If you’ll be in the Providence area, I’ll be teaching an Intro to Runes class on the evening of Friday, Jan. 13th (😮) at cool local metaphysical shop Ascension NXT.
I’ll cover the basics of what Runes are, where and when they came from, and what you can do with this ancient set of symbols (clue: divination, meditation, rituals, self-discovery). I’ll post again between now and then, but I figured you might all appreciate the advance notice so you make your travel plans… Please feel free to CONTACT me for more details!
Last month, I relocated to Providence, RI. I’m really enjoying my first taste of living in New England as an adult. I was born in Connecticut, which qualifies, but we moved away when I was two years old, and I’ve never lived in NE again…until now.
I’ve heard multiple times that the entire state of Rhode Island is haunted, and also that the house I moved into is similarly known to the spirits of the deceased. I can’t say that I’ve witnessed any of this first-hand, but I’m always open to possibilities.
Also, this possibly haunted house lies across just one thin street from a sprawling cemetery. And then adjoining that cemetery, on the far side of it from my new home, is…another cemetery. Rhode Island seems to have maybe more than its fair share of cemeteries, actually.
And on a vaguely related note, as I keep mentioning, Providence was also the home of H. P. Lovecraft, a very acclaimed writer of horror-fiction.
So all of this scary graveyard/dead/Cthulhu stuff gave me the sudden idea a few days ago to offer Tarot readings performed right in that neighboring cemetery! But then I thought that not only could I pull cards while standing in the boneyard, but I could also mix in a bit of Divination patterned after what people call Bibliomancy. This is the divinatory practice of taking a book – often the Bible, although many people use other books instead – asking a question, and then opening the book at random and fixing on a word, phrase, or passage that will then be taken as answer to the question, much like a Tarot card randomly drawn would be used in a straight-up Tarot card reading.
Instead of using a book, though, I thought it would be really interesting to use the many tombstones scattered about the cemetery. There are hundreds, if not several thousand of them, all standing, leaning, yawing, pitching, and silently moaning out the names and lifespans and last words of those interred below them. They speak…so why not listen, and gather up messages…?
But if you know anything about Divination, then you know that each form of it, no matter how specific and downright weird, tends to have some fancy name, usually ending in the suffix, “-mancy.”
Phyllomancy involves Divination performed using leaves. Capnomancy happens when a diviner makes use of smoke in order to answer questions. Nephomancy is Divination with clouds. If there’s a thing out there in the world, someone is using it to coax forth answers from the Great Beyond – divinatory practices exist that focus on eggs (Oomancy), lightning (Electromancy), molten metal (Molybdomancy), old shoes (Scarpomancy), excrement (Scatomancy), wheel ruts (Trochomancy), shells (Conchomancy), and people’s navels (Omphalomancy), among many, many others.
So Divination using tombstones is hardly that outlandishly far out there compared to some of the divinatory practices that people get up to. But what to call it??
Obviously “(something)-mancy.” Sure. But what?
There is a form of Divination that involves communicating in some fashion with the dead: it’s called Necromancy.
And there’s another one that makes use of stones: this one is Lithomancy.
I thought briefly about maybe combining them into one concept: Necrolithomancy.
But it didn’t feel quite right. For one thing, what I was envisioning would be aimed at pulling info from the tombstones themselves, and not so much from the dead souls whose passings the tombstones are commemorating. Also, on the Lithomancy prong, that practice tends more toward people using much smaller, hand-held stones, and casting them onto a flat surface, or at least drawing some members of a set of stones from out of a bag or some such. Those stones usually don’t have writing on them, or birth/death data. What I had in mind was probably more about the writing and informational aspects of the tombstones than just the fact that they fall under the heading of “stuff made of rock.”
Bibliomancy was out because tombstones aren’t books. There’s a related form called Logomancy, which involves divining messages via words…but that didn’t quite capture the fact that these would be words involved with summing up the former lives of the now dead.
