Divination: A Fable

Okay, folks: it’s the busy time of the year: I have to write a paper on Pope Benedict and complete a large magazine supplement in the next couple of weeks. Plus, you’re all on vacation anyway, right?

Well, you should be.

So, I’ll leave you with something light. I love folk tales and fables, and sometimes I write my own based on older forms and traditional stories. One of the fascinating things is the way these forms repeat across cultures yet build unique variations and tones that are culturally specific. Because of this, tales convey a vast array of human experience in a very compressed format, acting not just as entertainment, but as a communal sapiential tradition passed from one generation to the next.

This one is about the dangers and folly of trying to predict the future.

Man and the zodiac, from a medical almanac, 1399

There once was a king who kept an astrologer to examine the heavens and predict his future. The astrologer often was as wrong as he was right, but he was able to gloss over his errors and exaggerate his successes, and thus the king came to believe in the man.

The astrologer’s influence in court became so great that the king soon grew to rely upon his council for all major decisions concerning the realm.

In time, the king started coming to the astrologer for even minor questions about affairs of state.

At last, the king would not get out of bed without first asking what fate held for the day ahead.

One morning, the astrologer came to the king’s chambers looking shaken. Although the king could tell something was amiss, and demanded an answer, the astrologer was loathe to present bad news. Finally, he admitted what he had seen his charts: the king had but six months to live.

A fit fell upon the king, and he took to his bed in dread fear. One by one, his knights and courtiers came to rouse him to good cheer, but to no effect. And one by one, they were sent away, and the kingdom began to falter.

Only the astrologer was left by his lord’s side, consulting his astrolabe and reading his charts.

At last, a humble knight came to ask if he could do anything for his king. The king said, “No, for I am doomed. My astrologer has seen it in the stars, and the stars never do lie.”

The knight looked to the astrologer, and said, “Indeed. And certainly a man must know his own stars better than those of another. Have you foreseen the day of your own death?”

The astrologer said with confidence, “Of course. Without doubt, I shall die 33 years hence, on the 5th of May, of an ague.”

Whereupon the knight rose to his feet, drew his sword, and cleaved the man in twain from chops to groin.

Seeing this, the king was restored to his senses, and the kingdom once again flourished.

Moral: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (See also: Leviticus 19:31 & 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:14, Isaiah 8:19)

[Source: traditional. You’ll find a similar version in the Sermones of Cardinal Jacobus de Vitriaco (13th century France).]

Try Some French Accordion Music! You’ll Like It!

Gaga? Beliebers? One Dimension [sic]? That Chick From That Disney Show Who’s Now a Complete Tart?

They’re all history, man. 

The youth are abandoning them in droves because they know what all sensible people should know: music comes from the heart, not the boardroom. It’s not a commodity to be processed, auto-tuned, packaged, and pimped to brainless masses. It’s the heart and soul of a people.

Here’s what the kids are getting into next, I gar-aun-tee it:

Traditional music from centre France, Brittany, Alsace, and other places, played on a diatonic accordéon.

Yeah, thass right. Accordion, man.

Gary Chapin’s an old friend. We even wrote a book together, which you now can buy for one friggin’ cent!

Man, that’s just …

… crap. I gotta go lie down awhile …

* * *

Okay, I’m back.

I was talking about Gary’s new CD. It’s wunderbar. You can listen to it here, and buy a downloadable version for $7, or a handcrafted CD for $11.

It’s just grand. I love traditional music of all sorts. I guess it goes back to my fascination with the way culture manifests itself in the creative outpouring of ordinary folks. This is how people sound when they gather at home, in taverns, and at picnics. I miss that kind of real tavern culture in America. We’re poorer for its loss.

Anyway, I thoroughly endorse this CD, and give it my full seal of approval:

You can check out some his videos and writing about music at his blog, l’Accordeonaire.

Jew-Hating Has-Been Wants You To Pay Attention To Him

I used to love Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. I collected everything, spent countless hours listening to them, and paid good money to see Waters solo in concert twice (Hitchhiking and Radio KAOS tours). 

It’s funny, but I started listening to them less and less–particularly the later, Waters-dominated material–as I got older and recognized the immaturity and hatred at the heart of his intellectual posturing.

