Recently I was having an email discussion with my nephew about science, and in particular Einstein. It reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago (around the time of “A Prayer For Art”–see below), in which I imagined that Einstein was a cartoonist and his great theories were a syndicated strip. The inspiration for this was the way his “gendanken-experimenten” (“thought experiments”) were sometimes shown in popular books about Relativity in a cartoon-like fashion.

Is there a connection to my usual subject matter? Well, in my book Forest Of Souls, I have a chapter in which I write about Special Relativity as the great Gnostic text of the twentieth century, based on the idea that only the speed of light is absolute, and therefore all the things we assume are real, such as matter, form, and time, are in fact, relative. And then I related this to the famous question in esoteric Tarot as to where the Fool goes, before all the other cards, or next to last.

Here’s the poem. I hope people enjoy it.


Cartoonist Al
Drew a feature for the Daily News.
Syndicated popups
Worming holes in scientific worlds.

Style a bit like Eisner’s,
Characters a lot like King Aroo—
Yup Yop in a spaceship
Going ninety per cent the speed of light.

“I’m one of those animals that never forgets,”
Says Mr. Elephant,
Flying backwards round the Sun,
Cranking his trunk
As he tries to remember
The images of soul
Expanding to infinity.

There was a young lady named Bright—

Hey, Einstein, where’s that Sunday feature,
The one about the schmuck
That flies to Betelgeuse
And comes back younger than his grandson?

Good work, Al,
But you gotta speed production
Or your mass will never make it to infinity.

He was working in a patent office,
Testing railroads, rocket ships, and elevators,
When he sold his strip to the Zurich Chronicle.

The Special Theory of Relativity,
Biggest thing since Peanuts.
If Lucy yanks away the football
At the speed of light—

On a ship jerking in a hurricane
Eddington counts the blackness
In the heart of Suns,
Sends a telegram to Einstein
At the comicbook convention:
Mercury is flying in an elevator!

Children swinging from his hair—
Flash bulbs leaping at his eyes—

He falls asleep in a railroad car,
Synchronizing watches with his brother
In the center of the Earth.

At the speed of darkness,
Vision expands to eternity.

They canceled that, you know,
Worried it would scare the kids.

So they ran an old Doonesbury,
Duke and Zonker swimming to Andromeda,
While Einstein rocked in Lurianic darkness,
Throwing dice with God.

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 3:45 am  Comments (4)  


The Prayer For Art in Part One was both serious and tongue-in-cheek, a recognition of the sense that so many creative people have, of there never being enough time to do everything they would like to do (as well as a recognition of everything other people are doing).

The Blessing is more direct. I created it one night to express a deep sense of gratitude I felt after a breakthrough on a novella I’m writing, “The Fissure King.” I wanted a way to express that powerful experience virtually every creative person has (and I am using “creative” in the broadest possible sense), of something moving through them.

It is no accident that I drew on my Jewish background during the period I am working intensely with Robert Place to create The Raziel Tarot, based on Jewish lore and traditions.

The words, and the very idea, come directly from the Jewish tradition of saying blessings for pretty much everything. There’s a whole long list that observant Jews say every morning, and another list for during the day (especially at meals), and then another list for special occasions, and still more for particular situations.

The traditional Hebrew blessing begins B’ruchah Atah Adonai, Eloheynu, melech ha’olam usually translated as “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the world,” followed by words for the particular situation.

(A quick comment about “Adonai.” This word, originally Ugaritic, is the plural of “Adon,” or “Lord,” in the same way that “Elohim” usually translated as God, actually is plural, “gods.” Adonai was originally a kind of substitute word for the most sacred Name, the so-called “Tetragrammaton,” YHVH. For traditional Jews, Adonai itself became so holy they do not say it or write it except in prayer. I mean no disrespect in using it here.)

In recent years, feminist Jews have created a kind of female version of this opening phrase, drawing on the idea of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of God. We should recognize that while many Jews assume the God of the Torah is completely male, a Father and King, there is a very ancient tradition that sees God as encompassing female as well as male energy.

The term Shekhinah originally meant the “in-dwelling Presence,” the divine energy that went into the Ark of the Covenant. Over time, however, this word, especially in Kabbalah, came to mean the female aspect of the divine, sometimes called The Sabbath Bride.

