A few days ago we were watching an American news program (we will withhold the name of the cable outfit) when the lady host, accompanied by a gentleman, said that a Canadian woman had publicly returned the few stones and pieces of brick that she had clandestinely taken form the archeological site of Pompeii many decades ago because she felt they had brought great tragedies to her life, including cancer. She prudently announced the news without making any additional commentary. But the man (what’s new pussycat?) decided to wisely interject a supposedly funny joke. –“Oh, we didn’t know that we had been having bad luck due to the coals,” he said.
We have observed the same derogatory attitude against issues or events that, without having a solid scientific explanation at present, might have some valid elements. When we were 12 years old, we spent a long summer in the apartment belonging to Marta Salguero, a.k.a. Memé, my paternal grandmother, and Ricardo Laplume, my paternal grandfather. They lived in La Ciudad Vieja, the old section of Montevideo that dates way back to the time of the Spanish colonization in the seventeen and eighteenth centuries; at the time it was circled by an enclosing stone and brick wall. Near the ancient Catholic Cathedral in the Plaza Matriz (opposite what was the seat of the colonial authorities across the central square) a street named Sarandí, had, and still has, several lovely quaint little shops and cozy cafes, favored by the European and American tourists visiting my great city of birth.
One day, coming back from a leisurely stroll in the square, I passed by a little shop full of antiques on display at the big street window; prodded by my youthful desire to have new experiences, I decidedly stepped inside it. After making just a few steps inside, I was abruptly accosted by a cacophony of various voices that spoke at the same time in different tones and languages.
Vaguely we remember that when we looked at an old fashioned rocking horse, a boyish voice emerged saying in Spanish: “It’s my turn now…Get off it.” When we abruptly turned our gaze to a delicately painted Bavarian set of dinnerware, we heard the authoritarian summons of a man in Sicilian dialect saying: “This soup is cold…Fix it.” We remember that we paused with the melancholic look of a Victorian doll that whispered in English: “I miss you…”
The old man that tended the shop noticed my big distress and escorted me back to the front door. He told me the following: “Take a deep breath and calm down…I know what you are going through now…Stay here.” He went back inside and came back a few seconds later with a glass of fresh water. I was feeling very dizzy. I gulped it.
He told me that it took him some time to get used to “those voices” but that the process had been gradual as he had inherited the business from his late father’ he used to take him to the shop on a regular basis, for little periods of time until he got used to it. He had been slowly inoculated against the anguished voices of the past that speak through the objects they had cherished and collected during their past lifetimes. Thanking him for his help, we skedaddled and never returned to that little shop. We even crossed to the other side of the street when we unavoidably had to pass by it on our way to the Avenida 18 de Julio.
Always reluctant to visit shopping venues, we nonetheless like to wander in modern places like one of the outlets from the Swedish Ikea, checking all their practical objects, buy something we might need, and if possible, have lunch with their delicious meatballs. We like to smell the fresh wood from the furniture and enjoy their fabulous lighting.
But visiting an antique store or auction, no matter how prestigious they might be? Fuggedaboutit!
After the necessary Introduction to Tarot, we will slowly, very slowly, proceed to discuss the significance of all the trump cards of the Major Arcana. Considering that each of these 22 cards represent a major scene in the lives of humans, we will try to decipher the philosophical and psychological substratum that justify their inclusion there. We would like to thank the great web resources offered by Brigit in her page Biddy Tarot, which has been a fecund source of awakenings in our studies. We strongly recommend that you visit her page for that precious mentoring.
First of all, let us warn you that the interpretation of each card, besides relying on the opinion of experts of this esoteric discipline, will be unavoidably “tainted” by our own opinions, experiences and, pour quoi pas?, a little bit of prejudicing. After intensively sharing feelings and actions with our loved ones, friends, colleagues (friends and foes) and strangers galore, we know a thing or two about Life itself. Moreover, we are especially interested in exploring the cultural, sociological andpsychological substratum behind each major card, for which we will make some “more or less” educated guesses about their importance for the whole deck, This will constitute our personal opinion and you are welcome to dissent and critique it.
Ladies and gentlemen, shall we make that scary first move and step into the Tarot realm? Hold our hand and let’s go.
I – THE FOOL
This card is traditionally numbered as O because it can be both the first and the last card in the sequence of the Major Arcana. It represents our journey through Life. The idea that a man (or a woman bien sur) is a naïve operator manipulated by hidden forces or individuals, that stay largely in the coulisses without expressing their aim, has been a constant concept in Philosophy since the times of Ancient Greece. The only three major plays of Sophocles that, sadly, have been successfully transmitted to us—Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone—are good examples of that disquieting premise: humans are influenced by decisive factors that often escape our volition.
