Shucking the Blue Öyster Cult

Ladies, Fish, and Gentlemen..

Until recently, when someone mentioned the band BöC around me, the first things that came to mind were cowbell, Godzilla, and umlauts- in that order. I never really got into this band, they seemed like the type of group that guys in cannabis-stinking leather jackets liked. Despite that, I decided to do a deep-dive on this band, since a few people suggested that I follow my “Ozzy/Crowley” video with a video on “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Being me, I didn’t just want to mail it in, and committed to listening to the entire BöC catalog and reading the top (only) rock biography I could find on them; Martin Popoff’s Agents of Fortune as well as everything I could uncover on the internet. I’m currently working my way through their many studio albums and some live stuff.

My first impression- man, this is a mixed bag. The first three albums (the “Black and White Trilogy”, named for the monochrome cover art) are not going to grab you on the first listen. They’re dark and muddy, sonically. They seem all of a piece, like one big album, with Secret Treaties and the eponymous first album being my preferences over Tyranny and Mutation– in that order. Their goal of being America’s answer to Black Sabbath is satisfactorily achieved, in my humble opinion.

Romeo Blue1

The next studio album, Agents of Fortune, is a bit of a departure- to say the least! This is a much more sophisticated radio-ready album, complete with hooks and better production than the “B&W” trilogy; aside from Secret Treaties closer “Astronomy” which set the tone for future BöC albums. The main even here is “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (although “E.T.I.- Extraterrestrial Intelligence” has become my favorite of the record, and Patti Smith-penned “Vera Gemini” is solid too. “True Confessions” sounds like a Kinks outtake, in a good way).

Since this rock epic will be the crux of the video, I think it’s time to start breaking down the occult connections to BöC’. The first thing we should get out of the way is the band’s ties to Saturn/Cronus; the most obvious inspiration for the Grim Reaper because of his connections to the sickle, the harvest, and time (through his association with the separate entity, Chronos). While the personification of death is a more complicated and less Eurocentric story, for the sake of this post let’s stop there. Both BöC and Cronus, father of the gods, have sickle and cross/crozier in their imagery, the sickle being used by Cronus to castrate his father, the titan Uranus. The alchemical symbol for lead is the same as the symbol of Saturn, the planet, and lead is a rather “heavy metal”.. get it? The symbol and first two album covers are the work of enigmatic artist/draughtsman Bill Gawlik, who apparently fell off the face of reality by the time of Secret Treaties.

The occult connections don’t stop there. The album cover of Agents of Fortune features a magician (tarot card “I”, the second of the major arcana) holding four tarot cards loosely based Aleister Crowley’s “Thoth” deck (my preferred deck when I used to read tarot, full disclosure). I just can’t seem to get away from that guy.

Image: Columbia Records, fair use for educational purposes

The cards seem to be Death (XIII), duh, The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV), and The Sun (XIX) 2. The Magician points to the Saturnian symbol with his right index finger, and fans the cards with his left in a fashion that suggests they’re firm against the gray stone-like wall. A castle window with a blank sky is behind him.

Returning to the previous album for a moment, the cover (and back cover) feature a German ME 262 plane, with a member of the band in a cape and holding the leashes of four German Shepherd dogs. This is more than just reminiscent of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a mysterious group that started in the UK in the 1960’s and spread to the US and beyond. That’s a whole post in itself, so I will just cut to the relevant bit.

Image: Columbia Records, fair use for educational purposes

Trust the Process

The PCFJ were known for dressing in black capes and having German Shepherds around for protection or intimidation. Allegedly (I have no proof of this) they would sacrifice dogs, and the back cover of the album shows the dogs apparently dead and left in a way that could suggest a ritual slaughter. According to Albert Bouchard, the art was done by Columbia’s art team, but the front cover was Sandy Pearlman’s idea and the back was Murray Krugman’s ((Martin Popoff, Agents of Fortune, 2016, p 42)). These two, along with rock critic Richard Meltzer and drummer Albert Bouchard, were the brains behind BöC- Pearlman being the chief of them.

