Friday, June 20, 2014

Mercury Retrograde- A Few Helpful Hints

It's that time of year (well, one of several times of the year) when the planet Mercury goes retrograde- it appears to be moving backwards relative to us here on Earth. This is often considered the time to go hide under the bed and wait for it to blow over (it ends July 7th of this year). But there are a few things to keep in mind here- first of all, as with everything in life, there are pros and cons. Having this time can be a useful period of self-examination and introspection, even if things seem to be going sour. First, let's take a look at what most people try to avoid during this time. Mercury appears in the Zodiac as the planet of communication- where it appears on your chart influences how you communicate, how effectively you communicate and listen, and where strengths are. Remember also that the planets can influence- they do not control. Free will is, as always, an important factor. So communication may be off, you may not find what you need, things may just generally not work out for you. So what do you do? Often the universe gives you lessons in with troubles, so what can you take from this time?
First, what areas are giving you difficulty? And why? There are several Tarot cards to keep in mind, all Major Arcana cards, that can help to clarify things during this time. First, the High Priestess, who represents wisdom and secrets hidden in plain sight. In terms of this time, it's easy to get tunnel vision, and see only things that aren't working out, troubles and sources of stress. The High Priestess tells us to take a step back- what are we missing because of stress?
Courtesy of Egypt Urnash, from the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn
I chose this image not because the author is kind of a hero of mine (yes, just went all geeky fanboy there) but because of what's in this card. Two women? Yes, but look behind them at all the screens, showing different images, and all the conduits and wires back there, as well as the machinery in the foreground. All this is pointing to a lot more going on, and this is often the message the High Priestess tells us- don't look at what your eyes are drawn to, but what else is around. Say you're troubled by a relationship- you're constantly bickering, you wonder why in seven hells this person can't just agree that you're right and have done with it. The short and easy answer is, why are they not listening to ME? But consider the nature of the question. What aspect of the situation are you not seeing because you're so wrapped up in your own point of view? In this way, though you still might be disagreeing, at least you can gain some understanding from the situation. Same thing with Mercury; poor communication can be something to work on, instead of retreating into more typical patterns of thought.
Next, moving in sequence, we encounter the Hermit, number 9 in the Majors. The Hermit is, in some ways, a transition from the High Priestess, as the Hermit represents looking within yourself, illuminating hidden areas of your life. Notice that the Hermit carries a staff and lantern- the lantern indicates bringing things to light that were hidden by the dark. Going back to our example, were you so caught up in the negative that you missed something? It's ok if so, we all do it now and again! But a big part of the Hermit is fearlessness, one aspect of the staff he carries. This Hermit has the will and determination to see what the truth is, even if it hurts. And this too is an aspect of Mercury's retrograde- it can be a time to examine the past, to bring up old hurts and sore spots you may be holding on to. Not for the faint of heart, this can be a tough time, but worth it for the insight and understanding it engenders.
From the Dragon Mind of Zen Tarot
So again, there's an up side to this. What hidden writing and lost secrets will you uncover during this time? Well, that's up to you! But the Hermit and the High Priestess work together here, as the High Priestess poses the riddle (What am I missing in this situation?) and the Hermit represents the determination to go out and get that knowledge.
Third, we have the Hanged Man. Here's a card that tells of sacrifice and tough times (I'm noticing a theme here) but that sacrifice is for a reason. Here, what the Hanged Man gains is insight and new perspective. Similar to the Hermit in this regard, the Hanged Man is in some ways an evolution of the Hermit here. The Hermit goes out and finds, the Hanged Man takes on the challenge this new knowledge represents. Sometimes the sacrifice we make is that of our comfort zone- new knowledge means we come to look at the world in a different way, and things cease to be the same. We change, in other words, and that change can be scary. I chose this version of the Hanged Man from the Vertigo Tarot, as it is portrayed by Shade, from the comics of the same name. Shade goes through several reincarnations, either going back of his own accord or being forced back, and in addition to losing his mind on more than one occasion, developing a split personality, sort of, and removing his own heart, well, he does his best to set things right.
One of many versions of The Changing Man
So long story short, the Hanged Man can be a tough card to deal with, and in my experience rarely are we called upon to remove vital organs, change sex (well, involuntarily, anyway) and come back from the dead. But nonetheless, there are difficult times in life. Yet again, what can we learn from these times? It may be that we become stronger, more able to cope with these things, and ultimately develop a broader perspective on our time here. What we take away can become useful tools, or can become a helpful resource for others going through their own tough times.
Mercury going retrograde can be a tough time, and I'm sure we all know tough times aren't limited to the motions of the planets around us. But it's not what we go through, but how we go through it and what we can take away that determines our experience. Remember, life is a learning experience- nothing you learned from and gained from is ever truly wasted.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tarot Of Terror- Norman Bates

