August 24, 2018

Software vs. Hardware: What is a Tarot Reading?

I am the software. Tarot is the hardware.
You are the end-user... and here is your EULA.
I am the software.

When a sitter comes to me for a reading, I am not in fact the person who is using the cards: it is the sitter who is using the cards. I the fortune-teller am the software who provides an interface for the end-user to access hardware, and who also translates the Tarot code into a human-readable language. Because I am the software, I have no desires for the end-user, and therefore I have no interest in sifting through infinity to find random bytes of information. Instead, it's the job of the end-user to input variables into the software for analysis -- in other words, it's the job of the sitter to give me questions to evaluate.

Tarot is the hardware.

The 78 cards of the Tarot deck are the hardware. The three groups of cards which compose the Tarot deck -- the 40 pips, the 16 faces, and the 22 trumps -- together form a primitive kind of chaos computer which allows for input through software. Questions without context, or fishing expeditions for whatever might show up, are no better than raw data. Lacking context, the analysis produced by the software is no better than an infinite river of irrelevant data. The Tarot deck may be only 78 cards, but even among combinations from only four cards there are 34,234,200 possible permutations -- and that number doesn't even begin to express how the analysis produced by the software in service to the end-user changes as a result of elemental dignity, numerical significance, or the expression of the three septenaries. The number of combinations increases exponentially to the point that drawing even six cards from the deck would produce 184,933,148,400 possible permutations, which is roughly 76 billion more than the total number of humans both living and dead who have ever existed. Tarot is hardware capable of capturing infinity, and software is the tool which is capable of translating infinity into a language that the end-user can understand.

You are the end-user.

The fortune-teller who shuffles the cards, lays them down, and interprets them for the sitter is not the end-user. Instead, the fortune-teller is the software who operates the hardware of the Tarot deck, and the sitter is the end-user who submits search queries into the chaos computer in search of answers. For this reason, the sitter who is the end-user should understand that he or she alone is responsible for shaping and guiding the outcome of any reading. It is not the fault of the software if the end-user submits nonsense queries -- such efforts will only return a GI/GO error. It is of the greatest importance that the end-user input meaningful data into the chaos computer so that the software can return meaningful answers. 

The software is capable of offering suggestions for related queries and it also has safe-guards built in to advise the end-user when repeated submissions of the same query are unlikely to produce useful analysis, but ultimately it is not the software's responsibility to dictate how it may be used by the end-user. The software is only a means to access the hardware, and therefore it's the end-user's responsibility to input relevant queries as well as to either accept or refuse both the suggestions and the warnings.

This is your end-user license agreement.

When a sitter retains the services of a fortune-teller, he or she is accepting the end-user license agreement which is like an agreement between the fortune-teller and sitter and establishes the sitter's right to use the software. In this case, the agreement made between sitter and fortune-teller is that the fortune-teller agrees to do his or her best to return relevant hits in response to the sitter's query, and the sitter agrees to do his or her best to apply the returned hits to his or her query. A Tarot reading is neither the software nor the hardware; instead, a Tarot reading is the resulting process of the end-user who submitted the query accepting the analysis produced by the software and applying it to his or her life. 

All of which is a long way of saying that a Tarot reading is not what the fortune-teller says, but instead the sitter's decision to combine what the fortune-teller says with the sum of his or her own personal knowledge, experiences, and circumstances. Absent this final choice to merge the analysis provided by the software with the context provided by the end-user, what you see is not a Tarot reading, but only undefined statements. It's the responsibility of the end-user to take ownership of the data produced by the hardware and interpreted by the software. In fact, you might even say that the software is hard-coded to teach end-users that responsibility is for the responsible, but in the end it's not the function of the software to dictate how the end-user must use the data computed by the hardware. The software is capable of advising an end-user about the limitations of any results served by the software, but the end-use of a Tarot reading can be decided only by the end-user.

Once you understand the nature of the hardware, the function of the software, and the role of the end-user, you'll get better results and feel greater satisfaction the next time you boot up a chaos-computer.

