March 22, 2017

Choice and Consequence

"If you could divine with any significant degree of clarity, then the cards aren’t really showing you what the future may hold; they are instead telling you what you are going to do. It’s a subtle difference. Your will counts for nothing in a world in which the future is easily and clearly deciphered."
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Truer words never spoken. As a full-time reader, I get a lot of questions. The vast majority of them are exceedingly mundane and totally routine: Does he love me? Will she come back? Will I get the job? And so on. And while these questions can be repetitive and frankly pedestrian, I don't dislike them - they only feel boring to me because I hear them literally every day, but for my clients they're very pressing issues. My job as a Tarot reader is to respond to these questions and provide the insight that my clients are seeking.

But there are some questions which I categorically refuse, and not because there are any special laws which prohibit only fortune-tellers from making a prediction, but prohibit anybody from making a prediction. Generally speaking, these kinds of questions all revolve around advising people how to handle their legal concerns or predicting the outcome of a court case; advising clients how to invest their money or assuring a client of a financial windfall based on investments; and advising a client regarding decisions he or she will make regarding his or her health or offering a diagnosis. All these things are strictly verboten for anybody who is not a properly licensed professional, and that's why I've got it in my business policies that I don't answer these kinds of questions. And does that stop my clients from asking? Of course not. I don't accept their questions, but they ask anyway, and depending on my mood they'll get either a polite rejection or a, "Are you really that incapable that you need me to make your decisions for you?"

Case in point, I had a client ask me to do a Tarot reading to answer the question how many more children she'll have in her life, and if these children will be with her current spouse or with another man whom she'll marry but hasn't met. Part of me thinks I should just smile and take the woman's money, but the larger part of me just doesn't have the patience for these kinds of readings. I mean, seriously: we live in an age where many women's access to family planning and fertility services is perhaps unrivaled in any other era in recorded history. 

If she wants to have more children, she has the ability to track her ovulation cycles, choose whether or not she'll use contraception, and choose the partner with whom to conceive. In addition to that, staying married to her existing spouse or divorcing and finding a new spouse is almost entirely her own decision. And while her age is none of my business, I'd hazard a guess that she's older than 30 and is well aware that the risk of birth defects increases dramatically after the age of 35. Does she want to risk conception after the age of 35? I'm not saying that once a woman turns 35 a boundary is crossed and she's guaranteed to have a high-risk pregnancy, but I am saying that having children after 35 goes a lot further toward explaining the rise in children on the autism spectrum than, say, conspiracy theories about vaccines. Having a child at any age is a risk, but I think we can all agree with the well-established scientific record that the likelihood of having a high-risk pregnancy increases with age.

And this doesn't even address the question if her present or potentially future spouse wants to have more children. Because, you know... having a baby is like dancing: it takes two. If she just wants a baby no matter what, then I'm sure she can find a man willing to assist, but if she wants a baby and a partner who's happy to support it? That's an entirely different person's free will, and she might be shocked - shocked, I tell you! - to learn that her present spouse or potential future spouse may not in fact agree to have more children. What will happen if she lets her present or future partner think it's safe to fire rounds down range and just not say anything about the likelihood of hitting a target?

Excepting her spouse's role in this situation, all these choices are entirely within her ability to control and I'm not sure I understand how I can help her with them. I mean, next thing you know she'll be asking me to predict what she'll eat for breakfast tomorrow, or what clothes she'll wear next week. This is like her telling me, "I want to build a domino snake. I haven't decided when I'm going to build it, how many dominoes long it will be, if it will have any branching paths, or even where I'm going to start the first piece, but I want you to tell me where the last piece will fall." 