Aside from his work with The Clash, Pearlman is best known for creating BöC out of a band originally from upstate New York called “Soft White Underbelly”. “We would never have surfaced as even a ‘Bob Seger-type’ of band, or even at all, if it wasn’t for Sandy,” says Buck Dharma, aka Donald Roeser ((Popoff, p 5)). Pearlman gave the band its name, from his poem The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, a concept that would provide the direction for the band’s lyrics throughout their catalog. Honestly I am thinking that the “Imaginos narrative” deserves its own post, but the gist of the concept is that there are seven mysterious beings that were worshipped by natives of Mexico and Haiti, later known as “Les Invisibles”, who possibly come from Sirius (gathered from the lyrics of “Astronomy”). The “Dog Days” of summer are when they have their most influence on humanity. They play with human history, lifting the Spanish with gold, then toppling them with John Dee’s black mirror (of Mexican origin) and the British Empire, etc. Les Invisibles have more than a resemblance to “The Secret Chiefs“, “The Great White Brotherhood“, and other Theosophical concepts like the “The Nine” that influenced the creation of Star Trek and the “New Age”.

Are you still with me? OK, so there is a boy named Imaginos, born in the ultra-terrestrial hotspot known as New Hampshire under such perfect astro-geographic conditions that Les Invisibles take note. They give him super-human abilities such as being able to change his appearance and see the future in visions. He goes to Mexico, becomes shipwrecked and washed ashore in the Yucatan, where Les Invisibles decree that he either serve them or die as a human. He is resurrected by the Blue öyster Cult, and is renamed Desdinova, lives as a female much of the time, yadda yadda yadda. One interesting connection is that the Process Church had an adventure in the Yucatan, in a place called Ixtal, in 1966- but left due to pressure from locals and parents of members’ hiring of anti-cult agents. Oh, and did I mention that the symbol of the PCFJ looks suspiciously like a swastika to me? I’m not posting it here, but BöC were accused of being crypto-Nazis over the years. For the record I think they were not actually Nazis- not for the least of the reasons that frontman Eric Bloom, Pearlman, Krugman, and Meltzer were all Jewish. Sandy Pearlman is on record saying that keyboardist Allen Lanier was anti-Semetic, but it didn’t really bother him or Meltzer ((Popoff p 39-40)). Take that for what it is worth..

The boys are not looking very fascist in this shoot. Michael Putland, Getty Imagesnon-commercial use for educational purposes

OK, so we have so far..

  • Ties to Saturn (the logo, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”)
  • Alchemical lyrics and symbolism (“Workshops” and “Astronomy” especially)
  • Tales of ultra/extraterrestrials (the “Imaginos cycle” storyline- multiple tracks/albums)
  • Process Church symbolism (cape and Alsatians on Secret Treaties)
  • Crypto-Nazi accusations (“ME 262”, “Dominance and Submission”, etc)
  • Theosophy and secret societies (all over the catalog)

Spooky stuff, no?

Plus, YIKES!! Columbia Records, fair use, educational

She Had Become Like They Are

By the time Agents of Fortune was being written, the band members had decided to take more control over their image and sound. They were tired of being portrayed in marketing with things that were already becoming metal cliches (even if their associates had created some of the cliches, for instance the “heavy metal font”) like leather, S&M, and crypto-fascism ((Popoff p 61)). The band members wanted a high-fidelity sound and modern studio technology, despite worries from producer Krugman that they didn’t have the chops to sound like the top rock bands of the era with that recording precision ((Popoff p 57)). They were ready to prove him wrong with their biggest hit by far.

It’s widely known that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was formed through Parthenogenesis straight out of the head of Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. The demo version shows how close to the release version he already was.

The story is that Buck Dharma had a bit of a heart scare, and it gave him a feeling of mortality. He realized that life is fleeting, but had a notion of love living on, and used Romeo and Juliet as a metaphor, but claims it’s not a song about or encouraging suicide.

“The Reaper” is specifically about two concepts:

1) A powerful enough romantic love can transcend physical death and endure in the hereafter;

2) Death is inevitable whenever it happens to us, and we should know that and face it without fear, having some confidence in the universality of the human spirit, but having no proof until we actually die.

