December 22, 2015

Left Hand Tarot #1: Angel Trumpets and Devil Trombones

... in which I discuss: Cold reading; violence in Tarot; arguing with a Tarot reader; the value of saying exactly what you mean; punishing stupid questions; offending fluffy bunnies; dealing with ignorant people who can't stop from saying ignorant things; Jewish mysticism; and one practical tip for increasing the quality of your Tarot readings.
Scroll down to read the full notes for this week's episode.

long island medium
Teresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium,
who makes a lot of money pretending to talk to dead people.
Welcome to episode #1 of Left-hand Tarot! To get us started, let's dive straight into a taboo conversation among Tarot readers: cold reading. So this Tarot blogger Benebell wrote an article with a few thoughts about "social inductive reasoning," which includes NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) which itself also has huge overlap with cold reading. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: fantasy is as necessary as truth, and while I do believe there's a certain magic to the Tarot, I also know I haven't won the lottery or predicted the next terrorist attack. So for those reasons, I embrace the fantasy but accept the reality. Part of accepting the reality is being honest with myself and acknowledging that I've learned a lot of cold reading skills without ever intending to learn how to cold read.

So you say you're "highly intuitive?" I say you've got a keen sense of observation, and I also say it's an important skill for self preservation and navigating complex social dynamics. And, so I've said before, it also makes you both a better entertainer and a better Tarot reader. After all, if the Tarot is supposed to reflect reality, then your skills of observation - or "social inductive reasoning" - are a complementary tool to help you see reality as it is - and seeing reality as it is? Hell, that's why people get Tarot readings.

But to elaborate, there's a difference between pure cold reading - which may use a deck of Tarot cards as a prop to instill confidence in the mark - and the performance of the spectacle of Tarot - which may use cold reading to provide context to the message. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you can talk to the dead, then you've got a lot of cold case murders to solve. But what's that? When you talk to the dead all they want to say is "I still love my family so much, and I'll be with you forever, and oh gosh, so sorry to hurry, but time is running out, and I'll see you again on the other side?" Well, I call bullshit. There's a lot of stuff that I'm willing to entertain as a Tarot reader, but pretending to talk to the dead isn't one of them.

Malcolm McDowell Clockwork Orange
Become a terror to your enemies
I'm working my way through every two-card combination in a deck of Tarot cards, and I'm on the Magician right now. This passage came to me today while exploring the combination of the Magician and Strength. This isn't a RWS-based interpretation because I'm working off a different system of numerology, so depending on how you read the Tarot your definition will be something different. Still, I thought this passage was striking and wanted to share it. 
Magician + Strength: There's no danger so terrifying as that which you can't name or see. No danger so terrifying as the formless shadow moving in the darkness. You shine a light, and it moves somewhere else, but you never did get rid of it, did you? If you want to be a terror to your enemies, become the shifting, formless foe. For your enemies to win, they have to define your defeat. If you elude definition, you can never be clearly defeated.
The reason I'm sharing this today is because of something I've talked about before and +Twisted Tarot Tales has also touched on recently: if we assume that the Tarot is capable of expressing any aspect of existence, then that means it isn't just butterfly farts and unicorn poops. That means that the Tarot must also include grief, sadness, violence, and even depravity. 

The Tarot is certainly capable of expressing beauty, kindness, and generosity, but it must also be capable of describing the dark depths of the soul. I happen to think that kitty cats and white light fairies have their place in Tarot, but I also happen to think it's a mistake to use them exclusively. Likewise, I think it's wrong to craft a deck that swings so far to the other side that it only includes the sort of things you wish you'd never seen.

Which is one of the reasons why I like Marseilles-style decks that only have illustrations for the trump cards. As soon as you draw a picture, you crystallize the card's meaning into that picture and make it difficult - if not impossible - for any other interpretation to emerge. There's a place for both "light" and "dark" in the Tarot, and to deny either one is a foolish choice.

Unlike in Monty Python's Argument Clinic
I don't get paid to argue.
Let's talk about getting a Tarot reading from the client's perspective. If you're getting a card reading, good luck: I hope you find everything you're looking for. And to help you get what you want, be aware of unhelpful attitudes that you bring to the experience. Another blogger, The Tarot Lady, recently wrote a short article about unhelpful attitudes that get in the way of enjoying yourself during a reading, and while I think she did some good writing, I'd add one more to the list: arguing with the Tarot reader. In all the years I've read cards, I've had less than five such clients, but they stick out like sore thumbs and for reasons I struggle to rationalize they still irritate me.

Listen, folks: it's called fortune telling for a reason. If you already know your future, and are already certain of what will or won't happen, then why are you getting your cards read? If you go to a fortune teller and hear something you don't know or hear something that's unexpected, isn't that the whole fucking point of the reading? To find out things you don't know? Now, if the reading was just nonsense and didn't make a lick of sense, then you're within rights to tell the reader, "Hey, this reading sucked and I want my money back." In our digital age, you can usually get a refund if you tell your reader that you'll leave an honest review on his or her Google+ page (if they have a physical location) or on his or her seller page (if he or she is selling via a platform like Etsy, Fiverr, eBay, etc.)

