Every once in a while I like to take a reality check. But here, what I mean by reality is acknowledging other modes of being in as much as we can allow ourselves to dive into what others call ‘subtle’ reality or ‘alternative’ reality. In other words, if I don’t participate in magical rituals, such as shamanic journeying, seidr, Nordic magic that involves song (galdr) and high seat prophecy, I look at oracles and tarot. As we all know, oracles not only foretell but also instigate to action, while Tarot cards allow us to test the strength of our inner convictions independent of cultural preconditioning and socially dependent inclinations.
Often such deep work on the self involves a return to childhood memories, or plunging into exploring otherworlds. Here, I must say that I have never been a good student. For instance, if in shamanism it is a good idea to explore the underworld by first going down a hole and then through a tube, I take the highway and shoot straight for the galactic space. And some of us know what that means, namely, that there is a danger of losing yourself behind the moon, or so experienced Siberian shamans warn us.
With Tarot, the same thing. When I was first introduced to it, I started with the most difficult and I ended up reading with non-standard and weird decks in the simplest way. I would like to say that my non-traditional training has made me better at everything, but I can’t. While I did develop a way of snapping in and out of ‘reality’ that fits my temperament, I often doubt that my way is also the most efficient. Doubting is a nasty piece of work as it discloses two things: either that you’re missing the point already, or that you can do better. And we all know how useful the dualism between good and bad is, where walking between worlds is concerned. Up there, down there, or between here and there – whichever you prefer – you are not time-bound nor are you into making excluding distinctions. You use your common sense as dictated by your higher self, which is the same as saying that you use your common sense whenever imitating what the neighbor does is no longer useful to you.
So, efficient or not, while walking the Middleworld the other day, I had a vision of myself at the age of one year and nine months. I remember this because I have a photo that depicts exactly what I was seeing. My mother cherished this photo as well, and she had it framed with all the proper info on the back. During my visualization, while I felt remotely distant from the girl in the picture, I did try to get a real feel of her, by checking the consistency of her arms through pinching to see how bouncy the skin was, and by investigating the pretty dress. I decided that I was a fine little thing.
Seeing myself that way, from above, and from a position of control, made me wonder about the identity we assume at early age and where that gets us. We think we know who we are, but the scientific truth is that we don’t. Materially speaking we are composites of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all the way to star dust. We are the products of our ancestors, as shamans like to put it. But we are also the product of what may be bestowed on us by chance, at birth or throughout life, just as we are the product of our own self-delusions.
On what we inherit, here’s a story: one evening my sister asked me whether I remember how angry my mother was when I was born. Mother was in the hospital waiting for me to pop out. Next to her bed was a friend of hers who was also expecting. They exchanged opinions about what names would be suitable, and my mother told this woman that she wanted to name me Gabriela. Well, very nice, until the birth point (I was born on Oct 22, 1968 around 8 pm). Her friend went into labor about 2 hours before my mother and ended up giving birth to a baby girl, who she then named Gabriela. When she came back to the ward, while my mother was still waiting, my mother said to her: ‘why did you steal my name?’ To which this other woman said that it was because she didn’t have any ideas of her own. Mother was then so upset that when she finally gave birth to me she named me Camelia instead. And now to the fun part, of which I had forgotten about entirely. This woman, Madame Irina, who ‘stole’ my name, was a serious Tarotist, and according to my sister’s memory, she was also one who mother trusted. My sister can even remember that among the card readers that my mother knew, Madame Irina had a very old and interesting deck. Now, in Tarot circles one often discusses the legend that the ability to read cards and be a good fortuneteller must come from an ancestor, an old woman, a man, or a witch – whichever you prefer. I like the idea that my interest in tarot was sparked accidentally already at my birth. It almost seems that my mother took something from this other woman in exchange for her stealing my name. Is this a funny coincidence or not? Either way I like it. Or maybe the Tarot ‘gift’ was extolled from this woman by force, because she did something that my mother didn’t think was very nice, which places my mother in a witchy position. Oh ho ho, it could get very interesting if I continued.
The point is that whichever way we go, by engaging in doing symbolic work on ourselves, we get to consider many alternative realities. And who’s to say that we don’t already walk the path that we see ‘otherwise’ or as belonging to some other reality? Scientifically speaking this happens all the time, with people creating realities on the strength of virtual things even as we open our mouths. Just think of the dashing Harvard Wall Street boys, trying to convince us that we can eat money and therefore survive in this jungle of losers and hippies who refuse to understand the fine philosophy of Ayn Rand and her ranting about the value of ‘I can do everything through the sheer power of my individual and intellectual brilliance. I need no one.’ And how about the black magic that is done in the academic world? We are all bewitching ourselves as intellectuals into believing that we are actually good politicians, and that we excel best as businessmen and -women, or as precious consultants who can save the world of fucked-up students by offering them ready-to-wear self-help tools in a colorful, 1, 2, 3, 4 point – ‘snap it up, man’ – powerpoint.
