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What can we make of the film Ex Machina via a Lenormand lens?

ex_machina_movie_poster-t3

A young employee wins a trip to the isolated home of the genius founder of the largest internet search company. He is asked to test if a new AI (artificial intelligence) robot truly simulates human intelligence and emotion, in what becomes a radical kind of Turing test meant to determine the difference between human and machine.

Spoiler Alert . . .

As usual, I drew the cards before seeing the movie:
Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child.

Ex Machina Lenormand

The basic meaning of this spread is: With the arrival of a guest (Rider) comes a theft (Mice) of success [joy, life, energy] (Sun) and an obstacle (Mountain) to something new or young (Child).

First, this is a well-written, intellectually compelling mystery-thriller-horror film in the sci-fi genre. But a friend who saw it hated it and wanted to discuss my impressions after seeing it. So, at the end of the film I asked myself what the writer might have picked as a “What if . . .” scenario for the basis of the movie:

“What if a modern Dr. Frankenstein creates an AI that, instead of having emotions, is, instead, a pure psychopath?” This immediately had me thinking of the Frankenstein story in relation to this one. In Ex Machina, the young employee, Caleb, flies over a wasteland of snow to arrive at a mountain retreat where the house’s electricity is going hay-wire. At one point he and his boss, Nathan, climb to the base of a glacier. The parallels to Frankenstein’s monster who is created in a isolated lab, via electricity and ends up on an ice flow in Antartica are notable. Unlike Mary Shelley’s imagined creature, this one only mimics feelings—perfectly.

“And, what if . . . this AI runs amok?” Now we have a parallel to man versus machine in Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this AI is female. The horror here lies in the mimicking of emotions.

“So, what if . . . this robot AI is an adolescent male’s greatest fantasy – a blow-up doll, sex toy?” Shades of Season 5 of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, where Warren creates the BuffyBot sex toy for Spike!

“Or, what if . . . it is about scientists eskewing consequences in light of the possibility of invention?” And, indeed, Caleb quotes Oppenheimer: “I am become death, destroyer of the worlds,” making note of the potentially horrible consequences of curiosity and invention.

My friend was deeply disturbed by the hatred she felt was expressed by the two AIs. My sense was that it was, rather, the expediency of a pure psychopath (to put it in human terms) seeking to freely perpetuate itself—as would a meme, versus a gene. Interestingly the AI is named Ava—Eve, suggesting that she will be the ‘mother’ of a new species.

I’m not going to get into the mind-games involved in the tests, which ultimately attempt to determine if the “feelings” expressed by the AI could be real. Please, see the film.

Lenormand Interpretation

Ex Machina Lenormand
screenshot_685What the Lenormand spread—Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child—points to is the arrival of a young man at the isolated mountan retreat (of genius inventor, Nathan). Caleb, who is presented as hardly more than a boy, must overcome all obstacles (Mountain) to steal (Mice) a new being, Ava/Eve. Between Caleb (Rider) and Ava (Child) is an insurmountable barrier (Mountain)—both a physical wall and the barrier of not being able to see into the other’s ‘mind’. The theft will block/stop Nathan’s new project and Ava will escape her imprisonment by flying over the mountain at the dawn of a new day (Sun). I shouldn’t overlook the role that the ‘theft’ of electricity (a modern meaning of the Sun card) plays in the story. There’s also the play on the title of the film: “ex machina”: “deus ex machina” is a term from Greek/Roman drama for when an improbable answer to a dilemma appears as if out of the sky, originally a crisis solved when a “god” descends out of a machine onto the stage. In the spread, the mountain represents the dilemma, and a helicopter literally appears out of the sky to first bring the visitor, Caleb, and then to take away the new being, who is herself a machina.

Tarot Interpretation

I also drew three Tarot cards for something else I should be aware of in the film and received:

Lovers – High Priestess – Knight of Swords

Ex Machina Tarot

These cards point to another side of the story – the love story between Ava and Caleb (who we think will be her knight in shining armour), which turns out to be a set-up by Nathan, playing off of Caleb’s internet pornographic fantasies. Ava, in her temple imprisonment, isolated purity, and deep insight (she can tell when Nathan is lying), is very much a High Priestess, who will become a cold-as-steel warrior, wielding a blade.

The contrast between the Lovers, Priestess and Knight of Swords also makes clear a disturbingly misogynistic layer to this film that plays on priviledged white male sexual fantasy, nubile sexual enslavement and racial/sexual stereotyping. The question remains as to how conscious or unconscious all the layers of this were. Were they meant to make us question these things or were were they below the consciousness of the film’s creators?

Added: A central question implied by this film is: What happens when you take the “Deus” out of “Deus-ex-machina”? If for a moment we consider Deus to be wisdom, then the Machina (machine) feeds on information but, we might assume, lacks wisdom. What does this suggest?

“Watch out for wormholes: you never know what may come out of them.” 
— Stephen Hawking

 One of the first things people want to know about Tarot is how it works. Most seasoned practitioners will admit they haven’t a clue but have considered a few possibilities including:

  • Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity (not really a theory but rather a belief in meaningful coincidence) 
  • Quantum physics (theory of entanglement, etc.)
  • Psychological projection (as a kind of Rorschach test)
  • Contact with a Spiritual Being, Higher Self, Universal Consciousness or paranormal force
  • Magic(k) (an as-yet-unknown scientific principle)
  • One’s subconscious directing the placement of the cards
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies
  • A mentalist’s set of cold-reading tricks conjoined with the Barnum Effect

I was fascinated to see that the physicist, Stephen Hawking, in The Universe in a Nutshell (albeit a rehash of his earlier work) addresses this very concern. In a chapter called “Predicting the Future,” he compares astrology to his understanding of how the universe works. I thought we’d also see what modern science might suggest about Tarot’s ability to predict. [I’ll leave it up to the reader to further explore the scientific concepts in bold italics.]

