THE STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE

As a teacher of visual text (both in the academic context of art history and in the context of divination and fortunetelling), there’s one principle that I hammer on: The principle of connection.

When we’re presented with an image, it’s often not enough to identify what’s happening. For the experience that makes an impact, what we need is to connect what’s happening to an emotional or a rational response, or both, depending on our immediate context for viewing.

Whenever we connect the image to the emotion that we associate with the image, or the image to the decoding nerve if we’re with a detective kind of an investigation, what we’re doing is create a story behind the image.

It’s for this reason that I always insist on considering the cards on the table as a possibility to connect the visual narrative frames with a story behind the frames.

If the Scythe is symbolically associated with ‘the end,’ next to another visual frame, say, the Ring that is symbolically associated with ‘marriage,’ we can say that in the context of a relationship we’re talking about the dissolution of the marriage. This would constitute the reading of the surface level of the visual input from the cards.

In the context of connecting, however, we never simply just go: ‘the Ring means marriage,’ and the Scythe means ‘ending’, as there’s always a story behind the set of the images we’re looking at. And it’s not always what you think it is, if you only operate with the surface level of things.

In the mainstream Lenormand world, it has been decided that ‘card combination’ is the thing, the backbone for divining with the Lenormand cards. Fair enough, but I wonder to what extent what is taken at surface level, for instance the idea that the combination Scythe + Ring means the end of the marriage, can also be thought of as the principle behind crafting a story behind the image-combination.

Saying that a card, a combination of two cards, or a set spread means something presupposes that there’s a recognition of what is commonly agreed upon, but is what is commonly agreed upon also a dynamic process of crafting a story behind the image? Hardly.

Those familiar with my work and extensive writing on the Lenormand cards (on this blog platform alone over a hundred solid essays) will know already about my disdain for set phrasing in any form it may be presented.

I often say that cards enable us to simplify things, and for many the Lenormand deck has become a simplifier par excellence. But I think of what Einstein used to say, namely that a scientist should make things as simple as possible, but not any simpler.

I think of the implications of ‘not any simpler’ for divination. Simplifying a situation to the surface level is one thing. Crafting a story behind the image is another thing, as it forces us to think of cards and card combinations in dynamic ways that bypass any list of meanings whatsoever.

My own methodical approach has been to prioritize the function of a cultural precept over its symbolic counterpart, having an eye for ‘not any simpler.’

In a given context if the Scythe + Ring connects to emotion, then we can say that the story behind this combination is actually one of relief, as normally, people get a divorce because they want to, not because they have a fantasy about the value of the pain of having their relationship severed. Statistically speaking the relief situation is much more predominant than the one in which the end of the marriage is a thing of sadness, and hence these days, empowering. Because… the vulnerable is in vogue.

Yet, in having internalized at surface level that the Scythe + Ring means the end of the marriage, the funny thing that happens is that, more often than not, the ‘meaning’ of this card combination is projected as a lamentable situation, even when it can be as plain as daylight that there’s no such thing as ‘lamentable’. What interests me here in my observation of this practice is just how such a projection can be deemed efficient, in the process assuming also that helping with coping is what’s needed. What if what the diviner needs instead is pop the champagne for the sitter, and celebrate?

From my own practice, I can testify that whenever I had to pass judgment on the Scythe + Ring situation in a question of relationship, there was a lot more to gain by pointing to the relief factor, rather than sympathize with what I would assume is a pain in the neck of the other.

In my cartomancy teachings I start with a line of basic questions: What goes into crafting a story that’s free of projection? How do we make it as simple as possible, but not any simpler? When we say that we’re free of symbolism, how do we actually demonstrate that we are, if that’s the aim, that is, to be free of symbolism? When we call our practice of reading cards intuitive or based on literalism, or on what we see is the case, do we also start with identifying what is precisely not the case?

I could continue, but I’ll stop here. Some 300 students have taken my Lenormand Foundation Course to date. I’m teaching it again, because there’s still people out there who might like to learn the story of ‘not any simpler’, and how to deliver a message with a nuanced measure of elegance and precision.

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THREE NEW BOOKS

A month ago I wrote here about finalizing three book manuscripts and a deck of cards. Since I like to start projects and finish them on the dot too, I was true to my own word once again.

I just had a book launch party, and shipped today a whole lot of boxes. It was extremely rewarding to see that every signed copy of books and cards I prepared for the event went like a flash.

The launch revolved around the Arcades Tarot that I created last year. The ‘LWB’ that accompanies it is in the form of a collection of haiku poems. I liked the idea of capturing in 17 syllables the essence of 6 Tarot cards literally in the mirror.

