Book Review: Cribsheet

Cribsheet:  A Data-Driven Guide To Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth To Preschool, by Emily Oster

One of the most notable things that this book reveals, perhaps to the disadvantage of the author, is that in many aspects of parenting the data itself is interpreted based on what the particular person brings to the table.  Over and over again the author offers a discussion on various contentious matters of the “mommy wars” and demonstrates that there are nuanced and complicated matters that are more determined on what assumptions and values and worldviews a given parent looks at a given issue than on the actual insights that one can gain from the data.  Whether one looks at vaccines or breastfeeding, so many fights are not really dependent on the data itself but rather on one’s own beliefs and perspectives, and in this matter the author gives no help.  The author clearly comes from the side of left-leaning privileged parents who greatly lack an understanding of the moral dimensions of parenting, about which this book gives no help.  It should also go without saying, perhaps, that this book is aimed squarely at mothers because the author does not conceive that men could be interested in the subject of data-driven parenting and the way that a solid grasp of information can inform one’s decisions.

This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into four parts and 21 chapters.  The author begins with an introduction that promotes her data-driven approach.  After this there is a look at the period immediately after birth (I), looking at the first three days (1), taking the baby home from the hospital (2), and the author’s advice that mothers take the mesh underwear (3).  After that there are nine chapters that deal with the first year of a newborn’s life (II), such as breastfeeding (4), including a how-to guide (5), sleep position and location (6), organizing a baby (7), vaccinations (8), staying at home or going to work for mothers (9), who should take care of the baby (10), sleep training (11), and introducing solid food (12).  The third part of the book contains six chapters that look at the transition between baby and toddler (III), including chapters on physical milestone (13), edutainment for children (14), language development (15), potty training (16), toddler discipline (17), and education (18).  The book then ends with three chapters on the home front (IV), including home politics (18), expansions (19), growing up and letting go (20), as well as acknowledgements, suggestions for further reading, notes, and an index.

This book is not nearly as good as the author thinks it is.  Not only are the insights of data highly ambivalent and dependent on the initial conditions one brings to the available data, and not only are children highly different and frequently require an individual approach tailor-made to their own unique personalities, but the author herself has some major shortcomings in terms of her own perspective.  She seems to think that someone only becomes a parent after the child is born, not realizing that parenting begins from conception in the womb.  Frequently throughout the book there are various comments that indicate the general moral and ethical blindness of the author and her lack of knowledge about fundamental and biblical approaches to dealing with children, and a total lack of interest in questions of morality.  She seems frustrated that parents fight over aspects of parenting and exasperated with those who have different worldviews and perspectives than she does, and seems quite blind to the way that her own worldview has conditioned her to parent a certain way and that other people will bring very different (and often better) approaches to the table.  If you want a book by a permissive but data-driven leftist, something like the 538.com guide to parenting, this is your book, but it is not going to appeal to everyone.

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What Keeps Us From The Goal Of Biblical Meditation?

As we have discussed, the goal of biblical meditation is to develop oneness with God.  We have also discussed where we begin, alienated from God through our own sins and our corrupt human nature.  Yet a great many people have repented of their sins and seriously desire to follow God and yet find themselves feeling estranged from God even though this is the case.  Why is this so?  What is it that distorts the reality of the love that God our Father and Jesus Christ our brother have for us?  It is worthwhile to discuss such matters because they strike at the heart of what we seek through biblical meditation.  And it strikes at the heart of biblical meditation because what tends to fail us when it comes to feeling the intimacy that God has for us is our hearts in the first place.

This ought not to surprise us.  Jeremiah contrasts the believer who trusts in God as opposed to the wickedness and the deceitfulness of the heart in Jeremiah 17:7-10:  ““Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.  For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?  I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”  While the second part of this passage is familiar to us, it is worthwhile to consider the first part as well, which uses the familiar image of the tree that is securely planted (see, for example, the Tree of Life in Exodus 2 and 3, the tree of Psalms 1, and the tree spoken of in Revelation 21) to show someone who is confident and who trusts in God, and as a result does not fear or feel anxiety about their relationship with God.  Part of the deceitfulness and wickedness of the heart is the way that the fears and anxieties of the heart prey on us.  It is not merely that the heart itself is deceitful and wicked in terms of seeking to do wrong and to justify wrong (although this is definitely true and a major problem in life), but that even the hearts of people who themselves are obedient and godly are deceitful and those of us who are prone to being anxious and timid by nature are harmed by that aspect of the deceitfulness of the heart.