 Hawking begins with the provocative statement,

“The human race has always wanted to control the future, or at least to predict what will happen. That is why astrology is so popular. . .  There is no more experimental evidence for some of the theories described this book than there is for astrology, but we believe them [scientific theories] because they are consistent with theories that have survived testing.”

Hawking explains how, in the 19th century, Laplace’s scientific determinism proposed that with enough knowledge we could predict the state of the universe at any time in the past or future. Butterfly-300x235In principle, the future is predictable. But, even the tiniest disturbance can cause a major change somewhere else. While the flapping of a butterfly’s wing could cause rain in New York, the sequence of events is not repeatable. “The next time the butterfly flaps its wings, a host of other factors will be different and will also influence the weather.” While a Tarot card might predict an exact event one time, can we count on a repetition of this prediction at another time to be as accurate?

Determinism is also confounded by the uncertainty principle: we cannot accurately measure both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time. If we put inaccurate data in, we get inaccurate data out. This conundrum led to quantum mechanics, which examines wave function to determine the probability that a particle will have a position and velocity within a certain range. Generally speaking, when there is a small uncertainty in position there is a large uncertainty in velocity and vice versa. Hawking sums this up: 

 “We now realize that the wave function is all that can be well defined. We cannot even suppose that the particle has a position and velocity that are known to God but are hidden from us. Such “hidden-variable” theories predict results that are not in agreement with observation. Even God is bound by the uncertainty principle and cannot know the position and velocity. He can only know the wave function.”

wave function

Wave function gives us a kind of half-determinism in which we can predict either the position or the velocity within any given measure of time. But, it seems, the special theory of relativity threw out the notion of absolute time. It turns out that time is only one direction in a four-dimensional continuum called spacetime. Different observers traveling through space at different velocities each have their own measure of time (oh, no!) in which there are different intervals between events. There is an equation (Schrödinger’s) that, spacetimein the flat spacetime of special relativity, can obtain a deterministic evolution of the wave function, but not in the curved spacetime of the general theory of relativity, where a wormhole can create stagnation points. Hawking: “Watch out for wormholes: you never know what may come out of them.”

What follows are several pages on black holes, quasars and singularities (eek!), all leading to the fact that we cannot know the part of the wave function that is inside a black hole—potentially a very large amount of information! Eventually a black hole will lose mass, down to zero, and disappear completely, carrying its hidden information with it. 

black holeHawking explains: 

“In general, . . . people such as astrologers and those who consult them are more interested in predicting the future than in retrodicting the past [love that word, “retrodicting”]. At first glance, it might seem that the loss of part of the wave function down the black hole would not prevent us from predicting the wave function outside the black hole. But it turns out that this loss does interfere with such a prediction.” 

Without this hidden knowledge it is impossible to predict the spin or the wave function of the particle (in a virtual particle pair) that escapes the black hole—further reducing our power to predict the future. Is there no hope?

 “If one particle falls into the black hole, there is no prediction we can make with certainty about the remaining particle. This means that there isn’t any measurement outside the black hole that can be predicted with certainty: our ability to make definite predictions would be reduced to zero. So maybe astrology is no worse at predicting the future than the laws of science.

p-braneUNLESS . . . a black hole is made up of p-branes that move through ten dimensions (3 dimensions of space and 7 additional, unknown ones) that are regarded as sheets in the flat spacetime of special relativity (see above). In that case, time moves forward smoothly so the information in the waves won’t be lost! (Forgive me if I sound a little lost at this point.)

I hate to tell you that Hawking himself now asks: 

 “Does part of the wave function get lost down black holes, or does all the information get out again, as the p-brane model suggests? This is one of the outstanding questions in theoretical physics today.” 

Even Stephen Hawking isn’t sure if “the world is safe and predictable or not.” So how can the rest of us be confident that our pea-brains can figure it all out? I welcome discussion, polite debate, and scientific updates or clarification in the comments section.

Thought: If the “wave function” is all we can predict, then what does this suggest for Tarot? What is the wave function in a Tarot reading?

This post should help place the Viennese Coffee-Ground Cards of 1796, forerunners of the Petit Lenormand deck, in the context of the time.

Young FranklinIn 1724 eighteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin and his good friend, James Ralph, travel to London, ostensibly to buy printing equipment for Franklin’s first print shop, but instead they hang out at coffee houses, attend the theatre and other entertainments, and read voraciously, with Ralph living off an almost destitute Franklin. Franklin returns to Philadelphia eighteen months later. Remaining in England, Ralph attempts to become a man of letters, turning his hand to poetry, plays, and social commentary, writing The Taste of the Town: or a Guide to all Publick Diversions, by A. Primcock (1728/30). Since theatres are rowdy places where one goes mostly to “chat, intrigue, eat and drink” (and tell fortunes?) Ralph advocates the pleasures of “low theatre,” farce, and tales of British folk heroes instead of the lofty classics. He meets the young Henry Fielding, who is just starting his writing career (Fielding is credited with writing some of the first English novels including Tom Jones and creating the first municipal police force, the Bow Street Runners).
Ralph’s theories influence Fielding’s most successful plays, one named The Farce and the other, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb, the Great. They would remain life-long friends and collaborators. 

