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Fire meets with fire

Tomberg on Dr John Dunn. Consciousness is the mystery, not being. Consciousness is where the magic lives and encounter opens the door to it. Where better then to turn than to a Magician, as Valentin Tomberg did in his Meditations upon the Tarot?

In meditating upon the tarot card that has the image of the Magician, Tomberg describes an adept who is perfectly at ease with his craft. What the Magician does with his hands is with perfect spontaneity— it is easy play and not work. He himself does not follow the movement of his hands; his gaze is elsewhere.

The Magician represents the man who has attained harmony and equilibrium between the spontaneity of the unconscious (in the sense given to it by C. G.Jung) and the deliberate action of the conscious (in the sense of ‘I’ or ego consciousness). His state of consciousness is the synthesis of the conscious and the unconscious —of creative spontaneity and deliberately executed activity. It is the state of consciousness that the psychological school of C. G. Jung calls ‘individuation’, or ‘synthesis of the conscious and unconscious elements in the personality’, or ‘synthesis of the self’.

Tomberg suggests a kind of spiritual attunement or atOnement on the part of The Magician, a connection with the Divine – that results, quite literally, in grace-full creativity. In the magician’s deftness of hand, Tomberg presents an analogy of being that is concentration without conscious effort, which is magical. But this standpoint of atOneness is not without its limitations as we have already discovered. Both the genius and the limitations of the Magician are summed up at the beginning of Tomberg’s second meditation as follows:

But the pure act . . . in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection which tenders it perceptible, comparable and understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we become conscious of it...

The second tarot card, the High Priestess, is the reflection of the pure act of the Magician card. In short it is the card that reintegrates the active and passive elements of consciousness. Tomberg explained:


As we have pointed out, one becomes conscious of the pure act of intelligence only by means of its reflection. We require an inner mirror in order to be conscious of the pure act or to know ‘whence it comes or whither it goes’. The breath of the Spirit —or the pure act of intelligence —is certainly an event, but it does not suffice, itself alone, for us to become conscious of it. Consciousness (conscience) is the result of two principles —the active, activating principle and the passive, reflecting principle.

Once more there are echoes of Coleridge, which are emphasised still further by Tomberg’s parenthetic expansion upon the word consciousness, with the word, conscience.

The magician’s act can be likened to Gentile’s pure act. Gentile’s pure act in itself, the act of the undifferentiated subject and object, cannot be grasped. It is only its reflection which tenders it perceptible, comparable and understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we become conscious of it. The fact that Gentile reflected, communicated and fixed his Actualism, or the philosophy of the pure act, in books is evidence of this. Consciousness of the pure act needs more than the act itself. Consciousness, from the Latin conscius, itself from con, a form of com ‘together’ + scire ‘to know’ is about knowing something with another, the result of the active, activating principle and the passive, reflecting principle. In order to know from where the pure act of intelligence comes and where it goes, something, or someone, is required to reflect it.

Like Spinoza, Fichte and Gentile, we can choose monism and argue that there is only one sole being. Or we can choose dualism and see that there are two principles in the world: good and evil, spirit and matter. After all, did not Zarathustra, Prometheus and Jesus of Nazareth epitomise the good confronted by evil? And in the same way that Buber called this dualistic mode the ‘encounter’, (the mode of I–Thou), insisting that it is best described as love, Tomberg also argued that:

Two… is the number of love or the fundamental condition of love which it necessarily presupposes and postulates… because love is inconceivable without the Lover and the Loved, without ME and YOU, without One and the Other.

If God were only One, be that an infinitely distant Jehovah, or the solipsistic ‘I am I’ of the idealist philosophers, or Spinoza’s Substance, he would not be the God of whom John says:

God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (I John iv, 16)

He would not be this, because he would love no one other than himself, but more than this, he would be the Magician without consciousness, or conscience. He would have, however, the status of being, which is, after all, the Spinozist claim, i.e. that God is not love, he is being, universal being. This Spinozist claim is applicable to the mineral realm, sufficing to arrive at the morally neutral idea of being. For the mineral is. In contrast to being, love is not neutral from the point of view of moral life, but rather at the heart of it, which is critical to the understanding of ourselves as human beings. The seeker of truth in being will lose himself in a state of depersonalisation. Coleridge and Buber, amongst others have made this their central criticism of Spinoza. Tomberg argued that the same criticism could be made of the Bhagavan, the Buddha, the masters of yoga and the ancient philosophers who really lived as philosophers, above all the Stoics. It is this depersonalisation which is the goal of Tikkun in the Lurianic Kabbalah, the reabsorption into the One, Ein Sof. It is the death of the self in Spinoza’s secularised Judaism, the dehumanising result of Spinozism rejected by Buber. It is epitomised by the amoral realm of money which is the basis of the Spinozist ‘Republick of Merchants’.

In contrast the seeker of truth in love is given new life, as anyone who has been in love knows. All the old certainties are shattered. There is turmoil and pain to be sure, but there is expanded vision too. Nothing is seen in the same way ever again by anyone who has stepped into the wall of fire. Tomberg knew this. Union with the Divine is not the absorption of being by Divine Being, far from it

…fire meets with FIRE, Then nothing is extinguished in the human personality but, on the contrary, everything is set ablaze. This is the experience of ‘legitimate twofoldness’ or the union of two separate substances in one sole essence.

Two separate substances and one sole essence = three. Know this and know why the God of love is revealed to human consciousness as the eternal Trinity - the Loving One who loves, the Loved One who loves, and their Love who loves them: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consciousness is not lost. To be conscious is to be human. Encounter awakens consciousness and humanises. This is where the magic resides. Human consciousness is magic. Mind is magic in the sense that our consciousness as fully human beings cannot be subject to rational explanation.

© John Dunn.

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