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.
Cards from a hitherto unseen Cactus Tarot appear in the choose-your-own-adventure puzzle book entitled This Book is a Cactus. Indeed, a tarot reading got planted among prickly logic puzzles, riddles, mathematical conundrums, and word enigmas.
Thank you Adam, who writes: "And what a fun book this is! It’s great exercise for the brain to participate and interact with something that doesn’t require batteries or an internet connection. Oddly, I still haven’t killed my cactus. Though I have been tempted a few times. Ha ha ha…"
The reverse-engineer of horoscopes, Phil Maggitti, suggests that it's untrue you share character traits with other people born under the same sign. "The people who are getting off the bus the same day you are getting on wield a much greater influence on your development." So, if today is your birthday, you were born on the same day that all sorts of famous people croaked. "Read their obituaries carefully. You'll learn a lot more than you will from reading stupid predictions."
Intrigued by our new publication about esoteric computations one can perform on the spot, The Pencil Witch, alphabet diviner Jim Girouard scattered letters into a grid to see what message might be hidden there. In the scan of his reading, the very bottom shows the list of words he saw in the letters (including "Hollywood," so is a film adaptation in our future?) and the very top shows the sentences he formed:
Oddfellow writes new booklet Pencil Witch. It is a wonderful writ full of really great ideas and expressions and sigils. The professor of single letter phenomena lit the fire under our imaginations with playful rolypoly anagrams and animated characters and spellcraft images. Professor Oddfellow meets our expectations at the crossroads of perception and regal oracle that breathes life into the blank space of boredom which detours from problems and extends the imagination of the here and now. For Oddfellow the eagle has landed on the eternal timeline of timeless expression.
Due to our mysteriously esoteric studies, we're often asked for oracular predictions about Hallowe'en. For this year's holiday, we consulted our own Mimetic Oracle, and here's why: Hallowe'en is a grand pageant, and it's been said that theatre reveals what is behind so-called reality. Our Mimetic Oracle draws from 92 characters in six vintage plays, with 166 spoken lines and 31 stage directions in the mix. With the system, one randomly draws five characters and generates a script to illuminate the current drama of life. (There’s a detailed F.A.Q. which explains how the scripts are created, how to make sense of the dialogues, how to determine whether a reading is positive or negative, what to make of the various characters, and why these specific 6 plays were chosen for the system: http://www.mysteryarts.com/play/.)
Here's the scenario that the oracle generated when asked about this year's Hallowe'en:
The first three characters all have names beginning with M, indicating that folks will be well in synch. The first two lines of the script feature boisterous voices and laughter, both very favorable. The third line mentions an elephant in the room, but there's no elephant in the cast, so it's either a case of inebriation or a controversial issue that no one will wish to discuss (you'll recall the old idiom about "the elephant in the room"). It's okay -- the controversy will be tactfully avoided, in spite of one person awkwardly bringing it up. The fourth character is called "Wait" after an archaic British term for a street singer, so expect some singing as well. The scene ends most intriguingly, with a remarkable vow: "I will live in the past, the present and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me." The message seems to be that your holiday will have a timeless quality, that it will turn out to be one for the ages, harking back to Hallowe'ens past but somehow also setting the stage for future holidays. The very final detail, that "all disappear under sheet," is the best of all, recalling as it does the sheet ghosts of Hallowe'en. Will you finally pass out, taking the events of Hallowe'en into the mysterious realm of the unconsious? Is there an erotic implication? In any case, it's a very favorable prediction for your Hallowe'en.
For Mystics and Skeptics Alike: Real Tools for Disenchanting Our Ghost-Ridden Existence
Whether or not we define ghosts as living memories that share the circulations of our bodies (though why not?), we are all of us, no matter how skeptical or credulous, haunted. We are perhaps more haunted and overburdened by ghosts than we care or dare to face. But there are physical tools, not merely placebos or talismans, not devices of the imagination, that verifiably repel ghosts, disenchanting us from oppressive hauntings. Advertisers and major corporations employ such tools to magnetically draw clients, dispelling the old ghosts so as to clear the way for new charms and jingle-borne incantations. Yet anyone can wield these tools to battle restless nights with ever-greater peace of mind.