And so it is that believers often have to struggle with the question of the state of our hearts as well as the state of God’s love for us.  Our feelings are subjective, but the reality of our love for others and our love for and obedience to God are objective matters.  The barrier to the intimacy and unity with God that we seek through prayer and meditation is that we tend to judge the objective reality of our state before God by the subjective state of our feelings.  And even if we know that our feelings are not reliable and not the right basis, it is hard for us to know what grounds we should be judging the matter on instead.  After all, the state of our feelings is often the filter by which we tend to judge objective reality.  And objectively, there is no shortage of stumbles and falls we cannot notice.  We may condemn ourselves for our inattention to God, and for the social awkwardness that does not make it easy for us to show our love for others, and that same sort of awkwardness may often make it difficult for us to feel what love that others have for us.  Upon these problems we seek, and often fail to find, the sort of long-term and consistent relief that we seek.

Indeed, the letter of 1 John addresses the subject of God’s love for us and our love for others quite often, and here the apostle addresses the heart of the matter in 1 John 3:18-23:  “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.  For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.  And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.  And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”  To the extent that we love God and others in truth and in deed (and not merely in word), we have an objective ground to be confident in the love of God for us, and even if our hearts condemn us God knows our deeds and will judge us based on the truth and not based on our subjective feelings.  Likewise, to the extent that our confidence in God and Jesus Christ’s love for us is based on objective truth, we can ask Him boldly for requests knowing of the strength of that relationship.

Ultimately, the believer is told to trust God.  We will not be judged by God based on the subjective and often erroneous judgment of our hearts.  For some people, whose consciences are hardened, character that should be judged as faulty is not because of the hardness of the heart to sin and evil.  For a great many people, though, the heart is not hardened but all too sensitive and easily troubled, and for such people the comfort that must be found is trusting that God knows our hearts, and will be merciful to us, and that we can cast our cares and worries upon Him, because He alone can provide us with comfort.  Our hearts, after all, are not going to provide us with the comfort that is caused by our anxiety and fear, because it is our hearts that are often defective in the first place and ill-equipped to solve the problem that they are at the root of.  And it is only when we can trust God and have confidence in Him that we can enjoy the benefits of biblical prayer that we seek.

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Book Review: Language Hacking: French

Language Hacking:  French, by Benny Lewis

I must admit that I find learning about languages to be a deeply interesting thing [1]. and as I am going to some Caribbean islands, a few of which speak French rather than English, I thought it would be practical to at least work on my French enough to be able to read it a little even if my speaking of it is likely to be very poor and very limited.  Be that as it may, this is a book that is both practical to me in the sense of wanting to understand and recognize French easier when dealing with it and also interesting on the more general level of my interest in foreign languages and how to learn them from the point of view of a cultured American.  This book seems to be aimed at a somewhat young audience of people who want to learn languages rapidly and are more interested in having conversations than they are with deeply understanding a language and its form, which is a sensible approach in an age that largely lacks a formal appreciation of languages to the extent that was the case in the past, at least.

This short book is divided into ten units that take up a bit more than 200 pages.  The author begins with an introduction that includes a note from the author as well as a general summary of the contents that will be found inside the book as well as online companion material.  The first unit of the book provides some conversations and various tips for talking about oneself (1), and then the author moves on to introducing how someone can ask questions about others (2).  After that is a discussion on how to deal with communication problems (3) and also discuss future plans (4) as well as family and friends (5).  This leads into a discussion about food, drink, and conversation (6), a discussion of yesterday, last week, and long ago (7) to bring up past tense, and also provides ways that someone can catch up with others they have not talked to in a while (8).  The author then concludes with a discussion on description of surroundings, personalities, and what something looks like (9) as well as some tips on how one can carry on one’s first conversation in French (10), after which the book ends with an answer key to its questions as well as acknowledgements and some notes on recent French spelling reforms that make the language more phonetic.

