The drink tonight: Bailey’s Chocolate Cherry, highly recommended!

The card: The Hanged Man.

Not the Hung Man; that’s a whole different archetype and I’m kind of amazed that hasn’t been a thing and that Crowley didn’t make that this card in the Thoth deck, but here we are, and I guess implied lion orgies went better in Edwardian occult circles than dick jokes did. Go figure.

Also, this dude is not hanged in the way we think about hanging. That is, not the immediately lethal way. He’s strung up by one heel, and dangles upside-down, hands behind his back, looking remarkably chill about the whole situation. (A.E. Waite, as quoted on Wikipedia, says “the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering,” which is Victorian for “the guy’s pretty damn relaxed, considering.”) Wiki also notes that this pose parallels the pitture infamanti of Renaissance Italy: apparently if you committed treachery or theft, you got sentenced to be publicly displayed in unflattering art, which I guess evolved over the centuries into “You’re So Vain” and drawing horns and a mustache on your ex’s photos.

In 1393, this was specified as a means of execution for traitors, so I guess it *would* eventually kill you, though the law also specified the traitor be dragged to the gallows on a plank behind a horse, which might have more to do with the actual means of death.

Basically, this card represents an ordeal of some sort, one that the querent might not be able to get through, and generally gaining wisdom through suffering, or trying to do that. (Odin on the Tree of Knowledge generally comes up here, for example.) Generally speaking, the ordeal in question is about patience and not trying to control the situation (very few of the Major Arcana, especially the later ones, are about Doing the Thing and striding manfully around punching people in the face and so forth, and the reason why may be a subject for another time). It’s also got tones of self-sacrifice for a greater goal, often a personal one, q.v. Odin etc.

There are a lot of means of self-sacrifice, though. This particular one stands out in two ways. One, like crucifixion a thousand-odd years before, we’re talking about a pretty shameful punishment in its society: the pitture infamanti were for traitors, thieves, and fraudsters; hanging in general was for peasants, whereas nobility got to get their heads chopped off. This is not a glorious martyrdom. Part of the ordeal in question might involve other people thinking you’re some variety of schmuck, or confronting aspects of yourself that make you feel stupid or bad.

Two, someone hanging from the tree is suspended between Heaven and Earth. Magic does a lot with what’s officially called “liminal space”: places and times that are neither one thing or another, like thresholds and sunset and that acre of land where the dickhead from Scarborough Fair wants a girl to plant crops. (I’m sorry, but if I’m going to make a whole goddamn impossible shirt, I want a better reward than being some dude’s “true love,” like, there are a bunch of hot men in the world and many of them can supply their own damn wardrobes.)  (And the added verse about “well at least *try* and true love demands impossible tasks” does not help: if someone wants a sufficient show of effort for effort’s sake, that person is pretty much never worth it and deserves to die alone.) (This has been a PSA from your local romance novelist. Love!)

Anyhow! So what you get here is the image of ignominious, passive self-sacrifice and being willing to undergo an uncomfortable period of suspension and inactivity, in order to bridge the gap between two or more worlds. There’s a lot of Jesus there, and also Odin, and maybe that one bit in Conan where he got nailed to the Tree of Woe and then Valeria had to fight off the dead to bring him back, if you kinda merge a bunch of scenes. Fittingly, this card begins an arc of three that are about, rather that the interaction of people and forces, either changes of state or being in two states at the same time–and which bridge the gap between the human world of the previous cards and the world of Greater Powers, or Universal Forces, or Really Weird Shit.

But I got super rambly about the Hanged Man, so I’ll do the other two next week.



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Returning, With More Tarot

The holidays consumed me. Now there is a ginormous blizzard outside, and I’m in here with food and tea containing another of Dr. McGillicudy’s fine products, this one butterscotch liqueur. So let’s Tarot.

Appropriately for both the post-holiday withdrawal and my current Fortress-of-Solitude-but-without-Kryptonian-holograms surroundings, the first card we deal with tonight is The Hermit. This is just about always an old guy with a lamp and some mountains (unless you’re in weird genre-specific decks, where YMMV and will probably include anime dudes or giant orcas), and is one of a subset of the Major Arcana that I like to call The Fucking Obvious Tarot Cards. Like, there are some cards that seem to mean one thing and don’t (blah blah Death as transformation, we’ll get into it later), and there are some, especially later, that are abstract or weird, but The Hermit, The Lovers, Justice, and Temperance all at least to some degree are exactly what they say on the tin.