In 1901, Alfred Noyes offered evidence that we are all haunted people, mystics and skeptics alike. His substantiations are so compelling that we can't resist quoting a few of them. He said that all of us haunted folk have heard strange things in music, in the wind, and in the dead stillness of the night. "It may be that all the great sages, the great world-poets, Aeschylus, Job, Isaiah, Dante, Shakespeare, have been haunted men; for they, too, tell us what they heard in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in the revolving years; and they, too, seem often strangely and bitterly eager to cast away their memories and their delusions." Noyes noted that we all are poets nowadays, seeing "a thousand million apparitions, woven from such stuff as dreams are made of, walking the earth openly at noontide; surely we are all haunted." Some of us, he explained, "are haunted by the sound of one set slow bell, tolling, a great way off, in the spiritual forests that beset all pilgrim souls." Others of us "struggle in the shadowy places of despair with the clutching white fingers of a decayed ancestry, the ghosts of sins that are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." Still others are "haunted by the homeless cry of the sea, the cry that is like the voice upon the wintry mountains uttering the old Promethean moan of man. Night and day that cry goes up to heaven so long as the universal sea breaks itself against the iron shores of time." Noyes grants that some of us "are only haunted at certain times and seasons, or at the performance of certain rites." We'll come back to that shortly. ("The Romance of Christmas," Literature: Christmas Supplement, Dec. 7, 1901.)
Looked at another albeit more horrific way, we are all haunted because "the dead are all around us, in substance and in spirit," as Brian Stableford proves. "Every breath we take draws in carbon atoms that were once incorporated into the bodies of other men; with every mouthful of food we engulf the remains of our ancestors. As we devour them they devour us, fueling the slow fire of life—the fire whose ashes are absorbed, in the end, into the earth and her fruits, or lost on the wings of the wind. Our inescapable fate is to be eaten and breathed in our turn." Stableford adds that "Once we are conscious of the everpresence of the dead we can easily feel their nearness. To see them, and to hear their voices, is only a little more difficult." (The Haunted Bookshop and Other Apparitions, 2007).
So, if we're all haunted and all eager to cast away our ghostliest memories and delusions, what technologies are available to us? Indeed, there's an entire doctor's bag full of tools. It's worth mentioning that a "doctor's bag" is appropriate, since ghosts and gauzes seem inseparable. The poet-novelist Gary Barwin, in a work-in-progress, explains that ghosts are associated with gauze because memories are living wounds, and haunting ghosts are symbiotic dressings to those wounds. First, Barwin notes that "The remembering mind [is] a kind of ghost, drifting, no longer bound by time or gravity, as if twilight or reality had gathered into a cloud." Barwin imagines a ghost returning to the place where it once lived: "That place would seem a ghost to that ghost. Nothing the same. Everything haunted. As if seen through gauze. Of course it would seem that way: it’d be seen through a ghost. But gauze is apt, for a ghost’s past is a wound and the ghost is a dressing, a consolation, instead of us returning with no veil, the past in full colour." Barwin notes that though a haunting may be unsettling, it does not excoriate (in the medical sense of a stuck bandage removing part of the skin) in the way that imaginative reliving does. He suggests that the gauze of a haunting memory is more akin to a skin graft than a bandage, as it "shares a circulation with the body, with the lived life, with the present." ("Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted," an excerpt from a novel-in-progress, 2018.)
Yes, we need a doctor's bag of tools, and such tools are revealed by Tim Powers in Alternate Routes (2018). Though Powers' book is presented as fiction, we're reminded by E. M. Forster that "fiction is truer than history, because it goes beyond the evidence, and each of us knows from his own experience that there is something beyond the evidence" (Aspects of the Novel, 1927). Let's look at each tool in turn and explore why each is obviously valid and crucial to bring into play.
Mathematics. Recite the multiplication tables or even simple addition in a loud voice to repel ghosts. As Tim Powers notes, "Math is deterministic, and ghosts are an effect of possibility extended beyond reason." You might recall that since ancient times in Japan, the mantras of Shinto meditation have involved reciting numbers in order. Similarly, a Catholic's rosary beads might be compared to an abacus. In both religious systems, counting is used to engender peace of mind. Mathematics dispels the ghosts of irrationality. If a ghost approaches, Powers suggests saying this: "Six and six is twelve, squared is a hundred-and-forty-four, squared is twenty-thosand-seven-hundred-and-thirty-six!" If that isn't immediately effective, say, "One from one is nothing. Don't take my word for it, do the math. Nothing." Though Powers doesn't mention it, another mathematically-based ghost-neutralizing tool is Feng Shui's bagua, festooned with eight trigram figures from the iChing (having binary values). If mathematics is not your forte, reciting metered verse will be efficacious.
