Oral Traditions

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Last Post

In closing I'd like to say that although I admire the oral traditions, although I have seen the amazing works that they have created, I live in a literate world and I don't think I could ever give that. When I was little my version of heaven was filled with all the books I ever read and loved, that they were all saved there forever in huge libraries and wouldn't be lost. I don't think that literacy will stick mankind in one place, I think we are still evolving and that literacy was another step up. Who knows where we'll go next? Brian's paper especially made me think about the contiuned evolution of man with the idea of reorienting parts of the mind. And at rock bottom there's only one place to go: up. Back to the beginning, back to the Age of Gods. Also I am planning to develop my storytelling skills, I discovered in class I like telling stories and that ability is one that I want to improve. I do have to say that I almost considered asking to go last with my paper, because this will have been my third class with Shaman Sexson and in the previous two class I was in group 5 and presented my paper last. So now in this magical 3rd class, I was in group 5 again and I thought it would be fun to go last again to close up the tradition but I suppose it's best that I got my paper written (because I do still have two more to write.) Also Professor Sexson, be sure to check all of the archives on the side of the journal because about half my journal entries are there. To the rest of the class: until we meet again, good-bye!

The Memory of Tarot

Scarves and veils fluttering; bright colors warring with one another for visual dominance; the old gypsy woman leaning over the table, her eyes narrowed. With a flick of her hand she overturns the card before her and the young woman waiting anxiously draws back with a gasp. It is the card of Death!
Tarot has been around for centuries. From traveling gypsies to the high priests of the Hermetic Order, mystics from every avenue of life have found tarot to be an effective tool of the occult. This practice offers limitless possibilities for research and not even all the literature currently written on these cards can cover the many branches that spread from this particular tree. What will be examined here is the use of the memory theater in the tarot cards following the classic traditions described by Yates in the Art of Memory. In particular the four Major Arcana or Trumps cards from the Universal Waite Tarot Deck: VIII Strength, IX The Hermit, XI Justice and XIV Temperance, which will be examined in their relationship to the Four Cardinal Virtues set forth by Plato and reiterated through the ages by various practitioners of the memory arts.
Image is everything in tarot. While the Trump cards are named, it is the images upon the card that hold the most strength. After all, which is stronger: the simple word Death or the black-armored skeleton upon a white horse with red eyes, cutting down all in his way, sparing no one, not children, beautiful maidens, church clergy or even powerful kings. While some decks have become quite complex in their illustrations, adding in more than is perhaps needed to make the point, the Waite deck is clear and not overly-crowded. Each symbol has its place and fits in neatly and coherently with the next, no one overshadowing the other, so that every smallest detail can be seen. For example: in the Trumps card XI, Justice, there is a woman in red robes, seated upon a marble bench, which appears to be raised by nature of the step at her feet. Her right hand is raised, clasping a sword, and her left hand holds the Scales of Justice. A crown is upon her head and she sits between two pillars with a purple cloth behind her. The lighting in the picture is golden and none of the colors used are brilliant or blinding though they certainly make their presence known. The objects pictured are nicely spaced, allowing the eyes to be drawn in to the center figure of the woman, than shift out to the objects around her. The card is filled, yet the objects are simple enough that the overall card conforms to all of Yates’ rules about the lighting, spacing, etc. of a memory theater.
In interpreting a tarot card during a reading, one pulls out of their repertoire of knowledge, the meaning of the card based on the symbols seen and the memories they invoke. In the Justice card the first and most striking image is that of the woman herself. The way she holds the Scales of Justice can bring to mind the Egyptian goddess Maat. A translation of Maat’s name does in fact mean Justice and she stands at the door of the underworld holding her scales with which to weigh the newly-dead soul against a feather. Of course the penalty for having one’s soul heavier than the feather was to have it eaten by the crocodile-headed god, and indeed in the card, Justice’s other hand holds a sword to enforce her judgments. However, most tarot historians, including Author Waite the designer of the Waite deck, do not associate Justice with Maat but with instead with the goddess Astrea. Astrea is a Greek goddess, another daughter of Zeus and is found in ancient star charts to be what is currently known as the constellation of Virgo. Long ago she was the Goddess of Justice and Truth for the Golden Race of men in a Golden Age without war or violence. Then came the Silver Race of men and while she disliked them, Astrea stayed to judge and punish them. But when the state of things deteriorated enough to produce the Men of Bronze, Astrea left in disgust and rose up to become part of the heavens until the Golden Age comes again.
Remaining in the card are the scales, standing for balance, fairness, equality, and having an open mind to a situation, the double-edged Sword of Truth, and the two pillars on either side of Justice. The pillars are also seen in Trump card III, the High Priestess. In both cards these pillars represent doorways; they are the thresholds between one world and another, higher realm beyond. The High Priestess’ pillars are the doorway to a vast store of higher occult knowledge and learning; for Justice this doorway shows that Law is indeed connected to a higher power and that her authority comes from a place of absolutes.
While these are basic meanings for basic symbols, there are many more symbols that can be interpreted, from the number of the card, the lighting, whether it is day or night, indoors or out, the number of figures represented, and then the corresponding zodiac sign, and the Kabalistic interpretation and relationship to the paths on the Tree of Life. Depending on a person’s own repertoire of occult symbols, they can pull forth any number of meanings and readings based on only a few simple pictures that call forth the corresponding memories and understanding.
Virtues and Vices are constant players in the theaters of ancient memory practitioners. And as the tarot deck has a strong European background, it is no surprise that Virtues would be represented with such force. There are seven virtues and seven deadly sins, but of those seven virtues, four are the original, cardinal virtues that Plato named. The Cardinal Virtues are Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, and Prudence, matching up with the Trumps cards of Justice VIII, Strength VIII, Temperance XIV, and The Hermit IX. But this is not the only place these virtues are seen; in fact they are a major force throughout the entire deck for each virtue corresponds with a Minor Arcana suit. Justice with her sword can be seen represented in each card of the Swords Suit; Fortitude or Strength is the staff of support for the Wands Suit; Temperance is watering down the wine, pouring from cup to cup, a clear sign of the Cups Suit and finally there is Prudence, the only virtue that does not have a Trumps card carrying it’s name but which can be deduced to be The Hermit. This virtue rules over the Coin or Pentacle Suit which represents wealth of all sorts in which it is always useful to have Prudence.
Tarot offers an inexhaustible fount of images and myths from all centuries. Its examination can uncover occult mysteries, historical revelations and personal psychology. It is also a reflection of the Western psyche, for tarot cards mirror the soul, reminding it of archetypal truths. This is in interesting contrast with the Eastern form of divination, I Ching, which is a series of geometrical symbols in divination versus the colorful worldly pictures that the Western mind can more easily relate to. However, tarot does work for the Western consciousness in bringing up mysteries long lost in the mists of time and the great sea of the collective unconscious.