Waters does not have a subtle mind, but he imagines he does. He is the Otto of prog rock. (Imagine Jamie Lee Curtis saying, “What kind of fascism is this, Roger?”) I’m sure he imagines he’s writing very profound material, but anyone out of his teenage years who still thinks The Wall or The Final Cut is really deep, man, needs to read a book or two. It’s self-indulgent high-school level claptrap.

So it came as no surprise that Waters thinks he’s being provocative and making some kind of statement by channeling Julius Streicher and slapping a Star of David on a pig covered in various fascist symbolism.

The juxtaposition of Jews and pigs appears in various antisemitic propaganda throughout history.

The image to the right of Jews suckling at the Devil’s Pig is just one example of the way people used pigs to denigrate Jews. Muslim propagandists today routinely lump Jews in with apes and pigs in order to dehumanize them.

That’s okay, though. For the Smart Set, the Jews are the new Nazis because shutup!

Yawn. I can find the same kind of claptrap on al-Jazeera or Democratic Underground 24/7.

But hey, it works! Roger goes from “whatever-happened-to?” to multiple articles, and now people know that the guy who didn’t sing “Money” is on tour! And since many of them are already Jew-haters (it’s a disease that never goes away), it’s a perfect win-win for Waters.

Waters has been dressing up in fascist drag for decades now, acting like he was making an anti-fascist statement. At some point, if you wear those cool leather jackets and swastika-like crossed hammers in front of thousands of chanting and cheering people, you begin to think, “This is kinda cool.” You become what you hate.

PS: And, yeah, I know that doing what I say not to do makes me a hypocrite. I’m okay with that.

UPDATE: If I’m remembering my Floyd lore, the floating pig is Waters’ icon for capitalism, so the offensiveness goes even deeper, calling to mind images of “money-grubbing Jews.”

Lost Techs of Ancient Rome and Renaissance England

One of the more persistent myths is the idea of continual progression: man advances, building on the great wisdom of those who came before. This notion of movement towards an achievable ideal is one of the more charming delusions of liberalism. I really do wish it were true, and that mankind was advancing towards a perfectible state. It’s just not.

This idea of progression has a particularly persistent hold in the realm of science and technology. Scientists may believe it to be so, but historians know the truth: societal disruption, political and economic forces, plague, war, and plain ole time can knock us back and strip knowledge from us. If we think we’re immune to this now, say hello to my little friend, the EMP weapon.

For example, crude batteries were used by some ancient peoples for a kind of gold electroplating technique (now lost). Before archaeologists began digging up things like the Baghdad battery, anyone who suggested such a scenario would have been ridiculed.

The recipe for the unique cement used to make Roman structures strong and durable was also lost. Just last month, a team of researchers published their findings with a theory about its composition and production:

By analyzing the mineral components of the cement taken from the Pozzuoli Bay breakwater at the laboratory of U.C. Berkeley, as well as facilities in Saudi Arabia and Germany, the international team of researchers was able to discover the “secret” to Roman cement’s durability. They found that the Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock to form a mortar. To build underwater structures, this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater then triggered a chemical reaction, through which water molecules hydrated the lime and reacted with the ash to cement everything together. The resulting calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate (C-A-S-H) bond is exceptionally strong.

The mystery of Roman concrete has been pondered for a long time, but a new look at an old discovery is revealing lost tech we didn’t even suspect existed. Studies on the Cheapside Hoard –a large cache of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry found in 1912–are revealing a level of unexpected technological sophisticated so surprising that the research team likened it to an Elizabethan iPod:

Dr Ann-Marie Carey, a research fellow at Birmingham City University, and her colleagues have used modern technology to discover how these beautiful items were created – and have been stunned at the advanced technologies that have been applied to construct the items.

“Our forensic analysis has revealed the amazing technologies which craftsman of this period were using – and we fear some of these 400-year-old processes may now be lost to us,” said Dr Carey.

“It is has been a fascinating investigation. We think of our own time as one of impressive technological advances but we must look at the Elizabethan and Jacobean age as being just as advanced in some ways.”

Dr Carey said: “When we received photographs of the Hoard we were fascinated with the level of detail in the jewellery.

“We wanted to know how such pieces were made and to understand the story behind them. Until now there had been little research into the craftsmanship involved so we feel we are making a unique contribution to the forthcoming exhibition.”

Dr Carey, with the help of senior technologist Keith Adcock, have used 21st century digital technologies to recreate pieces from the Hoard, including a ‘Pearl Dropper’ an egg-shaped item that originally featured ribbons of pearls and was possible worn on as a hairpiece.