Buck Dharma, (Popoff p 67)

Of course, the song was “meant to be spooky“. It’s an eerie song, used in films from “Halloween” to “Gone Girl” and even the credits of a Simpsons episode. While some of its edge was softened by a certain comedy sketch you might have noticed that I am tip-toeing around, it’s a timeless gothic tale of love beyond the grave. This hit for BöC would become, as it is for so many bands, their greatest triumph and trap. As you will see in my evolving playlist, their sound would continue to (d)evolve into clear hit-chasing, Spectres sounding to me a heck of a lot like ELO for instance. I mostly listen while at the gym, and while the Black Sabbath pastiche “Godzilla” is mainstay of rock radio that I never cared for, and the rest just left me wanting Jeff Lynne’s band instead.4 Cultosaurus Erectus, awesome cover aside, was co-written with fantasy author Micheal Moorcock (who is better known for writing songs for the band Hawkwind). It’s all over the place. I like some of it. Fire of Unknown Origin is a return to form, and I rather like the A-side. “Burning for You” is just good arena rock, nothing profound. I want to jump to Imaginos, which wasn’t really BöC album but Albert and Sandy trying to bring the original vision for the group into being- the other guys came and played on it to satisfy the record company’s demand that it be a BöC album. “Les Invisibles” is a relentless and hypnotic groove, and there are some old songs, like “Astronomy” revisited. Man, this post is getting long, and the later albums suffered at the loss of Bouchard and aren’t really relevant to this discussion.

So, in conclusion.

There is a lot of the spooky, eerie, and sinister to the catalog, sound, and image of BöC. While I may have set out to get to the bottom of this one particular song, it’s really the rest of their opus that has me digging deeper. I do believe that these dark influences come slightly from the record company scheming of Murray Krugman (who was looking for an “American Black Sabbath” ((Popoff)), greatly from Al Bouchard, but mostly from the occult interests of Sandy Pearlman. Sure, individual band members might have been into horror and science fiction, but Blue Oyster Cult the band was a fabrication from the mind of Sandy Pearlman. At the end of the day, they probably weren’t fascists, occultists or even cultists. Or were they? Honestly I am not totally sure. My money is on it all being a big LARP, like most of heavy metal6, for most of the musicians in the band. Also, “Dominance and Submission” is by far a more disturbing song than “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, everyone is barking up the wrong tree, but that’s a post for another time.

Leave favorite BöC songs I left off of the playlist in the comments, if you have any..

Only the freshest of öysters!

1 If you get this reference, we need to be friends

2 According to Popoff ((61)) this was based on an “actual Tarot reading on the band, these in particular representing the King, Queen, Sun, and Death.” We are left to wonder which of the kings and queens of the deck (there are four of each, for the non-occultist readers) were pulled, as there are tremendous differences in meanings. Perhaps the artists- John Berg, Lynn Curlee, et al- were also not sure and substituted The Empress and The Emperor- or maybe the band mistook those cards for a Queen and a King in the reading

3 Sirius is so packed with meaning to ancient Egypt, mystery religions, cults and even the “Space Brothers” phenomenon of the mid-20th Century that it’s beyond the scope of this post

4 Check out Christoper Knowles‘ work on for more on “The Nine” and its influence on modern culture

5 How much does Eric Bloom look like Jeff Lynne?!

6 Recluse at the VISUP blog might disagree, and goes a lot deeper down the rabbit hole, so I don’t have to I suppose. I encourage you to check out this post and this one specifically for links to BöC’s beginnings on Long Island and the occult revival that was happening there, and “Dominance and Submission

The Emperor

Meditations on the Tarot IV

With the fourth major arcana, The Emperor, the author of Meditations on the Tarot explores the concept of mystical authority. The first three figures represented “to be, to know, and to be capable”, and with all three of those conditions met, one is granted authority to “lay down the law”, as he states.The Emperor is a ruler without a weapon. That seems odd at first, but according to the author he needs no weapon, he “has renounced compulsion and violence”. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, however, he remains vigilant, not quite seated and not quite standing. His legs are crossed, and he has the eagle shield [or is it a griffin?] at his feet. “He is a sentry bound to his post.” [aside: Personally, I feel his pose of holding the scepter diagonally to the shield in an outward fashion compared to The Empress who holds them closely and horizontally at her bosom is quite telling in terms of the attributes and relationship of the cards.]