This week brings us a classic- Norman Bates from the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho. There are some differences between the book the movie was based on and the film, and though there doesn't seem to be too many significant changes, I'll stick to the film version here. Norman Bates is an interesting study, as he has a laundry list of psychiatric problems that contribute to his eventual end. A brief rundown of his life brings up a good deal of these. The Bates family lived together until Norman's father died, at which point it's just Norman and his mother, Norma. Norma suffers from extreme paranoia, delusions to some extent, and inflicts emotional and psychological abuse on Norman. Norma's mental illness seems to be exacerbated by stress, as the Bates Motel has been through some dire financial straits. Judging from the history of mental illness in the Bates family (Norman inherits a great deal of Mom's issues), I'd say the root cause is schizophrenia, possibly coupled with bipolar depression. In Norman's case, the onset is really at adolescence, when he first commits murder, and this is the point at which most inherited mental illnesses take effect. At any rate, Norman is brought up very much under his mother's spell, more specifically under her delusions- all women (except her, that is) are evil, and sex is evil as well. Norman, being young and impressionable, believes her, and internalizes these ideas. Things go on this way until Norma meets Joe Considine, and the two begin a relationship. Norman, insane with jealous rage, kills both of them by poisoning, then makes it look like a suicide.
At this point, things really go downhill for Norman, as his apparent schizophrenia is joined with dissociative personality disorder- he takes on his mother's persona, (incidentally, this is where much of our knowledge of Norma's personality comes from) and preserves her corpse, having inherited the family business of running the Bates Motel. Dissociative personality disorder is essentially taking on a different personality in order to avoid dealing with something traumatic- not unheard of in abuse cases, though Norman's is unique in that he becomes the abuser, as he is unable to deal with the guilt of having committed the murders, and perhaps because having lived so long under his mother's influence has left him unable to function in the world without her. This idea is lent some credit in that Norman supports his "mother", who he tells everyone is an invalid and confined to the house, yet retains an iron grip on Norman. His Norman persona goes about business as usual, though his Mother persona remains intensely jealous of Norman, and continues on in the same vein of delusions as she did in life. Whether Norman is aware of Mother as a part of himself is unclear- he appears to regard her as completely separate, and addresses the corpse as his mother- the Norman persona seems to be unaware of his mental state, as is Norma, who is more concerned with protecting her own existence than helping Norman. Again, this is interesting because dissociative personalities usually have some benefit- they allow the person to cope or address something that they otherwise are unable to handle. At any rate, Norman and Mother converse regularly, also not unheard of with this type of illness. Mother will attack anyone (especially women) that she or Norman sees as a threat. Given the extent of Mother's delusions, well, there's not too many people who make the cut, pun not intended. Mother continues to murder anyone Norman even considers reaching out to, and Norman, ever the dutiful son, covers up the murders. Finally, the situation is discovered, and Norman is hospitalized, unfortunately only after his Norman persona (his normal self, the shy but nice guy who runs the motel) is all but destroyed, and all that remains is Mother.

"Norm!"
Norman is eventually deemed sane enough to be released, and continues to fight against his domineering Mother persona, whose main goal is to keep Norman under her thumb, so to speak. Norman shows strong evidence of wanting to just settle down and live a normal life, often rebelling against Mother whenever he can.
Interestingly, we have a birth date for Norman, which allows us a rough view of his Zodiac chart- he was born on April 12, 1934, making him settled firmly in Aries as his main sign, with Taurus as his ascendant- Norman evidently inherited his Mom's strong will and determination, yet is really not a bad guy- under different circumstances, he would have probably turned the motel around and made it a success- Aries is a Fire sign, characterized by drive, will and determination, and Taurus is an Earth sign, likewise marked by determination, and also practicality, good decision making, and in many cases, a good head for business. Doing a reading for Norman was challenging- am I reading for Norman, Mother, or both? Well, the short answer is both, as they are really different sides of the same person. Norman is the public face of this person, whereas Mother represents his darker half- he wants what anyone else wants, to fall in love, have a relationship, be a young swinging guy having a good time, but Mother won't let him go out and get corrupted by the world- remember that Norman has really internalized Mother's delusions about the world- it's not a nice place, and Norman, being a nice boy, has no place there.
For Norman, I did a Celtic Cross reading, and the results were pretty interesting. Norman is a fairly complex character, and not really, deep down, a bad person. The first card, dealing with the present, is the 2 of Pentacles. The main focus here is balance, and the emphasis here is on Norman's day to day life. He's lived this way so long, with Mother constantly breathing down his neck, that he can at least get by, if not entirely the life he wants; it tells me that Norman has to some extent accepted his situation. But the problem is, this is not a permanent solution, and Norman remains one stressful event away from slipping back into letting Mother take over. Covering this was the Judgment card, telling me that there just might be hope for Norman yet. Judgment deals with moving upwards from his situation to hopefully bringing his two halves together- Norman really wants control, but perhaps is unable to face the guilt and the fact that it was him who committed the murders- it seems that a part of Norman, or at least Mother, is aware of that, yet knows that until Norman can address that, he will remain the way he is- divided.
Does this sweater make me look fat? 

