“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” – Bakunin
Try as I might I could never quite “grok” tarot cards.
The tarot seemed like some alien artifact from another world, grunting and hissing in a language I couldn’t understand. Each card was woven in symbolism that spoke of foreign shores and experiences. Pentacles, swords, the suits didn’t make sense to me. Sure they had elemental meanings, but that didn’t quite sit right with me either. I wasn’t an elemental witch, I was kid with an interest in shamanism and necromancy; it was a song I couldn’t appreciate played in instruments I had no interest in.
How could I have known this inability, this frustration, would allow me to move beyond the concepts of “good” and “evil” and towards a truly sorcerous understanding of reality?
And it all began with a pack of regular ole’ playing cards.
You see I had it in my head that to be a good magician I needed to be a good tarot reader. I can remember my first deck, a Lovecraftian one, exotic in shape and design. It was dark and spooky, and uncannily correct, though it never failed to paint whatever the situation was as bleak and pointless. While I was getting accurate information I could never seem to tear myself from the “little white book” book it came with, the explanations of what everything meant needing to be told to me and put together in a 1+1 = 2 format.
I tried other decks and only ended up more confused. Time and again I was told to focus on the images, that the images “would reveal all.” I couldn’t understand how the images meant anything when they could be pulled and prodded into shapes as diverse as Goth and Gummy Bears. What the hell was a Hierophant anyway? What exactly did the hermit mean when he had brass goggles and was flying an airship? How could a deck have Death and the Devil in it yet promise “no bad cards?” The moment finally came when, in disgust at my own inability to understand the Tarot, I swore off them altogether.
It was that moment the playing cards came into my life. Out of nowhere I stumbled upon The New World Witchery Guide to Cartomancy.
It was as if you hadn’t spoken a language in decades and a somebody came up and said “hello” to you in it. Everything clicked, everything made sense. It wasn’t elements but forces, the eternal pulsing and friction between the currents of Love, Luck, Struggle, and Death. 52 cards available at any dollar store revealed itself to be the greatest oracle I had ever seen, both poetic when situations were complex and as loud as thunder over the Tampa Bay when they wanted to be heard. This wasn’t a guessing game: I could tell you if you were going to lose your job and who was going to fire you. Taught by the Devil himself, my skills increased a thousand fold. Quickly I began to know each card as a spirit very much alive, a reoccurring force or motif programmed into our very reality.
What’s interesting about using playing cards as divination is that, unlike runes or Tarot, traditionally there are no “reversals” for the cards. Each card has a meaning, a fundamental resonance all it’s own. Each card could interact with others differently but it’s basic nature always stayed the same.
And any card in the suit of Spades was always bad.
Perhaps bad is the wrong word, because surely separations(2 of ♠) and funerals(9 of ♠) can be a good thing if we want to exit a bad situation, but the Spades have less to do with the “earth element”(or any positives for that matter) and much more with digging a grave. Disease, illness, death, arguments, battles, defeats, separation, execution, cruelty, temptation, and total destruction litter the suit like grave-markers in the crowded 100,000 corpse cemetery at Key West, and whenever they pop up they inspire about as much fear as spending the night alone there.
Playing Cards are unique in the respect that an entire realm of straight bad shit is taken as one of the building blocks of life, one of the four “currents” coursing through reality. The 3 of Hearts is a wish granted, a cup overflowing; the 3 of Diamonds is a fountain of outpouring gifts; the 3 of Clubs may be hurdles you can overcome, but they will be hurdles none the less; the 3 of Spades however signals no mere fence to cross but a machine gun-nest behind barbed wire you’ll need to blow up to get what you desire.
Playing Cards offer no opportunity for bullshit, no “Weekend at Bernie’s” routine to try to prop up a devastating loss. A spade is a spade is a spade, and if your reading is flooded with a 9, 7, or Ace in funeral cloth you had better sit down before I tell you what I see.
There it was every time, plain as day, a spectral force of misfortune and woe undulating through the myriad of manifestations we called “consensus reality.”
Many a night after reading the winds of fate for others, mind loosened by drinks, I would dwell deeply on the philosophical implications of such a thing. While tarot’s underlying metaphysics seemed to be the initiation and development of the “fool” into the omniscient and illuminated “world,” the playing cards spoke of another narrative altogether. Here, free from modern imagery and marked by some very strange synchronicities, seemed to be a much older, much more pagan and Nietzschean philosophy, one that might shed an interesting light onto the very nature of reality and the spirits themselves.