This book has a specific approach, and that is to get someone up-to-speed on being able to have conversations in person and online in French with a minimum of formal study and a great deal of tips and hacks.  This is by no means a bad thing, and it is useful to outgoing and sociable people who are willing to make mistakes and immerse themselves enough in French to be able to acquire a working knowledge of the language without having a deep understanding of the history or grammatical structure of the French language.  For most people, this sort of book presents a winning approach to learning enough French to struggle more or less successfully in having basic conversations that can lead one to build new friendships with people who are tolerant with language learners, which are hopefully the sort of people a reader of this book will find themselves around.  While there are certainly cases where someone learning French would need a more formal and more detailed education in the language, this book would seem to suit the purposes of most tourists or exchange students and that is exactly for whom this entertaining book was written.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/17/book-review-esperanto-the-world-interlanguage/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/08/book-review-unity-and-a-universal-language/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/28/book-review-in-the-land-of-invented-languages/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/11/book-review-esperanto-learning-and-using-the-international-language/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/01/01/book-review-complete-idiots-guide-to-learning-french/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/12/19/book-review-catalan/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/12/19/book-review-teach-yourself-complete-catalan/

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Book Review: Literature Of The Caribbean

Literature Of The Caribbean, by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert

notgood

When I requested this book from the library, I expected it to be a selection of literature about the Caribbean.  That would have been at least a potentially interesting book.  I have visited the Caribbean off and on since I was a child, going to Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago in 1990, the Bahamas in 1992, St. Lucia in 2017, and Suriname along with Aruba and Curacao in 2018.  It may be said at least that I have an interest in its culture and literature, and had this book contained snippets of literature or short stories and poetry from the Caribbean I would have been very pleased.  Unfortunately, it did not.  The author seeks to critique the writing of white males and generally conservative people and certainly seeks to critique mainstream American and European culture from a postcolonialist, feminist, generally leftist identity-politics obsessed perspective, but the result is that instead of showing the intellectual and moral poverty of the culture she criticizes, she demonstrates her own intellectual poverty in merely adopting the fashionable nonsense of leftist textual criticism without demonstrating that the works she writes about are worthwhile.  Perhaps some of them are, but this book’s praise of various books for the reasons it does amounts to an active negative endorsement of these books for me, and makes me less likely to want to read them.

This particular book is a bit over 200 pages and consists of various lengthy book reviews where the author gushes about some Caribbean author for writing in a way that supports some sort of leftist sociopolitical agenda.  After a short introduction, the author writes generally glowing essays about the following books:  Michael Anthony’s The Year In San Fernando, Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom Of This World, Cichelle Cliff’s Abeng, Maryse Conde’s I, Tituba, Blck Witch Of Salem, Raphael Confiant’s Mamzelle Dragonfly, Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming Of Bones, Zee Edgell’s Beka Lamb, Magali Garcia Ramis’ Happy Days, Uncle Sergio, Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, Mayra Montero’s The Messenger, V.S. Naipul’s The Mystic Masseur, Patricia Powell’s A Smll Gathering Of Bones, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge Of Beyond, and Derek Walcott’s Omeros.  The books are praised for their creativity even if most of them are highly derivative works that almost no one has ever heard of and that, in the author’s telling, do not really deserve the sort of praise she heaps on them.

Indeed, the most damning part of this book is the way that the author’s adoption of the language of leftist identity politics undercuts her desire to make the books she writes about appear like timeless classics worthy of being read and appreciated by those who do not share the political or identity concerns of the author or the authors of whom she writes.  Had she viewed these books as part of a great conversation within literature that extends to writings by and about Europeans and North Americans in a positive way, they would have been seen in the context of great literature that has enduring value.  Instead, the author’s empty and hollow leftist rhetoric only makes these works look bad by association because she likes them and finds so many aspects of leftist identity politics to cheer about them.  Had these books been more worthwhile, they would be the kind of book that can be appreciated for their insights, but those who find themselves acting as cheerleading squads for leftist perspectives are not the sort of people from whom literary insights or insights of any kind are going to be found.  This is a book that should only be read by those who wish to see it as an act of unintentional self-parody when it comes to the intellectual and moral poverty of leftist textual theory.

