Meditations on the Tarot and the Vatican

St. John Paul II with two-volume German edition of Meditations on the Tarot, presumably in the Vatican.

This is a website written by two Catholic converts from the New Age movement.

And central to my own conversion, at least, was a very unusual book called Meditations on the Tarot—an anonymous 650-page magnum opus by another convert, Valentin Tomberg.

Truly, I do not think I could have escaped the New Age mindset without this book.

Meditations on the Tarot, it must be emphasised, contains not a single line about divining the future through Tarot cards.

Nonetheless, the book contains elements that are definitely problematic for Catholics. Now, I would say that these elements are not primary, nor secondary or even tertiary – but they are there.

Perhaps most difficult of all is a curious treatment of reincarnation in which the author suggests that reincarnation possesses reality in a certain sense and yet remains untrue in the deepest sense of that word. (Although he asserts that understanding of this is so dangerous that the Church is absolutely right to refute reincarnation, adding that ‘it is worth a hundred times more … to deny the doctrine of reincarnation’ than to court this danger.)

However, unpacking this curious treatment goes far beyond the scope of our present post. (We have dealt with it a little bit further in a series of posts on Valentin Tomberg starting here). (UPDATE 2017: I also go extensively into Tomberg and his thinking in my just-released book from Angelico Press Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed.)

Rather, our main purpose today is to reflect on the attitude towards Meditations on the Tarot emanating from the Vatican.

This is an important issue for us at this website. Because I have taken the apparently odd position (again in that same Tomberg series starting here) that Meditations on the Tarot, despite its highly problematic nature for Catholics, forms an important defense of the Faith in our troubled age.

Why I take that seemingly bizarre stance relates to my twenty-year experience in the aforesaid New Age mindset and witnessing the power of Tomberg’s work to liberate people – myself and many more.

However, as a Catholic now, I aspire to think with the Church. My own small opinion matters little indeed compared with the Church’s judgment.

But the Vatican has not spoken regarding Meditations on the Tarot. And indeed there would seem to be little need. wThere are, of course, any number of unorthodox writings that the Church never troubles herself with for an instant.

And yet there are tantalising indications that Tomberg’s opus has, in fact, received some kind of support from the highest echelons of the Church, including the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Papacy.

Short(ish) Video on Tomberg and the Church—Article Continues Below

The Core of Meditations on the Tarot

Valentin Tomberg
Valentin Tomberg

But before we come to these striking indicators, a little further context seems appropriate. For it is good, I think, to indicate what Meditations on the Tarot is – which may help the baffled Catholic reader to understand just why the Vatican might be taking such a curious position in regards to it.

I have said that the highly problematic aspects of the book are not primary. This begs the question as to what is the primary, central element of Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot …

For myself, it was only after my seventh reading of the book in 2001 that I could answer that question in a satisfying way. For it was then I saw that Tomberg’s profound, complex masterpiece turned not simply on Jesus Christ – but on a sustained meditation of how the entire cosmos changed through the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And because the universe changed, all forms of pre-Christian spirituality are potently, if often subtly, called into question by Tomberg. Here is the core of the book.

Potently, yet subtly – this is important.  Tomberg is not a polemicist. Indeed, he abhors polemic as a form of violence.

Nonetheless, Tomberg gently pulls the rug out from the feet of today’s New Age movement. His tactic is delicate, but thorough.

For the New Age movement is based, above all, on Eastern forms of pre-Christian spirituality, which became outmoded by the Incarnation.

The book contains scores of examples of what I mean by this delicate deconstruction of both pre-Christian paganism and today’s burgeoning New Age movement.

Here I shall only cite one instance. The book features an extremely beautiful meditation on the nature of love as central to Christianity, whereas the author suggests that pre-Christian Indian spirituality is based not on love – but indifference.

I shall break Tomberg’s rich, dense paragraphs on Christian love versus pre-Christian indifference into shorter ones – which I think makes easier reading from a computer screen:

Now, two ways, two quite different methods exist which can free us from the illusion “me, living — you, shadow”, and we have a choice.

The one is to extinguish love of oneself and to become a “shadow amongst shadows”.

This is the equality of indifference.

India offers us this method of liberation from ahamkara, the illusion of self.

This illusion is destroyed by extending the indifference that one has for other beings to oneself. Here one reduces oneself to the state of a shadow equal to the other surrounding shadows.

Maya, the great illusion, is to believe that individual beings, me and you. should be something more than shadows— appearances wirhout reality. The formula for realising this is therefore: “me, shadow—you, shadow”.

The other way or method is that of extending the love that one has for oneself to other beings, in order to arrive at the realisation of the formula: “me, living — you, living”.

Here it is a matter of rendering other beings as real as oneself, i.e. of loving them as oneself. To be able to attain this, one has first to love one’s neighbour as oneself.

For love is not an abstract programme but rather, it is substance and intensity. It is necessary therefore that one radiates the substance and intensity of love with regard to one individual being in order that one can begin to ray it out in all directions. “To be able to make gold one has to have gold,” say the alchemists.

The spiritual counterpart of this maxim is that in order to be able to love everyone one has to love or to have loved someone. This someone is one’s “neighbour”.

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot, 125-126

So, so much is contained in this short passage. Love is not abstract – but rather substance and intensity, which is symbolised by GOLD.

