Not Drunk Tarot…

…drunk true crime! And frankly I’m sort of surprised nobody has made a Serial Killer Tarot, given the state of the world…although apparently there *is* a site where you can buy t-shirts with various killers represented as major arcana, thanks, capitalism. (For the record: I can buy Manson as Hierophant and Gein as Hermit, but Ramirez as the Devil seems facile, Zodiac as the Magician is a bit of a stretch, and IDK what’s going on with Dahmer as the Sun or Bundy as Temperance.)

But I’ve been listening to The Blotter Presents podcast, which discusses true-crime media properties and is done by Sarah D. Bunting, who is generally amazing, and lately they covered Yet Another “Was X Jack the Ripper” drama, which, as Sars says…no. No, he was not.  And I, having read a lot of true crime (a good John Douglas profiles-of-horrible-murders book will keep most people from talking to you on pubtrans), have a lot of feelings about this.

CW: Serial killers, mention of mass murder/assassination.

There is exactly one property which I can get behind in re: the Someone Famous was Jack the Ripper theory, and it is From Hell. That’s because I’m pretty sure Alan Moore is just going off the “but if it were true, it’d be an interesting story,” principle, and does not believe that JtR was actually a time-traveling Freemason acting on the orders of Queen Victoria* but also invoking male dominance in the twentieth century through occult rituals. (Although he might, because we are talking here about Alan Moore.)

Without the time travel, this was an actual theory, which was weird: first of all, the mutilations-were-symbolic-warnings thing falls down because, to paraphrase Douglas, dude went to town in such a way as to probably hit a dozen different Secret Rites coincidentally. Disorganized killers: they are gross. But also, the secret-royal-marriage-and-love-child aspect does not in any way work: Victoria had nine kids, Edward had been involved in multiple scandals already, and I’m pretty sure there would have been a number of responses other than a Vast Murderous Conspiracy, ranging from simply paying the chick off to a discreet disinheritance in favor of whoever came next to just taking the non-improbable chance that a shopgirl talking about her royal marriage would’ve been met with “…sure, honey,” from all influential parts.

But at least that theory was a thing in the seventies, which from what I can tell is a time when people legit believed that aliens had built the pyramids and avocado green bellbottoms and muttonchop sideburns looked good on human beings, and which was definitely a time before serial killers were as much of an understood phenomenon. In the post-Silence-of-the-Lambs world, when there are voting adults who grew up watching the Law and Order franchise, is there really anyone out there who doesn’t know Serial Killers 101, namely that they’re generally nonentities who get off on twisted shit and decide to explore that in a seriously nonconsensual manner? After Dahmer and Bundy, do we really think that there needs to be a massive weird conspiracy or a famous person or someone with elite skills to kill five women in an at-risk demographic in Victorian London?

(Similarly, I haven’t done a lot of research, but I’d have expected JFK conspiracy theories to go down considerably after Hinckley and also just a surprising number of people trying to kill Ford. Once we took a couple of these people alive, we know what their deal is as a general rule–namely, that they’re fucked-up little nebbishes with weirdo goals that make zero sense to anyone living in reality, end of story.)

Apparently the answer is “yes,” or “no, but we need to put out an hour of programming,” and, okay, you do what you’ve got to do, but man…at least read a book? Watch an hour of the aforementioned Law & Order? Something? Because “they both killed some people” isn’t what anyone would call a similar signature or MO. Dude in Australia that a Netflix docudrama tried to get excited about? Killed two wives to avoid bigamy charges, more or less. H.H. Holmes? Killed a whole bunch of people for insurance money.

Neither of these are good people, or even non-horrible people, don’t get me wrong–like, it takes a special sort of person to think “You know what would solve my financial problems? A murder castle,”–but those are very different from the non-financially-motivated murder of strangers. With serial killers…we may not know who any particular guy is, but we know who they are, as a group, and it’s not the same thing.