The uncanny valley. Mannequins, waxworks, robots, CGI characters -- when artificial faces look too realistic, when they seem genuinely human but you can sense that they're not, the creepy feeling is called the "uncanny valley." Ghosts are repelled by the contradiction. Powers doesn't mention the obvious, that advertisers and retail stores bank on this phenomenon. When you approach a clothing store's display mannequin, you're meant to associate the sudden feeling of inner peace with the need to purchase those clothes. But it's not the clothes that do the trick -- it's the mannequin. You'll apprehend all the other ways this technique is used in sales; it's why the models on magazine covers are airbrushed into oblivion; it's why Disneyland (brimming with uncannily lifelike animatronics) is called "the happiest place on earth." Wear a necklace or carry a keyring featuring a lifelike figurine. Put stickers on your car or bicycle or skateboard that sport realistic but artificial faces. Collect mannequin heads as bookends.
Spirit level stars. Powers suggests using a hot glue gun to arrange eight spirit levels (also known as bubble levels, the sealed glass tubes partially filled with liquid that reveal whether a surface is plumb) like spokes on a wheel, upon a circle of cardboard. More than a talisman, the confusing readings of the levels will induce a negating z-axis spin in an attentive ghost. You may wear a spirit level star as a necklace. Powers says that if you are approached by a ghost, hold up the star and ask, "Why are you tilting?" Again, a tool with a similar purpose is Feng Shui's octagon-framed concave bagua mirror, which warps and thereby neutralizes poisonous energies from one's home.
Fixed compass. A pocket compass, equipped with a magnet on the back, will have its needle in a fixed position. "Swing the compass around in a circle," Powers suggests, "and the apparent shifting of north might induce a terminal y-axis spin in a ghost."
Personal aspects. Change personal aspects that ghosts of your past might recognize. Powers recommends parting your hair on the other side or, if you aren't bald, shaving it off. Reinvent your fashion sense, especially with used/vintage clothes. Alter your jewelry, your scents. Wear a watch on the other wrist. While eating, teach yourself to hold cutlery in your non-dominant hand. Change your shoes regularly. Wear your clothes inside out and/or backwards. Hop on one foot whenever possible. The point of all these techniques will be fairly obvious -- by getting out of your habits, you can escape cul-de-sacs of life in which ghosts accumulate. Hopping on one foot may sound silly, until one recalls the hops, skips, and jumps of carefree childhood; children at play instinctively perform rituals that dispel ghosts. Backwards clothing may sound silly, too, but recall that Chris Kelly of the hip-hop band Kris Kross wore his pants back-to-front every day from 1991 until his sudden death in 2013. He revealed in an interview, "Even if I put on a suit, I put my suit pants on backwards. It’s just a way of life for me." It seems that celebrities and personal demons go hand in hand.
Temporal anomalies. Sporting the wrong time, Powers says, is good for confusing ghosts. Set your watch, computer, phone, and household clocks to different time zones. This technique also happens to be good for keeping you alert, as you'll need to calculate the correct time with every glance at a clock face. Yet, just because it might be happy hour in France, don't imbibe. (See next item.)
Teetotaling. Ghosts tend to miss alcohol and are drawn to the smell of it. That's why Powers cautions one to avoid all liquor. You know about alcoholics who fall into the "sad drunk" cliché, but consider whether it might not be the alcohol that's the problem as much as the ghosts drawn to that alcohol. So many miserable drunks are overwhelmed by spirits of another sort.
Alkalinity. Because ghosts are compatible with alkaline bloodstreams, Powers suggests, an acidic diet is recommended: coffee, roasted nuts, blueberries, prunes, pickles, chocolate. This insight would appear to be rather little-known. Yet on a microscopic level, there is a connection between alkaline blood and transparent cellular "ghosts" (that's the scientific term, used by hematologists). Presumably, as in the microcosm, so in the macrocosm.
Garden decorations. We've all seen and presumably visited peaceful gardens. Envision one that you particularly liked. Did it happen to feature a little statue (like a gnome or a saint or nature deity), perhaps a pinwheel or other wind-driven spinning object, a reflective sphere, or dangling prisms that cast rainbows? Powers identifies such objects as spirit distractors, protecting the garden from unwanted hauntings. Tools like these have been known for centuries upon centuries to dispel dark energies; they are vital components of the sense of peace that the garden engenders. Peacefulness doesn't merely happen of its own accord. Indeed, an unequipped garden can feel quite ominous, unwelcoming, or otherwise disconcerting.
