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December, 1997

"I Don't Trust Anyone Unless I Understand Their Motivation"


"Decision" by Gene Roddenberry, premier episode of Earth: The Final Conflict

As readers of this column know, I shy from reviewing books in the December column because I disapprove of the buying frenzy that merchants whip up in order to enhance their profit margins at the expense of the true content of a religious holiday.

However, you don't have to buy anything to watch broadcast television, and as it happens, the pilot episode of Gene Roddenberry's new TV series forms a good basis for wrapping up the year's discussion of Mastery. The quote which forms the title of this column is my paraphrase of an utterance from "Decision" -- the premiere episode of Earth: The Final Conflict.

In the November column, written before I'd seen the premiere of GR's new series, I wrote: "The primary signature of the Master is the habit of voluntarily choosing his/her perspective on a matter. In fact, the Master will look at any matter brought before him/her from a number of perspectives before rendering a judgment. 'Mastery' means having a full inventory of perspectives available."

I am writing this column on October 12th, 1997, the day after Yom Kippur. One of the biggest insights into Mastery came to me during the lengthy services on that day. (By the way: the only reason other religions are not showcased in this column is that I'm not competent to talk of them. If anyone out there can do so, please send me a URL where readers can find other perspectives from other religions.) This morning, I saw the tape of Earth: The Final Conflict made for me, miraculously, I might add, by the VCR which so rarely captures what I instruct it to capture.

In "Mastering Perspectives," the November column, I traced the "Vitality Stream" pouring down from the Astral that I see as manifesting in the relationship driven story. And I mentioned how excited I was by the announcement of the new Gene Roddenberry series.

I didn't know, when I wrote the column "Mastering Perspectives", that the premiere episode of GR's new series would be about mastering relationships. It remains to be seen if the whole series will focus on that theme.

Nor did I know that the rabbi of my Congregation would choose to focus his Yom Kippur address on one element of Mastery that can unlock one's relationship with Deity. Nor did I realize that his talk would set me up to be bowled over by a new insight into a routine prayer that I like because our congregation sings it to three-part harmony that's virtually Mormon Tabernacle Choir quality. (Alas, it's the only one they sing that well.) How beautifully it's sung has masked, for me, the inner meaning of this prayer.

Nor did I realize in July, when I wrote the "Mastering Perspectives" column, nor when I started this year's investigation of Mastery, nor when I launched into writing my series of books on the Tarot, that a Rabbi's Yom Kippur commentary followed by a posthumous message from GR would present me with another one of those ineffable moments I described in the September column as "When a bit of fiction reveals to you a flaw in your reality concept, it will stop your mind in its tracks, flip you right out of the fictional world, and make you go, 'Huh?'"

The quote above is from Part One of the column I titled, "I'm Better at Fighting Wars Than I Am at Relationships". The quote has to do with those moments when the student is ready and suddenly the teacher appears.

This Yom Kippur, my Teacher posed me one of those Questions -- the diabolic kind that the Guardian loves to whack you with -- the ghastly sort that takes lifetimes to answer. The kind that look, on the surface, to have a self-evident answer. And you know it's a sucker trap just by how obvious the answer seems.

At sundown, at the beginning of Yom Kippur, our rabbi's address focused on what we have to do to guarantee Divine forgiveness for our sins. Summarizing in one sentence an intricate, scholarly, twenty-minute address heavily laced with Hebrew phrases taken from the Commentaries and even the Zohar, he said: "Telling God you're sorry for all the wrongs you've done won't guarantee forgiveness, but forgiving someone who has inarguably done you wrong will guarantee forgiveness not only for yourself but for your whole community."

You're going to be reading this in the midst of the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday Season when the mood is not contrition but celebration and hope. And many of you have no idea what Yom Kippur is about. So I'll have to explain a little, and then show you what Yom Kippur has to do with sf on TV and with the training of a Magician in the Art of Mastery. Then you will see why this sudden, half-baked insight puts a "wrap" on this year's topic, Mastery, and actually says something relevant to "Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men."

Structurally speaking, the Yom Kippur service has the form and shape of a Magickal Ritual designed to be an Initiation wherein everyone involved is a Candidate. It is preceded by a month of preparation, ending in a ten-day, high-intensity preparation that involves every sense and every physical appetite. In some traditions, the symbolism is very dense and organized around life/death.

