Pico Ultraorientalis

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Archive for November, 2008

Could Albert J. Nock stomach contemporary American Libertarianism?

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 27, 2008

Short answer…NO

This isn’t a rant against the recently defeated Bob Barr, not that Barr doesn’t deserve a stern recapitulation of his errors.  Even if Barr had been a “good libertarian” would that have been enough?  Methinks not!  The idea that there is such a thing as a pure libertarianism which somehow provides an axiom for all moral inquests is itself a delusion.  Yes, the state, and specifically the unrestrained modern state, is at the root of much of  our discontent but simply to describe one’s world view as “anti-statist” is no more adequate a philosophy than any other sort of “anti-” ism.  The case against the “anti-” mentality, namely that one is ruled by a passion which depends on the existence of an adversary, and which assures one’s obsession with that adversary, is prima facie.  In this case it is easily substantiated by the fact that most libertarians are political junkies 24/7. Indeed, just to take one alleged progenitor, if they resemble Thoreau in any of his phases, it is not the anarchistic Thoreau but the manic-depressive Thoreau who found renewed reason to live in the outbreak of the Civil War.  Surely a more expensive remedy than retirement to Walden Pond!

Libertarianism has a more imitable progenitor in Albert J. Nock.  I am not sure to what extent he used the title “libertarian” at all, but I am sure that if he did it was probably towards the latter part of his life, when others like Isabel Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane were already being described as such.  His self description was originally “radical” but like many another advocate of liberty he found to his bemusement that the New Deal turned him into a conservative.  None the less he would not have considered himself to have been exhausted by the phrase “radical” even more than “conservative” or “libertarian.”  He was a man who insisted on being sui generis, deeper than the party to which he affiliated, even if that party was not a real organization but a mere school of thought.  His politics followed from his being…not vice versa.

Yet it would be nice, for our purposes, to give his general turn of mind…inclusive of but not exhausted by political ideology, a kind of name.  Somehow I doubt that Nock would have objected to the name “Christian Humanist.”  But what does that really mean?  Putting aside the shallow opinions of fundamentalists who would consider it an oxymoron, there are a great many Christian Humanisms to choose from.  This blog’s patron, Pico della Mirandola, was one of the more famous of them, and term itself seems irrevocably stuck in the time somewhere between Petrarch and Galileo.  After a great meditation on the subject I have come up with a succinct definition of Humanism, at least as it was understood in the Renaissance.  A “humanist” was a scholar, invariably male, who preferred Cicero speaking in good Latin to Aristotle speaking in bad Latin.

I can hardly think of a definition less adaptable to our time, or even the relatively proximate time of Nock.  Yet Nock was in some sense precisely that kind of Humanist.  I’m not claiming this because Nock happened to make a study of Rabellais.  Anybody could, and anybody has, been a Rabellais scholar…and that would not necessarily a humanist make.  Nock was a kindred soul to Ciceronian rhetoric, and scorned the kind of dialectic which is the only thing that students pick out of the Aristotelian corpus.  Thus when Nock argued for freedom he didn’t start out a priori in the manner of Mises, Rothbard, or Rand.  He started out more like Hayek, with an examination of history and institutions, but his American wit kept him from the kind of ponderous system-building which confounded Hayek’s radicalism and made his thought fodder for  political obscurantism.

The problem with contemporary libertarianism is its obsession with axiomatic systems and intellectual purity.  This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be grateful for a priori reasoners like Mises, Rothbard, and Rand.  Rather, it is their numerous intellectual progeny who have lost the thread of discourse in the maze of intellectual dialectic.  Few of them would see themselves as dialecticians of course, knowing the term only  under its Marxian variant…and perhaps only refering to themselves as “thinkers” or “intellectuals.”  But it is the narrow and uncongenial ambiance of these “thinkers” and “intellectuals” which drives otherwise sane people into the hands of outright opportunists like Barr.

Nock talked around problems rather than dogmatizing.  None the less his talk always had a direction which led deeper into freedom.  It was, as it were, a libertarianism of the will rather than a libertarianism of the concept.  We already have libertarian utopias of the mind…what we need is a libertarian topos, a free country…or even a free world.  We will never get there by the deductions of “thinkers” and “intellectuals” and we will never get there by selling out to opportunists.  We might, I don’t know for sure, but we might, get there through the efforts of those who are broad enough in their minds to use persuasion, rather than coercion, in argument as in life.

Something like that, I submit, would be the recommendation of Albert J. Nock.

Posted in Culture & Politics, Libertarianism | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The World’s Best Kabbalah Site….Ain’t this one!

