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.
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 surreal scenario that the oracle generated when asked about this year's Hallowe'en:
The first line says that "Nobody knows it better than you do." This indicates that your deepest instinct about this year's Hallowe'en will prove correct. Note that two characters in this scene laugh: a lame boy and a constable—a foreshortened leg and the long arm of the law. We interpret this as meaning that high spirits are the long and short of it. At the heart of the scene is a secret. The character Biddy Mary proclaims that if there's anything on earth she does love, it's a secret. She repeats this statement until the end of the scene, as if giving the maximum emphasis possible that a delicious secret will be learned this Hallowe'en. Note that every character in the scene except one is facing left. Biddy Mary is facing right, suggesting that her secret will carry things forward in some way. The scene ends with Enlarged Snookums' own echoing words, "Oh, goody, goody, goody!" This reinforces the positivity of the oracular reading as well as suggests Hallowe'en treats/goodies. It's a profoundly favorable reading with a juicy secret at its heart.
Is this book worth the price? In a way no. It is of the size and quality of a guide that you would find at various country houses, museums and places of interest and expect tp pay in the region of £6.95. Is it worth it for the content? Well if you are as interested in the Tarot and the village of Portmeirion as I am, then without a doubt. Hence the 5 stars. It would have been better if all the cards of the minor arcana had a descriptive text to accompany them, and the choice of some of the architectural features to illustrate them is rather tenuous e.g. the 4 of wands uses a picture of a pinnacle supported by columns above the roof of the dome, my issue being there are 8 columns, but 4 remain hidden at the back behind the 4 at the front. But as an idea of creating a Tarot deck in an urban landscape it does make you think. Portmeirion is a small location with a restricted number of possible subjects. Imagine doing the same for the City of London.
We don't vote, but due to our mysteriously esoteric studies we're often asked for oracular predictions of elections. For the result of the 2016 presidential election, we consulted our own Mimetic Oracle, and here's why: politics 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 what the oracle generated when asked about the presidential election:
Our scene begins with a character called Wishing Man, his pockets full of lucky charms, who symbolizes a voter hoping for his respective candidate to win. Also on stage are the "Dutch Twins," who represent the two Clintons. One of the twins, here named Klinker, is "almost asleep," presumably exhausted from campaigning. A character named Hulda holds a tinsel star, and we interpret her as a delegate appointed to the electoral college. The "Third Spirit" points to the stony ground, as if directing the tinsel comet to fulfill its destiny and let shimmering dreams become the hard facts of reality. Finally, Baby Jumbo enters, dancing to the music, and we need not specify the symbol of the elephant in American politics. Interestingly, the scene comes full circle, with the Wishing Man from the start returning to whisper in the elephant's ear. This is a bit of mystery within the reading -- what is the Wishing Man's secret or request? The elephant's response possibly offers a clue: it raises a front foot and gives the Wishing Man a pill box. Though the nature of the pills is unspecified, we know that the most commonly prescribed drug is hydrocodone, an opioid. Is the implication that the very idea of an election is a political opiate for the masses? As Douglas Herman has asked, "Is voting a patriotic duty, placebo or drug of choice? ... You can vote and feel really, really, really good about yourself. Like a drug addict getting a powerful dose after a long time away. ... Rigged elections are for drugged fools, who believe that to participate is a worthy, patriotic high."
Here's one of the cards from the Self-Intuiting Polarity deck. A heart is on one side of the scale and a feather on the other, recalling the ancient Egyptian concept of one’s heart being weighed upon one’s death and needing to weigh less than a feather. Without one side of the scale or the other, things can feel very unbalanced. The heart’s arteries are tangled like the serpent. The serpent in the center may represent the rise of energy in a relationship to bring things back into harmony, balance and interaction. Is this the motion of kundalini and the heart chakra as uniter? The feather, the serpent, and the heart all point the same way. 1 is the number of focus, initiation, beginnings, and male aspects. 2 is the number of reflection, receiving, manifesting, and feminine aspects. The feather may represent light-heartedness, higher ideals, divine intervention, wings. The feather is not, however, in a position to fly away or flee, but rather rests comfortably, nested, balanced with the heart. Other interpretations: weighing one's options, the philosophy of “less is more,” trusting that things will balance out.
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.