In The Raziel Tarot she appears on several cards, envisioned as a woman in The High Priestess and the Justice card, and as a spirit coming to the aged Moses on the Death card.

One version of a female-centered blessing begins B’ruchah Ath Yah, Shekinah Ruach Ha-Olam, or “Blessed are You, Shekhinah [Presence], breath [or soul] of the world.” This is the opening I used for my own blessing of gratitude, for creativity–and for healing.

So, after that too long intro (!), here is my Blessing. it came to me as a gift, and in that spirit I offer it to any who might find it meaningful.

B’ruchah Ath Yah
Shekhinah Ruach ha-Olam

Blessed are you, God,
Presence, Breath of the World

Who has traveled through me,
And delivered me gifts.

Published in: on February 13, 2016 at 4:50 am  Comments (1)  


Recently, probably from working on The Raziel Tarot, with Robert Place, I came up with a blessing, part Hebrew and part English, that is actually an expression of gratitude for that experience that so many of us have had, doing creative work, or reading cards, or some other activity where we experience something moving through us.

And then last night, while looking through a folder of my poetry–some of it going back to the 70’s!–I came across a poem called Prayer For Art that is really about the sense so many of us feel when we are overwhelmed by all the things we want to do, and how little time there seems to be.

That’s certainly been going on with me recently. As well as creating The Raziel Tarot, and the great unfolding of ideas in my collaboration with Robert–and working on the book to go with the deck–I’ve been writing a novella featuring my recent hero, Jack Shade, and I just sent a novel-in-progress to my agent, who is as excited as I am about it (sorry, no details right now). Oh, and I’ve also been creating necklaces.

So–I’ll start with the poem, which is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not really, and then, because the blessing requires more background, do that as Part Two.

The poem, called a “prayer” is a chant. I find that when I read it, especially out loud (softly, to myself) I move back and forth in rhythm with the lines. Try it.


There is so much work to be done
And so much work being done
And so much work not being done

And so much work to think of doing
And so much work done already

And so much work that will be done
And so much work that can be done
And so much work that cannot be done

And so much work that has never been done
And so much work that never will be done

Published in: on February 12, 2016 at 3:28 pm  Comments (4)  


Last Wednesday, which happened to be the day after Rosh HaShanah, I had my final chemo treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This was a good day to do this, since the Jewish New Year (which paradoxically takes place in the 7th month) traditionally marks the anniversary of Creation, and thus a renewal. It also marks the beginning of the ten Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and a very active spiritual time. I decided to take along my cards and do a reading while I was having the treatment. The deck was my personal copy of the Shining Tribe Art Deck, which is made from the original art, and hand-cut, and thus has no titles or borders. Here is a picture of the cards.

2015-09-17 23.07.27

Before I describe the cards I should explain the form. The top two cards are what I call “Teacher” cards, derived by cutting the deck and looking at the bottom of each pile. The first card was at the bottom when I finished shuffling, the second after I cut the deck and put the bottom pile on top.

The middle line is the basic reading, a spread created by Zoe Matoff that has become my favorite go-to spread, for matters large and small. The middle card goes first, then the card on the left, then the one on the right. 2 1 3

1. The situation, what is going on.
2. Don’t do. This card on the left represents an action or approach that would not help the situation. This is often the most valuable card, since it can reveal our inclination or habitual response.
3. Do. An action or approach that will benefit the situation.

These three are the reading as originally developed by Zoe. I often add a fourth card, the one shown here by itself, below the line of three. This card signifies what can result from this situation, how it might evolve.

The Teacher Cards
The Four of Rivers (on the left). This card is about renewal, letting go of an old self and consciously taking on a new and more meaningful life. It is also directly linked to Rosh HaShanah (notice the shofar, or ram’s horn on the upper left). There is a ceremony done on Rosh HaShanah called tashlich, in which people cast bread crumbs into a stream or river, to symbolize casting off, or releasing, their negative actions or emotions of the previous year. When I was creating the Shining Tribe deck I somehow had the idea that there was an earlier version of this ritual, in which people cast off an old worn-out garment and put on something new. Though I’ve never found any evidence of this, I drew it for the card. The figure has given up a torn, ragged robe, and put on a Jewish prayer shawl.