The most impressive item from the hoard is the finely detailed watch pictured at the top of the post, which exhibits a level of craftsmanship–and was made using techniques–not known to exist in Elizabethan England.

Or maybe The Doctor just dropped it.


Jane Austen to Replace Darwin on the Ten-Pound Note UPDATE


Here it is: 

My late, beloved cousin, friend, and mentor J. David Grey (Austen expert and co-founder of the Jane Austen Society) is doing a victory lap in heaven.

I’m so pleased I’m not even going to take a poke at Richard Dawkins, except to say the world needs more Jane Austens than Charles Darwins.

UPDATE: One of my cousins suggested America should do the same.

I’d nominate Washington Irving  (America’s first truly great man of letters, and a fine and entertaining writer) to replace borderline psychopath Andrew Jackson on the $20.

Irving wasn’t crazy (coughPoecough) or drunk (I’m looking at you, every great writer of the 20th century). The only other possibilities I can think of are Hawthorne, Melville, or Louisa May Alcott.

Who’s with me? We have nothing to lose except … actually, we will completely and inevitably lose, but maybe someone will read the Sketch-Book, and that’s a good thing.

Please Ignore the Attention Whores

I’m feeling cranky. First, Geraldo unleashed an appalling nude selfie on the Twitterverse, and then we got this:

Yeah, I know. You’ve seen it already, and I’m a big fat hypocrite for reproducing it and then complaining about people who reproduce it, but I’m trying to make The Larger Point.

It’s Melissa Harris-Perry, a name I had never heard before she appeared in a video some months back extolling the virtues of confiscating children from their parents and turning them over to a collective for education and upbringing:

The simmering arrogance of that statement takes the breath away. If you pay very close attention to the clip, you can almost hear the sound of jackboots and smell the stench of the gulag, but with pretty microbraids!

In the picture above she is shown wearing tampon earrings as a protest against the confiscation of feminine hygiene products from women going into Texas State Legislature. Those products were not confiscated because the men were afraid of women or thought they could somehow thwart menstruation or something. Trust me, men think about menstruation as little as humanly possible.

They were confiscated because the protesters were smuggling in large quantities of them–along with jars full of urine and excrement–to throw at legislators in order to disrupt the democratic process. This was all in an effort to prevent abortion clinics from having to meet the same health and regulatory requirements as your run-of-the-mill ambulatory clinic. So, next time some pro-abort troll gives you their standard line about “safe, legal, and rare,” remind them that they fought for the right to make sure every Texas abortuary was safe … to be another Kermit Gosnell house of horrors.

And let’s pause for a moment to ponder the mentality of women who would crap in jars, stick it in their purses, and attempt to smuggle them into a historic building and seat of democracy in order to throw it upon another human being in order to thwart the vote of duly elected officials. There’s the abortion movement in a nutshell for you.

You know: the mentality that gives kids signs like this:

Okay, so the troll Harris-Petty dons tampon earrings in some sort of “protest” against this and in support of unlimited, unsanitary abortion-on-demand. Normally, when a little girl sticks tampons in her ears in a public place, she gets sent to the principal’s office and kept after school. MSNBC gives her a TV show.

High school kids often do weird and pointless stunts like this to gain attention. I once slipped into the upstairs hallway in my high-school and put condoms over all the doorknobs. My excuse is that I was 14 and an idiot looking to shock. Harris-Perry taught at Princeton for several years. She has no excuse.

Except, it worked: everyone wound up doing exactly as she wanted. This was the action of someone saying, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! I’M A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE! I’M MAKING A SOME POINT ABOUT SOMETHING [details to be filled in later.]”

It’s simply attention whoring. In the internet age, it’s link-bait. It’s a ready-made thought virus, sure to be shared by supporters (“Yay Melissa! You did … something!”) and foes (“Just LOOK at this ignorant tool!”) There is no downside to this kind of low-class behavior for either side: supporters get the thrill of shock, and foes get the thrill of outrage. And now I’ve heard about Melissa Harris-Perry twice instead of once.

Everyone wins … except the culture, which dies the death of a thousand little cuts that makes us more vulgar, less human.

We have rewarded her. I don’t know why we do this. We don’t need to react, but we do react, just like dogs drooling for the dinner bell. In contrast to what leftists like to think, conservatives are not, in fact, “reactionary.”