Scared by a prophecy that their son would eventually kill his father and marry his mother, Laius and Jocasta entrusted a servant to take their infant away to get rid of him. Feeling pity for the boy, he passed him to a childless couple who raises him, without knowing his history. When he grew up, Oedipus became aware of that prophecy and runs away from his home, trying to put distance with his stepparents. At a crossroads, he encountered a noble man with an entourage of servants; they get into a fight and he killed him. It was Laius, his father, but he did not know it then. After solving the riddle of the Sphynx, he became the ruler of Thebes and married Jocasta, the widowed queen. When they learn the truth, Jocasta committed suicide and Oedipus blinded himself, before banishing himself from Thebes. At the end of the play, the chorus sings: “Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.” Can you possibly imagine a more depressing message to a very shocked public?
As we said in our previous article, The Fool is “a young man that, holding a walking stick with a small knapsack in his right hand and a white rose symbolizing innocence in his left one, is perilously standing at the edge of the precipice, with the company of a loyal little dog. Is it warning him of great danger if he makes another move forward? Or is it perhaps pushing him to quickly grab the big opportunity he has been waiting for? The answer is that both interpretations can be valid at some time.
The Upright Wisdom interprets the appearance of this card as a signal of a new start, in the labor, professional, financial, family or love realms; it also implies that the individual must take a leap of faith if he/she/ihr wants to have a radical change.
The Wisdom in Reverse interprets it as warning to pause in a specific endeavor or relationship. Danger lies eerily ahead, and the individual must re-evaluate options. If the individual stubbornly insists on moving forward, dire consequences come.
Strongly propelled by the vitality and enthusiasm of youth, Oedipus leaves his home to discover the world and make a name for himself. He resolutely pushes forward, without any misgivings, earning the ultimate prize in Ancient Greece: a kingdom. However, in hindsight he should have been wiser if he had paused for a brief moment to reflect on the succession of experiences that seemingly were all so successful. A word of caution for our readers: no durable victory comes so easily for mortals. The “easier it looks”, the more vigilant you must be. Don’t be a fool!
II – THE MAGICIAN
This is one of the more challenging cards to add to any scene because it always speaks of a new beginning (either under course or being sabotaged) that can change the whole life of an individual. It shows a man of wisdom raising his right hand to the Heavens above to receive Divine inspiration and re-transmitting it through his body to the left one pointing at the ground so it can be shared with other mortals. On top of his head we can clearly notice the sign of Infinity: infinite possibilities at work, studies, community activities, political affiliations, leisure, sports, and even love. We know form our Physics classes in High School that the Energy of the Universe is never lost, just channeled through different venues all the time, every time. He is signaling that we are at a critical junction of our lives and he is prodding us to act. Thoroughly empowered by the Divine inspiration, we must make a decisive move.
The Upright Wisdom for its interpretation when it is pulled in a reading is that the concerned individual must take advantage of the Divine inspiration to finally engage in doing what he/she/ihr has been quietly, discreetly ruminating for a very long time. No more procrastination. No more self-doubting. No more vagaries. Time to act.
The Wisdom in Reverse interprets the pulling of this card as a sign that the concerned individual should evaluate attitudes, beliefs, behavior, feelings, or fears that might be blocking the expression of that Divine inspiration ready to discharge. The stored energy must be quickly reclaimed for use in the family, labor, financial, community realms, etc., to achieve all the proposed objectives so intensively desired.
Let us go back to those somber, damp, eerie dwellings of our ancestors in the caves, gathering around a crackling fire and holding hands to fend off the Unknown outside. Facing some terrifying elements in their close environment, they clung to the hope that there would be “someone” or “something” that will rescue them as a last resort. Then and there we started to engage into magical thinking to change our Reality. For centuries, explorers and travelers have lit a camp fire when they decided to stop their journey for a night. It would “scare” beasts and bad spirits away.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Magical Thinking is “the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words, or use of symbols can influence the course of events in the material world. Magical thinking presumes a casual link between one’s inner, personal experience and the external physical world.”
The advent of Sociology and Anthropology as sciences in the beginning of the 19th century consolidated the triumph of Rational-Cartesian thinking in the evaluation of human activities, including the practice of religions. Reasonably reacting against the asphyxiating religiosity of the previous centuries and the unabashed encroachment of the religious institutions in the civic space of the citizenry, the latter started to question their foundations as superstitious exercises in unbridled magical thinking. Moreover the Industrial Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century and the strides in scientific knowledge that improved the living standards of millions worldwide, had the effect of ascribing the “magical thinking” to a list of relics from our distant past.
Sigmund Freud argued that there are two basic processes of Human Thought:
Primary processes: they are ruled by the Id, our pleasure principle, which frees them from the physical constraints of Reality, enabling magical thinking.
Secondary processes: they are a more sophisticated development controlled by the Ego, which constantly monitors them for their rational bearings.
Freud considered that the intellectual development of human beings, from the early world of impulses and magical thoughts to the rationality of science-based evidence, mirrors the evolution of human societies from the magical-religious to modernity. Studying the evolution of children, Jean Piaget affirmed that children aged 7-8 years old believe that their individual actions have effects in the physical world; recent research questions it, coming up with data of a less pronounced egocentrism.
