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.