No one needs to know what goes on at MSNBC or on Rush Limbaugh or react to the outrage-du-jour. It’s all irrelevant. It vanishes into the ether, leaving only the smell of sizzling ozone as it goes, while we move to the next outrage, becoming complicit in a self-sustaining media-outrage cycle.

These aren’t skirmish in a culture-war with a victory in sight. This is World War I trench combat: a fixed line that wavers and consumes casualties and never moves.

We can rob the attention whores and the media industrial complex of some of their power by simply ignoring it. MSNBC gets more attention from enemies than supporters. We have more readers at Patheos Catholic than Harris-Perry has viewers.

I remember when Shoutin’ Bill Donohue mailed around hundreds of copies of an offensive image of the Blessed Mother in order to gin up outrage at the creator. Hardly anyone had seen the original image. Once Shoutin’ Bill was done, thousands had seen it. If our goal is to protect and defend the image of Mary, how is this a win?

The world is full of wonder, and Melissa Harris-Perry and her juvenile shock tactics or Geraldo and his exhibitionism aren’t worth your time. In a world in which you have not, for example, read this:

…or seen this…

“Golden Light” by John Atkinson Grimshaw

…or watched this …

…how can you justify spending even 5 seconds of your finite time on this glorious earth paying attention to talking heads hungry for attention to feed their own malignant narcissism?

Just say no.

PS: “Attention whore” is a gender neutral term, but I considered using something else because people will say, “You called her a whore!”

No, I didn’t.  Do note: Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olberman, and Bill O’Reilly are also attention whores. They are all people who desire attention at all costs, and will do anything to gain that attention. Our entire celebrity culture is wall-to-wall with attention whores, male and female.

How to Play Tarot: An Explanation with Sample Rules

Detail from Ducale Tarot

Note: This is the seventh in a series which looks at the real history of Tarot. I do not deny that Tarot has occult connections which are seriously problematic for Catholics. We will get to all of it in time, but for now please be aware that this series is not about fortune telling, but about cultural history and gaming.

French Tarot (Ducale)

Since Tarot games spring from a common source, they share certain rules that make them a distinct family of card games despite myriad differences. If you count variants, there are hundreds of ways to play games with tarot cards. (The key work on the subject is almost 1,000 pages long.) Some of them are almost comically complicated. Once we look at the scoring for a sample tarot game, you’ll have a nice illustration of the source of most card game rules: taverns full of drunk men.

For starters, like many European games, “eldest” (the player who receives cards first in the deal) is to the dealer’s right, not his left as in American games. Thus, dealing is counter-clockwise, with all cards dealt out. This—along with large size of the tarot cards—means hands are larger and more cumbersome to hold. Play may be solo or in partnership, and cards may have odd or unique values. A higher trump beats a lower trump. The lowest trump is the I, as is called the Pagat or Bagotto.

In numbered suits, there is a quirk of play in some games that has Swords and Batons ranked in typical descending order (K, Q, C, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A) but Cups and coins ranked the opposite direction (K, Q, C, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Thus, a 3 of Cups beats a 10 of Cups.

Why, yes: that is spectacularly confusing, but you’ll get used to it.

Games from France and Sicily don’t tend to follow this bizarre tradition.

The rules of trick-taking card games apply. Cards are played in tricks, with one player leading and the other following. The lead plays a card face up the center of the table, and the player to the right follows with a card of the same suit if possible. If the lead card is trump, trump suit should follow. If a player cannot follow suit and has a trump, he must follow with the trump, even if it’s a losing trump. If he can’t follow, he can play anything at all.

In many games, the player holding The Fool can play this card as an “excuse.” This rescues the player from having to play a bad card. The Fool incurs no penalty. It stands in for a regular play, and is then returned to the player’s hand, where it will be scored at the end of the game. In other games, the Fool is the highest Trump.

The player with the highest suit or highest trump wins the trick. The player who takes the trick leads the next trick, and so on until all the cards are exhausted. The usual pace of trick-taking games is followed, with cards scored, gathered, and shuffled; deal passing to the right; and various rounds comprising a complete game. The word “rubber” is not traditional to Tarot rules, but it expresses the pace of play nonetheless.

Detail, Ducale Tarot

Scoring can be extraordinary complex and subtle, and is where much of the variation among Tarot games is found. Players may compete singly or in teams, and the number of players varies from game to game. Winning points are determined not just by number of tricks buy by the value of the trumps won. In some counts, each trick counts for a point and then value cards are added to the total. Court cards may have a fixed value—King: 4, Queen: 3, Cavalier: 2, and Jack: 1. Number cards usually have no value.

