Making progress…

NB: This post was written with the express permission of the querent.

Friday, June 30th, 2017, I was given the opportunity to read for the girls’ friend A—. It was a lovely experience. I had been told the Wednesday before that A— wanted a reading, which is my daughters’ code for “We want A— to have a reading.” Immediately after being told that, I began to see an older female in my mind whom I believe had been close to the young man. That was the impression that I received. For two days, she appeared in my mind to tell me how much she loved the young man. I was quite glad of it as I have recently experimented with spirit communication to questionable results. I hate questionable results.

This reading promised to be different, so when Friday came, I was quite enthusiastic. Not only did this chatty shadow of a woman show the promise of an interesting reading, but I do not really know this young man. (My oldest kids are almost twenty at this point; I don’t vet all their friends anymore.) Generally speaking, when my children’s friends have received readings from me in the past, the readings have been performed in the living room on the coffee table amid the din of teenage giggling and sideways glances. I am generally fine with this communal reading environment as it often eases other people into having readings who would not have thought to do it otherwise. The theory is sound: “If the fortune-teller man opens up the gates of Hell in this room full of friends, at least we will all be together in Perdition’s flames.”

This night, however, with the woman ready to speak, the environment seemed more intrusive. The four girls in the room, my two daughters and two other friends, were spectators of youthful curiosity rather than friendly concern. Previously, I had selected Crowley-Harris’ Thoth tarot (“the big guns”), and I gave the deck to A— so that he could choose his significator. After going through the entire deck, he chose only a single card with which he resonated, the Seven of Coins, Failure. I asked if he had read the cards as he had gone through them. He responded that he did not even notice that there were words on the cards. I smiled at his nervous and naïve honesty, but the girls howled. It was at this point, significator chosen and spirit primed, that I decided to move venues. A— and I went to the empty kitchen to finish the reading with loving, but definite instructions that we were not to be disturbed.

Over the course of many years, one thing that I have noticed is how accurate a person’s

HR 3 of Swords
Even in its saccharine, mid-eighties glory, the Hanson-Roberts Three of Swords still has bite!

choice of significator can be. When using any of the Rider-Waite-Smith family, she is certainly going to choose the Three of Swords, with its skewered heart, to represent her seemingly jinxed love life; however, when using a Marseille-type or Marseille-inspired deck, which I consider the Thoth to be, I am still struck by querents who choose non-illustrated pip cards for their significators. I tell those for whom I read to choose a card to which they feel drawn, and almost without fail, those pips are surprisingly accurate descriptions of the querents’ current situations or emotional states with regard to the reading. Alone now in the kitchen, I asked A— if he would like to change significators or if Failure–deceptively beautiful in Lady Harris’ mélange of purples—was appropriate. He agreed to keep it.

Thoth Seven Coins
Crowley’s ideas may have ended up far less lauded without Lady Frieda Harris.

A— and I begin earnestly in the quiet of the kitchen. Keeping his significator to the side, I spread my reading cloth, laid his Seven of Coins slightly to the left, and shuffled the cards. Some books and various authorities on card reading will tell the reader to give the cards to the querent for shuffling “so that the querent’s vibrations can be on the cards” or some such nonsense. Not to sound selfish, but MY vibrations need to be on those cards so those cards can talk to me. Additionally, tarot cards are generally larger than regular playing cards…and, let’s just call it what it is, tarots are far more expensive than regular playing cards. I have tried to let others shuffle my cards, but given these factors, I get too nervous about people possibly mishandling expensive cards as they awkwardly shuffle their way into a nice game of 78-Card-Pick-Up.

Choosing the significator is what the querent gets to do. Period. So I shuffled the cards as I concentrated on A— himself, asking the cards as I shuffled to give me the information that I would need to perform the reading and give him some advice with which to move forward in his life. This is all I ever ask unless the querents ask specific questions, which they very often do not. The conversation usually goes something like this: “What issue would you like to discuss as we look at the cards?” “I don’t know…I just got up the courage to sit down, and now my mind is a blank.” I also keep in mind the type of spread I intend to use, in this case, a Celtic Cross variation.

Celtic Cross Diagram
Classic Celtic Cross: image soullessly purloined from a Google search.