“Bawon Kriminel, O! Lane a bout o, map paret tan yo!”
Let’s take an imaginary trip down to Haiti for a moment.
We are in a small peristyle, our clothes soaked with sweat due to the large amount of human bodies and the heat of candles. Much dancing and singing fills the air, as a serviteur slowly becomes ridden by a Loa. Who is manifesting before us? Who can it be? Legba? Erzuil?
We know may not know who this Loa is, but all around us we can detect the fun atmosphere has turned dark and foreboding. A fearsome and maniacal laugh rips from the serviteur’s throat as she takes a chunk of flesh out of a dancer’s arm with her teeth. Blood spills out on the sand as mambos rush to appease the spirit. Whispers fill the air, the wounded dragged away as she howls in pain. A tinge of fear twists in the corners of everyone’s lips.
Baron Kriminel is here.
The possessed bites and claws the air, becomes a whirlwind of violence. The Baron makes several more attempts to hurt anyone he can get his hands on before he demands to be fed. It is explained to us that Baron Kriminal is thought to be the first murderer and the first man hanged. He is not merely one of the masters of death but hate, malice, and retribution incarnate.
Present in the temple he demands an offering.
A lone chicken is brought out before him, doused in petrol and burned alive. It’s screams of pain and torment fill the Baron with laughter and glee, unnerving the humans nearby. It is not the meat he is eating nor the fire, but the creature’s suffering itself.
The Baron, practically inhuman, has a purpose in the pantheon. It is he who collects the debts promised to the other Ghede by no later then November 2nd. Those who have toyed with the forces of death and made light of such arrangements have the equivalent of the Vodoun Ice Man coming to their door, and once Baron Kriminel has come to take something from you there is almost nothing that can be done to save you.
If anybody thinks this is another “dark” god to add to you altar please heed the words of the author at Adventures of a Baby Pagan blog:
“He’s mean; He’s terrifying; and He’s exactly what He needs to be to do His job….Kriminel is terrifying, not just to me, but apparently to everyone that has come in contact with Him…
He’s sadistic and methodical; He enjoys watching and doling out pain…From a distance, I can respect what He does and understand that it’s necessary, but He came into my life with the intention to mete out punishment upon members of my family.
I can say that I wholeheartedly believe that my father’s cancer, the very disease that took his life, was a direct result of Kriminel meting out punishment. I also absolutely believe that the disease that my mother has been diagnosed with recently is also His influence, and she will live with this disease for the rest of her life. He made it clear to me that He was there to punish my family, which was what led me to strike a bargain with Him to spare my nephew and my brother. I paid my dues, and He kept His word.”
Not something to summon for a night of fun with the ouija board.
Whatever your personal ethics or taste the Baron is out there, an intelligence that has existed for generations that appears to be the pure distillation of malevolence and sadism. He is as “natural” and “sacred” as the love of Venus or the wisdom of Odin, yet many polytheist and pagan faithful seem unwilling to acknowledge such a “negative” aspect of the spirit world, let alone deal with it.
Too often the spirit world is regarded the same as the Christian concept of heaven, as some place where more “evolved” spirits hang out and seek to aid we lowly humans in our own spiritual progression. The very free-form and non-dogmatic nature of modern paganism has allowed the faithful to pick and choose gods based on personal proclivity rather then on need, resonance, or even expediency. A pantheon of goddesses chosen because they make you feel good does not a sorceress make. There is a whole generation of magic users that have no spirit on hand for illness or disease, let alone something as ferocious as the forces Baron Kriminel wields.
Has modern paganism made a gross error in it’s understanding of “good” and “evil?” Have we carried over a christian morality into non-christian practice, an understanding of reality at odds with what not only see in ritual but within the spirits themselves?
Lets jump back to where the confusion all began.
Gevurah Made Me Do It
Modern Christianity waves a wand in the face of natural disasters, murders, fights, addictions; all these things become the work of a very busy Devil(whom God seems simply unable or unwilling)to stop because God(I use the capitalization here to refer to the montheist conception of “God”) is totally good and can do no wrong. What’s strange is this flies in the face of the very theory of Monotheism: that there is but One Power, One Source, and all things come from It.
The far older Judaic faith has a much more (dare I say pagan) conception of God: God is just as responsible for plagues and famines as he is blessings and prosperity, no Devil necessary(“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7). But how can this be so?
