I distinguish between two kinds of work: cards in your face and cards in your soul – the latter in the tradition of soulmaking à la William Blake and Walt Whitman, when we interested in knowing whether the perception of a certain thought we entertain – joyful, or suicidal – is actually ‘reality’. Regardless of which – and we have ways of determining just what we’re dealing with, a pragmatic or an abstract situation – the bottom line for me is this one: whatever you do or think, project or speculate, make sure you don’t insult your soul, as Whitman proclaimed. If there’s anything that puts me off, then it’s the situation that I identify as being devoid of basic respect and self-respect. So, indeed, whatever you do, don’t insult your soul.

I identify soulwork with the work of realizing that what society wants you to do is not the same as what your soul wants you to do. And why? Because society is self-interested. The soul is not. Society will do anything to convince you that working for it is something that you absolutely love, and that, consequently, it is also good for your soul. This is the kind of nonsense that only makes sense if we consider the idea that image is everything. Indeed it is, from the vantage point of societal rules and constraints. Imagine if we grew up with a different type of desire than the kind related to language, dictating: thy shall covet your neighbor’s possessions, his wife and his house, and everything else he’s got. The Bible instructs us in the dangers of this desire, but no one is listening.

The soul has some other ways of accessing knowledge, and this knowledge is not always the so-called consecrated one: Here’s a new diploma for you, well done, and congratulations. The soul has no agenda other than to put you in an ecstatic mode. You are, after all, going to die very soon, so why not be ecstatic in the meantime? So, soulwork is doing work that seeks to integrate an ecstatic mode – answering that call – with a societal call, one that tends to put a lid on your ecstasy. And why are we interested in soulWORK? Well, simply because not everyone is interested in retiring to a cave and becoming a mystical monk. The main question thus remains: How to do ‘social’ work without insulting your soul? How to say, ‘yes sir’, to your imbecile boss, without running out of his office with the desire to call him names and send the whole institution that he stands for straight to hell. You are insulted to your core.

For soulwork I have to admit that I have a weakness for all nondualist philosophy. I like hanging out with nondualist philosophers, as they make you kiss a donkey, love it too, and then run naked in the fields. There’s nothing that’s inappropriate. In their worldview politics is boring, and people who make war are a waste of time. Ask Whitman. Moral philosophy is boring, and so is all that righteousness and sanctimoniousness that pervades society. Ask Blake too.

I admit that I approach soulwork from that perspective of not worrying about how compassionate I am, how sympathizing I am with my own situation and that of others, how good I am at being non-judgmental, how loving I am, or how often I can say after every line, ‘peace be with you’. I don’t worry about any of that. I zoom in only on what my soul has to say vis-à-vis what embodies it, man and culture alike. You can’t have compassion come from a place that you don’t own.

My own nondualist inclinations make me tend to integration – and this can be as physical or as metaphysical as I like it to be, such as, for instance, the situation when I walk into a classroom and have to make sure that what I teach is not only in accordance with the ‘quality’ rules devised in the curriculum, and the ‘relevance’ of my stuff, but also that this teaching does not run counter to what my soul abhors, which is institutional clichés.

As a checklist of how I’m doing in this department, namely balancing between what I need to give Cesar and what I need to give God, that is, my own soul, I invent rituals of sitting out in nature, reading cards and listening to their message. They always seem to have a view of the situation that’s more authentic than what I generally see and what I want to hear.

While I may pose metaphysical questions, what I’m always looking for is a useful application of the answers that I get.


1. Who speaks when my conscious mind speaks? (The conscious mind in the sense of the Ego being very good at censoring, both myself and others according to the symbolic order of worldly things)

2. Who speaks when my unconscious mind speaks? (The unconscious mind in the sense of dream language that discloses the deepest and strongest drives and desires. No society rules here, thank god).

3+4. How do I listen when the conscious mind speaks?

5+6. How do I listen when the unconscious mind speaks?

7. How do I integrate the two, so I won’t lose my balance?

The reason for this work is related to my sense of being in the world, and how useful and happy I can be in it. As a lover of nondualism, I’m ecstatic all the time. I know exactly which button to push to conjure that perception of things and which enables me to see what a marvelous world this is. I also like it that we’re all going to die. I’m never bored. I have the cards to thank for that. Socially, while I take care of business, I prefer to focus my awareness on when it’s appropriate to nail my latest diploma on the wall when it’s not. In other words, what I go for is this: How much time can I permit myself to spend in the muddy waters of the unconscious, where everything is allowed, and how much time can I allow myself to dominate the field for which I’m being paid to dominate? So time is crucial. If there’s anything I resent the most – if I can ever use that word, as it doesn’t fit my Zen Buddhist inclinations – then, it’s wasting time. Giving Cesar what Cesar wants can be a major waste of time, and likewise, wailing in some emotional and potentially depressing state can be even worse. Indeed, then, it makes sense to ask myself regularly about how appropriately I embody my social and private functions.