The next card deals with the Past, and here was the 4 of Cups, telling us that there is definitely a genuine family bond among the Bates family- Norma, as much as she was able to, really did love Norman and really did care about him, despite causing him so much harm. Earlier intervention would have saved Norman from a world of trouble, and perhaps even saved Norma's life. But despite this, the 4 tells us that the wagon of love broke under the hay of life- it was too little too late, and things went sour for Norman. Nonetheless, there is a message of a mixed blessing here, as Norman did gain from the experience, learning to fend for himself, though he relies heavily on Mother to do this.
In the Foundation position, we see Norman's nature come through, and a ray of hope- here was the Knight of Pentacles. Norman seems to have strong Earth associations, as Pentacles pop up frequently in the reading. The emphasis of the Knight here is on introspection and development. This tells me first and foremost that Norman really does want to get "better", and to be free from his mother/Mother's influence, both in terms of mental illness and the psychological scars she has left. But again, lacking a support system (apart from Mother, that is) Norman really has no one to rely on other than himself. If Norman can become strong enough to replace Mother as the dominant personality, perhaps Norman will find the strength to address his underlying issues. This is always something of a dicey area for readers, as we don't want to bring up anything too painful, and this seems to be the root of Norman's problem- that he can't come to terms with these things.
There were a lot of reversed (upside down) cards from here on out in this reading, indicating a lot of blocked energy- here we see a lot of Norman, and the blocking is created by Mother; she wants to maintain control, while Norman, though desiring to be free, often lacks the strength to take on Mother alone. The next card to come up was the Near Future- here was the reversed 10 of Pentacles- whatever Norman manages to accomplish in terms of steps towards a quiet, peaceful life will always have Mother hanging over it like a shadow- again, until he can work through these issues and come to terms with them. Going back once more to the Knight, I don't think this is entirely out of the question. This, I would say, is what Norman needs to focus on- that process of self-examination, and eventual healing of his own mind. The future for Norman is actually not too bad, and I think the determination and hard work he puts in mean he might possibly come out on top.
The Aspirations position, the best or desired outcome, held the Moon, again in a reversed position. Norman needs to "wake up"- to see past the illusions he himself has helped to create, and in so doing, get past the shock of knowing he is capable of murder, and capable of harming others. His Mother persona will, when it's in her (his?) interest, play the harmless old lady, but under that exterior lies a cold and calculating mind. In some ways, this is not a bad asset to have. If Mother is this much of a quick study, it tells me that Norman is highly intelligent, and capable of abstract reasoning and self-examination.
The 7th position, the Future, holds the 7 of Pentacles, also reversed. The reversal here indicates a stagnation- Norman isn't going to get better unless he can take on Mother, and without the resources to do so, (which Mother will fight tooth and nail, as s/he knows it will be the functional end of her) Norman can't move forwards- whatever gains he makes are small ones, and Mother will remain running the show. Judging from what we know of the life and times of Norma, it seems this is her ultimate end and desire- to remain in control. Unfortunately, Norman's best interests take a back seat to this desire for control.
The 8th position is interesting, as this indicates hopes and fears- here the message seems to be that to some extent Mother and Norman are both accepting of the situation, even desiring to keep it the way it is, as the card here was the Empress reversed, indicating control to the point of smothering- think of a really overbearing mother, trying to control every aspect of a child's life. But of course, there is an element of rebellion here- that kid will start to look for opportunities to rebel, and look for ways to get out from under that tight control. This seems to indicate both halves of Norman- Mother's desire to remain in control, oblivious or unwilling to acknowledge the harm she causes Norman (not to mention the murder victims), and Norman's desire to rebel, even if it's in some childish and ultimately ineffective way. But then again, we now know Norman is capable of self-examination- it'll be a long and difficult road, but I think there's still hope for Norman yet.
The 9th position deals with hidden influences- things that come to bear on the situation, but are not obvious, and here was the reversed Ace of Swords. The message here is that there is at least the beginnings of the insight Norman needs, as the card is very much about potential, and most importantly, new ideas. Again, the reversal does indicate a blocking of this energy, but nonetheless in this case the fact that it comes up at all is a good indication. The whole problem again seems to be that Norman is simply not strong enough to take the steps needed to regain control- he's just not there yet, though he begins to grasp what he needs to do, and this small spark might well become a fire for him. Being an Aries, Norman is never one to give up, and though he may not be strong enough to tackle Mother, he won't give an inch either.
Finally, the outcome. This reading has kind of a shortage of hope, but nonetheless, in time and with psychological help, I wouldn't completely write off Norman Bates. The final card here was the reversed 2 of Wands. This tells me that down the line we can expect Norman (the persona, that is) to become more and more defiant, if not stronger- perhaps ultimately leading to a showdown between Norman and Mother- much of this will be dependent on Norman's decision- will he decide that he can accept what happened and what he did, or will he simply regress into his own shell, still unable to come to terms with what happened? Unfortunately, that's all that Mother needs to remain in control. However, one interesting aspect is that Norman seems to know (and disapproves) of what Mother does- he doesn't really want to kill people, especially not a woman he likes, and this breeds resentment and anger towards Mother in Norman's half of the mind. But again, what this ultimately comes down to is whether or not Norman can accept the truth. He's spent a long time running from it, and this very much shows up in the reading. Should he be finally able to accept what happened, his life will begin to change, and it's at that point that finally Norman will begin to heal the rift in himself.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tarot Of Terror- Helen Lyle