Part of the launch was also the ‘red book’ – I called it the Corvette – and the ‘indigo’ book for the serious business of reading the cards with the Marseille deck, all according to what is not the ‘standard’ case.

Divination with cards: A Short History comes in pamphlet form.

What is Not: Marseille Tarot à la Carte comes in thick book form.

Each is an insistence on stripping the Tarot of unnecessary discourse in favor of seeing what there’s to see, when this seeing is not informed by cultural precepts, but rather by direct experience.

My work with the Tarot has always been an insistence on the modality to say, ‘I don’t think so’, in the face of any dictations resting on unjustified symbolic action and interpretation.

In response to this, some often want to ask: What is left when we ‘say’ to the symbol, ‘I don’t think so, you’re only a representation of the thing, not the thing itself, so you might as well bugger off and not contaminate my seeing?’

What I’m interested in is targeted talk that completely bypasses the general fear that if the diviner doesn’t keep talking, she can’t be trusted to ‘know’ things. Wrong.

The diviner knows best when the diviner looks first, and then speaks. Speaking first, delivering a message according to lists of meanings and an endless mapping of correspondences is not the best way of conducting a divination session. At least that’s what I insist on in my teaching.

In my own experience, the value of a divinations session consists in seeing what there is to see while all judgment is suspended.

The first principle that I teach is for the students of cartomancy to know the value of ‘not this,’ and ‘not that’. Not what we think we know.

The Emperor doesn’t ‘mean’ power any more than he ‘means’ a dominant patriarch, or a fool whose pants got holes in them from sitting too long on the throne. An Emperor is an Emperor according to the function that he performs assigned to him culturally. Such assignments of functions are shifting, and only make sense in context.

All my writing hammers on this aspect: Meaning is situational, not fixed and not privileged by special access to lineage, divine psychic revelation, or secret schooling.

I hope you all enjoy these new books. They are the result of hard won understanding based on reflection and deconstruction of the language that we all speak. From What is Not to Arcades Tarot haiku, poems that can be enjoyed on their own, the idea is to keep the eyes on the ball, and to keep going. Reading the damn cards is just that.

If I make sharp cuts in my books, it’s because I’m past the age of negotiating for alternative views. Either what I see that is the case is present, or it isn’t.

Enjoy!

P.S. The books are available from all online stores. If ‘Temporarily out of Stock’ or long term delivery with Amazon, Barnes and Noble will have the books with you promptly. The same goes for Book Depository and others.

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WORK AND FUN

I’ve been in Norway for over a month. Usually I work a lot on vacation, but that’s simply because I don’t make a distinction between work and fun. As far as I can see, if you have to do something, then that doing is already work. The fun part is mostly a cultural thing. While we can assign the value of ‘fun’ to work, essentially, work is work.

With this in mind, I finalized three book manuscripts, each very different in form and content. I was constantly ahead of myself. I thought about it, about what made my discipline so relentless.

The first reason has to do with what I started out with here. I didn’t think of the task ahead of me as either work or fun. Rather I thought, this is simply something that needs done.

The second reason has to do with focus. If you keep yourself to just the one narrative: ‘this needs to be done’, and not assign any category or value to the quality of the activity, then you realize that you can have a lot of space in the head that’s completely free from the dangers of resisting.

As soon as you think of an activity as ‘work’ or ‘fun’, or both, actually, ‘work and fun’, you set yourself up for distraction. The moment the work is too heavy, you’ll feel resistance. The moment the fun is too trivial, you get bored, and then start resisting that, boredom that is.

Whichever way you put it, qualifiers are a trap.

I’m talking about focus because tomorrow I’ll start the summer cycle of 11 Tarot Prompts, focusing precisely on the topic of focus. Check it out and hop on board. We’re over 70 so far, all geared up to have our brains challenged, nice martial arts style of cartomancy under the Devil’s signature.

Speaking of the Devil, since he showed up at the very top of what I want to share with you here, let me offer this Tarot haiku, as it exemplifies what I’m doing in my third book, namely wax poetic with my own limited edition Arcades Tarot.

Devil in details

Crossing legs on a missed path

Books and rites shake hands

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Fashionable English Lenormand in 1887: The gift of Kamekichi Tsunajima

Card enthusiasts know it well. Perform a google search, or use the search engine of a museum, and voilá, before you know it, you’ll have access to some of the most fantastic images currently available, of both ancient and recent origins.