Henry FieldingFielding’s The Farce features two main characters: Luckless, a penniless writer and Jack. A farce “is a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable. They are incomprehensible plot-wise . . . and  viewers are encouraged not to try to follow the plot in order to avoid becoming confused and overwhelmed (wikipedia).” 

Later in 1730, the same theatre presents a short, anonymous play, Jack the Giant-Killer: A Comi-Tragical Farce, that is a striking parody of James Ralph’s theatrical theories and Fielding’s comedy. It features the poet Plotless and the “hero,” Jack. This parody could have been written by Fielding and Ralph themselves as a spoof of their own theatrical endeavors. Or it could have been written by a rival playwright who hoped to make a laughing stock of the two of them. In the play, the Giants tell Queen Folly (who has usurped Reason) in a self-congratulatory way,

“’Twas we who snatch’d you from Obscurity, and to the grinning World disclos’d your Charms. . . . We vow ourselves your ever grateful champions. . . . Folly for ever, say we all.” 

Hogarth, preparations for “The Devil to Pay in Heaven” (1738).

What is of most interest to us is that when Jack arrives to champion Reason and defeat the royal Sorceress Folly, Folly declares that before setting off to battle,

“First we’ll examine the Decrees of Fate, in mystic Coffee-Cups and Tea reveal’d; The new-invented Arts of Snuff and Cards, Shall all be try’d, the grand Event to show, If we, my Friends, shall conquer, or the Foe.” 

I’ll present the text with several unacknowledged cuts so as to focus on the readings.

SCENE: the Palace of Folly 

A Table, Coffee-Cups, Folly, and the four Giants turning the Cups; three Women looking into them.

First Woman. I see a Gallows in this Cup, that must be for the Traitors to be sure: Here are small Crosses indeed, but you stand above ‘em. [The Significator is above the Crosses.]

Second Woman. Here is a Cock crowing in this, that betokens good News—Does not your Majesty expect a Letter? I see ’tis from the South—it comes from that Part of the Compass—the Cup being round, we have at once every Quarter of the Globe before us—your Allies are all firm to your Interest. But please to throw again—Your Majesty knows the third time is most to be depended on.

(To Gormillan (one of the giants)): You stand on a huge high Mountain, with several People about you, who seem to beg something. [I see] a Ring, my Lord, over a fine Lady’s Head: She sits by the Sea-side—she must be some Foreign Princess. 

(To Thunderdale): I am certain you will conquer, for an Angel with gilded Wings holds a Laurel to you—an undoubted Sign of Triumph. 

(To Blunderboar): A divided House! my Lord, you’ll be divorc’d from your Lady.

(To Galligantus): And you’ll be married, my Lord, to the great Fortune you have courted so long—here you are at the very Top of the Cup, and all your rivals are under your Feet—O, she has a vast Estate, I see Acres with Cattle feeding on them, Trees loaded with Fruit, Rivers and Ponds full of Fish—you’ll be a happy Man—you have been with her lately, I believe. [He responds that she didn’t treat him kindly.] I see now she was reserved—there was a little Cloud between you—but ’twill do for all that, my Lord; or I’ll never turn a Cup again.

— Note references above to the following images that appear in the
Viennese Coffee-Cards and Lenormand deck:
Cross, Bird, Mountain, Ring, House, Tree, Fish, Clouds —

Casting the Coffee-grounds, Vauxhall Gardens, 1745

And now to the card reading:

[Everyone clamors to have their questions answered.]

Queen Folly. You shall be satisfy’d anon—but we must lay the Cards first. Give us the Cards, that in our several Turns we all may Cut: I am the Queen of Hearts.

[First Woman gives the Cards to Folly, then to each of the Gyants, who cut, and deliver ‘em to her again, and she lays ‘em on the Table in Rows.]

First Woman. You, Lord Gormillan, are the King of Clubs; Lord Thunderdale shall be the angry Majesty of Spades; the Diamond Crown Lord Blunderboar shall wear; and King of Hearts Lord Gallivants shall assume.

The Knave of Spades, Madam, seems to threaten Danger, but he lies oblique [diagonal], and the Ten of Hearts between them shews he wants Power to hurt you—the Eight of Clubs and Ace over your Head denote a cheerful Bowl, and Birth will crown Night—all will be well—these Princes are surrounded with Diamonds; the Eight lies at the Feet of Lord Gormillan; the Deuce, the Four and Five are in a direct Line with Valiant Thunderdale; the Tray and Nine are at Elbow of great Blunderboar, and the Six and Seven are just over the Head of noble Gallivants. Some Spades of ill Aspect are mingled with them, but the Hearts and Clubs take off their malevolent Quality.

Folly. Go then, my Friends, secure of Fame and Conquest, The Oracles pronounce it.

[Jack and his Party enter. They throw down the Table, Cups, Cards, etc.]

A battle ensues. Jack slays the Giants. The Genius of the Isle [of Britain] descends, giving the Wand of Reason to Jack who touches Folly with it. She turns into a Monster garbed in Snakes. The mob declare themselves against her. Jack touches her a second time with the Wand, the ground opens and she sinks beneath it. Reason’s declared triumphant.

The Layout

The method of reading playing cards is remarkably similar to laying out the Lenormand deck. All the cards are laid in a series of rows. One then finds the person’s Significator and reads the cards immediately around it. You can also examine the cards of significant others or cards that reflect topics of concern. The layout may have looked something like this 4×13 layout, although they might have used 6 rows of 9 cards (except the 6th row with 7).