The author sees significance in the exceptionally large and heavy-looking crown on The Emperor’s head, “It is the sign of legitimacy… but it is also the sign of a task or mission by which the crown is charged from above.” The sunny rays that emanate outward imply a crown of thorns inwardly [as above so below?]. They are “nails piercing and crucifying each thought or image of the personal imagination.” Due to his station, states the author, The Emperor has made four renunciations; opinion, word, movement, and a personal name. These four renunciations mirror the four letters of the sacred name, YHVH. Since Meditations on the Tarot is a work of Christian Hermeticism, the author discusses the concept of God, powerless and crucified, in relation to The Emperor. While I don’t really get the crucifixion aspect of the card, the figure does seem to be stuck in a pose between actions, a liminal state if you will. Where the author sees a God almighty and at the same time a God crucified, I do see the hint of in-between in his pose that belies the stability of the 4 in tarot numerology. I have always considered the crucifixion to be Tiphareth, call me Rosicrucian, but I do see what the author is getting at here. Chesed, the fourth sephiroth, is the first sephiroth of action and creation, while also signifying mercy and love. Here we have the seeming contradiction of stability and authority with action and love.

In the card of The Emperor we also have the card of physical creation, the culmination of the first three cards. The author delves into one of my favorite Cabbala [his spelling] concepts, tsimtsum. This is the idea that before God could create a universe, God had to make a void first. By creating a space within “Godself”, there could be existence, as nothing could exist outside of God. Therefore, through tsimtsum, God could contract God’s power to create free beings, ruled over by love and authority and not coercion. For the author this is symbolized by the figure’s crossed legs and tightened belt.

The Emperor is outside, he has no court or retinue to guard him. He seems to be in a field, or on a rocky promenade perhaps. This adds to the idea that he is, in my words, a sort of archetype of the ruler rather than a practical ruler of people. His domain is the sky and the earth. As the author says, The Emperor’s power is gained through initiation, the state of consciousness where eternity and the present moment are one.

The author guards us against reading too many “theories or concepts” into the cards, declaring that the theories and concepts flow from the symbol on the card and not the other way around. would not do to say: the fourth card “The Emperor” is the symbol of the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter. One would rather say: the Arcanum of the fourth card “The Emperor” is also revealed in the astrological doctrine concerning Jupiter.”

Meditations on the Tarot, p90

This is pretty much the opposite of the way most readers I know read, including myself. We let our big occult brains complicate a reading instead of letting the symbol speak to our subconscious. What else can you expect in the modern world, where numbers and algorithms and words are what are valued? For centuries diviners gave readings without ever having heard of solve et coagula, much less Hod or Chesed. [aside: I have to remind myself often to look at the card, and why I am weary of someone using a Hello Kitty deck and reading it like a Thoth deck, not that I, too, haven’t done such. I once used a “food” deck in a pinch- how does one read the “3 of Sushi”? But I digress..] The author is concerned with Hermitic philosophy, and “Hermetic philosophy is not composed of the Cabbala, astrology, magic and alchemy. These four branches sprouting from the trunk do not make the trunk, rather they live from the trunk.” In the first four cards of the Major Arcana, for him, you find the four spiritual practices that form the key to the Apocalypse [in the meaning of the ‘unveiling’, I imagine]: concentration without effort, vigilant inner silence, inspired activity of imagination and thought, contemplation of everything which preceded.

The Emperor, therefore, is a symbol, from that symbol flows these spiritual concepts, and from the first four Arcana one sets the groundwork for practice of Hermetic concepts. So much for making the cards less esoteric I guess!

No Wise Man Has the Power…

I am working on a playlist I decided would be called “Grocery Store Jams”. The premise is that it’s songs I heard at the grocery store growing up, or on the way in my mom’s car (“Mom’s Station Wagon” was an alternative title. It’s not necessarily “Yacht Rock”, although some of it is. A lot of the songs are “bad” by current tastes, but nostalgic- a lot are still great songs. There is a heap of the dreaded “Adult Contemporary” of the nineties, the category where 60’s rockers and blues crooners went to die. If I were honest about it, I would have some 90’s Clapton and Bonnie Raitt on there- but I just can’t listen to those songs anymore. There’s a hell of a lot of Steve Winwood though, and Bruce Hornsby. I put in some Brit favorites like Howard Jones and Level 42, but avoided anything from the 80’s that would end up on an “Awesome 80’s” list or anything like that. Phil Collins and Genesis make an appearance. Anita Baker and Christine McVie bring some smokiness. I got rid of the Steely Dan for being too respectable for a middle-aged man to listen to, but I left IGY by Donald Fagen. Jackson Browne got a last minute removal for the same reason. So did the Eagles, although Don Henley and Glenn Frey are on there. It’s a work still very much in progress.