Which is a tie-in to writing, here, especially writing villains: not all evil people come from the same source, or have the same motivations. Being evil in one or two ways does not imply that you’re going to be evil in every single other way possible. Think about what your villain does and why they do it…and, as with the But What About Prince Edward theory, whether there would be about ten easier ways to accomplish the same end.

And on a more shallow note, stop re-summarizing your program every fifteen minutes, History Channel. This is 2017; the only people watching with ad breaks are in hotels and do not care about following the plot. God.

*This does make me want to read fiction whereby every murder in Douglas’s The Cases That Haunt Us was carried out by a sinister mystic conspiracy and the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped by interdimensional Rotarians or whatever. Cherie Priest apparently has a book where Lizzie Borden fights Cthulhu, so that’s a good first step.

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Power Couple And That One Guy: More Drunk Tarot

Welcome back to Izzy And Booze Explain The Tarot. This week, my companion is Dr. McGillicudy’s Intense Apple Pie Liqueur, and let me tell you folks: the good doctor knows what he is about. As my friend Elise said, this isn’t just apple booze with cinnamon spice–awesome as that is. You get a distinct pie taste. God bless Canada, the origin of this drink, and its strict advertising standards.

So!

We are now at the point where I have to discuss the Tarot and gender a little more. My point of view is that, while gender *identity* is a real and complex thing, gender *roles* are societal bullshit that needs to die yesterday. The Tarot, however, was made in the days (NOT IN ATLANTIS OR EGYPT WE HAVE DISCUSSED THIS) when people thought women had fewer ribs because of Eve and fewer teeth because Aristotle, and then was popularized as an occult thing by a crowd containing far too many of the sort of fluttery person who thinks the uterus has Mystick Power. So we’ve got a bunch of cards with gendered folks on ’em, and a bunch of interpretations of how such-and-so represents the active male principle.

Because q.v. societal bullshit, but societal bullshit is a powerful influence, my general guideline is: such-and-so may well represent the active *stereotypically* male principle, but there’s no reason that a person of any other gender can’t do that just as well. If I say “represents the male blah blah blah,” please read as “represents all the qualities we’ve associated with men for Reasons,” but I will try and avoid saying that when possible.

Whiiiich brings me to the next card.

The Empress.

This is a woman, because see above. She’s got a crown and a scepter, and she’s typically sitting on a throne in the middle of a field of grain, and it is all, like, Peak Earth Mother/Demeter/Persephone/Earth Is Like the Uterus of the Earth, Maaaan/Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young. Alll about fertility, this card, whether that’s the initial germination/conception/getting an idea phase (“fertility” can be more metaphorical than actual-bun-in-the-oven, thank God in my case), the nurturing/growth/pruning-and-weeding-and-other-plant-stuff phase, or the harvest. Stuff grows! It’s great! She makes it grow, not with much effort on her part but just by being there and being who she is.

At at first this seems very female, but fertility gods? Also a thing: John Barleycorn, Freyr, Osiris, He Who Walks Behind the Rows…there are plenty of male figures in mythology who are about growth and nurturing.

Likewise, this initially seems like one of those cards that’s just all great all the time–but growth unchecked is cancer, for one thing, or overpopulation, or just having a million projects such that you never actually finish any of them, plus not all projects are good ideas. I also want to come back to both John Barleycorn and He Who Walks for the negatives on this one: a lot of fertility, especially under adverse conditions, requires sacrifice. Be sure you know what you’re giving up and for how long–like, a willing and reborn sacrifice is one thing, but killing all the adults and then going weird and fundie might be too much even for a bumper crop of corn.

The Emperor 
Guy on a throne on a mountain with a scepter and an orb insert “Hitler has only got one ball” jokes here.

This is the Temporal Authority card. If you’re Freudian, this is your dad. If you’re Abrahamic, this is God. This is a guy who is in control, and he doesn’t even need to be the micro-managey sort of control. He’s at the top, doing his thing; as long as he’s there and does that, everything else is going to turn around him more or less like he wants it to. Both he and the Empress have a lot of their power just by being who and what they are: like stars or planets, their gravity sets everything else up.