And this gold, Tomberg says, has all to do with the LOVE of Christ.

In a multiplicity of ways, his book goes on to suggest that this Gold of Christic Love did not exist in the world before Christ.

Therefore, it forms no part of the pre-Christian spirituality that the New Age now champions. Here is why the pre-Christian path of Eastern spirituality is challenged here – not with violent polemic, but, as I say, delicate deconstruction.

Short(ish) Video on Tomberg and the Church—Article Continues Below

In Defence of Catholic Tradition

We begin to see how Meditations on the Tarot defends Christianity from New Age neo-paganism.

And again, speaking very personally, it was only through my repeated reading of Tomberg’s deconstruction of paganism that I could free myself from the New Age. (There is much at this website that is pertinent here, but the interested reader may be referred to an article on Eckhart Tolle as well as a piece on my conversion.)

In this regard, let us note that Tomberg addresses his book to esotericists and hermeticists – in other words the very kind of folk who lie at the root of todays’ serious New Age movement.

Indeed, Tomberg had been active in esoteric circles in his youth.  And after his conversion, he clearly felt the need to keep talking to the hermeticists – who, again, are often, if not always, the prototypes of today’s New Agers –  and call them to the Church.

The Catholic Church is repeatedly, clearly and staunchly defended throughout the book. For example, Tomberg writes:

The Catholic Church, being catholic or universal, cannot consider itself as a particular church among other particular churches, nor consider its dogmas as religious opinions among other religious opinions or confessions.

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot, p. 97

And here, he argues that Hermeticism must eventually lead to the Church:

The way of Hermeticism, solitary and intimate as it is, comprises authentic experiences from which it follows that the Roman Catholic Church is, in fact, a depository of Christian spiritual truth, and the more one advances on the way of free research for this truth, the more one approaches the Church.

Sooner or later one inevitably experiences that spiritual reality corresponds—with an astonishing exactitude —to what the Church teaches: that there are guardian Angels; that there are saints who participate actively in our lives; that the Blessed Virgin is real, and that she is almost precisely such as she is understood, worshipped and portrayed by the Church; that the sacraments are effective, and that there are seven of them — and not two, or three, or even eight; that the three sacred vows —of obedience, chastity and poverty—constitute in fact the very essence of all authentic spirituality; that prayer is a powerful means of charity, for beyond as well as here below; that the ecclesiastical hierarchy reflects the celestial hierarchical order; that the Holy See and the papacy represent a mystery of divine magic; that hell, purgatory and heaven are realities; that, lastly, the Master himself—although he loves everyone, Christians of all confession as well as all non-Christians —abides with his Church, since he is always present there, since he visits the faithful there and instructs his disciples there. The Master is always findable and meetable there.

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot, p. 282-283
Classics from Valentin Tomberg

The Meditations and St. John Paul II

So, so much more might be said. But the above, as we have said, is mainly offered as context for the Catholic who is puzzled – puzzled by the idea that a book called Meditations on the Tarot could have received some kind of support from the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.

Amongst these highest echelons are, of course, the Cardinals – that elite college of no more than 150 men in the world, of whom those under the age of 80 elect the Pope.

And here is where we begin. For it is significant that Hans urs von Balthasar, a theologian Bl. John Paul II nominated to the college of cardinals wrote a foreword to Meditations on the Tarot.

In that foreword von Balthasar says:

A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy.These symbols are summarised in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.

Now von Balthasar wrote his foreword originally in 1980, seven years before Bl. John Paul II nominated him to the college of Cardinals. This would suggest that von Balthasar’s praise presented no difficulty for Bl. John Paul II.

However, there is another link to St. John Paul II. Somewhere in the 1980s, Bl. John Paul II was photographed with the German edition of Meditations on his desk. The photograph has been widely seen across the Internet and is reproduced above.

Some may doubt of course that these books are the Meditations. I can only say that I myself have lived in Gemany and it is obvious to myself and all who know the German text that this is the two-volume German edition. (If any doubt remains, a blow-up of the photo can be seen here compared with a clear picture of the German volumes.)

I will also note that whilst living in Germany, I received a reliable report that St. John Paul II had received Meditations on the Tarot in person from Robert Spaemann.

However, as Spaemann is a figure more linked to Benedict XVI than St. John Paul II, we will turn to him in the next section.

Here it suffices to say that St. John Paul II certainly knew the Meditations on the Tarot and would have known that von Balthasar had written the foreword. And yet for John Paul II this presented no obstacle in raising von Balthasar to the highest levels of the Church.

This, I think, can be said with certainty. One may also speculate about the photo. Was Bl. John Paul II caught unaware when photographed – or did he possibly wish to send a discreet signal of support for the book, even if not as pronounced as the step taken by von Balthasar?

Meditations on the Tarot and Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI - overview
Pope Benedict XVI – Photo courtesy of rohan chennai

But let us now turn to Benedict XVI. In 2007, Benedict XVI transformed the Church with his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum which meant to liberate the traditional Latin Mass.

Now, allow me to make a personal digression here. Before the Motu Proprio, I was living and travelling in France, profoundly interested in the rumours that existed that Benedict XVI was about to free the Latin Mass.