I started looking into words that had nothing to do with Divination, per se, but which do a great job indicating any of the major concepts I was interested in conveying: death, cemeteries, tombstones, last words. Here were the best and most applicable candidates that presented themselves, and which I tried to then modify into “-mancy” kinds of words:
Mausoleum –> Mausoleomancy. I decided this was long and ungainly, and called to mind Leo DiCaprio due to the middle syllables.
Necropolis –> Necropolomancy. “Necropolis” means “City of the Dead,” which I love, but this is quite a mouthful. Also, it seems to apply more to an entire graveyard than to individual tombstones – I needed something that would speak not of the forest, but of the individual trees, if you see what I’m saying here.
Cenotaph –> Cenotaphomancy. Another clunky word. Plus, while a cenotaph is a very on-point word that refers to a tombstone, it seems that it almost always speaks of the kind of stone that’s erected at some place distant and distinct from where the remains of the invoked person are actually buried. That’s not what I would be getting into – presumably all of the bodies mentioned by the tombstones in this cemetery here are lying only about six feet away (in the “straight down” direction).
Epitaph –> Epitaphomancy. I actually like this one a lot…but an epitaph is the inscription on a tombstone, and I wanted to be open to any and all information I might pull from looking at these somber markers. Said info might include plant life growing on them, birds or other animals landing on them, trash left behind by sloppy mourners, the disrepair of the tombstones, you name it. Anything could be part of the message, so limiting the name of the practice to the contents of the epitaphs felt too restrictive and misleading.
And so we come to the winner: Sepulchromancy, drawn from the word sepulchre, which means a tomb of some sort. This word is also not the absolutely 100% perfect fit I’d been hoping for, but it sounds cool to me (that’s important!), and it also seems to be graveyard-specific enough without being so restrictive that it omits too much of what the practice is about. If I could only find a word that’s like cenotaph in specifically indicating tombstones, but which doesn’t include the part about the bodies being elsewhere, then I’d be set. Until such time as a word like that presents itself to me, though, I give you and the world…Sepulchromancy!
If systems of divination – such as Tarot, Runes, or Astrology – can be seen as microcosms of the larger Universe that they peer into, then doesn’t it make sense that these systems themselves must appear somewhere within their own boundaries? That is, if Tarot, for example, does exist in the Universe, and if Tarot is a model of that Universe…then doesn’t Tarot also have to appear within Tarot?
So where does it do that? And where do the Runes refer to themselves? Where does Astrology talk about…Astrology?
Let’s take these one at a time, starting with Tarot. I believe I first saw the following idea put forth by Mary K. Greer in her book, Tarot for Your Self. The notion here is that Tarot captures itself – among other things – within the borders of the High Priestess card.
This conclusion makes fabulously good sense to me, and feels utterly on point, and I feel certain that I would have landed on this same association for myself even if I’d never read Ms. Greer’s book.
As you may know, The High Priestess is a keeper of arcane knowledge. She sits between the polarities of Light and Dark, and of Life and Death, calmly luminous in her twilight, threshold state, just sort of eternally knowing stuff. I like to think of her as the sort of cosmic Librarian who presides over the vast institution where the Akashic Records are kept. She’s the gatekeeper to all wisdom that ever was, is, could be, and will be…and if you approach her with the right mixture of curiosity and respect, she just might share some of her secrets with you…and couldn’t we say the exact same things about Tarot?
Over in the realm of the Elder Futhark Runes, I direct your attention to the P-Rune, the one called Perthro. This is a very mysterious and very mystical symbol. Some Rune scholars hold that Perthro is arguably an intruder into this Runic alphabet, as there’s some evidence indicating that the Germanic tribespeople who employed the Elder Futhark didn’t actually even have a P-sound in their spoken language! And if that’s the case…then what is that letter doing there? Who invited it, and why…? Well…maybe it’s there to contain all the other letters, is one possibility…
Just look at the shape of it. If you were to rotate it 90 degrees in a counter-clockwise fashion, it would look very much like a Rune pouch sitting on a flat surface, with its mouth slightly open, allowing access to the Runes inside. Visually, then, it certainly feels like a Rune that talks about the Runes.
