Saturday, August 25, 2012

Know Your Enemy

Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There are different types of Tarot readings, depending on what you're looking to get out of the reading. True, there are different layouts and spreads to use, but here I'm referring to the actual reason a person is seeking out a Tarot reading. The inspiration for this post comes from the Tarot Eon blog, and the idea was first put forth by Douglas Gibb. Gibb states that in order to perform an effective reading, you must identify the enemy. The enemy is not necessarily a person, gender or group of people in a situation that are opposed to the querent, but rather are the forces working against a desired end. This too calls for a couple different factors.
First, you have to have a clearly defined end. You have to know where you (you here referring to the querent) want to go. Say it's a better paying job. You have to have an idea what you want to happen- and the clearer this idea is in your mind, the more effectively you can develop a plan. You can certainly do a Tarot reading for someone who does not have that direction in their life, and help to clarify goals and what the end-state should look like. However, if you're working towards something without knowing what you're working for, how will you know when you get there? What standard can you use to measure success or failure in that case? So in this instance, you'll need to have a defined end before you can identify what's standing in the way of what you wish to happen.
Second, you have to understand what forces are against you, or opposed to that end. These are not always external, nor are they sometimes entirely internal. Usually it's a combination of the two, and here a Tarot reading can help. It can often identify things that happen outside of conscious awareness, and can identify patterns of thought and behavior that can work against that end. It is quite possible to be your own enemy, in thought or in action.
So what do you do with this enemy? Know them! For example purposes, let's say that the enemy here is another person. Why does this person do what they do? Revenge? They don't like you? Perhaps they don't realize how their ends and yours are not compatible, and perhaps a compromise can be reached. This also can be applied to more abstract forces- understand them as well. If it's something (or someone) that has to be overcome, that's one thing. Sometimes an opposing force can be a means to redirect you, and push you in another direction. The end does not need to change, just the route around it and towards it.
Another aspect here is to know yourself. Again, to quote from Sun Tzu, "If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." Your own motivations, as well as a clear knowledge of your own objective, can allow you to make an accurate and honest assesment of the situation and where you need to go to reach that objective. What are your strengths, and what are your own weak points? Knowing these can allow you to develop a strategy. Again, this is an area a Tarot reading can be useful in, as a part of its utility is to provide insight.
So again, this is but one aspect of a Tarot reading, and one approach. Are there always enemies? Not always. If you have a clear objective in mind, and know how to get there, but want to get a little clarity on what the road ahead looks like, this also can help. If you want to know a possible outcome, this too is another approach. All in all, This model has a great deal of usefulness, but is not absolute- readings vary as much as the people they are done for, or by! But the idea of self knowledge and situational knowledge is a good one across the board. We don't need to view everything as opposed to our own ends- in fact, it would be a mistake to do so! But understanding the situation, and understanding oneself is always a good plan, regardless of the situation.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Exercise In Reading- The Joker

I once came across an interesting exercise in reading, and decided to give it a shot. Can you do a reading for someone that doesn't exist? A fictional character, for instance? This would work merely as an exercise in interpreting the cards, not really useful for anything else. So, just to clear out the cobwebs, I decided on a challenge- the Joker, DC Comics' snappy-dressing villain and Batman's chief nemesis.
So first, a little background- the Joker was not born a criminal. Actually, the story of his origin has him employed as a chemical engineer at Axis Chemicals, a career he later left to pursue one as a stand-up comic. This ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the man who was to become the Joker was coerced into working with a criminal gang known as the Red Hood Gang, where he himself wore a red hood and acted as the leader of the gang. The gang would regularly find someone to wear the hood (covering their face) and pretend to be the Red Hood, leading the police to look for a criminal who in reality did not exist. Married with a baby on the way, this person is never identified except by a first name, Jack. (Go figure.) Jack leads the Red Hood Gang to the Axis plant, where things go horribly wrong. Batman drops in on the robbery and Jack ends up falling into a vat of chemicals. Exactly what this chemical was is never explained, apart from being a cyanide-based toxin- this in part explains the Joker's grin, caused by nerve damage and muscle contraction in the face. Deformed and confused, Jack now learns that his wife and daughter are dead. This pushes him over the edge, making him in essence the ultimate nihilist. He blames Batman for his condition, and becomes the Joker, posessed of a brilliant mind and a sadistic wit combined with a desire for revenge on the world that took away everything he cared about He later goes on to synthesize the chemical that he himself was exposed to, with the difference that this version is almost always fatal, causing sever nervous damage, convulsions and uncontrollable laughter, as well as the facial muscle paralysis the Joker himself displays. Interestingly, a side effect of his exposure to the chemical is an immunity to it as well as most all other poisons. Psychologically, the Joker is not that difficult to figure out in terms of motives and rationale, or lack thereof. He literally has nothing to live for except causing pain to others, and this raison d'etre comes from his own loss of everything he cared about or loved. Apart from this, the Joker is interesting because he is completely random and senseless. His crimes often seem to have no rationale, and are not 'cost-effective'. The terrorism the Joker engages in is rarely for monetary gain or extortion. These things are simply a means to the end of wreaking havoc, making him a (pardon the pun) a wild card as far as the Tarot is concerned. How would you classify someone like that? What card would sum him up?
