Permanent Ink In Your Eye

“You have to look at the card for a few seconds before you see that the animals that pull the chariot have neither reigns nor bridles. It’s the Captain James T. Kirk card, the card of leaping before looking, of burned bridges and uncovered asses. The card of thinking you know what’s going on when you don’t. As a message for the reader, it was ambiguous.”

–Rosemary Edghill

If almost anyone in my social network sent me a text that said, “I just hit myself in the face!” I’d respond with something like, “Oh no! Are you okay? How did that happen?” However, when I receive the same message from my buddy Angelo, I’m usually like, “Good job, but you really don’t have to tell me every time you masturbate.”

To steal a turn of phrase from Co-Witch A., Angelo approaches the carnal arts like the rest of us eat dessert: Voraciously, and with gusto. And please know that if his vibrant enthusiasm for sex was causing unmanagability in other areas, I’d be the first to pack his ass off to convent school. Thing is, he has the same level enthusiasm for pretty much everything. Whereas most people experience a variety of preferential emotions, from aversion to apathy to appreciation to adoration, Angelo has two speeds: asleep, and “OH HOLY GOD, THIS CHICKEN SALAD IS LIFE-CHANGING.”

Most recently, Angelo launched himself on a mission to come up with a concept for his next tattoo, and it was with no little happy pride that he emailed me to show off the design he’d decided to have etched on his bicep:

thurisaz
Totes innocuous, yo.

“Isn’t it amazing?!” he wrote. “It’s simple, clean and meaningful. PERFECT.”

His glee is always infectious, but something about the rune he’d picked was niggling at me. The runes themselves are decidedly not my forte, as I tend to shy away from anything occult I can’t pronounce, but seeing as how I have the entire Internet at my disposal, I poked around and quickly found a name and description.

Thurisaz. “Thorn.” Conflict, destruction, violent aggression, raping and pillaging, generalized stabbiness and male sexuality. Or, as Angelo saw it, conflict, destruction, violent aggression, raping and pillaging, generalized stabbiness and MALE SEXUALITY (-ALITY -Ality -ality…).

In an attempt to distract him with metaphysics until I could figure out a nice way to throw rocks at his joy, I was all, “Hey, that reminds me of the geomantic figure Rubeus.” To which Angelo responded,”Dude! You should get that as a tattoo when I get mine!” While I appreciated his determination to include me in his escapades, I’m about as likely to get a tattoo of Rubeus as I am to have the word “republican” branded on my forehead. What I am likely to do is have a controlled meltdown over his identification with Thurisaz, but only because I fundamentally disagree with his interpretation, and I’m never, ever wrong about anything.

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Ship of Tools

altar1

Please find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly eleventy-billion times over the course of the last two decades:

Wiccan Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a carved phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”

And now, a translation:

Wiccan Newbie – “I don’t want to put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”

Wiccan Oldie – “I’ve never put any actual effort into this. Please validate me.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but I gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest NeoPagan pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find easier, softer ways right out of the starting gate, or teachers who’d rather put on fine airs and treat students like serfs than actually, y’know, teach, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druidy things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.

Ritual tools are a lot more than seasonal decorations. I mean, the wand does correspond to the element of Air, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan; the ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit on the altar being Fiery.

Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.

Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take awhile, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer, and have the nail exactly where I want it within five seconds.

But for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple more hyperbolic examples:

“I don’t actually use Tarot cards to read Tarot. What I do is visualize the deck, and then I give a reading based on whatever cards I end up thinking about.”

“So you just think about the cards you feel best answer your clients’ questions?”

“You know, real clients have faith in my abilities.”

“It’s a minor outpatient procedure, in which we’re going to claw open your throat and tear out the lipoma with our bare hands.”

“Um… won’t that be painful?”

“Yes, but real patients don’t need anesthesia.”

Tools come in handy. They enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is a tangible extension of my will; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my consecrated sparkling grape juice straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole honking bunch of ways to practice Witchcraft without using them (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all). But turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to obtain or understand it is just lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.

It’s tempting to toss out the aspects of Wicca that strike us as unnecessary, or boring, or just plain icky. However, the more we get rid of, the less we have to work with, both phyiscally and spirtually. And we should be working at this, you guys. We work a rite, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, we cut, we open and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice.

So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a tool and get busy.

Goreymantic Edwardination

I was first introduced to the art of Edward Gorey, as were many of my generation, through the opening credits of Mystery! on PBS:

As a kid, I never watched a full episode of the show — by the time Diana Rigg appeared to announce the detective du jour, I’d already wandered away to play with dolls or plot world domination or whatever 5-year-old me did for fun. Incidentally, in college I spent a three-day weekend watching back-to-back Mystery! reruns, specifically because Sarah and I had gotten cast in a (truly baffling) play called The Business of Murder, and it turned out that the only word I couldn’t say in a British accent was “murder,” which (as the title suggests) I had to utter at least once every page. After listening to 72 hours worth of fictional investigators shouting, “My God! Then the mehr-dehr-ehr must be…” that particular conundrum was resolved.

But I digress.

When I was sixteen, I spent six weeks at a summer program in Ithaca, New York, where, in a head souvenir shop, I came across a poster of The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It was love at first macabre sight, and soon I was snatching up copies of Gorey’s picture books wherever I could find them. I also ended up with editions of Dracula, Men and Gods and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats illustrated by Gorey, and if I could just find a living room set upholstered with scenes from The Curious Sofa, my life would be complete.

Recently, I started wondering if Gorey ever created his own Tarot deck. I can’t Tarot my way out of a wet paper sack, but because I felt like there should be an Edward Gorey Tarot deck, I decided there was an Edward Gorey Tarot deck (see how my brain works?), and I set myself to scouring the Internet, where I discovered the laminated gem that is the Fantod Pack.