At his best, the Emperor is King Arthur, or Gloriana from Spencer (what, I’ll be in debt for an English degree until I’m eighty and I’m not supposed to make obscure literary references?), or popular images of Alfred the Great or Elizabeth I: the wise ruler, totally devoted to the smooth and just running of their realm. SF supplies us two easy images for the bad side of the Emperor: you’ve got good old Palpatine, autocratic planet-exploding terror of the galaxy, and then you’ve got the Emperor from Warhammer 40K, a figurehead kept alive by the deaths of millions of psychics, a man who’s only still alive because he’s got a whole empire as a parasitic organism and thus his death miiiight be worse. Maybe don’t be those guys.

The Hierophant
Now I’m gonna take you back to almost the start of this sequence. We started with a pair of figures representing the different forms of spiritual power: Magician and High Priestess. We moved on to temporal power in the Emperor and Empress. The Hierophant crosses those streams like he’s fighting fucking Gozer: Church and State, together at last. Yaaay?

Well, sort of yay, yes. I don’t subscribe to Wood’s conformity-is-bad-also-have-I-told-you-about-the-sixties worldview here. Some conformity is bad; some is good.  Conform too much and you’re Pleasantville pre-colors-and-teen-sex; shun conformity too extremely and you’re that guy who expresses his individuality by not showering, or anyone from RENT. At his worst, the Hierophant corrupts spirituality with greed or bigotry and imposes his beliefs on people who didn’t have a meaningful choice in the matter. At his best, though, he sets up and upholds the structure that lets most people get comfort and inspiration from religion, and that’s good. Structure works for a lot of people. Individual self-awareness quests aren’t everyone’s priority, nor should they be.

The Hierophant incorporates bits of all cards before him but the Fool. Like the Magician, he’s good at logic, manipulation, and study; like the High Priestess, he serves or exploits a community; like the Empress, he nurtures (either spiritual growth or his own power); like the Emperor, he keeps an organization running. He’s Syncretism, The Card. In some ways, he’s a low-level mirror of the World–as much involved in all the world’s structures as a person can get.

And, fittingly, he’s the last card that’s really a person.

Next time on Drunk Izzy And the Tarot: coming together, right now. Not like that. Unless you’re using the Thoth deck, in which case maybe.

 

 

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Follow-Up

I forgot to mention the potential negatives of the High Priestess. These don’t get mentioned a lot, in part because a lot of the culture around the Rider-Waite Tarot is prone to perceiving female/feminine-coded spirituality as unquestionably positive, but I can think of two possibilities:

  1. Going too much on internal logic and intuition. Sometimes your instincts are right on, but sometimes they’re not. Not every experience will turn out like the one it’s kind of maybe similar to; visions and so forth can be unreliable and hard to interpret; many mental illnesses make it hard to trust your instincts, because your brain occasionally hates you. (I have anxiety disorder. The number of times my instincts have said that nobody liked me and everything was awful is pretty well up there.) Relatedly: acceptance and faith is not always the best recourse. Remember the joke about the guy who turns down two boats and a helicopter during a flood because God will save him, and then he drowns and God is like “dumbass, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.” Manipulating a situation and looking at things intellectually is the best strategy as often as intuition and acceptance is.
  2. Investing too much in community. You need to lead people, so you go out and get followers, and then you’re living in a compound and only eating drugged applesauce while you wait for the comet. On a less-dire level, this could be that person at work who compulsively needs to organize trust falls and Secret Santas, because they can’t just relax and let people do their own thing, or the family member who freaks the hell out when people have other plans for the holidays. It can also involve being so set on everything going “smoothly” in a community that you squelch dissent, work around missing stairs, and so on–or simply being unable or unwilling to function properly on your own, and being social in an unhealthy and compulsive way.