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Book Review: Songs In The Shade Of The Flamboyant Tree

Songs In The Shade Of The Flamboyant Tree:  French Creole Lullabies And Nursery Rhymes, collected by Chantal Grosléziat, arranged by Paul Mindy, and illustrated by Laurent Corvasier

I have to admit that I found this collection of materials pretty pleasing on a variety of levels.  As part of my family’s planned upcoming trip through the Caribbean, there are a few French-speaking islands that we plan to see, and our plans to view these places provide for a lot of interest in French-speaking culture as well.  I have always been interested in nursery rhymes and lullabies as a whole, not least because there is a great deal of insight to be gained in paying attention to the sort of culture that is aimed at children.  Some cultures seek to protect children from an understanding of the pain and difficulties of life, as is the case with our own, but plenty of cultures throughout history have seen it as necessary to point out to children the reality of existence and to some of its horrors, and this book, although it is somewhat simple and aimed at a young audience, does a good job in pointing out the sort of evils and problems that Creoles of the French islands (mostly, but not entirely, in the Caribbean) saw children as needing to be able to handle, and that makes for some compelling reading.

This particular short book starts with abbreviated stanzas of nursery rhymes and lullabies illustrated cutely, with the verses showing the title, location, and some of the material of the rhyme.  We have material from Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, and Reunion, with some islands (Guadeloupe in particular) being very well represented.  Some of the rhymes are told from the point of view of people, some of animals, and they deal with such subject matter as family, food, religion, and other subjects, some of which deal with questions like the devil as well as the struggle to gain strength with the limited diet that many poor people had, like breadfruit.  After this there is a brief discussion about the songs themselves as well as longer versions of the songs in both French Creole as well as English translations that describe the songs being sung as well as their message and meaning.  There is also a cd that accompanies this particular book that allows the reader to listen to these songs sung as part of the children’s repertoire of Creole music, which also adds somewhat to the reading experience.

Admittedly, I am not particularly familiar with the children’s repertoire of music in the various French islands that exist in the Caribbean and off the coast of Africa.  That said, there is a great deal of interest here.  The songs present the sorts of fears and concerns that children and adults faced in such societies, whether those fears related to death and the afterlife or even having enough food to grow big and strong and survive into adulthood.  Even when the poems are told from the point of view of animals, there is still this concern about the birds becoming prey to the hunger of the people around.  A beautiful bird, after all, may be a tasty addition to someone’s pot, and may be the difference between a child growing up with some protein or being limited to not very nourishing food that is all that is available to those struggling to survive.  The poems tell a serious story and provide a context to a life where children were expect to know the facts of life and how to deal with problems of scarcity from the very beginning, and they demonstrate the sort of folk wisdom that can be found in lullabies and nursery rhymes that is often overlooked by those who do not think childhood is or should be filled with painful truths about existence.

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Remembering Fields Of Blackbirds

One of the more odd sort of travel interests I have is visiting battlefields.  Having frequently traveled between Florida and Pennsylvania during my youth, I had the opportunity to visit many fortresses and battlefields relating to the long martial history of my relatively young nation.  I have visited the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fort Pulaski outside of Savannah, Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, and Fort Fisher near Wilmington, and seen the way that different siting and construction choices made the forts more or less successful in their times of trial by cannon fire.  I have walked the melancholy grounds of Moore’s Creek, been a tourist at Gettysburg, and gotten lost in the Wilderness of Virginia like the armies of Grant and Hooker.  I have pondered the terrain that people have fought over, their tactics in seeking victory, and logistical and strategic issues of how they fought and why.  I have studied military history formally and traveled to other countries and seen different approaches to war and different ways that war and conflict are remembered across space and time.