In spite of all our rational scaffolding, the result of years, even decades, of sustained studies and work experiences, we, the adults, might also engage in magical thinking. For example, after our mother Gladys passed away, my brother Gustavo told me:
-“You know that sometimes I speak with Mom in silence…”
-“Of course, I do that all the time. And with Dad too…After having the privilege of two outstanding parents, we must continue the ongoing conversation with them.”
One of the critical steps in managing the great grief of a family loss is the following:
Before you were here…Now you are there… But our loving bond stays
As we have already discussed in our previous article titled Introduction to Tarot, the traditional deck is divided into two types of cards, which are basically different:
Major Arcana: these special cards represent the major milestones and critical junctions of our life cycle: birth, education, work, love, death, etc.
Minor Arcana: these cards represent the multiple vicissitudes in our lives.
In this article, before we address the significance of the combinations, we would like to discuss some basic concepts, which are of critical importance for novices like us. Let us first recommend the excellent book Truly Easy Tarot by Mantis, which has clarified many concepts and turned out to be a springboard in our Mystical Quest. The Major Arcana are the trump cards of a tarot pack and they were initially used in the 17th century as a special deck for gambling. There are 22 of these in a traditional 78-card pack; they are numbered with Roman numerals from 0 to 21. Each one depicts a scene with one or more individuals, with a clearly defined symbology.
According to the experts, each trump card has a divine interpretation, which appears to the sensitive individual when it is laid on the table in a straightforward manner. However, when the cards show up inverted, it means that the particular feature alluded by the symbology is, at the present time, “blocked” or “restrained” in that life. Some experts never read in the reverse mode, but others consider that reading to be highly complementary in our lives, similar to the Ying and Yang of the I Ching. The concept of matching of the opposites is fundamental to our understanding of it.
The flourishing of esoteric endeavors and secret societies in 19th century Europe did propel Tarot to a greater diffusion in the popular classes and its use as a divination tool. But there was a pioneer in Psychology that valued it as a good tool to explore the tenebrous depths of our Subconscious and Collective Memory. According to Mary K. Greer, Karl Jung said in a 1933 lecture that the Tarot deck was “really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism.” He believed that the different combinations of scenes are in fact archetypal ideas related to “the playful development of mankind.” He daringly claimed that if we understand how we evolved from our past (collective and personal) into our present coordinates, we might be able to “grasp the flow of life” and, hopefully, predict part of our future. He instructed his pupils to study esoteric disciplines but warned them to approach them, not with the arrogance of the Cartesian discourse, but with the raw intuition that our ancestors used to great advantage in those dangerous times in dark caves.
We would like to humbly recommend two tactics that have eased our learning process of Tarot. They are:
The importance of Movement in the interpretation of the combinations.
We should tap into our Subconscious and Collective Memory.
For many, many years we have cavalierly disdained Tarot in general because, as a physician long trained in scientific certainty and aversion to quackery, we suspected that, besides any intrinsic values, it had been used by charlatans to reap easy money. Indeed it has, and still is, manipulated by callous individuals that prey on innocents. However, the preparation of this blogging series—the necessary scaffolding for a book—prodded us to seriously tackle all these esoteric activities with an open mind.
The various combinations of the deck can be considered as a snapshot of an ongoing motion in the life of an individual (or a group of them) that started in the past,arrives at our present and will project into the future. The Major Arcana cards depict a scene where someone is doing something or being the subject of somebody else’s actions. Let’s look at the example of Card Number 0 The Fool. What is he doing? Find the meaning of movement.
He is a young man that, holding a walking stick with a small knapsack in his right hand and a white rose symbolizing innocence in his left one, is perilously standing at the edge of the precipice, with the company of a loyal little dog. Is it warning him of great danger if he makes another move forward? Or is it perhaps pushing him to quickly grab the big opportunity he has been waiting for? The answer is that both interpretations can be valid at some time.
The Upright Wisdom interprets the appearance of this card as a signal of a new start, in the labor, professional, financial, family or love realms; it also implies that the individual must take a leap of faith if he/she/ihr wants to have a radical change.
The Wisdom in Reverse interprets it as warning to pause in a specific endeavor or relationship. Danger lies eerily ahead, and the individual must re-evaluate options. If the individual stubbornly insists on moving forward, dire consequences will come.
Are you slowly getting the drift of what we are, perhaps rather clumsily, trying to convey in our words?
Subconscious and Collective Memory
Since we sought refuge in those dark caves in the beginning of Mankind’s presence on Planet Earth, we have cozied up to our loved ones besides a crackling fire and fallen asleep to give a necessary pause to our Conscious minds. That is precisely when the Subconscious takes over center stage in the theater of our lives to act upon. Slowly, we play past experiences, our present fears, our hidden traumas, our hopes. The Subconscious is the reservoir of all the experiences that are deemed to be part of the hiddenhuman experience— good ones, bad ones, and the ones in between. Moreover, ever since we start our life in the depths of our dear mothers’ wombs, we are already receiving their filtrations. Every minute of our lives, we are hoarding many souvenirs and interpretations that we will readily re-transmit to our kindred, for better or worse. It is never a choice. We get them, like it or not…Can’t escape it.