For instance, I’ve downloaded a number of historical Tarots from Gallica, the French national library, for free. I have a good color printer, and I like to make my own facsimile. In this day and age of the internet, we can all make all sorts of discoveries. Genius. I regularly refer my cartomantic students to such websites and entice them to search according to keywords related to the cartomantic field. Then I say, ‘make your own cards.’

But I like another kind of genius that’s not the result of snappy ‘research’ put in the service of personal agenda, publishing goal, and self-promotion. It’s called ‘stumbling into grace.’

For instance, the other day I stumbled over two sheets of images cataloguing the most common phrases in English for a Japanese audience. The Collection of Fashionable English, ‘Ryūkō eigo zukushi,’ was made in 1887 by the woodcutter Kamekichi Tsunajima. As soon as I saw the 84 drawings with their accompanying names, I thought, ‘it’s Lenormand, fortunetelling, and kipper deck, all in one.’

I instantly proceeded to cut a copy for myself in mini format, hand processing and gilding the edges of all the cards. After some 4 hours of polishing, I was able to cast a grand tableau.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

First I associated all the cards that are ‘straight’ Lenormand with the traditional deck. Then I had to find replacements for the missing concepts. For instance, the missing image of the Scythe got replaced by the Gun, the Tower by School, and the Fox by the Woolf – though I may pick the available Monkey on some occasion, if I need the trickster figure. I also found the Key in Chess, the Anchor in Shoes, the Coffin in the Watch – for when your time is up – and so on.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

The nice thing about this exercise of mapping image to concept is that it gives you access to the idea that you never operate with straight literalism – now a cliché regarding the perception of these cards among Lenormand enthusiasts – but rather with metaphor and function.

For instance, when I thought, ‘I need an Anchor,’ I picked the Shoes over some other potentially good candidates. Why? Think. Literally you need to put a pair of shoes on when you go to work, the primary ‘meaning’ of Anchor, but the only reason why you do that is because shoes participate in signaling your symbolic power. Try showing up at work without your shoes on, when everyone else is showing off their hand made Italian treasures, and you’ll see just how seriously you’ll be taken. In other words, what you think is the literal meaning of an image is never more than a symbolic index for consensus reality.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

The most amusing part in choosing what cards to use for my tableau was playing around with 7 cards dealing with writing, paper, pens, and books. ‘Ever the paper fetishists,’ I thought to myself, knowing what I know about the Japanese love of all things paper.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

I was also tempted to associate the missing Heart image with the Blank Book, but I went with Song instead, as I felt some tenderness towards the way most people cherish their emotions.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

Among the equally numerous images of pots and pans, tea sets and matches, I picked the generic Dish to represent the House, and Lamp to represent the Clouds.

I was ready for my Grand Tableau, settling also for the Cross Child to represent the Cross, assigning the card of Football and the kid playing it to the Child in Lenormand. Talk about the oracular. What is Cross Child? Or do I actually need to ask? Some of the linguistic transfer and spelling on the cards sounds like ‘google translate’ in 1887. Great fun.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

Organizing space and work

For my own Grand Tableau I had a question about work related to organizing my tasks around the new house I’ve just purchased, following a very laborious way of spell casting and sigillizing for it. You’re welcome to read about this process in my recent Patheos essay, As it Happens: House Magic, if you want to know more.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

At this stage I only have a crystal clear image of where to put the bonsai collection of trees, namely in the courtyard. As I still need to debate with myself over the vast space, I thought I’d ask the cards about it.

The Lady, my significator appears in the first row, looking back at the recent closed deal, the Ring flanking also what’s settled, the bonsai tree idea (Coral). What I need to consider immediately is putting a Gun to the Cross Child, and make sure that I don’t whine too much about it. I’m already moving into the Dish quite by default, my diagonal future line ending with the Gentleman, my partner. As it happens, this house is my partner’s childhood’s home, so we’re on familiar territory even though 40 years have passed since he left the place. With my own financial power, the place is now very much also in my own hands. My heart sings a song over this deal.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

As work is represented by the Shoes, I see that I intersect with this card in the flowers, here the Peony. This tells me that the only task I have is to make make sure that I do what I like.

That pretty much settles it.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

The time is right for the stars to align, the key being the return to the ancestral place – for this insight I’m reading the last 4 cards, the Watch (for Coffin), the Ship, the Game of Chess (for Key), and the Star.

Kamekichi Tsunajima, Fashionable English, 1887, ‘designed’ by myself as a Lenormand deck

A lot more can be said, but I’ll stop here, since the gist of it covers it all: Indeed, I must do what I like in choosing which space to perform what function.