A fair number of these are also faults that’ll show up in the Hierophant card, too. (It’s actually not the next one, but #5, Because of Reasons. The High Priestess pairs with both it and the Magician. She’s a very kinky girl.)

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Drunk Izzy Explains the Tarot, Part II: Magic And Stuff

Tonight’s episode brought to you by the rum cream in my fridge. Rum: one of the two best prefixes for “cream”. Cream: one of the two best suffixes for “rum”.

Having defined the Tarot, and been snide about major occult figures into the bargain (being snide about major occult figures being about a fifth of why I do anything ever), I will move on to the first three cards, or The World’s Most Awkward Threesome.

Card 0, Because The Tarot Thinks it’s Clever: The Fool. 

This card has a guy, or a girl, or an enby person, or in one case a teddy bear in keytar sunglasses (look if you can’t guess this Tarot by now there’s little I can do for you) walking blithely along and about to fall the fuck off something, usually a cliff. Sometimes he (the “dude” interpretation is most common) has a white rose. Sometimes he’s playing a pipe, or dancing. Sometimes he’s got all his stuff in a bindle like he’s a cartoon hobo. Usually there’s a dog of some sort, up on its hind legs.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, there are like three Wizard of Oz tarot decks, and yes, Dorothy is the Fool in all of them, because of course she is. Also Baum’s mother-in-law was a Theosophist, so for all I know the whole story may be a complicated allegory to the Tarot, which implies that the World is Depression-Era Kansas if you go by the movie, which is completely goddamn appalling.)

So okay. The Fool belongs to the class of Tarot cards I like to call “completely fucking obvious” (see also Justice). It means…foolishness. Innocence. A certain blithe and childlike quality: it is totally the Manic Pixie Tarot Card. The Fool is somebody who doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of shit about what the neighbors will think or clearly this can’t be possible because everyone says it’s impossible or this will not lead to having a 401k and a good source of health insurance. He wanders along. He does what he feels like.

Sometimes this is good–new ideas, revolution, braving the unknown, taking chances without overthinking them, all great stuff. Sometime’s it’s not: it’s *good* to have a 401k and insurance. Societal rules can be bigoted and stupid, but they can also be stuff like “wear deodorant” and “let other people talk sometimes”. The Fool can mean “You are about to walk off a goddamn cliff, watch out!” or, more positively, it can mean that, yeah, you’re about to walk off a goddamn cliff, but in this particular case the universe will run on Looney Tunes physics and you can Roadrunner your way across as long as you don’t look down.

Card 1: The Magician

This card shows a guy (and it is nearly always a guy, and I will get into Tarot and gender politics later) at a table with the symbols of four elements on it: cup, sword, staff, and pentacle/coin. Usually there are roses and lilies. He’s dressed like “a magician”: in one Tarot I have, this involves Gandalf hair and white robes, in another a horned crown, and in a third, laser eyeballs, a pyramid, and a headband with an infinity sign on it. (It’s an odd deck.) (And actually not Lisa Frank, which features another bear, this one with a top hat.)

The Magician used to be The Mountebank, and either way is about using the sort of verbal, performative/communicative smarts that get called “Intelligence” in D&D. (You thought I wouldn’t bring tabletop games into this? You don’t know me very well.) It can mean creativity, originality, diplomacy, and trickery–all the attributes associated with Hermes, Thoth (hey it’s that guy again!), or Odin. Dude’s got all the elemental symbols because he can manipulate all the elements, and the red and white roses are also about balance–passion and purity, the body and the mind, rum and Coke, whatever.

Balance and/or opposing forces show up a lot in the Tarot–not in every card, but I’d say a good majority. If Tarot has an overall message, I’d say it’s “life is pretty complicated, and figuring out how to work with all those complications at once is key.” Or, as the King of All Cosmos would say: Earth really is full of things! (You thought you’d get away without a video game reference? Ha ha ha see above.) (The Tarot probably does not advocate rolling everything into a Katamari, in most situations.) (Although, The World.)

