Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mormon Mysticism and the Tarot

Andrew’s previous post on the Book of Abraham got me thinking about Mormon mysticism and how it has been de-emphasized in the modern Church. In a way I hate to see the status of the Book of Abraham lowered among mainstream Church members because it is the last bastion of Joseph Smith’s mystical bent. Mysticism as it exists in the Church today is interesting. There is still a place where the Three Nephites, the planet Kolob, temple ties to Masonry, numerology and such are discussed, but these things are treated more as folklore and legend than essential components of our faith.
One of today’s most active proponents of Mormon mysticism is Kerry Shirts–known in the Bloggernacle as the “Backyard Professor.” Some of the scholarly work he has done in the way of mysticism has to do with the Tarot. His notes on Mormonism and the Tarot date back to 2003. Tarot cards interest me because I absolutely adore religious symbolism. Here we find a plethora of images which illuminate our faith journeys. Shirts explains that there is nothing Satanic in the investigation of this type of mysticism:

It is full of various meanings, etymologies, parallels, etc. I will look at the clothes on the Tarot cards, the hand gestures, the attitudes expressed on the faces of the people, the colors, the background, the foreground, the hidden words, numbers, etc. I will analyze the Biblical meanings, the Ancient Far and Near Eastern meanings, the American meanings, the Indian meanings, etc. I will use the scriptures of the world, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, D&C, and PofGP, the Upanishads, Magic, Kabbalah, etc. I make no apology for roaming the world over using any and all cultural icons, symbols, meanings, and ideas, to extract and learn about the largest amount of information and insight into this magnificent group of symbols called the Tarot Cards.
Tarot cards have been adapted by many artists and schools of thought–such as the card from a Native American deck like the one on the left.  Recently Shirts and some of his cohorts have suggested a Mormon tarot. Imagine, for example, a “Fool” card picturing Adam in the beginning; just after receiving the breath of life. He is innocently and curiously playing throughout the garden of Eden. His pre-mortal memories are hidden in the bag upon his stick. He is about to step off the cliff and begin the Divine Descent–the Fall. Symbolically, the Fool does not have the connotation of a silly or stupid person, or one who lacks judgment.  Rather, the Fool “is the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world. The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool’s wisdom and exuberance.”  As does Adam, the Fool card typifies “every man” on an archetypal journey into the world.
Cards have been suggested incorporating Mormon symbolic figures such as the Nauvoo temple, the sacred grove, the First Vision, Joseph Smith, and Emma; as well as other scriptural themes. A Yahoo group is now working on further ideas for a Mormon tarot deck. (Mormon-Tarot) (The card on the right comes from this yahoo group site. Update: the flaming Nauvoo Temple Key was a proof of concept Tarot card which was created by Joe Steve Swick specifically for demonstration purposes and serves as a graphic for their Yahoo group. )  Although I can’t imagine what the uses of such a deck might be among Church members, I admit I find the idea of developing such a spiritual resource very intriguing.
Do you think mysticism still has a place in the Church today? Do you see mysticism as an aid to spirituality within Mormonism? Even if you can’t go so far as to collaborate on the development of a Mormon tarot deck, what types of mysticism do you think you would be able to accept and embrace?

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