Readers Studio, the great annual Tarot event, is coming up, and I will be presenting an evening study group. In preparation Wald Amberstone, who with Ruth Ann Amberstone, created and runs RS, has done a series of fascinating 7 minute interviews with the presenters, in which he took the trouble to really consider a worthwhile question for that person. I really enjoyed my discussion with Wald.

As part of the question he asked if I had a secret identity. As an old comics writer, I had fun with that.

Here’s the link.


Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 4:17 am  Comments (1)  

THE HOUSE ON THE HILL, from The Burning Serpent Oracle

THE BURNING SERPENT ORACLE, created by Robert M. Place and myself, is based on the Lenormand tradition from 19th century Europe. For each card, we knew the traditional name and image but wanted to create our own version. When it came to the card titled The House, which in the old decks shows an elegant European mansion, I suggested to Robert that it would be nice for it to have a fairy tale quality. He looked through a great number of houses on Google Images and found a model that both of us thought was perfect. Just a couple of days ago he came across an article about that very house, and we discovered just how perfect it was. To see the picture and read the article, take a look at

Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Leave a Comment  


On the blog page for The Burning Serpent Oracle I’ve just posted an amazing reading. The client wanted to plan her funeral but the cards seemed to want to go beyond that.

The passage is actually an excerpt from the book.


Published in: on January 29, 2014 at 1:17 am  Comments (2)  

The Burning Serpent Rises

The Burning Serpent Oracle, the deck created by Robert M. Place and myself, is just about complete and ready for its official launch.  To celebrate, Robert and I have created a web site/blog, http://www.BurningSerpent.com

Along with pictures of the cards, and some introductory material, we’ve started to add excerpts from the book for the deck, and comments on readings. The Burning Serpent is based on the Lenormand tradition of 19th century divinatory cards that have had a revival in recent years. What Robert and I have tried to do is stay very close to the tradition while adding some deeper layers. The text for each card is on four levels–key words for readings, a deeper look at the traditional meanings, a wider context for that tradition, and finally the specific version that appears in the deck. Lenormand is fascinating because its images are so primal. There are House, Tree, Man, Woman, Fish, Mountain.

The excerpt I’ve put up, with a short comment about a reading, is for a card called The Letter.

Published in: on January 5, 2014 at 3:10 am  Comments (2)  

My novella, The Queen of Eyes, was just published by the magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, one of America’s longest-running magazine. Tomorrow–Labor Day, Sept 2, 2013 as I write this–the brilliant Paul Nagy will be interviewing me for his radio show. In honor of that, I thought I would put an excerpt here. In the story, the mysterious figure known as the Queen of Eyes, a woman who holds all the world’s oracular power, has gone missing, and her daughter has turned to Jack Shade, shaman/magician for hire, to find her. This is the second in what I hope will be an ongoing series of stories about Jack. The first, “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls” was published last year, also in F & SF, and was included in the anthology, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