Headed metronomes. Powers recommends using metronomes affixed with heads as ghost detectors and traps. The head should be of an organic material (for example, bone, wood, or even a pine cone) and should be painted with a human face. Fatigued spirits, inhabiting the head so as to rest, will find themselves trapped and will cause the metronome to tick back and forth, thereby alerting you of their capture. Though Powers doesn't refer to it, in the traditional folkways of Japan, a different sort of headed doll is employed. The "teru teru bozu" ("shine shine monk") is a handmade doll constructed of white paper or cloth that is hung on a string by a window. The doll is inhabited by a wandering spirit, and a chant is spoken, essentially a contract: if the "monk" ensures good weather, it will be allowed to remain and will be soaked with alcohol as a reward, but if the weather turns foul, its head will be cut off as punishment.
Two radios. Play two radios simultaneously, each tuned to the same station. Powers notes that any desynchronization of the audio will be instantly noticeable and will alert a disturbance in the field. If you play digital music on a laptop through your stereo system's speakers, set your music player to also play through your laptop's speakers. There will be times when the audio in one set of speakers begins to pop, cut out intermittently, or silence altogether, and that's your early warning to be on your guard.
Artificial trees. As they abhor mannequins, ghosts abhor the contradiction of artificial evergreens. Powers mentions this in passing, but we can extrapolate from that a useful tool: install a year-round aluminum ornament tree in your living space. A great many people who celebrate Christmas avoid artificial trees as archetypes of soullessness, as not only poor substitutes for the original concept but also as perversions of tradition, because the inorganic aluminum is felt to lack a "spiritual content" and therefore reflects an environment of alienation (George Nash, Old Houses, 1980). An organic ornament tree draws spirits to it, which is why the age-old Christmas ritual creates an atmosphere of homecoming, gathering as it does the ghosts of lost loved ones. Such spiritual homecomings, of course, are also why so many people find Christmas a melancholic or even depressing time. Importantly, in his essay on "The Romance of Christmas," Noyes wrote that between the moonlight and fire in a winter twilight, when the shadows come out to dance upon the walls and ceilings, everyone is haunted by the ghosts of Christmastide. As modern poets, Noyes said, whatever our views of finite faiths may be, and no matter how many years have rolled away with crumbling creeds and dogmas, we poets have "looked into the fundamental paradox" and have "understood that everything is true, everything exists, and the earth is only a little dust beneath our feet." Noyes explained that "the crude spiritualism of the ancient season of Christmas is dead; yet agnostic and scoffer, Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist, ascetic and mystic, are all alike taking up and fulfilling the prophecy of Matthew Arnold concerning poetry [replacing religion], and the whole of the West is looking towards the light that never was on sea or land."
Self portraits. A self portrait allows a wandering spirit to remain anchored on this side, Powers notes. When you encounter a "selfie," you've likely encountered a ghost. Researchers at Ohio State University, Nottingham Trent University, and other institutions linked selfie-taking to narcissism, psychopathy, and anti-social behaviors. Consider how a narcissist's inflated self-image and low self-esteem are, like a bulging balloon, evidence of an insubstantial interior. Selfie-takers' self-objectification is very literally that -- objectifying in a desperate measure to physically exist, to have proof that they were here, regardless of what form it took. A psychopath's lack of empathy is additional evidence of ghostly inhumanity. To avoid more ghosts, prevent exposure to selfies.
If it's true that the spirit of our age is one of transformation, "our imperative is to think anew, to disenchant ourselves" from lost relics and illusions, and to enchant ourselves once again with aspirations of progress (Patrick J. DeSouza, 2000). Oliver Optic once said that if it is hard to enchant others, it is still more so to disenchant ourselves; for although we stand out in bold relief, and our faults are glaring, we too rarely introvert our gaze or hold a mirror (except for vanity's sake) before our faces; and so, for the most part, we are invisible to ourselves. Optic noted that most of us practice some sort of disguise or pretense to cover up our motives, while others carry out our machinations in the dark or beneath a cloak of hypocrisy. With our eyes in our heads, we can but look outwardly, and we are thus conscious of everything but that which is passing within. It seems to require some magic to endow us with that self-knowledge, Optic suggested, without which all other knowledge may avail nothing. We must learn to gauge or measure our own capacities, to probe our own motives, and to understand the principles by which we act. As in the classic story of the shepherd Gyges who found the magic golden ring of invisibility, we must turn the bezel so as to be no longer invisible to ourselves. (Oliver Optic, "The Ring of Gyges," Our Boys and Girls Magazine, 1867.)
