Tarot Advice For The Technician

This post is in category Metaphysics

Please Note:
This is a chapter of my Tarot handbook
“Documents For The Reader”.
Overview: {-here-}

This tells of an early concept test that much
later led to my Singing Fish Tarot.
Its description: {-here-}

Political Preface:
Worldwide merciless robber bands, proclaiming funda­men­talist faith in Capitalism, are attacking We The People while we search desperately for a safe home on this belea­guered planet. That’s a movie in our mind’s eyes, projected outward by our words and actions and inward by our expectations.

The heroic mode of life – knowing the world is true, know­ing you can help, letting difficulties teach you – can give us work and love and joy but we don’t know yet if that stra­tegy can save the world and give us safety. Still, we strug­gle on against the forces of insanity and death because we must, not because there is some chance of victory.

So goes the desperately heroic story we are playing. And we get plenty of supporting action from our enemies when we play it.

But what if we had more vision? What if we could look into the world and see reality outside current imaginings? What if we could look inside our own projection booth to change the settings? What if we had some piece of strange technology to let us really see each other and ourselves? Could we find more creativity? If we knew each other bet­ter could we be more like kin, coop­er­ate solidly in what must be done and thereby simply win?

We must arise in solid confident consensus to over­whel­m­ingly enforce reality’s demands. To me, an artist engineer, this sounds like we need some kind of pocket size commonplace hand held tool, some kind of scope and gauge and meter of the human mind and heart and soul. I think Tarot, and especially very beau­ti­ful Tarot, will help.

? >> But Surely This Is Nonsense? << ?

Engineer’s Divination Experiment:
I’m going to tell you a technology story.

Me and this other guy walk in a taco joint near work for lunch – this is on the factory side of a New England town near the wire mill – never mind what a New England wire mill is – me with an ulterior motive in my jacket pocket.

It was summer 1999, 16 years ago. This other guy is smart but he’s only got a one-week job doing just bulk coding in the wire factory’s computer office. We all had the world­wide famous “Y2K” bug that year, which you might recall, and he’s helping us with that. Me, I’m the regular software staff at that factory so for the one week he’ll be there I am his coworker lead.

Now, all I’ve said is that I’d show him where to get some Mexican food but actually I have a private project. So after we eat I push the restaurant paper trash aside and pull my prototype out of my jacket pocket, slap it on the table.

A cardboard box: Ordinary cardboard brown but pocket size, a small unmarked box and there it is by itself alone equally between us on the table. He’s not talkative anyway, and the poor guy is sad today, maybe depressed, he’s feel­ing preoccupied and grim today for some reason, so he just looks at it for the moment until I begin my pre­pared remarks.

You see, I have chosen him to be a test subject.

And I said, “This is an art project. I’m an artist. I am asking people to take a look at it so I can watch their reac­tions.”

That is such a peculiar thing to hear, and seems so harm­less, that every person I asked accepted out of curi­os­ity, as he now did, just a shrug however. Also, I was glad to see even a little light of joy in his face at the opportunity for entertainment.

So now my little recruiting thing’s introduction: First I’m sure I told him, “Understand, this has no impact or re­la­tion to the job at all whatsoever.” I’m sure I did that.

You understand I’m quoting accurately even now be­cause it was a tried and true routine and because that run of it became one of the most important experiences of my art career.

It went like this: I’d lay down a very flat neutral tone like doing a survey on a street corner and I said: “I am an artist and this is a Chinese fortune­telling cookie kind of art project.”

That’s a good line and he actually smiles at the fortune cookie bit and finally commits himself to speaking out loud, but still just gives me “Okay.”

So I continue to the next step, loosening my vocal tone for the important test instructions and the legalistic assur­ances:

“We have a simple procedure. Inside the box are 26 paper cards with writing on them. I will ask you to think of something, then ask you to open the box and pick any card at all, then read it silently while I watch. The project is at a very crucial early stage and I need to find out how it’s doing. I will not ask for any per­sonal information about you or your life whatsoever.”

And my guy – he is a mid-level casual worker approach­ing middle age with faded office clothes and a low end car in the parking lot outside, at the center of an unhappy day for reasons I will never know and – largely for the enter­tain­ment value of it – he has chosen to take my peculiar project seriously.

He did not know how very serious I was about it. In fact, this unmarked box of 26 hand lettered cards was an ambitious daring effort and the latest step in my true life’s work.

Example: One card in there has “L is for Lake” letter­ed boldly at the top. Then in normal print it tells a tiny seed of story, that one day you’re walking in some hills, getting foot­sore and dusty, and you find a beautiful lake. It’s quite isolated so of course you strip off and go in, discovering that while you’re simply floating there your soul rises to the surface.

