It seems that Noah Lugeons from The Scathing Atheist podcast and I have yet another thing in common. For this weeks episode of the Cognitive Dissonance podcast, Noah joined Tom and Cecil to provide the hosts with a Tarot card reading. Yes, it seems that a long time ago, in a galaxy that just possibly could be ours, Noah’s trip into the world of woo included Tarot. Oh, look at that. I just cheaply plugged two of my favorite podcasts at the same time. Imagine that.
For those of you who do not know, after my grandmothers death and my mother’s battle with cancer, my mother transformed from a lapsed Catholic into a determined-that-I-would-get-confirmed-practicing Catholic. I was somewhere between 11 and 13 when all of this occurred. Now while my family celebrated Christmas and Easter before this time, and would watch The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Ten Commandments on tv every year, I thankfully missed out on the indoctrination part of childhood. Add this to the fact that my one sister had just gotten married, and converted to Judaism in the process, which I believe caused me to see religious belief as fluid rather than an unchanging, cradle to grave, all encompassing belief system. (I find it endlessly amusing that this sister, who thought nothing of saying “Yeah, ya know that Jesus guy? Definitely not God. Nope, I’m not Catholic anymore, not me.” in order to get married later became hands down the most religious member of my family, which is really saying something if you knew my mother.)
When my mother first started to force me to attend weekly Mass, and religious education (although thankfully not Catholic school -although I got threatened with Catholic school every time I got in trouble), I honestly went into it with an open mind. Why wouldn’t I have? I was about 12, loved my mom more than anything, and she believe in it. So I tried. Oh, did I try. But as I am sure any atheists reading this will understand, without the indoctrination, it doesn’t work unless you ignore an awful lot of stuff in order to believe. I was open to belief. I was looking for something to believe in. I just lost my grandmother, the first death I had to deal with in my young life, and I almost lost my mother as well. I wanted to believe in something. I remember conversations on the subject with my one childhood friend, who’s father was a Methodist pastor, where I wondered if I was Jewish, or if I should try Eastern Orthodox. (Not your average 12 year old conversation, I am sure.) He moved away and I moved on, with music becoming more and more a part of my life, first metal, then the punk that would shape so much of who I was and who I am.
From a questioning budding young Catholic my first honest step away was to Anton LaVey Satanic Bible. (Can you tell I was listening to metal at the time?) While I agreed with so much of it, I am too empathetic to be that selfish. (For those who do not know, Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan does not actually believe in Satan. It is more an incredibly selfish form of humanism that also includes magical spells and rituals.)
It was at the mall, in the almost non-existent Occult section that I stumbled upon what would be my religion for the next decade. Wicca: The Guide to the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. It was a new release, and I was around 14. I bought it with money I bummed from various other mall rats, and for around the next 10 years I was Wiccan.
Now I may deal with this period of my life in much more depth in the future. For now, we are going to skip a few years.
It was my second year at IUP. The only reason I was even attending school at this time is that I couldn’t figure out what else I was supposed to do. I had thrown my first year away in a horrible relationship. My grades were wrecked. I lived off campus, alone, and while my educational life was in shambles, my religious life was thriving. I was the top ranking male in a coven made up of several students from Williamsport and their friends. I could hold the attention of college girls with my ghost stories, which I would tell in my favorite location, the local graveyard late at night.
And for my daily coffee and newspaper, along with a bagel if I so desired, I would read the Tarot in the lounge of the off campus coffee shop. At first it was only the random student who would ask me to read their cards, while I sat at my table, cards displayed on the table while I read. Word of mouth eventually grew it to the point where I would have people making appointments with me.
I was good. People don’t drag their friends in to get a reading if you suck at it. My deck, which I still have in a velvet bag, was the Sacred Rose. My most impressive hit? Correctly telling a woman that she had been sexually abused by her father.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Tarot. At the time, I called myself a coffee mystic, and it earned me many a cup of java. I made friends from readings, unethically got dates from readings, and used readings to pass time and occupy my mind at a stage in my life that boredom could have drove me insane.
But more importantly, the Tarot was leading me down a road, unwilling at first, the road towards skepticism.
See, one of the only classes I passed during my first year was in Psychology. It caught my interest, and eventually developed into a love of mine. But as reading after reading took place, it became impossible to lie to myself. I didn’t know the term “cold reading.” That would come later. But what I did know was simple. There was no mystical energy guiding the cards, no spirit whispering in my ear, no psychic connection opening the subject up to my mind. The cards, in fact, were nothing but props. What card I drew mattered as much as what song was playing on the radio at the moment. The readings were coming from basic knowledge of psychology and human nature. Watching for body language cues, or letting the subject feed me information herself I would then be able to gradually narrow things down, getting more and more specific as the cards dropped. The woman who I hit that she was sexually abused by her father? It seems like an amazing hit, until you consider that I got that hit on our 7th or so reading, after I had known her for over a month. No, she never told me about it before hand; no friend of hers let it slip or anything. It was just something that became apparent after 6 Tarot readings, the way she reacted to certain suggestions, problems she would bring up during readings, things that caused her to cry previously.
Honestly, the cards became more of a hindrance than anything. A framework that I had to work things around. No wonder tv psychics just straight cold read.
Once I had to face what I was doing with the Tarot, there were many questions I had to answer about the other spiritual parts of my life. Was there a Goddess in the circle when we cast it? Were their spirits residing just outside of our vision? Was there an energy field that we could manipulate through visualization? When I cast an open targeted love spell (you couldn’t cast a love spell at a specific person, because that would cause someone to do something against their will, triggering the 10 fold reprisal from the magickal court. Its a fair cop.), did it really bring a like minded person ready for love towards me, or did my belief in the effectiveness of the spell just increase my confidence, which is a very sexy attribute, and cause me to notice subtle flirting that previously escaped my attention?
So many questions. Now, I feel that I know the answers. Then it was a life altering shake up.
And it all started with the Tarot.