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Recently, music producer for BigHit, PDogg, was asked what his favorite BTS song is and he answered “The Truth Untold,” sung by the four vocalists (live performance below). It seems there is a long, fascinating history behind it. I’ll try to make this short. (Check out these sites for details: The BTS Effect and the florist’s Flower Smeraldo stories.)

This poignant love song is based on an Italian folk tale about a 16th century hideously deformed recluse who devotes himself to his garden. A ragged girl sneaks in to steal flowers. He watches her first in anger but eventually falls in love as he learns she sells them to survive. Fearing his appearance will disgust her, he creates beautiful flowers for her and eventually wants to give her his most beautiful flower of all, the blue Smeraldo Flower, but she has disappeared. He disguises himself with a mask and goes looking for her only to learn she is dead.

Just before the BTS song came out a series of blog stories appeared, supposedly by a S. Korean florist who was about to open a Smeraldo Flower Shop. The stories tell about this flower, a 16th century poet named Ashbless, a set of Ashbless Playing Cards and the Mlle. Lenormand Flower card. The first flower order taken by the shop is for Kim Seokjin (a member of BTS) in his guise as the time-traveler in the BTS Universe saga that lies behind their first albums (in which Jin continually goes back in time to try and save his six friends from death and other teen tragedies.) After the song came out Jin posted a photo of himself with a Smeraldo flower.

Well, it turns out that William Ashbless is actually a 19th century fictional poet made up by two California college students in the early 1970s. They became the famous fantasy writers Tim Powers and James Blaylock, both of whom eventually wrote novels that included Ashbless as a character or poems by him, including Powers’ The Anubis Gates and Last Call, the latter being especially beloved by tarot aficionados. According to Powers and Blaylock, Ashbless never appeared in public because he was hideously deformed, and his poetry was deemed portentous and meaningless. (See this video recounting the creation of Ashbless).

Here is the song in a mix from multiple performances with English subtitles. The lyrics can also be read as a love song from BTS to their fans ARMY, in that they had been going through a very rough time being besieged by haters who issued death threats, called some members ugly, and said their songs were unoriginal trash. In a way it is a prelude to their later album Mask of the Soul: Persona, in which they explore the masks they assume as Idols. The best translation can be found on doolset’s website.

Among the Tarot cards determined by adding the numbers in your birth date, I find most intriguing the Constellation of the Emperor, which consists of the Major Arcana cards whose numbers add up to four: the Emperor (4), Death (13 = 1+3=4), and the Fool (the un-numbered 22nd card of the Majors; 2+2=4). Many people don’t include the Fool in this set. I made the decision to do so based on teaching stories such as King Lear, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the Sufi Nasruddhin tales that portray the strikingly rich interactions between a ruler and a fool or innocent. Looking further we find in the Greek play, Oedipus Rex a young man who, while running away from home, kills a King at a crossroads. In fairy tales it is often the youngest, most foolish son who ends up solving a problem, killing a monster, and marrying the princess to become the king.

When the power of an established ruler is subverted by madness or the situation becomes untenable by his becoming a puppet or tyrant, it is apparent that what is ruling us must die. The result may be a new king or a return to an original state of innocence: both are major themes of this Constellation.

These cards depict the principle of life force and realization of power. The constellation encompasses the poles of birth and death and the step between: of manifesting oneself on the physical plane. The Emperor is the hallmark of reason and logic. He seeks to own, build and do things that have a lasting effect. Death is the necessity to release and let go for the sake of renewal. It cuts away whatever is stagnant or no longer truly vital and alive. The Fool is the soul freed from all constraints. It is said that a new way of perceiving the world never fully takes hold until all adherents to the old way have died.

The Minor Arcana Fours

The 4 of Wands points out that community involves rites of passage for each stage/season of life. The 4 of Cups tells us we need to awaken to life’s hidden gifts to relieve stagnation. The 4 of Swords says to stay true to our dreams through stress and afflictions. And the 4 of Pentacles reminds us that true stability is about moving from our center (core, chi, hara) rather than holding fast to material things.

The Emperor/Fool/Death in Contemporary Music

A recent rap music video provides a modern perspective on this age-old theme by including the Emperor, Fool and Death in a powerful archetypal story. “Daechwita” was written, performed and produced by Min Yoongi aka Suga aka Agust D of the Kpop group BTS. It is based on a Korean historical tale that is a perfect expression of the Emperor/Fool constellation. Synchronistically the MV was released on May 22, 2020 – double 22s! Also of significance: the MV refers to Carl Jung’s theory of the Persona, Ego and Shadow, for two of BTS’s recent albums were based on Jung’s “Map of the Soul” (see the book by Murray Stein).