So, taking a reality check sometimes is not only good but also strongly recommended. Consulting cards or oracles, drumming with shamans, or some other such activity, just to see who or what we are these days can do wonders for our sense of worth. Here’s a recent visual example prompted by my memory of myself, as described above, a memory of the time before I had to make any choices. But first a note on the method. Although I don’t read Tarot cards as laid in spread positions, when I read Oracles, or when I read with decks that are designed for what my friend, world-renowned Tarotist Rachel Pollack, calls wisdom readings, I assign meaning to a few beginning positions and then develop the reading from that if the need for more than 3 or 4 cards arises. Here’s a 4-card spread done with the Tantric Dakini Oracle. This oracle was designed by scholar of Tantric philosophy Nik Douglas and erotic images artist Penny Slinger. It is based on a system of divination from the Ranipur Jahrial Temple in Orisha, India. On the walls of this temple we find carvings of 64 dakinis, or ancient symbolic representations of the female principles of intuitive wisdom, guardians of deeper mysteries of the self.
As with any oracle or shamanic work, the questions posed must be simple and concise. They must be open-ended so that more information can come through. For yes/no answers it is better to use a pendulum.
On the first question: who am I, the oracle didn’t give me a straight answer, which oracles otherwise often do (for this, read Rachel Pollack’s illuminating introduction to her recent translation of Oedipus Rex.) But the answer was good enough to give me a clear sense of what is in the process of being revealed and by what means.
The visual elements of card 39, Serpent Power, tell me what I have, which can give me a clue towards understanding what I am. Thus, what I am is being revealed as we speak though a burst of kundalini energy. The esoteric axiom, ‘as above so below’, is represented in both: the serpent and the lightning: as the lightning strikes, charged with cosmic energy, so does the serpent, activating the latent light within. I don’t know who I am, but I have power. The challenge of this card is that the kundalini energy must be used wisely.
I can follow the implicit advice in this card into the next card, on the question of what my task is. Card 59, Pearls Before Swine, calls for discernment. There are several possibilities: to consider the animal as eating pearls and thus forgetting to appreciate what their value is, or to go with the Bible where it is written: don’t waste your diamonds on pigs. But we can also go with the Indian tradition, in which the Dakini Vajravarahi, the Diamond Sow, is in fact the ruler over all the pearls of wisdom, and among other things, also guarding against disillusionment and disappointments. A good, albeit, difficult task. As I like to wear lots of pearls, now I can remind myself through them of the possibilities of wise action.
The next card is linked to the first and springs from a desire to know more about the point of origin, where do I come from? Card 3, The Scarlet Woman tells me that I come from a woman who knows passion, who is the representative of the left-hand tantric path. A woman who knows what her sexual power consists of, and who knows how to use it. Some call the Scarlet Woman immoral, but who are these people? The patriarchs of the world who can’t make space for those who will not be possessed, who will not serve in the name of some ‘family’ ideal, and which dictates that the woman must never be in any position of authority? I like it that my mother, who became a widow at the age of 40, was not interested thereafter in becoming another wife, and a respectable woman because of that.
So, what have I inherited from this woman, who was even ready to beat up another woman for having stolen my name? Card 44, Heart Drop, announces initiation into the highest aspect of the self, the highest wisdom that has its seat in the heart. The Buddha who speaks rubies indicates an alchemical process through which personality is distilled. One speaks with the power of precious stones, which here means that radiating light is worth more than words. The desert in the background suggests limitless consciousness and the eradication of time. One is thus always on a journey.
I like this card in this position, being auspicious, and announcing a path that I recognize already as one that I walk. I also like it as I first got it on a traveling tour. A month ago I was in London. Among other tasks, one of priority was visiting the famed bookstore Watkins, specializing in occult literature of all sorts. I spent hours there. And I got a reading by another diviner, an activity I warmly recommend. Swami Krishna, who lived with Osho 10 years, was available that day. He pulled the Heart Drop card as the last one in a 7-card spread for the position of ‘Destiny’. As he also pulled the Serpent Power card for the position of ‘Present’, he wanted me to understand that where I was going, no one else was going, and that it would be better for the ones close to me to also understand this, and perhaps just follow. They follow.
In a way, the marvelous thing about divination is that although you start from an unlikely place, a fictitious place, or an unreal place, you can always make that place your own. And every once in a while, you can also see how the unreality of the situation is supported by another time and place that makes it real. In other words, when you come to the cards, while you don’t know where you come from and where you are going, you can still come full circle. What is more, sitting in the window of a bookstore on a busy street in London, with someone who is willing to travel to magical places with you, beats any therapy session. I often say that the trouble with traditional forms of psychotherapy is that they are devoid of providing people with magical solutions. Everything must be rational, administered rationally, as if the mind itself is rational. D’oh. But not all of us are in need of reasonable fixes. So, I’ll say this to all those who prefer magic to dull rationalism or who don’t have enough money for a shrink: buy yourselves a deck of cards and start working on yourselves. And if the occasion arises, don’t be so prejudiced as to avoid fortunetellers. They might just tell you what you actually need to know. Just remember rule number one, the only rule: always use your common sense. May the gods of traveling through your mind be with you.
FOR A FULLER WORKING OF THESE IDEAS, SEE
Five Questions from Todd Landman, published in The Magiculum. Here I talk about my experience with magic, cards, shamanism, a dash of necromancy, ethics and power – the essay here is part of ‘The Arts of the Night: Circumventing the Sign‘ (EyeCorner Press, 2014).
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