IMG_0768

In a later play called The Astrologer: A Comedy, Ralph seems to allude to Jack the Giant-Killer when he writes:

“This is an Age of Reason, Man we see with our own Eyes, and give no Credit to what surpasses our Understanding.”
” True, Sir; but my Father’s as superstitious as if he had liv’d two Centuries ago. . . . “

” Men are more ashamed of this Folly, but not less inclin’d to it: witness the very Nonsense of Coffee-Grounds, which is grown into a Science, and become the Morning Amusement of Numbers, in every Corner of the Kingdom.”

 Sources

jack-gyant-killerJack the Gyant-Killer: A Comi-Tragical Farce, anonymous (1730).

The Taste of the Town, Or a Guide to All Publick Diversions. by A. PRIMCOCK• (pseud. James Ralph) (1728/30).

Hogarth print depicting preparations for the play, “The Devil to Pay in Heaven” (1738).

The Astrologer: A Comedy by James Ralph (1744).

“Fielding’s Indebtedness to James Ralph” by Helen Sard Hughes, Modern Philology, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Aug., 1922), pp. 19-34.

“Henry Fielding: London Calling & Poetic Faith” (Madamepickwickartblog).

Henry Fielding: A Memoir by G. M. Godden.

Facsimile of deck printed in London ca. 1750. MacGregor Historic Games.

Also check out: “Reading Coffee Grounds: A Lady’s Hobby” (blog post).

The original 1745 print, “Casting the Coffee-grounds,” is from my personal collection.

Thanks to Kwaw on aeclecticforum.net who first brought this play to my attention.

*A. Primcock (James Ralph’s pseudonym). The word, primcock literally means “whore-penis’: a man who sleeps around indiscriminately. It appears as an insult in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Marie d'AgoultIn June of 1834, Marie Catherine Sophie, Comtesse d’Agoult (later known as the writer Daniel Stern), at the urging of her friend, novelist Eugène Sue, sought a reading with Mlle. Lenormand that promised great things. Four days later a hopeful Eugène Sue obtained a reading. Both Marie d’Agoult’s reading and that of M. Sue are recounted in her memoirs.

Thus we learn of Eugène’s unrequited love for Marie and a prediction of her future that was soon to take an astonishing turn. The following year Marie divorced her husband and met the pianist and composer Franz Liszt, with whom she had three illegitimate children (one of whom became the celebrated and influential wife of Richard Wagner).

Here is Marie d’Agoult’s own account.


I went to Mlle. Lenormand on 23 June of the year 1834, at the suggestion of the famous novelist, Eugene Sue, who spoke to me of her as a prodigious person through her power of penetration and intuition. Mlle. Lenormand then lived in the rue de Tournon and gave her consultations from a very dark, dirty, and strongly musty room, to which, using some pretty childish tricks, she had given an air of necromancy.

Lenormand+cards - Version 2

It was no longer the period of her brilliant fame, when, by virtue of her prediction to Madame de Beauharnais, she had achieved credit with the greatest rulers of Europe – it will be recalled that, at the Congress of Aachen, Alexandre visited her frequently and seriously; Lord Wellington also consulted her to learn the name of the man who had attempted to assassinate him in 1818; she was now almost forgotten. Few people knew the way to her home.

Old, thick, sordid in her attire, wearing a square cap, how medieval she appeared, backlit in a large greasy leather armchair at her table covered with cabalistic cards; a large black cat meowed at her feet with a witch’s air. The prompt and piercing glance of the diviner, thrown on the sly, as she shuffled her cards—for a few francs in addition to the common price for what she called the big game (grand jeu)—she revealed to one, without doubt, the kind of concern and mood of the character of the one who consulted her and helped to predict a future that, after all, for each of us, and except for the very limited intervention of chance, is the result of our temperament and character.

What she said amazed me because I did not know myself then, otherwise I could have, to some extent, been my own oracle, and predicted, without consulting anyone [else], what my destiny would be. On my way home, I noted down what Mlle. Lenormand had said to me. I’ve copied it here for those curious about these kinds of meetings.

“There will be a total change in your destiny in the next two or three years. What would appear to you at this time, to be absolutely impossible will come true. You will entirely change your way of living. You will change your name thereafter, and your new name will become famous not only in France but in Europe. You will leave your country for a long time. Italy will be your adopted country; you will be loved and honored.

“You’ll love a man who will make an impression in the world and whose name will make a great clamour. You inspire strong feelings of enmity in two women who will seek to harm you by all means possible. But have faith; you will triumph through everything. You will live to be old, surrounded by true friends, and you will have a beneficial influence on a lot of people.

“Pay attention to your dreams that warn you of danger. Distrust your imagination that enthuses easily and will throw you in the path of danger, which you will escape through great courage. Moderate your benevolence which is blind. Expect that your mind, which is independent and sincere, will make you a lot of enemies and your kindness will be ignored.”

I also found, among my correspondence with Eugene Sue, a letter which refers to Mlle. Lenormand, and I have joined it here to supplement what I have told of this incident.

EugeneSueLetter of Eugène Sue,
Paris, June 27, 1834.

