January 04, 2016

Left-hand Tarot #3: Hunter and Prey

... in which I discuss: being jealous of other Tarot readers' apparent success; Isaac Bonewits and the Cult Danger Evaluation Frame; learning new tricks from other readers; looking outside the box; the utter hypocrisy of angel cards; fake psychics; how to conjure free beer; the repetitive dullness of being a professional Tarot reader; desperate and disconnected clients; the value in not telling clients what they want to hear; hunting in the jungle; learning to read face cards; the problem with intuitive reading; maintaining a daily Tarot practice; going on vacation; the law of scarcity; my latest writing project; and some really pretty Tarot art.
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Don't let the green monster distract you from meaningful work.
Let's get today's show started with a discussion about Jealousy. Over at The Tarot Lady blog, Theresa Reed addresses jealousy with that greenest-of-green questions to be had: What's she got that I don't? Granted, she wrote from a business perspective, but this question also applies to relationships and, well, anything else you can imagine. It's easy to compare yourself to others, and while I think it's perfectly acceptable to be envious of what others have, I also think it's only acceptable if you use said envy as motivation to improve your own life. There's nothing wrong with wanting what others have: if they've done well for themselves, why shouldn't you want the same thing?

But wanting isn't doing, and all the wanting in the world won't get you a damn thing (although wrapping it in the white-light consumerist hedonism of "The Secret" will earn you a ton of money plus guest appearances on Oprah.) And, as host Theresa points out in this article, you really have no way of knowing what's actually happening in somebody else's life. Sure enough, some people are open books and they broadcast everything to the world. 

And then, sure enough, lots of people - especially in an age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, and so on - are their own personal spin-doctors and they only show you what they want you to see. To quote the sage, "Just because somebody says it - especially on the Internet - doesn't make it true." Internet-wise, sure - maybe somebody you think you know has a large following of people who seem to be really engaged - but what's your goal? Do you want to have an adoring fan-base who spends a lot of time talking with you? Or - assuming you're in business to make money - do you want to have a large pool of customers who are actually paying money for your services? Think about it. People who love to talk with you aren't the same as people who love to do business with you. 

But to get back to my original point - and one also made by Theresa - the time you spend envying somebody else's success is time spent not building your own success. If the other person is good, copy their techniques and make them work for you; however, don't copy their content: that's just stealing, and a DMCA take-down notice will vanish it from the Internet really fast and possibly also get your website removed from Google's search index. Learn from the people you envy. Identify what it is about them that works and apply it to yourself. If you invest your time and effort in yourself and your own ventures, you should notice substantial improvements.

Tarot card reader Arthur Lipp-Bonewits
The website Buzzfeed recently ran an article about how they asked a psychic to predict what their Christmas presents will be. Whenever I see these kinds of articles, I'm never sure if I'm seeing a genuine interest piece, or if it's a paid advertisement disguised as an interest piece. Whatever the case, the article is full of fun gifs of the Tarot reader and his clients' reactions. And who was the psychic in question? None other than Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, son of the late occultist Isaac Bonewits - author of the ABCDEF, or Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (which has reportedly been used by therapists, counselors, and even local and federal law enforcement agencies,) and who was targeted in the Christian rap music video, "A Witch's Invitation." The video is really hokey by today's standards, but the cultural environment when it came out was quite different. You and I will have a good laugh seeing Dungeons & Dragons featured alongside a Ouija board and mention of "druid worship" (whatever that means), but an historical perspective will remind you that the Satanic Panic was very real and although there was no evidence to support the claims of Satanic ritual abuse, many people believed the link between D&D and Satanism all the same.


Anyway, Arthur is apparently busy in New York giving Tarot readings. I don't travel a lot, but when I do I always try to meet other cartomancers and either buy a reading from them or trade a reading with them. If I'm ever in New York, I'll try to meet him. It's helpful to compare experiences and see how other people are working. And yes, it's interesting to hear how they present their readings, but I think it's even more interesting to see how they do their readings.

Each reader is a magician with his or her own tricks that he or she has accumulated over years of practice. One of the things that I've gotten very good at in my style of reading the cards is identifying patterns and how different elements of the reading interact with each other. And while I don't like using Tarot decks with illustrated pips because it disagrees with my interpretation of the cards, one of the advantages to using illustrated cards is that it connects with imagination in a way that a fixed system can't.