The Fantod Pack (fantod being defined as “a state of worry or nervous anxiety; irritability”) consists of 20 cards, each with a series of calamitous meanings: For instance, the Waltzing Mouse can indicate loss of jewelry, morbid cravings or disorders of the large intestine, while the Bundle portends inadequate drainage, a broken engagement or a train accident. It quickly becomes clear that the deck was never meant for actual divination — instead, it’s designed to give humorously catastrophic readings, and would actually be quite at home among the light-hearted, DIY oracle books Victorian ladies used to leave lying about in their drawing rooms as amusements (of which I own several, because of course I do).

The problem here is that I am me, and as such, if I buy a fortune-telling deck – satirical or not – I am going to use it to tell some motherfucking fortunes. Consulting the instruction booklet, I noticed that each card corresponds to either a month or a day, so that the querent will have a good idea as to when he or she will be struck down by chilblains (as foretold by the Burning Head). Pulling four cards at random, I wrote down the month/day each signified, broke those down to their numerical values, then went binary and marked them as even (two dots) or odd (one dot). I ended up with the following spread:

Fantod Geomancy

If we look at that last column, we have the geomantic figure Laetitia, which translates as joy, good health, auspicious beginnings and luck. So not only did we manage legit divination with the Fantod Pack, but we got a favorable reading as well.

I am… thoroughly impressed with us. But also, I’m kind of cringing at myself, since I’m acting all, “Finally, a unique and convenient way to practice geomancy,” like I don’t already have a drawer full of decks and dice and coins and throwsticks, each of which was, at one time, my favorite (and “last one, I promise, not even looking for another”) method of generating the figures. On the other hand, I sometimes go months without reading and get rusty as all hell, so if it takes an extra deck of cards or set of kitten knucklebones or whatever every now and again to get me back into the only form of divination that’s ever worked for me, I’m willing to roll with that.

Oh, speaking of rolling, please know that my older tools don’t just get tossed out when new ones come along — I’m not that much of a capitalist consumer. In fact, my original geomantic dice recently found their way to my office, where they’ve added a lovely decorative touch to an otherwise utilitarian cauldron:

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Assuming his ghost isn’t furious with me, I’d like to think Eddie G. would approve.

Witch. Boozehound. Notary Public.

I was trying to get my office organized this morning, and I opened the top drawer of my filing cabinet to put some stuff away, and then I stopped for a moment and thought, “Wow. This is a painfully honest snapshot of my life.”

So I took a picture.

desk drawer

The stone tile under the notary stamp on the right side of the front compartment reads, I fear the man who drinks water and so remembers this morning what the rest of us said last night. I like how I covered it up so as not to draw attention to my alcoholism, even though, y’know, there’s a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous directly across from it. Hopefully, any snooping co-worker will be too distracted by the mojo bags and the Devil Girl box to worry about whether or not I have a terrible drinking problem.

On Confusing Geomantic Charts and Geomantic Competency

I am sharing this essay from The Digital Ambler because a) it’s awesome, and b) I wanted to see what the “Reblog” button does.

The Digital Ambler

I started studying geomancy in college, and I was blessed to go to a university with a huge library and good connections.  I’ll always fondly remember hauling my ass to the Old Stacks on grounds, and walking up the claustrophobic submarine-esque stairwell to get to the parapsychology and occult aisles, and finding tomes of occult knowledge from a variety of traditions across the world, including geomancy (which was often mixed up with feng shui manuals written in Classical Chinese and Korean as well as African divination that was only tangentially related).  Of these books, I have to credit Stephen Skinner and his out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy with really getting me started in my research.  His up-to-date version of the book Geomancy in Theory and Practice is something every geomancer should have in their library; it’s a wealth of knowledge on the historical development and context of geomancy…

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Reading Into the Hula Hoop

Many moons ago, during the glorious Golden Age of Miss Cleo‘s benevolent reign, Sarah called to announce that she’d landed a job as a telephone psychic. She’d been reading Tarot for a number of years and was both talented and adept, so going pro seemed like the logical next step.

“I’m really excited to be doing something with this skill,” she explained. “And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to help people.”

I cooed excitement right along with her, and joyously pounced on the phone when she called me back to report on her first shift.

“How was it?” I asked.

“THEY ARE PIECES OF PAPER,” she screamed. “LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER WITH DRAWINGS ON THEM.”

Thus ended her career in prophesy.

Sarah, like many readers, approaches divination from a pragmatic, Jungian standpoint (i.e., “Let’s use the pattern created by a random scattering of archetypical symbols to access your subconscious mind and allow you to see what you already know about the matter at hand”), and I think she anticipated the same from her clients. Instead, she was pummeled with questions like, “Will my five-year-old survive the surgery?” These clients were not calling for objective answers: They were desperate for the relief that comes with good news, and they were willing to fork over $1.99 for each additional minute until they got it. Only a few calls in and already emotionally exhausted, Sarah traded her deck for a tattered white flag and disconnected her landline.

Money, as Mam’zelle Lauper reminds us, changes everything. Transactions produce expectations. Just as you wouldn’t pay a service representative to heap abuse upon you (unless, y’know, you’re into that), people do not pay psychics to say, “Go ahead and pick out a tombstone; the spirits recommend granite.” To put it in Medieval terms, there’s a reason why the position of Court Astrologer had an unfortunate turnover rate and no health insurance.

For years, Sarah’s foray into the “Call Me Now!” industry served as a heady warning whenever I started considering divination as a viable source of income. That is, of course, until I was actually presented with the opportunity to make money giving online readings, at which point any cautionary tales were drowned out by my Inner Fortune Whore yelling about celebrity and riches and maybe getting to hang out with Dionne Warwick. Continue reading