Abadie, M.J. The Everything Tarot Book. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1999.

Huson, Paul. Mystical Origin of the Tarot. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 2004

Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Stamford, CT: US Games Systems, Inc, 1971

Yates, Frances A. The Art of Memory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966

Monday, April 25, 2005

I have quite a few problems with publishing my epic poem in my journal. First of all, as the storyteller I have creative license to rearrange and reword some things. What I just posted is the original poem I wrote down and the oral ending especially is different from this original. So I don't like feeling like I have to be held to the exact wording of the original poem that was written down. Secondly and most important, reading these words does not give the full flavor of the telling. In my mind I can hear all the intonations and dramatic pauses that make the story exciting and while it's possible others in the class might be able to as well (I know I hear Kristi's voice when I read "I s-i-i-i-ing of Wayne" as well as the way her voice sounded for the rhyme scheme of the rest of the poem) but anyone else reading this is not going to hear it. I do have to say that since I'm obsessed with documentation and having a record of everything, it is nice to have this poem written down. And it's even better that I have a video recording of it as well. But the slightly blurry memory I have of giving the poem, overlayed with the memory of watching myself give the poem, is much more enjoyable because it has become richer and... better with time. Any little flaws I might have had are smoothed over, the only things in my memory (like squeezing all the images onto a tarot card) are the very best moments and most of the room (which is way too big and empty anyway) is also compressed so that the memory becomes rather cozy. Just me, the poem and my delightful audience.
I live in a literate culture and I would not be able to survive without my books, but I can appreciate much of what the oral culture has to offer (even if I can't word it that precisely - which I suppose doesn't even matter since this is 'oral' traditions) and I think that is what is important to get out of the class.
(Besides, of course, all the cool new knowledge I got and the books, which I really liked!)

