Archive for December, 2012

On Tarot

Posted in Cartomancy on December 31, 2012 by Patrick

When I was a kid and decided I wanted to be a witch ’cause the world would suck if magic wasn’t real, I went to Walden Books in the mall in Dubuque and picked up a Rider-Waite tarot deck, which I took home, glanced at, and put on a shelf.  Holy cow, was that thing confusing.  Seventy-eight cards!  That was worse than algebra.  And then reversals (to this day I don’t use reversals, ’cause, seriously — really?  seriously).  And there it sat on the shelf in the kitchen near the cupboard for years.  Although I did doodle a few of the memorable images in my notes at school.  I remember drawing the ten of cups over and over, and the four of wands.

Then I picked up a book on the tarot, not a very good one but a pretty famous one, and started playing with the cards.

And I was hooked.

At first it was reading rote meanings out of the book like a new cook slavishly following a recipe.  Then I realized that I didn’t really need the book and half the time it was full of irrelevant nonsense anyway (six of swords — journey by water . . . yeah, that’ll come up in the middle of the midwest).

For years, the Rider-Waite was my go-to, and I didn’t even realize other tarot decks existed until I got a job at a metaphysical bookstore as a teenager and found that not only did other decks exist, but they were awesome!  I fell in love with the Cosmic Tarot — it had people who looked like people!  Then I discovered the Crowley Thoth deck.  At the time I was studying Cabala and ceremonial magic heavily.

That’s about the time I started giving readings for money, just to a few people by word of mouth.  I had two rules: I didn’t advertise, so it had to be word of mouth.  And it was fifty bucks an hour but I would give them their money’s worth, by doing the Golden Dawn spread laid out in Regardie’s book.  I had mastered the spread (it’s a heck of a spread) and could do it in an hour.  At the end of it, the querents would look like they’d just run a marathon.  If they weren’t satisfied, they could get their money back, no questions asked.  No one ever wanted their money back, and I had return business.

I don’t remember how many clients I had, but it wasn’t many and it certainly wasn’t a career.  I retired early because I discovered I kind of hated reading for money.  The only clients I kept were some close friends who would call me up and ask questions, and they didn’t expect much but a few cards on the table.  I’d often just throw one card and read a long string of questions from it.  Good practice, so that I didn’t begrudge.

I did, however, wear out the Crowley Thoth deck, and nearly wore out its replacement.

And then, a few years ago, I discovered the Tarot de Marseille.  I’ve totally fallen for it.  Ever since my Thoth days, I’ve loved unillustrated pips, because they’re so much more flexible.  And the TdM is traditional, charming, and composed only as late renaissance printers could do.  And all the good books on it are in French, which gives me a good excuse not to read them all.

Just kidding.  Some are in Spanish, too.

But seriously, while there are really elaborate and interesting books on the philosophy and structure and numerology of the TdM, for me it’s a hands-dirty kind of deck.  And that’s what I like about systems of divination like the TdM (and, for that matter, the Lenormand, the other object of my cartomancy-fancy).  One can build beautiful and erudite systems of intellectual spirituality out of them, and that’s awesome.  I love that sort of thing.  But ultimately, it’s about where the wheels hit the road.  It’s about use, and there’s something practical, rough, and DIY about the cards that appeals to me.  Even the Lenormand, perhaps surprisingly considering its history, feels less in the head and more in the hand.  You learn the cartomancy not by flipping through books, but by developing shuffling callouses.

For someone like me, who lives in his head most of the time, that’s a pretty useful lesson to learn from the cards.


I Want This

Posted in Cartomancy on December 20, 2012 by Patrick

This looks like a really, really cool thing, and I really want it.  The Deck of 1000 Spreads.

Evidently, it’s a deck of cards with the typical locations of spreads written on them, so you can lay them out when designing a spread and rearrange them physically on the table in order to see what a layout will look like.  I don’t know any of the details, but I think it’s a wonderful idea.  For us visual learners, it could be a great way to think through a new spread design.

What I Don’t Believe: The End of the World (3/3)

Posted in I don't believe on December 17, 2012 by Patrick

I suppose this one was obvious, but it was the original reason I wanted to write the series in the first place.  As you probably know, on the winter solstice this year — just a week away! — the world will . . . not end.  The Mayan calendar will . . . not end.  And the Maya . . . didn’t predict anything particular about the date, other than that it is the end of a b’ak’tun, a long cycle of about 400 years.  We’re currently in the 13th b’ak’tun, until Friday, when we will begin the 14th b’ak’tun.

This will not end the world any more than the beginning of January will end the world, or next Monday will.  It’s just the flipping over of a cycle of time.

So why do people want to believe that it will herald the end?  They did the same thing in 2000, as well as 1987, as well as 1844.

In fact, that last date is worthwhile to examine closer.  According to some complex reading of the Bible, William Miller predicted the end of the world on October 22, 1844.  As you probably remember from your high school history classes, the world didn’t end in 1844, but continued on a few additional years.  However, so persuasive was Miller that he convinced quite a lot of people to sell all their possessions and await the return of Christ.  Of course, since he didn’t show up, they were disappointed, and in a delightful bit of historical whimsy, this event is called The Great Disappointment.

They were disappointed.  They were disappointed, that the earth didn’t end.  They were disappointed that they and everyone they loved didn’t die.  Why is that?  Well, of course, they believed that they wouldn’t die — just all those nasty unbelievers would.  They’d live forever.  But I think the disappointment has its root even deeper.

I think the root of the disappointment, and the root of this eschatological urge in general, lies in the structure of narrative.  We want to believe that our stories are real, that they matter, and stories — at least, most stories in the west — have beginnings, middles, and ends.  The story’s not done until we see the end, and so they are disappointed that there’s another chapter after this cliff hanger.

Will the world end some day?  Oh, yes.  On some find morning an asteroid will smash into the earth, or the sun will burn out and expand into a red giant, or global warming will take off as a self-reinforcing feedback loop and turn us into Venus, or we’ll just kill off the ecosystem.  Something, someday, will destroy the earth.  The difference is, we have some control of these things.  We can mitigate the ecological and climatological damage that we’ve done.  We can watch for and attempt to deflect asteroids.  We can’t do much about the lifespan of the sun, but we can leave the planet.  We can do stuff, if we don’t think that the end is coming any second and it’s inevitable.  That’s the rub.  We have real work to do, and imagining the earth’s poles will shift on some day or another in the near future doesn’t help us do that work.  It is a lazy reader skipping to the end of the book.

I don’t believe in the end of the world because I think this novel is longer than that.  I think we still have many chapters to write, and I hope that we will not see the end of the world until we are so far beyond H. sapiens that we would not easily recognize ourselves.  I’m not a transhumanist, another particular flavor of eschatology — but I do think that we’ve got improvement and advancement ahead of us if we act wisely, but not if we abdicate our responsibility.