The Sephiriot, also known as “The Face of God” or the “Tree of Life” is a sort of map of God in Kabbalah, the esoteric facet of Judaism, and details the multifaceted expressions and temperaments of this God’s emanations and how they play together to create reality. One is called Hesed, the Right Hand of God; another is called Gevurah, the Left Hand of God. Both of these are the active expressions of God, thought of as God’s will as it moves across the worlds. Hesed is the hand we are familiar with, the “god” those of the Christian faith believe to be “THE God:” the caring, loving expression of God. It is literally the fountain from which all kindness, love, and understanding flows; It is Archetypal Goodness. This is the God repairing the worlds with a gentle embrace and absolving sins; an unending river of love and forgiveness.
But what of Gevurah?
Gevurah has been translated as “the Wrath of God,” “the Judgement of God,” or even just as strength, power, or severity. It is here, this aspect, where God’s Stark Fist lies. But is it just a crushing fist, an angry hand that simply punishes? For the Creation to run it must have some limits: one cannot simply say yes to everybody. In this world there is a contest of wills in all things, and you cannot say yes to a man being healed and yes to a tumor desiring to grow; you cannot say yes to both the rabbit’s desire to escape and the wolf’s desire to eat. Ultimately, for Creation to work at some point God simply has to say No. This is the essence of Gevurah. Gevurah is not simple anger or rage, or even justice; Gevurah is the Curator of the Creation. A Universe of Wills, of dreams, while having amazing space for many does not have room for all; Gevurah must enforce protocol. It’s a question of form: A tree that becomes a bird is no longer a tree, and loses all potential futures/possibilities as a tree as well as losing the ability to fulfill any needs it would have been called upon as a tree. The alphabet is nothing more than lines and curves arranged in a certain way; given total freedom to move about and rearrange however they no longer are letters, no longer can make words, no longer can express meaning.
Gevurah’s action in the world is necessary for it to function; it does not care about feelings, it does not care about individual dreams, hopes or wishes. Like a harsh general, it is committed to the mission above all things; the lives lost in the process are not important. Hesed is limitless, ongoing and free of constraint. In Judaism they teach that when God said “Let there be a Firmament” it did so through Hesed, and all creation kept expanding endlessly until God said “Enough!” Without that limitation, the Creation would be formless. This is the essence of Gevurah.
Through Gevurah’s action in the world we can see many things that seem cruel, harsh, or even evil. We must first ask if these things are simply Gevurah carrying out systems and choices that have already been made: If I swing an axe and hit you in the head, the damage must be done. If you promised the Baron he could kill you if you failed to pay and you haven’t paid, there’s really nobody to cry to. By enforcing destruction Gevurah also ensures the system remains alive and growing. Many lives perish in a Brevard wildfire but there is no doubt such destruction is essential to “re-booting” ecosystems.
Gevurah is not necessarily bad or evil: he is the “no” hand, the hand of restriction, the hand that keeps things in their form and place regardless of the circumstances. While Hesed wished to answer every prayer in the Twin Towers on 9/11, it is Gevurah that says no and ensures the system we call reality continues under its protocols. The towers will fall and all inside will perish.
But all that’s still not properly “evil.” While Gevurah might cause a knife plunged in a chest to kill the person it’s plunged into, it does not make the murderer do so. While Kabbalist thought reveals a much more insightful and mature metaphysics it is still limited by the belief in the personal omnipotent One, a law bringer saying yes and no to every question in existence for a sense of universal “justice.” Where does Baron Kriminel fit in this cosmology? How about St. Jesus Malverde?
We as spiritual practitioners have confronted entities that sought nothing more than to corrupt and hurt the living, seen simple bad luck picked up for seemingly no reason. Many spirits seem either amoral or simply indifferent. Saints can be petitioned to kill over a minor vendetta. A Conjurer can force a woman to stay in an abusive relationship with a doll, some personal concerns, and the right ingredients. This isn’t about right and wrong because plainly these things do not exist. These forces simply do things, they are beyond good and evil.
To fully update our metaphysics to the reality of these situation, we must firmly root ourselves in the experience of practical spell-work.
