Artwork and writing by Eden Gallanter.

Eden is a professional artist, author, and scientist, and is the creator of the Cheimonette Tarot, sold in over 30 countries, across 6 continents.

Filtering by Tag: Philosophy

The Dizziness of Freedom: Fortitude and The Devil

“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eyes as in the abyss . . . Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” -Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety

The Cheimonette Tarot has several unique connections between the cards, and I wanted to expand on one of them, the Fortitude (Strength) card, and The Devil, embodying opposite and contradictory concepts of freedom and captivity.

Free will is a funny concept, wherein we are told (at least, by the Judeo-Christian bible) to think of that which we take for granted as a special dispensation from god, conferred on human beings alone. Otherwise, those who believe in a deterministic universe may argue that, in the inexorable course of time, the world is constrained to have only one sequence of events, only one outcome, only one choice. Within this miasma of divine boredom (god sits on his couch, having ruined the movie for himself, watching the story play out without any hope of astonishment), free will gets lost in the shuffle, crushed under the bulk of an all-powerful fate.


In Fortitude, a blindfolded woman is frozen in the moment just before she leaps off the back of a speeding, headless, horse. Is she in danger? The scene would suggest not. Sprouting from her back are four insect wings, poised to go into action at any moment. In fact, the woman seems to be about to fly, rather than to fall. There are in fact three blindfolded characters in the Cheimonette Tarot (and none of them are the blindfolded Fool of the Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck): the Priest, the Ace of Swords, and Fortitude. Each of these cards represents a different act of courage, and the latter two symbolize a genuine leap of faith. True strength is not about confidence, but is an act of imagination. After all, the strong must accept that they are in danger. When we travel as far as the legs of human experience: wisdom, reason, and animal instinct (the headless horse), can possibly carry us, we may take an imaginative leap, and thereafter decide for ourselves the course of our lives.

If fate denies free will, this leap is nothing more than another foreordained act of human limitation, but if fate accepts free will as a cohabitant and a sister, then machinations of a deterministic universe affect our freedom not one whit. What have the affairs of the gods to do with our mortal choices? Our mortality make us artists, generating beauty, wonder, and nonsense within the monotony of omniscience.

The Devil

In the Devil, we find the head of the galloping horse in Fortitude. Although Fortitude's horse, despite having no head, has a seeing eye where its head would be, the animal's mind and mouth and face are missing. In the Devil, the horse's head expresses pain and fear, seemingly unable to move its limbless body even without the superfluity of the chains, held by unwinged, birdlike creatures. There are no people in the Devil, although the angel, itself headless as it merges in terror back into itself, spreads its wings as a sign of its power to escape. The Devil horse portrays human suffering. The nameless birdthings (the identity of which is as mysterious to the author as it is to you, reader) have no expression, either of satisfaction or dismay or confusion. The expressions of their faces remain illegible. A scene to make the angels hide: the disenfranchisement of the soul from its birthright of freedom and fortitude.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to danger. The abyss, as everyone knows, can be frightening and disorienting in its hugeness. There is nothing really left to do, then, besides tie on a blindfold and jump, and fly, or else stay in your shackled little world forever.


 This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

The Day of Remembrance

"War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I arrived in Israel the day before yesterday.  Tel Aviv sounds different, smells different, tastes different; all the delicious indicators that I am far away from home are all around me.  I am overwhelmed by work almost immediately, but I do have an unexpected respite.  Today is Israel's Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, the day Israeli citizens honor fallen soldiers and victims of (Arab) terrorism.  It is a very nationalistic day, and concentrates some of the problematic dimensions of nationalism.  Israel has adopted a position that recalls in some ways, to my mind, the McCarthy era in the United States.  Criticism of the government is equated with the delegitimization of the State of Israel, thus any questioning of government or military action can be seen as treason.  This is not to say that Israel has become paranoid to the point of brutally silencing dissenting citizens, as in the case of Argentina's desaparecidos, but this constraint on opposition, this culture of suppression, is a feeling that circulates within the mainstream into all arenas of life in Israel.  A co-worker of mine attended an event by an organization for nonviolence, "Combatants for Peace," yesterday, which memorialized both Israeli and Palestinian victims of the conflict, recognizing government and terrorist activities on both sides that killed innocent people.  Israel Today's headline was: "Radical Leftists to honor Palestinian terrorists on Memorial Day."

Yesterday, we had a special presentation, in which several texts from Israeli military personnel were read and analyzed, and a discussion followed.  The one that struck me the most was written in 1956, by Moshe Dayan, who first served in an early Jewish militia known as the Haganah, and who would eventually serve as Chief of Staff under David Ben Gurion, in 1953. Dayan was baldly straightforward about what needed to be done in order to secure a state of Israel for the Jewish people, and throughout his career openly expressed uncertainty about the defensibility of what he was participating in.  He said that his tactics were "effective, not justified or moral but effective," and he was responsible for the deaths of many innocent and unarmed Palestinians, and instrumental in the creation of the State of Israel, and to the relative safety of two million Jews, most of whom has nowhere else to go, themselves under violent siege.  Dayan wrote, at his funeral oration at the death of a young Israeli farmer at the hands of a Palestinian Arab:

"Let us not today fling accusation at the murderers.  What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us?  For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived.  We should demand his blood not from the [Palestinian] Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves.."