And during that time, I came across a notice on the internet that had appeared in the leading Catholic traditionalist weblog Rorate Caeli. That notice read as follows:

For the Record

Paolo Rodari, in Il Riformista (May 29 issue):

For when, then, the expected liberalization of the ancient rite? Hard to answer. What seems to be certain is that the text of the “Motu proprio” by Benedict XVI is ready. Recently, moreover, it seems that the Pope spoke about it in a private audience with Robert Spaemann, philosophy professor at the University of Munich, the great Catholic intellectual to whom Ratzinger himself dedicated the book “Church, Ecumenism, and Politics” (Kirche, Ökumene und Politik). An audience — the one the Pope granted to Spaemann — of which little has been known, even if it is said that the German professor left it with the belief that the “Motu proprio” will be made known soon, maybe even within the month.

This notice of a private audience between the Pope and Spaemann in terms of the Latin Mass came as no great surprise to me. For I had long been aware of this ‘great Catholic intellectual’ and that Ratzinger had rendered him the singular honour of dedicating one of his books to him.

At some point, I also became aware that Spaemann wrote the foreword to the original edition of Martin Mosemann’s The Heresy of Formlessness – a classic book against the modern liturgy. And so it seems natural that Spaemann knew of Summorum Pontificum before nearly anyone did.

As I say, I have lived in Germany and know several Germans who know Spaemann personally, from which I received the report of Spaemann’s present to St. John Paul II.

What I have not mentioned so far is a certain link between Spaemann and Hans Urs von Balthasar, which is relevant in this context. For there were two forewords to the German edition of Meditations on the Tarot. One of them, as mentioned, was written by Hans urs von Balthasar. The other was written by Robert Spaemann …

Moreover, it is clear that both men are personally important to Joseph Ratzinger. Whilst the link to Spaemann is obvious from his dedicating a book to him, the connection to Hans urs Von Balthasar may be even more profound.

Indeed, John L. Allen Jr. claims that Ratzinger has four favourite theologians – from all time, that is! – of which von Balthasar is one. The other three are Augustine, Bonaventure, and Romano Guardini.

And so it is clear that two important, influential figures for Benedict XVI regarded Meditations on the Tarot most highly.

But has Benedict XVI ever given his public opinion of Meditations on the Tarot? Not to my knowledge – however there are two other indications of Joseph Ratzinger’s attitudes towards the book.

While they are hardly conclusive, they remain interesting. The first is a report that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prior to becoming Pope Benedict XVI, authorised the Russian edition of Meditations on the Tarot. This was related by the Anthroposophist Sergei Prokofieff in a book hostile to Tomberg – The Case of Valentin Tomberg: Anthroposophy or Jesuitism? (pg 8).

Given that Prokofieff is Russian himself and, I think, very unlikely to be lying, I find this report credible – however I have not seen it mentioned anywhere else. It is, however, consistent with all that we have said above.

Finally, there is another (admittedly very small) indicator of Ratzinger’s attitudes from public statements made by Martin Kriele, a significant cultural figure in German jurisprudence. Kriele is both Tomberg’s literary heir and also close to Robert Spaemann. Kriele had some acquaintance, at least, with Ratzinger in the past and has publicly asserted – quite honestly I am sure – that Ratzinger offered no objection to Kriele’s unusual positions in regard to esoteric Christianity.

My Own Book Concerning Tomberg and Catholicism
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In Conclusion: Tomberg on the Truth of Catholic Dogma

What are we to make of this list of items, some of them quite circumstantial?

It can at least be said that the previous Pope belongs to a milieu of influential German-speaking Catholics who have advocated Meditations on the Tarot in various ways. And if the report about the Russian edition is accurate, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger himself has shown his support for Tomberg’s work.

Moreover, St. John Paul II clearly saw no reason to deny a very high level of ecclesiastical authority to von Balthasar.

It remains true, however, that the Church has spoken nothing definitive about Meditations on the Tarot.

Many Catholics then may find themselves in a difficult position with this book. I know I do.

However, the Church faces a dark hour indeed. My own belief, as paradoxical (or even nonsensical) as it may sound, is that Tomberg’s unusual work forms an important support for the Church in this time of secular and neo-pagan deluge. And I cannot help but suspect that both Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II were conscious of its potential.

I see no way to argue this, however. I think only those deeply familiar with Meditations on the Tarot will readily see what I mean.

Let us say one thing in closing, however. Valentin Tomberg was deeply conscious of the crisis in the Church at the time of Vatican II – a time when nearly everyone else was rejoicing. (We have a post here about Tomberg’s grave concerns regarding the Council.)

And shortly after Vatican II, he wrote of the Church as headed towards the abyss in the wake of the conciliar changes. And I should like to close with a remarkable passage from Tomberg’s final book Lazarus Come Forth (something of a shorter companion volume to the Meditations). Again, the passage is broken down for easier reading from a screen. From this, the sensitive reader should be able to see and feel both Tomberg’s profound Catholicity – and how he regarded the situation of the Church today.

The Christianity of the hermits … was no passing phenomenon limited to a few centuries only. Today it still lives with all the intensity of its youth. Though it may not be deserts and thick forests into which one can retire into an undisturbed solitude nowadays, there are still people who have found or created in the deserts of the great cities and among the thickets of the crowds, a solitude and stillness of life for the spirit.