Long ago, I read instructions which said something to the effect of laying out the ten cards of the cross face down and reading them as the cards are turned over. Occasionally, I will read one position at a time, but I never lay the cards down first when I do that. The reason is this: I read court cards either as other people or states of the querent’s mind, so I never read court cards alone. If I were to lay out ten cards face down, I wouldn’t know where the courts were. As I lay down every position, if a court card falls first, I lay another card atop the court to give me some context either for the relationship of that person to the querent or for the querent’s state of mind in relation to the situation indicated by the second card. If another court card is drawn, I keep going until a court card no longer shows. The most I have ever gotten is four court cards plus a context card. When that many court cards are lying next to each other, a reader can be sure that the querent should focus more on him or herself because there are many outside influences or many people vying for his or her time.

Progress Pos 1In the first position of the reading for A—, the card I laid atop the significator was the Queen of Swords. Since this is a court card, I laid another card beside the Queen: the Knight of Swords. Again, a court card, so I laid a third card: the Six of Cups, Pleasure. Often, I will stop at the first position and describe the situation. If the querent does not recognize the situation, I may reshuffle and begin again.  In this case, I described the two people as I believed them to be: Swords personalities, together, whose pleasant experiences were based more in memory, in the past (the aforementioned Six of Cups). With a combination of stereotypical masculine terseness and tarot-virgin trepidation, he said only that he understood, so we continued.  Things went along smoothly until we reached the fifth position, above the significator. I am often perplexed by the fifth position and usually read it as “other information.” Many books call that position “goals,” but having lived my life rather aimlessly, I don’t understand the word and how it relates, so I tend to read these cards simply as extra information. In this case, I decided that the purpose of these cards was to give A— his message. The first card was the Queen of Cups, Thoth Qn Cupswhose veiled face and cup-nature was a lovely nod to the woman who had been communicating with me. Beside her was the Queen of Disks, whose physicality was a marked contrast to the emotional nature of the other queen.

I spoke to him of an older woman who gave me a grandmotherly or even great-grandmotherly feel. I told him that she had passed and wanted me to tell him how much she had loved him and how proud she was of him. He was “hers.” She wanted to remind him that he was not, as he perhaps believed, a “failure,” and related some things that she had called him.  He said that he recognized her description immediately and the words she had used. I then asked if she had died when he was six or seven since she kept showing him to me at that age, but alas, he is a man, and she had only passed a year and a half ago. I believe that she was showing me how cute she thought he had been as a boy, but in any case, it was a delightful experience, and she seems to have been (and I suppose still is) a sweet lady. He also recognized the other queen, a former girlfriend. All in all, good to this point.

Progress 6 and 10
The titles of the Six and Seven of Coins create a lovely contrast in the reading.

Positions 7, 8, and 9 were acknowledged and interpreted to my and the querent’s satisfaction, but the cards in the sixth and tenth positions did get my attention. The cards were the Six of Disks and the Three of Disks respectively. The cards were an interesting mirror of each other, and both were in positions of possible future. Since coins can represent possible jobs, I wanted to give the young man a sense of areas where he might succeed, especially given his rather telling significator. To give him some advice, I needed to know something about these cards, so I did something I have been learning to do as I have become more and more intimate with the cards: I asked for more information. I went “inside,” for lack of a better term. “What do these cards mean?” I asked myself. Almost immediately, I see cars and hear traffic. I said nothing. I know that I am not in my town, but am not sure where. Traffic is not a job…well, not his job, in any case. I relax a little bit and say to the cards, or to myself, or to the Universe, “No, more specific.” The view moves almost as if I am a drone hovering above a busy street, and my vision moves to a restaurant. The querent is young, but I don’t see him as the waiter-type. “No,” I thought. “More specific.” My view goes inside the restaurant. I see neon and wood and bottles. Bingo.

I say from nowhere: “A—, do you drink?”

“What?” he responds, embarrassed.

“I’m sorry… are you familiar with alcohol?”

“Yeah,” he offers timidly, “I might drank a little too much ever’ now and agin.” I laughed, and said, “I’m sorry. What I meant is, have you ever considered bartending as your career?” Finally, eyes open and interested, he says, “What?” I repeated that I see him working in a bar, and I wondered if he had ever considered it. “Holy crap, man,” he offers in his charmingly ridiculous drawl. “I was jus’ talkin’ about that, like, two days ago.” I was relieved. He was astounded. At that point, I had to ask him what he had recognized since he had been painfully silent during most of the twenty or so minutes that I had been talking. He never stopped me to tell me that I was wrong or off base, so I had simply kept going. He smiled and told me that he had dropped out of college and effectively failed a comprehensive military placement test twice, after which he was released from his military obligations. These were his failures and had been weighing heavily upon him. I told him that maybe they were not failures, but proof that he should do something else. I was an English teacher and am now in sales. I would also have failed a test that was not in one of my fields. He then told me about the woman, not a great-grandmother, but a great aunt who had just adored him and whom he recognized immediately from the language. He then mentioned the first position: the two swords people and the Six of Cups. His mother and her husband were in the process of getting a divorce, pleasant memories, not pleasure in the present.  He admitted there was very little that I had said that had not been “spot on,” and I was certainly pleased to hear it.