For example, Arthur giving specific descriptions of people, or seeming to pull identities out of thin air. Maybe he's got a fine sense of intuition and psychic foresight? And maybe he's got a great imagination and is a skilled story-teller. Whatever the case, I appreciate his ability to produce these things - they're not the sort of things I always find in my readings - and it'd be fun to swap readings with him and see what else he's good at (and then, what else he's bad at.)

For readers like myself who tend to stick to a cartomantic system of divination, it can be difficult to remember to look outside the box, but the information is always there if you know how to look at it. And that's why it's useful to expand your Tarot vocabulary the way I talked about last week: what else can be there that you didn't see the first time?

The only thing I'll add is that - not so much about Arthur, but in context to him - I throw up in my mouth a little bit every time I hear about somebody who reads angel cards and channels messages from the arch-angels. Listen, folks: God has a very clear policy on mediums and people who work with familiar spirits, and it usually ends in death. Don't play the Devil's game and think for a moment that God is on your side.

And you know, I acknowledge that it's a complicated topic. Going back a few hundred years, you'll find people like Henry Cornelius Agrippa, who is considered the father of western occultism, but he was also an ardent Catholic. For him, there was no conflict between God and divination because he was still working within the realm of Christianity: as long as the woo-woo happened in Jesus' name, then it was okay.

And this position wasn't isolated to him alone - there are numerous stories of similar cultural attitudes - but the underlying conflict is that people like you and me (Tarot readers) aren't supposed to able to gain knowledge for ourselves, but instead we're supposed to depend on God, Jesus, or the Holy Ghost to provide the information in prayer and at a time not of our choosing. Divination gives the reader a power reserved for god, and even when revelation is pronounced by priests, they're still making the revelation in God's name and as his appointed spokesperson.

Anyway, if people who read angel cards really believe in angels, then they probably also really believe in devils, and the Bible has a very long history of devils taking the form of familiar spirits. Where's the gift of discernment? How many of these angel card readers ever stopped to wonder if it's really angels they're talking to? For the record, I don't believe in angels or devils, so the argument is moot for me, but I think it's a good discussion for the people who do read angel cards to ask themselves how they know that they're not channeling the devil.

And for people who do talk to angels and read angel cards, Why do you personally collect the fee? Why aren't you giving this money back to the church from whom you learned about the angels? And so on. All the money leads away from the church and into the readers' pockets - which is fine - but I find it remarkable how seldom they channel a message from an arch-angel telling them to go to church and tithe generously.

You always know you're working with a fake psychic
when they make a duck-face while talking with the spirits
Let's talk about what is arguably either a contradiction of terms or saying the same thing twice: fake psychics. I picked up an essay from The Atlantic in which the writer, Joey Fening, describes his time on eBay where he pretended to be psychic and churned out 99-cent Tarot readings with the use of an online Tarot reading generator, and for $12 would even cast a spell to help you talk with angels. The essay is quite long, very revealing in ways you might not expect, and worth reading start to finish for a look at something you might not have seen before.

Long story short: Mr. Fening wanted beer money, so he made up a story about how he was actually a young woman with skills in the dark arts learned from her dead uncle. Add a tablespoon of white light and self-effacement, and voila - Mr. Fening had everything he needed to start selling. For the Tarot readings, Mr. Fening visited websites that generated scripted Tarot readings based on pre-written content and sent that to his clients with the barest amount of editing to make it personal. For the spells he sold, there was nothing: only a note from him assuring the client that the spell had been cast.

Mr. Fening did well for himself and was making the roughly $150 a month he needed to pay for his beer every weekend, but his success came to an end when eBay removed this category, and Mr. Fening felt guilty about fleecing his marks 99 cents at a time to pay for his drinks on Friday night, so he did some interviews and wrote an essay like the one on The Atlantic to describe his experience.

In the article, Mr. Fening describes his time as a Tarot reader in deeply unflattering language. He describes the questions that he got as numbingly routine; his clients as desperate or disconnected reality; and himself as a snake-oil salesman. Reading his article, you'd think that every person offering readings - online or not - is simply offering either good advice or telling people what they want to hear.