In brief, the concept is that on Rosh Hashanah, ten days before Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven open for judgment, and invite repentance. The shofar, the ram's horn, calls the souls to attention with an alarming sound. During those ten days, prayers are recited repeatedly listing off all the categories of sin it's possible for a human to have committed, and calling us to take personal responsibility for sins committed by the entire community -- i.e., the Group Mind.

The stakes are nothing less than Life and Death. In these moments, on Yom Kippur, you stare death in the face while knowing your own unworthiness. It is quite simply, "The Death Initiation." At the final moment of Yom Kippur, with a final blast of the ram's horn, the gates of life and death are sealed for another year, and your fate is written for that year. Only a very singular, personal repentance can change that fate after that moment. But on Yom Kippur itself, it's very easy to change your fate.

The special emphasis of the liturgy is on sins committed at the behest of the subconscious, or the "heart" -- compulsive actions, or actions thoughtlessly or inadvertently undertaken at the behest of cultural conditioning without even knowing they're wrong, or actions that stem from the sanction of the prevailing local culture.

We take responsibility for the results of deeds done without knowing they were sins, or for deeds done by strangers -- deeds done because we participated in creating or supporting (if only by silence) the cultural sanctions that led others to their misdeeds.

In other words, the major focus of the preparation is not on personal sins alone, but on sins of the Group Mind. And it is the Group Mind that must confess and be forgiven. This is based, like all magick, on the holistic concept of the Universe -- that every tiny part contains the whole.

Every individual is the whole. What you do in the privacy of your own mind affects the destiny of all humanity. You matter. You count. What you do matters. It makes a difference to the fate of the world. The Magickal work you do inside your own mind, on your own values, changes the fate of all humanity. (That's what our rabbi talked about the Saturday before Yom Kippur -- that it is incumbent upon you to understand that everything you do, think and feel matters in the greater scheme of things.)

Another point our rabbi made in his Yom Kippur evening address was that the forgiveness offered at Yom Kippur is not just to the Jews but to all humans everywhere. His lecture was on perspective. And no, he hasn't read this column. He thought of that all by himself -- with a little help from the Great Sages.

Our rabbi had a Question that had occurred to him over the summer, sparked by a news event. It was a news story about a man who displayed courage and faith and dared to take a risk that our rabbi wasn't sure he, himself, would be able to take. Our rabbi asked himself, "What does that man know that I don't know -- that he can do such a courageous thing?"

He found the answer in the Yom Kippur afternoon liturgy -- the part where we study the Prophet Jonah -- (1.1 to 4.11). Without going into the details, the answer is Perspective. A mortal can't possibly see the world from God's perspective.

Remember, in the November column, I discussed how mastery of perspective is essential to the study of magick, ceremonial and otherwise. To master relationships, one must be able to look at any situation from the points of view of all the others involved in the relationship.

And you can tell that you've mastered perspective when the situation looks the same to you from all the different points of view -- just as a bowl of fruit looks the same to you no matter which corner of the room you view it from. Your mind fills in the parts you can't see and does it accurately. The test of whether you've mastered perspective in relationship is whether you can predict exactly what the situation will look like from another person's perspective before you look through their eyes.

The rabbi concluded that the man in the news story had learned from the Prophet Jonah's experience that we can't see what the Universe looks like from God's perspective, and that it's God's perspective from which we are judged and forgiven on Yom Kippur. Jonah's problem was that he got stuck in his own mortal perspective and couldn't trust God's evaluation of the whole situation. The man in the news story knew that he didn't know everything about the situation, but God did know.

Now remember, I listened to the rabbi's intricately developed thesis (of which this is a crudely paraphrased sketch from my own point of view) only a matter of weeks after writing the columns on mastery, perspective and relationship derived from my favorite sf/f TV shows. And right after the rabbi stirred up the sludge at the bottom of my mind, the liturgy led into several repetitions of the following prayer: (I'm using the translation from a very old book here, an Orthodox liturgy, "Services for the Day Of Atonement with an English Translation by S.G." published by Hebrew Publishing Co. and copyright 1928. You won't find this in Walden Books, but you could find it at a good Hebrew bookstore though in a newer edition. I just like this one, though Artscroll is better and a lot can be said for the Soncino version.)