I’ve actually done this ritual, myself, and with others. When I led a group of people on a sacred journey in Greece some years ago I told everyone to bring some old article of clothing, and something white that they’d never worn before. We did an overnight ritual on the beach to Aphrodite, who was born out of the sea at dawn and clothed by the Hours. Each person took off their “something old” and entered the water. then when they emerged two others dressed them in the new clothing. (And yes, I am aware that Aphrodite is a Pagan Goddess! A friend, who’s an ordained minister, once told me how she had to write down her faith on a hospital form, and put “Druidic.” i wondered what I might put and instantly thought “Heresy.”)
As a Teacher card, the Four of Rivers told me it was time to cast off the torn garment of my year of sickness, and be renewed.

The World card (on the right). This is the ultimate card in the Major Arcana, the final integration and liberation of the spirit. Seen here it becomes more than a Teacher, it promises wholeness and healing. The World card is a personal emblem for me. It’s on the home page of my website,, and on my business card, and will be engraved on the barrel of a fountain pen that is being made for me to mark my 70th birthday (which took place on Aug. 17, almost exactly a month before the end of chemo).

The Three Cards
1 (in the middle). The Fool. The flying child in the Fool card signifies a complete new beginning, a return to freedom and instinct. At the opposite end of the Major Arcana from the World, it bears the number 0, from which all things are possible. In many ways, this is the perfect card to receive at the end of such a grueling treatment as six months of chemotherapy, which itself followed six months of illness.

2 (on the left, Don’t Do). The Ten of Stones (Ten of Pentacles, or Coins in traditional decks). While this card has its spiritual side, it speaks to me here, in the Don’t Do position, of being too concerned with the details of re-establishing my life, perhaps the economic issues. Even that spiritual aspect, shown in the totem images on the stones, can become a “Don’t Do,” if it becomes too obsessive, too caught up in details.

3. (on the right, Do). The Gift of Rivers (Queen of Cups). This is quite simply the gift of love, both emotional and spiritual. Two rivers merge into one, and where they meet we see a shining bowl that represents the Holy Grail of healing. So what I should do is quite simply acknowledge, and accept, the great gift of healing, and the love that sustained me. Also, be joyous. Do not do details, do joy.

The Fourth Card
4. (bottom row, by itself, what can come from this situation/moment). The Hanged Woman (Hanged Man). Many people see the Hanged Man in very negative terms, including being stuck, painful sacrifice, even treason (based on Renaissance Italy “shame paintings” of supposed traitors hanged upside down). For me, the Hanged Man has always been a deeply spiritual card, in some ways the very key to the Tarot’s message.

When I created my Hanged Woman I tried to make the picture deliberately playful to show there was not pain. The card is about attachment to the great Tree of existence, the Tree of Life, not as a Kabbalistic diagram, but as a living and vibrant connection with existence, a tree with its roots in the dark waters and its branches among the stars. Thus, it becomes a truly wonderful image for “what can come” from this moment of finishing the grueling months of chemotherapy–and all the fear surrounding it.

Two things worth noting about the card: 1. The posture is very much like the World dancer, but with the arms tucked in, and of course upside down, a kind of mirror image. 2. The Hanged Woman is card 12, the following card, 13, is Death. So, in the most literal meaning, what can come from this situation is not death, but life. And indeed, one of the “secrets” of the Hanged Man or Woman is that it is an image of birth, for we emerge from our mothers head first.

This blog post is dedicated to David Schaar

Published in: on September 23, 2015 at 3:03 am  Comments (4)  


As some of you know, I collect and write with fountain pens. I also occasionally send letters to people,in which I try to have some interesting paper or card for the first page. When I sent a copy of my book, The Child Eater ( to Camelia Elias I decided to go all out, calling it A Letter In Four Pictures. Here is her delightful response.


Letter from Rachel Pollack (Photo: Camelia Elias) Letter from Rachel Pollack (Photo: Camelia Elias)

When the Goddess comes to visit she comes in the shape of a magical writer. She writes on embossed stationary and golden cards. There are dunes and holes in the paper, and you swear that you can smell something resembling sand by the beach in a far away Northern country.

