For my grandfather, who died at the tender age of 47, a mad man.
When my sister comes to visit me and I’m alone with my dog, we work. By this I mean that we do stuff that most people don’t. What we are particularly good at is detective work. We dig into issues and concerns, but we don’t stay put. We cross hedges, bust boundaries, and laugh at the incredulous. This latter laughter is part of the program that we call: ‘the fun the crazies have when they go against the rational.’
So tonight we decided to uncover an annoying family secret that, at least according to our sources – shady sources the rational folks would call them – goes back to 1880.
We started with a shamanic journey induced by two frame drums, a rattle, and a kissing dog. Each with her way. My sister is good with outer space capsules and a bathyscaphe, a free-diving self-propelled deep-sea submersible. I’m good with the Green Man and other such figures. Papa Legba showed the Vodou way, and before I knew it, after a tour in a Mongolian yurt filled with silk draperies that Papa invited me in, I found myself doing some carpentry, hammering nails into a coffin. When the drums went silent, my sister said: ‘The bathyscaphe didn’t work today, so it looks like we won’t get to the bottom of this.’ Hmm. I started wondering about the significance of my coffin and the extent to which I contributed to sabotaging the very purpose of this work. Coffins are known to hold on to secrets, not reveal them.
We decided to try my very special crystal ball made for Two Worlds in Manchester in 1890. My sister is particularly good at scrying. I drummed some more, and at a new pace she started pouring out information. 6 people: 3 men and 3 women. Illegal love. A magician with white hair and a long cape, and an old hag with big watery eyes fixing something in the sky. A dead man with a moustache. A round sigil made out of two disks sealing a box, and two shadoofs resembling very much the letter Y – well, all well-poles do.
Next we wanted to know how this secret affected us. We went for a simplified geomantic reading where we read just for one geome (we didn’t use the mothers, daughters, nephew, judge constellation). Caput Draconis showed up, and my sister recited from the lore: ‘You must use your right hand in good for good and evil for evil’. ‘Fair enough,’ I said. ‘Let’s cut the Dodal cards with the right hand then,’ I further said. We needed to know who the people that showed up were. The only one that could be identified in the scrying was the hag: she was my paternal grandmother, a dead woman now and who we last saw 35 years ago.
We proceeded with pulling cards at random. Something was odd. Some of the male figures turned out as women in the cards, and some women turned out as men. Especially the dead mustached man as the Empress was interesting. He was carrying a sigil on the shield all right, yet the card signifying the sigil in the scrying session came up in the card that we pulled specifically for it as the Pope. We were happy with that. Just by looking at the Pope’s disciples, and assessing their round hair-cuts assured us that this card here was definitely the right one.
We also thought that the shadoofs and Caput Draconis were in cahoots. The Sun and the Hermit gave us a pretty good idea as to what happened after the Star, as the cheating man, busted his own Tower, leaving a whole World behind in a hat. The first protagonist in the scrying session was an elegant woman with a hat on, so we decided that there was some symmetry and rhyme between the hat and the mandorla. The hag had the Moon’s eyes, which was understandable in this context, and the Magician took off victoriously in his Chariot after the deed was done. All this made perfect sense to us. But I needed to know what was placed in the scales, as it obviously wasn’t for nothing that we got two well-poles showing up in the crystal. I put a new card down, and voilà, Justice. The scale in the scale? Such poetry! This told us that something was definitely weighed. Was it the secret? Or was the dead man weighed and found wanting?
At this point, we got the chills, and while our hairs were rising, the dog decided to be in a more cheerful and greeting mode: it shot for the door and started barking like a maniac – the Huskies don’t have a habit for barking. We were not expecting any guests at 11.30 pm, so who was there? ‘I’m not so sure it’s the dead one,’ my sister said. We pulled a card: The Fool. ‘Ah, I said, ‘it’s Papa Legba, he has a thing for sigils and coming through doors.’ ‘Fair enough,’ my sister said, and then insisted on having a look at his veve.
Lastly we wanted to know what the dead had to tell us about this secret. After all, you don’t get to show up in a reading like this, both as a woman, when you’re a man, and with all the regalia and initials on your dead chest. We pulled the card of the Papesse, or the High Priestess. ‘Look at that,’ my sister, said. ‘I told you we were not going to get to the bottom of this. The lips of this handsome mustached man are sealed. And what business did you have hammering those nails in that coffin? We are not going to know anything now.’ I pulled a last card: Strength. I said, ‘Listen, we just have to insist.’ Yes, she said, but these forces make my hair rise, and besides, when the ghost came in we forgot to say welcome. We’re ignorant.’ ‘That we are, I said, but is that also a reason to be afraid?’ ‘I guess not,’ she said, and then went thoughtful – or was it rational, they call it?
We decided to spill some libation for all, and then have ourselves a good midnight beer before going to bed, courtesy of Amager Bryghus and a very generous friend who knows that my favorite is the Wookiee.
I made an attempt at staying up longer. ‘But there was that thing about the Magician. His black umbrella.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ my sister said. ‘I’m not going to fall for it. We’ll be analyzing nothing no more tonight.’ She went to bed, and I took it upon myself to report faithfully here on what else one can do with one’s tarot cards besides reading them diligently according to nice little spreads. Bring in a gatekeeper, a crystal ball and geomancy, and you’re set for adventure. If some family secret will resist you, at least you can get to plan your next detective session. Did anybody say Sherlock Holmes with that dashing Robert Downey Jr. in it? I think I’m also going to send a letter to Hollywood before I finally decide to go to bed. I think I can write much better stories for the screen, and not to mention true ones.
Enjoy your families, and don’t forget the crazies. They’re the best.
Note on the deck:
Marseille Tarot, Jean Dodal, 1701, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy, 2001. A hand-stenciled set.