You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
All through the second act of Tosca (its only good act), the night sky boomed with constant, earsplitting thunder.
Then the heavens opened and caught us in the biggest electrical storm I have experienced in probably twenty years.
It seemed significant.
Significant not only because it was an appropriate grieving response from the night sky for the first simian (at least in the last few million years) to have physically walked on another planet. And while the accusation that he and NASA have been lying to the world for decades remains competently un-refuted, I still think the man should be on currency.
But it wasn’t just that.
It had been one of those days of missteps and setbacks that puts your magical spidersense on edge. As if you’re burning through the karma of another time. Kinda like picking up ghosts in Marseille.
Some of the missteps were literal. Lucca is proper maze-like. If you have a few minutes and don’t mind assholes, watch the boys from Top Gear racing each other out of town.
We almost didn’t make it at all as our charter van was waiting just outside the walls of the medieval city we were staying in and we had been instructed to wait inside them.
(And to watch out for a branded minivan rather than a black, tinted Rihanna-transporter.)
Upon pulling back the van door, I got another tingle from the other four occupants.
There’s just something weird about six complete strangers -all from different foreign lands- meeting outside the gate of Saint Peter for a night journey in a large black cube.
We were literally flooded out of the amphitheatre. In the dark, we ended up sprinting through ankle-deep water in an evacuating carpark, looking for our Rihanna-mobile.
And I knew it was going to happen, thanks to forbiddenislandomancy. What’s forbiddenislandomancy?
Glad you asked.
It’s fucking hot in Tuscany. There is a four hour gap in the middle of the day where everything closes and if you haven’t found a cool place to pretend you are a cartoon Mexican stereotype then you might just catch fire.
Typically, we would park up under a large umbrella on our balcony, drink great volumes of Campari and play Forbidden Island. We were there for my partner’s birthday and it was one of the gifts I got him. Then when it cooled down, we’d tart ourselves up, head out for aperitivio and then onto dinner.
If you’re unfamiliar with the product, then watch the video.
But basically you take on the role of adventurers visiting a flooding island and collaborate in a last ditch attempt to extract the island’s treasures.
It’s sacred elemental treasures.
(The game is highly recommended and like I said to my partner when he opened, I can’t 100% promise this won’t happen to him in real life at some stage if he stays with me so consider it good practice.)
You know that feeling you get when you’re shuffling your Tarot cards in preparation for a reading?
It’s like your brain is syncing specific images on paper with specific things out there in the world… like a keyboard you have to boot up each time before use.
Randomly generating the board you are about to use in an attempt to capture four elemental tokens feels like that. This does not mean playing Forbidden Island caused us to be flooded out of Torre del Lago, anymore than the death of Neil Armstrong caused the thunderstorm.
But, soaked to the bone and circling Lucca’s walls at 1am in our Rihannavan, having made several detours because of flooded roads, I had two realisations.
- All these things literally co-incided.
- The co-inciding of all these things is a lesson. And the lesson is that things coincide.
Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.
- Joseph Chilton Pearce
Magic and the British Museum
Ever wonder why this blog uses ‘magic’ not ‘magick’? Ever wonder why you do?
Crowley coined the ‘k’ word as a way to differentiate the spiritual pursuit from the stage performer’s tricks. Whereas I want to deepen that association. If I thought I could somehow convince you all to do it, I would probably replace the ‘a’ in ‘magic’ with a big top or a ferris wheel or something equally carnie.
We learned about the game while studying Old and New Kingdom burial customs. And studying burial customs largely means looking at pictures of tomb wall art:
Here is a nobleman eating food in the afterlife. Here he is hunting birds with a boomerang. Look… there he is playing a boardgame.
In this game of 30 squares set in three rows of 10, both player’s pieces enter the board at one end of a row, proceed to the end, turn and go back down the middle at the end of which they turn again, drop to the final row and go back — the object being to bear off all your pieces before your opponent does. Special spots on the board represent death and being turned away from the afterlife — and rebirth to try again.
Huh. So it’s a game of being able to cross backwards and forwards between the living and the dead, whilst being either living or dead. It’s a gamified version of their cosmology. And you just know that playing it would have ‘synched’ like a Tarot shuffle or Forbidden Island. You can see it used as a yardstick for magical competency and even an omen foretelling a safe journey for themselves or for loved ones.
It’s the original wizards’ chess.
Bear in mind that wherever it was originally created, Tarot emerges from the historical gloom and starts to take on much of its modern form in the north of medieval Italy. And it is patently an allegory of courtly life, a randomised mappa mundi which clearly had a ‘play’ element that hasn’t properly come down to us.
That element of play is too-often undervalued. A game can be a text for thinking about the world. If you want a lesson in the arbitrary nature of Fortune and how easily and regularly she turns on a dime, I recommend a few rounds of Smallworld. (Learn about it in the best episode of Table Top.)
In previous centuries, people didn’t have the words to describe the experience of moving through a universe whose probabilistic nature is expressed from the quantum level right up to the great game of empires.
But there is something very powerful about the joy of play, which in almost every form requires navigating probabilities. It’s like the universe ‘notices’ you. Perhaps it does?
From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust, God watches them play and forgets the priest.
- Rabindranath Tagore
There is also something very dangerous about play… dangerous in a good way. And I’m not talking about the sometimes-alarming paranormal effects that accompany roleplaying (or the weird dreams). Play is dangerous because it teaches you about rules. When to follow them, when to break them… and when to bet the farm:
Play the game for more than you can afford to lose… only then will you learn the game.
- Winston Churchill