Furthermore, Min Yoongi, in his BTS Persona, Suga, performed a solo for the second Jung-based album, “Interlude: Shadow”, that I’ll also refer to.

He raps, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King” while also claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall,” just like the Fool who leaps from a cliff edge.

He sings, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King.” While claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall.”

Regarding the recent explosion of BTS on the world stage, Suga explained that he aspired to reach the 12th floor [of fame] only to find himself on the 60th floor. “The moment I’m flying high as I wished, my shadow grows larger, beat down upon by that light. Please don’t let me shine. Don’t let me down. Don’t let me fly.”

The other song, Daechwita by Agust D, is a rap song and cinematic music video, written and directed by Yoongi, based on the story of King Gwanghae as portrayed in the S Korean film, Masquerade, and the 2019 TV Kdrama, The Crowned Clown (available on Netflix). Daechwita means “procession of the King” from words referring to the wind and percussion folk instruments used in royal and military parades. The music video set is one famously used in many historical dramas featuring a real palace and an historically recreated town.

In the historically-based story King Gwanghae fears assassination and so murders all his rivals ushering in a reign of terror. He searches for a body double who can take his place if needed. An exact double is found in a peasant street comedian who has been using his resemblance to make fun of the king. The king is poisoned or goes mad and, while recovering, the double takes the place of the King, “the clown with this face is playing as this country’s ruler.” This fool commits himself to be used as bait to bring out the traitors and eventually to die in place of the real king,“If a clown is picky about making his move, that’s the same thing as dying.” But he proves to be a compassionate ruler who truly cares for the people.

In Daechwita Agust D first appears as a dark-haired peasant or slave (a Fool) walking through the street and briefly stopping to talk with a butcher at a stall. The scene cuts to the courtyard of a palace and a white-haired tyrant (a King) who raps as he leaps on the backs of prostrate subjects. Both the fool and the king have a scar running down the right eye making it clear that Agust D is both characters. The King is killing his subjects and we see three bagged heads on display that may represent three Korean entertainment companies that kept BTS off the airwaves and mistreated them publicly. (BTS has now achieved world recognition greater than any prior Asian celebrities.) But where does that leave the pure, innocent and very idealistic underground rapper who headed off to Seoul (Soul) to follow his dream of making his mark in music in the face of the overwhelming odds against him?

As we look further we see that a Jungian interpretation helps to elucidate the Birth Card constellation. It portrays the inner battle among the various parts of oneself. The Fool is Agust D’s innocent yet rebellious Self, while the King, who was meant to be a public Persona of rulership and success, becomes a Shadow-self who descends into madness.

As the King becomes a dangerously tyrannical Shadow-figure surrounded by dragon imagery and severed heads, we see the Fool as an endangered Ego. In fact, Min Yoongi comes from a very poor family yet is included in the formal list of direct descendants of the last queen of Korea. He then debuted with an upstart entertainment company that had no resources and was shunned by most media outlets: “Born a slave but now a King.” Like King Gwanghae, who began as a warrior, Yoongi had to overcome struggles with family, disapproving underground rappers, and haters before achieving success. “Rags to riches, that’s the way I live.”

The only girl in the video gives the peasant-rebel a key to a car. She is Jung’s idea of an Anima or inspiratrix/muse and also represents the BTS fans known as ARMY. She supports and encourages him by giving him the key to his destiny and access to his personal development, i.e., the Individuation Process. A sign above has a quote from Confucius: “a classical scholar doesn’t value treasure,” reminding Agust D of the value of knowledge over riches as implied by the 4 of Pentacles. But his dream turns into a nightmare through the tyrant King: “The Shadow is born out of light” (fame’s shadow grows as the spotlight becomes brighter).

The Peasant is imprisoned and condemned to death by the murderous King: “Who’s the King who’s the Boss. Everyone knows my name.” This scene shows Agust D bound and blindfolded like the figure in the 8 of Swords.

The tension between the idealistic Min Yoongi, who had to choose between eating or bus fare, and the famous Suga who flies the world in chartered plans and plays to multiple sold out nights in the world’s largest stadiums, is huge but comes at a cost, “my growing shadow swallows me and becomes a monster.” He fears he will forget who he really is. So Yoongi invents yet another Persona in addition to Suga: Agust D, to remind him of his true passion for music with roots in hip hop and rap.

The executioner (who was the butcher in the marketplace), a revolutionary co-conspirator, is an aspect of Yoongi’s growing consciousness which frees him from prison and death. Yoongi has talked frankly about his own issues with depression and social anxiety. In the lyrics he says he’s putting his past in a rice chest – a reference to a mad prince who was killed by his father by being confined in a rice chest until he starved to death. “I trap the past in a rice chest. I’ll take mine and eat them all.” So Agust D vows to consume his own past trauma and live.

