Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Get Your BATS On!

This week’s blog is brief, but meaningful, somewhat like yours truly. OK, true, I am brief in stature, not words. Nevertheless, I’m here to urge all those with an interest in Tarot or other Oracles like Lenormand to attend this year’s SF BATS August 17-18, 2013.

This is the 22nd year for SF BATS, the oldest continuous Tarot symposium led by the always entertaining and erudite Thalassa Therese. This year SF BATS will be held at the DoubleTree in San Jose.  The DoubleTree is near the San Jose airport and close to some fascinating attractions like the Rosicrucian Museum and the Winchester Mystery House, so come early, leave late, and have a fabulous time. Want details? Click here to go to the Daughters of Divination website. There is still time to sign up for the best deal in Tarot, so click away.

You can probably guess that it takes a lot to put on an annual event like this. So the Daughters of Divination are launching an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for SF BATS. SF BATS could use your help, even if it is small. Please go here to contribute and help all of us make the San Francisco Bay Area Tarot Symposium happen!

I am thrilled to be among the presenters at SF BATS this year and happy to share my timid knowledge and fledgling experience with others who are dipping a toe into Lenormand. To lure my unsuspecting attendees, I promise door prizes, humor, patience and a little fun. While it won’t be the purpose of my class nor will it be featured by any more than a note of introduction, The Dust Bunny Lenormand deck will be available in a limited quantity at SF BATS in the vendor room.

After a bit of a rough start at WooFest, I now feel certain I am able to use my laptop and projector in concert (!) for a presentation that will feature some of my antique Lenormand decks. My thanks in advance to Fortune Buchholtz and Malkiel Rouven Dietrich for their assistance! If you come and you sit in the spitwad section in the back row, you will need to bring your own spitwads.

There will be many wonderful people attending, a few informal get-togethers, vendors with delicious goodies to tempt you and a lot of good information. And I hear my dear friend Beth Seilonen has a new deck in very limited quantities! Come and indulge and enjoy!

I am looking forward to seeing everyone at SF BATS, old friends and new. Please bear with me now while I have the tiniest of swoons in anticipation!

Best wishes!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Do you drive? Do you remember your first car?

Mine was a 1962 Oldsmobile F85, a small car made out of real metal with bench seats. It had a “War of the Worlds” after-market air-conditioner, quite the bees’ knees, I thought. I called it “Virgin Mary” blue. Everything worked, hard to beat when your parents have bought you a “beater.” It was a delicious gift, not a racing car like my brother had, some black Plymouth with red interior. His looked like a bad tattoo but he soon traded up to something that went faster. Mine, on the other hand, looked like the Miraculous Medal, a “Jennifer car” perhaps before they classified cars that way.

What’s a Jennifer car? Well, I drive one even today. It’s a small car, not expensive, easy to handle, easy to take on a shopping trip, unassuming and perhaps even feminine, if a car can be considered so. It’s the kind of car a young woman perhaps named Jennifer would drive. Certainly it was not a car that inspired thoughts of racing, the kind of car my brother craved like his eventual 1968 Oldsmobile 442, turquoise with white surfer racing stripes. He raced it too, at night on a side of town remote from our house.

We named our cars as if they were pets. It was a family tradition. Mom and Dad had matching Oldsmobiles when we moved from Florida to New Mexico, Dad’s a 1960 brown two-door Oldsmobile 88 and Mom’s a four-door 88 in that same “Virgin Mary” blue, the style with sharp flat fins in back. By the time I was driving age, they had traded Mom’s 88 in on a new station wagon with lots of electrical gadgets that never quite worked. Somewhere along the way, the stuffing in the seats had gotten damp and the car smelled like mold no matter how hot and dry it was out on the sandy Staked Plains of eastern New Mexico. It was the color of the reddish sand there. Mom hated it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Mom hadn’t hated it so loudly.

She did have a point. There was something about the wiring in the steering column that was off and we were never sure when she turned on the lights whether the windshield wipers and fluid would start up too regardless of the weather. The electric locks worked most of the time. The electric windows were new and had what my brother and I considered an annoying safety feature of rolling down only halfway in the backseat, now standard. We had been used to hanging our heads, hands and feet out of windows in a way that would have made Ralph Nader faint.

My little car, however, was what I lovingly call an “analog” car. It had power steering, at least. Just about everything else was up to me, though. I didn’t mind. It was easy to park and easy to drive.