August 17, 2018

Pop Culture Satanism II

That's not the seal of Satan, it's the sigil of Lucifer,
but I doubt that distinction matters to the conspiracy theorists.
One of the things that I enjoy about making connections to Satanism through popular culture generally but in expressing my understanding of Satanism through the mythological Tower of Babylon specifically is that Satanism is absolutely everywhere. In this paradigm, Satan -- or Babylon, if you prefer to call her by that name -- is the ruler of the world. Unlike a fabled sky-daddy living in a celestial realm that's both far away and separate from manifest reality, Satan is among us here and now. Consider for example the photo at the top of the page which compares everyday symbols to occult symbols: if you follow the logic, even the person who created this infographic appears to be saying that either Satan or agents of Satan have infiltrated every aspect of society. Now let it be said that I'm sure I don't know what the conspiracy theorists think -- I suspect that their world paradigm is substantially different from my own -- but I feel confident agreeing with their frequent accusations about how anybody who's not the right kind of Christian is part of the church of Satan...

... and I need to clarify before I go any further: the upper-case Church of Satan is a religious organization founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey which rabidly condemns theism, by its own preference and admission has very few members, and as an organization in fact does nothing. The lower-case church of Satan is an fictitious and amorphous blob whose definition changes depending on the person describing it, allegedly includes everybody who isn't a True Christian (the definition of which is also subject to change), supposedly is in constant contact with Satan, and is allegedly in control of every aspect of the entire world including very nearly all other organized religions.

Let it be known that the Church of Satan doesn't enter into this discussion. Instead, this essay focuses on the fictitious church of Satan, also called the church of Babylon, also called the whore of Babylon, also called the "great and terrible church of the earth." Regarding the church of Satan, I want to discuss three interesting distinctions that get made by the people who define it:
  • Joining the church of Satan isn't an act of commission, but of omission.
  • Serving the church of Satan doesn't have to be deliberate, and can even be accidental.
  • Worship in the church of Satan doesn't require overt ritual. 
1. How does one join the church of Satan?

The first claim made by popular culture and the conspiracy-minded is that although the church of Satan is for some reason in need of rappers, singers, actors, business leaders, world leaders, religious leaders, God Himself, and for some reason even preschool workers*, nobody actually needs an invitation to join the church of Satan. Unlike a good-and-proper Christian church which requires baptism (voluntary or not) for remission of made-up sins and afterwards requires 10% of your income for life plus dutiful avoidance of impure, unchaste, and otherwise corrupting influences, the church of Satan doesn't ask anything of prospective members. Quite the opposite: the church of Satan instead welcomes into its ranks those who take for themselves** the things which they desire, be they material or immaterial, or of the mind or of the body.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that the church of Satan welcomes everybody. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, cis, black, white, yellow, brown, or even fucking purple -- doesn't matter, you've got an "in" with Satan. God might love you enough to let you hang out with him forever after you spend your entire mortal life kissing his hairy butt-hole, but Satan loves you so much that She'll meet you at the crossroads on any night you choose -- and unlike God who wants you change for him, Satan loves you exactly as you are. Isn't that wonderfully validating?

It's also interesting to me because unlike that old chestnut about the mere 144,000 people who'll be allowed into Heaven, Satan doesn't bother with exclusion: She wants everybody. From the highest to the lowest, the strongest to the weakest, the able and the disabled, the rich and the poor, it doesn't matter: you're important to Satan, and She wants you to be with her. I feel at this point I should remind my readers that I don't believe in a literal Satan and that when I speak of Her I do so metaphorically. In this sense, Satan represents to me natural, instinctual human behavior which includes altruism, cooperation, and just plain caring about others (versus shunning people for their violation of imaginary rules.)