“Trotter Head, I forbid thee my house and premises…until thou hast ascended every hill, until thou hast counted every fence-post…“
Carl Gustav Jung was one of the greatest psychologists, alchemists, and wizards the world has ever known. The “normal” world knows him as a friend of Freud and genius psychologist. What’s not well known is not only did he engage in the occult but was actually visited by a horde of discarnate souls pestering him for spiritual answers. This incident caused him to write a little known text called “Seven Sermons to the Dead.” I highly recommend you read it as well as Stephan A Hoeller’s deciphering of it.
What did this wizard have to say about evil?
“Evil is the necessary opposite of good, without which there would be no good either. It is impossible to even think evil out of existence.”
To return to Christian imagery the traditional image of God and the Devil are revealed as mighty oppositional principles, both needed for life to exist: “God”, seen as the great generating principle. is constantly tested and battled by “the Devil,” who is the ever present devouring principle.
Taken by sorcerous experience we can see these principles are not merely two beings. There is a multiplicity of spirits, gods and powers, each with resonances that color their respective force on the world we inhabit.
What we call “evil” might be better simply called “wrathful.” The Kabbalist Isaac Luria said that the root of all evil lies in the very nature of the Divine creation in the fact that “God” created in order to reveal everything hidden in his own mysterious nature; Jacob Boehme, wrapped in visions, saw God’s brilliant, creative light and burning, destructive fire as being inseparable, just as they are in the material world; The Gospel of Phillip states:
“Light and Darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin.”
Even greater hints to the truth are found in folk magic: spells where nightmares are ordered to count ridiculous amounts of items until sunrise; tricks that trap wrathful spirits in bottles with shiny objects, disease chased into chickens or absorbed by eggs; evil spirits chased out of houses by noxious and spicy fumes; jinxes/hexes/curses thrown into a moving bodies of water. All these things either trap a spirit for removal or drive it out; but notice they NEVER destroy it. Why? Gordon at Runesoup puts forth the theory that “one cannot destroy evil or ill-fortune as it exists in the universe and was created by God….We cannot destroy it or even prevent it as the action of a being created by God is the will of God.”
Our world (and perhaps even others) is the synthesis of the constant flux between the urge to create and destroy, between yes and no, between life and death and the intelligences behind them. Blessings and Curses, Struggle and Rest, Love and Hate, Life and Death, these things are revealed not to be mere abstractions but currents through which the spirits and gods themselves manifest. The material world, far from being a mere “ladder to higher realms” reveals itself to be a melting pot of forces, drives, and desires; a battleground between infinite variations of intelligent influences and resonances. Behind consensus reality lies, in the words of Nietzsche, “a chorus of natural beings who live ineradicably, as it were, behind all civilization and remain eternally the same, despite the changes of generations and of the history of nations.”
These things, these spirits, merely are what they are. Any value we attribute to them is entirely subjective. They exist beyond man-made institutions and morality–the wise would be quick to follow suit! Chaos, Love, Beauty, Pestilence, Death, all have notes to sing in the grand choir we call being.
Nietzsche noted “To speak of just or unjust in itself is quite senseless; in itself, of course, no injury, assault, exploitation, destruction can be ‘unjust,’ since life operates essentially, that is in its basic functions, through injury, assault, exploitation, destruction and simply cannot be thought of at all without this character.”
Christian concepts of morality, of “good” and “evil,” only serve to limit the sorcerer and their understanding of the cosmos. These things simply are. How and for who they act are all that matter.
The Amori Fati in the Enternal Recurrance
What they never tell you about fortune telling is how it forever warps your view of reality.
You begin to exist in a strange state outside of time, outside of three dimensions. Questions reveal multiple timelines, possible futures. The mind drifts freely, almost too much so. You begin to truly feel the limit of your own incarnation and drift every so slightly into senses you never knew you had, an awareness that spreads beyond human life and into realms not normally permitted for viewing.
One of those senses is the impression that human life is buffeted about by storms we cannot normally perceive.
Each card houses and represents an energetic “charge” that pulls and pushes material reality around it, stories and narratives that replay themselves in human existence again and again.
Reading after reading people’s lives seemed to be affected by reappearing motifs, a twilight language of being: wherever the Jack of Spades lept up I could practically feel, somewhere out in the void, the archetypal Traitor and Rebel scheming someone’s downfall and sharpening a knife for their back; whenever the Queen of Diamonds arose lay the pinnacle of the wildly sexual woman once called Babylon, indignant to all social laws and rules, so infatuating, so thrilling, men joyously fall on their swords to have but the slightest taste.