No. Just... no. Apart from the fact that she wanted me to make a prediction about her decision to conceive - which falls within the realm of health questions I typically refuse - this was the kind of reading that was impossible for me to perform because - whether she realizes it or not - her world paradigm is based on the Greek concept of fate: things will happen in your life, and you have no power to prevent, avoid, or change them. You will be born on X-date. You will have X-number of children. You will marry X-number of partners. You will die on X-date. Operating within the paradigm of Greek fate, you might for example learn from a fortune-teller that you're going to die in a plane crash on the 15th of August in the year 2019. So you say to yourself, "Well, that's easy to escape: I'll just cancel that vacation to Hawaii and there'll be no way I can die in a plane crash." And then, on the afternoon of the 15th of August in the two thousand and nineteenth year of the common era while you're relaxing in the bath-tub, a pilot has a heart attack while flying his fixed-wing Cessna and crashes into your bathroom. Et Voila, you still died in a plane crash. In the Greek concept of fate, free will is unable to change the circumstances of your life.

But I don't believe in fate - I believe in me. I believe that my choices have consequences and that I'm responsible for my own successes and my own failures. And for however much it's worth, this is a view that I bring into my Tarot readings: if you like your prediction, work to achieve it. If you don't like your prediction, work to change it. But above all, don't do nothing - your future is in your hands. Regarding the woman who wanted me to predict the children she'll have and with whom she'll have them, I offered to explore choice-and-consequence of staying with or leaving her current spouse and also the potential ups and downs of attempting to conceive either with her current or a new partner. She didn't respond. Somehow, I think she's just going to hire somebody else who'll entertain her fatalistic approach to reality in which all her choices are pre-determined. I swear, a little part of me dies every time I humor these kinds of clients.

And as a humorous highlight to this story, while I was talking about this encounter in a group for Tarot readers I had a conversation with a woman who was telling me that women can't be personally responsible for getting pregnant because "they have free will, but they also have fate, and anyway they might not know how to access their free will." Am I the only one who thinks she's insane? I'm like, "I don't know how many people can access their free will, but I sure know how many can access contraception." 

I'm also a little astounded her logic because this is pretty much the New Age equivalent of, "God has a plan for you." I mean, I might as well have responded with, "Oh, you got raped and got pregnant? Well, don't worry about it - it was your fate to carry your rapist's child, just as it was his fate to rape you. There's no point in worrying about what you could have done to prevent this, because it would have happened somehow or other." This kind of victim-blaming logic is shamefully ignorant and anybody who puts his or her faith in a "higher power" or "divine order" is a shorn sheep fit only for slaughter.

March 20, 2017

Tarot Blog Hop: Tarot as Ritual

The “intellectual decompression chamber” of the Satanic temple might be considered a training school for temporary ignorance, as are all religious services! The difference is that the Satanist knows he is practicing a form of contrived ignorance in order to expand his will, whereas another religionist doesn’t - or if he does know, he practices that form of self-deceit which forbids such recognition. His ego is already too shaky from a religious inculcation to allow himself to admit such a thing as self-imposed ignorance!
Anton LaVey
The Satanic Bible
This blog essay is a contribution to the spring equinox Tarot blog hop, the topic of which is the magic of images. As it relates to Satanism, I could talk a lot about the magic of images and power of a chosen aesthetic, but as it relates to Tarot, this is a place where my words begin to fail me. And why? Because I've developed a reading style in which the images on the Tarot cards are irrelevant. For me, the image depicted on the card and its visual orientation in either the upright or reversed positions are of no importance. For me, Tarot is not an intuitive process of looking at a picture and letting it inspire me. Instead, I use a very analytical approach to the cards which depends not just on the suit and value of a card, but also how that card is connected to other cards. In a way, it's like diagramming a sentence in a language which uses multiple grammar cases: every card points to something else and changes depending on whether it acts, is acted upon, describes, or modifies something else. In this way, when I do a Tarot reading this is in no way to do with how an individual card informs the message, but is instead more like evaluating a spider web: which are the key strands? What moves if I pull on this thread, or what collapses when I pull on that thread? And so on.

But fortunately for me, our host Ms. Joy Vernon provided a few other ways to interpret this challenge which includes discussing Tarot in terms of ritual - and that's something I can definitely do. In Satanism there is the concept of the ritual chamber. This is a place where the Satanist can temporarily suspend disbelief, embrace ignorance, and imagine an is-to-be outside of present reality. Satanists are encouraged to either maintain a separate room as their ritual chamber and elaborately decorate it with the objects most conducive to their demonic selves, or to create on an as-needed basis such a space for the purpose of evoking their will. Some Satanists even forgo the material tools of greater magic and instead perform greater magic entirely within their minds in an intensely focused meditative state. But whatever material or immaterial form it takes, the concept of the ritual chamber is always observed.

