Today is February 2, a significant day for me. Not only do several good friends celebrate their birthdays this day, but it is the birthday of James Joyce, one of my literary heroes (in retrospect, it might not have been the best choice to have Joyce as my model for the first few issues I wrote of the comic book Doom Patrol).
Every year on this day–which is also Brigid’s Day, the goddess/saint of poetry, prophecy, and the eternal fire– I read out loud passages from Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s mighty dream book, whose first sentence (beginning “river run, past Eve and Adam’s”) is in fact the ending of a sentence that begins as the book’s final words (“A way a last a lone a loved a long the”).
Last year Fern Mercier and Lyn Olds in New Zealand invited a group of tarot people to write letters to people from earlier times, with tarot as a theme. These were then published as a special exhibit in the Southern Symposium Tarot Conference. The exhibit was then shown in France and Italy, and will be displayed next year in Toronto and London.
Some wrote to A. E. Waite, some to famous magicians, but I immediately thought of a letter to Mr. Joyce (as he was known in the Paris literary world). Below is the text of the letter, reproduced with the kind permission of the conference organizers, and not to be copied or reproduced in any form. I hope very much that people will respect that.
river run, past Eve and Adam’s
Dear Mr. Joyce,
Recently the world celebrated your 129th birthday, also called Imbolc, Candlemas, and St. Brigid’s Day. Those ancient celebrations reveal your true nature, that thousands of years before your physical form people began to sense that this cross-quarter day would be the time of reading lines of poetry and prophecy.
As I always do on your birthday I read from Finnegans Wake, the book of all things. And then I wondered how the other book of all things, the tarot, appears in the Wake. There was no question that it would be there. Everything is, especially prophecy and soothsaying.
And will again, if so be sooth by his elders to his youngers shall be said.
What tarot readers can understand from this vital line is how to understand predictions. They are not detached statements that have nothing to do with the events they describe. Nor do they actually cause events…Instead, they allow events to happen, events that need to happen but cannot until the prophecy is made.
So then where is the tarot itself in the Wake? I consulted the modern blind seer, Google, and found that in the book there is a fortune-telling reading with playing cards. In the middle of cards like the King of Hearts and the Ace of Clubs there appears the Wheel of Fortune: the card of eternal recurrence, of Finnegan rising and falling, of the Woman, the River, who falls as rain from the sky, flows among us as the River, then returns to the sea.
Then the seer brought me to a man who revealed/reminded me that your own self is in the book. Shem the Penman, your stand-in, bears the name of Shem, son of Noah, the primordial sailor and the inventor of alchemy, magic, and divination.
Two oracles, the book and the tarot. I asked the cards, the Celtic Wisdom Tarot, what I should ask you.
Card 1 was card 1, The Decider, also called The Magician. How did you make your choices? How did the song, “Finnegan’s Wake” lead you to the great giant’s awakening?
Card 2 was card 2, the Renewer, the High Priestess. This is the card of the feminine, the mother/daughter/river/wife. Does the river carry prophecies only to have them dissolve into the sea?
Card 3 was card 12—1 plus 2 producing 3—the Dedicator, the Hanged Man, which shows a blindfolded initiate. With your thick glasses and your eye-patched eye, this is you, isn’t it? The initiated blind seer—Odin, Teiresias, hanging on the World Tree.
A way a last a lone a loved a long the