The Doobie Brothers were on the list a lot, but for the reason of being so clearly Classic/Yacht Rock, I edited them out. Before I cut it, “What a Fool Believes” started playing, so obviously I had to listen the whole way through and croak along in my best Michael McDonald impression. This song gets me everytime, right from the jump. Those cheery major chords on the keys, blithe, almost silly- bouncy for sure. The bridge, the falsetto, Blue-Eyed Soul at its absolute best. Co-written by Kenny Loggins, it’s the tale of a man and woman reuniting after being separated. The man still thinks there’s something there, the woman never felt the same way. One gets the impression that either this was just a temporary fling that meant nothing to her, or it was something more significant and he blew it somehow. Despite her (off camera, so to speak) telling him that there is nothing there (anymore?), he keeps living in a fantasy world where things are different.

As the lyrics say “But what a fool believes/ he sees/ no wise man has the power/ to reason away”. It’s the story of the human journey, no?

This song has followed me around my whole life, popping up at odd times. Sometimes it comes on when I am a low point, like a message that things are going to be ok, it’s the delusions in life that cause me pain most of the time- not the reality. Sometimes I feel like it’s a gentle admonition, sometimes it tells me I am on the right path. This song is like a well-placed tarot card for me, it takes a little interpretation based on the circumstances. Is it The Fool though? Well, sure, but that’s a little on the nose. I don’t typically read reversals, but perhaps a Knight of Cups reversed might be more accurate, or in an unfavorable position, near a 5 of Cups and The Star (in its less favorable aspects). 

So, yes, this was a round-about way to say that sometimes it helps to associate song lyrics with cards. It’s something I have sort of done unconsciously over the years, but am going to start doing more actively now that I have walked myself through this exegesis.

As for the playlist, I am subbing the song with the suspiciously similar “Steal Away” by Robbie Dupree. Not sure how those songs came out within a year of each other with a lawsuit. Dupree says that sort of piano lick was pretty common in music by then, and he’s right- I realized I had also put “He’s So Shy” by the Pointer Sisters on the playlist, and yep. I’ll have to work out some correspondences for those songs too. But that’s for another post I guess.

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..

Using Playing Cards for Readings

Yes, it’s pretty hip right now to be into using playing cards for divination. I feel especially drawn to them lately, as tarot is so in the zeitgeist right now, and I immediately cringe when something dear to me gets big with the masses. Don’t mind me, I am still just an aging punk rocker at heart I guess, getting mad when my favorite band gets big. This too shall pass..

How to read playing cards has always sort of vexed me, having first tried it drunkenly in the North End of Boston at a friend’s apartment after the bars closed around us, about ten years ago. The problem was, I was trying to read it like tarot. I finally realized, through a little research and a paid course (that because of life stuff I never got into past the first video) by Camelia Elias, that I was making it way too hard on myself. I won’t get into her system here, obviously (I wouldn’t be able to anyway), but I do appreciate that she pointed us to Dawn Jackson’s The Wise and Subtle Arte of Reading Cards.

Not sure what the copyright status of this is, so I won’t repost it here (but it’s on the “internet way-back machine” apparently if you’re curious). I can say that I took some excellent basics out of it though. The first rule is that red is good and black is bad. It gets a little deeper with suits, where hearts are love, diamonds are fortune, clubs are work, and spades are troubles- to sum it up roughly. The queens are women, the kings are men, and the jacks are children or messages- easy peasy.

It gets a little more complicated than that, of course; you can use her system of number meanings, or the Kabbalah, or your favorite tarot correspondences, or whatever you please.

If you saw my post on using the “Crossed Cartomancy” , I am having fun with the systems from The Book of St Cyprian at the moment. As always, pick the system for the type of reading you want. I wouldn’t use playing cards for Jungian inner journey symbolism readings, but I might use it in place of my RWS deck if I needed to help someone on the fly with a clear answer. It’s great for quick readings in a bar, obviously.. no need to consecrate it. Maybe just find a smoker outside and pass it over the second-hand tobacco (I kid, I kid).

As with most readings, I like a three card layout that shows progression or two sides affecting the middle, depending on the question. For progression readings, Jackson recommends going left to right. A Red Black Red would show “a bump in the road”, and Black Red Red “troubles getting going but smooth sailing after”, for example.

In the case of the three cards I shoddily threw as an example, initial health problems will cause a slow start, but then there will be a path to increased fortune and perhaps one’s true calling. Wait a minute.. that sounds like it’s talking to me. Again. lol. Oh, divination..