Judging from his intelligence and methodical nature, in terms of the Zodiac we could put him under Libra or Scorpio, as he combines a dramatic, public nature with an intelligent mind. However, all things considered he fits well into Aquarius. Here we have intelligence and independence, yet also emotional detachment and unpredictability, as well as a tendency towards theatrics. The emotional detachment can come from feeling too much, feeling too acutely. Instead of dealing with the powerful emotions, an Aquarius could instead put up a facade or defense mechanism- in the Joker's case, his psychopathic desire for revenge rather than coming to terms with what happened. So at least we have some explanation for why the Joker is the way he is.
So in doing a reading, I found out a few interesting things. I attempted a Horseshoe spread, seeing as most of my experience is reading for actual people, not fictional ones- keep it simple, as they say. Here are the results-
The first card in this spread is the Past- here was the 3 of Cups. Seeming to be a fairly Aquarian card, it points to family, and strong family ties. This seems to fit pretty well with what we know already- Jack worked hard for his family, and was a definite family man. He pursued the things that brought meaning to his life, and his desire to be a comic seems to indicate a desire to share laughter and happiness with other people.
The next card covers the Present- here was the Temperance card, reversed. Its upside-down position indicates that the balance and synthesis this card indicates are absent. Gee, really? There are actually two different aspects to this I found- first, that the Joker tends towards extremes. The loss of his family essentially brought his world, as well as his sanity, to an end. Unable to deal with the pain, the Joker found something to occupy his mind in the form of his desire for revenge against the world, and more specifically against Batman. Lacking balance in his own mind, the Joker cannot stop until he himself is destroyed- he has one pursuit, and one only. Instead of say, finding a balance between his desire for revenge and pursuing a more profitable criminal career, there's only the mad desire for revenge with him. Again, imbalance.
The next card indicates the Future, and here I found the 9 of Pentacles, also reversed. This points to pretty much nothing- things not working towards any end, and nothing left. In its upright position, the 9 would indicate success, enjoying things worked for. Reversed, we find no rewards for hard work, and no repose coming with that. The crimes the Joker has committed, and the things he has destroyed bring him no pleasure, because of that psychological imbalance. All that exists, it seems, is the desire to keep on destroying until there's nothing left, and there are no material rewards he's interested in, except as a means to further his own end.
The next position indicates the best course of action- here was the 4 of Swords, calling for a review and a rest. The suit of Swords indicates a logical and objective viewpoint- I'd take that to mean a call to examine himself- see why vengeance is that important, and in so doing, begin to come to terms with his losses and break down the walls he's put up against the pain of his losses. Remember that this is just the best course of action- advice, not what is necessarily going to happen. It's possible that this will never happen, that the damage is too extensive.
The next position, the fifth, indicates influences. Here was the 8 of Swords, indicating again intellect, but here the message is one of feeling trapped. The Joker may very well have some degree of awareness of his psychological makeup and its problems, but fears the mental anguish that would come from even beginning to acknowledge his loss and the pain he feels because of that. He's made himself invincible by not feeling pain, much as the toxin made him immune to poisons, but in both cases, it's at a terrible cost. Instead of changing and growing as a mentally sound person, the Joker has closed himself off and sticks only to what is 'comfortable' for him- that overwhelming and unrelenting desire for revenge and destruction.