Epic Poem

And here at last is my epic poem which I said I would get up ages ago but I can't make pictures work (to show the messy creative process) without going through more hassle than it takes to just type this up. Besides, I should have a copy on my computer anyway. I actually don't want to post this either because seeing it visually is less impressive than having heard it and I'm also hoping that time will have smoothed off the rough edges in my verse and performance... but in any case here it is.

Sing, oh muse, through me
of a hero, sturdy of limb and strong of heart
whose battles win him fame in song and verse.
Let his name be known to be Wesley Friske
he shall be praised in the minds and hearts
of fishermen from every stream and shore.
He has fought mighty battles
straining at the end of his line
to defeat the silver-clad foe.
Bold-hearted Wes hailed from the southern lands
lands of sun and cowboyed cites
were water is controlled by human whim.
Born on a day of sun, born on that day
when helmted heroes battle proudly neath the gaze
of nations over beer and pigskin.
He has traveled far from home and family
searching for adventure, searching for those lands
who water leaps and flows without restrictions.
Finally his travels come to rest
in the place of sky and snow
here he has found challenges worthy of his time.
Listen now, hear of his greatest feat
the struggle in the Golden River
with the elusive Rainbow Trout.
The day, it was before the night of demons.
once Helios had loosed his horses from their bits
then would come the darker forces out to play.
But brave-hearted Wes was not afraid
confident in his tools and skills
he worried not of omens of the day
Yet from the start forces conspired against him
the heavens opened, poured down their wrath
the waters of that river gold were as of ice.
Determined Wes was not turned back
for through the water's surging, frothy streams
the glint of silver on the river's golden stone strewn bed, compelled him on.
And so he cast his line into the racing water
but was foiled by that sly fish
his fishing reel, the first time ever, failed him.
With him always was that treasured reel
an heirloom passed down from father to the son
but now it broke, the pieces scattered in the water!
Yet, there was hope
a faithful friend
did give to Wes a magic reel.
This reel within it held the essence of the waters
self-aware, it knew the tricks of fish
and whispered words of wisdom.
His path made clear,
the ways of Rainbowed Fish now known
the hero waded out into the icy torrent.
Three times he cast that line into the raging waters
because his heart was strong, his hand so sure
the line at last submerged, the fish was hooked!
Three hours locked in battle were the man and fish.
a battle of wills
and no will was stronger than Wesley's.
He triumphed at long last
no fish, not even hardy Rainbow Trout
could stay against him.
And as the sun began it's final dive
he wrest from the waters,
the silver-mailed Rainbow Trout.
Scales glinted in the setting sun
his quest complete
satisfied he left the battleground.
A celebration feast soon followed
glasses filled in recognition of his feat
and of that fish this I do swear,
"it was, this big."

Astrological Chart

I loved listening to everyone's presentations on April 19 and 21 and finding out what everyone thought was 'important'. I am rather happy with my presentation, not the actual presentation itself which I could have done better, but the way I organized my verbal diagram as I like to think of it. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought it had a nice rhythm to it. I did have to hold myself back from adding in more; when I was drawing the diagram to memorize it I kept thinking of more and more relationships to add it. Like right now I was working on my tarot paper and although I barely mention it in my paper, each Major Arcana (Trumps) card is connected with a zodiac sign as well as a path on the Kabbala Tree of Life and a letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Anyway, as I think I did go rather fast in class, here is the list version of my diagram which is supposed to go in a circle starting with Aries on the twelve o'clock line of the clock which is also the top of my driveway in my memory theater. (And don't think this was easy because of the constant repeats within the structure. That just made it harder because I had to keep them all straight and the patterns of 2, 4 and 3 while counting Houses does not match up!)