Make your own cards

The main idea here was to say something about the benefits of making your own cards by creating your own facsimile in the form that you want to give it. For instance, not only did I have the freedom to go for cotton rag, rather than plastic card stock, but I also designed the back and gilded the hell out of the polished edges.

Stumbling into material that’s not ‘cards’ but that lends itself so beautifully to making cards is also a whole lot better than making predictable discoveries while spending time on a museum’s website, searching according to keywords: Tarot, fortune telling, Lenormand, Kipper, and so on. Stumbling is infinitely more original, precisely because there’s no control that you can exercise over your direction.

As to the reading method of the cards that I create, I can say the following: I don’t care about how I read. I’m just happy to be able to do it with a measure of skillfulness that gives me joy. The only guiding principle here is seeing things as they. If I recognize that an image performs a specific function culturally, which is another way of saying that it performs symbolically, then what does that tell me about my question, about what I want to know? This is the only thing I reflect on.

Some have identified my approach with ‘reading like the Devil’, but I prefer to think of it as ‘martial arts cartomancy’. It takes discipline to operate in a world that’s run by the symbolic order of things, and to be able to say, ‘cut the crap’ all the time from a place where fear, cliché, and mannerism are not part of any catalogue, however fashionable.

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If you’d like some summer reading precisely of the ‘cut the crap’ practice, check out some ‘dynamite’ essays – as others have called them – on my weekly column, the Cartomancer on Patheos, the most recent, Stepping into Maturity, being about how most motivational speech springs out of immaturity, and why you should ditch the ‘inspirational’.

What you say, not what how you say it

‘It’s not what you say but how you say it that matters,’ they say, and I’m not sure about what is presupposed here: That we prefer feeling good to the truth? – I presuppose myself now that we’re dealing with truth not with an abusive situation in this case.

I often think of this, especially since my whole career is built on teaching.

I’ve written lately about how I prefer the sword to the cup, but as I was going through some old student material, I pondered on my own consistency. I never appeal to feeling. I appeal to cognition and the capacity a student has to see precisely where I’m going. That’s the aim. Feeling doesn’t interest me in the slightest, as I see no reason to treat feeling as if it has any substance whatsoever. It doesn’t.

Cognition, on the other hand, leads to clarity when time is invested in seeing what’s what beyond any emotional engaging.

I thought I’d share here a snippet of the kind of interaction that I have with students, stressing the significance of ‘what you say’ over and above ‘how you say it’.

Said student in response to an assignment regarding the reading of a 3-card spread.

The question and the cards:

“How do you know whether you should give time for your work context to improve, or if it’s hopeless and time to move on?”

Lovers, Pope, Justice

Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy

The student’s analysis:

“So pragmatic it hurts. There is a dual element in every card, and the obvious “choice” card at the beginning. I see urgency of decision. Should the central character of L’Amoureux not move, he will get an arrow through the head.

If the Pope is giving a blessing, it is for both people, and the scales of Justice are even. These elements combined seem to spell no privileged path.

As for the HOW, the actual process of decision, I see the blindfolded Cupid as an invitation to using intuition. I would stay away from emotions as a factor as it has L’Amoureux in a hesitant flutter. The Pope being listened to with attention suggests giving weight to what mentors or whatever authority figure are saying in the process. Justice (not blindfolded) could then sum up and cool-heatedly weigh that information.

In sum, I would read that all available resources should be used in the process of that decision, highlighting outside advice and minimizing the value of emotion in the process. It seems that any choice could lead to a workable solution, however a direction must inevitably be taken. ”

What I said:

“This one is a convoluted one, due to your muddling the issues. On one hand you want to know something about what is at stake in the process of making a decision. On the other hand, you want to relate it to a specific work situation that can be answered by doing a 3-card side by side: One set for ‘should I stay’ and another for ‘should I go’.

Things here get muddled because you’re mixing two narratives that are not on the same plane.

It’s better to make up your mind about what you really want to ask.

Asking, ‘how do I know…’ and then answering it with a discourse about decision-making that’s actually quite abstract and philosophical is not very helpful.

The cards can address both your concerns, but for tightness of precision, it’s better to see them answering separately.

How do I know… can here be answered by saying that you know if you listen first to what the authorities say.

How does the head (of church, hospital, etc) work with the law? (this can be logistics, the ethical board, or some other official board).

What do they say? How are they in conversation?

And how do you think it will impact ‘little you’ (the Lover caught between opinions)?