The Goddess uses three different inks: Purple, green, and blue. She introduces her allies to you: ‘Usually Queen Elephant does not consort with King Frog in the same letter, but they both wanted to meet you.’

Letter from Rachel Pollack (Photo: Camelia Elias) Letter from Rachel Pollack (Photo: Camelia Elias)

She tells stories of other magicians, and insists on the theatricality of the Real. The real is not just a ballet coming out of Bruce Lee’s belly. She extends Rabbinic thought with cautionary tales of Lilith as a street worker, back doors and naughty men giving their semen to Goddesses…

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Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  


My novel, THE CHILD EATER, was published in America July 7, after previously coming out in Great Britain, where it was listed in The Guardian’s Notable Books of the Year. Here, it’s already received a terrific review from NPR online.

If anyone is interested in setting up interviews, or reviewing the book, please contact Alex Knight, at

Meanwhile, the paperback edition has come out in Britain, and for that I contributed an essay, Magic In The Child Eater, which I’m including here.

The Child Eater is about many things—heroism, secrets, child abuse, flying, and two boys who are bound together without ever knowing of each other’s existence. It is also about magic.
Magic is a major part of Matyas’s world. Though the wizards officially serve the king and nobility, they themselves are the true power. This is part of why Matyas wants to become a Master, for he hopes that magical power will allow him to escape the brutality and shame of his childhood.
Simon Wisdom’s world appears closer to our own, but magic hums beneath the surface. While Matyas actually becomes a sorcerer, Simon struggles to suppress what he and his father take to be simple psychic powers. It is only when Simon can glimpse the greater magical structure surrounding him that he can do what he needs to save himself, and generations to come, from the hidden figure of the Child Eater.
In creating a magical underpinning for the book, I wanted to make it a world of its own, rather than relying on an existing magical system. Of necessity I would take ideas from different sources, but not simply import a complete structure into my story.
I also wanted my sources to be not the ones we see all the time. It often seems to me that certain traditions get over-used in contemporary fantasy. Celtic Faerie lore has fueled a vast number of books, some beautifully written, but for me, at least, it has come to feel overly familiar. Almost the same goes for what some call Western Ceremonial Magic (or magick, as Aleister Crowley called it), with all its hordes of demons and angels summoned to serve the magician.
I realized as I tried to develop the book’s magic that it would need two things. The first was a sense of an overall structure, and a history that would lie behind it. The second was the actual experience of magic—what the power, and the knowledge, felt like, and what it might be to experience and understand the world in a completely different way. The power to cast spells, to alter reality itself, would certainly overwhelm someone who discovered he or she could do that. One of my favorite scenes in the book occurs when Matyas, now grown and a Master, returns to his parents’ inn, and then simply stands in a room, stunned at the realization of all the terrible punishments he could bring upon his father.
This is magic as personal power. For Simon it comes when he confronts bullies by saying out loud all their secret thoughts the second after they think them. There is another level of magic, however, when the Master suddenly perceives the vast and beautiful magical universe itself. To hint at such an experience, I drew upon Peter Lamborn Wilson’s passionate essay about Charles Fourier, in Wilson’s book, Escape From the Nineteenth Century. Fourier, who lived at the time of the French Revolution, believed that true revolution does not simply create a more just society, but changes consciousness itself. He believed that we see only a limited range of colors, hear only a narrow range of harmonies. Revolution must open the cosmos to us.
In the novel, I attributed these teachings to the mysterious founder of the Academy, Florian, whose writings most wizards find too difficult. Matyas studies them, not sure why, until the moment comes when he experiences a personal revelation. Carrying wood for his teacher’s fire he looks up at the Moon, seemingly caught in the horns of a tower, and suddenly he sees colors beyond colors, hears sounds beyond sounds, discovers the ordinary world transformed into wonder and beauty. Without even knowing it he begins to teach, to share, and all the wizards, and their students, and even the spirits, known in the book as The Splendor, gather round him.
For Simon, and his father Jack, magic becomes a thing of fear, in the person of the mysterious Man In Gray, who enters their lives in crucial moments. They will finally know him as the Child Eater, a sorcerer whose great power depends on hurting children. Veil, Matyas’s teacher, tells him that what the sorcerer does, known as the “Spell of Extension,” is a flaw in Creation itself, and the Creator wept when She discovered she could not make a world that did not contain it.
The idea for this spell came from a bizarre Jewish legend I discovered while reading The Tree Of Souls: Jewish Mythology, by the great Howard Schwartz, whose writings on Jewish folklore have influenced me for many years. Schwartz tells of the teraph, a talking head that can foretell the future. The origin of this idea comes from a mysterious Bible passage, where Rachel has married Jacob and the two leave her father’s tents to return to his homeland. The Bible tells us that she took her father’s teraphim (plural), but not what these are other than valuable, and small enough to hide among her belongings. Most commentators see them as “household gods,” but that’s a problem, since it would make the Mother Of Israel an idol-worshipper.
Over time, speculation about the teraph moved further and further from its origins. In the Middle Ages the idea developed that an evil sorcerer could lure a boy away from his parents just before he would be due to be bar mitzvahed, decapitate the poor child, and use his head as an oracle. In the novel, however, the Child Eater seeks something more basic than foreknowledge—life itself.
For the background to magic in the book I turned once again to Jewish myth, a famous and deeply mysterious story from the Talmud, “The Four Rabbis Who Entered Paradise.” It tells how the great Rabbi Akiva led three of his disciples into the heavenly palaces, and how all but Akiva came to a bad end. In the novel, Florian, her teacher, Joachim, and a mysterious unnamed “Other” travel “behind the Veil of the Creator” to seek help for humanity. Florian and Joachim return unharmed—and with the power of magic—but the third becomes corrupted, with a destiny that will work itself out over thousands of years.
Finally, there is the Tarot Of Eternity, which appears in different places throughout the novel. As someone who has read Tarot cards, and taught and written about them, for nearly fifty years, I am well aware that the cards originated as a game in Italy in the early fifteenth century, and only much later became associated with fortune-telling and spiritual symbolism. But I also am aware of a powerful myth about the cards, what I call their “secret origin.” In 1781, around the time of Fourier’s visions, two French scholars and Freemasons made the bold claim that the Tarot originated in Ancient Egypt and contained all the great teachings disguised as a game. This idea took off, and ever since, people have argued not whether the Tarot contains hidden secrets, but rather which ones.
In the novel, the Tarot Of Eternity—the “original” Tarot—does not foretell the future (Simon can do that all by himself), but acts as a link between the millennia, and, ultimately, Simon and Matyas. Near the beginning, Matyas encounters the cards, or rather what their magician owner calls “a copy of a copy of a copy.” He tells Matyas an ancient saying: “Whosoever holds the true Tarot Of Eternity, he shall be healed of all his crimes.” Matyas will not understand this until the very end of the book.