And as before, their striving is devoted toward becoming a witness for the truth of Christianity. The way into the depths has not led them to an individualistic brand of belief, but has given them unshakable security in the truth of Christian revelation as transmitted and taught by the Church.

They know the truth of the following: Extra Ecclesiam non est salus (‘there is no salvation outside the church’); the Holy Father is not and cannot be the mouthpiece of an ecumenical council; the Holy See alone can make decisions in questions of faith and morals – a majority of the bishops cannot do so and even less can a majority of priests or congregations do so; the Church is hierarchic-theocratic – not democratic, aristocratic or monarchic – and will be so in all future times; the Church is the Civitas Dei (“the City of God”) and not a superstructure of the will of the people belonging to the Church; as little as the shepherd follows the will of the herd does the Holy Father merely carry out the collective will of his flock; the shepherd of the Church is St Peter, representing Christ – his pronouncements ex-cathedra are infallible, and the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven belongs to him and him alone.

In other words, those who become solitary in order to seek profundity may reach on their path of spiritual experience to the unshakeable insight that the dogmas of the Church are absolutely true.

And so it can happen that, as they did at the time of the Arian darkening of the Church, the “hermits” of today may come again to the assistance of the Holy See, leaving their solitude to appear as witnesses to the truth of Peter’s throne and its infallible teaching.

In those times it happened that St Anthony of Thebes left the desert and hurried to Alexandria to support St Athanasius with the weight of his moral authority – St Athanasius who became the standard bearer for the divinity of Christ.

The darkening which today is described as ‘the present crisis of the Catholic Church” can lead to the necessity for the solitary sons of the Church to hurry to the aid of the Holy Father, the most solitary of solitaries, in order to save the Church from the abyss toward which she is moving. ..

Valentin Tomberg, Covenant of the Heart, p. 125-126

What can I say? These last words regarding the need ‘to hurry to the aid of the Holy Father … in order to save the Church from the abyss’ have long penetrated my soul.

This abyss is real and each day I try to pray and ponder as to what can be done.

In my prayer and pondering, I cannot help but feel that pointing people to Meditations on the Tarot is something I must do.

The book is not for everyone – still it can help many souls lost in the wilderness, as I was lost, with its ‘delicate deconstruction of New Age neo-paganism.’

And moreover, it can help souls to attain, as Tomberg himself puts it:

The unshakeable insight that the dogmas of the Church are absolutely true.

More Tomberg Videos—Short and Long

There is much more regarding Valentin Tomberg both in an archive of articles at this website and in my three books published by Angelico Press.

Moreover I have videos at YouTube – mainly long in-depth ones! But for those who prefer a shorter, ‘punchier’ format, I feature first two trailers. The initial one is just over three minutes and the second is nineteen minutes.

By contrast, this is two hours long and probably the best place to begin with my longer Tomberg videos.

Classics from Valentin Tomberg

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29 responses to “Meditations on the Tarot and the Vatican”

  1. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
    Edwin Shendelman

    One must bear in mind that Tomberg did not just speak dualistically (such opposing the Christian philosophy of Love to Indian “indifference.” In other places, he treats non-Christian ideas dialectically (thesis, antitheses, synthesis–with the synthesis being Christianity) and in other places most positively. For example, he says that the Native American or Hindu sage that guards the Tree of their tradition faithfully will be rewarded by their Father in Heaven. In other words, your blog suggests by leaving unsaid other things he wrote an impression he oppositonal to Eastern religions. He was not.

    1. roger Avatar

      You are right Edwin, Tomberg is not “oppositional” as you say.

      This is what I meant when I said:

      Tomberg is not a polemicist. Indeed, he abhors polemic as a form of violence.

      And Tomberg does honour beauty whereever he sees it. This “dialectic” approach, as you put it, however is not a syncretic one, however – he is clear on that – as he is on the need to makr a choice.

      And thus he warns repeatedly against the choice of an Eastern path – at least for those in the West. The consequences are grave, serious, long lasting … leading to the loss of tears, the gift of the Judaeo-Christian way.

      That is just one danger he writes of – more are delicately suggested throughout the book.

      To my mind, this has much to do with what Martin Kriele – Tomberg’s heir – says of Tomberg’s grave concern with both the New Age movement and Freemasonry (which can be found about half way down the page in this piece Behind the French Meditations of a Catholic Hermeticist).

      But I ‘d rather not say more here – as this serious choice is the subject of an upcoming post and I can explore the theme better there. May not be for a week or two, as I have some other posts first on different themes.

    2. Ria Avatar

      It is obvious that the author of this post had not read either the Bhagvad Gita nor understands Samkhya Yoga, where Ahmankar is dicussed in detail and also Manas, Buddhi and Atma. Ahanmkar’s relationship to Manas, Buddhi and Atma are exlained. This is is similar if not the same as what Rudolf Steiner apoke about, in that the Ego/Ahamkar (Aham=I, in Sanksrit) Kar=Doeer in Sanskrit ==== I am the doer /the sense of doership.

      To call Hindusim/ Estern spirituality “indifferent” is an oxymorn. Consider the profound Bhaki movement, Devotion to Lord Krishna and the profound love of Radha and Krishna – The soul and the Krishna being.