By the looks of these cards, there are officials above your head that don’t even know of your existence. Or, to be fair, the Pope may speak on behalf of his disciples, but he’s not focussed on any of them as such. His eyes are on Justice, as if almost saying: ‘Can I do this?’

Justice doesn’t care much about (spiritual) arguments. So there may be conflict there that’s not for you to resolve.

Secondly, if it’s for you to know whether work is worth it here or not, we have the same situation with the cards.

You’re up against higher suits. You can wait and see what they decide, and then you make your move in accordance. Anything else would be unwise.

So my point is that you don’t have much agency here (unless you see yourself as one of the suits), hence figuring out what is at stake in the act of decision is an exercise in sophistry.”

Diplomacy or fencing?

As you can see from this example, what I said had priority over how I put it. That’s the kind of teaching that I deliver.

In any encounter, we can engage the art of diplomacy, but as far as I’m concerned, whenever that happens, I always ask myself first: What is the purpose of it?

More often than not, I reject diplomacy and stick to the nasty cut. It’s more honest.

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MAGIC AS A COIN, A HORSE, AND A WHEEL

I like to talk often about my weariness with causality and the need to explain everything and justify everything according to some presupposed linearity that moves us from A to B.

What is a fact is that we move, but hardly ever from A to B, and almost never do we move from A because B happened. The reason why I don’t like causality is because even if it really existed, it would still mean absolutely nothing in the face of things changing all the time. Any physicist worth his salt would concur here. Now the black hole is making the rounds, having us all ponder: ‘But what does it mean?’

Astrophysics has its shifting answers. And then there’s the general bottom-line that stays: Things change. The fact that things change changes the way we look at causality, namely, with less anxiety and less excitement.

I don’t go around thinking, ‘whoa, I got to do this or that because this or that will land me this or that job, or deal, or lover,’ and so on. That is called projecting into a future that doesn’t exist other than as pure fantasy in my head.

Conversely, I don’t go around saying to myself that I have to dig into the past, and waste time with this or that trauma that only my unconscious can remember. What I do is look at myself in the mirror, check with my breathing – I’m still breathing – and then check with my mind: ‘What new fiction are you concocting today?’ I ask it, and then I expect my face to produce a smile that then turns into hilarious laughter.

There’s something thoroughly liberating in knowing that I need no truth or authenticity to seek, for all is true already if my language of desire AND detachment makes it so. Pertaining to this, you may want to see my newsletter sent out today to the people following The Art of Reading offerings, where I advance the radical claim that all magical ritual are death rituals for the simple reason because they operate with truth. As they say, ‘only the dead speak the truth’.

The point is that when you detach, you detach from points of identification with that which you formulate a desire for. This is the backbone for successful magic.

When attachment leaves the building, what enters your life is intention AS freedom, not as something that keeps you tied to your daily obsessions with being rich and famous, loved and liked, connected and content, proud and powerful.

Oy veh, so much energy is wasted in identifications . . . Imagine being free of all that.

As the course Cards and Magic 3.0 is open for registration right now – a completely revamped course – I’ll share there an older coin ritual that I devised some time ago, just to give you an idea as to what we’ll be up to in the class, in addition to introducing students to deadly rituals that are inspired by what the Chaldeans were thinking, with references also to Egypt, China, Western esotericism, Nordic and Balkan magic. A lot, but dead on point.

Suppose you want money for Cards and Magic. Here’s a ritual based on the Visconti Sforza cards:

Page of Coins, Queen of Coins, 7 Coins

Get a red string of about 3 feet and 6 coins with a hole in the middle.

Tie each coin to the string and make a knot between each coin. Hang the string of coins on the wall perpendicularly.

Take a chair and place it with its back to the string. Sit on it with a 7th coin in your hand and hold it in front of your eyes.

Say these words:

The money I look at and wish for, I already have and hold in my lap. Let my transactions be as straight as the red string behind me.

Now turn around and tie the 7th coin to the top of the string, and spit on it. For good luck.

For the poetically inclined, I give you here an interesting statement by W.B. Yeats. It shows that, in magic, we’re all connected, coins, horses, and stars.

‘I have seen somewhere a series of illustrations showing first a coin with a horse, then later coins where the same horse breaks up into meaningless blobs until at last a designer turns the four blobs that were once legs into the spokes of a wheel. The passage I have quoted from Empedocles [On Nature, Burnett p. 226] had probably some relation to the diurnal movement of the heavens, or to planetary movements, but one cannot guess what the relation was, so little of his system has survived. Such a system is the horse upon the first coin, and the system I am about to describe the wheel that takes its place’. (Yeats MS, National Library of Ireland 36,272/6/1a, leaf 2)

Keep going.