I have taken leave of our diviner, Madam, and I cannot but express my disappointment. You asked me to tell you the predictions she made me, as unpleasant as they are: so here they are:

You see, Madam, that the damned Sibyl varied at least in her prophecies, and your brilliant and European destiny contrasts badly with mine. After I was recognized as one of her assiduous believers, the accursed witch made me a few insignificant predictions, reminded me of others, and then suddenly, stopping to mix the diabolical cards, she fixed me with her penetrating and mocking eyes:

 “Ho Ho!” said she, “here is something new and fatal. You are feeling a sentiment that she will not respond to.”

 I wanted to deny it; she insisted. She spoke to me of a rare spirit of infinite charm; she painted for me a portrait that I would not dare recount here, but which was not unrecognizable. Then, seeing I was so completely divined, I was silent. I limited myself to asking her if there was, therefore, no hope, if some card had not been forgotten, if the combination was without error. The old woman began to re-calculate with an infernal complacency.

 Alas! Madame, the result was absolutely the same: a deeply passionate feeling, without any hope, disturbed my present and destroyed my future. You see, Madame, in comparing this prediction to that which was made to you, I am doubly subject to accuse the fates; because it is said that the man whose destiny you will share will be famous, from which I conclude that the lover you push away will remain obscure. Oh well, Ma’am, I dare confess it to you, this glory announced to the man whom you will deign to love, I dreamed about it, I aspired to it, I felt strong enough to win it; but now that it is foretold that I will not be loved, I’ve dropped from the height of my dreams and ambitions to sadness and discouragement, empty of heart and spirit.

Regards, etc.


I wish to thank “Terry” who, in a comment on my detailed post on Mlle. Lenormand, introduced me to this material in Mes Souvenirs by Marie d’Agoult, Vol. 1, 1880, pp. 277-279. I cobbled the above account together from internet translators. Please feel free to share any corrections in the comments. The incident is only mentioned briefly in the biography by Richard Bolster (see cover photo above). See also my post: Madame Le Normand: The Most Famous Card Reader of All Time.

How many of us go to a movie or a play—even a really good one—and a couple of days or weeks later don’t remember a thing about it? Yes, movies have a role in relaxation and just plain momentary enjoyment, but there can be something said for the longer term pleasure of ruminating over the themes, questions and ideas presented in good art.

Imitation GameI have found Tarot and, more recently the 36 Lenormand cards, a great aid in meditating on ideas and art. This came into focus when I went to see the outstanding film The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing cracking the Enigma Code that helped end WWII. Themes also include the unconscionable way homosexuals have been treated and, ultimately, what is fair and just? I’ve put aside, for this discussion, the question of how accurate the film is—after all it is art, which serves to entertain and make us think and feel. [Trailer here.]

Note: if you know even the basics of Turing’s story, there is only one real spoiler below (so marked). 

Before seeing The Imitation Game, I drew three cards each from the Petit Lenormand and a Tarot deck as separate readings. I wished to compare, in part, how the messages I received would differ in terms of plot versus philosophical themes, character dilemmas or spiritual content. I knew only the broadest outline of Turing’s achievement: the facts mentioned above.

I asked: “What should I focus on in this movie to gain the greatest insights?”

From the Malpertuis Lenormand deck I received:

Fox – Clover – Bear

Before the movie, I summed up my page of notes: “Risky strategy pays off by protecting Britain.”

Fox is cunning, trickery, strategy; and in modern Lenormand can mean a job.

Clover is luck, chance, risk, fortuitous, brief.

Bear is strength, protection or envy; modern meanings include investment, gain and authority figures like CEOs or police and military.

In my method of doing line-readings the first card is the subject, so Clover modifies Fox: a risky strategy. Clover also serves as a verb, “pays off” leading to a future result: protection (Bear). I also considered that these cards could indicate a fortuitous relationship between an employer (Bear) and a worker (Fox), although with Fox and Bear looking in opposite directions, they might have different agendas. Furthermore, Bear could resent and be envious of the smartness of Fox. After the movie, I also considered Fox+Clover as “code-breaking” and Bear as the fearsome enemy (Bear is described as a “ferocious beast” in the oldest text). So we simply have: “breaking the Nazi code.”

Imagine my surprise when the movie opens with a film of a bear! It turned out to be the logo of the production company: Black Bear. Part way into the movie Turing makes an unsuccessful attempt to tell a joke about two people running into a bear: 

“The first one says, ‘You can’t outrun a bear.’ And the second one responds, ‘I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.'”

This is a cunning strategy that can pay off when Fox is confronted by Bear. (Later I learned that Turing’s childhood toy bear—I seem to remember it being shown late in the film (?)—was his constant companion and is now featured in a display at Bletchley Park where the code-breaking took place.) 

At a more abstract level, Turing could be seen as the intelligent Fox, with Bear representing his monster of a machine that he named Christopher—after his only childhood friend who protected him at school. Additionally, Fox, which can also represent something false, a faked ploy, is key to how these cards can relate to the “Turing Test” of artificial intelligence and especially Turing’s example of it in his “Imitation Game.”

From the 78-card Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck I received:

Tower reversed – Justice – Devil

Having three Major Arcana cards indicates deeply “destined” circumstances. I tried two summing ups: “Justice (logic/right) ends the War with Evil (material dominion).” or “Choosing materialism/shame (Devil as outcome) versus (Justice) a cover-up of flaws and problems (Tower reversed).”

Tower reversed is averting disaster; bailing out; impotence; blocking or overturning destruction.

Justice is measured rationality, seeing the pros & cons; choice; balance; decision; and, of course, law and justice.

The Devil is utmost materiality; power structures; ego; shame; blame. (The parallel to Bear as envious, ferocious beast is notable.)