Here is a commonplace blue-ruled index card, hundred to a pack from an office supply store, hand lettered, no pic­ture, but is secretly the Ace Of Water card from Tarot. It ends with a small seed of advice, supposed to be simul­tan­eously spiritual and prac­tical advice somehow, then finally repeats “L is for Lake”.

That’s only one example of what’s in the box and I have no knowledge which this test subject picked, for there are 26 cards in there, A and Z and all the rest, and I will only see the blank backs of the cards in this test setup across a table.

But you’ve probably got the concept: This is supposed to be an alphabet of human life that an intelligent person could mem­o­rize and then throw away the physical cards, thereafter working up some other process for doing read­ings with no physical imped­i­menta at all.

It’s supposed to be in case you’re in a home­less camp or if you’re after our modern world has crashed or what­ever. That’s the con­cept. And of course human beings in many cultures develop tools of that general type.

Now my good gentleman has nodded that he’s ready. In this moment I was here with you explaining that above, he has quickly and carefully thought about it. He has weigh­ed the likely enter­tain­ment value inherent in my claim of “art”, has weighed this opportunity to help a stranger bro­ther, has weighed my pledge to leave his privacy and livelihood alone, has weighed whatever thoughts he has on Chinese fortune cookies, and has accepted, so he nodded decisively for me to go ahead.

Now I offer him the exact same suggestion I offered you, on page 1 of Document #1 in this series where it says to choose some issue in your life where you genuinely want good advice or a hint of how to see things usefully and truly, and it tells you get your issue extremely clear and vivid in your mind. I tell him that.

Then I study his face. He is visibly a little cautious, finds some touchy problem in his life he is reluctant to think about so that he winces and frowns, but his eyes show me he is certainly thinking about that thing, and pausing to collect it vividly, and then he says to me, in pain you under­stand, “Yeah?”

“Now please,” I answer, “if you want to do this, just open the little box and pick out any card and read it. Please read it silently to yourself.”

With his hands trembling enough to see, he opens the box and takes a card out which he holds near himself, in some degree of privacy, to read. He’s frowning in intense multi-layered focus.

May we talk technicalities?

After all, this small box is supposedly an information stor­age and retrieval device. Right? And this design prob­lem is elegant, inter­es­ting and useful, is it not? Very elegant perhaps? So how about we dip into the technicalities of the design a little bit? Why don’t I just take a minute to list my top 3 design objectives?

Okay? Design Objective #1 might surprise you. It sur­prised me when I first noticed it during my earlier work. It’s this:

Since a questioner is allowed to ask absolutely any ques­tion about their life, a well functioning Tarot deck kind of system must contain a good answer to any possible human life question. And that is to say, the information in my device, if it were just sorted out in an appropriate way, could tell every human story.

Of course that sounds impossibly huge but it actually turns out that human life everywhere is uniform enough, and humans are so brilliant, that this Objective #1 is not even very hard.

Okay? Should I get even further in the technical weeds on this? Just for a minute I’ll point this out: One essential feature of the data storage in this kind of device is beauty.

It is beautiful poetry in some of these systems. After all, we know that even a single phrase of poetry sometimes opens whole volumes of memory and imaginings in our minds. It’s like some censoring part of our mind gets dazzled by the beauty and just lets poetry come in and open every associated door and then we can look in those compartments.

Okay then, there is a traditional practice in our culture you might be familiar with: For example in the U.S. South where I come from, among people who understand the Bible vividly, it is common to ask a question about life, then open a Bible and touch a page to find a wise appropriate answer. So which version of the Bible do they choose? In my exper­ience people always use the King James Version. Its language is far more beautiful than other versions so it’s far more evocative in your mind.

(Me too; In the King James I love espe­cially Ecclesi­astes and Job; this is fascinating non-Socratic philosophy poetry supposedly originally composed by Solomon and in the King James the thinking power is huge. I hold that entire book in very deep respect.)

But I don’t have a box of beautiful poems waiting for us on the restaurant table. I am a fair poet sometimes but have never yet risen to the Shakespearean level of the King James. No, what I have inside that box – or at least what my design calls for in that box – is beautiful story.

I do know story pretty well. It has been the school and core of my artistic practice. I learned it by years of diligent perfor­mance.

We started in 1969, me and story, talking war resistance with fellow U.S. soldiers during an especially terri­fy­ing U.S. war, study­ing oratory tips in the Autobi­og­raphy of Malcolm X on how to serve an audience in mortal stress like that. That was my first artistic discipline, as to say disciplined art work.