The Fool, Trump I (the pagat), and Trump 21 may have the highest values, and are the standard trump honors in many games. Dummett expresses it this way:

“Suppose that all 78 cards are used, and that there are three players, so that there are three cards in each trick and hence 26 tricks in all. To the 26 points for tricks will be added 12 for the Trump 21, Trump I, and The Fool, 16 for the Kings, 12 for the Queens, 8 for the Cavaliers, and 4 for the Jacks, making 78 points in all divided between the players.”

These are the very basics of rules that you’ll find in Tarot games, with additional conventions for bidding, talon, discarding, shortening (or lengthening) decks, as so on.

Where to Get Tarot Cards

Tarot cards are common in bookstores and new age shops, but you don’t want to mess with these. They’re designed not for play but for divination, and most are saturated in occult images that we’re better off avoiding. Not only does this betray the roots of tarot in gaming, but it creates an unpleasant experience for the game. In addition, some of these “designer decks” only include the trumps, and they’re too large to hold as you would a normal hand of cards. (Tarot games already have large hands which can be difficult to hold.)

The Fool (Ducale)

For those who want to avoid any links with the Italian images which inspired the occult tarot, you can go for the French decks. This post is illustrated with cards from the Ducale tarot, which can be bought at TaroBear’s Lair.

The Genoves Tarot by Fournier is readily available from Amazon for about $15. The cards are not occult and they are a reasonable size, sturdy, and handsome.

How to Play Scarto

This simple game contains the basics of Tarot play and can be played with either a French or Italian deck.

Players: 3 people, playing singly

Deck: 78-card French or Italian.

Notes on the Cards: The game originated with the Tarocco Piemontese, a deck in which Trump XX (The Angel: l’Angelo) is the highest honor, and Trump XXI (The World, Mond) is next in order. In other words, just swap XXI and XX.

Card Ranking: The ranking is irrational with the order reversed on the “red” suits:

  • “Black” Suits: Swords/Staves (or Spades/Clubs):
    K, Q, C, V, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • “Red” Suits: Cups/Coins (Hearts/Diamonds):
    K, Q, C, V, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Honors: Pagat (Trump I), l’Angel (Trump XX), The Fool

Card Values:

  • Honors–5 points
  • King—5 points
  • Queen–4 points
  • Cavalier (Knight)–3 points
  • Fante (Jack)–2 points

Deal: Deal and play moves to the right. Deal in packets of 5. Dealer takes the final 3 cards, then discards them into a pile (the scart). These will be counted for the dealer at the end. Neither Kings nor Honors may be discarded

Play: Eldest (remember: to the right) leads the first trick. Players must follow suit. If they cannot, they must trump if possible, even if it is not an advantageous trump. If they can neither follow nor trump, they may play anything.
Highest card in suit or highest trump wins the trick.
The person holding The Fool may play this as an “excuse” for not playing a card he is obliged to play. The Fool neither wins nor loses. At the end of the trick, it is returned to the person who played it, and placed in that person’s trick pile. In exchange, the person who played The Fool gives the person who won the trick any card from his trick pile. (Obviously, this will be a low-value card.)

The count may seem confusing, but this is how it works:

Cavalier and king (Ducale Tarot)

1. Sort cards into piles of three, with at least one a high card (Honor, King, etc) in each pile.
2. The Fool is counted separately.
3. If there is one high card, the value of the pile is equal to that card. For example, a batch with 1 Queen, a 4, and an 8 is worth 4 points.
4. If there are two high cards in the pile, add their points and subtract 1. (King, Pagat, and a 4 is worth 9 points.)
5. If there are three face cards in the pile, add their points and subtract 2. (King, l’Angel,and Cavalier is worth 11 points.)
6. If there are only non-honor trumps and numbers cards in the pile, the batch is worth one point.
7. One player will have two cards in one pile. These should be counted as if there are three cards.
8. Add everything together.
9. Subtract 26.
10. This is your score, either positive or negative.
11. Deal passes to the right. A rubber is three rounds.

Final Post: Meditations on the Tarot

Posts in this series:

Housekeeping (With Some Notes on the Really True Truth)

1) The last two or three parts of the Tarot series should go up next week. I didn’t want to dump them all at once. They will have a little something on some of the more puzzling images, a bit on the work of Valentin Tomberg, and rules for playing for those who are interested.

