CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
Historians must reconstruct the past out of hazy memory. "Once upon a time" requires "second sight." The "third eye" of intuition can break the "fourth wall" of conventional perspectives. Instead of "pleading the fifth," historians can take advantage of the "sixth sense" and be in "seventh heaven." All with the power of hindpsych, the "eighth wonder of the world." It has been said that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Therein lies the importance of Tarot readings for antiquity. When we confirm what has already occurred, we break the shackles of the past, freeing ourselves to chart new courses into the future.
The School of Hard Knocks: Five Tips on Designing a Reading Deck for Someone Else
Being asked to design a divination deck for a third party might sound fun, likely feels flattering, and possibly will prove to be profitable. However, the hardest lesson of the process is an abstraction until it begins to feel all-too real: when you create cards for someone else, you're ultimately not in control, no matter how profoundly connected you find yourself to the cards in the process. Perhaps as with any form of art, when you create a reading deck that's worth anything, your very soul goes into the work. If the project ultimately gets caught up in limbo or permanently shelved, you're left in an excruciatingly uncomfortable position with little to no recourse. I'll offer a crucial checklist for prospective card designers, but first a brief background on my latest experience working for a big name in the industry.
In early 2013, I was approached by world-renowned mind-reader Kenton Knepper to design a special deck of cards. If you've heard of magicians like Doug Henning, Derren Brown, or David Blaine, you've seen Kenton's innovations in action. He's a stage magician who doubles as an honest-to-goodness wizard (as well as maestro of the crystal bowls), and his goal isn't to trick people but to initiate and facilitate genuine, life-changing insights based upon his life-long study of the Mystery traditions. Now Kenton didn't quite contact me from out of the blue — we'd been acquaintances for years, first coming onto each other's radar when Weiser Books published my Magic Words: A Dictionary, which is a complement to Kenton's Wonder Words study course. One day I felt inspired to work up a little visual gift in his honor, to express my ongoing admiration of his expertise. Here's what it looked like:
So I had put a little energy out there, and on the very same day Kenton returned that energy with an offer: "Maybe you are the person to collaborate with me in creating a system of polarity and metaphor in images. The idea is to help people come to their own conclusions, and making more 'wide awake dreams' with simple imagery. Climbing a ladder with a ceiling underneath, falling up stairs with a leg tied to a balloon, that sort of thing. Interested in this?"
I was most definitely interested, especially in the idea of a card system that would be "self-intuiting" and thereby allow a subject to decode his or her own insights, with the reader acting not as a professor who does all the talking but as a facilitator who listens to what the subject sees in the cards and asks questions as prompts when necessary. I responded to Kenton: "Yes, indeed! I might try to work up card imagery for the two examples you shared (climbing a ladder with a ceiling underneath, falling up stairs with a leg tied to a balloon), to see if my approach feels right for what you're envisioning with this project. If we're in sync, let's definitely do this! I love the concept -- it's very much my 'thing,' so ... yes!"
Kenton added that he was envisioning an "occult science feel" for the designs (as is typical of my work), with a rationality on display but also an aura of strange mystique. Five days later, I submitted my drafts of his initial card ideas:
I had taken pains to make the imagery visually "work" either upright or reversed (so that the person drawing the card could instantly apprehend the symbolism at a glance). For the ceiling ladder card, my initial thoughts were:
Upright: A figure climbs a ladder on the ceiling. A folk proverb references Newton's 2nd law: "What goes up must come down." Every step "higher" apparently goes lower, yet toward another way out.
Reversed: A figure climbs a ladder in topsy-turvy environment. An old Mexican proverb: "You can't get up without falling down first." Sometimes digging down is the most expeditious way up.
And for the card about falling up the stairs, I brainstormed:
Upright: A figure takes a tumble yet is buoyed just the same and gains a higher vantage. At the foundation is access to a cellar — a crypt? a vault? a cantina? An ancient Buddhist proverb: "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
Reversed: A figure rises fast (too fast?) and is presented with the flip side: another way beyond the steps taken. An ancient Taoist proverb: "Be like the water; seek the lowest place." (An image reflected in the clouds is known as a Brocken spectre and is typically the magnified shadow of the observer.)