One of our greatest pleasures lies in capturing on film the mysteries of crystal balls. These eight examples are of favorite crystal balls within cabinets of curiosities, all located within ... well, many will recognize the location! (Anyone who doesn't know but would like to should drop us a line, and we'll gladly reveal all.) The first six of these photos were taken in near complete darkness, the balls themselves nearly undetectable by the naked eye. On occasion we take portraits of crystal balls in the collections of seers and aficianados (or "buffs," as they might better be called).
The Trump L’Oeil Tarot of Portmeirion is an exciting Tarot experiment that cannot be missed in your deck collection. It’s an invitation to delve into those elements that day by day challenge us to think about the coincidences that manifest the archetypal energy contained in the world of men. Do you dare to find the archetypes that govern your life? You can see them in Portmeirion, that’s for sure.
Here are some additional snippets from the insightful review:
Any tarot deck is a journey, but Trump L’Oeil Tarot of Portmeirion represents an adventure of multiple nuances and layers. In this card set, you will find a photographic trip through the streets of Portmeirion, a small but very peculiar Village located in the north of Wales. ...
Craig Conley, the author of Trump L’Oeil, is a multifaceted artistic documentarian, with a passion for literature, arts, photography and, of course, Portmeirion. Conley is dedicated to spiritual growth, transformation, and study from the most diverse perspectives. In some sense, his personality is as baroque as that of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the visionary who built Portmeirion. With great achievements in the world of music and technology, this hard working artist was captivated by the charm of Portmeirion village and fell into the psychic spell of the archetypes that abound in its streets. ...
Walking through Portmeirion inch by inch we will find those little miracles of the collective unconscious that let us glimpse the depth of Jung’s research. Each corner holds a powerful relic that immediately takes us back to think about a Major trump and its important guidance towards personal enrichment. The statue of a cherub on the verge of falling from a cliff is one of the most touching and impressive interpretations that we can confer to the Fool Major Trump. Usually portrayed as an older man being chased by the intuitive dog that protects him, we can easily connect with the erratic energy of this little angel who sloppily throws himself into the world of mortals in a decision that could change his life, isn’t that a perfect analogy for our dear Fool? Of course, the Magician cannot be other than Sir Williams-Ellis, the alchemist who took all the elements at his disposal during a construction and reconstruction process that took him 50 years to complete. The minor Trumps are symbolized in relation to the elements with which they have traditionally been associated.
and Why You'll Hereby Question the Humanity of Everyone You Encounter
It's technically impossible to separate an automaton fortune teller from the world of myth and dark fairy tales, not only because automata are from that world, but also because their makers were touched by stories that they heard or invented themselves and then tinkered and carved and clockworked their creations to open the eyes of their audience. The Devon Guild of Craftsmen has noted that "making automata is difficult. Making other sorts of three dimensional objects can also be hard, but the extra dimension of movement seems to add a disproportionate amount of difficulty. Moving parts involve principles (physics, not morals), levers, shafts, cranks, cams, springs, linkages, ratchets, drives and gearing. No wonder some of our makers have built whole, imaginary worlds around their pieces."  We would disagree that moral principles are not involved, but we can't scientifically prove that and so will let the point go.
Lady Audley is currently in the collection of Bruce Toriello, host of "Tales of Midnight."
Take just one look at the fortune telling automaton Lady Audley, and a dark story already begins to unfold. Her history has been traced back to a New Jersey boardwalk's penny arcade in the 1920s. From the very beginning, visitors sensed that Lady Audley had a life of her own. The cards she dispensed not only predicted the future but also seemed to know the present uncannily well. Lady Audley notoriously wouldn't respond to questions she felt were superfluous, and on occasion she would even volunteer information about subjects she felt important, without having been activated. One of the strangest rumors was that no one was ever seen refilling the fortune cards disepensed by the machine, which begged the question of where exactly they came from. In 1964, the boardwalk was set ablaze and nearly three dozen people were unable to escape. The arcade was the first to burn, and its sole survivor was Lady Audley. The arsonist turned out to be one of many who claimed to be held under her strange mystique. He felt a slave to her predictions and would travel nightly to the boardwalk, desperate to know what tomorrow might harbor. He eventually determined that the only way to break the spell was through the cleansing power of fire. When he discovered that Lady Audley survived the flames, he went into a blind rage and took a bullet in the heart by police detectives. A fortune card dispensed by Lady Audley was recovered from his pocket. It read, "From six chambers will come the stillness of life's regret. Four chambers in a cage will be broken but never will forget." If it sounds like something out of an urban legend, remember that the truth tends to be stranger than fiction. Lady Audley's history is likely not just stranger than we know but stranger than we can know.
