It’s been a fairly astounding few days around here, the full story of which I hope to go into in the fullness of time. Pieces of said story include the unexpected arrival of author copies of my next book, The Chaos Protocols just as I was heading out the door for some business drinking… which escalated impressively until I fell into a cab that I left my phone in and then managed to NSA it from my laptop as it went on a merry jaunt around London in the wee hours of Saturday morning. (Got it back though. Turns out there’s a remote-activated setting that makes it ring continuously like an abandoned emu hatchling.)
Then some kind of insta-manflu afflicted my partner and I -we thought it was just a hangover- plus some odd insomnia which had me up all night thinking about the upcoming book. Anyway, so as you might expect given my uncontrollable love for it and its continuous appearance as a topic on the podcast, there is a whole big, juicy chapter on the Tarot in there.
Which got me to thinking… when the world goes off-piste, go off piste-with the Tarot.
Urim and Thummim
Anyone who has read their Paulo Coelho will know there is a two-stone, yes/no divinatory system kicking around the ‘spiritual but not religious’ world. But the actual Exodus reference makes it clear they are but part of an entire Late-Bronze-Age Iron Man suit, designed to accompany rituals no longer apparent in the historical record (at least not in a consensus fashion). What we can say is that it is a fairly transparent survival of astro-priestcraft that was kicking around the Near East before, during and after the Biblical period.
2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.
3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
4 And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
5 And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen.
6 And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work.
7 It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together.
8 And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.
9 And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel:
10 Six of their names on one stone, and the other six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth.
11 With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold.
12 And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial.
13 And thou shalt make ouches of gold;
14 And two chains of pure gold at the ends; of wreathen work shalt thou make them, and fasten the wreathen chains to the ouches.
15 And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.
16 Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
18 And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond.
19 And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
20 And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
21 And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.
22 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.
23 And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.
24 And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.
25 And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.
26 And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.
27 And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.
28 And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.
29 And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.
30 And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually.
31 And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue.
32 And there shall be an hole in the top of it, in the midst thereof: it shall have a binding of woven work round about the hole of it, as it were the hole of an habergeon, that it be not rent.
33 And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about:
34 A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.
35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister: and his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not.
36 And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, Holiness To The Lord.
37 And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.
38 And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.
39 And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the girdle of needlework.
40 And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty.
41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him.
There is precedent for folkloric magical references to the rituals and stories of the Temple, as we all know. Some of them are covered in The Chaos Protocols because I find them delightful… misremembered history of reconstructed astro-magic piled on top of the misremembered history of a North Italian parlour game that then tumbles through centuries of fortune tellers and out into the New World. Chaos in motion right there.
We are presented with a paradox that should really be experienced in the performance of it. As long as you don’t fall for the claimed historicity of the Old Testament ritual references in ‘low magic’, then using them actually steps you into the authentic historical current… much moreso than any of the fruity nonsense that has accreted around the Tarot since Eliphas Levi.
Now, you can actually use this fruity nonsense -which probably reached its apogee in Crowley’s perennially popular Book of Thoth– to great effect as long as you get your head around the idea that the old timey mysticism of Egypt and the Kabbalah ‘evident’ in the cards is typologically identical to the ‘low magic’ references back to Aaron and Zechariah and so on… it is the same rehypothecation of ‘the authority of antiquity’ that you find in the grimoiric identification of the magician with Moses or whoever, the same rehypothecation that saw Kabbalah bleed through from a private Jewish mystical practice into the Renaissance Christian magic (Campanella,etc) and then on through later books and mystics.
Assuming ‘the authority of antiquity’ typologically echoes back to the PGM, and from there ultimately into the magic of the palaeolithic (hence Star.Ships’s exploration of the Headless Rite). But also -running almost in parallel to Levi- through the 19th century explosion of occult Christian traditions, particularly in America… which is why Upstate New York had so many wacky Old Testament place names: thanks to Shakers, Spiritualists, Mormons, etc ‘assuming the authority of antiquity’. (Hoodoo is riddled with it, naturally.)
Thus ‘true’ authenticity comes with the assumption of the ‘lie’ of authenticity, and that Deep Structure is immensely old.
So it is in that spirit that we look up to the bolded Exodus lines and see that Aaron’s Iron Man suit had six components. Taking that as a starting point, I went with six whole decks… which you can do if you’re a deranged hoarder like me. Or someone who can’t ever be bothered cleaning his desk so that his plush shark and Futurama doll aren’t in shot… also like me.
- Centre however you centre. Then say “And these are the garments which they shall make.”
- Shuffle… shuffle forever. It’s quite soothing when your head is already foggy with manflu.
- Lay out two rows: Urim and Thummim, innit?
- Overturn the cards in whichever order ‘feels’ right.
- Interpret pictographically first. Obviously more ‘picturey’ decks are useful here. The idea is that we don’t really ‘know’ what the oracular/divinatory layout is meant to be.
- You can then interpret using the more traditional card associations if you wish. I did a bit, but the whole idea for me personally was to lean into the ‘fuzzy memory’ head I’ve currently got on. You’re trying to zero in on the feeling of Tarot’s murky, half-remembered story.
Clearly this isn’t a go-to spread if you have a very specific question or if you are reading in a fortune-telling capacity for someone. In that scenario you’re best to stick with the Tarot’s ‘missionary position’; the Celtic Cross spread. This approach probably does not have very much divinatory utility at all… in that I will likely recognise what it was about only as it happens to me. (Which is always fun but the whole point of ‘fortune telling’ is getting a heads up beforehand. This isn’t one of those techniques.)
There are, however, ‘sum greater than parts’ reasons for going off-piste with Tarot. Like performing vocal scales, feeling around for ‘mis-remembered authenticity’ comes in handy when you’re trying out new evocations for the first time because you’re already familiar with the mouthfeel. You also deepen your understanding of your decks’ emotional range.
Plus -although your current mileage may vary- if you’re going to be having weird fever dreams anyway, may as well kick them up a notch.