Yesterday, Dayan's words taught me the perspective of terror.  When you are fighting for your life, you can either demolish the enemy and their children, or you can lay down and die with yours.  This is the perspective human beings gravitate towards when they live suffused in an atmosphere of unrelenting danger, an atmosphere that Israel has never completely extricated itself from.

For all I know, this perspective is true.  I come from a life within a privileged bubble where war has not yet touched. Perhaps there really is no other choice other than to kill your enemy or allow yourself to be killed. I can't really say.

Nevertheless, my feeling is that it's a lie told to us by throwback human instincts and emotions from a time of ancient tribal survival.  I don't think there really is any enemy.  Dayan later went on to say, "without the steel helmet and the gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house," but I am increasingly sure that, whether or not a displaced people had to build their future that way, none of us today may build our future that way. That house is made of the bones and blood of all of us.

I am searching for a solution, or at least the components of one, here.  The dialogue continues.



Søren Kierkegaard at 3 AM, or, How I Passed the LEED for Neighborhood Development Professional Accreditation Exam

"The truth is a trap: you can not get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you." - Søren Kierkegaard, Journal Entry, 1854.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I pick up my “Journals and Letters of Søren Kierkegaard.”  He is my favorite philosopher.  I can’t necessarily say that he has written my favorite books on philosophy (it’s difficult to top the beautiful mind food found within Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” or the gloomy appeal of Sartre and his avid solipsism, or Neitzsche’s elegant and sometimes mean-spirited logic in “Ecce Homo” and “The Twilight of the Idols.”)  Nevertheless, Kierkegaard remains my favorite, the best loved, which is why I adore the intimacy of his “Journals and Letters.”  His inner conflict over his theology, his interpersonal relationships, his vehement and often passionate expression of the collection of ideas that eventually won him the title Father of Existentialism, all make him the most human of the philosophers.  I admire his doubt, his confusion, and his brilliant articulation of the train of thought (rather than presenting his reader only with an ostentatious display of philosophic conclusion, as Kant was used to do).

Kierkegaard, in fact, was very straightforward about his conviction that the only valid perspective on the world is that of subjectivity.  There is such a thing as objective fact, truths that are common to us all and universal laws that can be applied across space and time, but these truths cannot be discovered or understood with any tools greater than the outer limits of the small and inherently biased human mind.  “Subjectivity is Truth,” wrote Kierkegaard.  “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”  For him, there existed no worldly authority that could be trusted.  Objective truths could not by themselves contribute meaning to human life.  Meaning existed only within an interpersonal relationship to truth.


So, I’ve been studying for the LEED for Neighborhood Development exam this past month, and I passed the exam on March 29th.  The exam consists of knowing the information contained in the U.S. Green Building Council’s elephantine Reference Guide for the Neighborhood Development rating system: about 600 pages of the concepts, calculations, referenced standards, and exhaustive instructions for professionals trying to achieve project certification for a neighborhood development.  USGBC's reference guide covers major principles for sustainable community development, and the rating system awards points for high density in residential and nonresidential buildings, mixed income housing, mixed-use neighborhoods, energy efficient buildings and infrastructure, and for projects located on previously developed land and near public transit.  There are a myriad of other factors, including urban agriculture, habitat conservation, and even criteria concerning accessibility for the disabled.

Not only am I not terribly skilled at memorizing numbers, but, unlike the majority of folks who take a LEED AP exam, I have never worked in the building industry.  I’ve mostly worked with communities to develop green infrastructure, through nonprofits, local park authorities, and small green engineering firms.  I’m sure that someone who is good with numbers could pass simply by memorizing the entire quantity of factual information contained within the reference guide, but he or she would be spending roughly twice the amount of time necessary, and, in my opinion at least, memorizing exactly the kind of data that you can simply look up once you are on a LEED project team.  Happily, as it turns out, Kierkegaard told me exactly how to pass this exam.  None of the facts I was supposed to know for the exam had any meaning by themselves; once I understood the underlying reasons for the standards, point allocations, and specifications of the Neighborhood Development rating system, the details stuck relatively easily.  I had to think like the authorities at USGBC, who came up with the rating system, to study successfully and pass.

Therefore, in the stressful week leading up to the exam, all the nights I couldn’t sleep and was up in the dark, reading my Kierkegaard, I was actually subconsciously hatching a plan to pass the exam.  Subjectivity is Truth, and only through finding meaning that connects the facts can there be a real proficiency in the LEED rating systems.  And it’s the kind of knowledge that sticks, too, instead of dissolving into disassociated numbers and words the minute the test is over.  Pre-test anxiety is just another tool to use, if it can be understood as freedom to make the facts fit the story of how and why they have meaning.  Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, and when your head stops spinning, you open your eyes and find success beyond your most distantly cherished wishes.  It's true.


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