Aries the Ram: masculain duality, fire element, cardinal quality. ruled by mars while ruling the 1st House of Self

Taurus the Bull: feminine duality, earth element, fixed quality. ruled by venus while ruling the 2nd House of Possessions

Gemini of the Twins: masculain duality, air element, mutable quality. ruled by mercury while ruling the 3rd House of Communication

Cancer the Crab: feminine duality, water element, cardinal quality. ruled by the moon while ruling the 4th House of Home

Leo the Lion: masculain duality, fire element, fixed quality. ruled by the run while ruling the 5th House of Sex and Creativity

Virgo the Virgin: feminine duality, earth element, mutable quality. ruled by mercury while ruling the 6th House of Health and Service

Libra the Scales: masculain duality, air element, cardinal quality. ruled by venus while ruling the 7th House of Marriage and Partnership

Scorpio the Scorpion: feminine duality, water element, fixed quality. ruled by pluto while ruling the 8th House of Death and Regeneration

Sagittarius the Archer: masculain duality, fire element, mutable quality. ruled by jupiter while ruling the 9th House of Travel and Exploration

Capricorn the Goat: feminine duality, earth element, cardinal quality. ruled by saturn while ruling the 10th House of Career

Aquarius the Water-Bearer: masculain duality, air element, fixed quality. ruled by uranus while ruling the 11th House of Hopes, Dreams and Friends

and finally....
Pisces of the 2 Fish: feminine duality, water element, mutable quality. ruled by neptune while ruling the 12th House of Secrets, Sorrows and Self-Undoing

Oral Tradition?

I'm writing a 10 (ok not quite but almost there!) page paper on the troubadours in southern France. I am fascinated by that region in general, mainly because so many occult and mystical things happened there (origins of tarot and the Cathars the main attractions). The class it is for, is music and society, so I talk about how the society there influenced the troubadours. But the whole time I was writing the paper I went back and forth on the issue whether or not the troubadours had an oral tradition. I mean, first of all they composed a lot of songs in their heads and were called upon at banquets and feasts to sings at moments notice. But the only reason we have any songs at all (a meager 2500) is because those poets who were literate wrote their songs down. With 460 known troubadours in the South of France from the 1100's to the 1300's, they must have composed hundreds of thousands of songs. But the only ones that have come down to us today are the ones that were written down. Granted they have lost a lot of their original flavor, especially since it is not entirely known how the original music sounded (we can come close but...) and yet I personally think it is worth the corruption of literacy to be able to have some fantastic pieces of poetry. Especially since the way I was originally introduced to the troubadours' music (before I got to college and started looking it up in musty old books) was through listening to it. I have several CD's of medieval music, sung in the original French with fairly similar instruments, and one of my favorite bands is called The Mediaeval Babes, a group of 12 (well, now only 8) women who arrange and sing these old songs. Which is really fun actually because they have songs in French, Spanish, Russian, German, Irish, English and Welsh; all in the ancient form of the language that the songs were written in so the english is completely incomprehensible. Here and there you can pick out words but most of the time (except for the fact I do have the translation) it is impossible to tell what they are singing. Music today is a form of secondary orality, I guess that's pretty obvious, but in the spirit of one of the earlier presentations I'm pointing it out.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sherman Alexie was awesome, very funny and I knew that every Oral Tradition student in the crowd perked up when he mentioned those special two words. Kind of late, will try to write on this later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Super Size Me

Just saw one of the grossest movies of all times. Super Size Me, one man's vow to eat only McDonalds for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don't eat fast food anyway, and have never eaten at McDonalds, and found it incredibly disgusting but my sister who eats a ton of sugar and greasy food was very impressed. She's been telling all her friends what happens in the movie with great detail and remembers a lot of the facts about America's fast food fetish that are told in the film. I think this is a perfect example of how memory opperates better with gross and weird things. Visual stimuli that is more colorful, and in some ways disturbing, sticks in the mind much better than my mother just telling my sister, greasy food is bad for you, it clogs the arteries. Actually seeing the slimy arteries being operated on is a much more powerful reason to stop going to fast food stops.
And by the way, if you do eat fast food, you really should watch the movie. Now I finally have something to point to as proof that I'm not crazy for never eating the sickening food at places like McDonalds.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I just got out of class today where we discussing the ethics of an Artist using drugs to inspire creativity. I'm not going to say anything incriminating here, but I do know that when I have caffeine I can write better and words flow easier. (Ok, so for most people caffeine doesn't work but it does for me. If I drank a lot of it, it wouldn't.) It was unanimously agreed that being high while working makes for more creative art, the question was, is it right for the Artist to be doing so? Is it somehow cheating to use outside stimulous to inspire creativity? So then I was wondering if oral poets could perform while high. An author has some kind of writing tool before them with which to write; you sit down at the computer and type. It's very easy and doesn't require that much thought. But the oral poet, I would think, needs some kind of mental structure functioning properly to form the words and complex sentances and remember the epithets we've been talking about in class. I can't say much more on this subject because I'm not an oral storyteller so I can't tell the story in the first place, let alone while high. I do know that people can still have fascinating conversations while high, so maybe they could create an oral story as well. Just some questions I can't answer.