2. Serving the church of Satan doesn't have to be deliberate.

The second claim that emerges from popular culture is that just like how one joins the church of Satan, one need not deliberately choose to participate in order to serve within the church of Satan. So the accusation goes, it doesn't matter even if you're the right kind of Christian who attends the right kind of church and says the right kind of words on the right days of the week: if you still watch TV or movies which portray sin, buy music which encourages sin, eat food that has been deemed sinful, vote for people who are the wrong kind of Christian (or not at all), and otherwise lead a lifestyle that doesn't keep the right kind of Christianity as your #1 priority even above responsibility to your family, then you're serving the church of Satan by at best not protesting against Satan, and at worst contributing to Satan's plans.

As has been pointed out by one of my favorite blogs, "[N]utters will always call you a Satanist whether you are or not. Not really being a Satanist never spares anyone the stigma of Satanism." Doesn't matter how devout you are, or how much you genuinely care about living a Christ-like life. In the end, when it's convenient, the people who care about this sort of thing will still denounce you as Satanist no matter what you do. And yes, that's frustrating for a lot of people who either aren't Satanists at all, or who are Satanists but want to just keep to themselves, but at least for me I find this comforting in that I never need to apologize when this and similar accusations are levied. Somebody once in all seriousness accused me of being dark-sided for not agreeing to tell his fortune, and it was a singularly hilarious experience. 

Although I reject all belief in the fabulous conspiracy of a one-world government operating under the oversight of Satan Herself, I confess that thinking about the world through this paradigm is comforting if only because it reinforces the truth that actions have consequences, and that by actively choosing to refuse a life lived according to religious dictates from over 2,000 years ago I'm helping to discard yester-millennium's rubbish in favor of a new world order. Serving the church of Satan requires nothing more than that I pursue my natural appetites***, live according to my conscience (wherever it may lead me), and contribute in whatever ways I can to people and organizations who further my own interests.

And if you think that I'm advocating for a kind of pan-Satanic unity, then you'd be wrong because unlike God who demands that everybody believe and act the same, Satan welcomes differences of opinion, belief, and practice. Satan was the first advocate for multi-culturalism, tolerance of others, and learning to work alongside and even with others who would otherwise appear to be enemies. 

3. Worship in the church of Satan doesn't require overt ritual

Finally, the third claim that emerges from popular culture and especially from certain Christian congregations is that worship of Satan doesn't require overt ritual. So the accusation goes, almost anything can be a Satanic ritual whether it's a celebration to mark the opening of a tunnel, the existence of a scientific research facility, or even watching a movie. The act of anything at all which displaces God as the highest of the high and steals even one iota of adoration from Him constitutes a Satanic deed which in turn is deemed a Satanic act.

This may be my favorite accusation because it allows me the opportunity to expand the definition of ritual and worship beyond that which I conduct within the ritual chamber. While I'd like to flatter myself that this is something unique to Satanism, the truth is that the Wiccans probably got here first. Doreen Valiente famously wrote in her Charge of the Goddess, "Let my worship be within the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." I sincerely doubt that Ms. Valiente had even a thought of Satan in her mind when she wrote those words, but they feel not an inch out of line with the sentiment of modern Satanism that living itself is a ritual.

Whether I'm indulging the sin of lust by laying with my wife, indulging the sin of wrath by emptying my anger on the deserving, or even denying the artificial bonds of in-group sectarianism and defying authoritarian dictates of the culture-warriors by learning foreign languages: overt, specific ritual is not necessary to worship Satan. You might accuse me of searching for words in Alphabet soup, but I find that this selective interpretation of otherwise meaningless activities gives my life color and and flavor.
This is part of a continuing series. For all entries, see Babylon Rising.

* Do not think that I'm apologizing for pedophilia. If ever there were a universal wrong detested by all people everywhere, then the rape of a child surely qualifies, and people who commit that crime deserve to be permanently exiled from society. At any rate, I think that the Christians who slur Satanists as rapists and pedophiles should see to their own house first. 

