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.”
There came a time in the Narrator’s life when the best thing he could think to do was to seek the help of a tarot reader.
And sure enough, he was confronted soon thereafter with a way to do so. The opportunity presented itself, he recalls now in retrospect, at a backyard barbecue one afternoon last summer. “I was there chatting with my friend Saylor,” says the Narrator. “The latter, newly returned from the desert, leaned in and shared some exciting news with me.”
“You’ll appreciate this,” said Saylor with a grin. In the course of his summering in Tucson, he explained, he’d begun to hang with tarot reader Michelle Mae.
“Saylor had good reason to assume I’d be wowed by this news,” adds the Narrator, “as indeed I was, for as I’d confided to him in the past, I’m a longtime fan of Michelle’s band The Make-Up.”
So much so, in fact, that when asked to name the best rock concert of his life, the Narrator always refers to a Make-Up show — one he caught in high school. Make-Up shared a bill with two of their Dischord Records labelmates, fellow DC punk superstars Slant 6 and Fugazi. “What a night,” says the Narrator, recalling the show proudly now in hindsight. “Seminal. Life-altering. I was sixteen years old at the time. The Make-Up were a new band, so I hadn’t heard of them prior to that evening — but I liked and admired frontman Ian Svenonius’s former band Nation of Ulysses. As for the other acts on the bill, Fugazi and Slant 6 were as good as gods to me in those days. All of it blew my mind.”
To access past lives, the Hero of my tale consults the Akashic Records.
Derived from Sanskrit, “Akashic” means ethers or “that which holds all.” Vogue writer Shabana Patker-Vahi asks us to picture at one and the same time a massive library and a celestial mirror. Akashic reader Simrin Gregory likens it to “an energetic database that stores every choice we have ever made as individual souls.” As our hero is to learn, the records help us release energetic blocks retained from the past. To access, says Patker-Vahi, set intentions, develop clarity around questions one wants answered, and try reiki. She also suggests tarot readings and/or guided meditations paired with binaural beats set to 963Hz.
Hero shrugs his shoulders and thinks, “Accessing an imaginal technology on the scale of the Akashic Records is not unlike inheriting a time machine. Only the Records do time machines one better, as they steer us clear of butterfly effects while nonetheless enabling anamnesis.”
“Besides,” he confides, speaking across dimensions now to his companions. “At this point, I’m willing to try anything.”
When I step outside after dark to sit on my front porch, I feel aware, suddenly, of my glasses. Sarah hung a pretty wreath with Christmas lights. Neighbors’ lights can be seen beyond the trees. Indoors afterwards, Sarah and I improvise, jam for a few moments with toy instruments. Piano and tambourine. Sarah and Frankie watch bits of Frosty the Snowman on Sarah’s iphone. Flash cards send me off thinking about the Tarot. The Alethiometer in His Dark Materials delivers symbols in response to questions posed by the show’s heroine, Lyra Belacqua. Tarot spreads can be read similarly. Let us trust these spreads for clues.
Headlines suggest vaccines are approaching readiness. I’m hopeful on that front — though I dread the winter ahead. We wish to travel north to visit family over break. We wish to gather to celebrate Frankie’s birthday and the holidays: Christmas and New Year’s. We also wish to raise and decorate a Christmas tree here in our home in the weeks ahead, like the one we kept in our apartment last winter before and after Frankie’s birth. When time allows, I bundle up in a hoodie and jacket to gather up bundles of sticks, like that figure from the Tarot. I sit at the picnic table in the yard on a cold afternoon, enjoying a calm moment: light Doppler effect coupled with birdsong. Wind rustles leaves, gathers occasionally for light gusts.
Hierophant is the card that arrives next. What do I know of it? A student explores the term for the rest of us, noting, “Hierophant was the title given to the chief priest of the Temple at Eleusis, one of ancient Greece’s most celebrated mystery cults.” Another student bears news of the New England Watch and Ward Society, an early 20th century book-banning group in Boston.
The Fool is Tarot’s main character, the first and last of its “Major Arcana.” Are all of us fools? Or do the cards only speak for those who learn to read them? Are fools the ones drawn to the Tarot? Or is the Fool archetype one each of us manifests and embodies time and again, the pattern of the journey a timeless one — universal, perennial? Sarah Cargill, host of the Tarot for the End of Times podcast, reminds me that after The Fool comes The Magician. The latter is a figure who makes use of the Word, setting in motion an alchemical process: an exertion of intent, followed by a release (so sayeth the podcaster) of “egoic attachment to results.” Stepping away is a crucial part of the manifestation process. One must place faith in the invisible and trust in the larger unfolding.
At the center of a large, circular wooden coffee table in my upstairs study sits a copy of The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation, published by Harper & Row in 1975 as part of the Lindisfarne series. This latter was a book series under the editorship of William Irwin Thompson “devoted to an exploration of the newly emerging planetary society and the future evolution of man.” Other books in the series include Thompson’s Passages About Earth and Satprem’s Sri Aurobindo, or The Adventure of Consciousness. Do changes in mass sentiment correlate with changes in collective serotonin levels? Steven Johnson lays out the beginnings of a theory to that effect in his book on videogames and related forms of popular culture. Am I interested in practicing a kind of bibliomancy? The versions of Tarot and I Ching and astrology that hold meaning-making potential for me require belief in the power of “symbol-sets” to prompt “synchronicities.” The idea is that all of the above-mentioned symbol-sets allow some “acausal connecting principle” to manifest, as Carl Jung would say. This principle or power behaves as befits a trickster. We know it through its effects to be some sort of distributed intelligence, of which I and other users are but a part. We share with this intelligence a capacity for kindness and benevolence and care. We exercise this capacity by assembling daily reality into a jubilant, communicative mystery, containing inexplicably meaningful correlations and correspondences, there in the background like birdsong, for those who have ears to hear.
I rove around the city buying books in a desperate last bid for gnosis as my SIM card kicks out and my time here in London nears its end. I thought I’d have my tarot read, but no one spoke to me, the moment never seemed right. I did have a lovely chat, though, with a wise old gentleman from the Swedenborg Society. He intuited some of the features of my condition, and hastened to furnish the knowledge I sought, while also gently warning about pursuit of such knowledge, providing me with a timely gloss on Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Eden narrative in the philosopher’s eight-volume magnum opus Arcana Caelestia. Where shall I go and what shall I do upon my return to the United States?