Tarot Bots and AI Readers

Has tarot been outsourced to our phones? Is a “tarot reader” as antiquated as it sounds, a profession best left in the days of yore, before reason, materialism, and “trust the science”? Apparently tarot is more in demand than ever, or so I gather. More people are buying decks than ever, and rarely do I visit someone’s home without seeing a deck or two- and not just my magical friends. Of course these days I rarely visit someone’s home at all- but that’s another matter.

Do we really need tarot though? Should we just treat all of these decks like cultural curiosities, collectors’ items, etc?

How many decks do we need? How many tarot readers does the world need? It’s like yoga, everyone I know in Palm Springs who does yoga is either a yoga instructor or becoming one or thinking of becoming one. It’s a trope, and obviously an exaggeration. Lots of people do yoga and have no actual desire to become a teacher. Lots of people have tarot decks and have zero inclination of becoming a professional reader. I have done a ton of reading for people in public and have toyed with the thought of “going pro”, even setting up a website for it (100 bucks down the drain!). Then I hit a wall. Really I hit a couple of walls. Firstly the pandemic went on a good deal longer than anticipated, and a year from creating the website the world is still not safe for in-person readings. I could have done email readings, of course, but that’s not what I do, or did, rather. 

You see, the way I did readings was to get a good buzz on and read for friends and strangers at bars and parties. Man, was I good too. People would line up, especially since it was free- not that I would turn down a drink for my efforts. Now that my life is different and I don’t get that Dionysian out-of-body experience from drunk-reading anymore, I have had zero interest in picking up cards to read anyone. When I have played with a deck, or even tried to remember the meanings of cards, I have felt a disconnect. This is true with any “magical” thing I have tried sober. It’s just not “there”, anymore. I’ve lost my mojo. It makes me wonder if it was ever “me” with any of these abilities or if I just let something else in all of these years. It could just be that the pathways need to be rerouted. Maybe I have just outgrown all of this “silly magic stuff” and should just grow into the mystic I have always daydreamed of being instead- more Hebrew, fewer “barbarous names”.

I still love tarot though. Despite its becoming overly popular, despite feeling it’s left me behind, I still think the deck, any deck, is a powerful tool. I am working on bringing it back into my life, as my life is constituted now, and look forward to feeling confident reading again someday soon. I don’t want to leave tarot behind the way I have walked away from spellcraft and sigils and other assorted tools of the mage (for now at least). Actually I am confident I will come out the other side a better reader- that this time is for me the magical equivalent of the “Dark Night of the Soul”. Until then I use my phone for daily pull. 

That may sound strange, since I am effectively a Luddite with a blog, who eschews most apps and social media and whatnot. But I was turned onto Golden Thread’s app, and it has a daily pull feature that I have found quite useful (while I do recommend the app, I am sure there are others that work similarly and I have no connection to the venture). I am finding the daily pulls on my phone, which I gather are decided by a random number generator, to be spookily accurate to my situation most days. It’s at least as useful as my previous manual daily pulls, and even easier. [My one complaint is that the logging system could work better, it would be nice if it kept a longer log. One could always use a journal of course and not be lazy, but I journal enough, dammit!]

Here’s the conclusion you could probably guess I already made before I started writing- no, phones will not replace tarot readers. The world “needs” tarot readers for the same reason we “need” bartenders- sure, you could do it yourself, it’s not like being your own doctor or lawyer, but you’re better in the hands of a professional. Just like tending bar, when you get a connection with the person you’re reading for, the experience is better for everyone. There is an energy exchange. We also need more decks. There is no reason to stop making decks. Make decks that speak to you, clutter the world with decks. Make decks that help create the world you want to see. Your phone won’t replace your favorite deck, or your favorite reader. That doesn’t mean it’s not a powerful tool for divination. There is something of the spooky in random number generators. As there is no such thing as random (every event has been caused by something), it’s my belief that there are no random numbers- you’ll see patterns in the short term even if they disappear in the long run. There is something magical about this computing function, and if you don’t believe me, a quick internet search will turn up some interesting studies. So be a good magician and use the best tool for the job, whether that be analog or digital, it’s still magic after all.

And maybe I will pick up a deck today after all..

Just Another Day Off..

It’s St Patrick’s Day, somewhere, but not here in Palm Springs. People often ask if I miss Boston, especially around this holiday. I tell them about my time living on the parade route in South Boston, on Dorchester St, for a few years. The undead masses reveling in the streets, people asking to use our bathroom, people just using the parking area or stairs as a bathroom anyway. What a mess it was. 

Getting to work was even worse, no way to get an Uber, if it were even a thing when I lived there- I don’t think it was, as I used to take a lot of taxis. There wasn’t any reasonable way to walk to Downtown that I was aware of, and it wasn’t like you could walk anywhere anyway. The T was always closed based on the direction, I would battle my way to Broadway Station only to have someone tell me it was closed Northbound, and then fight my way to Andrew Square only to have someone tell me that I needed to go back to Broadway. For the record, it was Broadway after all. I remember getting off at Park Street, running past the crowds to finally breathe free air after being stuck in beer-soaked, sweaty purgatory on the Red Line. The free air didn’t last long. The bars had lines down the sidewalk, I remember even the usually empty Bertucci’s location near work had a line. 