Then we got some polish from the storytelling boom of the 1970’s and 80’s. I joined a guild and the public came to our guild shows in droves. I got up to treatments of the great British and Greek stuff, had them jumping to their feet with that some­times. Me and story learned to weave the spell quite beautifully in Pagan rituals too where the magic gets freaking bare naked.

So I have studied story. So for this new project’s design – this project which has by now matured into the Alpha­bet­icon Tarot – I chose story as the mode of beauty in which human life wisdom would be coded.

One of those index cards tells that you’re hiking in the hills and find a beautiful lake. Another says you’re resting after giving birth. Another has you gazing at the stars while pondering life on Earth. Another says you bring a treasure home from a cruel land of giants while another has you bite an apple, taste its delicious juice and see the seeds. You’re sitting waiting for a door to open in another.

Do you see that 26 of these could possibly, all together mixed and matched, tell every human story?

And of course, in our taco shop that noon – there with the poor wage slave who has become my good stranger brother gen­tle­man – I am sitting there studying his face in pain and hoping ardently that a card sorted out of that box – or two or three cards if he wants – will offer real guidance by telling a true story of where he is, plus show an available path ahead to a good ending.

But before we slip back into that story – which, as I’ve already said, was one of the strongest experiences of my art career – before we return to that restaurant lunch, we really must discuss Design Objective #2. Because you are already asking about it.

So let’s skip lots and lots of other technical stuff but I am sure you are already wanting to hear about Objective #2. And then later back there we will find the third objective.

Objective #2 is this: When our good friend’s fingertips reach in that little box they definitely must find a card that is correct for his ques­tion. And of course you’re asking me: How?

And my answer is: I do not know. When a human gets into a properly attentive willful and receptive state of mind, and if you’re using a system of expression where you under­stand the language, then a correct card does turn up – or a correct spot on a correct page of a book will attract your eye or other such – or, if you’re among the ancient Greeks, when you toss some pebbles on a board they will make a cor­rect geome­tric pattern – reliably as if in conscious con­ver­sation with you. With my own eyes I’ve seen this hap­pen several thousand times.

I know how it feels – anyone who does this knows how it feels, as you probably know too from mysterious creative moments in your life that were effectively similar – but I cannot explain it.

Alright, the obvious possibilities: This happens either by some illusion in our thinking, or by some surprising fact about time and space and all of that, or both. Me, I guess it’s both. I guess this is a mental trick about memory and imagination, devel­oped in us by evolution, involving quan­tum physics. Just please don’t call this extremely vague hypothesis a “theory”.

But I can offer some helpful context to this philo­so­phical dilemma. I can, and this might make you feel better.

From ancient Greece, a fellow named Plato tells us stories about his dearly loved teacher Socrates.

In one, Plato has Socrates telling us a story about the time when he, Socrates, went around to all the best creative artists of his city, asking all of them the same question.

That was Athens in its golden age so they were surely poets and playwrights, maybe actors but maybe not, painters on pottery who were sculptors really too, the other sculptors who carved stone statues, maybe the painters of pictures on walls, and cer­tainly some brilliant architects.

Plato says Socrates says he went around asking all of these highly creative people the same highly annoying ques­tion: Where did all of their creative stuff come from?

Well, Socrates says – or Plato says he says – they would all give the same easy answer first. Everyone of them – every one – first said, “Well, it comes from the Gods.”

But that’s too easy because nobody knows what the Gods are. So then, since Socrates was Socrates, he would press them. He would insist, “But really really really, where does all of the creative stuff come from?”

And every one of them, every one, would answer, “I don’t know.”

So if you ask me how does that vast creative moment happen when a human hand reaches for a Tarot card and knows which one to pick to tell a story true – and the moments in your life that are equally astonishing – and moments when a hand holds a sculpting chisel or a painting brush and finds the truth – then I feel in good company when I answer, “I don’t know.” But I certainly do know this and design to count on this: Human beings are brilliant.

Have you watched an artist weaving tapestry? Human life is a weaving together of threads. And we’re very good at that.

We human beings are very often quick to drop one thread and pick up a different thread to twine into our life when reality demands it. We’re very good at that, but of course to do that we must look beyond our current selves.

To choose new threads of life we need to look outside our fears and shames and pains, our current expectations and beliefs. So we constantly – all through human history all across the world – resort to vision equipment like Tarot.

