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..

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.

DSC00439

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.

Trying to make Frankincense of it all

photo April Rojas

Just thinking of how cavalier I was when this whole thing hit, making off-hand remarks about the ‘low-lethality’ of this virus, as now we are a bunch of house pets; eating food from a can, playing with our toys, and going out for the occasional walk.

“Wake me up when it gets to 30%” et cetera

Don’t worry, I am in good spirits, and still making the most of this down time. I am not going dark here. But it’s like if someone warned me an invisible murderer was coming to my neighborhood, “but don’t worry.. he only kills about one in a hundred”, would I have laughed it off? I can see the reality of our collective situation dawning, breaking on on most Marbleheads. Some, of course, are still very la-de-da about the whole thing, still trusting in their inner belief in invincibility.

I joke that ‘social-distancing’ is my preferred state. There is truth to that, I enjoy being alone more than most anyone I know. That’s probably because anyone who likes forced small-talk less than me is probably on some Arctic weather station, watching polar bears. Typical bartender sentiment I suppose but not ubiquitous.

via GIPHY

People need each other, though, even introverts. That doesn’t mean I want to go back to having to socialize all the time. I do need people to make toilet paper (hurry!), and keep the utilities going, and produce content to keep me sane. Oh, and eventually to come to the bar and keep me off the streets- I save myself conversationally for them (usually). I suppose you can ask any professional if they want to do what they do for a living for free on their days off, if they do I envy them but guessing that’s pretty rare.

Putting away the tarot and magical stuff for awhile, no sense greasing the wheels of reality right now. Meditation and prayer is the name of the game, with an occasional fast and some incense of course! Finally got a jar of all-natural, sustainably harvested, organic, yadda yadda frankincense. It’s fresh enough to eat, not that I recommend it, but if it comes to that.. (insert just kidding/not kidding emoji here). I really recommend the good stuff, I’ll never go back. Great solar incense for clearing energy and as an offering works for pretty much any benevolent spirit. You don’t always have to sage you know!

Useful tip of the week, save all your veggie bits that you’re not going to eat.. carrot peels, celery leaves, onion skins, herbs. Throw them in a freezer bag. When you fill a couple of good-sized bags, sweat all of the heartier stuff in a stock pot (you see where I am going), with a little oil and some dried spices. Bring it to a boil, turn down to a low simmer. I like to add a little soy sauce or Worcestershire. Strain it after a couple of hours and you have a rich veggie stock to make rice, soup, or even boost those ramen packs. There might even be actual nutrients in it!

We, as a household of sorts, are trying to go as close to zero food waste as possible. I even turned some stale hot dog buns into amazing croutons today. If you want more stuff like this, especially with pickling or fermenting, leave a comment!