Published in: on July 24, 2015 at 2:57 pm  Comments (4)  

Amazing review of Shining Tribe Tarot

Anita Perez, who is a brilliant Tarotist and shaman, has done a review of my Shining Tribe Tarot that is as much a personal journey as a commentary on the deck. One thing for sure, it’s not the usual detached intellectual approach found in most reviews. For myself, I consider it the most amazing review I’ve ever received and I wanted to share it here.

When you’re there click on the link for her other blogposts, at The Metaphysician’s Journal. I’ll add the link here as well.

The Shining Tribe deck is out of print but I have copies if anyone should want one. There is also a limited edition Art Deck, printed directly from the original art, and hand cut on special paper. If anyone is interested in either one, write to me at

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Here is a wonderful article by Camelia Elias, about a reading she did on inspiration with the Burning Serpent Oracle. Besides developing a fascinating technique, it also demonstrates how the Burning Serpent can be used for what I call Wisdom readings. I’ve been doing such readings–asking a question about existence rather than just personal issues–with Tarot for a long time, and have recently started doing it with the BSO as well.


In a recent discussion with Rachel Pollack about inspiration, I suggested that we look at the etymology of the word. From Latin, inspirare, to be inspirited or to inspire, inspiration means not only ‘to breathe,’ but also to receive divine guidance when breathing in a certain way. What is thus suggested in this word is the idea that there is a breath that is transcendent. For me, then, any inspired kind of breathing is akin to a heroic act that reminds me of my first kiss.