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 25, 2008

Because basically, this is NOT a Kabbalah site….

I started Pico Ultraorientalis as a kind of philosophical/political soapbox for spouting my own views and discoveries…most of which have little to do with Kabbalah, at least in the strict sense. However for those who are interested in what can be done at the nexus between revelation and mathematics I highly recommend the highly original work of Stan Tenen. I have been corresponding with Stan for several years, and he never disappoints when it comes to making/discovering (don’t ask me the difference I’m not a mathematician) graphical/numerical models of reality…both in its tangible and spiritual aspects. Be warned that Stan’s models have a much more “kosher” basis to them than most Christian or Hermetic Kabbalists are used to, which means that they are deduced rigorously from the Bible and associated texts.  If you think this is a good thing, and I do, then you will be charmed I’m sure.  Please visit his Meru Foundation site linked above.

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Receptivity: The Secret of Christian Kabbalah

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 23, 2008

If Kabbalah is about “secrets” this one should have been out of the bag from the start!

After all, the root   קבל Q-B-L  Kabbalah means to receive.  Now the question of the tree of life diagram being used as a tool almost always is presumed to mean that one is  climbing the tree, as in the song, Climbing Jacobs Ladder.  But the fact of the matter is that one is not climbing so much as clinging, and hoping to get grace from above.  One is not expected to rise to Kether, that is to become a god on ones own initiative (as some Hermetic texts would have one belive)…rather it is a matter of simply not resisting the influx from above.  In fact, we are always resisting, trying to evade the good things that God has in store for us.  True, we may not think that what we are getting is good.  It may be that the influx from above is painful to the inner senses of our souls, to bright for us to cope with.  Thus we wish to constrict the paths where grace is flowing down to meet us.

This is the true pathworking.  It is not a matter of climbing up towards God, since he has already climbed down to us as Christ.  Our problem is purely negative, to clear away the obstacles along the royal path so that God can come all the way down towards Malkuth…His Kingdom on Earth.  As the 24th Psalm states

Raise up your heads O Gates,

and raise up, you everlasting entrances

so that the King of Glory may enter.

It is true, that prior to this the psalm speaks of ascending to the mountain of the Lord, and no doubt many a Pelagian claim could be be staked on suchlike passages.  True, it is the aim of God to dignify, even to divinize the human race, however these consequences are dependent on the antecedant acceptance of grace.

Appropos of which, someone near and dear to me taught me a wondrfully simple spiritual practice the other day which I would like to share with you.  It is a short prayer of thanksgiving which one can practice at any time for as long as one is mindful enough to remember and repeat it.  It goes like this


It would be pretty hard to drift into the kind of negative feelings which constrict grace if you could keep that up all day, would it not?

Thank you!

Written on the Feast of Christ the King, 2008

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Pico gives a lecture on Kabbalah

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 18, 2008

Everybody gets their fifteen minutes of fame…

…and a chance to blow it! Well, I suppose I didn’t do so bad once I got over the technical difficulties (a projector which went out in the middle of the a power-point presentation, a nonfunctional mike etc.), not to mention I was trying to give a lecture in one of the world’s most recondite subjects in a tongue which was not my native language.

On top of that I was lecturting to a class of 180 undergraduates in a crowded university classroom. Keep in mind that in the old days Kabbalah was secret and only supposed to be transmitted by the most intimate of tutorials. Well, that was the old days, and what I taught wouldn’t have even been considered Kabbalah by that standards…more like teaching Biblical Hermenutics using geometrical diagrams. It went over about as well as I could have expected. It did my heart glad that the nurdy guy (there’s always one in the front seat of any university lecture hall) asked me an intellegent question “Is there a connection between Kabbalah and Platonism” after the lecture. As for most of the rest, for those old enough to understand, every generation of college students in every country is to a large extent made up of J. Maynard Krebses…or Krebim as they say in the Kabbalah.

None the less it was fun to do what I ususally restrict myself to privately in a public forum. I think I got a few important ideas across…which I pray will enhance rather than damage the souls of my auditors. (The auditors, given the local were, I presumed, a majority of secularists with a sprinkling of Buddhists and Christians.) One particularly vital point was that in Kabbalah (as in other sophisticated hermenutics) the prelapsarian state was not one of ignorance, and the prohibition of the עץ הדעת טוב ורע was a question of obviating the possibility of evil rather than intelligence. A common misconception, and one which a lecture on kabbalah might provide a rare forum to explain in the context of todays secularist campus.

