that goes on between the development of the actor’s repertoire through portraying different characters but also the social reputation of the actor in light of those portrayals and developments. And difficult as we might find it to keep resolutely distinct the notion of ego-consciousness relative to “character” or “actor,” even to attempt a distinction seems helpful.

In another squelch of unhappy patriarchialism, Nichols refers to:

the woman [as] both active and acted upon.[25] She moves with a trancelike grace. Hers is the godlike absorption of a child creating a new world out of water and mud. Her intense dedication and total participation in this act of creation is not unlike that of the Deity himself (305).

This seems a very confused passage to me. From the picture on the card, I do not see any reason for Nichols to insist the figure—notice that Nichols has transformed her again into simply a “woman”—“is acted upon”. No. She acts, pouring out water from the jugs—nothing overtly imagistic determines her activity except the necessity of the task, whatever it consists of. Moreover, as a static image, it remains in the first place only metaphorical to say the figure “moves with a trancelike grace” but in the second place all the less so given that nothing in the picture suggests trancelikeness. This invocation of “trancelike”—ostensibly dignified by the further attribute of “grace”—links to somnambulistic or unconscious activity, thus reprising the patriarchal notion that women can only act unconsciously—even as patriarchy compliments them on that ability. Moreover, the card’s image gives no reason to describe her activity as resembling “the godlike absorption of a child”—being only god “like” and reiterating the unconsciousness (of a child) even as Nichols immediately draws a resemblance with the “act of creation … of the Deity himself”.

The presence of water and earth here makes the descriptor muddled pitifully appropriate. It seems as if Nichols encounters in this symbolic image of a Creatrix a kind of numinous de-centering that recognizes the woman as a Creatrix but cannot shake sufficiently the patriarchal or sexist presuppositions that otherwise insist on ascribing agency, creation, or creativity only to male figures. Nonetheless, at the end of a subsequent paragraph, Nichols quotes a maxim, “Silence is the inner space we need for growth” (305), and then adds, “This moment of inner growth is not one for extraverted doing; its essence is inner vision” (305).[26]

This may reveal why the card figures the Star in female form, to the extent that introversion—the reflective mode of consciousness—tends elsewhere in the tarot imagery (not necessarily in Nichols’s commentary) to link the feminine and the introverted. In any case, that this moment of inner growth involves what one might call meditation by the atman during the Bardö state, this does indeed not involve the extraverted or radiant mode of consciousness implicated in doing. We may see also how, despite the female-bodied imagery of the card, that nothing must compel us to reify this sort of gendered identification. Moreover, as Nichols observes, the process involved in the card (at whatever scale we imagine it) involves that “we change both the quality of our personal lives and the character of the collective unconscious” (305).

To give a concrete example of how, without resorting to spooky assertions about the collective unconscious, we may simply imagine how the portfolio of characters portrayed by a celebrated actor changes and influences our cultural life, however slightly. Because we all comprise actors as well, so that our own portfolio of performances also change the quality both of our personal lives and the character of the collective unconscious, which we (all) project as social life. One might almost say that culture itself represents our projection of the collective unconscious, but I think this claims too much. Social life gets implicated in the play of culture while the play of social life represents instead what we project out of the collective unconscious into our worlds.[27]

Nichols ends with a dubious paean to pain and suffering, which my comments earlier already provide a frame for rejecting. Instead, I’d sooner dwell on her closing remark. She cites the alchemical maxim, “What the soul imagines … happens only in the mind, but what [the divine] imagines, happens in reality” (311), the critical emphasis here being on imagination. In Ruland’s (1612)[28] Alchemical Lexicon, he defines imagnatio (imagination) as est astrum in homo, coeleste sivc supercoeleste corpus [the star in mankind, the celestial or supercelestial body]; Gibbons (2001)[29] detects this idea in Blake’s phase that makes imagination “the Human eternal body in Every Man” (117), while Willard (201)[30] draws the distinction between the alchemists, who saw imagination as a mental faculty, and the Jungians, who regarded it as a mental process. Hence, as Nichols says, “By connecting [us] with the world-creating imagination of the godhead, [the Star] imbues [our lives] with new meaning and purpose” (311).