I considered that Justice in the center represented a balancing act between the Tower R and the Devil. Was shame (the Devil) somehow balancing an end to war (Tower)? Or was it more about needing to find a solution (Justice) that would keep the pressure-cooker from exploding (Tower reversed) that would let evil reign?

Mild Spoiler Alert:

Contemplating these cards since seeing the film, I see a much deeper issue hinted at by the movie—perverted justice done by a blind institution that causes great harm. I’ve learned from reading Lenormand that we have to see cards as being modified by what surrounds them. Justice doesn’t have to be reversed to indicate injustice—the Devil following Justice can show the great evil that justice itself can do. When a person is seen as “inverted” (“inversion” is an old classification for homosexual) then grave injustices are done. A point has been made that the royal “pardon” of Turing for his conviction as a homosexual is a travesty as he was guilty under the law and therefore “justly” convicted as were the 47,000 other men who were also convicted (and not pardoned). What we are shocked by is that a hero who saved millions of lives should have been treated so badly—but is that just to all the others? These cards indicate the reaction of today’s viewers that the “justice” against “inversion” was heart-breakingly “wrong,” while, according to the time, it was not, despite the fact that we now see the institution itself (the law) as as a great evil. 

Major Spoiler Alert:

Upon breaking the Enigma Code, the team is faced with the realization that they cannot stop the Nazi attacks as that would reveal to the Nazis the breaking of the code and the immediate termination of its use. British intelligence would have to allow the killing and destruction to continue in order to know what the Germans were up to. I see this horrifying realization as the main climax of the film, perfectly depicted by the Tarot cards: the breakthrough that could end the war and the decision to allow great evil to continue as the only rational thing to do.

Added: A final summarizing of these Tarot cards in terms of the film:
To achieve true justice and the reversal of a destructive course there will be collateral damage (bad things happen).

I still find the Tarot to be the much deeper of the two decks, but the Lenormand cards astound me again and again with their uncanny precision and succinctness. As mentioned above, I’ll leave to you the implications of these cards to the Turing Test of artificial intelligence and his “Imitation Game.” Feel free to comment on these below.

Regarding the biographical accuracy of this piece of fiction: there are major problems. I can only hope that the film (enjoyable in its own right but only as fiction) will lead you to find out more about the real Alan Turing:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/20/the-imitation-game-invents-new-slander-to-insult-alan-turing-reel-history

Check out these other readings for films, plays and books:
https://marygreer.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf/
https://marygreer.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/reading-the-cards-for-movies-and-books/

I try to keep abreast of Tarot as it appears in fiction but somehow I missed this one: The Holy by Daniel Quinn (2002). The entire book is the playing out of a Tarot reading, made explicit by full-page illustrations of Rider-Waite-Smith cards that introduce book sections.

The central what if is, “What if the God of the Bible was not the only God, and what if the “false gods” referred to in the ten commandments actually exist?” We can extend this to ask the questions: Who are they? and What do they want?—questions the author leaves only partially answered.

This is a Fool’s journey, cross country, undertaken by several different people, at first independently and then with converging stories, all foreseen in the Tarot reading that becomes explicit only as the tale evolves. Quinn is known for his philosophical novels, starting with the highly regarded Ishmael, for which he won the half-million dollar Turner Tomorrow Fellowship. Quinn is an original thinker whose process has been described as “seeing through the myths of this culture” or “ripping away the shades so that people can have a clear look at history and what we’re doing to the world.” It’s interesting that despite the centrality of the Tarot reading and Tarot illustrations in this book, the Tarot content is hardly ever mentioned and never discussed in the reviews I’ve read.

Synopsis: Sixty-plus year-old private detective Howard Scheim is hired by an acquaintance to discover if the “false gods” of the Bible really exist. In agreeing to discover if he can even undertake such an inquiry he interviews several people including a journalist, a tarot reader, a clairvoyant and a Satanist. Meanwhile the Kennesey family is undergoing upheaval as husband David decides to walk away from his job, his wife and his 12-year old son, Tim. Tim and his mother go searching for David and, when Tim becomes accidentally separated from his mother, Howard stumbles upon him and offers to help Tim find her. As it turns out both David and his son Tim are being courted by amoral, non-human “others” who plan to “wake up” humanity because their blindness is creating havoc. These “others,” who refuse to define themselves, are trickster beings, neither evil nor benevolent, who have existed far longer than homo sapiens. They have been known to enchant those humans who look to the physical world rather than to a transcendent being to benefit them.

The Celtic Cross Tarot reading shows Quinn to be knowledgeable about Tarot consulting. References to people named Case (P.F. Case authored an influential Tarot book) and John Dee (magician to Elizabeth I), as well as a road named Morning Star Path (a Golden Dawn offshoot was called the “Stella Matutina” or morning star) makes it clear that Quinn is referencing modern occult lore.

Tarot reader Denise starts by explaining that the first card in Howard’s reading indicates the predominant influence in the subject’s life. Howard draws the Seven of Swords and Denise asks Howard to tell her what it is about, explaining this is not her usual way of working but, “If I proceed normally, you’ll think I’m slanting it.”

He describes a thief stealing swords for a battle who has overlooked something (two swords left behind).” Denise summarizes it: “You’re getting ready for a battle and you’re overestimating your own cleverness and underestimating the strength of your enemy. You’re overconfident and you think you can’t be hurt in the enterprise you’ve planned. . . . The reading will center on the conflict you’re preparing for.”