This week's installment doesn't take us too far from the world of Clive Barker, as today's scream queen is Helen Lyle, the protagonist of the film Candyman, also based on a short story by Clive Barker, this one titled The Forbidden. So before we hit the cards, a brief rundown of Helen's life and times is in order.
Helen is a graduate student from the University of Illinois, and determined to make her mark on academia with her awesome thesis. She picks urban legends as her topic, such as the "Bloody Mary" story, the babysitter who receives threatening phone calls that are actually coming from inside the house... we all have heard them in some variation or other. Her research leads her to a local legend, that of Candyman- stand in front of a mirror, say his name five times, and he will appear, one hand missing, with a hook in its place, and kill whoever calls him. 
Just because you're an immortal murderer bent on vengeance doesn't mean you can't be dapper, too
As Helen delves deeper into the legend, we learn that she sometimes puts determination and courage ahead of common sense, and her research takes her to the less savory neighborhood of Cabrini Green, where she befriends some locals who add to her knowledge of the legend. Ann Marie is a dedicated, hardworking single mom who lives with her infant son Anthony, and Jake is a young boy who seems to be growing up too fast. Helen's research attracts the attention of Candyman himself, who, we learn, is very much real and none too happy about Helen trying to debunk his legend. In fact, it's this very legend that gives him his life. He tells Helen, "I am the writing on the wall; the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing." In order to continue his legend, he propositions Helen to become his victim- thereby adding to his legend, and perhaps securing the same kind of immortality for her that he himself has. Discussing his condition, he asks Helen point blank "Why do you want to live? If you would learn just a little from me, you would not beg to live. I am a rumor. It is a blessed condition, believe me. To be whispered about at street corners. To live in other peoples' dreams, but not have to be." Helen, however, refuses, so Candyman begins killing off her friends and acquaintances, framing Helen for the murders. This isn't that difficult when you can pretty much disappear at will, after all. Helen is framed for the disappearance of Anthony, as well as all of the murders of her friends. Interestingly, it's never clear whether Helen actually committed the murders, but evidence is leaning strongly towards her as the guilty party. Meanwhile, her husband is out having an affair with a younger woman, so really isn't too up on what's going on in her life. Helen is finally institutionalized until she can be declared mentally competent to stand trial, where she loses a month or so in a drug-induced haze, finally escaping the institution with a little help from Candyman. Off she goes, returning home to find her husband, Trevor, has wasted no time and all but moved in his new girlfriend. With nowhere to go, Helen wanders back to Cabrini Green, where preparations are in order for a bonfire- there's a huge pile of junk, wood and whatnot in a vacant lot. Helen hears a baby, and realizes Anthony is in the pile. Determined to save his life, she grabs a large hook lying conveniently by and begins attacking the pile, but to no avail. Anthony is still stuck inside, and so in she goes. Jake, the young boy who contributed to Helen's research, shows up just in time to see a figure with a hook disappearing into the junk pile, and draws the obvious conclusion- Candyman is in the pile, and so the bonfire is going to be a little early this year. Residents of Cabrini Green come out in droves, drawn by their shared fear of this legend, and light the pile on fire. Helen, meanwhile, struggles to finally save Anthony, reaching him just in time. She manages to escape the burning pile, but not without cost. Severely burned on her head and body, Helen later finally dies of her injuries, but manages to save Anthony. At her funeral and interment, the residents who started the fire show up, and Jake drops the same metal hook Helen used to try and free Anthony into her grave. Is this a gesture of thanks, of regret, or finality? We're left to draw our own conclusions.
Now on to the less than faithful husband. It seems all is not well in Paradise, as new girlfriend is growing increasingly resentful of Trevor's continuing mourning of Helen. Sure, he might be a creep, but at least he has a conscience. Trevor stands before a mirror, contemplating presumably the train wreck his life has become, and inadvertently says Helen's name five times. Oops. Helen appears behind him, her head a mass of scar tissue, but her face untouched, and, hook in hand, well, gets back at her cheating husband. It seems she has taken on the same abilities and rules as Candyman, and become part of the urban legend herself. 
At this point, the run of Trevor's thoughts are "oops."
Now, on to the reading. Helen is a surprisingly sympathetic character, and develops across the course of her story. At first she shows a lot of Knight of Swords personality traits- determination, leadership (even if it's in the wrong direction) and single-minded stubbornness. Perhaps in many ways this leads up to her end. What she doesn't understand, she just plows through, although ultimately her heart is in the right place. For her reading, I chose a Celtic Cross spread- here goes.
The first card to come up, the present situation, was the Fool. This seems to make a good deal of sense, as Helen really gets in over her head, but makes good use of her resources, both internal and external. A lot of her expectations and assumptions fall apart, and she finds herself in many ways out of her depth. Likewise, at the end of the movie, it's a whole new ball game for her, and she no doubt needs to learn a whole new set of rules and adapt to a whole new existence as a figure of legend.
Covering this, indicating influences on the situation, was the 9 of Pentacles. This is interesting, as there's a message of coming into one's own and reaping the benefits of hard work. There's a repeated theme throughout the movie- "It Was Always You, Helen". How much of this is destiny, and how much is Helen's own doing is never clear, but the path she is on does seem to go only one way. And ultimately, Helen gets back at Trevor, who seems too busy keeping his paramour and wife from running into each other to be much concerned about Helen's life and increasingly reckless behavior. 
The Past position held, big surprise, the Knight of Swords. Helen is an avid and dedicated researcher, and is absolutely fearless in venturing into places wiser men may well fear to tread. She explores murder sites, camera at the ready, and delves deep into the Candyman legend with a sheer determination that's admirable, if ill-advised. Perhaps Helen could have used a little more discretion in how and what she researched, but one telling scene occurs when she is discussing her thesis with another academic who previously wrote on the same subject, telling him "We're about to bury you". Academic cutthroat-ery aside, this shows Helen's determination and will in finding her story and setting herself thoroughly off the path to "academic Bolivia", as her rival warns. Much like with the Knight of Swords, Helen throws caution to the wind and runs for her prize. 
The next card to come up is in the Foundation position- what's going on to bring all this about? Here was the reversed Ace of Pentacles, perhaps pointing to a great opportunity, as such an important piece of research as a graduate thesis certainly is, but combine this with the Knight of Swords, and red flags start going up. Are you certain you know what you're doing? This is a strong call to take a break, slow your steed down and look around. Re-evaluation of the situation is called for, though Helen's Knight-like nature isn't long on examination and second-guessing. 
Next up comes the Aspirations position, with another Pentacles card- here, the Page of Pentacles. Definitely a student figure, the Page represents what Helen hopes to accomplish, and the circumstances she tries to bring about. She is idealistic in her drive for a great thesis, and hopes this will pave the way for further research and a prosperous future for her. She wants to get noticed, in other words, and wants to take all her available resources to do so. This is certainly a noble enough goal, but what she lacks is discretion and understanding. Pages are students, and while determined to succeed, may do so at a very high cost that could be avoided. Well, mistakes are to learn from, after all. 
Now, on to what the future may hold for Helen. The Near Future position holds the 7 of Swords, indicating that it may be too late for reflection; Helen may well feel conflicted about her new role as urban legend, rumor and generally being whispered about on streetcorners and classrooms. But nonetheless, she now has to adapt to this new set of circumstances. When that Knight of Swords experiences doubt and uncertainty, that 7 of Swords comes through, with its message of self-doubt and self-undermining. But nonetheless, the future is not entirely bleak, as Helen shows a consistent and thorough ability to overcome and rise above adversity, either from herself or others.
The 8th position tells us of Hopes and Fears- here, we see the 8 of Wands, indicating that Helen needs to re-align that sense of determination and purpose, and in so doing, find a new goal and new reason for her life. It may well be vengeance, much as her predecessor had- he was unjustly murdered horribly, and now is able to wreak vengeance on the world in his odd afterlife.
The next position deals with Hidden Influences, and here was the 2 of Swords, pointing to the fact that perhaps, after all, It Was Always You, Helen. Faced with the decision of whether or not to continue, whether or not to abandon her project as too dangerous, Helen chose to press on, thus creating the circumstances she finds herself in. Perhaps she can take this as a lesson learned; perhaps not. Nonetheless, she will be faced with decisions again, perhaps whether or not to follow in Candyman's footsteps, or to add to the legend, as after all, she did save a baby. Where her aspect of the legend goes remains to be seen- perhaps even as a foil to Candyman's vengeance?
Finally, the Outcome, a bittersweet one for Helen, as here was the 5 of Cups. There are perks, it would seem, to her situation, but at the same time, it means giving up any semblance of the life she once had. It's a whole new ball game for Helen, and the first stop on this new legend for her is Trevor- judging from Trevor's ongoing grief, it seems there may well have been something there worth saving after all. However, what jumps out at me about this card is that the 5 of Cups, despite being an indication of tough emotional times, can also be a valuable learning experience. Has Helen grown from all this? There's a lot of unanswered questions here, though I'm fairly confident Helen will find a way to better her situation, and use it for good rather than simple vengeance. Her legend may well give her existence, but can that work for good? Can she become a kind of protector figure instead of one to be feared? It would seem that though the same rules apply, fortune is not the same for everyone.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Deck Review- Tarot of the Silicon Dawn