BTW For those wanting a safe, edifying version of Kabbalah, and the Tree of Life in particular, I always recomend the works of Warren Kenton [a.k.a. Zev ben Shimon HaLevi].

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The Cardboard Cathedral: post #1 The Connally Tarot

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 13, 2008

The search for the perfect Christian tarot….

…can probably end where it begins, with the Marseilles deck. Of course there is really no such thing as a perfectly Christian tarot, what one wants is a tarot that one can use as a meditation device on Christian themes. Long ago it was possible for a peasant to go to a cathedral and look up at the stained glass windows and see heaven. Today when we look up all we see is the stained skies of modernity, but one meditative technique is to carry a tarot deck around in one’s pocket, a sort of portable cathedral. This wont satisfy the puritans of course, but then they are the ones who smashed the cathedral windows in the first place.

Now in spite of the Marseilles tarot being the standard, the numerous, and growing selection of modern decks can only be ignored by the purest of traditionalists. Whenever the subject of Christian tarot (an oxymoron to some) comes up, one of the decks which is frequently mentioned is the Connolly Tarot. With that in mind I recently purchased a copy of the deck and have been using it for day card readings, meditations and whatnot. I have mixed feelings about it, but rather more on the positive side than the negative. What follows is a brief review:

Four stars

I would give the deck as a whole four stars out of a possible five. In brief, the deck seems to have been designed as a non-threatening tool for tarot beginners and advanced tarotists who are frequently called to do readings for a sceptical public. This is both good and bad. Perhaps the best thing about this tarot is its avoidance of so many dark or erotic elements which have infiltrated the world of tarot. The tarot can be either a road to deception or enlightenment…and sadly, the former tends to be the more popular path. However this really has less to do with the pictures on the cards themselves than the manner in which they are used. For example, if fortunes are told in a coercive or fatalistic manner, they infringe on areas where human beings are supposed to walk small…and are likely to have a dilatory effect on both the reader and the querent.

On the other hand, if tarot is used as a meditative tool, I does matter to some extent what the nature of the images are. It would be hard to use HOGD or OTO designed cards, and the most popular decks today have some connection with one or the other of these societies, without being drawn into some sort of spiritual alignment with the groups in question. Traditional Marseilles cards are, by way of contrast, in what might be called the spiritual public domain (unfortunately most are not in the legal equivalent thereof!) and are suitable for anyone, notably Christians. On the other hand it would be mildly ridiculous to insist that only the Marseilles cards are usable for Christian purposes. They are certainly the most venerable, Western, and traditional cards. But this doesn’t ensure that they will be put to Christian uses…let alone give them a monopoly on Christian use. The Christian use of the Tarot, like all other things of the world, is a matter of “stripping the Egyptians”…a singularly apt phrase given the sort of legends and pseudo-history which surround the Tarot!

So we can presume that there is nothing inconceivable about a modern Tarot deck designed with Christians in mind. Don’t expect that there are as many designer decks out there for Christians as there are for say, feminists, gays, witches…or people who go in heavily for non-Euclidean geometry. But if you really search they are out there to be found and prominent among them is the Connolly Tarot.

I don’t know much about the Mrs. Connolly who, apparently together with her son, designed the tarot.  Apparently she has written books on the subject of Tarot and has some sort of a “system.”  Well, I can’t vouch for that, just the cards which are a study in themselves.  The first thing which strikes one is the color scheme, which is strong on purple, pinks, and light blues.  There is something distinctly feminine about this tarot, and I would say specifically feminine rather than feminist.  One feels a sense of chivalry in the old sense, were women are at the center and men are there to serve them.  But of course, according to the Christian trans-valuation of worldly values, that really puts men with a “servant’s heart” at the center of the center.  Which is why hardened feminists wouldn’t touch it with a (am I being too Freudian?) ten foot pole.

To that end the costuming of the characters, who are all recognizably human and realistically portrayed, is with few exceptions late medieval.  By the standards of modern tarot decks one should be glad that they are wearing clothing at all!  There is far less nudity in the deck than one usually encounters in a non-traditional, or even many traditional, decks.  Even the famous Star card, almost invariably represented by a naked maiden pouring amphorae into land and sea, is replaced by a male youth clad in a Grecian tunic…the latter all the more remarkable in being one of the non-medieval, indeed seemingly non-Celtic-medieval characters in the deck.