I am forever learning to listen to the cards and to listen to myself. Trusting one’s self can be the hardest part of reading the Tarot, but I do find myself growing more and more comfortable getting into a certain reading mindset, remembering the sacred nature of the act. I can feel myself slide more and more effortlessly into that space, that rhythm. All movement—even when it feels backward—is progress. Thank you again, A—, for the opportunity to read for you.

Review: Tarot: The Open Reading and the CBD Tarot de Marseille

I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is about Yoav Ben-Dov’s book Tarot: The Open Reading that makes me enjoy it so, that makes me feel as if this were the book I needed right now. This doesn’t happen very often. I have a minuscule cadre of books that I constantly refer to or reread for this or that information or author’s voice. This book has made the cut, but not for the information that I thought it would.

Open Reading Cover
Cover image of Tarot: The Open Reading.

First, I do enjoy Ben-Dov’s authorial voice. Yoav Ben-Dov holds a Ph. D. in the Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics and has taught at  Tel Aviv University. He writes his book as a scientist, as an academic would: he has done his research on the history, beliefs, and meanings associated with tarot throughout the years, assimilated and processed this information, and arrived at a set of rational, personal interpretations, backed by the aforementioned research that he then presents to his reader. The author acknowledges the esoteric traditions associated with tarot while deftly avoiding allegiance to any and views many of the astounding claims about tarot and its history with a healthy skepticism. As someone in the backwoods of academia myself, I can see the process and greatly appreciate it. Ben-Dov, however, infuses his book with something else that many academic treatises (and oddly, many books on the tarot) lack: love.

Within the book, readers find a comfortable introduction to what tarots are: their origins to the best of our knowledge and the two major esoteric schools to have formed a substantial canon of belief around them, namely the French and English (because why should they even agree on that?). Fortunately, Ben-Dov is concerned with recreating the Convers Marseille deck, a decidedly French School approach, though he notes immediately that since these eighteenth-century cards had no esoteric indicia, the practitioner’s own preferences, or lack thereof, would be the deciding factor. He describes the potential significance of the flow of lines, the tilt of a head, the stance of the legs, even the wrinkles in the face of a figure if he feels it of note.  Even as the author extrapolates the possible meanings of the very limited palette of colors used in the deck, he suggests that the reader bring his or her own feelings to bear when deciding what a color represents. In fact, the meanings that he does ascribe to the cards (and this is the bulk of the book) depend largely on his very painstaking and loving examination of the cards themselves. This descriptive rather than prescriptive approach to the entire reading process is a true hallmark of this work, and I, for one, must laud his gentle, but insistent urging to simply get to know the cards, whatever those cards might be.

Another monumental gift is Ben-Dov’s introduction to the reading session itself, and I find myself reading and rereading this section of the book. Here, we find the personality of the author and hear his care and concern for these cards and what we do with them. As a card reader who has occasionally slipped into lazy habits, I needed this section of the book now. Ben-Dov, surrounded as he is by science and the desire for empiricism, still finds magic in the universe, even if that magic is simply science we don’t yet understand. He reaffirms something I thought I knew, but had forgotten: the need to pay attention.  Details, he stresses, are important. He talks much of the environment of the session, the temperament of the session, the atmosphere. He encourages the reader to do what I had forgotten: make the reading a sacred act. For this, I am grateful.

The cards themselves are Ben-Dov’s other expression of love for the tarot. The CBD Tarot de Marseille is quite an accomplishment. I already own several Marseille-style decks and historical reproductions of other similar decks, so I didn’t really know what to expect.. What makes this deck different, special? The answer again falls to Ben-Dov and his obvious affection for these cards. He and his collaborators have recreated, not reinvented, a 1760s-era Convers Marseille deck. With regard to some color choices and facial expressions, there were some compromises to historical authenticity, which Ben-Dov addresses, but by and large, if there was a consistent “mistake” in the originals, then any historical idiosyncrasies were kept. He explains this as well. This is a faithful recreation and won’t look like a historical reproduction for a few hundred years.

cardback-154x300
CBD Tarot de Marseille back design

The images are so clear and crisp that I find myself looking them over from top to bottom. I have used Marseille decks before, but I have never seen a Marseille deck so lovingly recreated with line quality and color quality as beautiful as this. They are a wonderful size, as tall as the standard Rider-Waite but narrower, and the quality of the cards themselves is outstanding. Ben-Dov states that he used the highest quality cardstock that the Belgian printer CartaMundi offers, and I believe him. The cards slide seamlessly over each other and shuffle beautifully. The back design that Ben-Dov created is also a lovely accent.