Kenton was pleased with the designs, though I was surprised to hear that he wasn't concerned about reversals. He explained that from the perspective of his Mystery School training, "Reversal is simply a reflection, not necessarily an opposite at all. I do however appreciate greatly how your drawings, when they have reversals in them, are powerful polarities that help people find their own inner wisdom and meanings at any given moment." And he had his own card interpretations to add, of course. For example, for the ladder card, he noted: "In secret ancient symbolism, going up is going in. You cannot be raised higher without going into the depths of yourself."
And so, freed from taking extra pains regarding card reversals, I proceeded to follow up on eight additional card ideas from Kenton. These were:
A heart on water, broken but with the space filled with water, fire rising out of it, and bandages and stitches implying healing of the heart as well.
A person thinking so much that the head separates from the body.
A picture of someone with her heart in her head and her mind in her heart area.
A person electrified and shining a light out of himself, only to have it reflected back as a spotlight on him.
A person growing like a flower out of the ground, but feet first coming up as the "bloom."
A staircase a person is climbing that leads to the sky or clouds only, and perhaps the ocean reversed.
A clock where the hands actually form an infinity symbol, and the hands are set to 8.
A Merry-Go-Round inside someone's head, with the center pole going out the top of the head, connected to a Sun.
I don't have room here to display all of the designs I came up with, but here's the broken heart on the water (and the leaf motif in the heart was my own contribution to the concept):
At this point in the process, my Muse began suggesting ideas, so I began adding new cards alongside Kenton's suggestions, just in case they matched his intentions. Luckily, we seemed to be in sync, and he welcomed my ideas as they were or suggested modifications. After four months of nearly daily back-and-forths, we found ourselves with 52 cards, and I ordered a jumbo-sized proof deck from TheGameCrafter.com. Kenton expressed enthusiasm that not only card readers and mind-reading magicians would find this deck useful but the general public as well, since the cards didn't require a facilitator. I won't say that cartoon dollar signs began to ca-ching before my eyes, but I did have reasonable expectations that something might indeed come of this deck.
And then limbo set in. For over two years, the deck saw no release whatsoever. Kenton regularly showed off the cards at underground magical gatherings in Las Vegas, but he seemed content to keep the deck as his own best-kept secret. The cards got talked about, and they acquired the street names of "Waking Dream Cards," "Metaphor Cards," "Subconscious Communication Cards," "Transformation Cards," and "K-Kards." But their official name remained "[Self-Intuiting] Polarity Cards." Then — horror of horrors — I heard inklings from mutual friends that Kenton was on the verge of retiring from mentalism, and cartoon alarm bells began ringing in the space between my ears. If Kenton packed it in, the Polarity deck would be doomed to obscurity, and four months of solid work would evaporate into the ethers.
Attempting to play it cool, I drafted an e-mail to Kenton, marveling that it had been over two years since we had completed the deck, and being careful not to mention that every single day of those two years had felt like an eternity to me. I asked if there was anything I might be able to do to move the project out of limbo, such as drafting a booklet of card interpretations, designing a box for the deck, and finalizing the various technical issues with fulfilling orders through TheGameCrafter. Luckily, Kenton was now amenable to offering the deck to the general public, and it's belatedly available through his Wonder Wizards catalog.
So if you're approached to design a card deck for a third party, here's a checklist to consider:
Does the client know your work well enough that your style is sure to be a fit for the project? The last thing you'd want to happen is to deliver a draft of the first card and find the client out of sync and looking for another designer.
Can the client offer a timeline so that you'll know exactly when to expect the deck to be released? If there's no set date, that means the project is amorphously waiting for some time in the future, and that's nearly equivalent to "never."
Is the client open to an organic process, willing to hear your own suggestions along the way? Designing cards is such a personal experience that you'll most certainly have your own brainstorms. Also, any art project tends to develop a life of its own and may grow in its own directions. Both the artist and the client need to be open to going with the flow, at least to a degree, even as the artist strives to maintain within the client's previously-set parameters. Whenever an aspect of the project begins to veer off the original path, the artist is responsible for finessing the situation. Spend time tactfully handling the change so that it does not present as a surprise. It's probably never wrong in a divination deck to credit your intuition for slight alterations in the existing plan, as intuitiveness is woven into the very concept of card reading.