Where to start on this one? This deck, created by Egypt Urnash, isn't really a conventional Tarot deck, and in many ways this is a breath of fresh air. It seems a lot of people, readers and deck makers alike, kind of stopped at the level of the Rider-Waite or Thoth Tarot decks, and while these symbols and associations have certainly served us well, keep in mind that the Tarot is meant as a microcosm of human experience. Human experience retains the same fundamental elements, but does change over time. Egypt Urnash kind of puts the eccentric in eccentric artist, bless her odd little heart. Other works include Decrypting Rita, a graphic novel about a female robot who is jolted out of reality by her ex boyfriend, and Five Glasses of Absinthe, which is really on the racy side, but a good read, and obviously the author put a lot of herself into the story. Same thing with this deck, it seems. So having said that, let's go to the deck.
One of the cooler cards from the deck, this gives you a feel for the bizarre but cool nature of this beast

 It seems Urnash really did her homework on this one, and has a leaning towards the Crowley-Thoth side of things. Many of the associations in the deck come from this, though the Majors retain a strong flavor of Golden Dawn us readers are so familiar with. But this deck is almost deliberately different. I'd say the creator is first and foremost an artist, and as such sets out to create a work of art. Like every other artwork, this one leans towards impressions. The artist wants to communicate something, though that can now and then get lost, mutated or changed in translation. This, I think, is often an error Tarot readers run into: "Ok, this card means this, this card is that, so there you go." Don't memorize your Little White Books, guys- learn them, know them, use them, but don't let them limit you. And so coming from a more traditional background of Tarot, this deck was quite a culture shock. There are 90 cards instead of 78, although the entire 78 card deck is here as well. The extra cards are additions to the traditional Tarot- there are four extra pip cards, one for each suit, numbered 99, as well as an additional set of Court cards, the Voids, all dead black and done in a specialized varnish that allows images to be seen when you tilt them in the light. There are also additional Major Arcana cards, including multiple Fool cards- kind of like the Thoth deck's multiple Magus cards, each with a different emphasis. Perhaps the most striking thing overall about this deck is the fact that it's so impressionistic. The author provides a guide to the cards, telling you what was going through her head (occasionally nebulous though it may be) to provide some insight and meaning to the cards. But most importantly is what you, the reader, or you, the person being read for, take away from the images. And really, isn't that where the utility of a deck comes from?
 The artwork is an interesting hybrid of art deco, science fiction and anime, with a good dose of NC-17 material thrown in. And yes, the NC-17 stuff does actually have relevance to the deck, it's not just there to appeal to your prurient interest. I keep going back to the Thoth deck on this one, and like the Thoth, there's a lot to see and a lot of symbolism contained in the cards. But symbolism aside, this got me thinking. We like to put things in neat little cognitive boxes- friend, enemy, good, bad, food and not food. Okay, that last one might actually be pretty important, but the point being that we fit things into boxes to make life easier. But the world is not so easily categorized. The real world is messy, organic and liquid, and you can't put a liquid into a container without in some small way changing its nature- perhaps even limiting it. This deck calls on us to forget what we know and take a fresh perspective.
 So there are some limitations, as well. This deck is a complicated one, and assumes a basic knowledge of the Tarot. So unless you want to spend a lot of time explaining things, use this with discretion where clients are concerned. Not that clients are dumb, please don't think that; it's just that a lot of the cards have some funky imagery that may leave many people scratching their heads. The 90 cards are beautifully done, and the companion book is a useful resource. But again, if you're looking to cut your teeth on Tarot, I'd suggest a simpler deck than this one. Learn the basics, then come to this deck to really get a shot in the arm for your reading prowess. Interestingly, the suits of Pentacles and Wands are different- Wands are assigned to the element of Earth, and Pentacles to Fire. This one threw me for a loop- I've seen decks where Swords were assigned to Fire and Wands to Air, but this is new. Actually, it took a good deal of thought, but really this does make some degree of sense.
The 99 of Wands, another of the non-conventional cards

 As an overall theme, this deck deals with rejecting duality, and seeing things as a big messy whole. Not so much forgetting what you know already and starting from ground zero, but rather looking at what's going on around you in a new and perhaps more holistic way. I'd absolutely recommend this deck as a study aid for both Tarot students and students of the world on a grand scale. As a first Tarot deck, look elsewhere, it's a complex and fascinating deck, but just a little much to start out with perhaps. But first and foremost, keep this in mind, that the world is there waiting for us to find it. When we're ready to step out of the comfort zone, ready to start looking beyond the cognitive labels and organization we place on everything (including ourselves), we find a much larger world out there! None of us is completely free from this, but when you can take a step back, look around and see things from a different perspective, that goes a long way, in my experience.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tarot, Lottery and Fractals