Though I do hate to compare, some things beg for comparison. Below, I have taken a picture of four common Marseille decks. In every picture, they are, from left to right, the Fournier Marseille, A.G. Müller’s Convos,  Ben-Dov’s CBD Marseille, and the Grimaud Ancien Marseille. I don’t think that I could adequately describe how different “Marseille” decks could be, but these pictures show the intimate differences between these decks. The Fournier really does its own thing in comparison, but I like it, so here it is. The Convos was surprising. Until I made this comparison, I had never noticed that the Convos cards were as wide as the standard Rider-Waite, thereby altering the composition of the cards to suit the wider format. To the far right, the classic Grimaud looks the most like the CBD, but if one enlarges the pictures, the differences in line quality and color are immediately apparent. For my money, the CBD wins, hands down. Thank you again, Dr. Ben-Dov, for these contributions to the world of tarot.

For more information on the production of these items or how to order the book Tarot: The Open Reading or the CBD Tarot de Marseille deck itself, please go to Ben-Dov’s website www.cbdtarot.com.

Addendum: It is with the greatest sadness that I report Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s sudden passing in December 2016. When I first published the review of his tarot, we communicated briefly, and he was as warm, friendly, and supportive as his dedication to and love of his work suggested. I offer my sincerest condolences to his friends and family.

I’m pickin’ up cinder blocks on the way home…

Wife and I were taking a night out on the town to celebrate our twenty-first anniversary. We had chosen one of the three nice restaurants that we have in town. It was not a difficult decision. One of the places likes to push the coat issue, and our anniversary is in June. I am not wearing a coat in Mississippi in June unless someone very close to me dies and is being buried in a freezer. With two left, we chose the one to which we had been given a gift card. As I said, not difficult.

As we made our way down the sidewalk, still overdressed for the 90-degree heat with 90 percent humidity that lingers at 6 o’clock in the evening, the phone rang as I was reaching for the door to the restaurant. I look down, and it is one of our daughters. She had left at approximately the same time we did, driving to a friend’s house so that they could then go see another friend’s play. Immediately, I am thrown into a maelstrom of emotion. First, annoyance. Why is this girl calling? She is eighteen years old and knows we are going out to eat. For God’s sake, could she not have given us the hour? Then, when I hear the troubled tone, parenthood kicks in, and I want to fly to her aid, rescue her from danger, and make all the monsters go away. Hell, this is Mississippi; some fathers will fire off a couple of rounds into the closet just to prove their princesses are safe from the monsters.

I was no longer concerned that I was overdressed for the heat. My wife was getting nervous. Thoughts of accidents, ambulances, injuries, sexual predators, and that damned Liam Neeson movie Taken all sprang to mind recalling to me how much I loved my daughter and how underprepared I am to save her from the European sex trade. Her voice was trembling, and I could hear the tears beginning as she said, “Dad, I’m okay.” I repeat what she says to Wife, who is beside herself at this point. She wants to rip the phone from my hand as badly as she doesn’t want to hear anymore. My daughter continued that she felt a large bump as she was driving, but the bump went away, so she kept driving to her friend’s house. It was only her friend who had noticed the car. Again, a bump and then no more…I immediately went to the most logical place: Dear God, she hit the neighbor kid and dragged him to his death, stuck to the front of her car like the largest, most unfortunate grill-splattered beetle. No, and this is where parental over-reaction plays in favor of youth still waiting for their brains to come on, it seems that my princess, my angel, one of the three lights of my parental life, had, perhaps, just slightly grazed the eighty-year-old barn in our own backyard. I repeat, my daughter had tipped the side of a barn with her passenger-side headlight and then accordioned the metal of that quarter of her car until just in front of the passenger-side door. But kept driving. And left. And didn’t know anything had happened until her friend pointed in horror at her car.

Dinner was ruined, of course. It is so hard to enjoy over-priced food after having been sent a picture of your daughter’s wrecked and ridiculously underinsured car. Not only that, but after determining that she was never in any real danger (and aren’t we glad since I don’t have any “particular set of skills”), I was thrown into perhaps the biggest Mississippi White Trash dilemma of my life.