And you know, that's true for some readers.

But then, it's not true for all readers, and I've got a few words in response Mr. Fening's take-down of Tarot.

Let's talk about the routine nature of the questions Mr. Fening fielded from his clients. Yes, the questions are routine, and the things people want to know frequently fall into a very narrow selection: Love and relationships; work and money; health and safety; personal issues and decisions making. But then, this is true for people in any profession. Mechanics who fix broken transmissions will see the same kinds of transmission problems over and over again. Salespeople who sell shoes will have to sell the same inventory over and over again. Taxi drivers will travel the same routes over and over again. Yoga teachers will teach the same yoga classes over and over again.

And Tarot readers will answer the same questions over and over again. That's the nature of the job, and what Mr. Fening fails to recognize in his low appreciation for the repetitious nature of the job is that while he - as the reader - has what can become a dull, repetitious job, for his clients the experience is new and novel. For all his successes in creating ad copy that captured his clients' imagination, he failed to understand the experience from the client's perspective.

Which leads me to the next point, the question of his clients being desperate or disconnected from reality. The short answer is yes, there are people like this. And the long answer, So what? Why is it the job of the Tarot reader to take responsibility for his or her clients' lives and make sure they're living it the way he or she thinks best? What Mr. Fening fails to grasp in this situation is that fortune tellers provide a much needed service which is difficult to attain outside of greater magic: a purge. Indecision, uncertainty, and simply not knowing are all parts of every-day life. For many of us, we spend a little bit of worry and anxiety over them, but we move on.

And then, for many of us, these things can consume our time, energy, and attention to the point that they disrupt our daily lives. In this case, a purge is required. There's no shame in needing a purge - after all, Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible explicitly addresses greater magic as psychodrama and as a tool to purge the psyche. And while I categorize Tarot as lesser magic (and thus outside the realm of greater magic), I believe based on my personal and professional experiences that it very effectively purges the mind of the fear and anxiety that come from the previously mentioned topics.

My critics will say, "But what if you're wrong? What if your clients make decisions based on your predictions that leads them into ruin?" Well, to them I say that I'm an entertainer, and I'm completely honest about that. I'll tell that to anybody who asks, I'll tell that to people who don't ask, and I've written it on my online seller profiles. I don't think there's any mystery about who I am, and I've made it very clear that although I embrace the mystery and magic of Tarot, I also accept the reality that I haven't picked any winning lotto numbers or prevented terrorist attacks. I've made my position clear, and if my clients believe me to be anything else, that's a matter of them imposing their beliefs on me.

I think it's also important to discuss the nature of the readings given. Mr. Fening said in his essay that he started his career as a fake psychic by copy-pasting random, procedurally generated Tarot readings into the emails that he sends his clients, but later gave up the copy-paste routine in favor of simply giving advice based on his own knowledge and experience. In both cases, I think Mr. Fening fell short of the highest potential in the service he pretended to offer, and that's to ask questions and provide perspective. Yes, I make predictions in my readings, but no - I don't tell my clients what they should do. Instead, I show them an alternate reality which may come to pass and I allow them to indulge in the fantasy of said reality includes. But my readings frequently are not flattering, and I don't tell people what I think they want to hear, and that's because...

... of my response to Mr. Fening's self-claimed title of snake-oil salesman and the two-sided name I mentioned at the start of this monologue: fake psychic. How can there be such a thing as a fake psychic? Simple: intention. Mr. Fening had no concern or interest in Tarot or divination. He had no theoretical knowledge of Tarot, nor any interest in the performance of reading Tarot. There was no study inherent in the practice, only worship of the money he wanted so he could buy beer on the weekends. In his own words, he told people what they wanted to hear, and the Tarot had nothing to do with it: the cards were just a prop to enhance his deliberate deception. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a fake psychic.

A "real" psychic, by my definition, is not in fact somebody who has psychic abilities. I think the James Randi Educational Foundation has done a fine job highlighting the fact that not one person with psychic abilities has been able to win their $1,000,000 challenge.

