Pratchett’s Epiphany

In Hogfather, his amusingly cynical meditation on the nature of truth and belief, satirical fantasy writer Terry Pratchett depicted DEATH, who always spoke ominously IN CAPITAL LETTERS, arguing with his stubborn rationalist granddaughter Susan about the need for children to practice believing life’s “little lies” (like the Hogfather – aka Santa Claus,  the Tooth Fairy, or the illusion that the Sun actually “rises” in the morning sky) in  order to be able to swallow the “big lies” when they’re older (like the assertion that justice and mercy are inherent qualities of an impersonal and indifferent Universe) . DEATH observed that humans need to accept the imaginative assurances of fantasy in order to aspire to the Divine, to “be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” (I won’t get into Richard Dawkins’ disparaging opinions on religious credulity here.) But the quote at the end of the argument that really grabbed me and became the inspiration for this post was:

“YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE.  HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME?”

I’m fond of mentioning the Buddhist tenet that has been conveniently translated for Western minds as “you make your own reality” (although, as I understand it, the gist of the Buddha’s statement was more along the lines of “as you think, so you become” and not “wishing will make it so”). It underlies every form of aspirational self-hypnosis (and self-delusion) originating with mesmerism in the 18th Century, passing through the New Thought movement and the “Power of Positive Thinking” promises of Norman Vincent Peale, and culminating in today’s popular and very similar Law of Attraction. While I don’t think it’s as simple or automatic as “ask and you shall receive,” these ideas are not entirely foreign to how I believe the tarot “works.”

In his book The Tarot, French writer Joseph Maxwell summarized it as a property of the querent’s subconscious mind that is revealed through the acts of shuffling, cutting, dealing and reading the cards. He termed the reader’s skill in deciphering the results “the gift of vaticination, that is, the faculty of being able to read the information possessed by the enquirer about his past, present and future. Coming events cast a shadow before them; each individual has a presentiment about his own destiny, which may remain latent: the normal processes of consciousness do not include such presentiments.”

More precisely, the querent subconsciously “knows” something of the likely future without being consciously aware of that knowledge; it is the role of divination to bring that rudimentary understanding into sharp focus, and in the process to convince the querent that something shown in the cards that has not yet been proven to be true is in fact a faithful representation of what is to come. What the querent does with the information will dictate whether a “good” forecast will become reality, or whether a “bad” one will be circumvented. As we all like to say, “Nothing is carved in stone.”

DEATH had a few more cogent observations:

“IT IS THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE WHICH MAKE YOU HUMAN.  GOOD THINGS AND BAD THINGS, IT’S ALL THE SAME.”

and

“MERE ACCUMULATION OF OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE IS NOT PROOF.”

The querent may in fact possess the foreknowledge to get a leg up on future developments before they become incontrovertible fact, and that latent awareness can be imparted to the cards through what I call “subconscious induction” (assuming, of course, that the querent personally shuffles and cuts the deck). But if there is no “suspension of disbelief” (the less robust cousin of outright “belief”) on the part of a skeptical or hesitant sitter in order to permit “buying into” the outcome of the reading, there will most likely be no reliable channeling of that information through the conduit of the querent’s subconscious, and the reading will ultimately fail in its purpose of motivating that individual.

2 thoughts on “Pratchett’s Epiphany

  1. Yes, I believe that’s the one I found when I did a Wikipedia search a while ago on the phrase “we create our own reality.” It’s also where I learned that the Western application has a slightly different inflection. Thanks for the input.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s