Unlike the palm reader in Caravaggio's famous painting, who slyly slips off a querent's ring and so simultaneously reads and steals his fortune, an automaton behind glass cannot be a trickster. Indeed, the automaton behind glass does not cajole but rather sits still and quiet. If it embodies a motto, perhaps it is, "Let them come to me." The automaton does not and in fact cannot hawk superstition, nor can it make false claims. Gullibility or conviction is wholly upon the shoulders of those who would cross silver into the cabinet's coin slot. If the questions are self-centered, it is the querent who has trivialized the proceedings, not the automaton. If the prediction is laughed off, that's the querent's error and not the fortune teller's, for all oracles are true, as proven in Marie-Louise von Franz's On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance (1980). If the consultation is to be called a folly, recall that word's French meaning, "delight," and that foolishness is "wooden-headed" (reiterating that an automaton puts on no airs). If one would call the consultation anything, perhaps it should be deemed a sin, for that is to imply that the automaton can reveal what God has wisely concealed and expressly forbidden, and what higher tribute could a fortune teller receive?
The Lady Audley automaton seemingly attracting ghostly orbs, as revealed by our custom "Uncanny Detector" app (seen in operation in our video about exploring a ruined wizard's museum.)
Lady Audley negotiates a boundary between rational mechanism and legendary magic and thereby speaks of a double world.  "The hard border between the natural and the artificial evaporates when machines are animated with life."  She sits within a booth, the glass panels suggesting the hazy fringe between life and nonlife, the human and spirit worlds, possibility and probability, old wives' tales and unvarnished truths. For all her answers, Lady Audley's "undecidables and ambiguities"  spark even more questions … about her own cognitive autonomy, her immortality, her accountability, her imprisonment.  Is she walled in, or are we? Does she act mechanically, or do we? Is she unsettling, or is there strangeness in everyday life?  Indeed, the automaton that tells our fortune is uncanny not for its weirdness or otherness but, as Freud described, for its familiarity.
In the lingo of information science, "every automaton has a nonempty set of fair behaviors."  That word "nonempty" is fascinating, for it's not quite the same as "full." Non-emptiness sounds like the opposite of Zen enlightenment, and it implies a transcendent state of release from death and rebirth that yet escapes utter annihilation. One recalls the "unpeopled space with presence" of Denise Levertov.  "Nonempty" also recalls the "not zero" concept of fuzzy logic. A card-offering automaton may "not be playing with a full deck," as the idiom goes, but neither is it an empty deck or a zero-sum. That other word, "fair," is also crucial. It means unbiased and trustworthy.
Then there's this question: is Lady Audley inhuman, and how can we know who isn't? For to call Lady Audley an automaton is to introduce a disquieting implication, since anyone else we encounter could be a perfected automaton, an android, a golem, or some other alien impersonator of the human. As Stanley Cavell has rationalized in The Claim of Reason (1979), "Obviously, you can never be certain that other human beings exist, for any one you single out may, for all you know, be something other than you imagine, perhaps a human, probably a human if you like, but possibly a mutation, and just possibly an automaton, a zombie … The world is what it is. And whatever it is, so far as you take it as inhabited by candidates for the human, you are empathetically projecting. This means that you cannot rule out the non-human (or human non-being) possibility."
More than a fortune teller, is Lady Audley a votive object, a prophylactic talisman, a promise, a petition, or a phantom?  Is she haunted or a projection of our own haunted selves?
And can every single one of these admittedly profound questions be answered for merely a quarter? A quarter is half of a half, and it's one of the thousand paradoxes: "you can slice something into forever, halving" .
The Most Exclusive Seance Parlor Outside Hollywood
What parlor is more exclusive than the Houdini Seance Chamber in Hollywood's Magic Castle? (As difficult as it is to get into the Magic Castle, of those select few who know the secret word to whisper to the carved owl on the sliding bookcase, only a smaller fraction ever see the Houdini Seance Chamber.) More exclusive than that is the macabre sitting room where the host of "Tales of Midnight," Spooky Brucey, divines the truths behind the most sinister legends on record.
Through our network of masked contacts in arcane circles, we came into possession of previously uncirculated blueprints and photos of the Tales of Midnight parlor. As this room is filled with age-old secrets, we thought to analyze it through the sage-colored glasses of ancient Chinese necromancy, as detailed in Seance Parlor Feng Shui. And we discovered more than a few surprises.