"Our God and God of our fathers, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement. For we are thy children, and thou our father. We are thy servants, and thou art our master; We are thy congregation and thou our portion. We are thine inheritance, thou our lot; We are thy flock, thou our shepherd. We are thy vineyard, and thou art our keeper: We are thy work, and thou our creator. We are thy faithful ones: thou art our beloved; We are thy chosen: thou art the Lord our God. We are thy subjects: thou our King; We are thine acknowledged people, thou our acknowledged Lord." Then the Reader ends with: "We are brazen-faced, but thou art merciful and compassionate; we are stiff-necked, but thou art long-suffering. We are full of sin, but thou art full of mercy. As for us, our days are as a shadow; but thou art immutable, and thy years never-ending."

Note: the small letter thy and thine is as in the translation I'm quoting here, as is the punctuation and capitalization in the above paragraph. The odd Capitals are poetic paragraph beginnings. Now don't go trying to sing that. It doesn't quite scan. However, in Hebrew it's poetically gorgeous.

Also note that the reason God should forgive is the relationship we hold, not any deeds done to amend misdeeds. No excuses; no reasons -- this prayer is just an argument based on a relationship that exists. No other motivation is deemed necessary here.

It is established occult practice to hide the most potent secrets right out in plain sight. So when you find a long established liturgy that repeats something to the point where it's recited by rote -- watch out. This little song defines a twelve-fold relationship between the Creator of the Universe and his Creatures. Twelve. An interesting number.

I refer the reader to the October Monthly Aspectarian feature article, "The True Purpose of Numbers" by Gail Minogue. And of course to my own series of books on the Tarot. (Check out under my name and you'll find what's available.)

This year's insight into this song, triggered by the rabbi's addresses was as follows:

No mortal can stand at the apex of any Group Mind relationship.

Mortals can't boss mortals. Mortals can't guard mortals. Mortals can't create mortals. Mortals can't lead mortals. Mortals can't own mortals. Mortals can't set an agenda for mortals or exercise real power over other mortals. Mortals can't be Master over other mortals.

Can't -- not shouldn't. The apex spot in the group mind is already occupied.

The nature of the complex relationship between mortal and Creator is such that the apex of any Group Mind relationship formed by mortals is always occupied by the Creator. The reason for that is perspective -- only the Divine Perspective can function in that apex slot in the relationship configuration.

We've all tried to take the apex slot -- mimicking God's function at the apex of things like children playing house in grownup clothes, echoing the form but devoid of the content. We can't succeed because we don't have available that perspective from the apex.

That's what I brought home with me after the final blast of the ram's horn.

Then the next morning, right out of my VCR, comes the new character created by Gene Roddenberry stating at me across my breakfast table what may become the thematic core of the new series: "I don't trust anyone unless I understand their motivation."

And I'm left staring slack-jawed at the TV screen, going, "Huh?"

This hero holds a culturally sanctioned attitude. It is admirable. Heroic. Laudable. Smart and wise at the same time. It is very clear to every viewer -- from the body language, music, tone of voice, reactions of other characters and delivery style of the alien in question, that Our Hero will surely find the motivations of these altruistic aliens to be as detrimental to humankind as that of the Aliens in "V" the series (where the Aliens were stealing Earth's ocean water and using humans for meat while planning to strip-mine Earth and destroy the ecology for reaction mass for their starships.)

So what am I thinking as I stare at the screen? All those self-help books on relationships, especially marriage, which focus on trust, and how the lack of trust can destroy a marriage. How certain people are pathologically unable to trust because of traumas in their past. How this new Gene Roddenberry hero's attitude is much more sane and reasonable than most people's relationship-breaking distrust since to win his trust you need only reveal your motivations to him -- simple for a fan of intimate adventure. How this new hero's wife regards his inability to trust what he doesn't understand as a sign of an underlying pathology due to trauma.

GR is asking us, "Is conditional trust a pathology or a wisdom?"