And now the excerpt–

Jack had met the Queen once, on a California beach just before dawn.
After all his years as a Traveler, after the poltergeist killed his wife and got his daughter banished to the Forest of Souls, after he came close to losing himself in the Ibis Casino, Jack had thought he’d seen everything. Implacable Jack, some called him. But it wasn’t until he met the Queen that Jack understood what it meant to see at all.
It was right after the Sibyl War, the battle between oracular email services that Jack got stuck adjudicating. Jack hadn’t wanted to be involved. These things always ended badly, he told himself. Hermaphrodite Teiresias having to tell Zeus and Hera whether men or women enjoyed sex more—Paris of Troy having to judge a goddess beauty pageant—disasters no matter which side you picked. So he’d really wanted to say no, and in fact, no one had come with his card that time, so theoretically he could have, but the case had come from COLE, the Committee Of Linear Explanation, and they didn’t need his card. Jack owed them.
After Layla’s death, and Eugenia’s disappearance into the Forest, Jack had had no choice but to contact COLE to cover it all up so he wouldn’t have to tell any Normal Police what had happened to Mr. Shade’s family, and where did he get that very nasty cut down the right side of his jaw? So when the Shadow Man stood in Jack’s bedroom and told him the Committee would very much appreciate it if Mr. Shade would act as judge in the conflict between Ghostmail and Jinn-net, what could Jack do? Luckily he’d managed to survive the experience, suggesting that the two systems each launch an IPO and let the market decide. Grateful to not have his insides boiling, or his eyes turned to cockroaches, Jack had left the Night Castle, the Travelers’ hostel on the coast just south of San Jose, and decided to take a walk along the Secret Beach.
He’d been up all night, and the sky was just growing light enough to streak purple and orange and reveal the odd little figurines hidden among the pine trees, when Jack heard a wail, a short, high-pitched blast of sorrow that knocked him backwards. He’d looked all around until he saw a young woman in a tattered black dress kneeling before an older woman whose long hands rested on the young one’s shoulders.
Jack stared and stared at the older figure. She kept changing. One moment she seemed a 50s suburban housewife with brassy hair, the next a businesswoman in a light blue pantsuit, and then something else entirely, dull and wood and covered in leaves, or else with water constantly running down her body, like one of those urban fountains where water streams down a marble wall only to be pumped back to the top to do it all over again.
Jack couldn’t look away. His teacher, Anatolie, had always told him that the main attribute of a Traveler was True Sight, the ability to see things as they really are, and after her training, Jack had considered himself pretty good at it. During his apprenticeship she would send him places—Macy’s ground-floor escalator on Christmas Eve, Herman Melville’s house on Long Island across from the Walt Whitman shopping center, a biker bar on N. Moore Street—and tell him to say what he saw. If he’d reported frantic shoppers checking their lists, Anatolie would bark into his bluetoothed ear “Look again!” and, “Again,” and, “See what there is to see,” the first line of the ancient Traveler’s Directive: See what there is to see/Hear what there is to hear/Touch whatever you touch/Speak the thing you must speak. Only when he could tell her that for some riders the escalator did not end at the 2nd floor, but rose and rose until they were swallowed in a green cloud would Anatolie grunt and say, “Good enough, Jack. Come home now.”
So Jack had stared at the woman, trying to figure just what the hell she was, until the younger one, the one on her knees, the one who didn’t change shape but only bent forward and wept, suddenly cried out, as if something had burned her. “Hey!” Jack called, “what are you doing to her?”
The young woman didn’t move but the older one lifted her head, and without looking at him, she’d said, “John Shade, you have no stake here. Leave now, without blame.”
Confused, Jack had wondered if he’d met her. It was never good when someone knew your name and you had no idea of theirs. Was she some kind of Power? But it didn’t matter, he’d decided, he couldn’t just walk away. He’d done that too much in his life.
“No,” he’d said, and hoped he sounded confident. “Not until you tell me what is going on.”
For a moment, the woman had stayed still, but then she nodded, as if to herself, and turned to face him. She looked now like some ancient forest creature standing on its hind legs, for leaves swirled all around her body. Then she raised her hands to frame her face, palms facing Jack, with her fingers together pointing at the sky. “John Shade!” she called, and her voice had cut him like the wind on the stretch of Avenue D that Travelers called The Empty Window. “See what there is to see!”
Jack stared at the hands. The skin appeared to move and shift, to reveal something hidden. Eyes. A large, unblinking eye watched him from each palm, and he wanted to turn away but he couldn’t, he could only look, until eyes appeared within the eyes, and more eyes on the fingertips, and Jack discovered he could see out of every one of them, see everywhere, everything, all at once.
Around the world, so-called psychics were looking, searching—cards laid on silk cloths, hungry faces staring into crystal balls, nervous hands casting cowrie shells or bamboo sticks, fingertips on photos or trinkets of the dead—they were all trying to see. And most had no idea that it all passed through her. The open channel, the transformer. Mariq Nliana. The Queen of Eyes.
When Jack tried to look away, he’d discovered the eyes were all over his body, like a swarm of spiders. He wanted to swat them but didn’t dare, for fear of what they might show him if he got them angry. And then it was over. He was himself again, standing on a rocky beach with pine trees behind him, and hidden in the high grass the small grimacing figurines that may or may not have been carved, but were certainly far older than the trees.
The Queen had settled on her corporate woman-of-the-world-look. Pant suit, smart, expensive shoes, shoulder-length blonde hair. She looked, oddly, like a former Secretary of State. The young woman was still on her knees but now rested her head against the Queen’s belly while the Queen stroked her hair. Looking past the girl, the Queen said gently, “You did well, Jack. Go home now and rest.”