Some of the more interesting aspects of remembering the cost of war come wen one has to address the commemoration of massive and epochal historical events.  The Battle of Kosovo in 1389, for example, led to the destruction of Serbian freedom and centuries of domination by the Ottoman Turks, similar to the result of the Battle of Mohacs to the Hungarians.  Neither the Serbs nor the Hungarians are the sort of peoples whom I would necessarily feel sympathetic to when it comes to their role in history, because even as they struggled against oppression by Ottoman Turks from above, so too they were oppressive to various smaller peoples when they had regional domination.  Anyone who has read about (or endured) the attempts of Magyarization between 1867 and 1918 would not feel very fondly about the Hungarians and their attempts at acculturating Slovaks, Croats, and others.  Neither will people who have seen Serbian domination of Yugoslavia and the horrors of the wars of Yugoslav succession after 1991 think very highly of the Serbs when they were themselves in power.  Despite the fact that the Serbs and Hungarians both saw Kosovo and Mohacs respectively as evidence that they had been the victims of historical oppression after decisive battlefield defeats, when they were the dominant figure in multi-ethnic realms, they were as unreflective about oppressing others as the Ottoman Turks had been about oppressing them.

One of the problems about commemorating certain historical moments is that they can distort the way one views one’s own culture and history as other people see it.  One can remember the sneak attack of Pearl Harbor and forget that Japan had begun two other wars in the half-century preceding it by sneak attacks as well as forget the threat that Japan had felt from sanctions it had received relating to its ongoing horrific warfare in China.  This is not to say that Japan should be pitied for having faced problems with sanctions as a result of its war crimes in China, but rather that the United States should not have been as surprised as it was that a Japan that felt itself threatened and had taken measure of the vulnerability of the position of the United States at the time would have attempted a decisive sneak attack to preemptively start a war.  Likewise, the sudden start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter was not a surprise because Lincoln had clever manipulated the Confederacy into a lose-lose proposition.  If it allowed the peaceful resupply of the beleaguered fortress in Charleston harbor, the Confederacy would be faced with a continual provocation in a union fort blocking the harbor of the most violently secessionist city in its wannabe country.  This sort of insult could not be borne by a proud and prickly people like the Southron.  On the other hand, responding to such a provocation with deadly force would make one responsible for having started a war that one might not be able to win, which is exactly what happened for the Confederacy.  Our historical memory does not always include enough historical elements to put those dramatic events we commemorate into the proper context.

And it is that context that matters a great deal.  Great historical events do not occur in a vacuum.  They take place when people respond to the pressures that they are under, including their own sense of dignity and pride as well as the pressure that they face from people to “do something,” even if there are a great many things that one can do that are unwise.  Likewise, our memory of historical events has consequences, to the point where people grow up learning to hate or fear certain other groups and may think of themselves as deserving something from the rest of the world as a way of counterbalancing the misfortunes that they have suffered in history.  As is the case with people on an individual level, memorializing one’s victim status tends to blind us to the way in which we have greater power or responsibility than we may believe and that we may not be as much a force for good in the eyes of others as we may fancy ourselves to be.  To understand ourselves and the context in which we exist and in which momentous events has occurred is not to allow those who were guilty to escape from their just condemnation, but rather to reflect upon the fact that we do not come to history with clean hands ourselves, and being in need of mercy can better be equipped to give it.

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Book Review: Llewellyn’s Complete Book Of The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

Llewellyn’s Complete Book Of The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, by Sasha Graham

This is an odd book for several reasons.  In reading it, I could not help but think that despite the author’s intentions that this book would tend to make people more skeptical about the reasons why tarot decks in general and this tarot deck in particular have become popular despite being released more than a century ago without fanfare or much attention at all.  The fact that the writer spends so much effort trying to untangle the various influences on the deck and the interpretation of the various cards as well as various possible spreads suggests that she takes tarot seriously enough to view it as a possible source of insight, but what she discusses about the deck of cards and the motivations and influences that went into the art design of the cards themselves would tend to make one less confident that the importance that is given to the way that tarot cards look in terms of how they are to be interpreted is remotely worth the effort the author (and others) spend on it.  Admittedly, I come to the book as a biased and not particularly friendly reader, but for me this book and its account of the popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck only increases my disdain for tarot in general as well as the untrustworthiness of such mystical art in general.