The two remaining cards featuring naked characters illustrate what I consider the problematic character of the deck, which is it forfeiture of allegory for literalism.  Oddly enough, Connolly seems to have bowdlerized her tarot by making these cards more erotic than symbolical.  Thus the Lovers card features profane eroticism rather than the sacred marriage of the soul with its guiding spirit.  This latter concept, no matter if expressed in Christological, Angelogical, or even Alchemical symbols, has always been a feature of esoteric Tarot interpretation, but there is no doubt that Connolly has seen fit to unilaterally change the significance of the entire card, since the angel above is not the usual archer, but carries the Dionysian thirsis…the symbol of orgiastic passion. This will no doubt please vulgar Tarot readers who have never interpreted the Lovers card in any other way!  However it is somewhat disappointing to anyone with traditionalist expectations.

Likewise the woman in the World card dances against the background of the planet Earth.  Does any intelligent person need to be reminded that the category “world” is not circumscribed by the planet we physically dwell on?   I would certainly like to absolve Mrs. Connolly of Gaiaism…and prefer to think that this, like the Lovers, is a symbolic slip of the pen rather than the pushing of some ecological agenda.

Usually commentaries on the Connally Tarot begin and end with mention that its chief features lay in having no Devil or Death card, and the absence of these cards vindicate its status as a Christian Tarot.  That anyone could possibly think such a thing is a sad commentary on the state of both Christianity and education in the contemporary world.  I suspect that we will next be congratulating ourselves on living in an age of faith…as opposed to those medieval demon-worshipers who so obsessively flocked to their gargoyle decked cathedrals!  Again, I see bowdlerization at work here too, but at least, in contrast to the Lover’s card, a bowdlerization which doesn’t infringe on the symbolic power of the deck.  The Devil card, as has been pointed out by many, traditionally doesn’t represent diabolism so much as materialism…and the Materialism card which replaces it here I find quite magnificent and thought provoking…showing as it does a kind of crucifixion on a cross of gold (and wood and silver even).  Likewise the Transition card is faithful to the standard meaning of the Death card, and even incorporates some of the traditional icons found on the card.

So is the Connally Tarot a true Christian deck?  I’m afraid not.  Rather it is, like so many other designer decks, a kind of pagan/Christian hybrid.  This doesn’t mean that it can’t be used by Christians.  Quite to the contrary, if there was a deck so pure that it had no resonance with sinners it would be of little value.  After all, we are all pagan/Christian hybrids…it is just that some of us are “working out our salvation in fear and trembling.”  That’s the whole point of the cardboard cathedral.

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Valentin Tomberg

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 12, 2008

Apparently The Greatest Christian Hermeticist of the 20th Century…

…wished to remain “anonymous.” However the cat has long been out of the bag that the author of Meditations on the Tarot was in fact Anthroposophist turned Catholic
Valentin Arnoldevitch Tomberg The Meditations are a book the like of which there is no other…a virtual garden of meditations on the mind. Pico Ultraorientalis will be excerpting these from time to time…in the hope that others may be interested in sharing this garden of pomegranates from one of the 20th century’s most interesting intellectual odysseys.

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The dope on Saints and Saints to be

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 11, 2008

St. Martin and the Blessed Carl

With reference to all things saintly, I highly recommend The Western Confucian by the saintly Iesous Andreas.

Of particular interest is the fact that the Blessed Carl of Austria-Hungary seems to be approaching sainthood.

On the other hand, for a bit of devil’s advocacy you can look forward to upcoming posts on this blog!

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I embrace Quietism…at least for a season

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 11, 2008

I am giving up politics as of St. Martin’s day! St. Martin’s day is a traditional day to begin austerities, and I intend on giving something up as of today: politics! Anyone who recognizes this blogger as another persona of Pico Ultraorientalis will suspect a bad case of sour grapes. No I didn’t vote for Mad Jack McCain, but I did vote for the man who came in sixth! Actually, I have a perfect record for voting for losers in American presidential campaigns at least since the time of George McGovern, so members of our political class can be relieved that the curse of Pico Ultraorientalis has been lifted…at least for the time being. In the meantime I am amusing myself with the notion that there are many other things in the world which are perhaps as interesting as politics. I just haven’t discovered them yet. Oh wait, does crying in one’s beer count?

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Who is Pico Ultraorientalis?

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 11, 2008

Pico Ultraorientalis is a Christian Kabbalist living in the Far East.  This Blog will be dedicated to continuing the work of Pico della Mirandola, that is, his spirituality, not his scholarship.  The latter I cannot hope to come within even distant reach of.  I hope to be ecclectic, convivial, witty, and uplifting.  However if any conflict arises between these ideals, is suspect that the wit may trump the uplift!

With that confession in mind, I hope the Almighty will bless this venture!

St. Martin’s Day, 2008

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