I will let you take it from here, but this at least should be enough to dip your toes..

Meditations on the Tarot; Chapter III, The Empress

The third chapter of Meditations on the Tarot interprets the third major arcana, The Empress, as signifying magic; or, more specifically, “sacred magic”. This he differentiates from “personal magic” and “sorcery”; the first coming from the divine, the second from the person, the third from “elemental forces”. He defines magic with the statement the subtle rules the dense. [Compare with Crowley’s definition, the science and art of causing change to occur in accordance with will, to see the difference between the author’s “sacred magic” and Crowley’s “personal magic”.] She has her tools, as any good magician. The crown, scepter, and shield she bears are her divine authorization, magical power, and aim, respectively. The throne has a place as well, per the book, as the role of magic in the world.

There are obvious parallels to be drawn between the tiara of the High Priestess and the crown of the Empress. The author surmises that the two level crown signifies that the work of magic is done on two levels rather than three, meaning the “sublimation of Nature” rather than the “revelation of Gnosis”. This crown grants the moral basis for her work, as practicing the only legitimate form of magic [for the author, arguing from a Christian perspective], that same type practiced by the apostles. Rather than a book, there is the image of an eagle, to signify activity, or rather “the accelerated evolution of the living forces of Nature.” The scepter contains with it the power to make the operation work.

Here we could get into one of those endless, and excellent, debates on the finer points of magical symbolism in specific imagery. The author points out that the scepter contains, within its design, both a wand (staff) and a chalice; symbolizing the Divine Will turned earthwards, and human will turned to Heaven. Through the eyes of a ceremonial magician, this is clearly the wand and cup used to symbolize fire and water, also “will and feeling”, or whatever else the magician sees fit. So does that make the crown the knife? Being on the head one could surely make the argument that it represents the sword, or the intellect, and certainly has enough pointy little blades on it to bring the metaphor home. Is the shield the pentacle, then, representing the element of earth and manifestation? The author doesn’t make those connections directly, so this case is my own.

The magician symbolized by the Empress is, for the author, practicing what may be more precisely defined as theurgy than magic in the modern, Western Occult fashion. The magic of a miracle worker or saint, who has given his or her will to merge with the Will of the Divine (but while still maintaining free will) and thus becomes a vehicle for the power of such. Thusly, the scepter is complete.

So if the crown is the sword, the scepter both wand and cup, and the shield the pentacle, what is the throne? Here you see the mistake I am making already, that one can so easily throw the tools of the ceremonial magician over the author’s Christian Hermetic view of the imagery of the card. [Although I would argue for them being there when looked at from a different perspective.] The throne is the thing transformed by the magic, Nature itself, the very “domain of sacred magic”. [I wonder, as tarot students, do we give enough thought to the thrones in the tarot? For they are literally and metaphorically “seats of power”.] Here, for the author, the throne of the Empress is the Tree of Life, guarded by the flaming sword of the cherubim against those who would, of their own will, reach out and take its fruit. Rather, the sacred magician waits to receive the fruit of the tree, and through this reception, is able to participate in the Great Work.

Crossed Cartomancy with St. Cyprian

I have recently been diving into The Book of St Cyprian; The Sorcerer’s Treasure (translated and commentary by José Leitão), with the extra free time granted by the most recent shutdown here in California. St. Cyprian of Antioch has become pretty popular in the English-speaking world of late, but as Leitão shows in his introduction, this saint/spirit has been hugely popular for centuries in Iberia and Latin America. So, I am a little late to the party. To be honest, I was a little hesitant to work with this book, as my attempt to “introduce myself” to this saint didn’t go so well. By “didn’t go so well” I mean I wound up in the hospital with a bizarre acute condition, as well as a couple of other misfortunes that I had a hard time explaining (Earthly explanations being available, for sure, but as to why it all happened within such a short time and all right when I started working with him, there just might be something there). He’s not a guy to mess with lightly. This is good old “down and dirty” magic, magic that gets things done for people who don’t have time to mess around.

I have been messing around with playing card readings over the last year, as traditional tarot is starting to bore me a little to be honest. Tarot is annoyingly part of the zeitgeist right now, as is magic in general- this too shall pass.

I looked at two spreads in the book, and while they both looked interesting, I went with the more stripped-down of the two. It felt cleaner.