This book is a large one at almost 500 pages, and it is divided into ten chapters based on various esoteric contexts that appear to come from the Hebrew kaballah (and may be distantly familiar in a different form to some readers of the Bible).  The book begins with a foreword by one Stuart Kaplan that gushes over the author’s work and the tarot deck in particular as well as a timeline and introduction of the material.  After that comes a short discussion of the big picture of tarot (1) and ten a deeper look into the supposed wisdom that is sought from it (2).  After that comes a chapter that encourages the reader to understand the history of the Golden Dawn and its influence on the tarot deck (3) as well as some information about the Kabbalistic tree of life on which the tarot stands (4).  This leads to a discussion of astrology (5).  Coming after this the author then devotes the vast majority of the book to a discussion of the major arcana (6), minor arcana (7), and court cards (8) of the tarot deck, including their imagery and the influences on that imagery, a discussion of the ways that they are interpreted normally and reversed in spreads, as well as various planetary and astrological meanings associated with them.  After that the book ends with a brief discussion of how to read the cards (9) and 78 spreads (10), one for each of the cards, that the author has either created or adapted for the reader, after which the book ends with a symbol dictionary in an appendix as well as a glossary, thank you, image credits, bibliography, and index.

What one gets out of this book is an understanding of a few matters that tend to reflect badly on the tarot and the people who have made such decks.  For one, the author of this particular deck was involved in a fractious group that was devoted to esoteric knowledge but which split apart because everyone was interested in seeking power and not enough people were interested enough in following moral and ethical principles of common (much less noble) decency.  It is not as if the artist comes off any better, plagiarizing previous tarot decks as well as making a lot of theatrical drawings about actress Ellen Terry and generally showing the art of the tarot deck to have been immensely superficial and even idolatrous in nature.  It is striking that the author’s interest in biblical language and in the way that biblical terms are used in esoteric thinker only demonstrate the way that mankind seeks to acquire divine power for corrupt ends and to avoid the necessary path of repentance in order to reconcile with God and obtain eternal life as well as the divine power of the Spirit.  If you want a book that shows how messed up tarot has been throughout its history and certainly today, this book is a good one, contrary to the author’s intentions.

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Book Review: The Creative Tarot

The Creative Tarot:  A Modern Guide To An Inspired Life, by Jessa Crispin

Although I tend to find myself being at least somewhat interested in the history of esoteric matters and their often neglected importance in history and culture, I tend to find writings that promote the esoteric to be far less enjoyable to read than they are instructive in a certain mindset that I do not happen to share.  One of the qualities that is in general shared by those who delve into various esoteric matters is a belief that human beings have within them some sort of divine spark or some sort of divine powers of intuition that can transcend rational thought and that can be tapped into via various mystical means.  These particular approaches combine a sense of discipline which requires a study of the tarot and the meanings of its cards with a sense of freedom that tends to allow for flexible or multiple interpretations, the better to keep them being pinned down and thus viewed as unreliable.  This author does a better job than most at presenting the tarot not only as some sort of mystical guide to insight, but also examining how it is that artists (especially writers) have used the tarot as inspiration for their own creativity.

This book of more than 300 pages not surprisingly spends most of its time talking about the particular cards of the tarot deck and their supposed meanings, yet it does so in a way that frames this discussion in a context that begins with a a discussion of the history of the tarot as well as the divisions of cards into two categories of major and minor arcana as well as four suits (swords, cups, wands, coins) that are tied to the four elements of air, water, fire, and earth.  After introducing the categories, the author discusses the major arcana cards in a particular numerical order:  the fool, the magician, the high priestess, the empress, the emperor, the hierophant, the lovers, the chariot, strength, the hermit, the wheel of fortune, justice, the hanged man, death, temperance, the devil, the tower, the star, the moon, the sun, judgment, and the world.  After that the author talks about the minor arcana individually, providing a narrative of each card in the various suites from Aces to nines, and then the pages, knights, queens, and kings after that.  After that, the author closes with some spreads that create structure, and then a look at how to do a reading before the author concludes.

