Archive for October 23rd, 2017

How I Learned to Read the Cards

amywink October 23rd, 2017

How I Learned to Read the Cards
a gift for Stacey, born on Halloween.

No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an auger, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead . . . Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so. “ Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; 14

By his faithfulness he was proved to be a prophet, and by his words he became a known as a trustworthy seer. Sirach 46:15

This past summer, a student came to me after we watched the first half of “Spirited Away”, Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful animated film I use to teach figurative language (imagery, symbolism, metaphor, etc) in my introduction to short fiction class. He told me nervously that watching the film had made him uncomfortable, “because, you know, my faith. I don’t think I can watch the rest of it. It’s witchcraft.” I had not had a faith-based excuse in my class for a long time so I was out of practice with my answer and said he needed to watch the movie and I tried to give him some ways around the problem of witchcraft by discussing allegory and metaphor and the cultural image of the Baba-Yaga from Russian history or the different aspect of cultural mythology from Asia.

No dice.

After he left class, he sent me an email explaining his biblically-supported reason for staying away from the movie in our class. I acquiesced and told him to find another film to write about. Friends suggested I have argued with him about his faith, should have brought forth my own Biblical citations and scholarship as evidence against his position, especially after I read his first essay in which he claimed his favorite film was “Through the Looking Glass” a story ripe with magic and fantasy and imaginary beasts. Point out the irony, some suggested. And while it was quite ironic (and I had to take some slow deep breaths in order to not respond), if I had pointed it out, I’d have done nothing more than destroy his enjoyment of one film in favor of being in the “right” and my whole reason for teaching literature is to get students to learn to enjoy literature. They don’t enjoy literature if you employ it like a weapon to destroy their ideas instead of cultivate and grow those ideas and readers in new and creative ways. Like Anne Lamott has suggested, we do not always need to slice with the Sword of Truth, sometimes we just need to point with it.

Of course, I am also not paid enough to have those arguments and I work for the State, which I equally believe should remain separate from church. My personal position is that God comes to people in ways that they can understand and so, this is the way that young man understood God. So be it, I am here to teach him to understand literature, an entirely different art of divination and one not prohibited by any Biblical edict–though there has been plenty of religious-historical argument for not reading literature and reading literature has been seen (and is sometimes still seen) as suspect and dangerous. That I myself write is not viewed the same as other forms of divination–though writing has also been suspect and Gerard Manley Hopkins burned much of his work once he dedicated himself his life to Christ. I have also heard people say they do not understand poetry and literature but study the Bible faithfully. I often think, wow, you are really missing a lot of the Bible then. I did not confront this student nor did I confront the student I remember saying “I believe in God because the hummingbird’s tongue goes over the top of its head and out its beak.” I just let that hang in the air of my stunned class before moving on to something else.

Of course, what I did not tell my student, because he’d likely backed away slowly with wide and terrified eyes before racing to drop the class, was that his professor also knows how to read the Tarot, and that is something that seems expressly prohibited by the Biblical evidence he offered from Deuteronomy, “although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.” The language loophole there, “do not give heed” as in do not pay attention to those who may call on Divine forces to understand the world or see the future (another loophole, prophets and seers. The Bible deserves a very close reading. I’m just sayin’.).

I learned to read the Tarot from my dear friend Stacey, at the time a practicing Wiccan, who had learned it from her Jewish grandmother, who read Stacey’s cards the day of her birth (Halloween) and saw a lifetime of seeking ahead of her granddaughter. Stacey kept the reading her grandmother had written down in a safe-deposit box at the bank, so valuable did she think of it, a kind of thematic map to her own future and a Holy relic of her ancestral women who had escaped the Russian pogroms and lived life in patriarchy and kept teaching their daughters how to see the future.

When she asked me if I’d like to learn to read the cards, she said “I think you have the gift to be able to read the cards. You are so insightful about things. Would you like to learn to read them?” And I was moved to say yes (the feeling of wonder does not come from the evil forces. I’ll apologize when the time comes if that’s not a correct understanding.) Stacey explained carefully the responsibilities of the gift and what it meant, in her tradition, to be able to read the cards. Never sell a reading, a reading is a gift like insight is a gift, she explained. Never ever pay for a reading or take money for a reading (she often said “do not touch their filthy lucre!” and made me laugh with her commandments). You should only give a reading to someone you love or feel kindly toward or the reading will be clouded and undecipherable, she continued. And she proceeded to lay out the cards and teach me how to see.

I have read the cards for a few people I loved and it has always been a powerful and beautiful experience. I use a book to understand the meanings of the cards because I have not memorized them, but even so, I learned to divine the meanings for the person I was reading for and learned to teach them to ask the kind of question meant for the cards to answer–something open ended for which a metaphorical answer would give understanding to. I have read for young people and usually get an answer that says something like the future is yet to be determined (thanks, cards) and I have read for friends in turmoil and been told “this is a kind of therapy!” I have read for people who steadfastly refuse to accept my interpretation and so miss the meaning of the readings (That’s really frustrating. If you’re not going to listen, don’t bother asking). But one of the most beautiful readings I ever did, a reading that glowed with peace and grace, was for a woman who sat in deepest happiness next to her husband, who also appeared in the cards. That was in fact the last reading I did, probably 15 years ago. It was a good reading to finish with (and as far as I know, still completely accurate).

I still have my Tarot deck, wrapped in silk out of respect, but I don’t expect to read them again unless someone asks for help. It’s not that I think the readings are evil, or that I feel am breaking a Divine rule, more that I have come to understand the Divine power in such a thing, the ability to see a person, to offer up something they need to see and I respect that insight in a new way. The problem with a reading of the future, and perhaps this is the reason we are asked not to heed the advice of diviners, is that it takes the person out of the present and makes them start to look for signs of their future, to try to know what is happening, instead of just being in the present. This happened with my own reading as I got caught up with racing toward my future, which was not going to be reached swiftly because of the way I had framed my question. It is very hard to consider the lilies of the field when you are worried about how your future may unfold, spinning out the life you hope may be before you, though you cannot see the signs of it. It is a powerful thing and I would explain that to anyone who asked for a reading so they knew what might understand what happens if they learn a possible meaning of the future that might be before them. I’d ask them to choose whether they’d want that anxious toiling or whether they might prefer to be fully present instead. And I’d likely direct them to some poetry to help them divine the present.