If I was having a bad focus day and did a shit job performing your reading, odds are excellent that I won't charge you for the reading and refund your money before you ask because I know it was a shit reading. And that doesn't happen often because I tend not to work when I'm not rested. But if you just don't like what I predicted? Well, shame on you for asking me to tell it to you in the first place.

If you've got something to say, just say it.
You don't need to dress it up with Tarot.
So many just plain weird Tarot-related articles in the news. In this one, a school superintendent received a gift of two Tarot cards - the Fool and Death - from the husband of another board member who would later vote to not keep him in his current position for another three years. As it happened, the superintendent still got enough votes to keep his job so I guess the Tarot didn't count for much anyway. So the sender of the cards said, he wanted to use the cards to inspire a discussion about change and foolish decisions, but from what I can see in the article, that's not what was understood. Not much else to talk about here, just another weird incident of Tarot happening in public places.

Don't ask stupid questions
And yes, stupid questions deserve to be punished.
In other news, there's an article out about Mr. Enrique Enriquez, a Tarot reader who's getting some attention for his movie Tarology. The article I saw includes a discussion about his prices and how he charges for a reading. Have a look:
Mr. Enrique’s rate sheet for readings is a lengthy note about fees that begins, “The cost of consulting the tarot varies accordingly to the nature of the questions asked.” It goes on, “As a general rule, an unimaginative question will be charged twice the price of an imaginative one,” and, “any puerile pursuit will be punished by a high fee. Such fee will decrease proportionately to the percentage of marvel implicit in the question, to the extent that an absolutely wonderful question will be answered for free.” At the end, though, his overall rule: “pay what you think this is worth.”
Speaking as a Tarot reader who does at least four readings a day, I sympathize with Mr. Enrique's rate sheet. Anybody who says that there are no wrong questions clearly hasn't seen the questions that frequently appear in my order queue. Granted, I don't tell people their questions are stupid, but I do tell them when I think it's worthwhile to expand their line of inquiry. I do my best.

Shh! Don't disturb the fluffy bunny - it can't handle 
anything that might be potentially worrisome.
Kudos to Beth at Little Red Tarot for being a successful Tarot professional - clearly she's doing a lot right and connecting with her intended audience - but clearly I'm not a member of that audience because this Tarot card arrangement she put together in an article I read about finding guidance during the Sagittarius New Moon just screams all kinds of silly to me. You can read the full blog post to see the context, but these positions just make me cringe:
Fear, Hope, Transform, Release, Create
I've been there with these kinds of arrangements, and done them more than a few times, and let me tell you: there's a reason I stopped using this sort of emotional, higher path, etc. language. Partly I stopped using this kind of language in my readings because I thought it was just silly, but the biggest reason why I stopped using it is because of this:

The client doesn't have a damn clue what I'm talking about.

Hell, depending on the question (if one is even asked) I might not even know what I'm talking about. This sort of pseudo-psychoanalytical babble is the very thing that makes me roll my eyes at Tarot readers. I haven't had readings like this in a long time, but when I did receive a reading like this (usually as part of a free reading swap) I was usually not impressed with the content that was produced.

There are people who actively seek these kinds of readings, and judging from this author's website there's at least one reader who makes a fair bit of money giving these kinds of readings, but you won't catch me laying this spread.

The Queen of Swords for Twisted Tarot
Tales features the Japanese 
"slit mouth woman"
Among my favorite Tarot bloggers lately is +Twisted Tarot Tales. This guy and his wife produce some really fun indie Tarot decks. Their latest deck is the Horror Tarot, and it's, well... horrifying. It includes comic-book style representations of horrifying, scary, and frightening stuff from books, TV, and movies from around the world. For reasons that I won't elaborate in this article, the artist has been getting some negative attention surrounding the content he puts in his cards. Spoiler alert: some fluffy bunnies don't like comic-book style horror. So the author wrote an article that touches on the subject of violence but also the subject of race and culture in Tarot. For example: in the article there's a picture of the Hermit card which shows a white man escaped from prison. He's sticking out his thumb to hitch a ride, but his arm is still handcuffed and has the severed hand of another white man still locked in the other cuff.

The artist, +Twisted Tarot Tales, explained why it would create conflict to show a black man as the convict, and even more conflict to show a white man with a black man's hand in the cuff, etc. Regardless of the combination, somebody's going to take offense.

Still: it could absolutely work as a white man with a black man's hand hanging from the cuff assuming that the broader message worked into the card was about the isolating effects of refusing to integrate with other communities. Mr. White Man can have it his way, but he'll end up separated and the worse for wear.