Published in: on September 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm  Comments (5)  

THE SEE OF LOGOS–August 1, 2013

Recently I’ve been working with Robert Place on our joint project, THE BURNING SERPENT ORACLE a creative version of the classic Lenormand fortune-telling deck. Today I was reading of some exciting research done in the British Museum by Mary Greer, Marcus Katz, and Tali Goodwin. In the middle of reading this news I decided to take out my SEE OF LOGOS, a hand-written oracle deck composed of 32 predictions.

The title card reads as follows:
The See of Logos
Dreams and Prophecies
Guaranteed 100% Accuracy!

I originally did this as a kind of surreal satire on the vague predictions we sometimes see from newspaper psychics. In the See, predictions are the absurd opposite of vague! And yet, they have taken on a strange and powerful relevance, if not truth, to the moment.

So here is what came up (random shuffle, of course) when I was pondering the origins of cartomancy:

Your body is an Engine of Prophecy. Thousands of years old, you were constructed by a team of seers and alchemists. Evert hair, every fold of skin, every bend of your joints, they all symbolize hermetic wisdom of future events. All the people you know–your parents, your teachers, even your childhood friends, are all magicians who have come to study you, your gestures, the length of your fingernails, the fall of your hair, as they search for clues to God’s messages on how to find a path through this blindly terrifying world.

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm  Comments (5)  


Lately I’ve been indulging myself in listening to the audio of my two novels.

There’s something very exciting about hearing your own words read by serious actors, almost as if they have nothing to do with you.

Probably some readers of this blog will know my Tarot books more than my fiction (or for that matter, my comic books). Some of my fiction does indeed have tarot content, especially the collection Tarot Of Perfection. And in fact, a couple of people have actually read stories from the book on Youtube.

As wonderful as it is to have my readers like a story enough to put it on Youtube (thanks, guys!), hearing a whole book read is just a special treat.

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm  Comments (1)  


I’m taking the unusual step here of using this space to link directly to another blog, that of Caitlin Matthews, author, scholar, and spiritual teacher.


Together with her husband John, Caitlin has produced a truly astonishing body of work, both in its scope and the very high level of art and commitment to spiritual tradition. This past December John decided to give Caitlin a copy of my limited “Art Deck” edition of the Shining Tribe Tarot. This set consists of individually made archival prints of the original artwork, plus five extra cards. The run is limited to 78 copies (the number of cards in the traditional Tarot), and when we began it I honestly thought we’d sell a handful of copies. We’ve so far sold 54 (Caitlin’s was 52, which of course is the number of cards in a regular deck).

What I love about Caitlin’s article is that it exemplifies what I consider the best use of the Tarot. Not to predict the future, or even to provide psychological insights–valuable as both these qualities are–but as a genuine spiritual guide, even a partner as we move through difficult times. Once, during one of my own hard times, I took up the deck and said to it “Take me home.” The three cards I turned up did just that, lifting me out of my despond into a wider awareness of myself and the situation.

What I also love about what Caitlin did is that it doesn’t work from a pre-determined spread. Instead, there is a back and forth dialogue between her and the cards, allowing not just “prayer” as she calls it, but a real conversation.


Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm  Comments (5)  


(On Dec. 8, 2012, a small group, 12, met to try a kind of experiment. We would make a personal contract with the Tarot, letting the Tarot offer benefits but also what it expected from us, accepting or rejecting different parts, and offering our own terms as well. The results were very exciting. Below, slightly edited, is the description I wrote up ahead of time.)

What if we could make an actual contract with the Tarot, laying out what we expect from it? We might include spiritual guidance,, or clarity, or the ability to let us help people, or maybe make a living as a professional card reader. At the same time we also would have to include what we will commit to from our side. This might be daily readings for a period of time, or promising never to use the cards for manipulation. How would we create such a contract?

The idea to do this comes from a story a friend told me of a medium she knew. As I recall the story, when the woman’s medium powers began to emerge she found it exciting but also frightening. She knew the stories of mediums whose lives became overwhelmed and she didn’t want that to happen. So she offered a contract with her guides. She would be fully available to them at specified times, as long as they backed off otherwise. And it worked, my friend said. The woman’s mediumship was doing really well, and so was her life.

So I thought, what if we could do something similar with the cards? The idea may seem strange but in fact it invokes an old magical tradition. In the West, such ideas are usually demonized, and so we get the many stories of deals with the Devil signed in blood.

But maybe such stories are meant to scare people from an underlying truth. We can make a contract, not with some evil being, but with spiritual energy, including the life-giving power in the cards. In some African traditions priests and priestesses make specific commitments with their ancestral spirits. Shamans form partnerships with their guides and powers.

“Magic always has a price,” people say. Maybe we can make a contract instead of just blindly paying whatever price is demanded of us!

(Following are the instructions given to the class)


Choose a card to represent the Tarot in the contract “discussion.” You can do this by consciously choosing a card. (The Devil? Justice? King of Swords?) or shuffling and picking three cards at random, then seeing which is best.

Shuffle. Choose three cards to represent what the Tarot is offering you. Discuss with group. Make notes of your impressions, then discuss further. Select between one and three for what you will be willing to accept of what the Tarot is offering. Since you are negotiating a contract you are not required to blindly accept whatever the Tarot is offering you.

If you reject all three, take two more, then choose one or both (you don’t get to go back to the first three but now have to work with the two on offer, just as in any contract negotiation). If you reject both of those, take one more for Tarot’s final offer (again, the two are now off the table).

After you have chosen, set aside whatever cards or cards you decide you would like from what the Tarot is offering you. Return the other cards to the deck.

Shuffle. Choose three cards for what the Tarot is asking of you. Follow same process as above, including discussion and taking notes to develop your ideas. Again, you can reject the first group of three, and ask for two more, then one more. Once again, set aside the cards you chose.

You now have the Tarot’s position—what it’s offering, and what it’s asking of you.

Now you need to develop your own position.

Look through the deck face up and choose one to three cards to represent what you would like to get from this contract. The High Priestess might say you want the Tarot to give you wisdom and insight, the Hermit that you want to hold out a light of guidance to others. On the other hand, the 10 of Pentacles, or the World, might say you hope to make money and become a famous Tarot reader. Take notes and set aside as before.

Look through the deck again and choose one to three cards to represent what you are offering the Tarot. For instance, Justice might say you will promise to be honest and fair in your readings, or the Queen of Cups might say you will be compassionate and dedicated, the 8 of Pentacles in the Rider deck that you will be hard-working and dedicated.

Add, if you wish, a card or cards that might represent limitations. For example, the 10 of Cups in the Rider (a happy family celebrating the rainbow) might say you don’t want the cards to interfere with your family life. The 4 of Swords might say “I don’t want to be woken up by dreams of Tarot or people wanting emergency readings.”

Now you should have a group of cards representing what the Tarot is offering you and what it is asking of you, and another group representing what you are offering the Tarot and hope to get from it. Based on these cards and your understanding of them, write up your contract.