Next is the obstacles position- those things that stand in the way of moving forwards, and keep us where we are. The card here was the Moon- the Joker's own perspective is so warped at this point from his own defense mechanisms, mostly in terms of blocking off emotionally, that he has come to see the world only this one way, in terms of hopelesness and despair. There is nothing to save in the Joker's world, and everyone deserves as much suffering as he can inflict on them. In part, this is to maintain mental consistency- the mind operates from assumptions, and then tries to find evidence in the world around to justify those beliefs. Simply put it's a method of protecting the ego. People will go to surprising lengths, either intentionally or not, to defend themselves from getting a bruised ego, and this seems to be no exception.
Finally we have the outcome- here was the 6 of Pentacles, reversed. Things ultimately will not go on to level themselves out, but rather will simply fall apart. There can't be any quid pro quo in the Joker's world, because he regards the world as lost and irredeemable, and himself as a part of it. The only end he can see is destruction, and things will never balance out. Another aspect of this is also imbalance- he suffered loss, and now inflicts suffering on a much greater scale. Everyone will feel his pain, as he believes there are no innocents. It's interesting to examine this card too in terms of its suit- Pentacles, related to the Earth. Being a criminal, and a highly intelligent one, the Joker could very well become extremely wealthy, and build a comfortable, albeit illegal, business. However, this is not his end, nor is any personal gain, at least in terms of monetary or tangible factors. The only end is more and more destruction, and ultimately it's this desire that will consume and destroy him, perhaps in some final ironic end.
So what we find overall is that the message here is one of imbalance- everything is a big deal for him, and the result is that instead of come to terms with what happened, he developed strong defense mechanisms and emotional blocks, which ultimately caused him to develop into a wholly self-referencing sociopath. Are you ever likely to encounter someone like this in a reading? Highly unlikely, and it is an extreme example. Nonetheless, I found it an interesting exercise, and failing all else, good practice.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tarot Spell Basics

I wanted to take a moment to address another use for Tarot cards other than divination- they can be used for spells. Much of the information in this post comes from the book Portable Magic by Donald Tyson, who deals primarily in ceremonial magic, also called high magic, or Enochian magic. The idea is that as a model of the universe, and also ourselves within it, we can further model the universe using the cards. Here the principle of "as above, so below" comes into usage. What we do on this symbolic level is reflected in the world around us. And of course, the law of three (what you send out returns to you three times) still applies.
Keep in mind that though Tyson writes with a great deal of authority, this is not the only way to model the world. It's based on Enochian magic, and uses a Triangle for evocation- many modern day practicioners don't use this, simply directing energy from inside the circle and sending it off when it has been raised. Really, it's a matter of personal preference and familiarity. Speaking for myself, I've found evocation to be a pretty useful tool.
Below we have a basic layout of what the circle and its accompanying triangle would look like drawn out on the working surface-
Now, if this gives you a nervous tic just looking at it, you're not alone. Oh, and be sure to keep in mind the tables of planetary hours and zodiac influences for maximum effectiveness, and be sure you're mentally and physically ready before you even begin. You do know the appropriate preparations and meditations, right? On a serious note, look at this not in terms of odd language and symbols, but rather in terms of function, and it might become a little clearer. There is a Circle, which I'm sure all Witches are familiar with. There are the four Watchtowers at the four cardinal directions- likewise, pretty much old hat here. We can also see the symbolic altar in the middle- many Witches incorporate this at home, with an object or symbol representing the four elements.
However, there is one difference here- the triangle. I find it best to put a triangle of evocation (nice big word there, it's basically where you direct the energy to) either in the south or the east. Much of the Enochian community recommends the east, but if you find a real indication to put it in some other quarter, that's fine too. As with many things, your will and purpose provide the direction in all of this. The basic mechanism is pretty simple here. Energy is raised within the Circle, then directed outwards to the triangle, where it is then directed outwards. It's similar to much of modern magic, the main difference being the extra step in setting up and using the triangle.