Or, you could depict a black man with a white man's hand hanging from the cuff in a broader context of liberation and freedom (there are plenty of wrongful imprisonments and other social dynamics that could be worked into it.) As usual, everything depends on context.

But all this comes back to the core message: somebody's going to take offense. Even if they're not upset at how the subject in the picture is portrayed, they may get offended that the subject is portrayed at all. Which more or less leads me to my next discussion...

So you should stop and think before you say something ignorant.
So, when I was discussing my project to write a summary of every two-card combination in the tarot, I got an interesting a stupid response. We'll just call this person Anonymous Asshole:
2 cards signifies nothing unless you're asking a VERY simplistic q.. Study Tree of Life readings & those of astrological houses. They're WAY more complete. Then there are chakra readings & paths ON the tree, etc.. Go BEYOND what's taught & discover your own--that's the REAL purpose of reading--at all.
Let's take this line by line...
  1. 2 cards signifies nothing unless you're asking a VERY simplistic q..: First of all, I'm not talking about readings performed from only two cards. I'm talking about messages produced by two-card combinations. The reading as a whole depends on context, but the message within the reading also depends on context and every other card's relation to the key significator. In other words, it doesn't matter how many cards are in the full arrangement, because you're not reading all the cards at once: you're reading them two at a time. Learning to read two-card combinations is the most basic and fundamental skill to becoming a Tarot reader.
  2. Study Tree of Life readings & those of astrological houses. They're WAY more complete.: Thank-you very much for your condescension, but Jewish mysticism is as useful to me as an asshole on my elbow. Which is to say, not at all important. And before anybody invokes Godwin's Law, this has nothing to do with racism. Racism is a herd mentality unsuitable for anybody who would walk the left-hand path. Jewish mysticism has its place, and for some people it's going to be the best thing since illustrated pips, but it's so foreign that it doesn't carry any meaning for me. Hell, Norse and British mythology are the same way for me: they have absolutely no appeal to me because they don't connect with me and my history in any way. But I will second you on the matter of the astrological houses: I use them in my readings, but they're not positions on the table: they're already embedded in the cards.
  3. And on that subject: Let's get something straight: while the Tree of Life and astrological houses have their place in occult philosophies, using them as a diagram to show you how to lay your cards on the table is a superficial tool to add dimension to your Tarot. When I talk about reinventing the Tarot, I'm not talking about creating a new version of the Celtic Cross (which I happen to think is duplicitous and unwieldy), I'm talking about changing the very meaning of the cards themselves. This isn't a re-imagination of the Rider-Waite-Smith template, this is a completely fresh approach from entirely different source material. So if you think that finding the right way to lay down the cards is important, you go right ahead and do that, but until you change the language of the cards themselves, it doesn't matter what arrangement you pick because the vocabulary that composes the language of your Tarot will continue to say the same thing.
  4. Then there are chakra readings & paths ON the tree, etc..: Now, don't get me wrong: I'm a fan of syncretism and hacking your Tarot practice to make it work the way you want. But the occult granola bar that is the union of Jewish and Hindu mysticism is all kinds of silly. Yes, I know full well that there are people who like to do the pathworking of the Tree of Life combined with the mind-body union of the chakra system, but Jewish and Hindu mysticism emerged from very different times and places. Just as you'd notice a clash when eating matzah with pakora, you're going to find a similar conflict when trying to get Abraham in bed with Buddha. As always, if it works for you, then you keep right on doing it, but Jewish and Hindu mysticism are so foreign and unpalatable to me that they'll never have a place in my practice.
  5. Go BEYOND what's taught & discover your own--that's the REAL purpose of reading--at all.: Seriously? Did you bother to even read anything I've written on my Google+ profile before you opened your mouth to tell me that I'm being shallow and unimaginative?
So I turned a mirror to the face of this Anonymous Asshole and talked to her in the same tone she talked to me and stated the obvious: that she didn't know the first thing about my project. She didn't think that was very nice. She cussed me out and then accused me of being a troll, which I think is funny, because if talking to people in the same tone they talk to me qualifies me as being a troll, then she's got very thin skin.

Do you ever hear Tarot readers who talk in a, uh... round-about way?
In other news, Charis Felice at shared a Christmas/New Year reading. Now, the reason I bring this up isn't because the reading itself is something special, but because I think it's instructive. When you look at the reading, you'll notice something about: the author spends a lot of time talking about the cards themselves and what the cards mean, but not a lot of time actually talking about the message itself. See the difference? The author is talking about the cards, not about the message. If you want to become a stronger reader, a good exercise is this: when you perform a reading, don't use the names of any of the cards on the table. The moment you start talking about the cards, you turn away from the reading and into teaching and that gets in the way of the message. Try that the next time you do a reading and I think you'll find that the quality of your message improves dramatically.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all I've got for you this week. If you've got anything to add, leave a comment, send me an email, or even start a conversation with me on Google+. See you next time.