** This is satire, and not to be taken as an endorsement of criminality, but all the best comedy is based on truth.

*** Again, don't even think that anything I'm saying can be construed as an apologetic for pedophilia. There are detestable people who will argue that their desire to rape a child is "natural" and therefore totally okay. Well, if you're going to follow that line of logic, then I think it's also natural and therefore totally okay for me to desire that child rapists be subjected to rat torture

August 10, 2018

What happens when you remove a card from your Tarot deck?

tarot satanism fortune telling
Do you see what I see?

The title of this post is both more and less than you might have assumed. It is less than you assumed because my inclusion of numerological principles within Tarot is no secret, but it is more than you assumed because in this instance my act of hacking the Tarot is not a matter of altering the insides of my 78-card chaos computer, but of actually removing cards.

I've long had an interest in the principles of numerology, and this is what has inspired some of my most productive thinking about the Tarot (and how to use it), but I was never actually interested in numerology itself and the formulas and long-winded calculations used by numerologists. Given that no numerologist has yet won the lottery -- a pure numbers game that ought to be a numerologist's delight? -- I think it's safe to say that the formulas and calculations are hokum, but for me they fall into the category of useful hokum and that's why I periodically review the occult foundations which informed my understanding of the Tarot.

During one of my periodic reviews which take place every few years, it occurred to me that 10 is only a permutation of 1. Do you see how this works? Through the numerological process of reduction (which is actually addition), the digits of a number (or a word converted to numbers) are added together over and over until something between 1 and 9 remains. In this instance, 10 is represented by the following equation: 10 = 1 + 0 =1. Or written with numerological shorthand, 10/1.

Because 9 is a critical number for me in my understanding of the pips -- they're all based on my understanding of the 9 Satanic Statements -- this means that 10 is the odd number out. Combined with the numerological observation that 10 is only a permutation of 1, this makes 10 doubly conspicuous which lead me to think, "Why don't I just remove it?" So I did: I removed all four 10's from my Tarot deck so that each suit of pips would number only 1 through 9.

But so say I, hacking the Tarot is like eating potato chips: you can't make just one change. Because of the five years I spent reading with just playing cards, I've developed a fondness for reading with 12 face cards instead of 16, so as long as I'm cutting cards from the deck I also removed the four Slaves (what other people typically call the Pages, or even the Princesses), leaving only the Jacks, Queens, and Kings. 

Finally, because I've been in a mood where I want everything in my deck to have a set meaning, or at least a set rule for how it behaves within a reading, I removed my wild card, the Joker (what other people typically call the Fool.) Granted, yes -- the Joker does have a set definition for nearly all other readers -- but for me, the Joker is a wild card with no set definition. That plus the fact that I never read with Jokers when I used playing cards, I decided to hack the Joker from the deck, too.

In the end, this left me with a 69-card deck composed of 21 trumps (forming a perfect, self-contained septenary), 36 pips (1-9 among among four suits), and 12 faces (J/Q/K among three suits). If you're studying along at home and are curious to know how this changes the configuration of the royal court, this is what I'm doing:
  • King: 4 < 9 > 2
  • Jack: 3 < 5 > 7
  • Queen: 8 < 1 > 6
All other rules for the royal court remain in effect: trumps produce fixed values based on the middle numbers, same and complimentary suits produce cardinal values based on the right numbers, neutral and opposite suits produce mutable values based on the left numbers. Rules for support and antagonism are unchanged.
Where was I? Yes... hacking the Tarot. In the end, this leaves me with a 69-card deck which strictly speaking isn't that far away from a 78-card deck, but even a small change can make a big difference. I mean, ever tasted the difference between 1% milk and 2% milk? The difference of 1% in milk-fat is quite noticeable, wouldn't you say? So when I removed 9 cards from the deck, this changed the deck in a few ways.

First and most obviously, a 69-card deck is no longer a Tarot. In order for a deck to be called a Tarot, it must be 78 cards composed of 22 trumps numbered 0 to 21 in ascending order, 40 pips divided equally among four suits in ascending order, and 16 faces divided equally among four suits and arranged in ascending order. Remove four pips, four faces, and a trump, and it's not a Tarot anymore. Hell, lacking the four 10's which I removed for my own pleasure, it's not even a regular playing deck anymore. But you know what the great thing is about being a Tarot reader? There are no Tarot police, and I'm free to experiment with, and hack away at, my Tarot deck as much as I please if it serves my purposes.