Case in point, consider Sylvia Browne who stated on live television that she would take James Randi's million-dollar challenge. You don't need psychic abilities to have predicted that she'd back out. When asked why she never contacted the JREF as she said she would, her reply is that she didn't know their phone number. In the words of James Randi himself, "Hello! She talks to dead people!" How can she not know the phone number? But to get back to the discussion: No, my definition of a "real" psychic has little to do with psychic abilities, and everything to do with the intent of the psychic in question. Is this person merely a cold reader who uses Tarot and occult paraphernalia to put on a show? Or is this person somebody who has taken a systematic approach to the study and application of Tarot cards, and through the use of the Tarot cards, provides a performance intended to both entertain the client as well as challenge the client's perspective?

That's the difference, and that's what Mr. Fening failed to do: challenge his clients. I've encountered many readers who fear to give unfavorable messages to their clients, but they fear the very thing that is their greatest strength. The performance of a Tarot reading, done with charm and insight, forces recipients to consider their lives, or whatever else is the subject of the reading, from another perspective, and it's from this cognitive consonance or dissonance that the real message of a Tarot reading is produced.

But, to give all of this a third-side Satanic perspective, I want to talk about the most heavily emphasized theme in Mr. Fening's essay: Guilt. Why does Mr. Fening feel guilt for taking his clients' money? Why does he feel shame in what he's done? To answer this question, I want to share a story with you. This story was told to me in high school by an English teacher who was using a passage excerpted from the writings of Carl Gustav Jung in context to the story of the hero and a boy's entry into manhood. Sadly, I don't know where this story came from, because I'd really like to find it again. So I remember the story being told,
A boy lived with his family in a village in the jungle. On the boy's thirteenth birthday, his father said that he was old enough to come along for the hunt. So the boy and his father said goodbye to his mother, took up their spears, and went into the jungle to hunt. The father showed the boy how to track. He showed him how to wait, listen, and watch. The boy followed his father's every step, and they stalked for over an hour until his father found the hole of a small ground rodent. Eventually, the creature emerged from hiding, and the boy's father killed it. The father handed the rodent to the boy, and they carried on. The boy said to himself, "This is such a pitiful catch - I know my father can do better," and when his father wasn't looking the boy discarded the rodent. Hours passed, but the boy's father caught nothing else that day. The father said, "Well, at least we have that rodent." At that moment, the boy had to confess that it was gone. The father was angry, and he said, "Why would you throw away that animal? How do you think I've fed our family?"
This leads into a much larger discussion about the moment when a child learns that his or her parents is no perfect god, but a fallible and mortal person just like the child him or herself - and that's another interesting discussion to be had, though outside of what I want to address here. Instead, I want to use the jungle theme and the message of survival to make a point, and the point is this: No matter the paved streets, electricity, and wi-fi, we still live in a jungle. We may not have to take up spears and hunt animals in the wilderness, but the hunt is real. For some of us, this hunt may look like going to a nine-to-five job and providing tech support at a call center for an employer who doesn't give two shits about our personal security. For some of us this may look like selling hotdogs from a cart on the sidewalk. And for some of us, this may look like telling fortunes and reading Tarot cards.

We never left the jungle. The hunt is still here. The only thing that's really changed is that we're not hunting meat, but money. Mr. Fening feels guilt and shame because although his Child-self joined the hunt, he's failed to grasp that his Father-self is no saintly god, just a human hunter taking whatever he can find in a beautiful, frightening, dangerous, and desperate world. I don't think Mr. Fening's use of lesser magic to conjure free beer was wrong - after all, what good is lesser magic if you can't use it to get what you want? - but I do think that part of the guilt he felt is that he was wasting his potential. I doubt Mr. Fening would feel as guilty about his charade if he was using the money to pay for his groceries, or to provide medical care for a child.

I'm a hunter, Mr. Fening, and so are you. The only difference is that I know I'm hunting.
Let's talk about something that's often poorly understood in Tarot: face cards. Many readers I've met struggle to understand how to read face cards, or they simply gloss over them in readings because can't figure out how to fit them into the message. So having said that, kudos to Kate at Daily Tarot Girl for writing a guide to help other readers get a better grasp on how to read face cards - clearly she's got a method that works and it's brought her success - but I disagree with her method and here's why: Kate's method of learning the face cards has very little to do with anything in the Tarot, and very lot to do with everything in the reader. Her work-sheet which prompts the reader to invent the personality of each person based on reflection and contemplation of the picture on the card as well as anything else the reader connects with it. I think the problem here is that the reader will simply inject parts of his or her own personality into the face cards.