I always have fun at the end of the semester seeing what people have come up with in their group presentations. Complementarity had an added enjoyment for me because that Celtic myth is a personal favorite of mine. I have a CD by Ceredwen, a group named after the Celtic Goddess of inspiration: Ô'r Mabinogi - Legends Of The Celts. Here are the two songs that come from the story told by group 4 from the Celtic Mabinogi. (Translations are at the end)

Yng Ngolau Ddydd - In The Light Of Day

Y llongau yn cyrchu tuag atynt
Yn nofio 'n dawel tuag at y tîr
Yn dyfod o ddehau 'r Iwerddon
Dair llong ar ddeg i gyd

Yn eistedd an y garreg Bendigeidfran fabLlyr
Yan aros i'w chyfarch y dirgelwch
Pwy oedd y gwyr?

Yng ngolau ddydd-Daeth y Brenin o'r Iwerddon
Mewn gobaith briode Branwen
Yng ngolau ddydd-Yn chwilio am y forwyn
Y gall rhoi cariad iddo

Ar y traeth fe gwrdd y ddau Frenin
I drafod cyfuno 'r ddau ynys ys un
Penderfynwyd i rhoddi llaw Branwen
Y forwyn decaf yn byd

Gan fynd yn ei lluoedd i gyfeiriad Aberffraw
Mewn pebyll fe wledda yr undeb yn awr yn gyflawn

Ond ni wyddodd Branwen am y tristwch oedd yn ei blaen
Ei chalon yn llaen o ddedwyddwch
Wedi priodi'r Brenin golygus a haul-Branwen, Branwen

Yng ngolau ddydd-Aeth y Brenin o'r Iwerddon
Efo'r forwyn decaf Branwen

The boats were heading for them
Swimming quietly towards the land
They came from Ireland
Thirteen boats in all

Sitting on the rock was Bendigeidfran, the son ofLlyr
Waiting to greet them, the mystery
Who were these men?

In the light of the day, the King ofIreland
Came to marry Branwen
In the light of the day, looking for a maiden to love

On the beach the two kings met
Hoping to unite the two islands
Branwen was to marry
She, the most beautiful girl in all the land

They went in their droves to Aberffraw
They feasted in tents, the union was nowcomplete


Branwen, unaware of her destiny
Was so happy to marry the handsome king

In the light of the day, the king returned to Ireland
With the pretty maid Branwen

Dial Bendigeidfran - The Revenge Of Bendigidfran

Am y drwg tuag at Matholwch caeth Branwen ei chosbi
I weithio yn y gegin o fore tan nôs
Y cigydd mor greulon yn rhoi bonclust iddi beunydd
Ei ysbryd yn gadarn er gwaethaf ei phoen

Poenwyd Branwen am dair flynedd
Cyn rhoi neges at ei brawd
Hedfan wnaeth yr aderyn drudwen
Efo'r llythr yn canu ei chais

Wedi clywed am gyflwr Branwen
Penderfynwyd i'w gwaredi
Aeth ar unwaith i'r Iwerddon
Dros y dwr efo'i ddynion
Dial, rhiad 'nol Branwen o Ynys Matholwch
Dial, rhiad 'nol Branwen o afael ei gwr