The rabbi is asking, "How can we not trust Our God who lavishes forgiveness upon anyone who can forgive another mortal who has, by every objective measure, done us a grievous wrong -- without understanding wronGodoer's motivation? How can we not-trust God who judges us all on the basis of what He knows that we do not? And Who acts out of motives that we can't know?"

And I am asking, "What do you have to master in order to know when to trust, or when to trust conditionally, or when not to trust at all?"

I'm sitting there slack-jawed, staring at this big gaping flaw in my reality concept. What subject have I missed in my analysis of mastery this year?

And of course, it hit me in a blinding flash. Just ask the right question and your Teacher will club you over the head with the answer.

The rabbi explained that to gain Divine forgiveness, it is much more effective to do some forgiving than to beg frantically and repeatedly for forgiveness, twist oneself into knots of guilt and contrition or even to confess sins.

But he was very clear about one point that he made repeatedly. The person you must forgive must have done something to you that is utterly and completely unconscionable, that the whole community agrees is wrong beyond comprehension. In other words, the person you must forgive is the one whose motives are beyond your understanding. And the forgiveness can't be just words you say -- it must be that your deepest heartstrings just let go of the anger, hurt, pain, rage, indignation, blame, etc. That awful knot of tension in the middle of your body just lets go and you experience peace. From that calm center, you say the words and manifest the forgiveness you have created inside of you by the magick of The Word.

I'll repeat: If just one person in an entire group mind can accomplish that emotional gymnastic trick, that act of high magick done under the cone of energy raised by the "circle" formed by a group of practiced experts at praying, working on the tenth day after the New Moon of Rosh Hashanah, then the entire group mind will be forgiven and the destiny of the group will change. Guaranteed. That's how potent a magick forgiveness is.

So what is it that mortals can master that will allow us the perspective required to pull off that emotional gymnastic stunt of high magick?

We must master the art of being mortal.

That's all. Very simple. Very obvious. But how do we do that?

As I see it at this writing, I think it comes back to a subject I've touched on numerous times in these columns -- that sf/f is about the attitude toward the unknown, the fearless, heroic attitude that what is unknown isn't necessarily harmful or threatening.

We have to shed all our xenophobia, and overcome the fear of the dark, the fear of death, and fear itself. And that's what Yom Kippur is about -- facing death, which is the greatest unknown a mortal can face. Every Yom Kippur we have the opportunity to have a "Near Death Experience" -- and we come back to mortality changed, and perhaps not so willing to accept the limitations of being mortal again.

We have to learn to accept the limitations of mortality and proceed to live confidently, trustingly, knowing we lack full information, vital information necessary to avoid mistakes. We must trust, not blindly but knowing that we will get hurt sometimes.

As I repeated above: "The primary signature of the Master is the habit of voluntarily choosing his/her perspective on a matter." And now I think that the primary signature of the Master of the art of being mortal is to voluntarily choose the perspective of mortality (in which perspective we are stuck whether we want it or not). And we make that choice of perspective during the Death Initiation. "Shall I return to life -- or not?" The end of the Death Initiation is birth back into mortality, accepting the perspective of mortality. And birth is what the December holidays are all about.

From the mortal perspective, we know that we don't know enough to choose wisely whom to forgive, when to forgive, or what to forgive -- nor can we be certain that the forgiven one won't go and do the same blameworthy thing again.

We don't trust that he will do it again -- and we don't trust that he won't. We trust that we don't need to know and so we aren't interested in knowing because it's irrelevant. God knows, so therefore we don't have to. That is the Mastery of the Art of being Mortal - it is the art of being not-God, of living happily without omniscience, living surrounded by the unknown and not feeling threatened. It is the art of not-needing to know someone's motivations in order to trust them.

And right now I'm thinking that the Mastery of the Art of being Mortal may be the highest attainable mastery we have because nothing puts an end to war, cuts karmic ties, or summons Peace on Earth as efficiently as real forgiveness for the truly unforgivable wrongs we do (especially the ones we're really proud of), because forgiveness is the core of Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men . . . Women . . . Children . . . Aliens, etc..

That brings us to the end of this year's investigation of the subject of Mastery, though it leaves me with several bewildering, half-formed sucker-trap type questions.

Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.



Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to.   To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below. logo

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