Is the client willing to offer payment in advance of the deck's release? Even if you have negotiated a percentage of the sales, an advance on those royalties will be the only insurance that you'll see any money whatsoever.
Are you willing to take on this project no matter what might go wrong and no matter if the deck never sees the light of day? This is the toughest question of all, but it's vital to consider it since you won't be in total control. The answer may very well be Yes -- your spirit may jump at the chance to work on a particular deck, come what may. And, truthfully, there's no such thing as wasted effort. Even if a deck you've designed never gets released, the very process of creating each card was part of your own spiritual refinement. A completed but unreleased deck becomes like a dream, and how much of daily life is illusory anyway? If it's all a dream, let it be a lucid one that you learn and grow from.
At least as far back as ancient Roman times, anagrams have delighted would-be prophets by unlocking mystical hidden meanings in words and phrases. The names of Tarot’s Major Arcana make for some intriguing rearrangements, to be sure. For example, we learn of The Empress that “she tempers.” The World appears to have “held wort” (plant medicine). The Hanged Man, not surprisingly, “hated hangmen.” The Fool seems to ask to be allowed to walk on: “let hoof.” The Chariot apparently operates according to a “Torah ethic.” See the graphic for all the anagrams we were able to decipher. You might have noticed that there are no anagrams for Strength or Judgment, as those two left us stumped. But grab some Scrabble tiles and try your own hand at anagramming the Tarot. See for yourself whether the Ace of Swords represents a “coward’s foes,” whether the Six of Pentacles “expels factions,” and whether “few pagans do” the Page of Wands.
I once received a challenge of sorts from within the Magic Castle, perhaps even a profound test, and though I reached the figurative finish line, I surprised myself by choosing not to take the cup, as it were. And I regretted it more than a little, once it was too late. It was, of all things, an art challenge (my first, if memory serves). Upon saying the magic word to the owl on the sliding bookcase, the first person I saw in the Castle [a famous individual whose name is withheld in the spirit of secretiveness] essentially commanded me to go forth and buy a particular (expensive) artwork. He told me the artist's name, the title of the piece, and the location of the controversial gallery that housed it. He told me that the piece might as well have been custom made for me and that I'd want it in my house. As he held my gaze, it was clear that my procurement of the piece was not so much friendly advice as an outright dare. And then the entire Castle began to vibrate steadily and worrisomely. I thought it might be an earthquake, but I overhead someone claiming that the L.A. subway passes right under the building. At that moment, though, what it felt like was some subterranean thing, perhaps pinned down by the Castle itself, getting restless. And then it fell back asleep. The why of this art challenge was deeply mysterious. The apparent trophy was the artwork itself, but another, far greater (and likely non-literal) prize was implied. Perhaps needless to say, I rushed to the gallery the next day. The place is somehow designated a church so as to sidestep secular legalities about the public display of deviant subjects. And the piece in question is a three-dimensional (and even electrically wired) nightmarish testament to humankind's eternal struggle with the interdimensional darkness that looms over our shoulders. The piece is terrifying, especially in how it pierces some sort of veil and "gets into you." Yet I was prepared for that very phenomenon, having seen it depicted in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, when one Mrs. Chalfont gives Laura Palmer a painting to hang on her bedroom wall -- a painting that Laura finds herself inside of, even while she sleeps peacefully -- a portal that transports one into a parallel dimension or overlapping reality. (See my documentary David Lynch and His Precursors for more on that striking scene.) So I was predisposed. Yet I left the gallery empty handed. The price of this art portal was not inconsequential, but as a writer I haven't technically been able to afford anything I've bought for the last twenty years, so I can't say that price was truly an issue. I'm honestly not sure why I walked away and conceded the challenge. My best guess is that I applied some Robert Anton Wilson-esque agnosticism -- I didn't know if this portal (to use black and white terms) was good or evil, and so I decided not to meddle with unknown forces. Of course, perhaps resisting temptation was in fact the victory. Who knows?! It's all so surreal, because even as [name withheld] was challenging me, it felt less like the present moment than a memory, and that weirdness was surely courtesy of the Magic Castle itself, a shrine to nostalgia for bygone evenings. It's as if nothing technically happens in the Magic Castle -- it's all past tense and bittersweet. That 600-year-old Japanese pagoda just above the Castle may very well be the time-warping engine. Our hotel room was about five steps from the pagoda, so my metabolism of time was profoundly altered. During the show at the Palace of Mystery, I wasn't at all surprised to find that the magician's corset was decorated with various clock faces, all sporting different times, or that her necklace was composed of fragmented clock wheels and pinions. (And her advice re: my quest for an ever-chiming clock array: apply reverb!) Which is all to ask: Should I have taken that artwork home?