And you know, this isn't a problem if your goal is to read only for yourself and learn more about yourself (entire philosophies have been founded on "know thyself," after all.) But if you're going to read for others, and you want a system of Tarot that is capable of expressing many things - and not just you - then you can't just make up the meanings of the cards based on how you feel at a given time. A consistent system in which the cards say the same thing every time isn't a rigid trap, but a solid foundation upon which anything can be built.

I'm not an "intuitive" reader (which in practice usually means "making it up as I go along based on how I feel on a particular day"), I'm a systematic reader: I have a system and I use it. I combine this system with knowledge and experience, as well as the question and other input from the client, to build a colorful, vibrant, and relevant message.

So, although I disagree with Kate's method, I can't disagree with her results. As I often say when discussing other Tarot readers: no matter how I feel about their methods or their reading style, my opinion doesn't matter a lot when they're clearly successful at what they do. I wish Kate the best, but you won't see me using her methods because they're not right for who I am and what I want to achieve with the Tarot. Different strokes, and what not.

Daily study is exhausting.
Continuing this discussing about learning the cards, let's talk about an article written by Beth Maiden and published at Autostraddle where she discusses ways to maintain a daily Tarot practice. As I just stated: I don't always agree with other readers' methods of learning the cards, but how I feel about the way other people teach or read the cards doesn't matter one bit if they're getting the results they want to see, or in your case, if you're getting the results you want to see. In that sense, I agree with the author of this article on one thing: daily practice goes a very long way to improving proficiency. My methods aren't her methods and probably aren't your methods, either, but if you're looking for ways to increase your competency, daily practice is a must. It doesn't have to be a lot, but it should be something that you do frequently. 

You may find this difficult to believe, but my daily practice isn't easy for me. Yes, I get a lot of practice with my cards since I'm doing at least an hour of work every damn day, but at the same time, the readings I do for my clients isn't the same as the readings I do for myself, or the study I do to improve my reading style and methods. It's not easy. But then, if it were easy, everybody would do it. It's often said that Satan demands study, not worship, so I'll remind you that Satan is the embodiment of your carnal self. If you want to succeed and become the master of your domain, then you must demand of yourself study, not worship. Don't be content with what's good enough for now: invest yourself in the work it takes to become the person you want to be and watch the magic happen.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I picked up this article from Biddy Tarot which talks about the stress related to taking time off from work during the holidays. The author takes a more, shall we say, "empathic" approach to this situation than I do, but in the end I think she and I are talking about at least some of the same things but in different ways. The article I linked in the notes is worth reading, but I'd add the following:

Regarding your worry about taking time off, and the concern your clients "need you," I promise you're missing nothing. The kind of clients who won't stop blowing up you inbox and just begging for more are the worst kind of clients because even if they keep paying, they'll demand far more time than they purchase and you'll end up resenting them before the end.

These are the worst kind of clients not just because they're parasites who'll bleed you dry without so much as a thank-you, but also because they will fail to follow through on any of the advice you give them, yet continuously complain that the Big Problem hasn't been fixed. These people won't take responsibility for themselves, and as much as they say they want a Tarot reader to show them what they can't see, what they really want is a mommy or daddy to take responsibility for their problems. Fire these clients as fast as you can.

Regarding the concern that you'll lose out on business while you're gone and taking a vacation will cost you money in the long run, well - that's life in self employment. Even if you have a nine-to-five job and work for The Man, odds are excellent that your vacation time is unpaid, or if it's paid, you're probably accruing it at such a shitty pace that you only get to take vacation days once a year. And that's not even getting into the discussion of "black-out periods" when your employer won't even allow you to take any vacation days, which sort of negates the privilege of having them at all. So yeah - vacation is just that: vacation. You can't have your cake and it, too.

And, as it happens, don't even waste your time worrying that you won't get your same level of business when you return. Let me tell you about the law of scarcity. This is a law observed in sales which says that the perceived value of an item increases as its availability decreases. Ever wonder how it is that Nike makes mad money on limited-edition sneakers? Ultimately, because all of their limited edition sneakers are unique, they're all identical. But because they produce unique sneakers in limited quantity, they suddenly become immensely valuable for the sole reason that not everybody can have them.

