So… You’re prepared to take a run at the practice of divination, yes? You’ve picked out your own shiny new symbolic map of things and you’re itching to learn the secrets of the universe. Predict the upticks of the stockmarket and cash in! Or at least figure out when you’re gonna get laid again.

But as usual I’m going to rain acid and aborted fetuses all over your parade, friends.

You want to understand your future? Do you even understand your present? It’s right here after all. Take a good look. Do you understand that?

No? How about the past? It’s not even happening anymore. It’s all over and done with. No moving parts. All the information is there. How about it?

I didn’t think so. What I’m getting at here, besides my usual tactic of browbeating my readers, is that you’re not really looking to understand some temporal junction. You’re looking to understand yourself. Your reaction, your perceptions, your meaning to things. Even if I handed you deadly accurate facts about the future, all of it is going to interpreted in terms of it’s relevance to you, in this moment.

So why not cut to the chase? This is the best use for divination practices in my opinion. There are others, obviously, but the best is to hold up a symbolic mirror to the workings of your own mind. Everything starts there, and ends there. And even if it doesn’t, as far as your concerned, it still does. Being stuck inside your own head is a bitch that way…

So at this point you may be wondering, what’s the best, or correct, map for understanding your own mind? The one you have, that’s what. It makes no difference. It could be a stream of random numbers, cut up pages from a book, or flyspecks on a wall. It doesn’t matter. The real operation takes place in your head.

The mind has an incredible capacity for pattern recognition. When you see faces in the clouds, those faces are really in your head, yes? This is the same thing.

The ancient alchemists used to heat up cinnabar in a pan and watch the mercury slowly separate and bead up over the fire. This was a metaphor. This seemingly magickal appearance of this flowing liquid mirrorlike mindstuff was understood as isomorphic for the processes of the mind. The fire of inquiry and meditation would seperate the reflective mind from the base material. The birth of consciousness. Does any of that have anything to do with ‘real’ mercury? Only tangentially. Only by mapping one thing over another. Only by transposing the pattern of a known thing over the unknown.

Does this tell you the truth of how things ‘are’ ? Maybe. Maybe not. What it definitely does, is tell you a lot about how your perception works. And that’s more valuable anyway.

So how do you do this? The simple answer is however you want. But it helps to have some kind of clear inquiry in mind. Pick out your map and find a way to put it in motion somehow. Divorce it from the ordering routine of the mind. Shred it and reassemble it. Cards are good because you can shuffle them. Clouds and tea leaves are good because they move, albeit slowly.

Then sit with it. Pretend that you just got the answer to your inquiry. What is it? What are you being told here? What is your subconscious trying to communicate to your conscious mind, when you make that space, when you provide a symbolic language or an unformed pattern for it to speak with?

That’s what it’s really all about. Dredging up the unformed chaos of the deep mind. Or, at least, it will seem like unformed chaos at first.

So, with your indulgence I’ll walk us through an operation of this kind.

Our inquiry will be some area where I feel a void of understanding. Some gap in my perception. Lets go for primordial horror, hey? Let’s find out what my worst fear is. My deepest unacknowledged terror.

Our tool will be the Crowley toth deck. The meanings of the cards don’t really matter. It’s what the symbols suggest. So don’t feel I’m cheating you by taking a prepacked set of meanings. I’ll be going at right angles to all that anyway. I just find the images resonant and impactfull.

We’ll keep this reasonably simple and use this online reading widget so you can play along or do your own. More explicit card references are here.

The structure of the reading makes no difference either, but it can help if you’re not able to just stare at a piece of black glass and trip out like old John Dee used to do. He received a symbolic language to summon the apocalypse. I’m just trying to find out what scares the fuck out of me…


card one, which represents me.

the five of wands: strife– wands are the will, the organic lust as opposed to constructed ideas, which are swords. The number five represents the introduction of time and change. The preceding four is the number of solidity and form. The appearance of matter is followed by the introduction of instability, conflict, impermanence. Will immersed into time. Conflicting desires. Thwarted lusts. Thinking of my earlier discussion of inner conflicts. Fear of being torn apart by inner conflict? Never finding peace or resolution. Primal desire as source of suffering?

card two, the current situation

atu viii: Adjustment– cosmic justice and balance. The sword of karma. Leveling of inequities. In my case, justice is a huge issue. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a superhero, to fight for justice and truth. I’m definitely afraid I may find myself on the wrong side. To realize one day that I picked a path to injustice, that I’m really the villain of the piece, not a hero.

On another note, Adjustment is a reminder that the universe is not human. Cosmic justice is not about us. Forces rule us all that care nothing for our perspective. Do you love something inhuman? Do you crave the embrace of something which cares nothing for people, or their suffering? Cold calculations. Fear of inhumanity. To serve justice, but be the bad guy in the eyes of others, who remain in the human perspective.

card three, the obstacle

atu xx: The Aeon– Epochal change. Phase shift. The Apocalypse. Final judgment. As a buddhist I tend not to buy into external judgment, but karma remains. We judge ourselves. Our decisions do have consequences and eventually everyone has to face them. The world seems on the cusp of great changes, a final judgment on our momentum as a species.