Second and less obviously, subtracting 9 cards changes the distribution and ever so slightly increases the odds of drawing almost any of the remaining cards. For example, in a 78-card deck, each card individually composes 1.2% of total deck, but in a 69-card deck this is increased to 1.4% of the total deck. Trumps were 28%, but now 30%. The pips were 51%, but now 52%. All face cards were 20.5%, but now 17%. In this newly adjusted distribution, I'm more slightly more likely to draw trumps and pips, and slightly less likely to draw faces.

Third and much less obviously, this change in distribution does something that I personally enjoy quite a lot: it creates much more frequent overlap among the cards. One of the things that I really enjoy doing during a Tarot reading is to form connections between cards based on shared septenaries (for trumps), or suit and value (for pips and faces.) Connecting number to number by shared value, connecting cards by shared suits, connecting trumps by shared septenary, and above all pointing out the conflict and opposition between any of the cards based on their neutral, complimentary, or polar opposition according to suit, number, or septenary is just fascinating. This sort of hunting is like a Dorito for my brain, and is so satisfying to me. 

Removing the poorly unified 10 (which never did fit very well into my 9 Satanic statements, and which is also considered only a permutation of 1), reducing the number of faces to match the configuration I prefer among playing cards, and removing the Fool to create a self-contained grand tableau of trumps is just a delight to me because it's like making Tarot new again. This creates an opportunity for me to not only attempt to improve or refine my approach to the Tarot, but this also recreates the feeling of novelty and discovery that has long since diminished for me.

Does this mean that I'm no longer a Tarot reader (since, after all, I'm not using a 78-card deck anymore)? Nope: Tarot reader I was, Tarot reader I am, and Tarot reader I will remain. I'll call myself what I like even if I have to ignore a few technicalities in the process. But me being who I am, it's very likely that I'll reintroduce the subtracted cards back into the deck during my next review in about two years. Of course, it's also very likely that in two years I might be doing something completely different.

So say I, a change is as good as a rest.

August 01, 2018

August 2018: Purpose-Driven Social Media

facebook mind control
Somebody must have removed the social
media chip from this mind control device?
Remember that thing called lesser magic? Sure you do: it's the subtle manipulation of people and circumstances through wile and guile for the purpose of guiding choices and events toward your preferred outcome. Lesser magic informs a large part of my approach to fortune-telling -- not that this is any secret given that I've written an entire book on the subject -- but to an extent it also informs a large part of my world-view. I'll accept that there are dangers in always looking for a third-side perspective and trying to be savvy to others' lesser magic -- if I'm convinced that there's always a different truth just beneath the surface of evident reality and am always on guard against being hoodwinked, then this predisposes me to paranoia and accepting conspiracy theories -- but I still think it's important to be aware of how others are attempting to influence how I use my limited time and energy.

Perfect example of this is social media, and here's my sharpest opinion yet: social media is an addictive drug, and the platforms where one uses social media are pushers. I'll be the first to say that there's no such thing as social media addiction -- after all, "addiction" is a specific, clinical term which discusses chemical changes within the body -- but there's absolutely such a thing as social media compulsion, and it's absolutely by design. The companies who create platforms to host social media interactions are deliberately creating their own Skinner boxes which compel users to repeatedly check for status updates, renew for fresh content, and above all to feel anxious that they're missing out on something important. Throw into the mix the fact that users of social media are curating their feeds to persuade others (and maybe even themselves?) that they're more attractive, successful, powerful, or other quality, and this creates an environment where users constantly questioning their own beauty, success, accomplishments, or self worth, and it quickly becomes unhealthy.