Of these, the Hermit is the most obvious. It means…being a hermit. Withdrawal. Solitude. Spiritual contemplation. A search for cosmic truth, or inner truth. Hanging out in a cave, letting your hair grow, probably developing some body odor issues, the whole fucking Jedi pension plan. (Go ahead, name a senior Jedi who wasn’t all about living in the kind of backwater isolation where you have to hike a mile and fight a giant centipede to get a damn Manhattan. Can’t do it, can you?) (I do not accept Extended Universe references.) (Also I know Star Wars Universe wouldn’t have a Manhattan, because no point of reference. Spacehattan. Whatever. Shut up.) The Lovers and Justice both have complications, but this dude is pretty straightforward; the complications in any given reading basically boil down to whether this is a good idea, and whether it means you or someone in your life.

It also makes a lot of sense for this card to fall where it does in the pattern, whether you think Justice or Strength comes before it. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how the cards go from specific types of people to the interaction between people, people and forces, whatever. Now we’re back to a lone person–but one who’s reacting to interaction, in that choosing-to-avoid-a-thing-is-still-engaging-with-the-thing pop psych sense. After the willing harmony of the Lovers, and the forced harmony of the Chariot, you get either Strength or Justice, which are some pretty strenuous cards even if they’re positive: important decisions about right and wrong, subduing another person or force to your will, and/or coming to terms with wilder aspects of yourself. (If you’re using the deck where Strength is Lust, well, orgies are tiring as well, or so I hear.)

The Hermit, then, is someone who’s been through all that–the “guy” aspect is probably down to patriarchy, but the “old” bit is crucial–and said, you know what, fuck that noise.  Get off my lawn. Not my circus, not my monkeys. This can be a card about spiritual insight and wisdom, as I said above, or it can be about the more mundane side of things: learning to mind your own business, to manage your own affairs, and to entertain yourself quietly so that you’re not the person everyone wants to kill on public transportation NOT THAT I HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT THAT.


The Wheel of Fortune

As far as I know, Vanna White has never appeared on any version of this card, which is really a pity in a way: if there’s one thing Tarot decks need, it’s more women in sequined dresses with eighties hair.

The card shows a wheel, of course. Sometimes it involves elements, sometimes Evangelists or astrological creatures, sometimes a person in various stages of being happy or unhappy. Often there’s a Sphinx at the top, or a person turning it.

“Shit happens,” is the essence of this card. The world is going to do what the world does, and there’s only so much anyone can do about that. The sphinx or person symbolizes the ability to cope with that through reason and wisdom–but part of reason and wisdom is knowing that luck doesn’t last, one way or another, and that you can’t count on it as a solution. Things can get better, but they don’t have to, so waiting for that shouldn’t be your plan. (Best Russian proverb I encountered doing research this week: “Hunger is not your aunt; it won’t bring you a pie.”)

In a reading, this card may mean that the querent’s luck is about to change. It also may just be a reminder that shit happens, ordinary life is full of ups and downs, and you do not have either a Great or Tragic Destiny.

Sequentially, this is the Tarot turning away from people again, and away from interaction or not, toward abstract concepts and weirdness. It might be one of the first bits of wisdom the Hermit learns.


Lady with scales and a sword, sometimes blindfolded. You can see some version of her outside most courthouses; if John Ashcroft and his legion of moral decency haven’t gotten involved, she often has her tits out.

If you’ve been paying attention since the top of the page, you’ll remember that this is one of the Fucking Obvious Tarot Cards. It’s…justice. Fairness, moral decisions, responsibility, balancing right and wrong, putting on a bat costume and lurking broodingly on top of tall buildings, et cetera. Even the complications aren’t so much complications as they are the dark side (look I know with the Star Wars references here, haven’t even seen TLJ yet, it’s just where my mind is at) of the archetype.

“Justice” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. We like to think of it as this ideal concept, unbiased and uncorrupted and balanced by mercy (and there’s a whole other magical sephiroth-y thing going on there) but that’s not how things always work. Fictionally, there’s Judge Frollo and Judge Doom and that bunch of evil undead judges Judge Dredd fought (and Dredd himself wasn’t a great guy, in the way of weirdo British comic “heroes” of the seventies and eighties), the Sheriff of Nottingham, and so on. In real life…well, McCarthy, the Inquisition, the Salem trials, and so on, plus I think we all know by now that white people see a *very* different face of the “justice system” than people of color do. On a personal scale, “justice” can sometimes mean “vengeance,” or just petty little Harper-Valley-PTA-style prying and judging.

