Archive for the Good Books Category

Favorite Tarot

Posted in Cartomancy, divination, Good Books with tags , , on November 1, 2014 by Patrick

I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I have a new favorite tarot. Well, not new — really quite old, but given a coat of polish. It’s the Yoav Ben-Dov version of the Conver tarot, a very famous, very popular Marseilles deck. Ben-Dov has cleaned up the lines, brightened the colors, but left the mystery and wood-cut style intact. This is a deck that practically reads itself.


I particularly recommend, to go along with it, his book Tarot – the Open Reading

Even if you’re not interested particularly in the Marseilles style decks, this book has a lot of clear, good insight.

There are still things to love about the Rider Waite, but if you’re looking for a fresh, less Golden Dawn-y take on the cards, you can’t do better than the Marseilles decks, and Yoav Ben-Dov’s version is the best I’ve seen.

You can buy his deck here. When I bought it, at least, it had to ship from Israel, but was surprisingly fast.


A Grimoire of Time

Posted in Good Books, Magical Systems, Techniques on July 6, 2013 by Patrick

Jason Miller gets — and deserves — a lot of my admiration.  He’s a thinking magician, which is great, but more importantly he does stuff.  Creative, innovative, and practical stuff.

Therefore, you need to buy his new chapbook, Advanced Planetary Magic, which I have been honored with a review copy of, and let me say, I’m blown away.  There are two main parts of this book that you need, as a practicing magician.

First, there are the seals, which at first I glanced at with a “Oh, look, Agrippa’s seals, but all swirly,” until I realized that they are graphically encoded rituals in their own rights.  Look at them: if you draw those seals in the air you are performing a ritual dance and invocation of that planetary force.  Try it!

Second, and my favorite part of the book and why I’ll be coming back to it again and again, he offers forty-nine short but powerful calls of the planets for each combination of magical hours and days.  These things are mind-blowingly awesome.  They are essentially a grimoire, not of spirits, but of time itself.  They can act as initial invocation of planetary forces, or as full-fledged rites.  I have had limited to time experiment with them since getting the review copy, but so far I am impressed and I am hoping to hear of other people’s experiences as they work with these calls.

Learning Lenormand: Book Review

Posted in Book Review, Cartomancy, divination, Good Books, Lenormand on June 17, 2013 by Patrick

I recently read Marcus Katz & Tali Goodwin’s Learning Lenormand: Traditional Fortune Telling for Modern Life.  I highly recommend it for those who would like a clear, concise introduction to reading these cards.

The authors introduce several useful concepts and ideas, such as the concept of L-Space, which they contrast with T-Space.  All this means is that we get in a certain mental state to read the tarot, and a slightly different state to read the Lenormand.  They are not tarot cards, and that’s a useful thing to point out and reinforce.

Their discussion of meaning is also worthwhile, even though it seems to have annoyed some readers who demand not just “one card = one meaning” precision, but also that one meaning has to match the one they have decided is “traditional.”  The truth of the matter is, the Lenormand has a wide range of traditions, and the very earliest instructions that came with the Game of Hope (eventually renamed Lenormand) simply tell the reader to create  “a jocular tale”  (Katz & Tali, 253), with no precise instruction on how to do so.  Presumably, the card meanings were to be somewhat obvious (and, of course, as Katz & Tali point out, the penalties and rewards in the original game offer some clues, as they sometimes come with what we now call “flavor text,” such as with 21-Mountain:  “On these steep Alps, the player has to remain until another arrives to release him or he has to cast a double” (251)).

The authors do offer their own meanings and techniques, and are careful to mark them as such.  The reader is free to adopt to ignore those meanings.  I for one cannot make 2-Clover mean “identity” in my head no matter how hard I try, but the authors do not force me to.

The instructions for reading are designed in lesson form, to some degree, so that later work builds on earlier work in a clever way.  It’s worth doing the exercises in order because suddenly, toward the end of the book, you find that you already need all the skills necessary for the grand tableau, the traditional spread using all 36 cards.  The authors also invent some new ways to use the cards — again, no doubt annoying some hard-core traditionalists, but not me.

There are some errors in the discussion of metaphor, where they say that E-prime is a way of speaking that avoids “is,” but then give as an example a sentence containing a being-verb:  “As an example, I could have said, ‘the idea is straightforward,’ but I said ‘the idea can be considered . . . ‘” (44).  This isn’t actually E-prime, because “be” is a verb of being.  One way of stating this idea in E-prime would have been — well, probably not to say it at all, which is the point.  In E-prime, you wouldn’t even cast the judgment on the straightforwardness of the idea  . . . Anyway.  This error is minor and doesn’t undermine their point.  In addition, the distinction between metaphor and simile strikes me as important (ah, see, E-prime) but the authors leave it a bit muddy and don’t really elaborate as much as I might like.  But then, metaphor is one of my favorite areas of study.