      So sad to see how knowledge can be so mangled in order to bolster personal agendas.

      True Hindu, Vedanta can only fortify Christianity, not oppose it, if understood with goodwill, wisdom and actual knowledge of the Hindu Scriptures.

      1. Ria Avatar

        Ahamkar is not superflous. It is part of the chain of spiritual evolution. There can be no transmutation of the soul without some sort of Ahamkar.

  2. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
    Edwin Shendelman

    Well, I think one must be clear about what one means. There is a difference between the New Age and Freemasonry on the one hand, and Indian Yoga or other classical systems. It is true that Yoga has been hi-jacked in many ways by the New Age but this doesn’t mean that it is right.

    VT speaks of Yoga in a positive context in Letter 1, The Magician. He quotes the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in the context of Concentration without Effort, placing it in the company of Western philosophical and Catholic traditions of inner work.

    In the Chariot he is critical of Indian philosophies of identification of the Atman (Higher Self) with Brahman (God) but makes it clear that this represents only one school of thought, Advaita Vedanta. Samkhya, which maintains the distinctiveness of the plurality of Purushas (individual spirits) is praised.
    I agree that it is likely that he did not any version of Indian spirituality as a serious choice for Westerners. Indeed, he sometimes opposes them but sometimes his treatment of a subject may be misleading. For example, his treatment of the Chakras at the end of the Chariot (I think) is a case in point. His general point is correct in that we should seek a Christianisation of the Subtle Body. But other than that there are misleading statements. He mentions the Indian practice of using Bija-mantras to awaken the Chakras and suggest alternatively a “Christianisation” of the Chakras would be to co-relate them to the Seven “I AM” sayings of the Gospel of John. Firstly, it has become a common error to co-relate psychological types or spiritual symbolism to the Chakras. The Chakra do not have a locked in symbolism because they are not symbolic in this way. They are pumps or transformers. In a positive sense they can carry the Energy and Light of God which in turn “carries” the Fruit of the Divine Tree of Life or True Vine. The Seven I Am sayings can flow in the Subtle Body but they do not have a static “place.” Conversely, sound-syllables like the Bija-mantras can carry the Fruit or even be the Fruit of the Tree or True Vine of Christ. It is this “fruit” and the Energy and Light of God which “Christianizes.”

    1. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
      Edwin Shendelman

      Actually, the Seven I Am sayings do have a place I should have said: The Soul. This is the point: they flow through but do not rest in the Subtle Body. They leave the Subtle Body and enter the Soul, in which case they either transform the soul into its Likeness or Annhilate it. Ditto all the Fruit of the Tree of Life and True Vine. Sorry, I am rambling…

    2. Ria Avatar

      Please also note that Hindusim and its philosophical branches are both panentheistic and pantheistic.

      I also don’t understand why choosing between Christ Jesus and the pre-Christianity pre-existen Christ have to be a problem. For the Hindu it isn’t a problem at all. What can possibly go wrong if the Christian believes that the Logos,/ the Vach (?) was present before the birth of Jesus? whether as the potent focused general Logos (as when a magnification lens can cause the rays of the sun can ignite a fire) or Sun spirit?

      Why such profound exclusivity from the Christian side? A hindu can easily believe in an Avatar, a unique and very special Avatar of Brahma, Vishnu Or Shiva, or even Brahman itself, or an exclusive Sun being, changing the course of earth evolution (or planetary evolution, if so). The new, most current, special Avatar can easily be accepted and be placed first on the list of Avatars.

  3. […] 2014: For those who remain (understandably) concerned about certain elements in this book, I have a further piece here about the Vatican’s response to Meditations on the Tarot with some fascinating links to St. John Paul II and Benedict […]

  4. Stavros Avatar

    I am very glad to have found this website. I, too, was led from an interest in New Age (and more specifically, western occultism, gnosticism, and ceremonial magick) to Traditional Christianity, thanks in large part to the book “Meditations on the Tarot”. I was Eastern Orthodox for 6 years, but am now a Roman Catholic. Thanks for this site, and I look forward to exploring more of your writings. I am curious… are you a mainstream Catholic (not a sedevacantist, that is)?

    1. roger Avatar

      Quick answer Stavros – with apologies to many others I have delayed responding to – I am most definitely not a sedevacantist! This website is all about fidelity to Rome, which is essential to true Catholicism.

      I am also grateful to hear of your journey. I think many of those drawn to the New Age – like you and me – possess a religious sensitivity that has not been served by the often -Protestantised forms of Catholic practice these days.

      Some are initially drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy, as you were. Others are drawn by the traditional Catholic liturgy, which I think has a real capacity to attract and evangelise New Agers if only it were better known.

      To many of our readers, it will seem very odd that a book called Meditations on the Tarot can serve as a bridge from the New Age to the Church! But as you attest Stavros, this is indeed the case.

      (In case anyone else is reading these remarks and is concerned, I should note this book has nothing to do with fortune telling and I direct them to the post above which Stavros is replying to.)

      Many thanks, Stavros, for your testimony and kind words.

      Hopefully long-delayed replies to others will soon follow …

      1. Hans Georg Lundahl Avatar
        Hans Georg Lundahl

        Hoping you do not positively mind my not accepting Bergoglio as “Pope Francis”.