But also consider the meanings that are most commonly associated with Perthro. It’s directly translated most often as meaning either “dice-cup” or “vulva.” The former term indicates an actual prop that was once used in a game of chance played by the people who worked with the Runes back in their pre-Viking day. The latter term makes reference to the external portion of the female genital anatomy…which has certainly been characterized by no shortage of people as a gateway to mystery! These attributions could definitely be seen as compatible with the possibility that Perthro is where the Runes refer back to themselves.
And in more general terms, when Perthro appears in a reading, it’s taken to mean things like magic, secrets, fertility, and creativity. Again, the overall vibe feels very consistent with a symbol that’s meant to embody the Runes themselves as a whole.
And finally, what about Astrology? Where does this particular esoteric science indicate itself? Probably the most commonly held viewpoint on this one would be that if you want to see Astrology talk about Astrology, you look at the very individualist Planet called Uranus, and also at the symbols most closely associated with it, including the Sign of Aquarius and the Eleventh House.
Uranian energy tends to be very unique and innovative, and it can correlate with instances of genius and eccentricity. It can be very progressive and forward-looking. It often operates like a lightning bolt: it builds in mostly unforeseen fashion, and then erupts in a flash of brilliance…quite like the way in which epiphanies triggered by the study of an astrological chart can manifest.
But like I said, Uranus and its associated symbols are the ones that are most often cited as carrying the energetic signature of Astrology itself…but I don’t know that I see the fit here as being quite as terrifically on point as saying that The High Priestess is the Tarot card that talks about Tarot, or that Perthro is the Rune that encompasses the Runes.
It’s my own belief that in the astrological realm, it makes some sense to see any divinatory system as also correlating with the dreamy Planet, Neptune (not to mention the Sign of Pisces and the mystical Twelfth House). We obviously have no standardized and measurable proofs we can consult when assigning these kinds of values to our divinatory symbols, so much of what we arrive at here will be down to personal taste…but I don’t feel quite as ready to say “Uranus is the astrological symbol of Astrology” as I am ready to champion The High Priestess and Perthro as the self-referencing members of their own respective divinatory sets.
But whatever system of divination you favor, if it’s one of those that involves the use and interpretation of a given set of symbols, you can almost bet that one of those symbols will refer back to the very same system of divination that it hails from. And when these are the specific symbols that start to appear for you with some frequency, it could be a sort of uber-message telling you that you, personally, have some special bond with that particular system, and you might do well to dive into it more deeply…
Try arranging the Major cards from one of your decks like this, in a big circle. Line them up carefully, and you’ll see that you get 11 opposing pairs. Then study them to see what kinds of thematic links you can spot between each of the cards that form a given axis.
For example, The Magician can be about reaching out into the world to work your magic on it…while the card across the Circle, The Hanged Man, can be about skillfully allowing the world to reach in and work its magic on you.
The Hierophant is often about the building up of structures…and the card that sits opposite this one on the Circle is The Tower, which is often about those moments when structures come crumbling down.
The Hermit can speak of the quest to find hidden truths…while on the other side of the Circle, Judgement can indicate that hidden truths are on a quest to find you.
You can find an interesting conceptual relationship for pretty much every one of these pairs, and working your way around the Magic Circle can really help you to feel more connected to the cards overall. Recommended!
Yesterday, I posted about the Shadow Card in a reading – that’s the card left sitting at the bottom of the unused portion of the deck after all the cards have been drawn for the reading itself. The Shadow Card can shed additional light on the reading as a whole.
There’s also the Quintessential Card, which can serve the same purpose. To arrive at a reading’s Quintessential Card, you add up all of the numbers of the cards that were drawn in the reading proper. If the sum is greater than 22, you add the digits of the sum together until you arrive at a total that’s less than or equal to 22. I count Court Cards as 0, and while The Fool can be 0 or 22, I generally count that card as a 0, too.
So for example, say you’ve drawn The Emperor (Card IV), The Hermit (IX), the 3 of Pentacles, and the 7 of Cups… You’d add 4 + 9 + 3 + 7 = 23. This sum is greater than 22, so you add the digits to reduce it: 2 + 3 = 5. The Quintessential Card for this reading would therefore be The Hierophant (Card V), and so you’d attribute some subtle but influential Hierophant energies to the situation you were reading about.
So the point of all this is that yesterday, I was reading for someone using the Thoth deck, and we drew Fortune (X), Lust (XI), and a couple of Court Cards.
The math is this: 10 + 11 + 0 + 0 = 21 –> The Universe (XXI).
Then I decided to look at the Shadow Card, as well. It was The Universe!
I don’t recall ever performing a reading in which the Shadow Card and the Quintessential Card were the same! The synchronicity felt kind of immense, and I figured I’d pass it along here. Maybe we all need to sit with The Universe a bit today… And on that note, Happy Friday, everyone!
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Conceived by Aleister Crowley, and painted by Lady Frieda Harris during WWII, this deck has become a pillar of modern Tarot, second in worldwide use and acclaim only to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. These two most-beloved decks do share some similarities, and this shouldn’t be surprising: Crowley and A.E. Waite studied many of the same sources, and both passed through the ranks of the mystic society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
But the two decks are also quite different in many ways. They’re very dissimilar in terms of their respective visuals: the RWS has seemingly simple illustrations that mostly showcase characters that look like they just strolled in from some sort of Middle Ages cosplay event, while the Thoth imagery is more fluid and otherworldly. The two decks use different names for many of the cards, and most striking of all, the RWS’ Minor cards offer fully-realized scenes, while the Thoth opts instead for non-scenic Minors, concerned mainly with free-floating Suit icons.
There’s another difference that separates the two decks: the Thoth deck actually seems to make a lot of people uneasy in ways that the RWS does not. Most of this is probably due to Crowley’s reputation. The self-styled “Wickedest Man in the World” does seem to have gone out of his way to infuse more sexual and darker occult overtones into his deck, which puts some people off.
But I get the sense that Crowley and his deck are actually not things to necessarily be feared. As I said to someone yesterday, I suspect that if the ghost of Aleister Crowley were to actually materialize in your study, it would be more likely to jabber at you and try to hump your leg than to cast some sort of demonic sorcery in your direction. I personally believe that the Thoth deck can be separated from the public persona of its creator, and then used as a pretty magnificent tool for self-knowledge, divination, and meditation. But that’s just me.
How about you? Do you like this deck? Do you shun it? Do you fear it, and Crowley? Or does the Crowley mythology have no effect at all on your decision to use or not use the Thoth deck?
I was holding forth recently about how it can be very illuminating to keep watch on cards that appear a lot for you across multiple readings in a short period of time (“stalker cards”). I also mentioned what I dubbed “MIA cards” – the ones that seem to be avoiding you for some definite interval. Along similar lines, today I give you the “card flash mob.”
When I got up this morning, I went to clean up the space where I’d strewn cards and candles yesterday while meditating, pondering the infinite – you know, the things I do on Saturday nights, because the party never stops up in here… Whenever I gather up cards from a previous reading, I like to insert each one back into the deck in a different place, and then I shuffle the whole works a few times before I put the cards back into the big chest where I store all my decks. As I was shuffling them this time, three different cards all popped out, and hurled themselves to the floor. I posted not long ago about “jumper cards” like this, too, and as I said, I’m usually not one to ignore them. The accompanying photo shows you which ones had volunteered themselves for message duty this time.
Can you see the numbers well enough to read them on your phone…? They’re all 9’s!!! I’m not mathematician enough to tell you what the exact odds of three 9’s all hopping out of the deck at random with no other types of cards joining them might be…but these are definitely what the Vegas crowd would refer to as “long odds.” So you can see: a little flash mob of 9’s happened on my carpet!
So it could be that the end of some cycle is in sight for me, but not yet here, and I need to stay the course, and not quit prematurely due to fatigue, or self-doubt, or lack of faith. This specific deck’s specific 9’s add the qualification that fear will be my greatest enemy in this, but if I can resist giving in to it before cycle’s end, I can achieve a kind of spiritual bliss. I’ve never had such a concentrated burst of one specific type of card before – I like it!
You? Ever experienced a card flash mob of this nature before…?