At the moment of death the Executioner frees the Peasant/Fool who rises up against tyranny and shoots the King with an antique pistol known as a “Colt ARMY” (BTS’s fans are called ARMY).

But it isn’t really that simple, for that other song, “Interlude: Shadow”, concludes with the voice of the Shadow,

“Yeah, I’m you and you’re me, do you get it now? We’re one body, and sometimes we will crash. You will never be able to take me off of you, you get it, right?…Success or failure, wherever you are, you can’t escape, wherever you go.”

At this point it is essential to remember that BTS stands for “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” (Bangtan Sonyeondan) and, as their early performances of “We Are Bulletproof” depict, they can’t be killed by mere bullets shot by haters.

From a Jungian standpoint the Shadow is not to be killed off. It is an essential part of the Self. A key task of consciousness and the Ego is to bring the Persona and Shadow (the ideal and repressed selves) into relationship as is beautifully pictured in “Interlude: Shadow”.

For now Min Yoongi has achieved success and has everything he previously desired, yet he still experiences the post-passion let down (Korean Hunyta or Shakespeare’s “little death”) in which one wonders “is that all there is?” before picking himself back up and doing what he does best—making music.

For those wanting to understand this Constellation, we see the death of the old King and crowning of the new King in the ever changing cycles of our lives—”The King is dead; long live the King!” We sometimes talk about earlier stages of life as our “past lives” acknowledging that they ran their course until graduation, a move, a marriage or divorce or pandemic ended one way of being and we stepped off a cliff into a new unknown. One of the lessons here is that it is not about being either the Fool or the Emperor but rather about keeping both in our lives: the crazy Fool leaping into the unknown and the responsible King restricting freedom with rules and boundaries in a constant cycle of lives and deaths.

Given the ‘Storming of the U.S. Capitol’ on January 6, 2021 – a day after I posted this – I can’t avoid the current political dimensions of this archetypal theme. Culturally speaking Trump is the mad King. We have so many candidates for the role of Fool, among which are the comedy talk-show hosts who regularly point out that Trump is wearing no clothes: that is his “Big Lie” (there is no widespread election fraud, among all the other lies). Washington D..C. erupts in violence and five die, marking the end of Trump’s tenure in office. Meanwhile 3,500 people are dying per day in the U.S. alone from COVID.

Here’s Suga in Times Square, optimistically counting down New Year’s 2020 shortly before the global pandemic hit, reminding us all that death is closer than we think. We currently rely on restrictions and laws to keep us safe while we stand on the cliff edge of a new, yet unknown, world.

“Lights” is the newest music video from the phenomenally popular South Korean K-pop group, BTS. Its main theme is the question “What is love?” to which there is a response: “your Light lights the way for me . . . no matter how far apart we are.” If you haven’t heard of BTS you are probably over 25. Please scroll to the bottom for more background on who they are. 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_59be

L-R: V/Kim Tae-Hyung, Suga/Min Yoon-Gi, Jin/Kim Seok-Jin, RM/Kim Nam-Joon, JHope/Jung Ho-Seok. Bottom: JK/Jungkook/Jeon Jeong-Guk, Jimin/Park Ji-Min.

In addition to expressing their extraordinary talents, highly developed skills, and social consciousness, their works are filled with heart-felt messages mixed with complex symbolism that I appreciate based on my over 50 years as a Jungian-based tarot reader and symbol interpreter. 

As others have noted there are so many levels of meaning to the song and video “Lights.” If you can’t see the English subtitles in the video, be sure to turn on CC (closed caption). Please watch.

Whether consciously intended or not, the movie theatre depicts Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Only instead of viewing reflections on the wall we have the modern analogy of viewing a film being projected. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5c41This leads to the question: What is Reality? Plato said we are limited to perceiving existence through our senses, which can easily be misled.

The Allegory of the Cave

In Plato’s allegory, prisoners are chained in a cave so they only see images projected on a wall formed by statues moved in front of a fire, and they hear only echos from sounds made by those moving the statues. They think these illusions are reality. One of the prisoners escapes and, coming out of the cave, first perceives reality as shadows, then as reflections in a pool, then stars and moon, and finally the sun. This is the role of the philosopher who must subsequently return to the cave to free the other prisoners. Unfortunately, as his eyes are now accustomed to the sun, the philosopher can’t see in the dim light of the cave, so the other prisoners think his explanation of the true reality is crazy and kill him. This video presents a more hopeful view of humanity connected through sound and light internalized. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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