Or at least, it does for me. A rule that I've been diligently trying to follow not just on this blog but in my life generally is to speak only for myself, and to be very careful about making universal statements. Sure enough, I've got some broad opinions, but I try to be specific when I'm making a personal statement, versus what I believe to be universally applicable to everybody, everywhere. And while there's a small body of academic research (and a large body of anecdotal evidence) commenting on the worst aspects of social media, what I can say from my own experience is that it's remarkably difficult for me to withstand the lesser magic of social media pushers.

I think you probably know how this goes: I tell myself, "I'll only follow this one community." But next thing I know, I'm following 20 communities. I tell myself, "I'm only going to upvote or like the things I enjoy, and downvote or just ignore the stuff I don't enjoy." But next thing I know, I'm waist-deep into the comment section and arguing with random strangers about the average airspeed of an unladen swallow (both African and European.) I tell myself, "But it's okay, because social media keeps me in touch with the thought communities that are important to me." Next thing I know, I'm refreshing feeds every hour searching for the new post that makes the hours spent searching for it worthwhile. I tell myself, "I love this!," and yet, by using an app to record my moods in conjunction with how I spend my time, social media is something I do not enjoy (if you're curious to know, I've learned that my best moods are experienced when I'm doing mundane housework.)

Yeah, social media... no matter what I tell myself, I can't argue with the evidence that my mood consistently suffers when I use social media, and scrolling through feeds is particularly bad for me. I mean, if I want to just instantly feel depressed, lonely, and unimportant, then all I need do is load up the nearest social media feed and just start scrolling -- the effect is almost immediate. Me being who I am, I don't enjoy feeling sad or isolated, and yet... there I am, scrolling away, and wondering why I keep doing something that I don't enjoy. Boy howdy, that sure sounds like the behavior of an addict, doesn't it? The pushers wouldn't have it any other way: they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profit, even if that means encouraging compulsive behavior in their users. 

But I've got a personal responsibility to myself, and after probably more than a year and a half of talking about how I'm reducing my use of social media, I've finally conquered that particular compulsion and I did so with one rule: Any use of social media must be driven by purpose. That is, I must have a specific and compelling reason to visit a social web, and that specific and compelling reason should be intimately connected to something that I'm already doing in real life, something whose existence is not dependent on social media. Do you see how this works? Following this principle, I should never be in the position that I'm randomly scrolling through a feed or mindlessly reviewing status updates. The only reason that I should get onto a social web is because I have a valid need or compelling reason to do so based on a specific interest or activity which is not rooted in an online community, and once I've asked a question in order to resolve my need or reason, I leave the social web and wait for an answer.

An example of this is my interest in Esperanto, a planned language intended to promote communication between countries, cultures, and people. There are a lot of very busy groups, forums, and channels I could join for access to basically unlimited interactions, but what purpose would it serve? What am I gaining from sifting through an infinite feed of status updates hoping to stumble onto the equivalent of a needle in a haystack? It's a fucking waste of time. In this example the way I observe the principle of purpose-driven social media is by joining only a select number of groups and turning on notifications. If I have a question about the language or a special event, I can visit the relevant group to ask my question and then leave. With notifications turned on, I don't even have to visit the website to read responses to my questions or stay updated about the latest events and announcements -- they come straight to my email inbox where I can review them at my own leisure and outside the confines of the pusher's drug den.

The fundamental principles of purpose-driven social media are to reduce compulsion, increase productivity, and preserve happiness. After using a diary-method to cross-reference my moods against my activities and learning that social media is something that increases compulsion, decreases productivity, and erodes happiness, I've found it much easier to fight back against the lesser magic of social media and develop my own strategies of making it work for me on my own terms. This does nothing to change my opinion that social media is a drug being dispensed by money-minded pushers, but if I'm aware of the lesser magic they're working against me to sell their dope, then I know how to counter their rituals and deny them the compulsion they desire.

I'm done wasting my time, and purpose-driven use of social media is how I stay happy, productive, and healthy. If you ever feel like the pushers are taking advantage of you with their lesser magic, then who knows? Maybe you'd benefit from a policy of purpose-driven social media, too.