We're pleased to debut a new, rather elaborate online oracular thingamajig. William Keckler got the scoop, and he blogs about it here. Our favorite comment so far: "I just expected this 'yes' or 'no' and I got that treat like going to the carnival. I love this as conceptualist art and how the 'answer' turns out to be a hall of mirrors that just leave you so confused and almost sorry you asked ... a metaphysical rebuke. So brilliant." Meanwhile, here's a sample report for the question, "Is wonder more powerful than mystery?"
Prof. Oddfellow consults his favorite Tesla-inspired machine, the mysterious "Professor Conrow's Psychical Predictor Apparatus." Physicists cannot explain exactly how the device works beyond theorizing that quantum fluctuations are detected by the device’s scattered green light and twin iron pyrite crystals. The results from this machine form part of the report from Oddfellow's "Augural Agglomerator."
The first question to ask of any online divination system is not one of money, love, or health, but rather: "Is my personal luck a factor here?" Too many computerized card shufflers and coin tossers have randomization algorithms that completely ignore what the Old Norse called hamingja, or "individual fortune." The problem inherent in all online divination is that "A machine ... has nothing to do with one's personal luck and fortune" (Peter de Polnay, A Door Ajar, 1959, p. 58). It's fine for the machine to shuffle the virtual deck for you, but it must be you who hand picks the individual cards to be revealed in the spread. Through the act of clicking on the cards yourself, you are crucially adding your personal "chance and choice" to the equation. This is the virtual equivalent to a live card reading in which the reader shuffles the cards and the querent is allowed to cut the deck.
If an online divination system randomizes and then presents your reading in one fell swoop, consider looking for a different system—one that allows for your co-creation of randomness. The reading will be more personal, but that's not the sole benefit. Programmers dread to talk about it, but "the very act of generating random numbers by a known method [i.e., a mathematical formula] removes the potential for true randomness. If the method is known, the set of random numbers can be replicated. Then an argument can be made that the numbers are not truly random" (J. B. Dixit, Solutions to Programming in C and Numerical Analysis, 2006, p. 187). Alas, a machine-generated divination system offers at best "pseudo-randomness." True randomness is a bit trickier to automate. Random.org promises true randomness via the analysis of minute variations in the amplitude of atmospheric noise—that's what drives their virtual coin flipper, dice roller, and playing card shuffler. Other sites analyze unpredictable weather systems, lava lamps, and subatomic particle events. Builders of true random number generators confront a difficult question: is the physical phenomenon used a quantum phenomenon or a phenomenon with chaotic behavior?
There is some disagreement about whether quantum phenomena are better or not, and oddly enough it all comes down to our beliefs about how the universe works. The key question is whether the universe is deterministic or not, i.e., whether everything that happens is essentially predetermined since the Big Bang. Determinism is a difficult subject that has been the subject of quite a lot of philosophical inquiry, and the problem is far from as clear cut as you might think. (Random.org)
Whether or not an online divination system promises true randomness, allowance for the querent's instinct/intuition ensures a less systematic result.
We performed a Google search for free online Tarot readings and tested the top six results to see which ones incorporate the querent's personal luck. All but one failed our test.
The first result that came up in our search was Lotus Tarot <http://www.free-tarot-reading.net/free.php>. The system earns points allowing the querent to click on individual cards (displayed in either one or two rows), and it also earns bonus points for allowing the querent to re-shuffle the deck a specific number of times (or a random number of times if 0 is typed).
The second result that came up in the search was Facade Tarot <http://www.facade.com/tarot/>, but this system earns absolutely no points because the machine does all the work. No matter how many pretty decks are on call, and no matter how many interesting spreads are available, pseudo-random results are at best pseudo-legitimate.
