Frauds or Prophets?


Yesterday I had my tarot cards read at a party. Mystic Magenta suggested that I cut emotional ties with my mother and go travelling. She said that avenues are beginning to spring up in front of me, and that I am blossoming spiritually. All very pertinent I thought.

Predictably the prevailing opinion at the Bembridge party was that Magenta’s waffling generalisations were bound to have some relevance for every listener, no matter their position in life. We’ve all read horoscopes that confidently assure us that ‘this week you will face an important decision’, or ‘this month you will meet someone who will change your life’. I meet someone who changes my life every month, and I make an important decision every time I have breakfast (tea or coffee?).

While carefully withholding any final judgement I tried to explain to the sceptics that just because many seers and psychics are undoubtedly charlatans, we needn’t tar the whole phenomenon with the same brush. As is so often the case I have only just realised what I ought to have said a day later.

I ought to have said that her prophesies should be considered independently of her authenticity. In other words she could be full of crap and yet her advice could still be useful.

Now this may seem paradoxical, but it’s quite true that the value of her advice actually has nothing to do with whether or not she saw into my destiny or whether she merely aired airy vagaries and vague compliments whilst I nodded, accommodating her nonsense. Either way her words struck a chord, resonated with me. And that’s all that matters really.

My father often says that he’s always wanted a beard so that people will listen to his advice. But as all parents will confirm, with or without beard wisdom, however profound, is useless until experience has forced it upon the individual. It is one of life’s little ironies. You can warn a young teenager till you’re blue in the face not to drink too much at parties but the chances are they won’t pay you the slightest bit of notice until they drink too much at a party. Then suddenly they are all ears. Even the most prudent individual can at best ‘take advice’; they can only really understand it retrospectively.

Effectively this means that all the wisdom we are ready to hear is already latent within our own breast. All that is required for it to crystallise into consciousness is the right experience. And this, I believe, is exactly what happened when I listened to Magenta. I really can’t see that it makes any difference how she came to say what she said as long as her words triggered a self-realisation. And they did.

Now you may have absolutely no interest in tarot cards, and presumably no interest in my destiny either, but consider the fact that my point really extends to all of life. In Samuel Johnson’s philosophical masterpiece Rasselas, the protagonist prince is snapped out of his sulk when he overhears ‘a maid, who had broken a porcelain cup, remark that what cannot be repaired is not to be regretted.’ – the 18th century equivalent of ‘there’s no use crying over spilt milk’ (tea or coffee).

The expression has a profound effect on Rasselas, precisely because it pops into his consciousness at a time when his own experience coheres with what he hears, both reinforcing the same message. Otherwise the words would have remained parlour maid chatter. Remembering Magenta for a moment, does the fact that the maid intended the words as a casual throwaway take anything away from the truth of Rasselas’s realisation? Not a drop (truth is like water).

Off the back of this coincidental wisdom Rasselas goes on to consider ‘how many useful hints are obtained by chance’: have we not each and every one of us had a similar experience of overhearing a trivial conversation and relating it to some pressing issue in one’s own life?

I was once directed into an exhibition about Winston Churchill in New York and stood in awe as I interpreted layer upon layer of hidden messages about the state of the world and my place in it. Every panel, every video, even the behaviour of the people in the room related in uncannily minute detail the story of my life, the war on consciousness,* and my possible future in this world. And the instant I arrived at this conclusion a passing tour guide seemed to confirm it by describing how ‘Churchill often used analogy in his speeches as they created greater conviction in the listener’, and that he ‘chose each word carefully to get the message just right.’ This, I convinced myself, was clinching proof that the exhibition was indeed a carefully constructed analogy.

Now I could debate the personal significance of this exhibition in my head for a year (I have), just as you can argue about mysticism and tarot card readings for hours (we did). Similarly, and I am particularly addressing the dope smokers out there, you can deliberate as to whether an overheard conversation snippet was intended for your ears or if it was merely a coincidence amplified by paranoia. If I have learnt anything this year it’s that all three are a waste of time. You will never know for sure, and obsessively looping the same questions round your head can lead to much torment and mental strife.

The funny thing is that the answers don’t even matter. It doesn’t matter whether Bertie was talking about you or not, it doesn’t make a difference whether tarot card readers are frauds or prophets, and it won’t affect my actions one bit whether the Churchill exhibition was an analogy or a delusion. The bottom line is that for one reason or another, your attention has been grabbed. If you felt something stir then the world is trying to tell you something. Or in fact (they are really the same thing), you are trying to tell yourself something. The wisdom latent in your breast is trying to burst into consciousness. So stop agonising about the cause, and pay attention.

If we can truly integrate this, then all paranoia, delusional or otherwise, becomes a wake-up call, a chance to realise something important about oneself. Moreover, as a wise man recently assured me, this is actually going on all the time. The world is constantly feeding us just the right experiences we need to trigger the understanding we are ready for, if only we knew how to listen. The Churchill exhibition was an extreme example, a hyper-attentive eureka moment, but if we can learn to tune in to the world around then we will find that it is actually guiding us every moment of our lives.

As my grandfather once put it, there is a benevolent force in the world, which will take care of us if only we will co-operate with it.

Sadly my grandfather is the exception, and most of us remain deaf and blind to the wisdom the world imparts. Hidden away in the dark prison of our self-made reality and bound by the manacles of our self-absorbed abstractions we struggle to understand the light that occasionally breaks in through the window. ‘How often the mind,’ Rasselas muses, ‘hurried by her own ardour to distant views, neglects the truths that lie open before her.’



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