Fear of my growth truncated by historical events? Of not reaching the high ground when the flood hits? Being on the wrong side? Not able to make your peace until it’s too late. Dramatic change of context that makes everything obsolete. On another note, the egotistic hope for deliverance from on high. Hoping time does the work for me? Wanting to be freed of the obligation to struggle.

card four, the goal

the queen of swords– swords represent air, the power of motion, division, constructed ideas. The queen is water. The passive, fluid principle. To adapt and flow. To me the queen of swords has always stood out as the person who is incredibly skilled and deft in the little details, but seems to miss the big picture. Win every battle and lose the war. Have all the tools to solve the problems in front of you, but miss the point of the whole thing. I spend all my time learning things that may be usefull in the short term, or on a case by case basis, but ignore the larger importance of certain things. Is martial arts skill that big a deal compared to medicine? Is medicine that big a deal compared to spiritual truth? Where do you plant your flag and put in the time to attain mastery? You have to serve the highest good you can see. I over-desire the mastery of small goods, small problems. ” never bring a knife to a gunfight ”

card five, foundation of the current situation

three of swords: sorrow– the three is the minimal number to create a shape. The idea intelligible. The base concept of division and separation. Primal suffering rooted in wrong views. The necessary descent into delusion. Life without pain has no meaning. Fear of embracing pain. Wanting to escape, or think your way out of it, when you need to simply accept that some pain, some evil can never be eliminated, nor should it.

In tandem with the earlier stuff, a fear of justification. If some pain is good and necessary, then the temptation is to contribute to it, or excuse your contribution to the suffering of the world.

card six, the past

the queen of wands– hard one. Not as much history with this image. Fire and water in synthesis, the integration of active and passive principles. Time spent building up my assertive side to balance my mostly passive nature. Too much, not enough? Adding more contradiction than I can handle? Afraid I’ve got too much backed up habit to ever really change?

card seven, the future

the knight of cups– HAHAHAHA!!! the exact opposite of the queen of wands. the same contradiction but reversed to the other side. my future is the mirror image of my past. Oh goody. All I’ve done is take a different perspective on the same dysfunction, and called it an improvement. Always wanting the other side of the fence. Maybe it’s not true, but I’m scared to death that what I think is growth is just more of the same. Welcome to Kafka. Neo is a part of the matrix, after all.

card eight, the future enviroment

the nine of disks: gain– the illusion of getting everything you want. the rain of riches in your perfect world. being too lost in your wealth to question it. don’t get distracted by success. so long thwarted, so long pushing at old barriers. fear of breaking through and just going back to sleep again. missing the whole fucking point. getting everything on your list and thinking that’s the reason for doing it. wrong. wrong. wrong.

card nine, the influence of society

atu xiv: art– alchemy, synthesis, union of opposites, the birth of higher forms. everything I think I want, but imposed on me from outside. It wasn’t my own work and struggle, it was just the way things were always going. The world makes of you what it will. You think you’re free and that’s exactly what you were supposed to think. You didn’t have to do anything. Nothing you did mattered. It’s all good and it was always supposed to be good. You had nothing to do with it. ego. conceit. self importance. The rebellion of lucifer.

card ten, the challenge.

atu i: the magus, the juggler, the master of keeping everything in the air at once. the summit of magickal skill. zac of all trades. everything to everyone.

Not up to it. too much to learn, too much to do. No one can ever measure up to that. not equal to the challenge. inadequacy. or maybe, I am up to it, but I don’t really understand the cost. What will meeting that challenge make of me?

card eleven, the outcome

atu o: the fool– spontaneous insight, blind luck, the holy fool. Touched by god. jumping outside the frame. Divine madness. Compete disconnect from my old understanding. Trust in god and shut up. You know nothing. Forget what you know, forget what you think you know. Forget it all. Just a fool.

*cough* ….

well. hopefully that’s a painfully clear examination of how to do something like this. it was certainly painfull for me…lol.

I sense a peice of allgeorical fiction in this…

next time: Augoeides


11 thoughts on “Alchemy for the Braindamaged VIII: A panful of mercury

  1. Didn’t you say that divination was a means to keep your concentration away from “the things that keep you up at four in the morning”? Jeez, I was hoping that you’d go to “CTHULHU FTAGN!” and give us a break from browbeating, but good bait and switch in any case.

    So next episode is, like, about how to get your Holy Guardian Angel in, like two days, right? More importantly, will it go to work and wash the dishes for me?

  2. well, the idea here is to dredge up the dark stuff and then integrate it into the map, bringing the subconscious contradictions that create stress into the forefront. in that sense it’s a kind of tonic for the concentration. it was already keeping me up a night. at least now i know why…

    and i was sort of hoping for a bit of fhatgn myself but it didn’t jump that way. i’m feeling it more for the next time.

    your holy guardian great old one. in seven days. surely, two days is stupidly optimistic, after all…

  3. I always wondered how much we actually force meanings into the interpretation of our chosen cards? I do, however, think that the cards do have a higher, symbolic and subconcious meaning (possibly universal), but obviously this would be more subjective, this begets the question , how does one concile the objective and subjective ´meanings´ of the cards?

  4. Pingback: » Tarot Links
  5. So, you started with the question of what your greatest unacknowledged fear is, but I’m having trouble seeing where you found your answer. I see a different answer for each card that you picked up, so I’m a bit confused. Do you combine all the answers into a single coherent picture, or do you leave them separate as they are?

  6. depending on your temperment, you could do either.

    in this specific case, you might infer that my anxiety revolved around making wrong choices and holding mistaken veiws. I’m a long term thinker, so finding out my foundational premises were wrong could be disastrous. It’s why i have trouble making decisive moves sometimes. although much of my current work has been towards changing this predicament.

  7. On another note, a while back I devised a tactic that I think might be similar. Simply, I would write a question of importance on the top of a blank piece of paper, and then press the tip of my pen to the paper. Next, I would close my eyes and clear my mind of everything but the question, and all that it represented. Whilst doing this, I would allow the tip of my pen to roam freely across the paper, hoping that some meaningful image would appear as an answer to the query. Does this sound like the type of operation you are describing as “divination?”

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