A question I encounter a lot, on occasion asked seriously, is "do you have the winning lottery numbers?" The short (and not sarcastic answer) is no, I don't. But doesn't the Tarot predict the future? Well, yes and no. Consider why this may be the case. What are we dealing with in the future? We have a great potential- the future is not yet defined until we actually settle down and make a decision. Those familiar with Erwin Schrodinger's famous hypothetical cat will realize that this is, in many ways, why the future is probable but not a given. There are no such things as zero probabilities (that is, in the combined lifespans of this and all universes, something that will never occur, not once) and absolute givens (that which in that same time span will always occur without exception.) Now back to Schrodinger's Cheshire cat- it's alive and dead until such time as it is observed; it goes from a possibility to a concrete reality. There are an incredible number of variables to calculate, even in such an insular and small example as this one. The fact is this- of course there are mathematics that exist to define such a scenario. But that being the case, we simply don't have the calculating power, either in our own marvelous brains or in that which our marvelous brains have constructed, to even approach this kind of calculating power. There are just too many variables. We just don't know which variables are going to be ruled out and which are not.
Going back to the mathematics involved for a second, let's consider that the world is indeed defined by mathematics; simply put that which can be quantified (given numbers) can then be understood in terms of how those mathematics work. The resulting equation then defines how a given phenomenon, event or what have you works in the real world. These mathematics are not nice neat little linear equations, however. They are big, funky nonlinear equations, and are the very same ones used to create fractals, which are trippy artistic renderings of the same equations. One of them is the Mandelbrot set. These equations do not, as the name suggests, resolve into a nice neat little line. They go everywhere, producing complex patterns that nonetheless have at their heart the same equations. Here is an example of a few points plotted with a nonlinear equation- the line through them produces a rough approximation of how the points behave, but is not a perfect fit.
What about those points way out there on their own, on the left side of the curve? Surely the line will not account for them. However, keep in mind this is on a small scale. What happens when we plot millions and millions of points, creating a pattern? Ah, then things get trippy and artistic:








Basically, what's going on here is that on a larger scale, such as one we encounter in the real world, and especially in our lives, we find that things fall into a nice neat little pattern. In terms of our human experience, we find that there are a lot of little variables that cancel each other out. Hold a pencil up in the air as a for example. Let go. I'll use my incredible psychic powers and say the pencil fell towards the earth, courtesy of gravity. But consider again all those variables- isn't it possible that just one of them could have set up a chain reaction of even more variables, and the pencil could have, say, grown wings, caught fire, embedded itself in the wall, or any of a number of possibilities, albeit slim ones. The fact is, these smaller variables cancel each other out on a scale as large and complex as dropping a pencil.
So isn't the lottery equally a complex system? Indeed, it is. However, predicting one specific number is much more difficult, again because of these variables. Predicting a range of numbers, say between 1 and 5, is perhaps not as difficult, though still a daunting task. Lottery balls are generally numbered on a much broader scale than 1 to 5, and with this larger scale we are faced with increasingly complex numbers of variables. The question really being asked when someone asks for the winning lottery numbers are is rather what is the probability of any given number coming up? And this gets pretty difficult to predict.
Tarot in turn relies on predicting more of an overall pattern- variables, as we can see, on a larger scale tend to fall into more predictable patterns, and keep in mind that this in essence leaves out a whole lot of variables that again, simply cancel each other out. So we're left with the more likely outcomes, which of course are affected by the choices we make.
Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind we are not simply Fate's puppets, without control over our own destinies. The choices we make are always ours, and it's these same choices that affect what comes next- from one set of choices, we are led to another, and so on down the line. Tarot is most useful in examining what the outcome of a given choice may be- not making that choice for you, and allowing you an edge in understanding what your options are, and how best to utilize the resources you have.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tarot Of Terror: Kirsty Cotton

The idea for this came from first, the fact that I have too much time on my hands, and second, I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders "What happens next?" when horror movies end. Do the bad guys survive to terrorize another day? Well, I decided to find out. This worked well not as a practical reading but rather as an exercise in the mechanics of Tarot reading. I'm hoping to find other horror movie scream queens, villains and others to examine.
  Our first stop on this odyssey of oddity comes to us from the Hellraiser movies, and focuses on the main character throughout several of the films in the series, one Kirsty Cotton. She later appears in the Hellraiser comics, where her story continues. So to begin, let's provide a brief synopsis of Kirsty's life and times as it relates to the movies. When we first meet Kirsty, she is in the process of moving out of her father's house and striking out on her own. Her mother is, at this point, deceased, and Kirsty has previously lived with her father Larry and stepmother Julia. Kirsty seems to be on the manipulative side, and there is obvious tension between her and Julia- long story short, Kirsty doesn't like Julia, and Julia seems at best uncertain how to deal with Kirsty. Kirsty likewise has a tendency to play her rather clueless dad like a harp at times, yet her leaving the house seems to be considerably less about manipulating anyone as it does about seeking a degree of independence from an overprotective father.
Kirsty as she appears in the movies, holding the Lament Configuration.

 Enter into the mix Frank Cotton, Larry's brother and Julia's onetime lover, who has previously opened a puzzle box, summoning the Cenobites, who work for and in Hell, dragging people bodily off through the rift between our world and Hell that is created when the box is opened. It's referred to variously as Lemarchand's Box, after its creator, or the Lament Configuration. Larry and Julia move into the house Frank previously owned, and where he opens the box, and is subsequently dragged to Hell. Larry manages to cut himself, and having a severe blood phobia, manages to bleed on the very same floor of the room where Frank exited our world. As a result, Frank is able to return (well, most of him, anyway) to our world, where his presence in the house remains a secret. Julia discovers him, and agrees to supply him with fresh blood to revive him fully, and the two of them begin to plan an escape- Julia from her dorky husband, Frank from the Cenobites, who continue to chill in Hell, unaware of Frank's escape. Kirsty then discovers Frank, and begins to grasp what's going on. This obviously comes as a bit of a shock, however she manages to escape the house before collapsing from shock in the street. She then is taken to a hospital and placed under observation, where she is once again given the box. Being the curious soul she is, she solves the box and is greeted by the Cenobites, ready to add to their collection of Cottons in hell. Here Kirsty really shows her mental prowess by bargaining with the Cenobites, thinking on her feet and wondering why, if Frank has been captured by them, he is hanging out with her family. The Cenobites agree to let Kirsty lead them back to Frank in exchange for her freedom. Off she goes, and delivers Frank to them. However, the Cenobites have other plans, and Kirsty is able to close the box and dispatch the Cenobites back to Hell before they take her with them.