        I am not a total sedisvacantist either, I provisionally submitted to Pope Michael.

        1. roger Avatar

          Hans-Georg, far be it from me to judge you!

          This is a very, very painful topic and I do understand the enormous distress suffered by those whose hearts are pierced by the betrayal of the faith within the Church in recent decades.

          Sometimes I am just glad that my own blog deals with very little with current affairs, so that I can easily keep silent about current affairs. So I hold my tongue a lot. But despite my silence, I do understand …

  5. […] Indeed, Martin’s book appears deeply indebted to Tomberg’s sophiological diagnosis of the crisis of the West. As Tomberg writes in his profoundly Catholic Meditations on the Tarot: […]

  6. […] Whilst this book has nothing to do with fortune telling, my esteem for it may concern certain readers. (If you are such, I recommend that you read here.) […]

  7. […] Whilst this book has nothing to do with fortune telling, my esteem for it may concern certain readers. (If you are such, I recommend that you read here.) […]

  8. joshua Avatar

    First off let me praise and give thanks for the efforts made here with “Tombergian”( if I may) thought.
    Second, let me say I cannot wholly agree with every aspect of the appraisal here. I find myself self somewhat sympathetic to others commenting on Tomberg’s view of oriental mysticism, a view quite common in his time and reflected even in the Carl Jung. In essence the eastern tendency towards abstraction and as Jung noted introversion in its spirituality. This is too much to address tonight, at least for this Hermeticist, let me say simply that the most profound expression of Christian radiant love I have experienced came from an Indian Saint, still living. In short I don’t think the west readily grasps the eastern method.Even a genius like Tomberg
    Thirdly, I discovered Tomberg coming out of Rosicrucian background, a background I share with Tomberg. Thus my angle on his conversion to Catholicism differs slightly from the author of this site. To my thinking Tomberg greatest contribution to Occidental Mysticism is his encouraging of the mutual respect between ” The Church of John” and ” The Church of Peter” , or the esoteric and ecoteric attitudes of soul. He demonstrates the attitude a ” Christian Hermeticist” should have with respect men of science , men and women of exoteric faith etc. For the great pitfall for those of in esoteric faith is spiritual pride, I say this from a lifetime spent in their company. Interestingly enough, in their company in America, England , and Ireland..
    In this respect I think he excelled as a diplomat not just between different theological orientations in institutions, but those same conflicts existing in each of us psychologically. For we all possess within us an exotericist, and esotericist, a man of faith and of reason, a scientist, artist, and philosopher.
    The new age remains for me not “pre- Christian” nor ” oriental” but worse a kind of superficial cherry picking of , Hermetic, Rosicrucian, Vedantic, Yogic, and Christian ideas. These in their worst result in a teaching of forgiveness without repentance, and a quest for God without Obedience,.Chastity, and Poverty.
    Once again , I praise the intelligence with which this site has been together. It does justice to perhaps the most profound thinkers of the last century. No small feat.

    1. roger Avatar

      Joshua – belated thanks for this thoughtful, complex response – and your kind words.

      I can’t easily respond to every thread here, however let me begin by responding to you saying:

      “I discovered Tomberg coming out of Rosicrucian background, a background I share with Tomberg. Thus my angle on his conversion to Catholicism differs slightly from the author of this site.”

      I think our backgrounds are more similar than you may at first see, Joshua. I was reading Steiner long before Tomberg, so in that sense, anyway, my background is also “Rosicrucian”.

      And before Anthroposophy, I was steeped in the East, most particularly the Eastern theosophy of Alice Bailey but also figures like Krishnamurti and Meher Baba who I cherished.

      Throughout twelve readings of MotT, however, I came more and more to appreciate Tomberg’s argument that so much of Eastern spirituality leads to de-personalisation – a de-personalisation I also recognised in myself.

      Following Tomberg into the Catholic Church was a TOUGH thing for me. But year by year, my engagement with the Church’s Sacraments, with continuous study of MotT and Tomberg’s Catholic legal writings etc led me away from the East and Rosicrucianism without the Church.

      15 years ago when I first entered the Catholic Church, I could never have believed I would ever write a blog like this. If I could have seen my future self then, I would have wanted to vomit …

      Onto other topics, what you write of spiritual pride, “forgiveness about repentance” and others are points well-taken.

      Thank you again for your kindness, Joshua, and know that even if I may have come to somewhat different views after this intensive immersion in MotT and “Tomberg Law”, your words here speak to a journey that has self-evidently been very reflective and very real. God bless you, unknown friend.

      1. Ria Avatar

        I realize that I have quite a few comments. I do wish to generally thank you for all the enlightening information, from yourself as others who comment, even if I may not agree with some specific post.

        You say, Eastern spirituality leads to de-personalisation. Its hard to completely agree with this, because it seems to be more a matter of detachment and observation, rather than de-personalization as in classic DSM disorders. Some of this is possibly tied into the overcoming/ the self’s identification with of all three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

        For those searching for the right path, they should know what the true estoteric Roman Catholicsim is. Surly, just going to church, getting communian and confession as well as the catechisim is not all there is, or is it?