I was not surprised with a great deal of the folly that one finds in this book, from the desire to make up a narrative that is a nearly universal human tendency (and one I certainly share) when one is dealing with nonsense, the misguided trust in human intuition and the sacred feminine ridiculousness that is so common in a great deal of contemporary (and historical) mysticism.  What genuinely surprised me, though, was the way that the author pointed out how it is that tarot reading has inspired people creatively, whether it was (as is the case of Calvino’s writings) explicitly commented upon or whether it was subtly embedded into the framework of the story, in that the reading provided structure to creative thinking.  While I would not personally tend to think of using a tarot reading as a way to break through writer’s block by providing a ready-made narrative structure, it is certainly the sort of prompt that has proven to spark creativity in other writers in the past, which is baffling but interesting at least.  By the standards of books on the tarot, which is admittedly not a very high standard in my own estimation, this book does provide at least some interesting discussion of how the tarot can help inspire our own creativity in problem solving and writing, and that is worth something.

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Book Review: Everyday Tarot

Everyday Tarot:  Unlock Your Inner Wisdom And Manifest Your Future, by Brigit Esselmont

It must be admitted that tarot in general has within it certain assumptions about the power of human intuition that are, at best, highly problematic.  Yet this book is not so much an exploration of esoteric thought, which would have been interesting, at least, but rather it is an appeal for women in general to view tarot in a positive light, to seek the insight of their own supposed inner light, to embrace the sacred feminine.  As might be expected, these are not the sort of views that I am going to view all that positively, not least for the reason that I tend to have a dim view of appeals to the sacred feminine and to inner lights in general.  Rather than seek a general esoteric introduction, though, the author seeks to make this a far more personal account by talking about the way that she has viewed tarot and the way that she has set up a business with a nickname she wanted as a child as well as some creativity when it comes to how she views the cards she is writing about.  If you like the person behind this book, even in disagreeing with her you will find a lot to appreciate.

This book is about 200 pages long and contains several chapters.  After beginning with an introduction the author looks at the way the author views the interaction between tarot and intuition (1).  After this there is a quick-start guide to tarot that views it in a non-determined way that seeks to promote freedom and imagined insight (2).  The author discusses the use of tarot for self-discovery (3), as well as the ways that card spreads can, in the author’s thinking, manifest one’s goals (4).  The author discusses ways to use the tarot for decision-making (5), for work (6), and for love and relationships (7).  After this there is a discussion of some “sacred rituals” that the author thinks tarot is appropriate for, and she spends some time talking about her own fondness for various supposedly significant astrological times like the retrograde period of Mercury and full moons (8).  After that there is the usual acknowledgments section (labeled here as gratitude) as well as an appendix that provides a “full moon visualization” as well as a topical index.  All told this book is neither particularly long nor particularly demanding for a reader.

What would make a book like this better?  Assuming that someone wanted to talk about tarot and interject their own originality and personality into it, what would make a book like this more enjoyable and at least potentially more worthwhile in understanding the worldview of the writer?  Well, for one, it would be wise for the author to recognize that this book is not only being read by women but by men too.  The idea of inner lights and an authority that comes from intuition may be appealing for women who do not feel they have enough formal authority or who dislike the attention that is paid to rational analysis, if they are not equipped to use it, but one cannot assume that when one is writing about an esoteric matter that only women are going to read it, and so this book, like many others, loses some opportunities at building goodwill by assuming the audience is too small and too narrow.  Aside from that, the author seeks both to encourage the use of tarot in decision-making while also cautioning the reader not to view it in a deterministic way but rather in terms of possibilities, which can be a tough thing to sell to people who are looking for answers rather than for a structure of one’s intuition and imagination.

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On The Misuses Of Duality And Allegory In Biblical Interpretation

One of the people I follow on Academia.org regularly writes and self-publishes papers that seek to argue that X personage in the Bible really referred to some other person Y who shared some sort of qualities with him.  And so he sends out to a candid world speculations that the biblical writings about Nebuchadnezzar really referred to his father or to some illustrious Assyrian ruler who also conquered widely, and so on and so forth.  I suppose one cannot attempt to gain clout as a bible scholar by saying that the people whom the Bible refers to are in fact the same people who appear by those names and relative chronologies within the outside world.  Where would be the fun in admitting that the Bible speaks authoritatively and accurately on the history it deals with if one seeks to gain a reputation as a critical scholar?  Yet this sort of approach demonstrates the sort of problems that result from the misuse of duality in the Bible where resemblances between two different people in two different times is used to “prove” that the Bible is talking about one anachronistically or far later than what the Bible claims to be speaking of.  It would be as if someone used information about the Swedish invasion of Russia during Alexander Nevsky’s time as speaking instead about Napoleon’s invasion or Hitler’s invasion because all involved were failed invasions that were defeated in part thanks to the proverbial Russian winter.