I skipped all of the ritual for this spread (below), as it requires that you run the deck by the waves of the ocean at noon on Friday while saying “May the celestial spirits give thee virtue.” Easy enough, but I live in the desert. Also, this was supposed to be for learning purposes and I wasn’t trying to do a reading.

The gist of it is you separate the 8’s, 9’s, 10’s, and all court cards besides the King and Queen of Diamonds, The Queen (or King) of Spades, and the Jack of Hearts. The aces and sevens are the “temptation cards” which are separated and shuffled together. These are placed, facedown, in the center of what will become a cross. The other 24 cards are shuffled and placed faced down into the rest of the cross, 1-2-3-4 the top to bottom, and 5-6-7-8  left to right forming the horizontal. The remaining cards repeat the pattern until gone.


Now you flip the cards over, the ones that oppose each other, starting from the top and bottom, and onto the sides.

The top and bottom cards are 5 of Clubs “out of the house” and 3 of Diamonds “cuddles of love” (heehee). This is interesting, as my lady is away from my house right now. The side cards are 4 of Spades “in the house” and 6 of Spades “captivity”. Holy smokes. Aren’t we all feeling that way right now?!

Once again, it doesn’t matter if you are just trying to make an example spread. Once the cards come out, any cards, in the hands of a reader, it’s gonna give a reading. The rest of the spread continues, out to in, and finally the temptation card is flipped.

The rest of the reading was interesting (not trying to read for myself, I went with the QQKJ set-up rather than the QKKJ the book prescribes for a man), but it was pretty accurate as to some things that have been going on lately. Choose a question for your reading or the cards will choose for you I often say.

This is definitely a fun spread, and I will definitely dedicate a deck to the purpose and consecrate it at some point. Hopefully I am on the Saint’s good side now!

Meditations on the Tarot, Chapter II- The High Priestess

The second chapter of Meditations on the Tarot takes the traditional representation of the High Priestess card and turns it into a metaphor for the mystic, where the figure represents the transfer of spirit into philosophy. The experience of pure, spontaneous creation goes through the stages of “gnosis” and “magic’ on its way to being transfixed in a material fashion as Hermetic philosophy, or the “book” on the lap of the High Priestess.

As the Magician is standing vertically, representing the vertical nature of the spirit, the High Priestess is seated, forming the intersection of the spirit and the material. Through the three tiers of the tiara she wears, the pure experience descends into consciousness, or rather;

Spirit must become divine Breath in place of arbitrary, personal activity, and Water must become a perfect mirror of the divine Breath instead of being agitated by disturbances of the imagination, passions and personal desire.

Meditations on the Tarot, p30

This process the author equates to the rebirth mentioned in the Gospels (John iii, 5), and a “Christian Yoga”, where the practitioner doesn’t strive for the state of “radical deliverance” but reintegration of the active and still elements of consciousness. It’s not a unity but a unity of two, which preserves the mysteries of dualism against monism, with love acting as the “cosmic principle which presupposes duality and postulates its non-substantial but essential unity.”

The author feels strongly that the mystery of the number two is not solely the “origin of evil” as Louis Claude de Saint-Martin asserts, where two centers of contemplation form, one legitimate and one not, but that there is a possibility of two legitimate centers of contemplation stacked vertically. Thusly, the “as above, so below” of the Emerald Tablet can be contemplated simultaneously. Two, for the author, is necessary to make true the Christian principle that “God is Love”. If God did not create something with its own nature, and all of existence were simply God in His own substance, than the concept of Love would be moot, as God would merely be giving Love to Himself.

The author expounds further on the difference between seeking Being versus Love, and to paraphrase, shines some light on the differences between the two available paths of the mystic. One can either seek unity of being with the eternal, or share in the love of the the eternal. The former path gains repose in exchange for feelings, while the latter embraces feeling. Anyone who, like me, has spent some time reading stories of Zen masters will know there is no shortage of interesting characters and feelings in that tradition, so while the author is a bit facile here in terms of falling into that old false-dichotomy of “East vs West”, there is truth there in that there are certainly paths that seek to erase the volatile ego in place of a universal consciousness. The mystical experience the author describes is one where “nothing is extinguished in the human personality but, on the contrary, everything is set ablaze.”