So we have at last arrived back at our workman’s lunch. My stranger friend, if I presume to call him that, sits beyond our res­tau­rant table, and over there his hands and face – with our paper card in his hand like a theater prop – are enacting tight held silent drama. It is a drama that is real and real and real.

What did he ask? I do not know. What answer did the magic I have conjured for him then advise? I do not know.

But I can see thoughts across his face, thoughts reaching through the tiny gestures of his hands, turbulently flowing through him in the wave-like motion done by ocean water rising on a beach, and then of course it breaks:

He throws down that card, face down on the table there, and grabs the little box and reaches in it for another.

What card now? I do not know. But at least my great­est fear is answered, or seems to be, by his small surprise of recogni­tion, then the smile of waking hope that plays across his face above the pain while he is reading this one, and then the small brief nod of satisfac­tion.

So I think and hope that at least my life’s true work has not flown off to nonsense fantasy.

But then the accusation strikes him that I’m telling lies.

Cruelty arises from his pain; the faith in cruelty, the faith reality entirely is cruel, our universal dark belief all hope, with all its lovely perfumed vanity, is always lies. From his long familiar pain the long familiar poison antidote arises with its universal set hard grinning grimace of the jaw and its squint about the eyes and its brow pressing down.

He throws down that second card, face down too, and now grabs the box again and has them all out – 24 of them are in his hands – and, intent to tear the farce apart, he scans them fast.

Logically, there can’t be anything in there to prove the dark faith that my artistic entertainment is a carnival of lies – just think carefully and plot it out; our demonstration is far past any point of that – and yet I know the hodge podge that he’s thinking because I’ve thought it too.

First, when you first see Tarot work, you guess the cards are surely all the same, all the same and all completely vague, every one of them full of gay balloons that all fly perhaps, you guess, above vague warnings that a person must become joy and must become a friend and must become your­self and move your bowels on a proper schedule or else remain the sad unhappy wretch you are, which would, of course, answer any human question and tell any human story if you are a stupid fool.

Then perhaps you guess – after you look and see the cards are not like that at all – that this strong thing invading your brain is from The Devil, or perhaps you don’t. And The Devil is real in one sense, very real: He or she or it is a lively char­ac­ter indeed in our instinctive under­standing of our lives; for when we go to war we cast our enemies or their comman­der in that role. But I don’t see him doing that, or else I hope I don’t.

And indeed, when the anger in him did take words it was the other anger. It was a nobler anger but not completely noble, for he has step­ped into a threshold but has not stepped beyond.

First he saw the hunt for wickedness or vanity among the cards is false and gave it up. Then he dropped them on the table, laid his hands on them to keep them still. Suddenly he nailed me with a deeply bitter vivid glance, but bitter with a higher hope for decent pity rising in it.

And behind that complex glance he then declared these words out loud: “You’re breaking my world!”

So I see he feels betrayed but not by me. I’m sure I under­stood his meaning then and understand it now, both from my own thinking now and then and from experiences before and since in years of counseling and teaching.

He felt betrayed by the incessant voices saying con­stantly that magic cannot happen. For indeed, he has dedicated difficult years and years to work assembling skills for human life in a prison world where a cara­pace of bone confines the human mind and where the human soul, if one exists at all, is pale and lifeless voiceless shadow. He has sacri­ficed life to that ideology and from it garnered mainly crippling pain, and now he has discovered utter proof enormous lies are in it.

Yes, he has stepped into a threshold but has not stepped on through. And so I see my Alpha­bet­icon Tarot in this pre­liminary form has failed. Design Objective #3: It ought to be a soul guide teacher. I later saw The Moon in it was weak and fixed that.

He has cried, “You’re breaking my world!”

In that emergency I cast my eyes into imaginary worlds to find the proper helpful answer.

I do not know it’s right, that answer I then offered him, for I have never seen him since that week and scarcely shared more than mere politenesses in the few days that were left that week of our acquaintance. And it did seem harsh, some­what, to my ears when I said it but perhaps my ears were hearing wrong and I hope I did entirely mean well for him.

I did hear it in a proper noble place when I was sitting there in human conversation after our sparse feast, casting eyes to places that I know. I heard the answer that I gave him from a darkness high and to the left, a place where – in my inborn instinct of astronomy – The Moon appears. And her answers to a wandering soul do neces­sar­ily seem harsh sometimes.

For it was this:

I waved a hand dismissingly and – in a tone that I remem­ber as not lordly but rather scorning cowardice in a veteran senior comrade’s way – I said this:

“Oh, we all get over that eventually.”

So odd it seems, and yet so true.

(- Here is the end of this blog post memoir book chapter.-)

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