“I see a B-movie director in a dress and Tor Johnson in my future.”

Also, this week was County Fair, and I’ve got chickens to show, so posting is light.

2) Following the death of my father, another family member has been taken gravely ill. Prayers for our family in this time are always welcome.

3) As expected, those with occult and neo-pagan leanings have found these posts and taken issue with my tone (which tends to mocking at times) and my criticism of divination (which is either false or evil), but largely remained polite. (At least the ones I allow to post.) I thank them for this.

I’ve certainly acknowledged in the past my natural tendency to cutting comments and rudeness, a skill honed by two decades as a media critic. A friend who was involved in neo-paganism at a time when I was following Michael Harner’s shamanic practices urged a common sense approach of “compassion,” noting that most of the Wiccans he knew when he practiced were “kind, but damaged.”

It’s hard to find a balance, however, particularly when I was once lost on similar false paths. I spent 15 years adrift before rediscovering the truth, to my complete and utter horror.

The absolute last thing I wanted to be was a Catholic again.

But God took hold of me, shook me hard, and gave me a clear and undeniable glimpse of the Truth. You don’t turn back from a gift like that. You just embrace the challenge and try your best to live up to it and spread the word. Sometimes you’re effective, sometimes not. We’re all just working things out.


4) One aspect of the Patheos format is that everyone–of course–thinks their religion is right. Some have a very open-minded approach to faith, promoting the “many paths to truth” notions that allows for Christianity, Islam, Wicca, and Buddhism to all be equally true and equally valid.

Let me be abundantly clear: this is nonsense.  There may indeed be many paths on the way to the ultimate Truth, and I followed a particularly bent one myself, but there is only one Truth. You don’t make your own truth just by believing it. You seek and discover a Truth that pre-exists. That ultimate Truth is Christ and Him crucified.

Other faiths contain deep and profound truths as well, but it is our firm belief that the wholeness of the Truth is found in the Church alone.

A climate of moral relativism and go-along-to-get-alongism makes that kind of statement seem shocking if not downright anti-social, but that’s just a quirk of modernism. We’re all searching for the truth. To claim to have found it seems arrogant, except for this: it wasn’t my truth. It wasn’t even a truth I wanted.

A path has to go somewhere. It may be poetic to talk about the journey being more important that the destination, but it’s not particularly useful, or else we’d all just travel in circles. The journey is important, but the destination is all that really matters. You have to keep your eyes on it–on that Truth–or else you get lost in the undergrowth, and the journey is wasted.

I found it, fully formed, and had to adapt my very being to its demands. That’s an ongoing process, one I fail at daily, if not hourly. I’ll do my best to deal politely with people who hold different beliefs, but when two people believe theirs is the final and ultimate truly true Truth, someone’s feelings are probably going to get hurt. If that bothers somebody, so be it. We’re all grownups.

My daily news feed is crammed full of lies and attacks and insults about my faith: far, far, FAR more than your average wiccan or occultist will encounter in a decade of similar reading. We just kind of shrug it off until it comes down to violating our rights, or consign the people who write and say such things to our mental “jerkoff” file. If you’d like to consign me there, go right ahead.

I’ve said before: what I write here is for my co-religionists. I’m a catechist, not an apologist. I teach the faith to the faithful. If, along the way, that persuades others, that’s nice, but I have almost none of the diplomatic skill that makes a good evangelist. Others are welcome to join in, but we tend to speak a unique language of faith and have our own priorities, and we’re not inclined to moderate them in the interests of soothing the easily-wounded egos of people who don’t really like us anyway.

The truth can be hard, and finding it an unpleasant shock. It will, of necessity, lead to conflict. You can’t really be free until you’re broken, and breaking is a painful and unpleasant process. But in the healing we’re free to be remade in the image of the one Truth.

The Temple Mount: A Virtual Tour

Courtesy of the Israeli Minister of Construction and Housing and a group called The Heart of the Nation comes this virtual tour of the Temple Mount, complete with 360-degree views of various locations. It’s was released to coincide with Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

A couple of caveats: 1) It’s in Hebrew, although Google Translate can compile comically inept translations of certain screens, and 2) it’s slow and flaky. It does, however, provide some very nice images of Temple Mount sites.


