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?
To celebrate J.’s birthday, the three of us board the tube to Kew Gardens. Due to an unexpected station closure at our place of transfer, however, we’re diverted onto an overpacked bus, an old man in the seat by the door loudly berating the driver in Jamaican Patois. “Dis be terrorism,” he complains, pleading with the driver to deny access to further passengers. “Please no let no more people on dis bus.” Upon our arrival at Kew, we promptly run into J.’s friend, the writer Bhanu Kapil — a remarkable synchronicity, we all acknowledge, given that we also crossed paths with Bhanu yesterday at the ICA. In both cases, we had no foreknowledge of each others’ plans. “What does it mean?” we wonder, particularly since Bhanu is here in town to hold a seance a few days from now wherein she’ll be using the Shining Tribe Tarot, an art deck given to her by Rachel Pollack. Bidding leave of her until next time, my companions and I journey out amid Crystal Palace greenhouses, a treetop walkway, a Victorian herbarium, a Japanese pagoda, a pseudo-Roman “folly.” These gardens form a kind of totalizing floral architecture, I think to myself. A literalization of the fruits of empire.
How about groaning laundry rooms and animated films that scare little kids? How about blue mermaids with turquoise chains? By following a few simple rules, we can feel at home amid the alchemical symbolism of Arthur Machen’s “The White People.” A librarian from my childhood confides over my shoulder about the limits of her compassion. She refuses to care, she says, for those who come back sunburned after a day at the beach, likening these latter to hungry ones who refuse to eat. I smile and pretend not to differ, even as I ruminate about what it would mean to approach the Tarot as a book, or the fragments of one.