In order to shut off the tremendous bombardment of noise and unsolicited messages that our excessively digitalized society throws at our senses, we must take a pause. After carefully looking at the cards laid on the table, we should close our eyes for a few seconds and seek the help of our Subconscious mind. Toc. Toc. Toc. Need help.
Take the necessary time to sit down at the majestic library of our accumulated Human Knowledge and calmly pore over the dusty manuscripts and manuals of the ones that preceded us. They are still talking to us through them. Then you may find some critical clues of what is happening today and, hopefully, what will happen tomorrow.
In the next installment of this series, we will start to analyze those scenes together. Do not panic. We can do this.
When we were in Primary School in Montevideo, Uruguay, we first made contact with Don Quijote de La Mancha and Miguel de Cervantes, its renowned author. He was the first writer to use realistic storytelling techniques that departed from the pompous and superficial prose of the Middle Ages, which heralded modern writing. Usually they depicted him as an elegant gentleman who, majestically sitting at his impeccable desk with a plume in his hand, methodically worked at his writings.
Nothing could be further from the truth. He was a soldier of fortune, a shameless businessman, a gambler, a womanizer, a provocateur who was sent to jail for his bad debts. In fact some unconfirmed accounts say that once he was sent to jail by the powerful mayor of a city in Castilla La Mancha because he dared to praise the good looks of his young sister after the Sunday church services ended. Some even affirm that he started writing El Quijote in one of those forced stays. If you want to know more about his life, please read our past article in Testimonials.
In the early Seventeenth Century (Don Quijote was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615) the Spanish population was shocked by the numerous trials of witches carried out by the Inquisition and the continuous propagation of mendacious rumors. In 1610 there was a massive criminal process and auto da fé against several women of the village of Zugarramurdi in Navarra by the inquisitor Juan Valle Alvarado. Moreover, most of the Spanish population was living in small rural villages, where superstitions abounded, especially about the belief that animals could predict events.
Having lived in a farm, we can attest to the fact, that even in our digitalized times of plenty of streaming options for non-stop entertainment, most farmers in remote areas, men and women alike, will go to bed every night and, after completing some religious rituals or taking care of marital duties, they do the same thing: prep the ear. They assiduously listen to “the voices of the night”, which in normal circumstances are dominated by those resilient troubadours of the shadowy world: dogs and cats. Many believe that dogs in particular can detect the smell of death and predict one; they might be also capable of spotting the presence of wandering, restless spirits. The mewing of a black cat at midnight is considered as an omen of impending death. One difference that you learn quick enough when you listen to the concert of nightly sounds is that there is an ominous undertone to a dog’s howling, but not its barking.
Professor E.C.Riley said that in the second part of Don Quijote, the author used the omens (called augurios in Castilian language) as a strong rhetorical tool in the text. Cervantes used two metaphors to refer to Dulcinea del Toboso, Don Quijote’s belle and Impossible Love, which were represented by a hare and a cage for crickets.
In the beginning of Chapter IX of the Second Part, Cervantes narrates the arrival of the two novel characters in Toboso, the village where Dulcinea lived, at midnight.
“No se oía en todo el lugar sino ladridos de perros, que atronaban los oídos de Don Quijote, y turbaban el corazón de Sancho. De cuando en cuando rebuznaba un jumento, gruñían puercos, mayaban gatos, cuyas voces, de diferentes sonidos, se aumentaban con el silencio de la noche, todo lo cual tuvo al enamorado caballero a mal agüero,”
“You could hear in all the place nothing but barking of dogs, that thundered in the ears of Don Quixote, and troubled the heart of Sancho. From time to time a mule brayed, the pigs growled, the cats mewed, whose voices, of different sounds, rose with the silence of the night, all of which felt like a bad omen to the knight in love.”
In his book, Pedro Ciruelo said there were three omen types in Cervantes’s times:
Omens based on the movements of animals, including the birds.
Omens based on the movements of human beings, either physical or spiritual.
Omens based on the interpretation of what someone else does or says.
After the furtive entrance of the knight and his page in the village, which is tainted by the first type of omens, Cervantes places the second type in a rather special place. In his times, there were many popular tales of apparitions in cemeteries at nighttime. Searching for Dulcinea’s house in total darkness, they spot a big building nearby.
“-Con la iglesia hemos dado, Sancho.
-Ya lo veo—respondió Sancho—y plega a dios que no demos con nuestra sepultura, que no es buena señal andar por los cementerios a tales horas…”
“-We came across the church, Sancho.