There’s a reason–other than absinthe-fueled Victorian astrological wackiness–that this card and Strength get switched a lot. They’re both theoretically about abstract concepts, but they’re also very much about the way those ideas work around our interactions with other people. And, in part because of that, they’re notions that can cause a lot of harm when applied carelessly or inappropriately: the digitalis of principles, if you will. As I said above, even when they’re at their best, both Strength and Justice take a toll on everyone involved. Sometimes the aftermath leads to the Hermit. Sometimes it leads to the first card I’ll talk about next time, and one that’s in some ways the Hermit’s Extra-Strength counterpart: The Hanged Man.

Look at me, using a segue and everything.








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Izzy and Dentistry-Based Medication Explain More Tarot

It’s been a while! I wish I could say that wouldn’t happen again, but here’s the thing: I do boffer LARPs. So, like, at least four times a year I’m away for a weekend hitting my friends with padded weapons, plus there’s a week of prep beforehand and a couple weeks after wherein I remove Nature from my sinuses and beat my laundry into submission. Such is the way.

Back now, though, and the next LARP won’t be until late March. So let’s hit more of the Tarot. This one has been brought to you not so much by booze, but by earlier dental procedures and the tranquilizers I need to face them with any sort of dignity. My life is like a way less glamorous Stones biopic.

The Lovers

Two naked people hang out in a pastoral setting. Usually one has a dick and the other has breasts and a vulva, because heteronormativity. There’s generally a tree or trees, which may symbolize various Eden-y things, even though I thought the point of the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve weren’t lovers pre-snake, classically, but whatevs, I am not in charge here.  Similarly, there’s often an angel watching over events benevolently slash like a giant perv.

The most obvious interpretation of this card is…obvious. Congratulations, Someone Gets Laid. It can also mean a choice about a relationship, though, and often, absent romance, it means “harmonious union” in general, though: people, forces, and so on working together.  (I have Some Feelings about the general Sex as Mystical Union of Souls trope, and those feelings are that it’s glurgey bullshit ninety percent of the time, but if you’re doing it specifically as a sacred/magical thing, sure, why not?)

After the Fool-Through-Hierophant cards, which are all about people as individuals, the Lovers starts the series of cards devoted to the ways that different people or forces interact with each other. Notably, in the Lovers, Thing A and Thing B are approaching from equal positions, and deciding of their own free will to partner up in some manner.  “Partner” is the key word, whether buddy cops, actual lovers, or alchemical components.

The Chariot

On the other hand, The Chariot is about making things work together. If The Lovers is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, The Chariot is “too bad, he’s your partner” or “stop fighting or so help me I’ll turn this car around”. The second example is especially pertinent here, because The Chariot is also about forward motion. The Lovers can be about partnership or union for all kinds of reasons, but The Chariot is making opposing forces work together to achieve a particular goal. It’s going somewhere, and you do what you need to do to get there.

“What you need to do,” on most cards, is control black and white unicorns or sphinxes. Sometimes the charioteer is carrying a sword or a wand, sometimes the chariot is decorated with stars, but as long as you’ve got opposite-colored mythical animals, you’re probably doing well with the general sense of things.


If you’re using the Thoth Tarot, this card is “Lust,” because Aleister fucking Crowley. Most iterations show a woman doing something to a lion (there are older ones where either a man or a woman is breaking a pillar, according to Wikipedia). In the classic image, she’s holding the lion’s jaws shut; sometimes she’s riding it; in Lust, she’s kind of falling off it while holding a flaming chalice with one hand and a riding crop with the other, and the lion has four human faces, and there’s just a lot going on.

(The Thoth Tarot also makes Strength/Lust 11 rather than 8, which is not really Crowley’s fault. In fact, the original deck had it that way, and the Rider-Waite folks switched it. We are going to blame the Victorians for confusing everything and move on.)

This is the third of the interaction cards, and here the two parties aren’t working together from an equal basis: one is overcoming, using, or mastering the other, and it’s generally not the one you’d expect. Strength is generally not about crushing your enemies in a Conan-style manner; it can be about making the untamed part of yourself work for you by accepting and training it, or it can be about toughing a situation out as long as you need to, without getting angry or impatient.

Or it can be about languidly falling off a lionesque abomination. You do you, Crowley.

Next time: The Hermit, who says fuck this interaction noise; the Wheel of Fortune, when things change; and Justice.

ETA: One day, I will update main pages like a person who gets links together and stuff. Meanwhile, check out Isabel Cooper at Amazon or B&N for new Highland Dragon books, and follow me on Twitter at @ICooperauthor for crankiness and puppy-based RTs.


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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.


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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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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