Camelia

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DO IT TODAY OR TOMORROW?

I don’t want to say that occasionally I’m immersed in all sorts of projects, because it wouldn’t be true at all. What is more true is that I’m immersed in all sorts of projects all the time. This requires some planning and self-reflection. I’m good at finishing whatever I start. I don’t know the meaning of postponement, or of ditching whatever project if it turns out to be some shit. I still do it, if for no other reason than because I’m curious to watch my reaction: ‘oh my, you wasted so much time on this…’ my conscious self tells my unconscious self, or rather my fancy or the unacknowledged.’ In my book there’s no such thing as the unconscious. There’s only non-acceptance and non-acknowledgment.

So this type of the so-called ‘unconscious’ has a way of retorting stubbornly in a rhetorical question, ‘so what if I did, only capitalists buy the idea that time is money.’ Now this would be right on the money, my unattached self invested in seeing the obvious, in seeing things as they are, would observe, but consider this: if you ‘struggle’ with time, give yourself no more than two options: ‘do it today or do it tomorrow?’

Note that I didn’t say, ‘do it today or some other time at a later point.’ That’s not an option if you want to get things done. I often put myself on the spot like this, and ask this question either/or using the cards to respond. If I’m tired of deliberating and playing judge between my competing conscious desires and unacknowledged aversions, I don’t ask a question about modality, ‘how do I do this?’ or ‘what does it take fro me to do this?’ I ask questions that force me to take a position.

Let’s demonstrate with an example. What I do is perform a reading in two parts. Each option gets a set of three cards. I compare the readings and go with the option that looks most efficient.

For ‘do it today?’ I got 2 Clubs, 3 Clubs, and the Ace of Clubs.

This is an easy one. With this line up, the answer is ‘definitely not today.’ While the Ace of Clubs in the last position speaks of initiating things, because the implicit in the question is actually about a situation when ‘do it today’ needs to be accomplished already, not just initiated, the Ace of Clubs is ultimately too weak a testimony towards a fair judgment. We can be tempted to say, ‘yes, clearly, I’ll do it today, as this Ace testifies to the beginning of action,’ what you must always think of is exactly this: is the beginning of action also the end of it? Does beginning work also mean finishing it? It doesn’t.

The reading like the Devil method is all about making such observations that often go against the first impulse when we also start observing: a question about work, an all Clubs cast on the table. Work. Ergo: get to it, do it today. But as you can see here, a finer analysis of what’s at stake in the question discloses how semantics works, via logical inferences and situated meaning.

What’s interesting now is to see what the cards for tomorrow’s option say, as I very much like as little contradiction as possible. On occasion, however, the cards like to play pranks on me, and give me an even stronger no, when I actually expect a yes. When that happens I pull another card or two for clarification, as I like to stretch my brain with the new variables. No need for it though.

For ‘do it tomorrow’ option I got these cards: Queen of Hearts, Jack of Spades, 4 Hearts. ‘Yes, tomorrow is definitely better,’ I said to myself, and took the option to wait for a day.

Now, someone looking at theses cards with some measure of bewilderment may look upon my effort with reluctance, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Queen of Hearts listening to what the immature and hesitant Jack of Spades may have to say about it.

At the functional level these two cards share the same quality where slacking is concerned: they are against taking direct action; the Queen of Hearts for reasons of comfort – it’s better to indulge than to accomplish things; the Jack of Spades for reasons of insecurity. A man of war with a wrong strategy and tactic is a dead man, not a hero. The Jack of Spades knows this already.

The usefulness of these examples is that it makes you realize that by comparing sets of three cards side by side when you have to choose between two or more options, with each option being represented by one of the sets, you inadvertently also answer your question predictively. Just think: if the question had been this: ‘will I do it today?’ or ‘will I do it tomorrow,’ the answer would have been the same. ‘You won’t do it today, as in comparison it’s more likely that you’ll do it tomorrow.’

Keep going.

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WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T: THE ART OF REFUTATION

You know that there’s a difference between generations because of the art of refutation. Most young people know jack, but they pretend that they know a lot. The consequence of this is that they hardly ever engage in refuting conjectures. This is another way of saying that they are not very good at prediction. They can’t guess correctly what happens next based on observing reality, so they often end up in a depressive ditch, where they wallow in the attitude that’s called: ‘Others don’t understand me, I’m different’.