The Bishop’s Dice Game [Tarot Series]

Note: This is the fourth of a series which looks at the real history of Tarot. I do not deny that Tarot has occult connections which are seriously problematic for Catholics. We will get to all of it in time, but for now please be aware that this series is not about fortune telling, but about cultural history and gaming.

Historical/anthropological research about games is part of what I do as Editor-at Large of Games Magazine, and a shorter version of this material will appear as the lead feature in our November issue. You can see another example of my research in this series on gaming in Colonial America, which also was compiled into a feature for Games. I believe that games are unique and important elements of folk culture akin to song, story, dance, art, and clothing, and therefore worthy of serious study.

One of the interesting side paths on the road to Tarot has to do with a dice game created for the amusement and edification of the clergy.

In the 10th century, Wibold, Bishop of Cambrai, invented a dice game to be played with three dice. When the dice are rolled, there is a potential for 56 different outcomes. Each outcome was associated with a virtue, and assigned a point value from 3 to 18. The clerical class was encouraged to play the game, which was called “Ludus Regularis Seu Clericalis” in some literature (which roughly translates as “A game suitable for monks or priests”). [Thanks to the Facebook Latinists for clarifying my hopeless translation of that name, particularly Professors Daniel McCaffrey and Anthony Esolen.]

The idea of the game was to make certain rolls to reach 21 with pairs of dice out of three dice rolled, with each of the rolls matched to complimentary virtues. (Twenty-one is the number of outcomes with two dice.) These “unions of virtues” are not just meant to be winning rolls, but to illustrate the ways virtues work together. For example:

Charity and Humility are united for 3+18=21
Faith and Continence are united for 4+17=21
Justice and Hilarity are united for 6+15=21

The numbers themselves also had a didactic purpose: 3 for the Trinity, 10 for the Commandments, 7 sacraments, and so on. Clerics, normally discouraged from games of chance, were thus encouraged to play Bishop Wibold’s game in order to meditate on the faith. Perhaps the idea was that they were going to play dice anyway, so why not make it an exercise in virtue?

The number “21” is significant because of the 21 trumps in the tarot deck, but the virtues are also significant, since a number of them also were used as images on the tarot, particularly in the expanded 40-trump Minchiate deck. Did the bishop’s dice game directly influence the development of the trump suit? Perhaps. If not, at the very least it gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the deep meaning and teaching purposes that could be folded into simple games.

At this point, it’s useful to point out that there isn’t a universal declaration by the Church on the evil of playing cards or dice. Some religious orders and bishops may have barred games of chance at various points in history, and they may even have done so out of some idea that they were intrinsically evil, perhaps in light of the Roman centurions dicing for the robe of Jesus.


Notions of playing cards (tarot or otherwise) as the “devil’s picture book” or dice as Satan’s teeth were not universal teachings, and, even when they were prohibited, it was not for abstract or theological reasons. The two main reasons some churchmen took a dim view of card playing and dicing were gambling and the profane use of sacred images.

Gambling in the Middle Ages, as today, could become a serious problem. A man who gambled away his money would leave his family destitute and hungry. The history of cards is entwined with the history of gambling, and it was reasonable to view compulsive gambling as a vice. This brought gaming under suspicion.

The Tarot eventually ran afoul of certain religious authorities in the Middle Ages not because it was being used for divination, but because the sacred images appearing on the cards were deemed too exalted for such a lowly use, and the Church takes its images and symbols seriously.

It wasn’t until the cards became more associated with divination (which is forbidden in Christianity) than with gaming that they fell afoul of Church authorities.

When “Tarot” appears in a negative context in church documents, it always has to do with their use as a tool of divination. There is a lot of misinformation out there on the internet about Tarot. One widely circulated article is The History of Tarot Cards by Fr. William Saunders.

I’m sure Fr. Saunders had the best of intentions when writing his piece, but it repeats the standard misinformation culled from occult, rather than historical, sources. (In matters like this, it’s generally best not to trust the lies of the Enemy.) So when Fr. Saunders says that “The 22 major enigmas correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the number of hieroglyphs the ancient Jews used in divination,” he’s just repeating the false history of the cards, which we’ll discuss in greater detail tomorrow.

Next: The Fake History of Tarot

NOTE: I would urge people who are inclined to be irritated by this piece–both Catholics who think Tarot are nothing but evil and Tarot users who find pleasure in the cards–to wait until the end of the series before rendering any judgement. We have a long way to go through the following posts: