Site for Esoteric History 

Pope John Paul II meditating on the Tarot?

Another very intriguing addition to the perception of the possible esoteric interests of Pope John Paul II came from a friend of Alpheus in the form of a set of photos, one of which shows the pope sitting behind his desk with a stack of books. The bottom two books are arguably the 2-volume set of Die Grossen Arcana des Tarot, which is the 1983 German edition of the French original and out of which sections were taken and published in English as Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism.

The book was anonymously written by the Catholic writer and ex-Anthroposophist Valentin Tomberg and was published in 1972 just before he died. The eminent esotericism scholar Antoine Faivre states that in

terms of content and reception it has to be positioned among the foremost books in Western esotericism published in the 20th century. (Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, 112)

On closer inspection the images actually do not match up, for the books on the pope’s desk have the arrows on the spine of the book pointing north-east (if you position the book straight up), …

… while on the clear picture of the original book the arrows point north-west:

Different book? Initially I was skeptical to find such a book on the desk of the pope while being photographed for a prominent magazine. Maybe there just was some semblance and based on that the person who found the images, Ed Manhood, just jumped to the conclusion that the two books were identical. My solution to that little conundrum was to test whether it was possible that the picture of the pope at his desk was maybe a mirrored picture. To determine that possibility from the appearance of the titles is impossible, because they are not clear enough. To actually find out I focused on the question of whether the pope wears his wristwatch on his left or right wrist. On the photo it is clear he is wearing it on his right wrist. But is that the wrist he usually wears it? Apparently not. I found through Google Images at least three clear photos where he is wearing his watch on the left. And here is one:

Based on this I have to conclude that the 1988 Weltbild photo is a mirror image of the original. Therefore, if you ‘mirror’ the photo back, the arrow will go from pointing north-east to north-west …

… just as is the case on the spine on the clear photo (here turned 180 degrees to align them again), and the discrepancy is solved:

Therefore the original picture of the pope behind his desk was this:

Apparently the book landed on the pope’s desk as a gift from one of his Cardinals, the German Jesuit Hans Urs von Balthasar, who also had written its very laudatory foreword, which by itself is another startling addition to the emerging picture here of a Hermeticist-Catholic connection here.

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. Firstly, it may be recalled that such an attempt is to be found nowhere in the history of philosophical, theological and Catholic thought.

And the connection is not secretive either. On the contrary. The American Cistercian monk and populizer of a practice named ‘centering prayer,’ Fr. Thomas Keating openly calls in a review for the book to become a fundamental Christian text.

With its firm grasp of tradition, its balance, wisdom, profundity, openness to truth, and comprehensive approach to reality, it deserves to be the basis of a course in spirituality in every Christian institution of higher learning and what would be even better, the point of departure and unifying vision of the whole curriculum.

Wow. What’s going on here? Specifically, my question would be: What are the possible spiritual-intellectual ways Wojtyla, Balthasar and Keating are relating to Tomberg’s book? Are they Hermeticist moles in the Vatican spreading esotericism amongst thinking Catholics? Or are they part of an agenda to subsume Hermeticism under Catholicism with possibly a sinister Jesuitical twist? Or are they ecumenical syncretists? Or are they a part, consciously or not, of a Mahatmic agenda to reform Catholicism along Occult lines? After all Blavatsky stated:

Like an immense boa-constrictor, Error, in every shape, encircles mankind, trying to smother in her deadly coils every aspiration towards truth and light. But Error is powerful only on the surface, prevented as she is by Occult Nature from going any deeper; for the same Occult Nature encircles the whole globe, in every direction, leaving not even the darkest corner unvisited. And, whether by phenomenon or miracle, by spirit-hook or bishop’s crook, Occultism must win the day, before the present era reaches “Sani’s (Saturn’s) triple septenary” of the Western Cycle in Europe, in other words—before the end of the twenty-first century “A.D.” (BCW XIV, p. 27)

Which of these possibilities might muster some proof? Is there anything in Tomberg’s text that might give a clue? I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know.

This article is a follow-up to: On Popes, Phenomenology and HPB



Copyright © 2001 - G.W. Schüller