Natural Selection

"Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound. Not in one case out of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or that part has varied. But whenever we have the means of instituting a comparison, the same laws appear to have acted in producing the lesser differences between varieties of the same species, and the greater differences between species of the same genus."—Charles Darin, On the Origin of Species

Now, we start with Darwin's quotation because in this I think we see in his humility and yet his confidence that his method of determining what is likely to be true was being tested as well as it could be given the limitations of his time and technology.

Of course the truly striking thing about Darwin was, given what he admitted was his profound ignorance, he was nevertheless capable of achieving intuitive insights that have held up over the years, and of course the greatest is the general theory he crafted which is one of the most important human ideas, if not the most important one, ever thought by anyone.

In a recent article about the importance of Darwin's legacy, Olivia Judson notes that many biologists have never actually read Darwin's seminal work, On the Origin of Species.

Technically, she notes, it isn't really necessary to do so. All the information one needs to absorb is actually available in other works, and as she says, many people having attempted to read Darwin confess the same thing: he's boring! At least, it is boring to read all of his work in one go.

Chiefly, Judson says, this is because the work is old, in large ways obsolete—the ignorance Darwin complained about has been addressed and our knowledge much filled in since his time—and then there are the problems which sound as if they should not be so:

"Two other factors make the “Origin” a demanding read today. The first is that Darwin’s own knowledge of the diversity of life is immense, and he assumes the reader will be familiar with a wide range of organisms...This means either skating over...words and just absorbing the gist of what he is saying, or spending a lot of time looking things up. Which is fine—but as a result, getting full meaning from the text requires a certain level of prior knowledge, a large dollop of enthusiasm, a good guidebook, or participation in a discussion group."

"The other thing that makes the “Origin” tricky is that the text is stuffed with facts and speculations, and it is hard to know which of them are still taken seriously and which are obsolete."

But she says "Yet while this is sometimes frustrating, it is also inspiring. He has so many ideas!"

And she points out that unlike so many other people with a lot of ideas, Darwin's mind generated a flood of truly interesting ones.

Judson concludes with something that, along with the other things we have said here, should resonate with those of us who have been studying Tarot and the occult for some time:

"But to me, perhaps the most important is that reading the “Origin” is a window into a mind. A rich and fertile mind, with a holistic view of nature...A mind that sees the brutality of the natural world—the wasps that lay their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars (the caterpillars are then eaten alive by the growing larvae), the stupendous death rates of most creatures—and sees that from the terrible slaughter, great beauty can arise"

There is much in that view of things that resonates deeply with an occult view of Nature, and particularly with the Thelemic worldview of Aleister Crowley. And just as Darwin is much admired and followed today, but often goes unread, so Crowley and for that matter A. E. Waite and their occult colleagues are talked about, and understood to be important, but are often neglected when it comes to actually reading their important works.

Crowley's ideas, which as I say rendered a worldview which is very close to the one Judson articulates as Darwin's, are so abstruse that very few people spend much time trying to understand them. His works, which do also contain the ideas of a "rich and fertile mind", are generally beyond all but the inner circle of serious occult students. The few works which are more accessible can be challenging because in plain terms, his theories often come off sounding more upsetting than anything else, just as the implications of Darwin's ideas still upset so many people, particularly in the United States.

Yet, for those who would make the effort to tackle the original works of the Tarot occultists, there can be many rewards, not the least of which is having a real chance, certainly not offered by the many pop Tarot works available, of understanding occult Tarot for what it really is and what it really says.

I sometimes run into an argument, I did so today, that says we shouldn't bother ourselves much or at all with what artists say or think about their works, because once the art is released to the world, it is open to our collective interpretation, and so the artist's input is merely one of many possible points of view.

That might work when listening to friends talk about movies, which I would point out utilize a language in which we are all trained from birth, but it usually just makes for terribly tedious reading when an ignorant person starts inventing interpretations for Tarot symbolism.

Occult Tarot is a language. It must be learned to understand it. That can be frustrating to people who imagine the newage sentiment that nobody is wrong has some truth to it. But Tarot was never invented to be multicultural or inclusive or politically or otherwise comforting. It was always intended to illustrate the ideas and processes of initiation, which are necessarily challenging to one's core beliefs and understandings.

Finally, we only have so much time on this planet in this life. How we choose to spend it is a kind of natural selection, where certain ideas we may hold are given opportunities to thrive while others die or are never given any chance to take hold. Occultists teach us it is better to get a blending of ideas, to allow in and to consider those thoughts which in fact contradict what we hold to be inviolably true. And this is not because we should have an expectation that these cherished beliefs are insufficient or faulty, but because to truly understand their significance, and to test their power, we must understand those ideas against which they are posed. Of course there is a danger in this, that we may decide that the counterposed ideas are better ones, or and this is truly interesting, that we shall see the truth demands a marriage between what we had thought were exclusive positions.

So be it. Better that risk (which is only that of learning the truth) than a life bled dry by the fear of knowledge and its change-inducing powers.