-I can see—Sancho replied—and pray that we will not bump into our graveyards, because it is not a good signal to wander in the cemeteries at this time of the day…”
In this type of omen, the fact that they might be wandering in hallowed ground at night constitutes a bad signal for the ultimate outcome of their foray: find Dulcinea.
After discussing for some time about how the residence of Dulcinea might look like, they come across a lone humble peasant who seemed to be on his way to work in the field. But he was carrying a subtle message for them.
“Venia el Labrador cantando aquel romance que dicen:
Mala la hubistes, franceses,
En esa de Roncesvalles.”
“The peasant approached singing that romantic tune that said:
Bad you had it, Frenchmen,
In that episode of Roncesvalles.”
During our studies in the Lycée Français , we learned about the Chanson de Roland, an 11th century epic tale (chanson de geste) describing the 778 ambush and demise of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, together with his army when they were crossing back into France, through the mountain pass of Roncesvaux in the Western Pyrénées. The casual recall of the battle where the knight Roland lost his life and army might constitute a bad omen about a possible happy ending for their quest: find Dulcinea.
We might not know for sure whether Cervantes was superstitious or not, but we have the certitude, based on his writings, that he was well aware of their significance.
Note. The above tableau was painted by Pablo Picasso.
-“Doctor…I sleep with only one eye closed—my son sleepwalks.”
Brenda X. is a pleasant lady in her thirties that has been babysitting her son aged seven years since he was three years old because he has a special clinical condition that can expose him to harm. She is always on the watch because he has frequent bouts of somnambulism and she dutifully escorts him around during his nightly forays.
When we were a little child, we often sat up suddenly in bed and walked to the living room of our apartment in Montevideo to sit down and chat; sporting a glazed over look, we were tagged by our dear father Mario who kept watch: he never tried to “wake us up”, a bad idea according to Dr. Penco, our great pediatrician. He reassured our parents that usually those episodes disappear as children grow up; in fact, after peaking at 3- 4 years old, this activity started to wane and then stopped. We never had any more episodes nor any recollections of them.
The sleep walking episodes occur during the initial or Non-REM phase of sleep in the initial third phase of the cycle when slow activity predominates. Sleepwalking is more common in children and its prevalence can reach up to 10% of the population; it can be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Patients with sleepwalking have a rise of brief arousals in the EEG tracing.
Sigmund Freud said that the unconscious sexual desires of the “Id” are usually repressed by the “Super Ego” during the waking period but when the conscience dims down, they surface to take control of the person’s volition. Those impulses metamorphose into dreams and in certain cases into motor impulses that can prod the individual to walk and talk. Sleepwalking has been adduced to be an attenuating factor in many crimes by the defense attorneys. It could be a trait in persons with agitated legacies like being born in the convulsed Celtic festivity of Samhein.
The above article was originally written in May 2017 for the series Emotional Frustration, which constituted the scaffolding for our homonymous book. As many years have passed since we presumably had one incident of sleepwalking, we thought that were totally. However, during the Social Distancing imposed by the pandemic, my son Gian Luca and I shared the same apartment for six months. He told us that once or twice, he would come in in the wee hours when I was asleep but that I would sit up on my bed to chat wide-eyed with him several minutes about where they had gone, what they had eaten, etc. Then I would immediately go back to resume my sleep. The following day, I would greet him when he was waking up and asked how the outing was. He looked at me blankly.
-“Dad, we talked all about it last night…Can’t you remember?” he said, a little exasperated.
-“Talked with me? No…After going to bed early last night, I slept the whole night like a baby.”
Mmm…it seems that our nightly adventures might still be far from over…
In spite of all its rich humanistic endowment, the authorities of the Catholic Church, in its more than two millennia of recorded history, have never shied away from savvy street survival tactics. When it encountered some strongly ingrained social traditions, oftentimes borne out of dark, superstitious, and dangerous periods of communities’ history and legacy, it has tried to co-opt certain so-called “pagan practices” to carry its religious dogma in a socially acceptable way. We have already discussed this strategy in our article about the Celtic feast of Samhein in Europe.
In Ancient Times, before the Spanish conquistadores ever set foot on their islands, the Filipino people had practiced a yearly ritual called kasilonawan for women that could not bear children, which lowered their social status considerably in the clans. Initially the concerned women danced in front of pagan deities, but the Franciscanmissionaries, that came with the occupying army, replaced them with three saints. The centralized festivities are now known as the Obando Feast, named after the little town of Manila Bay where it religiously occurs every May. Nowadays the rituals are played inside the church of San Pascual Baylon church and in highly structured mass processions, both featuring a five-step dance, whose choreography was modernized in 1993.
Portia Ladrido, a CNN contributor, said in a report: “The dance is held inside the church, and one would expect a more solemn celebration, but the dance is more of a lively production rather than a sacred prayer. There is a host (or sort of hype man) who pronounces what kind of petition one is asking for (“SA mga gusto magka-anak…Sayaw!” he shouts) and the crowd proceeds to waltzing.” The enthusiasm for this dance is so intense that, not only there are tutorial videos about how to shake the leg, but the parish authorities posted their version in the Facebook page.