    2. Ria Avatar

      ” In essence the eastern tendency towards abstraction and as Jung noted introversion in its spirituality.”

      Would you please explain this “abstraction” with specific examples? The Guru Parampara is an integral part of true Hindu mysticism. The true guru provides the missing links. In ancient India, the holy rishis fulfilled this Guru-Chela necessity. Everything was orally transmitted. It is only later that this knowledge, wisdom, teachings had to be written down, since MAN was starting to evolve differently. Experience and know for yourself first, then intellectulize, is I believe what the message was/is. This does not appeal to everyone and understandably so. Some of us need to “know intellectually ” as Rudolf Steiner himself explains.

      1. roger Avatar

        Ria, thank you – at very long last – for your kindness and thoughtfulness in the comments above. As perhaps you may have noticed, lengthy illness has kept me away from this blog for a very long time. (There is a blog from me about this here.)

        Coming back, as I do now, to a great stack of personal correspondence and comments here, I regret that I will not be replying to your comments one by one.

        (Indeed, I want to beg you and anyone else who may be reading this, to note that, unlike many other bloggers, I do not easily get into back and forth commenting at the best of times. And my recent illness has not been the best of times. For even now, I am very slow writer, typing one fingered …)

        Still, I can say something more generally to the things you raise.

        Generally speaking, Ria, I recognise your concerns and would have shared them to a much greater extent many years ago.

        However, something happened in those intervening years to CHANGE me.

        And you refer to it here, when you write:

        “They should know what the true estoteric Roman Catholicsim isSurly, just going to church, getting communian and confession as well as the catechisim is not all there is, or is it?”

        What can I say? What happened to me is that through daily mass and regular confession (monthly at least) I found that here I have EVERYTHING.

        Jesus Christ …

        This is not an expression of dogma or doctrine – it is a personal testimony to experience.

        Thus, I am not looking for anything like a “true esoteric Roman Catholicism” – because the Sacraments already provide that for me.

        Esoteric refers to what is interior, inward, profound. And the Eucharist is infinitely esoteric in the sense that it is infinitely profound.

        Again, I am not speaking from dogma or doctrine – although I certainly affirm these – but the EXPERIENCE, I say, of the daily Sacraments.

        This experience of being nourished, day in, day out, by Jesus Christ has inspired everything I am saying of the de-personalisation I only now can see in my former Eastern (Theosophical) spirituality.

        Again: “only now can see”. Without this experience in the Sacraments, what I have been saying of de-personalisation would appear nonsense to me …

        Please forgive me, Ria, if I cannot get into a point by point discussion here. Even if I had time, I am not sure how fruitful it would be with anyone, including yourself, who did not experience this utter wonder that has transformed my life.

        May Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you on your journey …

        1. Ria Avatar

          Thank you for your response Roger. I hope that you begin to feel better soon.
          I understand what you are referring to, to some extent, the depersonalization aspect.


  9. Mr Low Servant Avatar
    Mr Low Servant

    Dear Sir,

    The problem with Tomberg’s understanding of the Eastern traditions is that it works fine from the Christian-centric perspective, where Christianity is understood to be the final and most advanced revelation into which the valid insights of earlier traditions can be assimilated esoterically, but it does not do justice to the Eastern traditions in all their richness, complexity and subtlety. These great traditions are not easily done full justice from outside and moreover from the perspective of another religion. The only real flaw in Tomberg’s excellent work is therefore his biased, if friendly, treatment of other religions that is simply not qualified to evaluate them objectively because he obviously doesn’t have the entire picture or access to the depths of these diverse traditions and hence forced to make simplifications that are more based on symptoms caricatured than any essential truth. One who deeply knows a vast tradition like Buddhism, for example, will find oneself unconvinced by his take on it, which conforms more to orientalist prejudices than to Buddhism’s own premises, and betrays a shallow knowledge of traditional source material. To find Buddhism basically humanistic, as Tomberg did, is to be ignorant of what a Buddha is: an embodiment of the Absolute Reality. The scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy understood this in ‘Hinduism and Buddhism’, and compared it to Eckhart’s Gottheit. How can Buddhism merely be the highest that man as such is capable of, following Tomberg, when the Buddha denies being a man, or any other created being for that matter, and claims to show the way to the deathless and unconditioned liberation? The point here is that if a religion has to be misunderstood in order to be understood in accordance with the faith of another religion, it is better to remain silent. Tomberg’s treatment of Buddhism is completely unsatisfactory (he also utterly failed to comprehend what the essence of Zen meditation actually is—but so do many modern Zen practitioners, especially in the West!), and the same goes for the other Eastern traditions.

    That being said, I think there is still a lot truth in what he says about the new Love brought by Christ to the world. The Buddha did emphasise the importance of love and compassion which is evident even in the earliest Pali texts from before the birth of Christ, but the principle of love is probably not as central and absolute, more like a means to an end. Mahayana Buddhism developed the power of love and compassion to the full, made it absolutely central as inseparable from wisdom and illumination, and strong tendencies within the Mahayana took it if possible even farther than Christianity. But one cannot exclude the possibility that the Incarnation of Christ helped fertilize the growth of these latent possibilities within Buddhism, as the Mahayana truly took form only after the mission of Christ. Bhakti spirituality in Hinduism also exploded only after Christ, not due to any direct contact with Christianity, but possibly because of changes in the subtle cosmic environment resulting from the Incarnation. It is quite possible. The Sufi mysticism of Islam greatly stresses Love, but appeared many centuries after Christ. In turn, Sufism would influence the mystery of love in Medieval Europe, helping to further bring out what was already inherent in the Christian revelation.