Anyhow, The Magician is about skills. Not only does the guy know things, he can do things with that knowledge. This could be good, if he’s you or a friend; this could also mean he could convince you to buy all-natural Viagra or let him crash on your couch for “just a couple days” and still be there a month later. Also, he may use his skills for or on other people, but fundamentally he’s a solitary act–a one-man show, at least where the issue at hand is concerned.

Card 2: The High Priestess
A woman, generally with a book or scroll, a crown or headdress, with lots of blue in the card and at least one crescent moon. If you get old-style decks, or those attempting to be old-style, she was originally The Popess, which is a great title and involves a lot of intra-Catholic-church urban legends and/or drama; she can also be the Virgin Mary or Juno, depending on how the deck designer feels about things in general. The Raider-Waite crowd were like “this is way too confusing for England, plus we’re waving our hands around about Greco-Roman-Egyptian-Hindu-and-maybe-Celtic-if-you’re-Yeats mythology” and changed it to the High Priestess, which is what most of us know today. (They also put in Masonic symbols, according to Wiki, if you’re into Masonry in either its actual or its weirdo-JFK-slash-Jack-the-Ripper-time-travel-conspiracy forms.)

The High Priestess is the WIS to the Magician’s INT. (As the meme goes: intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is knowing not to put one in a fruit salad.) Her knowledge isn’t aimed at manipulating the situation, but understanding and coping with it. It’s largely personal and internal: this can be intuition, lived experience, direct perception, or mystical insight. It’s also generally about relating to other people, or to the community–to be a high priestess, you kind of need to have a coven or a temple or similar. If the Magician can control the situation, the High Priestess can guide people through it.

A note: neither of these is better than any other. I’m not about to get all “wymyn’s ways of knowing” on you, because that is bullshit, and if I ever non-ironically use the word “wymyn” please find and kill me. Frankly, I don’t believe that these cards have to have the genders they do (and the same goes for Emperor and Empress, when we get there, and for that matter the face cards in the minor arcana) but I’m full of SJW bolshevism. There’s no reason why abstract solitary intellectual practice can’t be a female thing, community-centered internal wisdom can’t be a male thing, or either of them can’t involve enby or genderqueer folks.

Moving on from smashing the patriarchy: the High Priestess can also mean a ritualized or sacred approach to sexuality. This is more of a subtexty thing, but because the original was all about having a chick in a place traditionally occupied by a (theoretically, although the Borgias) celibate guy, and the revised version was developed by a crowd of people who also were less-than-totally orthodox in their approach to sex (though still pretty straitlaced by modern standards, mostly), it’s a subtext that’s there.

General Notes
These first three cards are about power, the self, and the community. The Fool’s power comes from ignorance; the Magician’s from knowledge; the High Priestess’s from wisdom. The Fool throws himself–ideally not his dog–into the path of whatever happens and just rolls with it–the ultimate drifter, untouched and untouching. The Magician manipulates and shapes; the High Priestess integrates and sees the bigger picture and the world around her.

This all leads up to the next set of three, which are about temporal power and then the maybe-valuable, maybe-sketchy union of temporal and spiritual, and also Robin Wood’s issues with organized religion.

Join me next time for Drunk Izzy Explains the Tarot, or, Holy Shit, I’m Actually Getting Vaguely Philosophical Here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview

Over at Harlequin Junkie, I chat about writing in a medieval setting and so forth!

http://harlequinjunkie.com/spotlight-giveaway-highland-dragon-warrior-by-isabel-cooper/

 

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A Very Unofficial Guide to the Tarot: Prelude

So I’m home from work, and thus have a glass of pomegranate booze (which seems appropriately mythological, and while I’m unsure how much I can drink before I have to spend six months in a chill and dark underworld, I already live in New England so it’s not like that will be new). I have also reset my WP password to be yet another string of obscenities, because oh my God with this letter plus number plus nonalphanumeric symbol plus case changes plus your mom–like, can we give up and just read my retinas already?