The original group of Cenobites who greet Kirsty
After escaping from the house, Kirsty then is committed to the Channard psychiatric institute, where she tries to convince the staff that she's telling the truth. As it turns out, Dr. Channard, the head of the institute, has long been studying the Cenobites, and revives Julia in the same way that Frank was returned to this world. Another patient, a puzzle savant, solves the box and once again summons the Cenobites, who do not meet Channard- Julia, however, guides him into Hell, where he later joins the ranks of the Cenobites. Kirsty, convinced that her father is in Hell, sets out through Hell along with Tiffany, the young girl who solves the box, to retrieve her father. Once again, Kirsty meets up with the Cenobites, and attempts to bargain for her father's life, and hers. Nothing doing, say the Cenobites, but feel free to check the place out, now that you're here you're certainly not going anywhere. Kirsty once again meets up with both Frank and Julia, and Kirsty manages to trick Frank until Julia shows up, less than pleased about Frank betraying her and leaving her to the Cenobites. Kirsty manages to escape Hell with Tiffany in tow, and settles down to a more or less normal life, later getting married to a man named Trevor Gooden.
Trevor is less than faithful to Kirsty, and at one point, seeking to get rid of her so he can get on with his womanizing, presents her with, yep, you guessed it, the Lament Configuration. Kirsty, it turns out, has honed her manipulative abilities, and once again bargains with the Cenobites- she turns over Trevor and his mistresses to the Cenobites, again in exchange for her own life.
As time goes on, Kirsty's tale is picked up in the comics, approximately 20 years later. She has formed a group of people called the Harrowers, kind of a support group for people who have had run ins with the Cenobites and had their lives destroyed by them. Kirsty then meets up with the head Cenobite, known as Pinhead (for obvious reasons, in the photo above he's the tall fellow with pins in his head). Once again Kirsty strikes a bargain with Pinhead, who wants his human life back. The only way to do this is to find a replacement- someone willing to take his place. Kirsty realizes that this is an opportunity to be reunited with her family, and basically to govern Hell in any way she sees fit. Pinhead is kind of Hell's go-to guy, right hand man to Leviathan, a huge entity who governs over Hell's Labyrinth, where Kirsty and friends wind up when they travel to Hell through Dr. Channard's passageway. Kirsty accepts, and assumes Pinhead's position.

From Boom! Studios, Kirsty taking over Hell one cool outfit at a time. 
Now, on to the reading. For this task I chose a Celtic Cross spread, and picked up where Kirsty left off, in charge of Hell. The first card, the Present situation, was the 2 of Cups. In this we see that Hell has not so much gained a new recruit as Kirsty has gained Hell. Leviathan seems to adopt a very laissez-faire attitude towards Hell, and overthrowing the man in charge is certainly not unheard of. Kirsty now is able to use her powers to govern however she wants, and being in this position, there's not really anyone who can stop her- the 2 of Cups tells me that from this union, something more will come. Kirsty is indeed reunited with her loved ones, and I'd expect to see a "New, Improved Hell!" in the works here.
Covering this and indicating main influences at this hypothetical present is the Hierophant, indicating not so much that Kirsty will keep with the traditions of Hell, but rather that her experiences will result in a greater sense of justice and letting the crime fit the punishment in Hell. Whereas previously the innocent are not exempt from the VIP treatment, so to speak, Kirsty retains throughout her mortal life a strong sense of justice and mercy, although she can also be extremely vengeful, as shown by her treatment of Trevor; we get the impression that she was all too happy to be given such an opportunity to deliver Trevor to the Cenobites. Kirsty very much develops throughout her life, becoming more intelligent and cunning, and learning to turn that intelligence into a lethal weapon against her enemies.
Interestingly, the Past position held the High Priestess, indicating hidden answers. The fact that Kirsty becomes the "High Priestess" of Hell is significant, as well. But here, the card tells us that Kirsty has the power and ability to get through just about anything, and her considerable mental agility is the answer to her problems. We could say she was destined for the throne, and that her life has led up to assuming leadership of Hell.
This is likewise indicated by the next card, the Foundation card. Here was the 9 of Cups, indicating that the events in Kirsty's life have led her to Hell, reunited with her family, and in a position to dispense torment and justice as she sees fit. The 9 indicates things being set up, events merely waiting for her to come into her position. Though we learn that changes in leadership are not uncommon in Hell, Kirsty certainly has the cunning and foresight to retain power there for a long, long time.
On to the Near Future position, and here we see another Major Arcana card, the Judgment card. This is an indication that in fact all that Kirsty has been through has prepared her for this- every experience and every hardship, every terror she has faced and thought her way out of, will now serve as valuable experience.
The last card in this first "cross" section is the Aspirations card- what the best we can hope for is, and here was the King of Swords. The suit of Swords is tied to intelligence and analytical thought, and this is what Kirsty excels at. Her sharp wit and cunning will serve her well as she rules Hell, and will ultimately lead her to develop more and more fitting torments for the deserving souls downstairs.
Now, the 7th position, which also deals with the future- here the card is the 6 of Pentacles. Pentacles here indicates resources, and being in Hell, there is by and large a different definition of material resources. She certainly isn't in Hell by herself, and we learn that those Leviathan (or presumably his ministers, in this case Kirsty herself) deem worthy are offered a position in the ranks. Hence, also, the power grabs and infighting that Hell experiences. However, the 6 of Pentacles has two aspects- one is philanthropy, giving to advantage of all, and second, using resources to benefit everyone, including oneself. Kirsty, remember, is in a position of power. Will she exploit everyone around her, or will she, tempered by her experience, realize that she can do better with others on her side? The card here indicates that her best bet is to make friends, not inspire fear. In Hell, these may well be one and the same, but Kirsty will need to rely on that intelligence that is so much a hallmark of her time on Earth and in her dealings with the Cenobites. A master of the art of the deal, Kirsty can certainly reinforce her standing in Hell with this skill.
Next is the 8th position, holding hopes and fears. Here the card was the Lovers- Kirsty may not have a boyfriend in Hell, (we can see how well her last marriage went) but can be reunited with her family, and a part of the Lovers is indeed a joining of forces. Here, this provides powerful and lasting motivation for Cenobite Kirsty- she is motivated to retain her power because it allows her to take care, so to speak, of her family and friends in Hell.
Next, the 9th position deals with hidden influences. Looking back to the High Priestess, it seems there are things that even Kirsty doesn't foresee, and here the card is the 8 of Pentacles. The Pentacles that appear in this reading are telling in that they point to Kirsty being able to strike a balance between self interest and working for the benefit of others, and throughout her time on Earth this is a lesson she comes to learn- her time with Trevor certainly teaches her vengeance, but she also develops a sense of fairness, if not compassion, in Hell. Kirsty is able to change things in Hell, and, as the comic emphasizes, rule it however she chooses, and the 8 is a card of new endeavors and new uses for existing resources- Kirsty can and more than likely will shake things up a bit in Hell. At one point during the movies the previous Pinhead meets a demonic female named Angelique, and we learn that this has happened before, as he explains to her that "Hell is more ordered since your time, princess... and much less amusing." Kirsty, it seems, will bring her own brand of Hell to bear on the souls therein.
Finally, the Outcome. What can we expect for Kirsty? The card here is the 7 of Pentacles- another Pentacles card! It looks like Kirsty has a long time to re-order Hell according to her own designs, as the 7 is a card of patience, waiting for the seeds planted to come to fruition. Yet Kirsty is not going to be idle, it seems, and with her strong motivation and sense of family, will no doubt be able to make this happen.
To sum it all up for this first installment, Kirsty is a born leader, and Hell is where she's meant to be- things are not always cut and dried in Hell- sometimes people slip through the cracks, sometimes things go awry, even with powerful entities like Leviathan running the show. But Kirsty aims to change that, and is not out to win any popularity contests. Being of a single mind and purpose will help her stay focused and determined, and finally to bring about the changes she wants to see in Hell. We can expect great things from her- perhaps not necessarily good ones, but definitely far-reaching changes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Deck Review- The Vertigo Tarot

