This post was original published on July 1, 2009 following Readers Studio that year. I’m re-posting it because it seems that the memory of Robert Desnos has something to say to us right now. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a poem about the events described below and last Friday Celia Alario, PR publicist for people and the planet as well as a spiritual activist, is bring up his wisdom as well in this great post on the Spirituality and Health blog: “As God is My Witness and Buddha is my Publicist.”
A number of times at a recent Tarot happening, The Readers Studio, I had occasion to tell the story of Robert Desnos, the French surrealist poet, who in the 1940s was arrested by the Nazis for his work with the Resistance. One day in the concentration camp, he was loaded with a bunch of men into the truck that went out each day but from which no one ever returned as its destination was the gas chambers. Both guards and prisoners were silent. Death was inevitable. But when the men were being loaded off the truck, Robert Desnos grabbed the hand of one man and read his palm. Using the stream of consciousness gift of a surrealist poet (because I don’t believe he was a palm reader), he began to tell the man of his long life and the children to come. He read other palms showing great futures for his fellow prisoners and the guards began to wonder. They packed everyone back on the truck and these men survived the day.
I remember vividly reading that story in an Utne Reader article sitting in the Lilly Library on a warm day. It gave me goose bumps so I vividly and bodily remember the moment. Of course, I couldn’t remember the year! But through the great labyrinth of knowledge that is the Internet I found that Susan Griffin had written it and an on-line version of the article can be found at https://thetyee.ca/Citizentoolkit/2004/11/15/CanImagSaveUs/ .
Re-reading the whole article reminded me of Griffin’s main point, that the imagination has the power to make change. The story Desnos told from his imagination shifted consciousness and allowed people to question what was inevitable. He transformed the group’s beliefs and their futures shifted.
But can just anyone do that? Wasn’t he a specially gifted person? Perhaps, but I think that what he really had going for him was practice. The surrealist poets would give performances of their stream of consciousness poetry and Desnos was especially adept in his performances. Reading palms – whether he actually was training in this or not – came easy as his consciousness shifting muscles were limber and strong.
And this is where tarot cards can help us. Over and over this past weekend, the presenters lead us into the imagination. We looked deeply into one card to see how it showed us past, present, and future through images all on that one card (lead by Geraldine Amaral); we picked a central teacher or DNA card and then entered it to see and hear what advice a figure in it had to give us (under the guidance of James Wanless), and we took on personas of exotic fortune tellers with mysterious origins to free our voices of prediction (with the always imaginative Rachel Pollack). I think Robert Desnos would have jumped right into this last activity!
We can be as imaginative as Desnos with a little working out and tarot practice is a tool to help with this. We need this imagination to move forward out of these times into a positive future. Our major institutions of finance, government, industry, media, and religion are breaking apart. We can put band aids on them, but the deeper underlying problems will remain and the fix won’t last long. We must work hard at imagining this new world. Time is of the essence.
Before I close, I must note that time ran out for Robert Desnos. He died of typhus a few days of the liberation of his camp. The larger circumstances of his life closed in on him. But what of the other men? Surely some survived and perhaps inspired by their palm readings believed they could have a better life, find love, have children. This “cheap fortune telling” gave them hope and changed their lives.
Mary Greer has written about the value of hope and tarot readings on her blog at https://marygreer.wordpress.com/2008/11/24/guidance-in-the-economic-downturn/ and I think she might write something on this as well. Always good to check out what Mary is writing.