You don’t have to include everything the cards are asking of you, or everything you would like to get. Try to make it a contract that the card you chose at the beginning to represent the deck—Justice, or the Devil, or the King of Swords—would be willing to sign, as well as something meaningful to you.

(Those were the instructions. I then gave them elegant parchment-like paper to write their contracts, had them sign and date it, with the person they’d worked with signing as a witness, then they each gave the contract to me for me to sign as the teacher and include a stamp that showed a house with mysterious writing filling the structure. Thus the contract was official.)

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 2:11 am  Comments (7)  

An interview and a review on my birthday

Just in time for my birthday (August 17–reading to come, and an exciting announcement!) I received the links for a special interview concerning my story “Jack Shade In The Forest Of Souls” in the current issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Here is the link, followed by the text:


- Tell us a little about “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls.”

I would refer to this story as shamanic noir. Jack is a present day private eye occultist shaman, who deals with the supernatural, and travels to other dimensions for people who hire him. Jack is tough, smart, sophisticated, but as in the classic noir stories, is likely to be scammed by his clients who have their own agendas. Again, as with the noir tradition, Jack has a tortured past, a terrible secret which gets revealed, but not resolved, at the end of the story. I envision “Forest of Souls” as the first of a series featuring Jack, and his attempts to undo the disastrous mistake he made early in his career.

- What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

This has been one of the fun aspects of this story. It was inspired by two very different works, and merging them together was part of what drove the writing. Some months back I was on a road trip and brought along an audio of Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece Pale Fire. The book takes the form of a long poem, the “Pale Fire” of the title, followed by an extensive commentary supposedly written by a lunatic professor who believes the poem is secretly about him. I’d read it years ago but now as I listened to the poem itself I was struck by its beauty and poignancy. The fictional poet writes about his lifelong fascination with death and the afterlife, now made urgent by the suicide of his daughter. He also tells how his daughter was fascinated by the occult and tried to organize a ghost hunt. The name of the poet is John Shade, and as I listened I began to play with the name, Jack Shade, and how it sounded both tough and occult. Suddenly I thought of the old TV show, Have Gun, Will Travel, a noir Western with Richard Boone as a decadent poker player in San Francisco who secretly makes his money as a hired gunslinger. Bringing these together was a real delight. The title, by the way, is a kind of shout-out to the readers of my books on tarot, one of which is called The Forest of Souls. The title of that book is metaphoric; in the short story the Forest of Souls is an actual place.

- What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

Well, aside from my half century or so of reading works on occultism, magic, shamanism, Kabbalah, and mythology–not much. Seriously, while there are some actual references to the occult–notably “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Sage”–most of the magic in the story is invented. My goal (as in other of my works) was to create contemporary versions of traditional shamanic practices. Thus, the entrance to the Forest of Souls is a door marked “Employees Only,” in a garage on 57th St. in Manhattan.

- What might you want a reader to take away from “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls”?

Excitement at a good story and a likable character, fascination with Jack’s “tradition,” and hopefully a desire to read further adventures.

- Some authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, then in what way is this story personal?

It brings together some of my favorite things–urban fantasy grounded in both occultism and shamanic practice, private eye stories, and, incidentally, my love of poker. In the old “Have Gun, Will Travel” series Paladin would often be playing poker in his elegant hotel, only to be interrupted by his servant bringing the famous business card on a silver tray. I borrowed this for my opening, updating the poker game to Texas Hold ‘Em.

- What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a novel, The Child Eater, and then I look forward to writing the next Jack Shade story, “The Queen of Eyes.”

- Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I hope Nabokov would have been entertained by my unusual tribute.

And further–I also received a great review of my book Tarot Wisdom.


And as I said above, I’ll be posting a special birthday reading in the next few days, along with an exciting announcement.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm  Comments (3)  

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