The town of Obando, in Manila Bay, has been “the town of three saints” for a long time. San Pascual Baylon and Santa Clara are two saints whose devotion was introduced by the Franciscan missionaries before the parish foundation in 1753. Our Lady of Salambao , the third saint, evokes the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1763. We should imagine the profound emotional shock that word of the Virgin’s arrival might have had in the largely illiterate and poor residents of the area. A sign of Hope. Local lore states that in 1763 three brothers, who were fishing in Manila Bay, found a statue of the Virgin Mary in their net. When they tried to head back to their hometown of Malambo, their boat would not move, but when they changed its direction to Obando, it immediately propelled forward. Like all the acts of pure faith, you either believe it or not.
In an extensive report in Catholics and Cultures, they said: “May is an exceedingly hot and humid month, so Masses for each feast day begin before dawn in the relative cool of the morning. Each of the three days has a similar format, though each celebrates a different saint at the front of the procession and in church, while the others two follow behind in the procession.” Even though the plaza in front of the church is filled with many vendors peddling all kind of merchandise like amulets, souvenirs, commemorating eggs, etc., it is swiftly cleared before the processions. The local parish does its brisk business too, with some sisters selling saints’ images and seminarians selling eggs with ribbons of different colors, representing “wishes.” The hourly morning masses are packed with attendees, even spilling over into the plaza.
At 8 AM, the procession starts in the plaza, with marching bands, dances (some of the costumed dancers are hired by pilgrims with wishes) and the public; unlike other Catholic processions, there is not a formal presence of parish authorities in the ritual. The dancing ritual was streamlined into a modern choreography presentation with the following 5 steps:
The dancers clasp their hands with the thumbs pointing upward toward the heart while thy chant “Lord, we believe that You will give us a child.”
The feminine dancers push their belly forward while their partners have their backs, all chanting “Lord, please heal me.”
The feminine dancers move their palms clockwise, imitating the massage of an abdomen carrying a child, with their partners still backing them, and all chanting “Lord, please heal me.”
The partners embrace to show their common objective of having a child.
They dance together, rhythmically swaying their hands from left to right.
There are multiple accounts of successful outcomes, which fosters interest in the May ritual; most of the attendees had previously sought medical help or were even undergoing fertility treatments. They considered the ritual as only a complement. For couples frustrated for not bearing a child (something that many of us can relate to) a few days of maladroit dancing in the Obando plaza is akin to buying a Lotto ticket.
As the old Castilian saying goes: “La suerte es loca y a cualquiera le toca.”
Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.
Note. The above saying means: “Luck is unpredictable and can favor anybody.”
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”
Thus Salvador Dali summarized his irrepressible urges during his agitated and prolific artistic career. In a twisted Schumpeterian version for the visual arts, he indefatigable destroyed its old paradigms and, at the same time, designed totally new ones. He created something called “paranoia-criticism”—a novel artistic concept; he considered it as a philosophy of art he described as “the irrational understanding based on the interpretive- critical association of delirious phenomena.”
Born in Figueres, Catalonia, he was deeply influenced by Impressionism and the pictorial masters of the Renaissance at a young age, but later shifted to Cubism, until finally settling in Surrealism in the late 1920s. The Persistence of Memory, his best-known tableau, was completed in August 1931. During the Spanish Civil War, he took refuge in France, and after it ended, he moved to the USA where he enjoyed a significant commercial success. In 1948 he had a sudden rapture of religious fervor and he went back to Spain, which was under the joke of dictator Francisco Franco.
The breadth and scope of his artistic interests is simply unique and admirable: painting, graphic arts, film, sculpture, design, photography, fiction, and poetry, etc. He had the collaboration of many artists in these endeavors, often attracted to his eclectic and flamboyant personality; some critics complained that his flashy lifestyle was drawing more attention than the actual artistic value of his production per se. However, his extravagant public demeanor was, and still is, seared in his production.
As all the trendsetting creators, Salvador Dali strove to be in “total control” of his production, which made him extremely superstitious; he always carried around in his pocket a small piece of driftwood that he claimed was useful to ward off the evil. He set up unconventional means and unusual surroundings to give his lectures; in one of them he donned a diving bell helmet and suit that almost suffocated him. Dali used fantastic dreams and irrational propositions to try to express the Subconscious. Following the early pathways of Hieronymus Bosch, he adhered to a “fantastic” concept of art, drawing mythical creatures and human beings in bizarre landscapes.
Dali never wavered from any expression of unremitting narcissism and felt to the last day of his life that he could be somehow spared from his inevitable final demise. In July 1986, his physician strongly advised him to have a pacemaker implanted, which he finally relented to. When he returned to his theater-museum in Figures, he had a brief press conference where he famously and insolently said:
“When you are a genius, you do not have the right to die because we are necessary for the progress of humanity.”
