“Christ Consciousness”

Notre Dame Basilica Montreal
Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica – photos do not capture the impact of this place…

By Steven Seinberg…

I’m a big Tarot person. It’s one of my passions, and I work with the cards in one form or another pretty much every day. This has been the case for the last seven years or so, and I had already been a more casual acquaintance of the system before that. In other words, I’ve had mega-opportunity at this point to study the cards, and to keep tabs on my evolving reactions to them.

For example, when I first got seriously interested in Tarot, I had a real beef with the card known as The Hierophant. This is a character who can mean many great and positive things…but part of my issue with The Hierophant was the fact that in the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck – the single most popular and influential deck in the English-speaking world – the character is presented basically as the Pope.

And having been born and raised in a Jewish family, I failed to connect with the card by a wide margin. My knee-jerk response upon seeing it was that I was somehow being forced by the deck to acknowledge the Pope (and by extension, the Church) as a figure of vast importance in this fascinating new discipline that I was being so drawn to at the time. My feeling was, “Hey, I never signed on for that! I didn’t agree to having one of the cards devoted to some character I have zero connection with!”

Hierophant Tarot Rider Waite Smith
The Hierophant as depicted in the seminal Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck – Pope much…?

My feelings have since undergone some real transformation, though. It became clear to me after studying quite a few other decks that The Hierophant represents any qualified person’s ability to serve as an enlightened teacher and counselor who can help to bridge perceived gaps between the mundane, everyday world and the lofty realms of the Divine. And it doesn’t have to be a Pope or other Christian authority doing the bridging. It can be a shaman or other equivalent figure, for instance, or even Nature itself.

In fact, I was fascinated to learn later in my studies that the term “Hierophant” originally spun out of certain ceremonies held in ancient Greece, in which special priests called Hierophants led participants in various rites and reenactments based on the myth of Persephone. For the uninitiated, Persephone was a young Olympian Goddess who was abducted into the Underworld by her uncle, Hades, the gloomy overlord of that shadowy nether-place. The fact that these ancient Greek ceremonies long predated Christianity made it clear to me that “Hierophant” and “Christian authority figure” are not at all interchangeable terms and concepts.

And I should state here that I don’t mean to imply that subscribing to Christian beliefs is somehow wrong or bad – far from it! I just didn’t want those (or any) beliefs force-fed to me in any way, shape, or form. But then discovering that The Hierophant doesn’t need to be tied to any specific organized religion was a real revelation for me, and it allowed me to open up to what this card might signify.

And similarly, as strange as this might sound, I’ve also had this longstanding kind of reflexive urge since childhood to lean away from discussions that focus too heavily on Jesus. I should explain that a bit…

Part of that feeling was almost certainly down to my having felt a bit like an outsider as a youngster, when I was part of this odd little minority of Jewish kids in a Christian world. To the bulk of my classmates, we were pork-spurning oddballs who were clueless about things like catechism and confession, who lit candles for “Hanukkah” instead of stuffing presents under a Christmas tree when December rolled around, and who ate that weird, flat, crunchy “matzoh” stuff instead of bread for about a week or so in the spring every year. Feeling like an outsider can of course lead to feelings of resentment toward those who are insiders…and toward the things that bind them and identify them in their majority status…

Part of my aversion was also annoyance at being accosted too many times over the years by people who wanted to interrupt whatever I might be doing so they could push some totally unsolicited form of Christian agenda upon me. I don’t brace other people in supermarket parking lots or jab intrusively at their doorbells to push my own causes during what otherwise would be their private downtime, so I kind of expect the same in return.

And part of my aversion to Jesus-centric discussions was resentment toward the Church itself, and all the horrible things perpetrated in its name or by its authority figures (though I would have granted you that the Church has also done great things for humans in its time as an earthly institution, too).

In recent years, though, I’ve noticed that my views toward Jesus have evolved, much like my views toward The Hierophant have.

Specifically, studying various metaphysical disciplines (not just Tarot, but also Astrology and Kabbalah, to name a few) has allowed me to see that I can separate whatever uses “Jesus” might be put to by the Church or by other people and entities, from what the symbol of Jesus represents.

Christ Consciousness bronze altar Chapel Notre Dame Basilica Montreal Metaphysical
This towering bronze sculpture in the chapel of the Basilica felt to me like the term “Christ Consciousness” distilled down into physical form…

It helped me a lot to settle on the term “Christ Consciousness.” I like that this phrase feels centered on the pure symbolic meaning of Jesus rather than on specific imagery, Bible verses – or especially for me – on rigid instructions put forth by other humans that try to tell the rest of us how we must receive and interact with that symbolic meaning. My feeling is that plenty of us here on Earth are capable of having productive relationships with the Divine all on our own, thanks…

But to illustrate this evolution… This week, I was up in Montreal on a small getaway. One of the big attractions that I got to visit while there was the famous Notre Dame Basilica in the old section of the city…

Please note that in years past, I used to have very little desire to walk the grounds of churches, including even the ones that are widely regarded as these magnificent structures. This was like a strange little private protest of sorts that, as I look back on it, was clearly more harmful to my own spiritual development than it was to anyone or anything else that I told myself I was boycotting.

This time, though, I was actually pretty eager to stroll the interior of the Basilica. And not only was it every bit as grand and impressive a structure as its reputation holds, but I was also able to enjoy this feeling of pretty deep spiritual connection while I was there.

I don’t really subscribe to the notion that a Supreme Being would need to be (or allow Itself to be) sequestered into a specific building, and kind of quarantined there like a plague victim or cordoned off like a crime scene – a Supreme Deity should be accessible anywhere and everywhere, right? – but it also occurred to me that immense amounts of devotional energy have been allowed to flood the Basilica since it was first opened nearly two centuries ago…

And walking around inside the silence of it, and sitting quietly in the pews before the main altar, and in the chapel behind it, I was actually able to feel some of that great accumulation of energy. I was able to effectively ponder what “Christ Consciousness” now means to me, and to consider how we might all gain from this sort of contemplation.

All in all, it was a pretty moving experience to be there, and I highly recommend a visit if you happen to be in the Montreal area. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to do my best to remain open to spiritual concepts from all sorts of faiths and philosophies that originated outside of the ones in which I was raised. That way lies growth, and hopefully, also real compassion and understanding…

4 comments

  1. You were fortunate to visit during down time, while no church services were going on, so you could sit back and take in the essence you so eloquently referred to as devotional. There is a peacefulness that can be experienced in an empty church, not quite as potent in alternative places of worship. Not that I’ve been to that many, but enough. And as an empath, I easily draw in atmosphere. Beautiful pictures, illuminating discussion, thank you.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Marianne. You’re right, too: it would have been a much different experience if a service had been underway while I was there. I was really thankful to have the silence and the mostly empty space to roam around in. It was extremely meditative under those circumstances.

  2. Steven, You have the gift…

    Write. Save what you have written. Then, write more. You are the only one of you that will ever be… Uncle Jim

    With time, there are no “do-overs”, use it or lose it…

    >

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