ANYHOW.

There was a lot of interest in Drunk Izzy Explains the Tarot, so I’ll be doing that. The Tarot being pretty large, this is gonna be a multi-part post, interspersed with blog tour stuff when Highland Dragon Warrior gets released next week (9/5, and did you notice how I worked that in? Drunk Izzy: SMOOTH). The first part of this is going to be something of a disclaimer, so Izzy and Pomegranate Booze Explain The General Principles.

Drunk Izzy swears a lot, so be warned.

1) The Tarot. Like playing cards but with–okay, if you don’t know what the Tarot is, at all, please leave now and come back when you’ve seen a movie.

There is a “theory” that the Tarot came to us from ancient Egypt because ancient Egypt was where things came from back when and “tarot” means “royal road” and blah blah Thoth probably that guy’s always involved in occult shenanigans. This “theory” is what we call “bullshit” and anyone recounting it seriously will also tell you a lot about their former life in Atlantis, if you give them the chance.*

The Tarot actually started as playing cards in 14something (too late for any of my Dawn of the Highland Dragon novels, sadly /BLATANT PLUG) in Italy. They still play Tarot-the-game in some parts of Europe; I tried to learn it for a LARP once and it’s fuckoff complicated. You can also theoretically tell fortunes with playing cards, because really any significantly random system can be used for prophecy (credit to Robert Mathiesen for that statement, which is one of the few things I actually remember from college classes), because of either Occult Theory Goes Here or Psychological Inkblot Theory Goes Here, or both.

(Tomato Nation did a column on using iTunes to tell the future. It’s kinda great; most of her stuff is.)

Wiki says that “The singular term is tarocco, which means a type of blood orange in modern Italian.” I did not know that. I don’t know if you can tell fortunes with blood oranges, but I would absolutely watch a YouTube video of someone trying.

2) Because of Theory Stuff, any given Tarot card can have a lot of variant meanings, depending on its place in the layout, the questioner, the reader, and the deck itself. Like, the Hierophant card in the Robin Wood deck (which I enjoy) has the additional meaning of “Robin Wood is a total hippie and has Issues with organized religion”; any card in a Thoth deck has the additional meaning of “…fucking Crowley, man, what even with that guy**”; and the Lisa Frank Tarot has the additional meaning of “I do not remember dropping acid, but this is great, and also 1992.”***

3) Everyone and their mother has a method of reading. I learned mine, and the associated meanings, post-college. It doesn’t involve reversed cards; as far as I can tell, the meaning of reversals is generally “this thing, only negative, or maybe the opposite of this thing, depending, jazzhands”. They are totally a valid thing for other people, but I don’t know what to do with them and therefore will not be covering them here.

Which is to say: everything I’m about to describe, while I’m drawing from my own training and way too many random occult books and so forth, is basically down to my opinion. If you learned another meaning, awesome! I am not the authority on All Things Occult, or even All Things Tarot; nobody really is.

Except Thoth.

KIDDING.

Next Time: The Fool, The Magician, and the High Priestess, which should be the opening of a “…walk into a bar,” joke.

* Atlantis: if anyone mentions Atlantis seriously and they’re not talking about Plato, Robert Anton Wilson, or Aquaman, that is a good time to suddenly remember that your drink needs refreshing over on the other side of the party. Atlantis, in occult crowds, is like the coloration on a coral snake: Nature’s way of warning innocent passers-by that JUST NO.

**The best way to describe Crowley is that the late 18somethings didn’t have metal bands as a way to get laid and shock The Establishment, so dude became an occultist instead.

***Sadly, the Lisa Frank Tarot has no physical form and also only has the Major Arcana. If the author were to kickstart a full version, I would chip in so fast.

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Izzy and Liquor Explain the Tarot, Pre-Prelude

Which is to say: post will arrive this evening, because my day job takes an oddly dim view of me sitting around with pomegranate-flavored booze. Watch this space!

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