And just as Satanists make use of the "intellectual decompression chamber" of greater magic and ritual, I would argue that many fortune-tellers (and their clients) suspend disbelief and enter into the temporary indulgence of fantasy. They may not do so with the overt intention of elaborate ritual or the use of specific tools, but I argue that when a fortune-teller or his or her client sits down in a chosen space and shuffles Tarot cards for a specific purpose, he or she is employing the principle of the ritual chamber. In that space, and in that time, the reader's or the client's disbelief is suspended and fantasy is permitted to reign supreme.

I embrace the magic and power of fortune-telling, but so too do I embrace its fantasy and illusion. Critics of fortune-telling, such as the famous skeptic James Randi, will say that fortune-telling is little better than wishful thinking and that it leads people astray. And to that I say, yes: those who indulge in only fantasy to the exclusion of reality are leading themselves astray and deserve everything they receive. But I also say that fantasy is as necessary as reality. The truth is that the world in which we live is indifferent to human suffering and is incapable of caring or having any feeling at all about anything. Lightning is incapable of caring about people it strikes dead. It is what it is. Accepting this reality is the first step to succeeding within it, but this doesn't change the fact that for even the strongest and most capable of us, reality can become a smothering weight.

When reality becomes intolerable, a Satanist may choose to employ ritual either as an occult method for changing reality in ways that would normally be impossible or as psychodrama to purge the mind. Likewise, when reality becomes intolerable, a fortuneteller may employ for him or herself (or for his or her clients) a tool to divine the future or to think through a problem and by doing so to purge the attendant fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and other obstacles to success. Perhaps the future is indeed being revealed through the cards? I accept that it can be done. But I also accept that fortune-telling can provide a deeply satisfying and even motivating fantasy by which the recipient of the reading may conceive of things that were previously out of the question.

Everybody wants to believe in fantasy. You, me, all of us - this is an inescapable truth of human life. What other explanation is there for the people - such as myself - who consistently turn to fortune-telling even though no fortune-teller has yet won the lottery by divining the winning numbers in advance? Or become a worldwide celebrity overnight by winning James Randi's $1,000,000 challenge? Or by preventing terrorist attacks, preparing for natural disasters, and finding missing children? When crushing reality bears down upon us, we look for solutions. Whether those solutions come from reality or fantasy is of no importance - the only thing that matters is whether those solutions increase or decrease our happiness and relative quality of life.

Such is the nature of greater magic: "The change in situations or events in accordance with one's will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangable." Whether this magic is accomplished through intricately choreographed rituals replete with blazing candles, intricate liturgy, burnt offerings, smoking incense, piercing bells, slashing knives, black robes, and red wine, or whether it's done at a table with a simple deck of cards, there is no difference. The only thing that matters is if he or she who seeks the magic with an earnest desire for change is able to evoke his or her willpower toward the desired is-to-be and to purge the mental or emotional frustration which inhibits his or her success.

If you who read this are a Tarot reader, then no doubt you've witnessed this magic take hold of your clients: their feeling of empowerment, certainty, and motivation are incredible! Thanks to the purgative effects of your service as a fortune-teller, you've helped them conduct a ritual to eliminate that which ails them and now they are free to be successful. Of if you who read this are a recipient of a Tarot reading, then you must certainly know the feeling of being trapped in an unclear morass which previously blinded you to the path forward and made you feel that you were casting your willpower into the mud to be consumed by worms. But through the magic and ritual of a Tarot reading, you ignite your black flame and ride the very hounds of Hell to the top of Bald Mountain!

Such is the power of the ritual of Tarot. There's no reason you can't incorporate a deck of Tarot cards into elaborate and overt rituals, but speaking for myself I think that reading Tarot is itself a ritual and requires no additional decoration or elaboration. Never forget the difference between reality and fantasy, but so too never forget the power of both reality and fantasy. For better and for worse, Tarot-as-ritual can change your world - use it appropriately.