    1. roger Avatar

      Thank you, Mr Low Servant – very belatedly. In an ideal world, I wish I could find time to do really do justice to things you write here, obviously carefully considered for many years. For they echo what I felt for many years myself, when my own spirituality was very Eastern (a subject that incidentally I go into my big book that deals with Tomberg Cor Jesu Sacratissimum.)

      Alas, life is not ideal and right now I cannot find time to do full justice.

      I have changed, however, from my earlier Eastern stage and that change is to become, as you put it, “Christian-centric”.

      As you say in your initial line, Tomberg’s understanding “works fine from the Christian-centric perspective.” And it is exactly that position which I have moved to, as I felt ever more and more deeply what you intimate when you write:

      “That being said, I think there is still a lot truth in what he says about the new Love brought by Christ to the world. The Buddha did emphasise the importance of love and compassion which is evident even in the earliest Pali texts from before the birth of Christ, but the principle of love is probably not as central and absolute, more like a means to an end.”

      But whilst I have shifted from my earlier Eastern perspective, which means shifting away somewhat from what you write, I really want to honour the careful depths of your thought here. Your second paragraph is particularly useful to me, echoing and expanding as it does what Tomberg writes in his second great letter.

      Please forgive me for taking so very long to make this very inadequate response to your depths, unknown friend.

      1. Ria Avatar

        Christianity brought in the principle of love? As if ‘LOVE” did not already exist in the world. If that was the case, Eastern or otherwise, there would be zero humans left on Earth. Furthermore, Christianity does not personify “love.” Love HAS always been self existent. It was merely given a label “Christ.” If Love existed, Jesus himself would not have cast demons into the innocent animal kingdom, the pigs. He wouldn’t have zapped that poor non fruit bearing tree. Also, look at the Chrisitan morality, of course the morality of other religions is highly suspect as well. All religions are exploitative and lie, including Christianity. Additionally, American Christianity is definitely one of the worst. Catholicism? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve seen first hand the cruelty of “nuns” in schools in India. Just consider what they did to the poor natives in the USA, the people of the so called “First world.” Murder, beatings and more. The principle of love has always existed and it is not necessarily the “Christ.”

  10. […] this is why, despite its problematic approach in certain secondary respects, I believe that its primary message is not only critical – but perhaps delivered in the ONLY way […]

  11. The Bear Avatar

    Covered in my St. Corbinian’s Bear blog, as well. I, too have found it to be intriguing, and have read it several times. Off the top of my head, his treatment of reincarnation, the intriguing (and possibly tempting) process of evading judgment by crystallization, the “Mother, Daughter, Holy Soul,” would rule this out as a recommendation for anyone by me.

    It is a strange mix of brilliant insight and error, safely handled, and even beneficial to some. To recommended it to the Catholic world at large is more than I would do. Also, no doubt the picture shows the two-volume German set, probably given to him by Spaeman. I think it would require an odd mix of a one-time or current serious occultist and a Catholic to benefit from it. Frankly, I doubt most “occultists” I have ever met would benefit from it, being stuck in their Golden Dawn / Gardnerian / Western Mystery Tradition whatever. Tomberg is readable because he really does bring a more continental, older-sourced tradition to Catholicism.

  12. roger Avatar

    Belated thanks to the Bear for this.

    Your caution here is understandable – more than understandable! It is something that I have to struggle with continually. Now I cannot hope to do justice to my interior struggles, but can indicate that the problematic strands you indicate are very small in relation to the whole of the book’s message, which is, above all, I believe about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His Church.

    The author I believe well understood the very Eastern nature of the New Age movement that now engulfs and pretend to be “universal”. I was enchanted by this “universal” spirituality for twenty years, never really seeing how Eastern it is and how anti-Christian. But the book SAVED me, snapping the links to the East, one by one and reorienting me to the Catholic Church. I know it is doing the same for many others.

    But this is not to argue – but only to give indications – poor indications – of my own interior struggles here. Again, your caution is most understandable. Finally, you write about the books here probably being given by Robert Spaemann. I have it on good authority that Robert Spaemann did indeed give these books (not necessarily these copies, though) to St John Paul II.

  13. Robert/Bob Anderson Avatar
    Robert/Bob Anderson

    Dear Brother in the Lord Roger,
    What a wonderful discovery your website is! As a former Trappist monk, priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, and member of Church of the Second Advent (which teaches that Christ has returned in a new revelation and power in the sun of Righteousness and thus advocates sun-gazing as it new “communion”), Valentin Tomberg’s Meditations returned me to Roman Catholicism and my lifelong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Whereas I was born and raised Catholic, I have made a prodigal son’s journey and come to realize what I thought was the rich food of offshoot communities was just husks and thus I have come to see, with Tomberg’s help, that the Church indeed holds the complete truth and offers the banquet of eternal life. To hear your story, so much like my own, is amazing, so I just had to say “hello” and “God bless you and your work.”