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
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.

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.

July 23, 2014 (permalink)

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."

September 23, 2013 (permalink)

"A model hieroglyphic with sure prophecies for the next hundred years": from Punch, 1848.

November 14, 2012 (permalink)

Over at our Spotted in the Wild blog, we tested the top six free online Tarot systems and came up with a simple test for protecting against invalid results. Here's a backup of our findings:

Protecting Against Pseudo-Valid Results from Free Online Tarot Systems

Random_number_generatorThe 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. 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. (

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 <>. 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 <>, 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 <>, 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 <>, 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 <>, 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.
  • The sixth result was Aeclectic Tarot <>, whose automated system utterly fails to meet our one vital prerequisite.

If we've earned the right to a smidgen of self-promotion, our 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!

July 1, 2012 (permalink)

We were, of course, reminded of our Divination by Punctuation project when we encountered this percent sign in The Saturday Evening Post, 1909.

April 16, 2012 (permalink)

Fortune telling into the afterlife?  Gary Barwin (a.k.a. the Serif of Nottingblog) shares:

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.

To which we answer:


Detail of a photo by Bart van Maarseveen.

December 9, 2011 (permalink)

We're enchanted by the mention of "imaginary photographs" in this article from McClure's Magazine back in 1915.

November 8, 2011 (permalink)

Gordon spotted our Divination by Punctuation sitting among good company at Chicago's Quimby's Bookstore.  Thanks, Gordon!

February 22, 2011 (permalink)

For you, gentle reader:  two lost pages from our book on Divination by Punctuation.

May 24, 2010 (permalink)

Today's Question:

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.

May 21, 2010 (permalink)

See our analysis of archetypes from a long time ago in the Star Wars series over at

May 17, 2010 (permalink)

See our guest post at about the intriguing Tarot archetypes found throughout Tom Stoppard's absurdist film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

The skull of poor Yorick, a Tarot archetype in the highly witty film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

December 14, 2009 (permalink)

Today's question:

Did Tiger Woods fall from grace?*

With "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.

December 3, 2009 (permalink)

Today's subject: the passing of Michael Jackson.

To experience serenity (10 of Cups), one must quest uncharted areas (3 of Wands) and open to the unknown (High Priestess).  What is left in one's wake: love.

October 6, 2009 (permalink)

Text courtesy of William Keckler.

January 14, 2009 (permalink)

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.

January 7, 2009 (permalink)

From our Magic Words outpost at Blogspot:

Dedicated to Roswila.

October 20, 2008 (permalink)

Click to test your ESP.
Our new online telepathy test was commissioned by our friends at the Official Prisoner Appreciation Society, dedicated to the cult 1967 TV series The Prisoner.  In the episode entitled "The Schizoid Man," actor Patrick McGoohan uses a special deck of symbol cards to test Extra Sensory Perception.  Exercise your own inner eye with our interactive feature.

September 29, 2008 (permalink)

Here are some hilarious translations of Nostradamus' prophecies. For example:

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Din, din, don. Din, din, don.

The Zebu of the North takes wing
And rolls the English Channel back;
The Archaeopteryx will sing
And run the Mallard off the track.

There is no need to explain the significance of this quatrain, which predicts the election of Boris Johnson as mayor of London. Indeed, the significance is so extraordinarily obvious that it is surprising, in hindsight, that this interpretation was not discovered until May 3, 2008.

September 9, 2008 (permalink)

Our Tarot of Portmeirion project continues to inspire, with a new discovery of "Th'ə ˈHī-(ə-)rə-ˌfant" joining "The Tower."  Kudos to our friend at Anima Tarot, who brings insight and intrigue to the Tarot archetypes at play in her vicinity.  And what a cracking Hierophant she has found in a statue of Noah Webster!


Tamara writes:

Many thanks for your kind words regarding my project!  While my community is certainly no Portmeirion, I'm enjoying tuning into the Tarot archetypes in my midst.

August 30, 2008 (permalink)

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