Someone asked our Augural Agglomerator, "Will Peter and Wendy get back together?" The Agglomerator answered "Open" (exactly 50% between Yes and No) (and here is the exact report, with all 59 separate oracle readings). At first we thought that the Agglomerator was in error, because we all know that Wendy chose not to fly away with Peter Pan, deciding instead to remain with the Darlings, and when she visited Neverland once a year to clean house, her eyes were less and less able to detect Peter's presence. Where does the uncertainty lie?, we wondered. And then the obvious hit us like a little ball of light: Tinker Bell.
"Ask Henda. 'She knows the answers'" to these questions: "Will I be lucky in love?" "Will I have financial trouble this year?" "Is this my lucky day?" "Am I putting on too much weight?" "Will it rain today?" "Will my health improve?" From the State Fair of Texas, 1984, photographed by Lynn Lennon.
It's been said that theatre reveals what is behind so-called reality and that a text exists only as an event that reveals the reader’s self. And so we present our new Mimetic Oracle, which draws from 92 characters in six vintage plays, with 166 spoken lines and 31 stage directions in the mix. With the system, you randomly draw five characters and generate a script to illuminate whatever drama of life you find yourself in. 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/.
We generated a reading concerning the blood moon this evening:
Our scene begins somewhat ominously, with a deepening darkness: “They’re putting out all the lights.” We aren’t told who “they” are, but there’s a force beyond our immediate control that is behind the darkness. But then a character laughs, and soft music is heard in the distance along with some faintly chiming bells, so the feeling is less sinister than we might have first felt. Another character bemoans that it’s so dark she can’t even see stars or the moon, yet at that moment an old fiddler comes on stage, sits on a barrel, and begins tuning up. So the darkness isn’t foreboding but rather in preparation for a musical performance; house lights go down in advance of stage lights coming on. The fact that the scene ends with a fiddler indicates that there will be harmony. This is a decidedly positive reading, assuring us that any darkness associated with the blood moon is merely preparatory to something favorable.
We're pleased that one retail store is offering our wide-awake dreaming card deck (deeply rooted in Mystery traditions so as to instantly illuminate any question) for fully 60% off, taking the price down from $100 to $40. The deck won't be signed or numbered, but it will be boxed and will include a printed booklet revealing secrets about each card. Here's the link:
Our highly unusual guide to astragalomancy received on the same day a one-star and five-star review. We'll reveal what a roll of 1 and 5 means, but first, we'll tell you what the five-star review says: "If you have an interest in divination and an interest in the history of magic and language...this is a great source of extensive research into an obscure science. Craig Conley has a natural gift to uncover hidden knowledge from the ancient past and present it in artistic and understandable write ups and illustrations."
Here's a seven-card Tarot spread based upon the ancient legend of the Seven Sleepers, a Greek story popularized in Christian and Islamic lore about a group of youths fleeing from religious persecution who fall asleep in a grotto outside of Ephesus and awake centuries later to find a very changed world. (It's a rather heart-wrenching tale, as the awakened sleepers go off in search of their families and find only strangers living in their homes who treat them as if they've gone mad. The seven finally realize that they had slept for centuries and do not belong to this new world, so they lay themselves down to die.) The Roman Martyrology commemorates them on July 27, hence the timing of our Tarot spread in their honor. Our illustration appears in a retelling of the story by the great American humorist Mark Twain. Though the sleepers' names have been lost to the ravages of time, Twain identifies them thusly: Trump, Gift, Game, Jack, Low, High, and Johannes Smithianus.
Draw one card for each sleeper in turn. Here's how to approach the seven, and because the legend is so old, we'll include some antiquated interpretations:
Trump: Like the "trump card" of a game, this points to a valuable resource that you can use in order to gain an advantage, perhaps in a surprising way. An antiquated meaning for "trump" is a helpful or admirable person.
Gift: This suggests something that ought be given willingly, without compensation, like a present or donation or bequest. It may also suggest a natural ability/talent that you can tap. An antiquated meaning for "gift" is a "thing lifted up," as in an offering or sacrifice to a higher power.
Game: This refers to a competition, a pleasurable distraction, perhaps a gambit. Skill, strength, or luck may be at play. Antiquated meanings of "game" are "a jest or joke" and "a laughing stock," so the Tarot card would identify something to be lighthearted about.
Jack: A jack is a device for lifting heavy objects, so a Tarot card placed here will identify a way to ease a burden. An antiquated meaning of "jack" is an unskilled worker (hence the old saying, "a jack of all trades and master of none"), so the Tarot card would point to something that needs training, experience, or practice.