The Seven of Swords is crossed by the Two of Pentacles: “The pentacles represent grave extremes: the beginning and the end, life and deah, infinite past and the infinite future, good and evil. Nevertheless, the young man is dancing.” Denise says he takes the situation too lightly.

The card above him is the Eight of Cups: “At best, you can hope for a strange journey, an adventure into darkness.”

The frontispiece illustration is that of the Seven of Cups, appearing in the reading in the environment position: “A man is disconcerted by an array of tantalizing apparitions of love, mystery, danger, riches, fame, and evil. Illusions will bedevil you. You’ll be pulled in many directions, and your choices will be confused.” Perhaps this is the underlying theme of not only this book but other works by Daniel Quinn: Humankind is bedeviled by the illusions of culture and civilization so that our choices are confused, centering on all the wrong things. Quinn has one of the characters quote Plato’s The Republic: “Whatever deceives can be said to enchant.” Adding, “Anyone who shakes off the deception shakes off the enchantment as well – and ceases to be one of you [a homo sapien].” The Holy, p. 260.

I’ve left out most of the interplay about the cards, and I won’t reveal more of the story as I hope you will explore this book for yourselves.

ImageIt’s been a long time since I was really excited and intrigued by a new ‘how-to’ book on reading the Tarot. Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot—The Open Reading is a book I just have to share with you. Ben-Dov describes the Tarot as a work of art, through whose details a full range of human experiences can be revealed. First, the book features the Marseilles Tarot deck—a deck that’s gaining greater interest and appreciation among English-speaking Tarotists. This deck is pre-occultized, as the images are not modified to conform with esoteric systems. While not identical to early 15th century decks, it expresses a folk tradition that dominated for at least three hundred years (out of the nearly 600 year history of Tarot) and is still the major style found in much of Europe. Additionally, Ben-Dov has created what I believe to be the most elegant restoration of the classic Conver Marseille deck available (see below). This process aided him in his close attention to detail in the cards.

What has been notably missing in English Tarot literature are good, non-Waite-based meanings for the four suits. You need look no further. The focus here is on reading the cards through the scenarios one perceives when looking at the images. For the Majors, Ben-Dov says the possibilities are open. Nevertheless, he points out valuable interpretive perspectives derived from symbolic, historical and mythological associations, many of which I found both original and obvious (once-stated)—in other words, extremely helpful as kick-starter phrases for the cards. Through comparison and contrast of visual details he demonstrates how the cards relate to one another. Emphasis is on a therapeutic approach, rather than being predictive or proscriptive. Providing an excellent introduction to practical reading skills, he stresses developing familiarity with psychological practices, for which he specifically recommends Irvin D. Yalom’s outstanding guide to interacting effectively with clients, The Gift of Therapy.

Previous authors stressed one of three approaches to the Minor pip cards: 1) a straightforward transfer of the Waite-Smith Minor Arcana meanings to the Marseille deck, 2) a memorized meanings often derived from Etteilla, or 3) a personal synthesis of number-plus-suit meanings for each card. Ben-Dov bases his Minor Arcana explications on the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, emphasizing visual cues in the cards along with number, which make their arrangements ‘sensible,’ and therefore easy to learn and build on. His descriptions of the thematic progression within the Major and Minor suits provide an immediate handle on each. In keeping with his therapeutic approach, the Court Cards represent attitudes and characteristics of the querent rather than other people, although there’s nothing to stop you from applying them to others. I only wish that Ben-Dov had included sample readings utilizing the Minors like he did for the Majors, as his examples were so insightful.

Spreads are kept simple, with some innovative approaches to working with both Major and Minor suit cards that are well-worth trying out. His instructions for creating your own spreads gives you an infinite palette of deeply meaningful options to choose from.

I have two pet peeves: Ben-Dov completely ignores the first two hundred years of Tarot’s history when he describes the Marseille Tarot as the ‘genuine model’, with the ‘true order’ for the cards, saying it offers, “the most faithful and accurate representation of the ancient Tarot symbols.” The oldest decks (15th century Italian) are quite different in style, and there were several different orders for the cards in its first century. It would be better to describe the Marseille-style decks as the most long-lasting, consistent design (which is not to be scoffed at). My second pet peeve involves misunderstandings of the Golden Dawn system of Tarot reading, resulting in minor errors that are not centrally relevant to this work. Personally, I think he should have left out his few Golden Dawn references or listed the differences in an appendix.

Overall, this book offers fresh, practical instructions for reading the Marseille Tarot that will give you a great appreciation for the details and special characteristics of the deck that first inspired tarot divination. Additionally you will gain lots of valuable insights into the reading process itself.

Works Mentioned:

Tarot—The Open Reading by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille deck, created by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille app for Android.

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.

The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Note: Yoav Ben-Dov has generously made his deck and basic interpretations freely available for use for non-commercial purposes via the Creative Commons concept – http://www.cbdtarot.com/download/

Clusone

Want a good, medieval mystery to read? The Song of the Nightingale by Alys Clare, sent this blogger, C. LaVielle, on a journey into the real life mystery of the origins of Tarot. As she notes, a Cathar origin is not really feasible, but its origins among “progressive Catholics who used existing Christian Apocalyptic art” is. This is an excellent summary of that perspective. The photo above is a 15th century fresco on the side of a Confraternity Chapel in Clusone, Italy. It depicts both a Dance of Death and a Triumph of Death and includes several figures that appear in the Tarot. Read the article at C. LaVielle’s Book Jacket Blog.