Remember that using Tarot cards to symbolize what would otherwise be used on the ground, a table or whatever else you may be using makes it a little smaller and somewhat more portable. Breaking it down into symbolic parts, we get the following:
Here we see the Circle, the Altar (the cross in the middle of the circle here) and the Triangle and a ray between the two indicating the direction of energy. It's not that different from any other working, except that instead of doing this from the reference point of your physical body, we use a more symbolic representation composed of the cards. A Significator (almost always one of the Court cards) is placed on the center of the Altar, representing you yourself. It's recommended that you use a Court card instead of one of the Minor Arcana cards, which might better represent the situation you're addressing with this spell in the first place, is because that situation can indeed be represented by Minor Arcana cards. However, that situation would be shown by the cards placed on the Triangle- what you want to get rid of, what you want to make manifest, or what have you.
Now, how do we construct this symbol out of cards? Let's examine each part of this diagram and see how it's constructed. I realize this will be a somewhat general examination- if you're interested in the specific rationale behind each card, I highly recommend Tyson's book. To begin, the Circle is composed of 12 Major Arcana cards- these are the cards with a strong affiliation both to their respective Zodiac signs, and in the cases of the four cardinal points, a strong elemental affiliation- Fire to the South, Air to the East, Earth to the North, and Water to the West. The layout is as follows-
As with most Circles, this one begins in the East, with the Emperor, then proceeds clockwise around until reaching the East again. The illustration above also includes their Zodiac affiliations. Why are the Zodiac symbols used? The idea is to create a model of the universe- so these symbols are simply meant to correspond to the world above and around us.
Now within this Circle, we have an Altar. Again, as in most forms of magic, the altar forms the central focus of the working. It's composed of four indicators of the elements, and you are symbolically on the altar in the form of the significator card- first, lay down the Aces as follows, then place the Significator on the altar.
As you can see above, this represents the four elements, and by extension, the four Watchtowers of each direction- when casting (creating, whatever term you might use) the Circle, it's traditional to address each of these quarters in turn- Watchtowers are one of the several terms given to these quarters.
Finally, we come to the Triangle, should you wish to make use of it. Is it strictly necessary? No, it depends on what type of workings you're most comfortable with.
The purpose of the spell is likewise reflected symbolically in the cards, and a little background knowledge and experience can make all the difference here. First, as with any spell, what is the purpose of this spell? What do you want to have happen? This is the first step. The second is to kind of translate that into Tarot cards- pick the cards that represent the situation or the outcome you want. It's easiest and probably best not to go too overboard with this- I find usually not more than three cards, if chosen carefully and with thought, can sum up most any situation. Again, knowing the meaning behind each card can help a great deal on this front. The reason behind using Minor Arcana cards is that the Minors address life events, whereas the Majors represent more pervasive and less personal or individual influences.
The Triangle, at least in this model above, represents the point where the energy is sent to manifest, and usually here the "realization" cards go. The realization cards are those Minors that represent the outcome of the spell, why you're doing it in the first place.
The Triangle itself uses three Majors-
Notice that the Fool is placed at the apex of the Triangle- the Fool, numbered zero, represents the void, and potential in its purest sense- what we put into the Triangle is what this potential then becomes. Again, usually the Triangle points towards the East, but if you have another purpose and layout in mind, make use of that.
The ray we see in the diagram above is actually not composed of cards- rather, it represents the direction of the energy sent out from the Significator- much like you would do if you were standing within a Circle and casting the spell with your own two hands, instead of symbolically here.
So put it all together, and you get something that looks like this:
Looks a little bit like that big scary Enochian circle we started with, doesn't it? Here we see the Significator sitting on the center of the altar, and the realization cards sitting out on the Triangle. It's simply a question of setting this layout up as a Circle, the same as you would do in the physical world, so to speak.
As with anything else, remember to have a clear purpose in mind when using this, and remember that it will operate just like any other Circle. Our physical bodies are but one point of reference- using the center of the Altar as a focal point is just a shift of awareness and reference. As a final note, Tyson notes that the circle and any reciprocating energy will remain in place until the cards are moved. While this is true, it is a Circle. It can be closed out, same as any other. And as a final note, should you wish to make use of this method, it's highly recommended that you set aside a different deck for it- don't use the same deck you use for divination. There are smaller decks available that work well for this type of application, allowing you to work on a somewhat smaller space. Using the same deck that you use for divination, besides, can get things a little short-circuited, lacking a better term. And of course, all images above are the property of the publisher, not me, who just borrowed them for illustration purposes. Stay well!