Thursday, September 8, 2011

Finding Your Teacher, continued

I continue to think about the work we were doing with the Wizards Tarot and what the Major Arcana cards in their personas as teachers at a magical academy can teach us about the school of life, so I have been reviewing the cards drawn at the workshop last Sunday. (The special techniques we were applying to these cards are outlined in the previous post). Although I have occasionally touched on how the cards can be viewed as personal teachers with teaching personalities, I have not had a chance to give this concept a great deal of thought, so the group practice sessions are learning experiences for me, too. Seeing how different cards come up for people with different situations provides opportunities to make new discoveries about the cards. Then, when I sit down to work on this blog, the writing process also becomes a process of “writing for discovery.”

One participant got the Hierophant as her master teacher, who, in this deck, is personified as Chiron, and serves as the professor of mythology. In classical lore, Chiron was the centaur who was teacher to Aesculapius, (who, under Chiron’s tutelage, became a physician, and then the god of healing), as well as to Heracles, Achilles, Perseus, Theseus, and a number of other heroes. Indeed, Chiron as the Hierophant is a teacher’s teacher. In the “Mandrake Academy,” Chiron serves as professor of mythology, and we can relate this to the Hierophant’s concern with the transmission of lore and tradition.

If you happen to draw this card, you might want to delve into how the subject of mythology can be relevant to modern life by consulting Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books, “Gods in Everyman” and “Goddesses in Everywoman,” because she explains how the archetypal qualities of different Greek gods and goddesses are active in different areas of our lives. Also, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves” draws on archetypal themes in folk and fairy tales to find meaning in different experiences. These are genuine healing stories, which Estes relates and explains in her wonderfully incantatory style.

The centaur Chiron is sometimes also discussed in line with the archetype of “the wounded healer,” because he was accidentally wounded by Heracles, and, despite all his healing arts, he was not able to cure himself. When I think of a great teaching personality who fits this archetype, I think of Milton H. Erickson, sometimes known as the father of medical hypnosis. Erickson often used story-telling as one of his healing techniques, as do many traditional healers. (In fact, one of my ongoing sideline research projects involves cross referencing the works and techniques of Erickson with those of shamanic and other folk-magic healers from societies throughout the world.) Erickson himself was crippled and in terrible pain from polio and post-polio syndrome, so he had to use all kinds of hypnotic techniques on himself, just to be able to function. Some of the books I have read on this subject include “Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.” by Jay Haley, “My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson,” as edited by Sidney Rosen, and “Milton H. Erickson, M.D.: An American Healer,” by Bradford Keeney and Betty Alice Erickson. Many people—not just Erickson’s patients, but his friends, students, and even chance acquaintances—have stories of how Erickson would casually tell them some little anecdote or adage, or make some other passing comment, and it was just what their Unconscious minds needed to hear, because their attitudes would be forever altered (reframed), or in some cases, they were able to shed bad habits on the spot. Unfortunately, Erickson did not believe in psychism or supernatural anything, despite the fact it seems no one has been able to reproduce his successes.

In one of Erickson’s notable cases, he created a character known as “The February Man” to help recast an individual’s memories and reactions to negative experiences; this was as part of a more comprehensive program of therapy to help a patient whose anxieties about parenthood were stemming from a cold and loveless childhood. Erickson hypnotically regressed this woman to different ages of childhood, and introduced himself into her memories as a (fictitious) family friend, who showed up at different times over the years and came to be known as the February Man. In this persona, Erickson sort of walked her through different memories and life events, while helping her to reframe them in a new and more positive light, and derive insights that would enable her to respond more positively to new situations.

I have often thought about how, through creative visualization, one could introduce different tarot figures with the ability to offer different types of guidance into one’s fantasies, and as a way of reframing one’s memories. (In line with this, the King of Cups would make a particularly good February Man.) You could do this using any tarot deck for images to concentrate upon, though the Wizards Tarot lends itself exceptionally well, because of the engaging portrayal of some of these different “professors.” Tarot artists do differ a lot in this respect, as there are some decks where the characters look out of the picture space to meet your gaze, and/or also project distinct personalities. In other decks, the human figures may seem preoccupied and distant. Of course, the portrayals can also differ within any given deck.

OK, now that I’ve written this, I find it necessary to take another look at my Wizards deck--that’s part of that “writing for discovery,” I discover things that come out of the writing as I go along. So, I find that most of the teachers don’t meet the viewer’s gaze, as they are focused on their different subjects of study. (Perhaps it’s an indication of my level of engagement that I imagined it to be otherwise.) All the same, with the idea of a tarot figure as a personal teacher, you can use your imagination as to how that teacher could take you in hand as his or her student. In the case of the Hierophant, in his historical role as the instructor of initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries, he explained and revealed what they needed to know through “things said, things done, and things shown.” So, when imaginatively engaging with tarot figures, whether the Hierophant or any other, think about what teachings they might convey to you through “things said, things done, and things shown.”

To be continued … I will pick up on more of this reading in the next post.

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