(Thanks to Mel Parsons for turning me on to the book and blog post.)

 

I went to see the play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” last night. As I like to do, I drew cards before going so I could contemplate them during the performance. It enhances the experience for me to be more aware of the dynamics, character conflict and themes as they are occuring.

For those who don’t remember the movie with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, or who never saw the play: A middle-aged couple, George and Martha, have invited a young couple, Nick and Honey, over for late night drinks after a dinner party. What follows is a series of drunken mind games getting more and more deadly as they all head straight for nuclear armageddon. It was played as a very black comedy. Luckily, it was done by a local troupe of  fine actors who gave the play their own unique twist. I focused on George and Martha.

I hadn’t remembered many details of the drama, so I was thrilled by how perfect the cards turned out to be. I did two spreads. The first one was with the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. What was I to think when three out of five cards were reversed Court Cards? As it turned out, the play provided excellent examples of how these Court Card types can “go wrong.”

PeKg• What is Martha’s core need or issue? King of Pentacles reversed.

Martha definitely has father issues. Her father is president of the college where her husband teaches in the history department, a sorry disappointment in that George never fulfilled the potential for which Martha had picked him—to become head of his department and eventually take her father’s place. Really, she is the one who should have done so; she, we are told, “wears the pants in the family.” But, her father has never really “seen” her. George sees that she’s the one who should have been king and he keeps her from falling into total despair.

SwKn• What is George’s core need or issue? Knight of Swords reversed.

George wields words like a sword, slashing and burning with derision, scorn and disgust all who come within his reach. A word-smith, he’s comfortable with attack and is always looking for a worthy opponent, only most of them fall far too easily beneath his sword. Martha does not.

He’s also her Knight in Shining Armor, tarnished  beyond repair and, if we are to believe him, the agent of the deaths of both his mother and his father.

CuQu• What is the main theme? Queen of Cups reversed.

While many other themes can be found, this card clearly points to this one: how we hurt those we love and how little love there can be when one doesn’t love oneself. It suggests the lengths they will go in order to not feel sorry for themselves, despite being emotional wrecks.

Among other things, this theme is played out through the failure of both couples to have given birth, to have had a child—the empty, deflated womb (poof!). The card could also be a nod to the alcoholic haze they are all in.

.

 

Ar07Ar13

• What is the central conflict? 

The Chariot reversed, crossed by Death.

This is war; a horrible end is always just around the corner, the death of every supposed victory cuts off one-after-another means of escape or reconciliation. The play culminates with a fresh story, concocted by George, the botched novelist, in which he tells Martha that a telegram has been delivered informing them of the death of their son on the day before his 21st birthday. The Chariot is often seen as the son of the Empress and Emperor (3+4 = 7). That the existence of a son is just another game they play with each other doesn’t diminish the agony of a mortal wound—the seeming death of another piece of themselves and their relationship—that ultimately strips them down to the bare bones of who they are.

I also drew five cards from the Petit Lenormand Deck asking for a description of the plot, and I got:

Heart – Mountain – Letter – Book – Man

Who's Afraid Lenormand 1

24-Heart: love and relationships

21-Mountain: blocks, obstacles, barriers

27-Letter: written communications, documents

26-Book: secrets, knowledge, books

28-Man: a man, the querent or significant other

This is the story of love (Heart) that has insurmountable blocks (Mountain) keeping it hidden (Book) and from being communicated (Letter). George (Man) wrote (Letter) his biggest secrets (Book) in a book that never got published (Mountain – blocked by Martha’s father). The characters are continually sending messages to each other, uncovering secrets in an attempt to touch on their true hearts that are unreachable behind the barriers they’ve erected in their disfunctional lives. As I mentioned, George (Man) is the wordsmith who is essentially composing (Letter+Book) all the scenarios (the scripts-within-the-script) to get at what is most deeply barricaded (Mountain) in each person’s heart (Heart). The Letter is also central when George claims that a telegram has arrived reporting the death of their supposed-to-be-secret son (Book+Man).

Who's Afraid LenormandFinally, I added the numbers of these cards together and got 126, reducing it to 9-Bouquet (1+2+6=9). This stumped me at first. What could the plot have to do with a beautiful gift or invitation? Of course!—the play opens with Martha having invited the other couple over for drinks. But I was even more astounded when George mockingly presents Martha with a bouquet of flowers that he proceeds to throw at her, stem by stem.

Before the play, I also felt compelled to look at two other cards contained within that sum of 126: 12-Birds and 6-Clouds. These were perfect to describe a play that is all about conversations (Birds) or, more properly, dialogs between two couples (Birds can also mean two or a couple) that play on deliberate misunderstandings, fears, doubts, instability, sensibilities fogged with alcohol, and confusion as to what is true and what isn’t (Clouds).

Decks: The 1910 (Pamela”A”) Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Königsfurt Lenormand Orakelspielkarten, based on the 19th century Dondorf Lenormand (borders cut off).

Also check out my post involving reading for the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Tarot of the Magicians cover

Best Book 2012

I’m proud to announce that The Tarot of the Magicians by Oswald Wirth (RedWheel/Weiser), with an extensive introduction by me, won the Award for the Best Book of 2012 from TarotProfessionals. This is a classic work by one of the great French occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century that should be read and re-read by all serious Tarot students. The book also contains the first reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Tarot (only 350 produced), on fine card stock—ready to be cut out and used. If you get only one tarot book in 2013, it should be this. Please share your impressions of this outstanding book.

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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