I have, perhaps belligerently, insisted on referring to the figure on card 17 as the Star, whereas Nichols seems to distinguish her as a figure—and one that she (Nichols) cannot treat consistently as either active or passive, divine or human, conscious or unconscious. Because this entanglement in Nichols’s text seems rooted in (inherited) sexist discourse, I find it less interesting than if it arose from a genuine (symbolic) tension.

In any case, if we take at face value the alchemists’ insistence “imagination is the star in mankind,” then the discursive sense-making, the very literal creativity, involved in that links to our own authorship of our lives. Jung’s active imagination certainly offers a key tool for this, and if one can practice it honestly enough alone then one wouldn’t need an analyst. But even without it, beyond our cognitive ability as symbolic thinkers—creatures that read more than mere sense out of the world, which itself already provides us a radical inheritance—imagination takes the factualness of our symbolic experience and allows us to turn it into hypotheticals. We might then run with this idea all over the place, but as it specifically involves the Star, this amounts to the enormous potential within our capacity to ask ourselves of our life, “What if?”


[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

[3a] Jung, C. G. (1976). Symbols of transformation: an analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia. (Collected Works Vol. 3, 2d ed., trans. RFC Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970), Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copy of The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books). I recently acquired the Mary-El deck as well.

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] Nichols alludes to the possibility of reincarnation later “In a continuous circular rhythm … we human beings borrow illumination, energy, and talents from the stars to complete our earthly selves, returning these to the heavens (perhaps replenished and enhanced?) when our life on earth is done” (300).

[8] Kateb, G. (1972). Utopia and its enemies. New York: Schocken.

[9] Whether one crafts in infinite detail every detail of one’s life and knows that in advance or if only rough details get sketched in, even as all of the consequences of that sketching remains omnisciently visible as well, doesn’t matter much. Doubtless one would find a vast array of ways one makes such a choice; all that matters here involves that the star of the Star card itself symbolizes the “star” one gets born under—the same sort of “star” that messed up Romeo and Juliet and Tristan an Isolde as star-crossed lovers, and which the word disaster etymologically point to.

[10] Nichols refers to this in a more literally terrestrial sense: “Another popular belief held that, at birth, each human being was given his own personal star representing his transcendental counterpart or guiding star. Such a star was believed to watch over the affairs of its earthly charge, guiding his destiny, and protecting him from harm” (299). In Robertson Davies’s (1985)* What’s Bred In the Bone, he invokes a related idea in the daemon, except that this figure associates specifically with artists, being something of an artist itself, who mucks with the artist’s life in order to turn her into a creature capable of creating a masterpiece. I remember this as a contrast to the idea of protecting from harm Nichols just noted; daemons will definitely put “harms” cross one’s path—sufferings at least—in order to provide a necessary resonance with the work they will create.

*Davies, R. (1985). What’s bred in the bone. 1st American ed. New York: Viking.

[11] Nichols emphasizes this change as well: “From this point in our Tarot series, so we shall see, we enter a new dimension of understanding within which life’s vicissitudes will be viewed under the aspect of eternity” (296).

[12] (as also the stars might as well, given that they seem like lesser lights compared to the 16-pointed double-star).

[13] Nichols goes on to link the two-ness of the tree to how material emerging out of the unconscious often gets doubled in dreams and the like. This seems a more fruitful direction than linking it to the totalitarian desire for control exhibited by YHWH in Eden.

[14] Eliade, M. (1991). Cosmos and history: the myth of the eternal return (trans. Willard R. Trask). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

[15] Moore, T. (1982). The planets within: the astrological psychology of Marsilio Ficino. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books.