The third result that came up was Tarot Goddess <http://www.tarotgoddess.com/>, but it fared no better than Facade Tarot. It sounds harsh, but lazy programming that disregards personal luck doesn't deserve anyone's time.
The fourth result was Gaian Tarot <http://www.gaiantarot.com/online-tarot-reading/>, and it failed to meet our simple requirement. The name of this site is ironic: in Greek mythology, Gaia is daughter of Chaos, yet the Gaian Tarot is only pseudo-random.
The fifth result was Salem Tarot <http://www.salemtarot.com/threecardreading.html>, which presents the deck in a constant state of shuffling. The querent clicks on the deck to stop the shuffling, and the spread is displayed. While this is a degree more preferable than the failed systems, the machine is still doing too much of the work.
If we've earned the right to a smidgen of self-promotion, our Portmeirion Tarot <http://www.mysteryarts.com/portmeirion/tarot/> presents thumbnails of all the cards (your choice of Majors only or the full deck) in a shuffled state. The cards may be reshuffled at will, and as the querent calls upon personal luck and clicks on a chosen card, that card is revealed in the spread.
And so we see that the issue of pseudo-randomness plagues online divination. Demand personal luck and be part of the change!
This past March, my daughter and I watched as my wife had her Tarot cards read. We'd never done this...or seen it. The reader arranged the cards in a complex spread. Each card he took to represent a moment in the future, an upcoming month. There was one card...I can't actually remember what it was but it could have indicated death...that he took to represent a change (as in, the death of one thing and the beginning of the other.) My daughter asked him, if the card actually had indicated death, then the rest of the cards would have represented months in my wife's afterlife. He didn't really know what to say. But I love this idea...this fortunetelling into the afterlife. Why should divination stop with life? I have know idea if he was reading the cards in any kind of conventional manner, but, this, our first experience of a Tarot reading, was entirely mesmerizing and poetic, completely in keeping with my literary experiences of Tarot cards.
Was King Ludwig II of Bavaria declared insane just days before his mysterious death in 1886?
With hindpsych, the regrettable answer is "yes." On the left side of our striking Tarot spread, the Moon card speaks of Ludwig's vivid imagination and his shadow self. Indeed, Ludwig was famous for his moonlit excursions and night owl schedule. His enemies would have used this card as evidence of chasing after fantasies (at best) and entertaining distorted thoughts.
In the central card, the hands of the lovers don't touch—Ludwig's connection to love isn't through physical union. Rather, a higher ideal (the angel) governs a mountaintop in the clouds—home of Neuschwanstein castle. This card would have reminded Ludwig's enemies of the king's failure to secure an alliance through marriage, not to mention the rumors of the king's homosexuality.
On the right, the young man of the Two of Pentacles skillfully juggles a couple of gold coins. This of course symbolizes the king's playful nature as well as his confident investment in personal projects. His enemies would have used this card as evidence of reckless spending—note the infinity symbol around the coins.
The moon faces left; the juggler of coins faces right; the lovers in the middle don't touch. We see an unmistakable polarity in this spread of cards. Is it evidence of a strong Anima/Animus personality or of mental instability? Ludwig's enemies saw imbecilic dancing in the juggler and heard mad howling from the moonlit wolves. They declared the king insane and deposed him in 1886.
"hindpsych," the answer is "yes"! In our Tarot spread, the center card shows a figure cleaning up a mess. Note that he is flanked by the ideals of family life (the Ten of Cups) and prosperity (the King of Pentacles), yet his face is buried as he struggles to pick up the pieces. Like mocking reflections of golf clubs, the leafing wands in the center card are phallic symbols of potency, suggesting that Tiger Woods is reaping the seeds he has sown. We can say with confidence that Tiger Woods turned away from the promise of domestic bliss and financial success to multiply his phallic power. And it's all he can do to handle it.
Can you decode this eerie lost prophecy of Nostradamus?
Black rivers spill down the cross of red. Moonstruck hordes gather to see the face of god.
"Black rivers" refers to ink, to be spilled by Hermann Rorschach, a psychoanalyst from Switzerland (hence "cross of red," home of the Red Cross organization). The "moonstruck hordes" are analysands ("lunacy" traditionally being associated with the full moon), and what they see in the inkblots distinguishes psychosis from mere neurosis.