The personalities wielding the currents or riding upon them might change but the essences of the gods persist and continue: you can literally watch Thoth transform into Hermes with a history book, and The Trickster is about as common in spirituality as mosquitoes are in the Everglades.
Whatever we believe, whatever society you may impose, the gods will still remain. No matter our advances, our “civilization,” our progress, Ekershegal and Nergal will still spread death and pestilence because that is what they do. Baron Kriminel will still take his merciless, cruel revenge regardless of how soft and cuddly you desire the world to be because that is who he is. You cannot legislate, educate, or moralize these forces out of existence. Your revolution can never contain them, they refuse to be reformed. The minute you think you’ve stemmed the flow of change The Man at the Crossroads will ensure another suit removes the blockage: each empire will fall, each defeat turn to victory, in an endless whirring of instability and fluctuation.
We are left then with Nietzsche’s concept of The Eternal Recurrance:
“Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life.”
The 52 cards shall pit their forces against one another forever. These themes, these currents, these forces and spirits reoccur again and again, each one forever attracting, repulsing, kissing, and corrupting one another to form the forever changing nature of our world. There will never be peace on Earth or total understanding and brotherhood between our species as a whole. The “Revolution,” or any ideology for that matter will never unite the species let alone “win.” The only constant in the universe is change and any victory of one over the other is always momentary. The Great Game(for that is what life is) will just go on and on, forever and ever, twisted and tangled for the sheer joy of it with no goal or even a purpose behind it. They do the things they do because that is what they are. Eshu breaks the very rules he enforces, saying in one of his myths “Bringing strife is my greatest joy.”
The Trickster gods will never allow a single force victory. The continuation of the Game is all that matters.
How then shall we proceed, knowing that pain and cruelty, death and destruction, failure and human terror as encoded into the world as a child’s wonder? That no matter our intentions or works sometimes the suit of Spades will wander into our lives and reek havoc?
A nihilistic shrug of the shoulders to the suffering of the world?
That is nothing more then accepting defeat and those who do so will be buried by the Spades. They are those that the world wishes to wash away.
Instead I say we embrace the concept of Amor Fati with a Trickster twist: in the words of Zarathustra’s dwarf(a denizen of the underworld) that “everything straight lies” all things are mutable and nothing will remain the same forever. That”all truth is crooked, time itself is a circle” and what has been done today will most assuredly be undone tomorrow. Rather then lament this battle and the inevitable Spades showing up in our readings we accept it, prepare for it, fight it, and regardless of ending love it because such is the way of all things. What we despise and break will return tomorrow in a new guise. We must accept this and be ready for it.
Given this acceptance of sorrow, death and destruction, I do not fall into the Rightist fallacy that hierarchy and injustice is “natural” and must be upheld. It is just as “natural” to upset and destroy such orders, to see them scattered to the winds. It is just as “natural” for the dispossessed to burn down the plantations as the plantation enslaving them.
If “evil” will always exist and is built into the system, rather focusing on the elimination of such forces(which is impossible) should we not instead tap into them? Seek not to destroy greed but to joyously destroy the greedy? Desire not to abolish poverty but to inspire the stricken to rise up and seize what they lack? Spades, also known as the “Arrows of Fate,” care little whose bow they are loaded into. The Crossroads Man will upset any order, fascist or otherwise; He exists forever in the shadows of the expected, of the ordered, breaking every rule he helps establish and preparing ever new and terrible outbreaks of rebellion!
Should we pretend Baron Kriminel will simply disappear, that humanity will “evolve” past him? Shall instead we accept his existence, avoid his anger, make strategies for his eventual displeasure, and prepare the way for him to settle the score with those we have accounts with? Rather then hope that human altruism and the “good will” of the universe will convince the bloodthirsty spirits feeding on the carnage in Syria to stop, would it not be wiser to call upon the forces of undoing and entropy to foil their ambitions? To summon the schemers and tricksters to spread dissent and rebellion in their own lust for intrigue? To call the heavy handed debt-collectors to remove the hierarchical parasites who owe us the stolen value of our lives? To surf the Spades, and direct their torrents to worthy foes, rather then merely pray they stay away?
Regardless what you believe or decide Baron Kriminel, and many more like him, will be waiting in the shadows doing what he does as he always has.
Just as the Spades will lie lurking in the deck: inevitable, necessary, and beautiful in their truth.
Dr. Bones is a 9 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card-reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, a house full of spirits.