Low and High: The "highs and lows" of life recall the Hermetic axiom, "As above, so below." Low (something worldly) will illuminate what is reflecting from on high (something spiritual). A Tarot card on "low" might indicate a stepping stone, while that on "high" might point to something to reach toward. An antiquated meaning for "high" is "holy," so the Tarot card would indicate something sacred. An antiquated meaning for "low" is "shout," so the Tarot card would carry a strong emotion.
Johannes Smithianus: This is a fancy way of saying "John Smith," or a typical human being. Everyman is the name of the principal character in the 15-century morality play. The Tarot card here will point to your better qualities, such as kindness or sensitivity. Originally, "human" and "humane" were the same word, so an antiquated meaning is "compassion."
Three optional cards to draw:
Mark Twain notes that on the gravestones of the seven sleepers were also inscribed, in ancient letters, the "names of three heathen gods of olden time, perchance: Rumpunch, Jinsling, [and] Egnog [sic]." So three additional cards may be drawn:
Rumpunch: One of the original names for this sugarcane liquor rum was "kill-devil," so a Tarot card for "Rumpunch" would point to a way to dispel darkness.
Jinsling: An old nickname for this juniper berry liquor gin is "kill-grief," so a Tarot card for "Jinsling" would point to a way to dispel sorrow.
Egnog: This creamy egg punch ritualistically marks the occasion of a holiday and is synonymous with comfort, so a Tarot card for "Egnog" would point to a source of strength, relief, encouragement, consolation, and/or cheer.
A final possible card:
Some versions of the legend, including Mark Twain's, feature a canine companion to the seven sleepers. The dog Ketmehr accompanied the seven when he accidentally ran his head through the loop of a noose that one of the youths was carelessly carrying. When the seven fell asleep in the cave, Ketmehr lay at the entrance and scared off any strangers who approached. So a Tarot card in honor of Ketmehr would point to a guardian or source of protection, perhaps even an accidental or unwilling safeguard. In the legend, when the sleepers awaken, the dog is long gone, with nothing save the brass that was upon his collar as evidence that he had kept guard.
Mark Twain's account of the seven sleepers appears in The Innocents Abroad, 1869. The earliest known version of the story traces back to the Syrian bishop Jacob of Sarug (c. 450–521), itself derived from an earlier though lost Greek source. A well-known medieval version of the story appears in Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend (c. 1260). The story is also told in the Qur'an (Surah 18, verses 9–26).
Have you ever called upon a Tarot witness? Our idea here shouldn't be confused with eye-witness testifiers in a law court, or with Christianity's idea of openly professing one's faith through words and actions. There's a more metaphoric concept of witnessing, since even eye-witness accounts tend to be of questionable factual accuracy. As Berel Lang notes in Philosophical Witnessing (2009), it is "less the specific details in [witness'] accounts that give them their special force, but the fact of their speakers' presence in the event witnessed, and the persistence of that fact in the continuing (in this sense, perpetual) present. The metaphoric aspect of witnessing thus adds itself to the historical reference, even for those who were physically present" (p. 14). And so when we call upon archetypal witnesses via Tarot cards, we summon a cultural or collective validation from visible, trusted presences who articulate after the facts so as to separate important events from the mundane, thereby facilitating understanding and meaningful change.
Imagine our delight to encounter in an old book four witnesses who can serve as a Tarot spread template. Underground, or Life Below the Surface by Thomas Wallace Knox (1873) introduces us to "the interesting witness, the knowing witness, the deaf witness, and the irrelevant witness."
A Tarot card placed upon the "interesting" witness would testify to something in particular that should catch and hold the querent's attention. This is something you should want to know or learn more about, and it's something positive, perhaps even exciting, but certainly worthy of curiosity.
The "knowing" witness points to something that you have knowledge or awareness of that others do not, or to something that you can now discover through observation or inquiry. We say informally that to know is to be "clued in," and the "knowing" witness is your clue.
The "deaf" witness is oblivious or otherwise indifferent to what his Tarot card communicates. This is a message that is within earshot but which hasn't yet penetrated and may need to reach shouting proportions before it does.
The "irrelevant" witness points to something that has been exhibited as evidence but which is immaterial or otherwise beside the point. This is an issue that is actually unrelated to the matters at hand and can now be let go of.
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 TheGameCrafter.
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?