I have always prided myself on having a certain level of education and, therefore, have developed a certain social distance from a few people, not by choice necessarily, but a differing of interests. (And I must admit that at least one set of grandparents did foster a sense of superciliousness to which I took like a duck to water.) Honestly, it’s kinda my thing. With the exception of one preacher uncle and myself, every other male member of my immediate and extended family either drives an eighteen-wheeler, works in the oil field, or drives an eighteen-wheeler while awaiting the recovery of the oil field so that he can get that oil-field job back. They never attended college and never wanted to. I, on the other hand, started majoring in art and ended up with a Bachelor’s degree in French. I take my uselessness very seriously. The problem with blue collar work isn’t the blue collar, it’s all the work. I am an English instructor for goodness’ sake. White collar doesn’t get much whiter than I. Yet here I was on the horns of a dilemma for which even time served in a North Delta trailer park had not prepared me.

I was scheduled to get a tattoo the next day. I mean, not just any tattoo, but the left shoulder to match the design on my right. I had an appointment. My guy on the coast was prepped. (If you are in the neighborhood, go see Sean at Jack and Diane’s in Gulfport, Mis’sippi! He tattoos so gently that I assume he must also be a tender lover.) What was I going to do? On the one hand, I had a daughter, love of my life and fruit of the old loins, whose car needed immediate attention. On the other hand, I really wanted this guy to unleash a swarm of hornets on my left shoulder to cement my dedication to this mid-life crisis. I had never imagined the thought process would be so complicated when determining if money should go to car repair for my family or a snazzy tattoo for myself. It’s not as if we were saving up money for curtains so the baby could have the bed sheets back from the windows of the single-wide, right?  I had never felt like such white trash.

Well, I am a responsible adult, a husband, a father, and a college instructor, so the decision was made. My new left shoulder looks awesome and is a true complement to the right. I will donate my rebel flag to the flag-less and claim that as the right to use my White Trash Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card in this situation. My daughter’s car? Well, let’s just say we are looking for the best deal on repairs. Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if the I can hear the marble in the paint can rattle as they are trying to “match” the quarter panel (a word I have learned since this situation has developed) to the rest of the car. It will keep for now, and it runs perfectly…well, enough that we can move it to mow the grass and we can trust it to get my precious babies to the “cum’myoon’ty” college (where no one will notice) and back, and right now, that is good enough.

Gimme that ole time religion…*

Mississippi has a long history of doing things its own way, and we have been the butt of many jokes because of it. I used to resent the jokes because so many people do not know what it is like to live in Mississippi, what it means to be a Mississippian. Now, however, even I am reconsidering what it means to be a Mississippian. Is this label something of which I can ever be proud? I just don’t know.

Recently, Mississippi has made the news again…mostly from various states openly proclaiming that they would no longer pay for official transportation from their states to ours. I appreciate the posture, Minnesota. I do. I am on your side. Of course, I am also going to take a stand against the African blood-diamond cartels by no longer purchasing extravagant diamond-encrusted jewelry. Wait? Did I ever? No, and I don’t mean to sound jaded, but how many good Minnesotans of deep conscience had you sent to Mississippi prior to the passage of HB 1523? Oh. So along with New York, Vermont, and Washington, what you mean is that you will continue to not send people here… as you had previously not sent people here. Again, go team. I get it. Trust me, we are used to it. Hey, if there were a 51st state clamoring for our title of “America’s Favorite Third World Country,” we would be unbearably cocky about it: “They so stupid. And poor. Just look at’em! Ha!” Hence, the expression heard all over the legislative halls of Alabama: “Thank God for Mississippi,” which in no way suggests that they are praying for the betterment of our people and well-being, by the way; it means that without us, they would be last.

The law in question is House Bill 1523 (HB 1523). Section One states nothing more than the name of the act, which is telling in and of itself: “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”  This act was designed to “provide certain protections regarding a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction for persons, religious organizations, and private associations.” Whatever is this in response to? Why did our great state pass this law? I suppose it is our long memory and our logical way of thinking. Allow me to demonstrate: after being forced to end slavery, and then forced to end Jim Crow laws, and then forced to integrate (practically all) our public schools, and then forced to take prayer out of these newly integrated schools, the State of Mississippi received a pigeon bearing news that we was about to be forced once again into some unholy, secular pact: the marryin’ of the gays. Lord, I seen it comin’ since homuhsekshality was invented back in the Sixties!  I felt the ground tremble as people rolled over in their graves. Great day in the mornin’.  I can see the thorns on the crown of our Savior; that is how close he is to coming back for Judgment Day. This is it!  Dear Lord, O, Dear Lord, I knew you left California and Florida attached ‘cause you was awaitin’ on us all to fall under the yoke of Satan’s Federal Gub’ment. Well, not so Mis’sippi. When the Rapture comes and those hundred and forty-four thousand get taken up to their heavenly reward, it’s gone be them Christians in Israel and the whole state of Mis’sippi, Lord. Yes, it is. Praise Jesus.