The same sort of problem results when allegorical approaches are misused in scripture.  For example, the ancient Epistle of Barnabas, which was popular to early Hellenistic Christians but more obscure today, takes an allegorical approach to the Hebrew laws that is odd and occasionally disturbing.  The author of this epistle simply cannot seem to believe that the biblical commands about eating unclean meats, for example, mean precisely that, and he is intent on finding some sort of allegorical uncleanness that they could be prohibiting instead of the straightforward one.  This is not an uncommon approach, as simply dealing straightforwardly with biblical commands appears to be far more difficult than attempting to twist them in some way.  This twisting is perhaps most evident in commandments relating to the Sabbath, for example, when people draw the mistaken allegorical principle that one day of rest in seven is required when the Bible repeatedly specifies the seventh day as the Sabbath, or when people call the first day of the week the Lord’s day when the Bible again specifically calls Jesus Christ the Lord of the Sabbath.  Examples like this could be multiplied.

Nevertheless, rather than talk about particulars, let us instead look at how these particulars form consistent patterns in approaching the scriptures that are problematic and ultimately unproductive.  For one, we may note that misuses in the allegorical or dual application of scriptures tend to share a problem in that they willfully ignore what the Bible actually says.  Now, there are cases (see, for example, Acts 10) where the allegorical meaning is in fact the real one, but even in cases like this the allegorical meaning plays off of a literal sort of reality, as when Peter wonders whether God really wants him to eat unclean meats, which he has never done, before realizing that God (and Christ) do not want him to consider any person to be common or unclean or to be looked at with abhorrence and complete rejection.  This is, by the way, something that remains relevant for us today.  Where the Bible uses dual layers of meaning as well as allegory and symbol, it does so in a way that provides insight on all levels and layers of understanding, making our understanding of the Bible nuanced and rich and complex.  When human beings misuse allegorical and dual layers of meaning, the intent is usually to pit some favored but secondary meaning of the text against its more literal or more commonly understood layers, as a way of showing that only the esoteric meaning is valid rather than all meanings being simultaneously valid, as the Bible does.

We may fairly ask ourselves why this is the case.  What is it that makes it so difficult to appreciate what the Bible is saying and why are we so quick to seek allegorical meanings that would make it unnecessary to address the literal level of a given Bible story or law.  For example, what is it about the Bible’s sex-positive (between a husband and a wife) approach of the Song of Solomon, for example, that makes people so uncomfortable that they would prefer to immediately seek allegorical interpretations about Israel or the Church that apply in addition to its biblical meaning?  Why is that we are made so uncomfortable by the suggestion that laws involving tassels, for example, could be valid today even though they clearly have meanings involving the keeping of God’s laws in memory?  Indeed, the discomfort that we feel when we are faced with something that the Bible commands or discusses is generally a sign that we need to investigate deeper into our own cultural or personal hangups, and if we are too quick to use symbolism or allegory to intellectualize this problem, we are doing ourselves a great disservice by not seeking to wrestle with what part of the Bible bothers us and troubles us when taken at face value.  That is not to say that the answers are easy when we find there to be a distinction between what the Bible says and what we would rather it say, between our own practices and that which the Bible commands or endorses, but the wrestling is itself important.  The Bible should not be a safe book we use to comfort ourselves that we are good people after all, but rather a book that should trouble us by bringing to mind areas where we do not fulfill the noble and challenging standard that the Bible lays before us.  All too often our use of symbolism and duality is a way of distancing what the Bible is saying from our attention and in so doing it is a way of staving off the need to repent and change.  And that is a great shame.

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