The old wizards of Feng Shui overlaid an esoteric map onto an area to see how the arrangement harmonized with the elemental flow of existence. When we overlap that map upon Spooky Brucey's parlor, we see a stroke of genius right off — the placement of the fortune telling automaton, Lady Audley, in the room's upper left corner, exactly where the Chinese ancients identified the space of "Fortune." Lady Audley is not merely at home in this corner; it is here and only here that she can truly thrive as a prophesier. Incidentally, this automaton survived a boardwalk fire in 1964, the blaze having been set by a man who felt that Lady Audley enslaved him with a strange power and who sought to break the spell via purifying flames.
A most intriguing revelation is the location of the "Beast's Hole in the Wall." This niche, partially sealed off with weathered boards, contains a carnival sideshow abomination that was rescued after being swallowed by a sinkhole in Florida. This beast sits in the "Wisdom" section of the room, prompting the startling suggestion that Spooky Brucey acquires knowledge from a seven-foot tall monstrosity that was first captured while it scavenged in a ruined Turkish necropolis dedicated to the god of the dead. This insight is perhaps one that Spooky Brucey would prefer to remain private, so we'll take that particular issue no further.
The crystal ball and its table are positioned in the "Career" area of the map, which indicates that Spooky Brucey has a calling to foresee, to foretell, and perhaps to forewarn. Interestingly, the two chairs at the seance table cross over into the "Wisdom" and "Mentors" areas. Whichever chair Spooky Brucey himself may sit in is therefore auspicious — if the "Wisdom" chair, his crystal ball readings will be shrewd, and if the "Mentors" chair, his interpretations will be strengthened by the guides and confidants at whose feet he has studied. Note that the "Mentors" section also features the door to the parlor, meaning that Spooky Brucey is open to learning from new sources that enter into his life.
A table holding occult objects lies in the "Creativity" area, meaning that Spooky Brucey's original ideas are inspired by rarefied dinguses (or dingi). But more intrigue is found in the "Partnership" zone, where we find a wooden crate. Dare we wonder who — or what — constitutes Spooky Brucey's partner? Is the crate newly arrived from some exotic locale, is it being prepped for shipment, or is it a permanent fixture and merely cracked open occasionally? These are questions we may not ask.
We mustn't overlook a rather profound paradox that exists in the Tales of Midnight parlor. The fireplace is in the "Career" zone, whose ruling element is water. This suggests that the fireplace is perhaps ornamental or that the chimney is so corroded that it's unsafe for burning. Yet things are decidedly odder, for opposite the fireplace, in the "Reputation" zone ruled by fire, sits a vaudevillian magician's ventriloquism dummy found nailed in a trunk at the bottom of a lake. And so in this seance parlor, fire and water are inverted. There may be some sly technique behind this inversion, for if Spooky Brucey has concerns that incendiary gossip by tricky dummies may harm his reputation, he has dampened such fires with something decidedly soggy. And if the flow of his Water-ruled career is intended to get steamier, wasn't it the three witches in Macbeth who said, "Fire burn and cauldron bubble"? So even these two seeming violations of Feng Shui betray a seance parlor "on the ball," as it were.
Only two zones remain. "New Beginnings" auspiciously features a window, symbolically a portal to another world. The center of "Well-Being" is the only zone bereft of objects, suggesting that the dead center of the room is where Spooky Brucey finds the most happiness, encircled as he is by the uncanny artifacts he has curated. The center of the room, being ruled by the Earth element, is here surrounded by its own zodiacal constellations, each with a unique story and intrigue.
(Spooky Brucey offers glimpses into his world at Instagram and YouTube. For those damned souls still on Facebook, look for Bruce Toriello. To learn how to create your own magical seance parlor, see Seance Parlor Feng Shui.)
"I wonder if his crystal ball is a talisman, too?" From Cut Adrift by Albany Fonblanque, 1869.
Pictured: In a magical shop at Universal Studios Orlando, we discovered a crystal ball that seems to project holograms of its gazers in all directions. Here's the snap we captured of the effect as we consulted the mysterious sphere.
We had been wondering whether 2018 will be any easier than 2017 was. Because we'd found ourselves in some sort of subterranean dimension these past two years, we used a deck of cards from the U.K. with sections of dungeon maps (inkedadventures.com) to find out how one can navigate the labyrinths of the coming year. Thankfully, there's good news, which we explain in this video.
We asked our Spirit Box radio (as seen on the Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures"), "Does our portable crystal ball possess a resident spirit?" The Spirit Box swept through the otherworldly static in the atmosphere for an answer, and what we heard was eerie:
"She died ... Is this home? ... Your friend ... So you wanna know ... I've always believed ... the universe ... conscious ... their soul ... family ... experience ... NDE's [Near Death Experiences?] ... if you will ... and I think ... it's time ... absolutely ... Tough night ... I'm fine now."