In those somber times dwelling deep in the dampened caves, Life was not cheap for Humankind. For our early ancestors on Planet Earth, their life expectancy was cruelly too short, close to thirty years plus. And the traumatic aftermath of childbirth made death after delivery quite common. We can picture a distraught man weeping over the body of a companion that had passed away.
In his book The Uncanny, Sigmund Freud remarked the powerful grip that “the ghostly” has in our human imagination, despite all the amazing technological feats. “To many people, the acme of the uncanny is represented by anything having to do with death, bodies, spirits, revenants, and ghosts…in hardly any sphere has our thinking and feeling changed so little since primitive times or the old been so well preserved, under a thin veneer, as in our relation to death.” In his book On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia, he speculated that we, humans, started to imagine if there might be an afterlife—and how it might look like—when we confronted the brutal reality of death of our loved ones. “The constant memory of the dead person became the foundation of the hypothesis of other forms of life, and first gave him the idea of continuing after apparent death.” Freud saw it as our mind’s projections.
James Joyce, who has a reputation of having been a man firmly anchored in the everyday reality of his environment, was in fact profoundly superstitious and wary of the spectral presences in his entourage, as we have already discussed in an article. In Ulysses, Bloom, its central character, said: “Something in all those superstitions because when you go our never know what dangers.” Even though he lived with his family for many years in Europe, Joyce carried inside him “the old haunts” of Dublin, his beloved city of birth. He confessed that “every day in every way I am walking along the streets of Dublin and along the strand. And ‘hearing voices’…”
The ghosts in early 20th century Ireland were not the highly structured creatures of the gothic literature, which can be easily dismissed as a product of literary fiction (and therefore unable to haunt and scare us) The Irish specters were rather familiar figures in a largely rural society that had not been touched by the Reformation. In Joyce’s Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory, Luke Gibbons said: “The cultural milieu of Joyce’s Ireland had similarly to undergo the full rigors of disenchantment but was no less integrated into modernity for all that. It is not so much that the ghost was general all over Ireland but that belief itself was kept at bay.”
For James Joyce, ghosts were a “work in progress” for his fellow Irish imaginations, which were under the yoke of British colonial rule at the time. The coexistence of strong Catholic dogma and the persistence of rural superstition was widespread. Describing Mrs. Kerman, one of his characters in Dubliners, he wrote: “Her beliefs were not extravagant. She believed steadily in the sacred Heart as the most generally useful of all Catholic devotions and approved of the sacraments. Her faith was bounded by her kitchen, but, if she was put to it, she could also believe also in the banshee and the Holy Ghost.” In traditional Irish folklore, the banshee is a female spirit who heralds the death of a family member by wailing, shrieking, or keening.
When Joyce’s characters are walking through the streets of Dublin, there is a florid description of the physical features found along their paths; however, there is at the same time a surreptitious suggestion of some “presences” or “absences” that tailgate them. In “his Dublin”, the streets were still illuminated with gaslight appliances, electricity still being a novelty reserved for the inside spaces. In fact the English word “gas” derives from the Dutch word for “ghost”—geest. In Joyce’s The Dead, the ghost of Michael Furey appears to Gabriel and Greta Conroy in a hotel room that was only illuminated by the “ghostly light” coming from the gaslight on the streets.
The apparition of ghosts might naturally represent a “refusal to let go” of sorely missed presences in our lives, but they might also constitute a “stepping stone” to pause for a moment while we try to find a way forward out of inertia, a desperate attempt to clinch to Life and a better future. It might be a most valuable psychological defense mechanism.
Joseph Brodsky said: “There is always something left over from the past, and that is the future.”
Note. The featured image is a picture of The Famine Memorial by the Liffey in Dublin. Attribution: ceridwen/ Famine Memorial by the Liffey CC BY-SA 2.0
Extremely anxious about the reception Ulysses—his epic novel—would receive, James Joyce chose his birthday as its official release date: February 2, 1922. That day two copies arrived by train to Paris: one for him and another one for Silvia Beach. She was the owner of Shakespeare and Company, a Rive Gauche bookseller that promoted and published his work. It turned out to be a lucky choice.
The inhabitants of Ireland have been gathering around the campfires for generations to share tales, music, and dancing, which has established their folklore as one of the richest and at the same time loosely defined set of inherited cultural norms and ideas. In those circumstances, the figure of the banshee emerged as a powerful, feared icon. Translated as the “fair lady” or the “lady from the mound”—refers to the countless mounds that dot the Irish countryside, which are called side—she is a wandering female spirit that heralds the death of a loved one by wailing, shrieking, or keening. The latter is a traditional form of exuberant lamenting for the dead individual that derives from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic term caoineadh, i.e. to cry.