One thing that Oldsmobile did that became quite a fun feature is to put an enormous engine in a small car, "a lot of horses under the hood" my father said. So my Virgin Mary blue Jennifer car that looked like Hollie Hobbie’s motorized muffin-mobile actually had a tiger in its tank. That baby could go.

Yes, I was safe and sane as a driver. I didn’t take back-seat driving tips well though, and after a few weeks of criticism from one of my high school pals, I pulled over across from one of the local drive-in diners in town and suggested she get out of the car and get a ride elsewhere. I believe that was the last time she rode with me. Peace, it’s wonderful.

The Chariot from Robert Place's
Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
My alter-ego, however, had other ideas. “Schnell” as I called my precious pet car had delicious get-up-and-go. At a quiet time of broad daylight in summer, I would head for the Floyd highway or “blacktop,” distinguishing it from the many caliche-hard “dirt” roads leading out of town. The Floyd blacktop, which is now Highway 267, is a nearly dead-straight stretch of road best driven west from Portales to Floyd at noon or earlier to keep the sun out of your eyes. I don’t know how the population has grown now, but then it was at least a 10 mile stretch of uninterrupted pavement so flat that, except for the curvature of the earth, you could just about see Russia from here or at least Floyd.

I wanted to feel the limits, the thrill of speed. And sure, I knew it was dangerous, so I never took anyone with me. I avoided times like the start and finish of church services at the Floyd Baptist Church. And then I floored it. Schnell would wind up to 97 miles per hour in no time. At 96, I was flying. At 97, the steering column started to vibrate so violently that I had to grip the wheel with both hands to maintain control. I never pushed Schnell faster, figuring the shimmying steering column was perhaps a bad sign. I was lucky. I never blew a tire or hit anything bigger than a grasshopper.

The one morning I was on my way to high school with my best friend Cyndi in my little blue rocket and the brakes went out made me never race again. We screamed the entire way while I, on the fly, figured out the only way I could go to hit the minimum number of stop signs between Cyndi’s house and school. We rolled to a stop in the parking lot, practically kissing the ground for the expanse of fine gravel that was the generous extra real estate next to the gymnasium.

But before that came Alan Wall. Alan was a couple years older and Cyndi had a crush on him. I couldn’t figure out why except that for the guys we knew he seemed slightly smooth. Otherwise, he was a skinny bow-legged guy with a toothy grin. I seem to recall never seeing him without a comb. Sometimes I think one of the best things about my best friend was that she had completely different taste in boys from mine. But Alan drove a red Ford Mustang.

Alan’s Mustang was the kind of car that chugged loudly in protest of having to maintain such a slow speed as the speed limit in town. It had the appearance and reputation of a light-weight, aerodynamic speed demon. And there we were one afternoon, Alan and I, just happening to be the only two people stopped side by side headed southwest on the Roswell highway at the only stoplight in town.

 The Chariot in Tarot is a card of victory, confidence, self-control, and the application of will. You control both the light horse and the dark. You control the horizontal and the vertical. You are in the driver’s seat in your own life car and you are winning. Sure there’s a dark side to the Chariot. Who hasn’t seen the driver make a bad choice? Winners are not always kind. Sometimes those in way get run over. The driver feels the power of victory and the vision of forward direction. It’s a “Go!” card.

Alan turned, recognized me and grinned. Our eyes locked and that unspoken challenge was set. The light turned green. We floored it. And I won! Somewhere past the Dunes Motel we both slowed down. Alan laughed, shook his head and saluted me. Ah, Winged Victory in a car that looked like a little blue sewing machine!

Thank goodness my racing days are long past! I know I’m lucky to still tell the story. Kids, don't try this at home, or even on the way out of town.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Seeing With New Eyes

Taking a fresh look at things doesn’t always help us understand the past. One of my pet peeves, although it’s turned into a pet amusement over the years since being peeved gives entirely too much energy to something trivial, is a tendency to pluck events or people or artifacts from history without considering the historical context.

Maybe it started with the whole long hair thing in the late 60’s. In my small town in New Mexico, not exactly the vanguard of cutting edge fashion, it was not unusual for the police to pull teen-aged boys over in their cars, ask them to step out and then give them a haircut, usually a buzz-cut or some variation of that. The citation was a Biblical one, that long hair was an abomination.

In my tender and passionate teen years, even I knew that the reason long hair was considered an abomination had nothing to do with whether a guy expressed his individuality (questionable, of course, as all teen fads are more herd mentality than individuation) or even his feminine side, but of course more to do with lice and the dearth of CVS pharmacies in Biblical times. Back then, I would probably have said Rexall pharmacies. And in a way, that’s just my point.