You should be horrified at how accurate I am. This is the “thought” process. Trust me. Additionally, the language of the law may be a problem. It seems that the people who wrote this bill were educated here as well, that is to say, poorly. One of the problems that the law makers will run into is the assumption of consensus on the definition of “sincerely held religious belief.” This is Mississippi, where the phrase intimates “sincerely held Christian belief” of a certain flavor, and if anyone believes any differently, he is lying to himself. When is Mississippi going to pass laws closing businesses on Yom Kippur or recognizing Sharia law in the case of some uppity Muslim woman? I wouldn’t hold my breath. In all fairness, I can see the bakers’ issue. If I truly did hold a particular distaste for any certain celebration, I can imagine that I would not like to be forced to participate by way of pastry. Now that I think of it, this is probably why there is such a paucity of Jehovah’s Witness bakeries; they don’t really celebrate anything, and I can imagine that they would probably not want to anger Jesus by filling unclean birthday parties with lovingly crafted Jehovah’s Witness cakes. What if someone asked for a King Cake for one of those pagan Catholic Mardi Gras parties? The list of objections is never-ending.

The scope of this bill is far reaching and hate-filled, and if this legislation is what it means to be a Mississippi Christian, then I am glad I am not one. Under this legislation, which not only “protects” bakers who don’t wish to make wedding cakes for homosexual weddings, people are allowed to deny gay couples housing, etc., as long as that person has a “sincerely held religious belief.” In the case of marriage licenses, which the aforementioned Satanic Gub’ment is forcing us to issue to these unholy alliances, clerks in municipal or federal offices may “recuse” themselves from serving the same-sex couple so long as there is someone else on hand lined up to do it in their stead. I find this to be a very Christian attitude: holding firm to one’s convictions (i.e., biases, prejudices) by throwing one’s co-worker or supervisor under Satan’s bus. What would Jesus do?

The blatant hypocrisy of the law’s supporters is maddening. These people are so thrilled that their beliefs are finally being recognized legally after centuries of Christians being forced to hide in basements and caves, never having been allowed to show the love and compassion of Christ in public for fear of ridicule. Yes, this pervading sense of persecution sickens me. The idea that the federal government would mandate an end to religiously-enforced hatred and bias is too much for us. According to this act, section 2, clauses a and b, the people of conviction in question believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman where sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. Now, call me caustic for paying attention, but I know people who have praised this act, yet have not a single legitimate biological grandchild. I am sorry, and I do hate to pay attention here, but did not the wording of the law suggest that procreative activities were reserved for within the sacred union? I guess we’ll just have to hate the sin and love the sinner, like the bumper sticker, excuse me, Bible says.

In case anyone doesn’t see where this is headed, let me clarify it for you. I know store owners who have been waiting sixty years to take the locks off those old side doors. Before you know it, the state of Mississippi will treat our homosexuals so well that separate water fountains will be installed with tasteful little rainbow stickers to indicate who should drink from them. I have tried for forty years to be proud of Mississippi and, honestly, to make Mississippi proud of me, but this law is more than I can abide. I still have no intention of leaving, and playing nice wearies me. At this point, if Mississippi can’t be proud of me, then the state can revile me, and perhaps, if I am lucky, I will be sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of the state with my ideas.

 

*As of 01 July 2016, the bill in its entirety was struck down as unconstitutional by federal Judge Carlton Reeves. Although our guvner and his ilk hope for an “aggressive appeal,” this ruling does give me something I don’t get often: hope. (The factual details can be found in Jackson’s Clarion Ledger newspaper.)

שְׁכִינָה, indeed.

Southern Christianity, in my experience, is quite fundamentalist (or Fundamentalist, if you prefer) in its outlook, and though I might wish that I could say that these beliefs are foreign to me, they are not. I was reared in the church, the Southern protestant church, that is, yet over the years, I have come to find the way that they think about most things to be abhorrent to the intellect and incompatible with “real life,” a term which I am forced to use to indicate practically everything that occurs outside of the church doors.

Some people who know me well, and they are few, have told me for years that they are still praying for my soul, and please do not think that these words are idle, spoken out of some deep-seated Southern politesse, they are not. These people sincerely beseech the Almighty on my behalf so that I might one day believe as they do. I almost said “that my soul might be saved,” and however true that statement may be, the expression I chose feels more accurate.  While I am genuinely grateful for their love and concern, I also fear that that their time could be better spent doing any number of other activities: standing, learning a new language, fornicating (I told you I listened in church), or, I don’t know, reading a book that is not the Bible. God will forgive them; it’s his thing, right?