IMG_4226I am fortunate enough to not only have such private conversations with Rachel, a brave woman of great wisdom and incisive reflective capacity, but also to receive her breathing my way manifested as words and through her own works. It excites me as well to see how she thinks of me, always inspiring me to do more, and be more. Here’s her dedication to…

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Published in: on January 24, 2015 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  


Recently I was asked to join some 200 writers worldwide in compiling a book of prayers to angels. Now, I’m usually not that angel-focused, but I immediately thought of the angel Raziel, who revealed the Book of Secrets to Adam in the Garden of Eden. The Book was said to be one of seven things that existed before Creation. When I did some research I found that not only did the Book impart mystical secrets, but it also revealed the future (we also can say that not only did it reveal the future, it also imparted mystical secrets). Thus, Joseph, the great image of the diviner in the Hebrew bible, was said to have used it when he did his dream interpretation, and when he scryed from his cup (Genesis 44:5)

My favorite way to write a prayer is to use African “praise song” model, where we don’t ask for anything, but sing the wonders of the being called upon.

As soon as I started writing this it came through in a great burst. The Hebrew phrase at the end, Kayn y’hi ratzon, was said by the priests of the ancient temple, and now some modern Jews. It’s usually translated as “May it be so, by God’s will.” I thought the Pagan saying at the end of ceremony, “So mote it be,” was much the same thing.

A Prayer For Diviners

We sing our angel Raziel,
Giver of secrets, giver of letters.
He who gave the Book,
Blessed among the seven wonders that lived before Creation.
The Book of Secrets—

All that is hidden, all that will come,
Known and seen long ago, revealed in Paradise,
Sung to Adam, to Eve,
Soft among the leaves and pomegranates.

The Book—not pages—a sapphire—radiant
With letters of flame.
Praise Raziel, who gave it to Adam, to Eve,
Hidden from the angels, hidden even
From Gabriel of the Horn, Raphael the Healer,
Star-eyed Michael of the Sword, even Uriel, the Light of God—

Known only to Eve, only to Adam,
The Book of Secrets,
Passed to Noah to light the Ark,
To Abraham and Sarah concealed in their cave,
To Joseph, our beloved, our brother, our ancestor,
Joseph the Diviner, Joseph the Dreamer, who saw all that was hidden,
All future, all beauty.

We sing and praise you, Raziel!
Giver of Secrets, Giver of Letters, Giver of Truth
Kayn y’hi ratzon
So mote it be.

All diviners, of all traditions, may use this prayer,
And all those who seek illumination
And mysteries revealed.

Published in: on September 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm  Comments (4)  

Short (short) story

I’m working on a new novella for my shamanic noir hero, Jack Shade. This will be the third in the series, after “Jack Shade In The Forest Of Souls,” and “The Queen Of Eyes.”

I’ve just come to a passage that I realize could stand on its own, as a short-short story. That seems to be kind of a thing these days, so I thought, why not show it here? I won’t give the context, it really does work all by itself.

Here it is:

Jack had once made love to a blind woman, who’d seduced him by telling that she could see when having sex. What she didn’t say was that he would become blind. At first he’d gotten angry, and started to push her away, but she clung to him, saying “Please, Jack, let me have this. Your sight will come back, I promise.” So Jack had discovered what it was like to make love entirely by feel. After, he lay in bed while his partner got up, and for a moment he panicked when sight did not come flooding back. But soon flashes came and went, and then glimpses. He saw her standing in front of a full length mirror, staring and touching, urgently connecting finger knowledge to shapes she would try to memorize. Jack didn’t get up until his sight had fully returned. Then he walked over to where she still stood before the mirror, her blank eyes weeping. “I’m sorry,” he said, and tried to hold her, but she pushed him away.
“Go,” she said. “Please.”
“We could do it again. If not now—”
“No! It only works once. Then—then I have to find someone else.” Jack had gathered up his clothes and gotten dressed in the hallway, then let himself out.

Published in: on August 17, 2014 at 3:15 am  Comments (6)