I think everyone has their favorite decks, or favorite types of Tarot decks- either the more traditional ones, or more abstract designs. The Vertigo Tarot, published on the Vertigo/DC Comics label, of many graphic novels fame. Art in this deck is by Dave McKean, and tends towards the abstract. The Majors are linked to many of the Vertigo comics characters, and fans of the genre will no doubt see familiar faces, though some of the assignments are abstract, like assigning long-time demon hunter John Constantine to The Fool. However, the assignments are valid ones, though it may not at first be apparent.

The Hermit, depicted here as the Phantom Stranger
The Minor Arcana cards tend towards the abstract, too, and overall the deck has kind of a dark, gloomy and brooding feel to it, for those who like that in a deck. Personally, I do, but again, not for everyone. The reissued edition (the deck was re-released in 2008) comes with a companion guide with somewhat small print, but otherwise interesting and insightful. It's difficult to assign this deck to a particular tradition, (i.e. Rider-Waite, Thoth) as it seems to borrow elements from both of these, and what it doesn't borrow comes from original interpretations. This is often a tough aspect of reviewing and recommending a deck, as there are often two aspects to Tarot decks- there's the "little white book" interpretations, which are more traditional and straightforward, but not in-depth, and the artist's take on the deck, which in this deck plays a prominent role. 
Case in point, who could say no to that face?
So all in all, this is a great deck for those who are more familiar with the more traditional layout and design of the Tarot, and are looking for a new take on an old favorite. However, these cards are very symbolic and abstract- this is for some a plus, for others not so much. Again, personally speaking, I would recommend this deck for readers with a fairly solid background in the Tarot- for those just starting out, you may prefer a more traditional route. The abstract and often odd imagery of the deck are certainly thought-provoking, but at the same time could prove a bit overwhelming to someone first starting out. In the hopes that doesn't sound patronizing, I think we've all been there at some point! 

A good example of this comes from the Devil card, whose image comes from the Sandman series- Lucifer Morningstar eventually retires, giving up rulership of Hell, and here's the interesting part- because he's tired of people blaming the Devil for everything, when his only crime was rebelling against Heaven. So he leaves Hell for retirement- hence the beach chair. Comparing this to the Devil card's own story, we see that often it's not the Devil making us do it, but rather our own actions- we hold ourselves in the Devil's chains, not the other way round. This is just one example of the stories you can find in this deck. Couldn't you argue that the Tarot is meant to be a model of the world around us, and within us? If that's the case, the all-too-human characters we encounter in our own lives, either real or imagined, are bound to have their parallels in the Tarot. 
Summing up, I use this deck on a fairly regular basis, and it's a favorite precisely because it tends towards the odd and abstract. The companion book provides a good deal of insight as to where the images came from and what inspired them, so it too is worth a look. In reading through other reviews, many have noted the unusual Zodiac associations the Majors are given, and this too prompts me to put it in the "more experienced readers" category. But if you're a fan of Vertigo comics, you'll definitely be in familiar territory. While the cards are a little gloomy and abstract, I'll leave it up to you to decide if this is a positive or a negative- as before, not for everyone, but overall this deck gets the Horse's stomp of approval! I'd recommend this for any reader who has a familiarity with the basic layout and workings of the Tarot. It's a well thought out and well-executed concept deck, and its layers of symbolism often get your mind working, developing sometimes surprising connections between the cards.