When James Joyce’s mother passed away in 1903, he spent the night in a vigil with his sister Margaret to await her appearance as a ghost; she claimed that she did see her, but he did not. That experience inspired the passage of Ulysses where the revenant of Stephen Dedalus’ s mother came. “In a dream, she had come to him, her wasted body within its loose graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood.” In spite of his skepticism, Joyce’s work bear the indelible mark of superstition.
In his book titled Joyce’s Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory , Luke Gibbons said: “WB Yeats is often viewed as being away with the fairies of the Celtic twilight, whereas James Joyce is considered a man of this world, grounded in the prose of everyday life, Joyce, however, was not stranger to ghosts, or to the grief that takes leave of the senses.” In fact only in the beginning of the 20th century did electricity appear in Ireland, helping to fend off some of the disturbing apparitions that had been troubling its inhabitants.
One of the most diffused misconceptions regarding individuals that are “superstitious” is that they are keen to exteriorize their core beliefs out of their inner self, at all times. On the contrary. Those of us that have inherited that trait in our genetic material and cultural upbringing, are reluctant to talk about it with strangers. However, it infallibly does come across, not in what we say, but in what we do. When we sit down to create some work of art, that “endowment” starts to spill onto the piece of paper, or clay, or marble, or musical instrument we hold. We do not have any control over it. Never.
In Joyce’s writings, the troubling haunting of ghosts happen in critical junctions of the characters and it might be a signal of their mental breakdown. He wrote with precise focus about countless Dublin characters and physical places but his prose is imbued with the present and absent ethereal entities that had circulated in those same streets before. In Ulysses there are many references to ghostly figures. Luke Gibbon said: “Stephen is haunted by the ‘ghoul’ of his dead mother, whom he had forsaken on her deathbed due to his refusal to kneel down and pray. Bloom is haunted by the spirit of his infant son who died 11 days after his birth and who appears at the end of the Circe chapter in what could be a projection of a different kind: a magic lantern image.”
No matter how far we travel form our origins or how many years have elapsed since our departure from the source of that imprimatur, we feel its strong pull almost daily. James Joyce did feel the pull of the magical city of Dublin, even in his extended European stay. Once Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington asked him why he did not go back to his hometown. Joyce replied: “Have I ever left it?” The city of Dublin was deeply burrowed in his spirit.
During their long hours of boredom between their skirmishes with many foes , the Christian Knights of the Crusades—spared by their high social standing from the menial tasks for survival—liked to play cards with each other and with guests from different nationalities in their fortified redoubts, including the Mamluk Egyptians. The Mamluk Sultanate, based in Cairo, was a Sultanate with strong trading ties to their neighboring nations, including the contested Palestine of the Middle Ages. They inherited many cultural assets form Antiquity, including the Tarot card game.
Surreptitiously introduced in their baggage on their way back home—the European Continent was in the grip of the ultra-reactionary Inquisition that frowned upon almost any vehicle for having “a little fun”—the illustrated cards made their way to the polite nobility gatherings in Bologna, Vicenza, Milano, etc. Eventually some ingenious operators assigned values to some symbols—the divinatory Tarot cards. The earliest patterns of the cards represented Batons,Coins, Swords and Cups; the first documented set of cards appeared between 1440 and 1450 in Milano, Ferrara, Firenze, and Bologna; the Italian Wars disseminated the game all over the continent.
The Visconti-Sforza nobles of Milano—the very same ones that barbarically ate with their hands, which prodded a shocked Leonardo to invent the fork—commissioned the design of a tarot-like 60-card pack with 16 card sporting images of the Roman gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The 16 cards were labelled as “trumps” in allusion to the “triumphs” of the generous duke—a little deference for his gesture. Soon there were several Italian regional variants—like the Piemontese, Bolognese or Sicilian Tarocco—the French Tarot of Marseilles, the Swiss 1JJTarot, etc.
The 78-card Tarot deck used by experts has two separate line-ups:
The Major Arcana: seat of the big secrets or trump cards. It consist of 22 cards without suits that represent The Magician, The High priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Lovers, The Chariot, The wheel of Fortune, The devil, the Hanged Man, The Tower, the Sun, the Fool, etc. There are 21 numbered cards using Roman numerals; the Fool is the only one without one.
The Minor Arcana: seat of the lesser secrets. It consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each.
The Major Arcana cards represent the major stations of human life as we go on living; they represent all the archetypical situations encountered by The Fool (our proxy traveler) along the Roads of Life, starting at number 0 (himself) up to number 21. When one of these cards appear, something is afoot and we must pay extreme attention to it.
The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits: wands, pentacles, swords, and cups. They are supposed to complement the information provided by the trump cards and focus our attention into possible opportunities and/or avoiding harmful situations.
Aleister Crowley—inventor of the Troth deck—said: “The origin of the pack is very obscure…The only theory of ultimate interest about the Tarot is that it is an admirable symbolic picture of the Universe, based on the data of the Holy Qabalah.”