One of the worst parts of this debacle is that Southern fundamentalists truly have no idea that they have no idea. Most of what I have seen passing for religion around here falls under the rubric of social tradition or even prejudice confirmed with snippets of Scripture used as sermon seed by preachers who often sound so uneducated that one wonders what their actual, pragmatic use might be, had they not the Spirit to guide them. Even in one of the larger churches in the area, the preacher, a Ph. D. no less, kept referring to Jesus as the presence of God on earth, which is fine, by the way, since this is a fundamental Christian tenet, but he then decided to th’ow a little razzle-dazzle on the audience by referring to this physical presence on the earth as “Shekinah glory.” Aside from some serious debate on the actual meaning of “Shekinah,” nothing impresses an idiot so much as throwing in a Hebrew word to make the gospel message sound authentic, except that he kept repeating with an ever-increasing fervor, “SheKYna GLO-ry! SheKYna GLO-ry!” I assume no one else caught that he was mispronouncing the word, but the nasal whine of his spiritual fury coupled with a simple mispronunciation was the perfect pall on my day, if not my ear.

I know that I sound bitter and mean, looking for any error upon which I might pounce to prove that Christianity, and Southern Christianity in particular, is a hoax unwittingly perpetrated against masses of people who cannot be labeled “victims” because of their abject willingness. My faith was not crushed by the mispronunciation of a single Hebrew word by a fat yokel with a degree in theology. I suppose that the issue that has really fueled my distaste for the religion of my youth is Faith itself. I have very little. I don’t care to have more. In his defense of the separation of Church and State, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.” One must question everything, even one’s self and personal beliefs every day. This is essential.

In Mississippi, where we still smart at references to the War of Northern Aggression (the Civil War, if you are unfamiliar) and are quite proud of a certain social rebelliousness, people cling to faith, not because it satisfies our rebellion (though recently that has come into question), but because it is easy. One does not have to think about any social issue. The Bible has all the answers, not because one has read it and found these answers, but because the preacher has said this. He has said so, a preacher whose rural background has given him an understanding of seventeenth-century English only slightly better than his understanding of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. A black-and-white world is easy; shades of gray are hard. Faith, especially the unwarranted, uneducated faith of the Deep South, must be questioned relentlessly. It is a detriment to our economy, our state, our reputation, our intellects, and our souls.

Review: The Fountain Tarot

I suppose it is always best to start at the beginning, and for this deck, that is the box itself.  The Fountain Tarot comes in a beautiful silver box made of nice, thick cardboard with a strong magnetic closure. Additionally, there is a color-coordinated ribbon that winds its way from the left side of the box, underneath the deck and book, and back out on the right so that one might softly lift the deck from the box rather than just dumping the deck into a hand. Overall, it is quite an elegant package, and I have never once been tempted to find another home for this deck.

In his accompanying guidebook, Jason Gruhl separates the trumps, or Major Arcana, into four divisions. The first three groups of seven cards will be recognizable to most: the Physical, the Spiritual, and the Ethereal. Then, of course, there is the fourth division, which consists of only one card, the twist that names this deck in the first place: the Fountain, a seventy-ninth card.  My first impression of this card was that it was a kind of synthesis, a compromise between the limitations of Waite’s World and the expansiveness of Crowley’s Universe, but The Fountain is something different. Waite and (especially) Crowley belonged to organizations intent on categorizing the spiritual world. They then meditated on those categories to more fully comprehend a universal order, and this is essentially Crowley’s definition of The Universe in The Book of Thoth. Crowley concentrated on the manifestation of Will. The Fountain feels diametrically opposed to such concepts. The Fountain card is, to quote Gruhl, “the waking from the dream of separateness and identity, and the recognition of one’s ‘Self’ as not only connected to all things, but all things—divine nature.” He goes on to write that this card encourages the sitter to “relinquish all control and remain quiet…master less and to just be…” (43). I am sure that some could argue that Thoth’s Universe and The Fountain could be describing the same state, but the intention or, at least, the means of agency do seem far different.

In the book’s descriptions of the cards themselves, I do detect a strong hint of Golden Dawn sensibilities coupled with a very comforting, updated spirituality that contemporizes the cards quite nicely. The author uses short subtitles within the book itself, and the explanations and affirmations are not long, but never seem abridged or curt. I also appreciate the fact that the subtitles that Gruhl uses are not on the cards themselves.