There are a couple brief places (especially in the chapter on Houses) where the description or explanation might be a bit clearer, but those muddy bits clear up once you put a deck in your hand and play with it.  This is a book that requires actual practical practice with the cards.

The history section is absolutely excellent.

Overall, I recommend this book to add to your growing library of Lenormand books.  It is growing, right?  It’s an exciting time for those of us interested in this weird little deck!


Posted in Cartomancy, divination, Good Books, Lenormand on May 28, 2013 by Patrick

My next book is a bit of a departure for me, although not entirely.  As you know, I can’t stop thinking about the nature of symbols, and so divination systems are a natural area of interest for me.  One particular system, a set of thirty-six cards called the Lenormand, began interesting me several years ago.  I immediately began to learn all I could, which at the time wasn’t much, because most books were in German or French.  However, I did manage to find some resources in languages I could read and then, like a good ol’ American mutt, I rolled up my sleeves and started working with the cards.

Like most Americans, I’m more familiar with the tarot, so of course I tried to compare the cards to the tarot.  In doing so, I found a way in to the cards that I think is unique, and so — like all lunatics — when I find something unique I immediately want to write a book about it!

And I did, and it’s coming out in July.

I imagine it might raise a few hackles.  I know there are staunch traditionalists among Lenormand readers, and I know they may not like my approach — which bows to tradition but recognizes that those traditions are multiple.  I’m also a magician, so I look at this from the perspective of my magical practice, which might be a completely unique perspective on these fascinating cards.  I’m hoping those hackles don’t get too spiky, though, because I’m friendly to tradition and if anything, I think my book is about the willingness to learn and explore.

There are also several other books on the Lenormand coming out in coming months (or just come out!) and I will review them as I get my eager hands on them.  I’m very excited for the whole field of Lenormand in America now, and I hope you, like me, will snap up every darned book on the topic you can get.  Including mine.

Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Ioan P. Couliano

Posted in Good Books on June 6, 2011 by Patrick

If you regard yourself as an intellectual magician, you must read this book. That’s it in a nutshell.

Couliano’s genius lies in the perception of patterns in Renaissance magicians of great importance, such as Ficino and Bruno, and his awareness of the philosophical foundation behind their ideas. Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, that foundation is a late Neoplatonism, but Couliano sees more: he identifies that the aim of Renaissance magic was the creation of bonds or chains of Eros. Eros is the principle underlying all magic, and Couliano even expresses it in an equation: Eros = Magic.

Eros isn’t just the desire of sexual contact. Couliano doesn’t go there, but as Foucault has argued this concept of sexuality is a pretty recent one. No, Eros is desire itself: the desire, specifically, of a person for the phantasm or image that they construct of the desired object. If I’m hungry, I do not desire a sandwich: I desire the phantasm of the sandwich, and once I enjoy the sandwich the bond I’ve made with the phantasm disappears and the phantasm disintegrates. Magic, then, is manipulating these phantasms.

One of the central technologies that magicians use to manipulate these phantasms is the ars memoria, the art of memory, which had reached a high level of sophistication in the late middle ages, but was all but destroyed by the reformation.

Couliano convincingly argues that, in fact, many of these renaissance techniques have been repurposed, not as a science (take that you “magic is just undiscovered science” folks) but as advertising and propaganda. The renaissance magician believed, as most modern first world people do not, that the screen upon which the phantasms are impressed, the pneuma, was not restricted to humans but to the universe as a whole. Magic is an advertisement to the universe, to create a desire in the universal pneuma to create the phantasm you project, just as an advertisement for a car creates a phantasm that binds you to the car. Of course, the trick is that these chains or bonds aren’t simple: in fact, it’s often more effective to chain one phantasm to another. You don’t sell a car to someone by giving them the phantasm of the car. No, you create the phantasm of the car and chain it to other phantasms they already have: the desire to appear successful, sexy, etc.

Couliano goes so far as to suggest there are two kinds of governments: police states, and magical states. In general, magical states tend to be more “democratic,” because the people running them must control the population with images and phantasms, rather than main force. I’m sure this is a dig at his home nation of Romania, perhaps even the insult that got Couliano murdered at the University of Chicago in 1991. I wonder what he’d say about the current state of Romanian politics, and the strong occult elements there.

Couliano is not an easy read. I sat at Borders with a Latin dictionary, a German dictionary, and a lot of caffeine to get through it. You need to have some familiarity with classical Greek philosophy, renaissance history and philosophy, and it doesn’t hurt to know your Italian magicians. But the book is also a rewarding delight to read, and I’d have finished it earlier if I hadn’t had to write copious notes in the margins.

Eros and Magic

Posted in Book Review, Good Books, heroes on May 30, 2011 by Patrick

Ioan P. Couliano rocks my world. It’s official. I’m forty pages from finishing Eros and Magic in the Renaissance and my world is officially rocked. I’m also nearly too caffeinated to type, as I unconsciously swilled coffee for the last fifty pages. So I’ll give a detailed review — more of a paean of praise, really — when I finish.