You might not know what a Rexall pharmacy was, or a Sprouse-Reitz or a Sambo’s or even a Five-and-Dime. If you didn’t live in the South, you wouldn’t know what a Piggly-Wiggly was or why hushpuppies are good. You might not know whether you would have preferred a Nehi Orange or a Nehi Grape, for instance. You might not have had a short Coke for a nickel or a tall one for a dime. Basically, you had to be there.

Older people are likely to tell younger people stories, not just because they remember them better than what they had for lunch yesterday, but because they have an awareness that things have changed. Lots of things have changed. In the time before cell phones and video games and the internet, kids played outside all summer until the sun set, often giving their parents a much-needed break in summer evenings. As long as they could hear you, they figured you were safe, even if you were fighting with each other. Like kids and even adults in every culture, every “advancement” of technology, we played with what we had available.

Out of context, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free” and “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Marcia right over!” mean about as much as an alien language. Were you really going to throw a ball all the way over a house? Would the child summoned break through “enemy” lines?

One of my Facebook friends recently bought an old whist deck and was looking for rules for whist, wondering if anyone played any more. As it turns out, there are many variations on the game of whist. While commuting on the ferry to San Francisco and back, I played bid whist with a booth full of pals. A book I purchased recently has the rules to many card games with a little historical background, just scratching the surface, but it lists the huge number of whist variations.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” becomes more interesting when the child’s rhyme is found to be a not-terribly-well-disguised political statement about religious persecutions during the reign of Mary Tudor. Suddenly, “with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” sounds a lot creepier than jumprope. Yet, often the frustrations, anger and sorrow of a culture can be hidden in a game or child’s rhyme, something to soften the blow, something to remind people of what happened, something to put a little bookmark in the page of history so people can cope with the impact of a sudden change or terrible event.

Out of context, of course, Mary Mary seems like something of a funny nonsense rhyme and if context is lost it loses its irony and cultural significance.

One of my favorite Irish tunes, “The Last Rose of Summer,” sounds sweet and nostalgic until you find out they are talking about the high infant mortality rate during famine times. How do you soften the blow of the loss of a child, many children? All her lovely companions are faded and gone.

Robert Place and Rachel Pollack are working together on an oracle deck that I’m eager to purchase when it comes out. Two fine minds of Tarot and cartomancy like theirs, combining Bob’s artistry and diligent research along with Rachel’s writing talent and understanding of spiritual symbology (it’s hard to pin down what these two are best at because they are so terribly good at so many things), are creating a stunning joint effort called The Burning Serpent Oracle. Bob and Rachel are meticulous in their research and truly have considered the context of their study. It's one of the things I value most about them, where others may not have been so strict in their facts.

As part of Bob’s ongoing research into Tarot and Lenormand, he has delved into some of the roots that take us to earlier times than late-14th century northern Italian provinces, into the games of “Goose” and its more ancient ancestors in chase games. Chase games are the kinds of board games most of us are used to where we generally roll dice or spin a wheel or some randomized number representing our turn and advance and take the consequences, good or bad, for where we have landed. It’s a chase game because whoever gets to the end first is usually the winner. Winning, itself, may have its ramifications, too.

The Wheel of Fortune in Tarot is that kind of spinning wheel. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. It seems like things go in cycles of want and plenty. The lowly rise to fame and fortune. The mighty fall from grace. Sometimes it can seem like a game, a roulette wheel of entertainment; sometimes, the spin of the wheel means everything you have.

There’s speculation that an artifact from ancient times may be an early form of just such a game. It’s tantalizing to think that such a thing could have survived. We think of Archaeology with capital letters so often and expect the Finding of Important Artifacts. Growing up in my mother’s antique shop, I realized that the things most likely to survive and to be stumbled upon are the jumble of everyday life, the stuff in the back of your top dresser drawer. You don’t throw it away and when you get rid of the dresser, you probably don’t even clean it out. How often when you move from one residence to the next do you find that the last thing left in your old place is a bunch of coat hangers? They have no great importance but in their small way they signal something.

So I wanted to show you the Phaistos Disk, courtesy of Bob Place, plus a little extra fun that I’ve added. We don’t know what the disk means, whether it was a game or something extremely important. There are hieroglyphs on the disk, pictures that seem familiar, but without their temporal and cultural context are a bit of a mystery. And with the disk, I provide my irreverent cultural misidentification of what’s really going on here by applying a too-modern point of view.

Best wishes!