In the same way, when you as a Tarot reader take time off work and make yourself unavailable, you just increased your perceived value. Speaking from my own experience: Every time I take a vacation and set myself unavailable to take orders, I'm flooded with work within a few hours after I'm available again. There's nothing so alluring as the thing you can't have. Take advantage of this element of lesser magic and apply it to your own business practices - whether you're a Tarot reader or not - and reap the rewards.

Another article from Theresa Reed at The Tarot Lady. This time, she's talking about how to respond to people who call bull-shit on Tarot and, more broadly, other woo-woo. Theresa spends a lot of time in the article focusing on how to respond with levity, but - me being who I am - I've got my own opinions.

First, you need to grow a thick skin. The Internet is basically Monty Python's Argument Clinic sketch on a world-wide scale. If you're going to take every insult personally, then the Internet's not a good place for you to be. Seriously, just grow the fuck up. Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you. Just because somebody says you're full of shit, that doesn't mean you actually have to talk to them. The easiest and most practical response in an online setting is to just block the critic: you're not required to let assholes plug up comment areas on your content or your social media profiles. I've only had this kind of encounter in real life three times, and each time it was with Christians who accused me of working with familiar spirits and wanted me to know I'm going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Those were dead-end conversations, and I told them both to bugger off. It's happened online a few more times than that, but again, I'm liberal with the block button.

And, while it's generally true that you can gain nothing from arguing with hecklers, it's also generally true that your opposition will do some of your best advertising for you. Just as Anton LaVey said that "Satan is the best friend the Church has ever had, as he's kept it in business all these years!," so too will your critics give you attention and traffic that you didn't have to pay for. Everything, and everybody, can be made to serve your purpose, and as long as you don't turn into a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic and start rage-typing your way into an argument that will only serve to make you look unhinged, criticism from skeptics and haters will rarely ever have a negative impact on your business.

Another strategy is to acknowledge the other person's perspective. Nothing is so disarming as telling a critic, "Yeah, you're right: Tarot is a wacko interest. And yet, you're still here talking to me about it. Are you sure you're not interested in getting a reading?" Turn the conversation back onto your critics and ask them what it is they think they're really going to accomplish - and who they're really trying to convince.

And never forget to keep things in perspective. The clients I've worked with range from high school students confused about love all the way through post-graduate engineering students trying to understand why they're pursuing a PhD. I've read for every age, men and women, and people from almost every career you could name including other Tarot readers, soldiers, scientists, government officials (and one memorable official in Saudi Arabia), sex workers, pensioners, nine-to-fivers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and everybody in between - including skeptics who you'd think wouldn't be interested.

I can tell you with no deceit that the number of people who want my services is far higher than the number of people who've ever bothered to tell me I'm full of shit. And that makes it really easy to shrug off the assholes who have nothing better to do with their day than use me for figurative target practice.

Okay... so... My latest project is to write an encyclopedic review of every two-card combination in the Tarot. However, it's worth saying that this review will count A+B the same as B+A, so contrary to my first calculation of there being 6,006 combinations, there are only 3,003. I realized this a little while after I started formatting the template for the massive text file that serves as the rough draft - and kudos to a friend of mine on Google+ that pointed it out to me - but... 

... the problem I'm having now is that I've created the template with place holders for every combination, but I'm not seeing 3,003 lines: I'm seeing 2,947. There are 56 lines missing. What the fuck, people? I did a lot of copy-pasting to create this template, and somewhere along the line something went missing. This is like, somewhere in this document, I'm missing one entire deck of pip cards. Where'd they go? It's irritating and confusing how I could miss 56 entries, but as my wife reminds me, I'm bound to notice the break in the pattern and fix it along the way. At least, I hope I do. I'm going to be really confused if I get to the end of this book and still haven't found what's missing.

Elsewhere on the Internet, artist Hayley Fagan produced some Tarot related artwork. There's not much to say: it's black-and-white line art, but it's done very well and really captures a bit of beauty and haunting elegance. She's quite talented, and you should check it out.