In this light, the author ties back to the Gospels, specifically “All who came before me are thieves and robbers”. (John X, 8). That is to say, the teachers before Jesus promoted depersonalization on the way to mystical revelations. While I have always imagined Jesus was referring to “false messiahs” or even prophets in this phrase (who were stealing his birthright so to speak), and find it unlikely he was referring to Buddhas or yogis, it’s an interesting conjecture.

Returning to the image of the High Priestess, she symbolizes to know, where the Magician symbolizes to dare. She is the gnosis which follows the revelation symbolized by him. If he is the Yod in the tetragrammaton, she is the first , following the progression of a mystic.

He who dares to aspire to the experience of the unique essence of Being will develop the mystical sense or spiritual touch. If he wants not only to live but also to learn to understand what he lives through, he will develop the gnostic sense. And if he wants to put into practice what he has understood from mystical experience, he will develop the magical sense. If, lastly, he wants all that he has experienced, understood, and practiced to be not limited to himself and his time, but to become communicable to others and to be transmitted to future generations, he must develop the Hermetic-philosophical sense, and in practicing it he will “write his book”.

Meditations on the Tarot, p42

Without these in progression, the author contends, each stage is incomplete; magic becomes sorcery, philosophy a “parasitic system of autonomous thought”, gnosis “the corpse of religion”, mysticism “intoxication”. This progression must be there as an organism, lived through one’s whole being.

Here, then is the second stage, the woman seated in contemplation and veiled from that which is above, taking what is received vertically and bringing it to the horizontal plane of existence. The veil is reminiscent of the veils that separate the tiers of Sephiroth on of the Tree of Life, and it would seem that for the author the High Priestess resides in ‘clam ha atziluth, the gnostic world, where pantheism is true and all is God. As an artist can create ex nihilo, and a woman brings new life to the world, so is magic, these epitomize the magic the author refers to, in the next stage of the progression. The experience is transferred to the book, where, as stated in the Emerald Tablet, can be found “the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world”. Rather than being a card merely symbolizing the process of gnosis, the High Priestess is a blueprint of the entire function of a mystic.

Meditations on the Tarot Chapter I; “The Magician”

The Magician

I finally used this down time to dive into the hefty tome that is “Meditations on the Tarot”, something I have been meaning to do for awhile. For anyone unfamiliar with the opus, it was published posthumously and anonymously and dedicated to the “Unknown Friend”. While it is quite easy these days to find the presumed author with a Google search, I will respect his wishes and leave him unnamed. The book is a journey through Christian Hermeticism, using the Major Arcana of the tarot as a guide through his take on Hermetic philosophy, Christianity, and the confluence of the two.

He starts with the Magician, rather than The Fool, for reasons that make sense for several reasons. The easy reason is it’s the card numbered with “I”, and while that bucks many tarot-readers’ assertion that the The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana, there is no indication (in the first chapter at least) that the author used the tarot for divinatory purposes or had any inclination to do so.

The bulk of the chapter has to do with the Magician as an “authentic symbol”, in the typological sense, which he differentiates from the mythological sense. A myth, using Cain and Abel (among others) as a reference, is an analogy across time, according to the author. The tarot is, by contrast, an analogy across space, and instead of relating a story that repeats throughout human history, it instead speaks to a sort of perfect archetype. The arcanum, as such is “a ‘ferment’, or an ‘enzyme’ whose presence stimulates the spiritual and psychic life of man.” He surmises that The Magician must come first in the series, as it has to do with the “rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality”, and therefore is necessary to understand the rest of the arcana. His statement of the meaning of The Magician is as follows.

Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that you have accepted easy and every burden you carry light!


He further ties this into the sayings of the Gospels with “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew xi, 30). Much like a tightrope walker, who cannot think of his situation or risk falling, so the author compares the soul who is able to walk this path. One must be able to compartmentalize the intellect to its true purpose and not allow it to interfere where other systems should take over. The Magician’s practical teaching is therefore stated as concentration without effort. The author compels the reader to be analogous to a child, who plays with great concentration, but not to be identical to a child. He encourages the reader to attain “harmony and equilibrium between the spontaneity of the unconscious and the deliberate action of the conscience.”

The chapter concludes with a defense of the Emerald Tablet’s place in the Corpus Hermeticum and Hermeticism’s congruence with Catholic teaching, using the examples of Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.

So far, this has been a dense but profound read, and I look forward to breaking it down by chapter as I go.

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