Older people are more capable of filtering information, and because there’s less of it, it’s easier to process information and turn it into applicable knowledge. This means that not only are older people better at figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but they’re also more able to refute the inessential, even when the inessential is part of the attitude that’s called: ‘I’ve always thought this, so there’s no reason to change’.

Of course, there are young people who are intelligent and thus able to navigate their environment, adapting to what is and not merely chasing after what isn’t, and there are also older people who are dogmatic and conservative, who never dream of refuting what they once decide is the case.

I’m having these thoughts while looking at my cards today in conversation.

The Queen of Clubs zooms in on social relations, suggested by the presence of the 8 Hearts. The Ace of Spades and the Ace of Clubs align with the Ace of Diamonds on the vertical axis.

I tell the person I read these cards for the following:

‘It’s about refuting. It’s not about what you’re inclined to do by virtue of your pragmatic nature, which is to find a working solution.’

‘Yes, but I’m worried about the people I work with’, she says. ‘They like me to be social and participate in all sorts that the company comes up with for the sake of the well-being of the employees.’

‘What’s your guess’? I ask her, ‘what would the consequence be, if you simply refuted socializing when you don’t see a sharp purpose to it? Why is it preferable to sit and smile in a contrived way, or pretend to listen and be interested in small-talk?’

She nods pensively. We end this discussion with me telling her that she’s old enough to know the value of honesty, and her thinking about the pressure from her social environment to play a role she would rather not.

Applying honesty to an environment that cultivates hypocrisy is risky business, but it pays off to think about what you’re good at, and hammer that to the table, whether this be the social table or the private expression.

Adaptability is not about being nice or being a contrarian. It’s about the ability to predict the odds and act in accordance, even when it’s in your detriment to do so.

You can step up to your personal courage, refute what’s not real, and take the fall as a consequence. If you’re not ‘social’, meaning, you do what everyone else does as a matter of ‘adapting’, you have slim chances at succeeding in a place where everyone is invested in making everyone else feel good in spite of what’s actually essential to address.

The question to ask now is this one: Who wants to succeed in a place that cultivates false interests?

The art of refutation is a subtle representation of knowing your place, and hence of highest wisdom.

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DOING WHAT YOU DID WHEN YOU WERE TEN

I blame it on age. The older I get, the more I want to do stuff that I did when I was 10. But it’s not everything, just the stuff I only had a go at. For instance, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to be a champion at fencing, as I was deeply invested in all the books about samurai and musketeers. The closest I ever got to a sword, however, was a long knife that I had a knack for sharpening.

The other thing I wanted very badly was to master darkroom photography. I tried it for a week when our school placed us in extracurricular activities. It took me two years since that first experience of magic to get my first camera – not the Leica I coveted, but a Smena – an event I suppressed so much that it took the memory of my sister to remind me of it, along with the fact that I was very enthusiastic whenever I had the chance to try the local photoshop, where a distant cousin worked as an assistant. When she defected to Israel with her entire family, my dreams of mastering anything ‘dark printing’ were shattered. I must have suffered a lot, since my conscious mind decided to kill all memory of it.

40 years down the road, I find my fingers dipped and dunked into chemicals and shooting black and white pictures of the katanas that I’ve also acquired. My ninja time may be over, but the silver gelatin time is back with sharp vengeance.

I try not to ask myself what the purpose of all this is, as I tell myself that it’s enough if I do the best I can. But the more I think about it, I can’t help also thinking that doing the best I can is not an operation in vacuum, especially not when I happen to go back to things I had a strong desire for.

It was urgent back then that I mastered the sword and the film. But how does mastery relate to ‘doing the best I can’? What does that mean, anyway?

I’m looking at the cards created by Sergio Toppi, an avid consumer of samurai culture. The Lovers, the Hanged Man, and the Emperor stir excitement in me. How very aptly they represent precisely my situation.

The woman lover’s head is tilted backwards. There’s no end to her passion. But what she has in mind gets hanged. The Emperor, however, is here now, his head part of the sword’s handle, one with it. ‘Not any more,’ he adamantly says. ‘No more hanging. Step up to it, get on with the program, and own your goddamn art.’

That’s right. Doing the best I can is about sovereignty, over and above chance and circumstance.

Just before Christmas I inherited the late fame collector K. Frank Jensen’s old Leica camera. His wife, Witta, had to listen to me going on and on about my childhood fancy, while I visited her. She then said, ‘here you are, Frank’s old camera, do what you have to do.’

‘What?’, I thought, ‘is this for real?’ Of all things… All the years I’ve known Frank, he never mentioned it even once that he did darkroom photography. All we ever talked about was cards. Witta handed over a folder filled with Frank’s achievements in photography. He won many prizes, both in Denmark and aboard, including a prestigious placement in the US. This was between the late 50s and early 60s.

