Tarot: great modular graphic novel, arranged in a spread and read by super wise super cool Sacred Expanse rock-witch Michelle Mae. I’ve been a fan of hers since 1995, when I saw her band the Make-Up on a bill with Fugazi and Slant 6. Michelle has me set intentions. I share with her my questions for the cards — “What should I be open to? How do I make the best of the year ahead?” — and, upon her instruction, also voice them again silently, eyes closed. She pulls the spread: lays it out on a table, explaining that it can be read both linearly and holistically (i.e., taken as a whole). The two of us then proceed to do so as follows. She introduces the cards one by one, naming them, raising them into my field of vision one at a time, without my knowing at any given point until the end how many there are in total. “Some difficult cards,” she reports. “Two of them major arcana.” Michelle helps me make sense of what she admits with a laugh is a bit of a crazy spread. She sends me afterwards a sacred Tibetan meditation practice, urging me to approach it with utmost respect.
I am to visualize my demons sitting across from me.
I am to ask them what they desire, and I am to feed it to them.
By these means, the instructions suggest, we convert our shadow self into an ally. We become whole again, filled with a sense of power, compassion, and love.
Mind blown by the experience of seeing musician Michelle Mae’s group The Make-Up perform at Irving Plaza in the spring of 1995, the Narrator had kept up with Michelle’s bands over the years. Never, though, had he met Michelle in person. Life is like that sometimes, especially for those of us with rich fantasy lives. Rarely do we get to sit down one-on-one to converse with the heroes of our youth.
“But early last September,” notes the Narrator, “I did exactly that.”
Thanks to a most excellent gift from his friends, he had the pleasure of meeting with Michelle and working one-on-one with her on Zoom in her capacity as a tarot reader.
She appeared onscreen sitting at a table in her home in Tucson. “I remember noting in the room behind her,” notes the Narrator, “a handcrafted besom leaned upright against a gray stone hearth.”
“There were some difficult cards in my spread,” confessed the Narrator to his friends in the days that followed. “But Michelle is super wise, super cool. She helped me see what the cards might be trying to teach me.”
My morning reading practice leads me to reflect upon terma, various forms of hidden teachings or “treasure texts” key to Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism. According to these traditions, certain forms of knowledge can be and have been hidden away by esoteric means. The idea, however, is that these occulted bodies of knowledge don’t simply disappear from history in any permanent sense. Think of them, rather, as texts temporarily buried from view, locked away in underground vaults or the depths of some sort of transhistorical collective unconscious, so as to be rediscovered at auspicious times by future generations of adepts known as “tertöns.” According to scholars, there are at least two kinds of terma: earth-treasures and mind-treasures. Earth-treasures manifest externally as texts, images, ritual instruments, and medicines, whereas mind-treasures appear (or “undergo deconcealment”) directly within the mind of the adept, as in mindstream transmission from a guru to a practitioner.
The insistence on “Law” in The Kybalion, the book’s privileging of “Ego” and “Mastery,” its claim that “Chance is but a name for Law not recognized” (171): all of this suggests that the book is both more and less than it seems. The Three Initiates dedicated the book to Hermes Trismegistus, after all; and Hermes, of course, was known to be something of a trickster. I appreciate the book’s evocation of an ancient, secret doctrine. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the answers I seek lie hidden from plain sight, awaiting my readiness to receive them. But most of what the book offers — from its defense of “the strong” to its claims regarding the origins of its teachings — seems flawed and suspect: expressions of the prejudices of the man thought to be its author, a Chicago-based occultist from the turn of the last century named William Walker Atkinson. Yet this is precisely how the Hermes archetype tends to operate, using thievery and deception to transmit messages between worlds.
Breakfast at a café near the Farringdon Station, an egg sandwich with fatty bacon and cheese on a panini. Trudging through Jason Louv’s deeply uneven John Dee and the Empire of Angels, I find myself wondering whether Enochian magic isn’t just a viper’s nest full of power-tripping Christofascists. Before I become too entrenched in this opinion, though, my flatmates intervene, commandeering my person for a group trip to the Kathy Acker exhibition at the ICA.
After an out-of-this-world dinner of Chicken Tikka and Awadhi Lamb Biryani at Dishoom Shoreditch (a meal paid for by a friend whose wish is that we live deliciously here in London), I return to my room and experience a weird visitation of mixed import — a tantric transmission that leads me out on a journey to the Atlantis Bookshop and Treadwell’s, in search of what: clues? hints? answers? I note down signs witnessed along the way: “Planet Logistics,” “Everything Must Go,” a Men in Black poster with the tagline, “The World’s Not Going to Save Itself.” Is this a call to heroism, a siren awakening moviegoers to action? Or is the messiah always elsewhere — external, superhuman — shadow-government guardian angel dressed (depending on religious dispensation) either in white or black?
These first few days in London have fed me an abundance of inputs — colors, textures, lectures, exhibitions. Here I am in Spa Fields, a small park behind Exmouth Market, struggling to assimilate what I’ve encountered. I attended a wonderful event last night at The Horse Hospital called “Towards a Progressive Magic.” The talks by Amy Hale and Phil Legard spoke directly to my current interest in esotericism and the occult, but a path hasn’t yet revealed itself. What exactly is the issue? What am I searching for? Statues? Pianos? Pigeons? The John Soane House was a blast yesterday afternoon, with its crypt and its post-apocalyptic bird’s-eye view of the Bank of England, as was this morning’s tour of the Globe Theatre and the show I caught this afternoon at the Tate Modern devoted to Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning.
A low robotic voice speaks to me in another language. I imagine myself riding around behind set in a golf cart as crew members arrange backdrops for upcoming scenes in my life narrative. One of these crew members, watching me read David Toop’s Ocean of Sound and knowing that this book contains a reference to a famous London music venue of the 1960s called The Roundhouse, places in my path in a bin at Goodwill a VHS recording of a Doors show at The Roundhouse from September 1968. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and their crew Thee Temple of Psychick Youth bequeathed to heads the concept of “occulture,” referring to “anything cultural yet decidedly occult/spiritual.” It is by way of occulture, then, that I intuit meaning of some sort, evidence of a sentient other, in whose possession is held the torch of enlightenment. I now have a receiver station, above which may open portals out of which may drop gifts, each one a vessel or talisman containing instructions, tools for self-actualization. Access to unconscious powers. I watch myself escorted down into a state-run institutional facility housing the holding cell of the Id. Shadow-dramas of past eras play upon the walls. Under neon lights, we speak.