The point I’m trying to make here is that living the magical life requires asking many questions, and then discovering that most of the answers we get pertain to consolidating our place in the world. The ultimate magic is in knowing our place, so that we can act from within it with the force of that impenetrable mystery, which is the mystery of the obvious.

My New Tarot (1974), laid out as a down-pyramid, tells me this:


IMG_0190When my conscious mind speaks, it’s the World that speaks. This makes perfect sense. And I’m glad that I’m not unpleasantly surprised. I fulfill social functions that demand that I be in the world. I get paid to teach and to research; to go to conferences, speak on behalf of my institution and promote new projects (right now I’m promoting Tarot as a cultural text at my university, and I hope that I’ll get the one million dollars in research money that I’ve just applied for). More privately, but still socially oriented, I teach reading cards. I counsel people on how to live more wonderfully and more awesomely, I make circles, and have fun the creative way. I participate in transformations, my own and others’.

IMG_0192How do I listen to this conscious voice and the call of the World? Here I get the 5 Circles (5 coins in the standard deck), and 9 wands. This tells me that I embody the voice of authority and take care of the fallen ones – at least judging by the iconography of the first card. I also build a fortress, take the center stage behind the cauldron, and officiate between death and life. Heavy stuff. As this card doesn’t feature a human figure on it, but resembles more a ritual setting that hides the agent behind it, I can infer that this function is more subtle than the one embodied in the first card, where we can clearly see a priest giving a dying man his last rites.

These cards takes together tell me that the way in which I listen to the world has a ritualistic ring to it. I do things the conformist way. I show empathy when it’s needed and I create ritual space for things to happen. I’m happy with this picture. I’m pleased that it’s so clear, as I have to admit that I often suffer from the nasty work of being ambivalent, and not always sure of whether what I do is in line with what others want. While I have worked towards refining a set of personal values, I’m never interested in imposing them on others. I try to be very careful about that. But, and as they say, all communication is miscommunication. Oftentimes, and in spite of our efforts to be clear, not everyone gets it. Hence, I sometimes doubt as to whether my intentions have been properly understood. As this doubting consumes my energy and wastes my time, I always try to minimize it.

Going over to the right.

IMG_0191When my unconscious mind speaks, it’s Judgment that speaks. This card features 12 naked people dancing in a circle at what appears to be the night of the full moon. The bird of rebirth is mirrored in it. A very nice card. I’m pleased to see this card populating my unconscious mind, as some of my deepest heart’s desires are related to just this kind of work: sharing joy somewhere out in nature, and not worrying about what the World may think of what we’re doing, or whether it’s appropriate enough.

IMG_0193How do I listen to this call? Another woman dancing and offering a cup, on the 4 of Cups card, tells me that the theme of sharing is present again. My unconscious mind tells me that I’m listening to this call by building an altar made out of cups, and unto which offerings can be made. The writers and designers of this deck suggest that the Woman offers herself as an offering. A rather nice thought. The card next to it, the 8 of the Wands features a woman wearing a crown made of daisies and reaching out to a man. They don’t touch, which suggests an effort that’s not yet accomplished.

Overall here, standing in judgment is a good thing – judging and being judged is part of being in the world, and we cannot avoid it. The question that remains, however, is what to do with the desire to reach out to those we seemingly cannot reach?

IMG_0194Here we come to the end of this soulworking spread, where we find the card of the Pope, or the Hierophant.

This tells me the following: It looks like the most pertinent point of junction between my conscious and my unconscious being revolves around ritual. There’s a neat symmetry at work here. The circle in the World card rhymes with the circle in the Judgment card. The cloaked Pope rhymes with cloaked Woman. The tall 9 wands rhyme with the tall 8 wands, being arranged almost in a similar pattern. And it looks like this Pope holds many keys: One in his hand, and two others at bottom, for each of the situations. I like this idea.

So consciously I allow the world to speak for me. I follow its rules and its ways. Unconsciously I participate in conjuring the natural World, where all are naked under the sun or the moon. It looks like the work of integration for me, then, is very much anchored in what I already do, both socially and in fantasy, namely teach. I offer teaching, which I hope can reach others. And then there’s dancing. Indeed, and on a very subliminal level, perhaps what I want to tell myself is that if teaching should fail for whatever reason – we’re not always on the same pages with all the folks in the world – then we can dance. I’ll take that. Perhaps that’s exactly what I should be teaching. How to dance and be ecstatic about the World.

Enjoy your souls.









On occasion, I perform this kind of work on others. As this work involves a different kind of an exchange, insofar as it involves feedback and homework, I have special rates for it than generally listed on my booking page for other types of readings. Don’t hesitate to contact me, if you want a soulworking.


IMG_0195Note on the cards:

The New Tarot

J. Hurley & J. A. Horler, 1974

Sausalito, CA

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