I took all this material, the Leica, lenses, and other film cameras and ecstatically pledged to do the best I can. My mind is filled already with images for an exhibition, part of a theme called, The Danish Testament.

But how will I do the best I can? Ok, the Emperor has spoken, but still… I have to ask, since I’m a philosopher at heart.

As this very question is pressing on my mind, I thought about others with a similar urge to return to the repressed, or to figure out how momentum enters into equation with destination. What happens if you do the best you can in an area that’s left behind by the world? What about the opposite, when you do futuristic things that no one can even imagine exist?

Is this question of momentum, skills, and destination even the right question?

This is a goddamn good question in itself already. What does it even mean to say that ‘I do the best I can?’

As it happens, and because I always offer others what I happen to sit with that is yet of universal concern, the topic for my bi-annual run of tarot prompts is all about this: Do the Best You Can.

Check it out, and experience a series of questions that will unsettle your ghosts or future actions. The cycle starts tomorrow already.

Today I’ve left the darkroom for a stint to get my nose and eyes into dark boxes. What cards will I be using?

I’ve no idea, but the collection is ready, and you’re welcome.

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MERRY, MERRY BY THE BOOK

If you didn’t get a Tarot book as a x-mas present, no worries. You can do better.

People often ask for book recommendations. If they ask me, I say to them: ‘Get them all. Why compare? Each author brings his and her own contribution in accordance with their capability and plan. And this has zero to do with what other authors do, which makes comparing utterly pointless.’

Where learning systems of divination is concerned, there are 2 ways of going about it.

ONE

You get a book of ‘meanings’. If you get one such book, you might as well get them all because they’re all the same. Each will start with a preamble, often consisting of establishing family pedigree or lineage. After that the cards are described one by one. ‘Secret’ and ‘forgotten’ spreads are presented, consisting of set questions for each position. ‘Who hates me, who loves me, who is with me who is against me’ are classic.

You learn all the meanings for the cards by heart, and you’re set. This approach avoids questioning the premise for the arbitrations: ‘Justice means truth, balance, discernment, karma, getting what you deserve, cosmic perfection’, and so on.

arcades tarot
Arcades Tarot, limited edition of 22 by Camelia Elias

TWO

You get a book of divination. If you get one such book, you’re in trouble because the author will ask you to produce readings that are anything but flat. Card meanings will be secondary or tertiary to the overall plan, or downright nonexistent

Books of meanings produce flat readings. Books of divination give you a headache. To be sure of how you distinguish between them, you’ll want to know: When is a reading not flat?

In my book What is Not, I hammer on the fundamentals in reading a visual text, but here I’ll give you a further example of the concreteness of what’s at stake when you don’t go:

The Devil means passion, the Emperor means power, and the Magician means prowess. The Empress means creativity, Temperance means concoction, and Force means coercion.

Arcades Tarot, limited edition of 22 by Camelia Elias

A reading that’s not flat will start with observing what’s happening on the surface: Men on top, women at the bottom.

The Devil presides over the men’s moves.

The Emperor is above the line between the Empress and Temperance. We’re here with a calculating power.

The Magician is above the line between Temperance and Force. We’re here with displaced perspective.

‘Ho, ho, ho, what happened to meanings?’

Santa took them.

This is what I say: Read all the books you get and enjoy every writer’s effort. What it comes down to is not what is said in the books, but what you do with what is said in the books.

I hope the approach to deconstructing meanings will provoke you hard enough to make you curious about how you can turn the flattest of your readings into the most dynamic events.

You can start thinking of the flatness of keywords as part of a wordplay. Did you notice that I’ve deliberately had all the cards in their rows begin with the same letter, while maintaining ‘the meaning’?

Observe the interplay and function of the characters before you get all giddy over their symbolism: How many men and how many women are acting? What’s between their individual roles? These questions invite you to think.

Divination is never boring when you think about what you’re saying and why. I hope you’ll think of your cards as a game of arcades and mirrors, with your perception going in and out of perspective.

arcades tarot
Arcades Tarot, limited edition of 22 by Camelia Elias

The cards I used here are my own concoction designed to accompany a new book, Arcades Tarot, on the relation between haiku poetry and the Tarot. I only made 22 sets – a laborious process – that went in 10 minutes. The book is available separately in unlimited edition.

Stay creative in the new year. Make some art and beautify your world. Merry, merry to all, and a happy new year.

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