[16] Bolen, J. S. (1984). Goddesses in everywoman: a new psychology of women. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

[17] Bolen, J. S. (1989). Gods in everyman: a new psychology of men’s lives and loves. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

[18] See Donovan, J. (1989). Feminist literary criticism: explorations in theory. 2nd ed. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky

[19] One might also note the sudden symbolic displacement that makes “the star” into the figure more typically placed at the center of (astrological) consciousness, the sun. and while, scientifically speaking, the sun represent the nearest star, imaginatively the sun, moon, planets, and stars all stand s radically distinguished celestial object but also, speaking in terms of the tarot, the Sun gets represented (along with the Moon) in the next two cards, so it becomes redundant or gratuitous to make the Star the Sun.

[20] In point of fact, the Tower shows two figures imprisoned in the tower.

[21] See Tompkins, JMS (1961). The popular novel in England, 1770-1800. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, as well as Ellis, KF (1989). The contested castle: Gothic novels and the subversion of domestic ideology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

[22] This points, incidentally, at the utility of cybernetics all over again.

[23] Cirillo, L, and Wapner, S (1985). Value presuppositions in theories of human development. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

[24] Who might, nonetheless, have some relationship with the actor who played the character in the previous drama. After all, authors sometimes play in their own works.

[25] As part of the symbolic “wobble” that occurs throughout this chapter about this figure, Nichols later insists “she is not passive. As we have observed, she takes action” (309). Recall the sentence, “she is, by nature, unconscious” (306).

[26] Nichols relapses soon after however, repeating that the woman represents a creature of the deep, that “she is, by nature, unconscious” (306). The ideological insistence on this becomes galling. One can hardly imagine something similar getting said of the man who mixes chalk and mint (to make toothpaste) that he can do so because he “is, by nature” as inert as chalk and as vegetative as mint. Moreover, “soon she herself will sink back again into the water which is her element, leaving the hero bereft of her ministrations—totally alone in the silent world of elemental being to confront the monstrous deeps as best he may” (306). To the extent that the figure on the Star, with its Aquarian associations all the more so, links to a figure like John the Baptist, it becomes almost incomprehensible how Nichol can so totally eviscerate the woman’s agency here. John the Baptist stood as no watery thrall but had such a mystical understanding of water that he could, without identifying with it, use it toward a ritual/spiritual end. From this (denied) link, we may infer that the figure of the Star, therefore, represents (1) a means to an end* but also that (2) she portends a new step yet to come, the herald of the savior, not the savior herself. This certainly seems appropriate as the first card in a series of four, which in its Christianized imagery ends with a last judgment and thus the (destructive) appearance of the savior.

*At one point, Nichols specifically denies this: the figure on the card “seems absorbed in her tsk, not as a means to an end, but as something useful and interesting in itself” (310). I don’t mean to harp on this, but this lens an air of stupidity to the figure, as if she does not (or cannot) imagine some further purposefulness to her activity. This description makes her sound short-sighted when in fact the figure in the Bardö state has the longest possible vision imaginable.

[27] “Jung’s method of active imagination and dream amplification is by no means ‘free association.’ … The Jungian method of amplification follow a circular course. Keeping the original image central, it moves around its periphery, amplifying its meaning by analogy and contrast, using associations which proceed from it and remain connected directly to it, like the spokes of a wheel. In Jung’s method, the secondary images revolve around the central one as the planets pictured in the Star revolve round their central sun” (307).

[28] Available in one translation here.

[29] Gibbons, BJ (2001). Spirituality and the occult : from the Renaissance to the modern age. London: Routledge.

[30] Willard, T. (2012). The star in man: CG Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz on the alchemical philosophy of Gerard Dorn. In A. Classen (ed.) Gutes Leben und guter Tod von Spätantike bis zur Gegenwart: Ein philosophisch-ethischer Diskurs über die Jahrhunderte hinweg, Theophrastus Paracelsus Studien, 4, pp. 425–61. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.


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