By the time I got to work, a musty little oyster cellar that wasn’t built for such business, I would wiggle my stocky frame past the people lined up on the stairs waiting to get in. There was a staff Jameson bottle my buddy had hidden down in dry storage, so that was my first stop of course. It wouldn’t be the last time during the shift that my lips would commune with it..

I remember one year the entire bar was full for the whole shift, shoulder to shoulder, of people chugging Bloody Mary’s. They drank us out of gallons of Bloody mix, and the ingredients to make more, and ate all of the shrimp that we used as garnishes. When I told the mob that sad news, they asked what they were supposed to have after six bloodies, and I answered, I believe, “Pancakes and a fucking nap?”. 

If I worked the day shift, I would usually go to the more famous oyster place down the street, as for some reason it wasn’t too hard to get a beer there despite the crowd. Oyster shuckers watch out for each other I guess. One year we went to one of the more “shit-show” bars in the neighborhood for some reason. My friend and I were in a hurry to get our first post-shift cocktail and we ordered a “something and coke”, which was unusual for us. Our crew were, to a man, Boilermaker types. I seized some highballs over some frat boys confronting us that the drinks were for the two girls they were talking to. I wasn’t having it, and was covered in oyster guts no doubt, so eventually I won. 

We both blacked out that night, my buddy and I, despite not having had anything else after that. I woke up on the couch later in the evening with no memory of getting home, he had a similar experience at his house. I’m guessing we got a dose that was meant for those girls. Hopefully the guys didn’t have a second one ready. 

There were always the brawls. Faneuil Brawl. You can probably still find videos on the internet of the street fights downtown on St Patrick’s Day, that is if kids still fistfight, I honestly have no idea. They probably just fight on Twitter or something. Everyone talked about the fights. The thing they never talked about with St Patrick’s Day in Boston was the urine, and the bodily substances in general. The ever-present horse piss in Faneuil Hall was replaced with human piss, and spilled beer, and vomit. There was nowhere to go. It’s hard to even blame anyone. The only move was to be coherent enough to get into line for a bathroom 20 minutes before you actually have to go. That sort of awareness doesn’t last long.

There are many things I like about living in the desert. There are a lot of things I miss about Boston. I can’t say there’s much I miss about St Patrick’s Day, except maybe the sense of camaraderie that we veterans of a thousand bar holidays would feel seeing each other free when the shift was over. What about the money, you ask? It was usually gone by the end of the week. The gray hairs last forever though. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

The Blue Ghosts of Eddy Street

When I was a child, my two younger brothers and I stayed with my Grandma and Aunt Donna quite often, in their old brick house in North Quincy, MA. The house was the childhood home of my mother, aunts, and uncle. It sat surrounded by a chainlink fence on a tree-lined street, with a little garage and back yard that wasn’t quite big enough for three boys to entertain themselves. We would explore the neighborhood, the ice cream shop way down the road, the convenience store, et cetera. If we were bored there was always Matlock, The Golden Girls, or Falcon Crest on tv it seemed. Mostly I just remember my brother Adam and I running around the neighborhood. Chris was still pretty young, but he tagged along sometimes, especially for the ice cream. It was more of a city neighborhood than the “Hide and Go Seek” suburbs we called home, and the traffic and noise were exciting for us.

I remember the house well. The knickknacks, the potpourri, the endless Christmas decorations that Donna conscripted us to march down from the attic every year. The sea-foam green padded toilet seats, the sea-foam green or mauve everything in the bathrooms. The creepy basement stairs and the rotary telephone. The clowns and porcelain dolls everywhere.

Yes, the clowns and porcelain dolls were everywhere. If you have ever watched a paranormal show or horror movie and there is a room of dolls, and thought something like “Who would ever have a room like that?”, the answer is my relatives. There were a few places to sleep in the house, and generally Adam and I stayed together in one and Chris was alone. There was the “Doll Room”, yellow-walled with cabinets of dolls staring blankly out from behind glass and framed portraits of sad clowns on the wall. We usually made Chris sleep there. Adam and I chose the larger room, which still had dolls (sometimes of clowns), and perhaps pictures of clowns and/or of floral arrangements, but not nearly the nightmare fuel of the other room. I’m pretty sure there was a least a Blessed Virgin or two around for protection.

Not sure what horrors Chris went through in the “Doll Room”, but many nights I would lay awake at night in the other room and stare upwards as faces manifested out of the ceiling plaster. I don’t mean that I saw faces in the plaster, I mean multiple faces manifested out of the plaster, took ectoplasmic form like something from a Theosophist seance, and proceeded to float down towards my brother and I while we lay there helpless. I vaguely remember him awake through it, and that we both saw them, but we never said anything to each other.

Years later, at a wedding, Adam and I were having a sneaky underaged beer or gin and tonic, and we started talking about the old house. I’m not sure what brought the subject up, but he mentioned something about not being able to sleep there. I told him I had the same issue, and that it creeped me out because I saw faces descending from the ceiling and watching us. He nearly spit out his drink and said “blue faces?!”, and then I nearly spit out my drink. The faces had been blue, like a light sky blue against the white plaster in the dark room.

In retrospect, maybe we should have taken the “Doll Room”..