Y meichiaid yn gweithio ar ochr y môr
Yn gweld y rhyfeddod yn dyfod o'i blaen
Y mynydd yn cerdded yn araf tuag atynt
A 'r coed wrth wi ymyl yn dilyn yn ei draed

Bendigeidfran oedd y mynydd
Yn mynd yn dawel drwy y dwr
Yn tynnu coedwig o longau efo
Er mwyn achub Branwen wrth ei gwr

(Chorus twice)

Branwen was punished for the wrong done to Matholwch
To work in the kitchen from morning 'til night
The butcher so cruel slapped her face everyday
But her spirit was strong in spite of her pain

For three years Branwen suffered
Sending a message to her brother
The Starling flew to tell of her plight

Hearing of Branwen's shame
He made up his mind to free her
With his men to Ireland
Across the water he went
Revenge, Branwen must be saved from Matholwch's island
Revenge, Branwen must be saved from her husband's arms

The swindherd's were working on the seashore
Looking at the wonder in front of their eyes
A mountain was walking slowly towards them
And the trees at its side followed behind

Bendigeidfran was the mountain
Walking silently towards the land
Pulling a forest of ships behind him
To save Branwen from this man

(Chorus twice)

Problems with computers

"Smell is the most powerful memory trigger there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell-musty and rich. Knowledged gained from a computer has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Note on use of memory theater: mine failed me today. The problem was the images I used. I had Krishna in a boat and from that I got "Passage to India" "The Sea, the Sea" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God". Only I re-membered it as "Voyage to India" because he's on a boat. I should have done an image like Krishna walking over a land bridge or something. I think 'boat' and connect that with 'voyage', not 'passage'. Maybe I should have had Krishna reading a book while walking over the sea... although that makes "Their Eyes Were Watching God" less strong because the God is no longer watching his people. (I switched it around for my image). Also I couldn't remember "The Birth of Tragedy". I knew something bad happened, rather that something bad started, but I couldn't remember what form it took. I think that part of this problem stems from the fact I haven't read these books and so had to come up with a creative way to remember the titles, which wasn't that precise. I'm certain that if I had read those books, I wouldn't have forgotten the titles.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Shaman Sexson

Sharing a story that I remembered in class, not entirely sure what made me remember it though. The story was of modern day American Indians and a young man was being tested by a shaman. The man was getting more and more frustrated with the methods in which he was being taught because he felt that not only was his teacher not being serious enough but that he was too dramatic and colorful and made too much of a presentation. Finally he lost all patience and demanded of his teacher "Are you a shaman or a showman?" His teacher just smiled and answered "Yes".

I have been pondering the importance of emotion for the memory loci. When we are instructed to use an image that is grotesque and disturbing visually, it is because it is easier to remember, it invokes a strong response. But what about other emotions? Peter of Ravenna had a girl he was attracted to and 'remembered fondly' move about his memory theaters; would images that have a depressing or uplifting effect also be as strong as those that are replusive and shocking. I suppose it would depend on someone's emotional being, the girls who just fade into one another or the girl that Lolita was inspired by.
And would symbols work also as objects? Could one assign a meaning or memory to a word? I suppose not because words have many meanings and are seen in many places while the statue in your memory theater stays unique and unused. But I ask this because for years the way I remembered my dreams was through only a few lines of description. For example I would write 'cat, glasses, Rex, bookstore, antique, run, catch' and I would remember the entire dream for years. I could remember entire dreams like this for about two years before they would start fading. This no longer works for me because I now require more detail in my dreams and they fade too fast, but if I opened up one of my old dream journals I could still assemble at least some scenes if not the whole dream. Reading the above line, even if I can't remember what was going on, I still remember what the bookstore looked like, where the counter was, the closed spaces, the shelves of books crowded on one another, the metal window frames and tall windows next to the door. I have a snap shot in my head that is as good as any memory from actual life (which isn't that great since I don't have a photographic memory) and I retreive it at any time just by reading that phrase. And the cat, a tabby, sandy-gray fur, was sitting on a pile of books next to the cash register on the left side of the counter and it was wearing glasses. Of course I am reliant on reading and writing because I wouldn't actually remember that phrase but 'key words' as I call them have always helped me in daily memorization tasks.