As for the cards, “well done” seems staid and lifeless as a description. The deck’s edges are gilt in silver; the card stock is lush and sensual to the touch. I will say that new, the cards can feel a bit stiff and my hands were quite sparkly after the first few reads, but after that, the cards shuffle beautifully and the silver stays on the card edges rather than my hands. The backs reflect the tension within the deck, a mass of organized angles softened by the colors used, and they are reversible. I must admit that I have rarely connected so quickly and pleasantly to a deck, and my readings were meaningful practically out of the box.

The paintings and imagery by Jonathan Saiz have a minimalist feel, but I have already had a sitter request them again because the cards are not only beautiful, but also, in her words, “comfortable.” When she said it, I knew that she had found the word for which I had already been searching. The paintings are beautifully executed, yes, but they also include “real” people, for lack of a better term. The cards include people we know who are then enveloped by an artistic ethereality that we can all share. In combination with the effects of light and color and an infusion of significant geometric shapes, the cards come alive. The Fountain’s Empress is one of the most inviting and personable that I have ever seen. Saiz’s Lovers, though admittedly not my favorite Lovers ever created, combines curves and angles, the union of sphere and cube, with figures of calm lovers whose potential of touch and transmission recalls the electricity of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Court cards, often difficult for readers, are given individual personalities with the barest symbolism. The King of Swords is little more than a face with angles of color and shape, yet he is an individual with whom we are immediately familiar. Similarly, the King of Cups is as much an interplay of circle and triangle as it is the portrait of a man. The Queen of Coins dazzles regally from her verdant effusion, and the Knights and Pages are all intimate portraits of real people.

The pips continue this minimalist vision with people and figures interacting with a number of suit emblems that is often reminiscent of the Waite progression, though there is far less emphasis on telling a story through the images so much as creating a particular emotional resonance, which Saiz accomplishes masterfully. I suspect a familiarity with Waite would be nice, but I don’t see it necessary to appreciate the speed of the Eight of Wands, the ennui of the Four of Cups, the dread of the Nine of Swords, or the isolation of the Four of Coins.

I will mention a few last items before I end this review. On the trumps, I even noticed that in a reversal of the usual practice, the name of the card is listed before its Roman numeral. In this deck, I could just as easily have gone without the numbers (further trivializing some tarotists obsession with the placements of Justice and Strength).  The name of the trump is found at the top of the card. On the pips, the name is found on the bottom of the cards and is completely spelled out, no hard to read Arabic numerals here. This only adds to the easy readability of the Fountain Tarot. These details may be what is so special about this deck, and though I have not mentioned Andi Todaro by name, I suspect that many of these design decisions may have been hers. The Fountain Tarot creates the subtle impression that there is nothing, no color, no angle, no title, no aspect of card, book, or box that is untouched by intention, and the tarot world is richer for this addition.

For further information on this deck and how to purchase it, go to http://www.fountaintarot.com.

Why “Tarot King of Mississippi”?

 

Obviously, why not? I enjoy the bravado of it, and to my knowledge, the title has not been claimed, so again, why not? It is akin to claiming that one is the tailor of the Emperor’s New Clothes, for the tarot underground in Mississippi is practically non-existent and in no small measure for legitimate fear of personal and social reprisals associated with being a member of a minority practice, if not belief. So, yes, “Tarot King of Mississippi,” the ruler of an almost invisible kingdom of shadows and whispers found within that lovely landmass between New Orleans and Mobile.

In answer to the question “What or who am I?” I will say this: I am a (let’s say) slightly overweight mostly-European-descended man in his mid-forties with maddeningly thin hair, married for over two decades, who has with his beloved wife produced some “chirren” (that’s a Southernism for young’uns). As future blog posts will no doubt attest, I am also involved in education, or what passes for it around here.

The one thing I think everyone needs to know is this: I am still not quite sure why I am doing this.  I have enjoyed the blogs of others, especially when they are well written or interesting, and I hope that my writings/rantings may perhaps amuse a certain populace, but at its core, my desire here is to collect and organize thoughts about myself, my beliefs, my family, my history, and my state, and what all that means after four decades living under the shadow of the rodeo-large Buckle of the Bible Belt…if it means anything. And of course, Tarot…you know, “them fortune teller cards.”  Perhaps I really just want to work out years of bitter cynicism to a wider audience. My Libran nature abhors conflict, so I will be as honest as diplomatically possible while splashing about the puddles of profundity that my fellow statesmen fear to be oceans.

I stand behind everything that I write until I change my mind.