We interpret this message to mean that our portable crystal ball possesses the spirit of a friend who died and is wondering if she's home. The rest of the message, intriguing as it may be, is possibly not directly related to our question, though we hope that the final "I'm fine now" is the crystal ball's resident spirit coming through again.
Here's the audio file from the Spirit Box:
Previously, we asked the Spirit Box 44 controversial questions and received very surprising answers. That project entailed a 20-page PDF, described here.
This sphere was behaving oddly. We don't read Chinese, so we couldn't decipher what the characters painted on the sphere might be saying. We asked our Spirit Box radio (as seen on the Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures"), "Does this sphere contain a ghost?" The Spirit Box swept through the otherworldly static in the atmosphere for answer, and what we heard was eerily specific:
We're offering this sphere for sale to paranormal adventurers over at our Etsy shop:
We have a large, heavy ring that depicts the face of a pacified demon called Zaruba (an old Japanese word of a secretive order of magical warriors meaning "friend"). Zaruba's attributes are that he dispels confusion, detects various spiritual energies, speaks for the dead, exposes demons, sees through illusions, summons magical warriors, and guides its wearer through the Otherworld and back into the human world.
We asked our Spirit Box radio (as seen on the Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures"), "What is the nature of this ring?" The Spirit Box swept through the otherworldly static in the atmosphere for an answer, and what we heard was eerie:
"Mindf*ck ... checks out alright ... dark force ... forsaken ... harmed."
We interpret the first word of spirit message to mean that the ring is something amazing that upends one's current notion of reality. "Checks out alright" could refer to the ring being safe and legitimate or could mean that the ring performs its functions properly. The reference to a "dark force" likely refers to the fact that the ring represents a pacified demon. Was the demon forsaken and harmed, or is the message saying that the forsaken spirits at large will be harmed by the ring?
We're offering this ring for sale to paranormal adventurers over at our Etsy shop:
"I'll see, at midnight, what these omens mean; / And call on those prophetic spirits who / Attend on death, and darkness, to reveal / What is to happen." From Stuart Alexander's Saul, King of Israel, 1843.
I put my "Spirit Box" radio to the test and received 44 mind-bending answers. Ghostly voices from the atmosphere answered these exact questions:
What is on the dark side of the moon?
Were extraterrestrials at play in ancient Egypt?
Is the universe a hologram?
Is there life on Mars?
Is time an illusion?
What is at the bottom of a black hole?
Can we live forever?
What is the universe made of?
How did life begin?
Is the end of the world imminent?
Are we alone in the universe?
What is consciousness?
Why do we dream?
What's so weird about prime numbers?
Is there such a thing as free will?
Are we being monitored by extraterrestrials?
What is the secret of Area 51?
Is time travel possible?
What makes us human?
Are there pyramids on Mars?
Does the legendary continent of Atlantis exist?
What is the secret of UFOs?
Can you tell us about Bigfoot?
Are poltergeists ghosts or demons?
Are there aliens among us?
What's at the bottom of the ocean?
Are there pyramids on the moon?
Where does a missing sock go?
What is the secret of crop circles?
Is the nature of these spirit voices angelic or demonic?
Does the flat earth theory hold water?
Is there an objective reality?
What should we know about quasars?
What of the Flat Earth theory?
What is the face on Mars?
What should we know about UFOs? (And more.)
The answers to these questions are courtesy of voices captured through the "Spirit Box" (as seen on the Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures"). Upon being asked a very specific question, the machine sweeps through the otherworldly static in the atmosphere for single words or series of phrases.
The answers I received in most cases shocked me; several answers disappointed or frightened me, but I present them exactly as they were received. Some answers are especially eerie (like the one about what is on the dark side of the moon and the one about Bigfoot), and I've flagged those so that you can listen to them at your own discretion.
Here's where you can get the 20-page report complete with embedded audio, if you're interested:
"Where is truth to shelter, where is it to find asylum if not in a place where nobody is looking for it: . . . stamp albums?" —Bruno Schulz
Can a stamp album serve as a mystical guidebook to the entire universe? The visionary Polish writer and fine artist Bruno Schulz certainly believed it could, as he explains in Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. His ruminations on postage stamps as "handy amulets" forming "a book of truth and splendor" inspired us to piece together a Tarot deck of stamps from around the world. We reveal and explain the work in progress here: