Between 1912 and 1922, the great German Romantic poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote a series of ten poems dedicated to the one he loved. The Duino Elegies is a romantic, evocative, heartfelt, and deeply inspiring collection. The poems are emotionally powerful and beautifully written.
And, for six months in the late 1990s, this book of poems was my oracle.
While I have been a tarot master for thirty-five years, I long ago decided I wanted to know as much as possible about the whole world of the arcane, the unknown. Thus began my quest to become familiar with, if not understand, the major oracles in use today. So, I have studied the ancient science of astrology for forty years. I have been working with the ancient Norse runes for thirty years. I have more than a passing acquaintance with numerology at this point. And I have, so far, devoted over thirty years of study to the ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching. I did all this because I realized early on that the seeds of the future were planted far back, in the long-ago past, and I wanted to learn how to connect the dots.
I began this life, as a professional psychic, from a strange place, I think. I viewed the world of oracles as a skeptic. Like the Biblical Thomas, if I couldn't appreciate something with one of my senses, it just didn't exist for me. All around me, in the 1960s, people were dabbling in tarot and astrology. I thought they were ridiculous and misguided. Science was what I knew. Proof. Evidence. And then one fateful day in 1968 in North Hatfield, Massachusetts, I was walking on the root structure of an ancient maple when it was struck by lightning—and my life changed forever. For the first time, I was able to open my mind to the possibilities of things I cannot see, feel, hear, taste, or touch. For the first time I was able to know things I hadn't experienced or been taught. For the first time, I began to see that an oracle, in the right hands and with the right attitude and knowledge, is a miraculous thing we can use to know what we do not know.
It's been a while since that lightning strike, and over the years I've discovered that almost anything can be used as an oracle. When in the late 1980s I opened the Rilke Elegies, asked straightforward questions, and put my finger on a page "randomly," every single time, for months, the answers were accurate. What I was reading there was reflecting the reality of what was, or what was to be. Did Rilke intend for his poems to be used like this? No. But the fact is that I did use them like this. And it worked.
Likewise, the Bible. At the risk of sounding like a heathen, I was going through a rough time at one point, and I asked my questions and opened the Bible and put my finger down "randomly," and, sure enough, what I read there conformed exactly to the situations. In this, though, the words and tone were far more inspirational than what one can get from a book of poems. Was the Bible intended to be an oracle? The jury is still out on that one. But from my experiences, I would have to say that, in the right hands and coming from a place of acceptance, it can be exactly that.
This idea of acceptance leads me to talk here about the danger of such efforts. First, working with oracles of any kind is not a game. If you ask the same question over and over, desperate for a different answer than the one you're getting, you're in danger of obsession. And that's a bad place to be psychologically. I know. I was there. For a short time in the 1960s, I was attempting to use the I Ching (a magnificent piece of philosophy and probably the most accurate oracle in the world) to tell me what I wanted and needed to hear about a guy I cared about. I almost made myself nuts because, of course, the oracle was giving me the truth. And, as in the Tom Cruise movie, I just couldn't handle it. Thank God I realized, suddenly, after days of this, that I was making myself crazy. I closed the I Ching and didn't open it again for twenty years.
Let me give you an example of what this oracle can do. The I Ching is a book, a compilation of songs and philosophy, written thousands of years ago in China. I was using it at one point to try and solve what to me is still the mystery of the John Kennedy assassination. One of my questions was, "Why was Kennedy killed in Texas?" The reply? "Kindred spirits in the Southwest."
Early on, though, among all the oracles, I found tarot. Or should I say, tarot found me. All of a sudden, card readers were everywhere on Manhattan Neighborhood Network TV. One woman I know came into the pub where I was hanging out and showed me a tarot pack she'd just bought, and then another showed me her new cards the same week. I was intrigued. And scared. But not scared enough to run the other way.
So I decided to approach tarot the way a college student approaches calculus, or history or psychology. I started to study. I read every good book about tarot that I could get my hands on. I started doing readings for people, without charging, and I did this for four years. For the first year I usually had a book open in front of me.
(You just can't learn in a day to work with tarot, no matter what they tell you. It took me maybe a year to master all the basic card meanings, upright and reversed.)
Finally, I felt I knew enough and was being accurate enough to start charging people for my service. But it would be fifteen more years before I would consider myself a master. Today I read using a system I designed myself, for card meanings, card combinations, and card placement. I guess you'd say I'm fearless now, now that I understand the power of tarot. And in what I do, I'm proud to say I'm a pioneer.
Symbols = Ideas
Tarot is a world of symbols. Color, line, form, philosophy, archetypes, all merge to strike subliminal chords in us. Maybe some of you recall the old advertising gimmick: splice 1/24 second of a popcorn image into a movie and suddenly, everybody in the theater wants popcorn and nobody knows why. Such is the power of the subliminal suggestion. Well, tarot does the same thing in a profound way. Using cards I can diagnose illness, warn people about stock market crashes, encourage people to take the wonderful career and life leaps they want to make but are afraid of making. I can caution people about poor relationship choices, inspire sound money management....The images I'm looking at combine at the subliminal (subconscious) level in me to become conscious thoughts. In this case, the "I want popcorn" from the film example becomes, "You have a predisposition to diabetes."
Strangely, I have to say here that the single most important thing about getting the right oracular answer is asking the exact right question. A young woman comes to me and wants to know about a guy she's dating, and I am looking at her job falling apart, the fact that she has no money, the fact that she may be homeless tomorrow. Well, I'm seeing these things because at that moment they are far more important than her relationship. Likewise, there's no way to pull an end run around a good reader. No matter what you ask and how you try to avoid asking the question, a good reader will still see the answer. And so I have discovered that the absolutely best question you can ask, at least at first, about any situation is: "What is the best thing I can know about _________?"
Be prepared to simply accept what you're told if it makes sense to you, knowing what else you know about the issue.
So, What Makes A Good Reader?
The sad fact is that there are many people out there who don't have a clue what they're doing, who have no real knowledge of tarot and other oracles, but who are nevertheless using them to take money from people. Most of these folks are well-meaning. Some are simply criminals.
What do you do, then, if you're looking for a psychic?
Here's what I tell people: If you have good reason to trust somebody, consult that person. Maybe the reader has written a really persuasive book. Maybe you've seen or heard the reader work on TV or radio and listened to positive feedback. Maybe one of your friends, somebody whose judgment you trust, recommends a reader. In these three instances, by all means you might take a chance on that reader.
But always listen with at least a tiny bit of skepticism. And never ever ask questions until the reader has been talking a while. Because in every question information is embedded, and the reader is the one who's supposed to be giving information, not vice versa!
I also encourage my clients to use the information I give them in conjunction with everything else they know, so they can make solid decisions. I don't give advice. Who am I to advise anybody about anything? I tell people what I see. Period.
And what exactly is it that I'm seeing? I'm seeing information that is coming from them. We all know everything, you see. It's just that we can't always access it. It's like, the Internet is out there with all the information in the world, but without a keyboard we can't connect to it. Tarot is my keyboard. The universal unconscious is my Internet.
This brings me to something fascinating. I started working with oracles, and tarot specifically, having been scientific in my approach to life. And I thought tarot was about as non-scientific as you can get. Colorful pictures on pieces of cardboard? Be serious! Until I realized that string theory, and quarks, and the whole world of modern physics actually almost proves that I can know what I know just by pulling it out of the air, by looking at those pictures.
And so now I have come full-circle. There are many out there who have also reached this starting point. (Here I can recommend the book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters.) Physics is leading to God, as Einstein promised it would long ago. The universe is, after all, quite too perfect to have happened by accident.
Developing A Gift
I teach tarot, and I've discovered that if you have psychic ability it can be developed. It can be developed, for example, by working with something like tarot for hours every day. It seems that if we live long enough in a world of symbols, something in the brain changes. We start to get information, but we don't know exactly where it's coming from. Every once in a rare while, for example, a dead person will show up in one of my readings. So far it's always been to give really solid advice to the person sitting across from me, or for consolation, or simply to reassure that a client is not alone. I don't see this individual; I see no spirit in the room. I "see" the individual in the cards. I have also "seen" a 747 in the King of Swords (where it isn't) and learned that the client's brother is a commercial pilot. I have "seen" a jigsaw puzzle piece in the throat of the Page of Pentacles (where it is not) and learned that the client has a son who swallowed that piece when he was five. I have "seen" a little white dog with black eyes in the Queen of Pentacles (where it is not) and learned that this was in fact the client's dog.
When I started out, all of this was impossible and remote. I could never even imagine this stuff could exist, never mind imagine being able to do it. But tarot takes us at our own pace, and at this point I have come to realize there are simply no limits.
And this is a beautiful thing.