EP118 Esotericism with Susan Chang and Mel Meleen

Susan, Mel and Andrew talk about esotericism in Tarot and as a magical practice. Sharing what they have gotten from it and what you might too. Also talking about personal successes and challenges they have had a long the way. If you have been interested in the conjunction of astrology, magic and tarot you should listen to this episode. 

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Episode 118 Transcript

Andrew: Hey folks. thanks for coming back another episode of the podcast! I appreciate it and love the feedback I’ve been getting. If this is your first time welcome too! There are a ton of back episodes to listen to.

Please stop now and think about supporting the show. You can do so through BuyMeACoffee, etransfer, of in PayPal. The money help make sure the podcast is accessible through transcripts. It also supports me doing the work. This episode is the halfway point of the spring season of 6 episodes and we are falling behind on funding the transcriptions. So please don’t think “I’ll get to it” go do it now. The links are in the show notes.

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Andrew: Welcome to another episode of The Hermit’s Lamp Podcast. I’m here today with Susan Chang and Mel Meleen and I know both of them from the Tarot Conference world, and I’ve been sort of interested. Really, I mean, my first love was esoteric things and my interest in it sort of bobs and weaves as I go through time these days. But I thought it’d be interesting to have both of them on to have a chat about esotericism and what it’s about and so on and why people might be interested or not interested. And but first of all, let’s start, whoever would like to go first. If people don’t know, you Susan and Mel, who are you? What are you about, what are you up to? 

Susan: Yeah, Mel, why don’t, why don’t you go first? 

Mel: Oh, you did this to me last [crosstalk]. Okay.

Susan: Some friend.

Mel: Yeah. What do I say? Well, I’m an artist. I write a little, but I’m really more into the art than I am the writing part of things. I’ve been into esoteric since I was a child. So that’s all I have to say for now. 

Andrew: All right. 

Susan: And so I’m T. Susan Chang, but everybody calls me Susie, as you know. The T. Susan Chang is just so that to distinguish me from all the millions of Susan Changs in the world having incredibly common first and last name. I write books, as you know. We’ve got the podcast, Fortune’s Wheelhouse, a joint effort for several years now. I do readings, I teach tarot online, I make Arcana Cases and esoteric perfumes, bunch of stuff like that. And then I have a real world job where I teach writing as well, and occasionally, review cookbooks. But it’s about 80 to 90% tarot at this point. 

Andrew: That’s great. 

Mel: I suppose I should mention that I’ve created a few decks just to bring it back to tarot.

Susan: Yes, you should. 

Mel: Yeah. The whole reason why I’m actually probably here, so. Yeah, I’ve made a few tarot decks in my time.

Andrew: Nice. Yeah, you make some beautiful stuff Mel. It’s really great. 

Mel: Thanks.

Andrew: So, I mean, I guess I will start with the big question, right, which is, we were joking around about this before, before we started the official recording, but what’s the point of esotericism, right? And it’s not a question that I ever asked myself because I discovered the wonderful world of Aleister Crowley when I was 12. And I spent probably a good decade predominantly only with his book Magick in Theory and Practice and Seven Seven Seven, trying to actually make sense of it and do things with it. Living in a small town in the ’80s, there wasn’t a lot of other options around, and I don’t even know how I got onto this person. Maybe they were referenced in a fiction novel or something that I had read, but so for me, tarot was always esoteric, magic was always esoteric. These ideas of spell craft and other things that actually do a lot more of these days than anything else weren’t even a part of my repertoire. So I’m curious, and Mel, you said you started out at a young age, right? How did you find esotericism? 

Mel: I think it was through… My parents were hippies. They were teenagers and when they had me and I just found some interesting books on the bookshelf, astrology books, the I Ching, things like that. And I was probably about five years old and I was picking up the FMRs and trying to find my planets and looking them up in the book. And yeah. Yeah. And Mel also was like you, she was deeply steeped in thought for a long time. Yeah.

Andrew: I’m sure it wasn’t the only option, but it certainly seemed like the only option. It was the only thing I could ever find for a long time, so. Before the glory of the modern age with the internet and 5 million decks at our access. 

Mel: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: How about you, Susan? How did you get into it?

Susan: Well, it’s interesting. I think I had a much more sort of basic, mainstream, boring kind of way in. I think, for me it wasn’t really esotericism, but just the idea of tarot, generally, the idea that there was something beyond this mundane and material world that had me fascinated. And it was, for me, a late development, I really had to get over a hump to be even open to the idea that divination works, that magic works, that any of this works. So by the time I came to esotericism, I mean to the correspondences and to ritual and to things like that, it was really a more recent development for me. So really in the last 10 years, I’d say. And I have to say that the thing about esotericism is that it always appears to have a destination, right? 

It always appears to tell you that you… to connect with your higher self and your holy guardian angel, and to… There’s a very aspirational quality for it. But to me, trying to follow somebody else’s prescription for self-actualization and perfection is not an easy thing to do and it doesn’t always work. I mean, I think, I believe as practitioners, we actually have to kind of find our own way into every world of making meaning for ourselves. And to me, that’s what tarot is. It’s a mechanism for making meaning. And as for the correspondences and for esotericism, it’s, to me, it is really just a starting point.

It’s not a prescription, it’s a starting point for a way to look at life, a way to develop a neural network of things that go together. And it’s not the only way, it’s just one way, and it happens to be there. It’s sort of a genetic code for a lot of modern tarot, so why not use it? But I definitely do not feel doctrinaire about this idea of using our particular version of esoteric tarot the one and only way to get in.

Andrew: Sure. And maybe we should take a quick side note and sort of say, what do we mean by esotericism here, right? And I think that what I mean by it, and correct me if this is different from your understanding, is that there is this history especially in the West, in Europe and in North America over the last, I mean, it depends on where you want to count it, 150 years, maybe a little longer, of looking at things and looking for correlations between them. And so the idea that there are 22 Major Arcana, and there are 22 paths on the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah, is a significant thing that people have written a lot about, that we can understand that this card might be closely related to this astrological planet or to this time of the year, or to this conjunction of planets and assign and so on. As well as to all sorts of other systems of deities and incense and colors and so on and so on. And that collectively, that stuff can be used in divination as well as in ritual and another structures. Does that sound fair?

Susan: That sounds great. Thank you for doing that because I don’t think I could have, on the spur of the moment. And I really feel like, and Mel should correct me if this is not the way she sees it, but I certainly feel like what we do with the podcast and the book is just a way of amassing a lot of this information and making it bioavailable to people, to use as they want. And it’s just a starting point, but it’s a really interesting for a lot of practitioners. And there’s a lot of shared language that people already have because of whatever they’re familiar with, astrology, or… Fewer are familiar with Kabbalah, but growing up in the West, we live and breathe a lot of the stuff without even knowing it. So it’s there and it’s available and just make it available, more available for people to use is the way I see it.

Mel: And it’s a structure and a language. It’s almost like if you have a word that means something in one language, let’s say tarot is a language and we have this word and it’s the hanged man, and then you could say the Kabbalah part of it, this language, and does that word mean in this language, the exact same thing as it means in that other language? Not quite, but it’s close. And so each of these systems is a sort of language and you can find the common meanings and the differences and just use it as a structure for exploration, really.

Susan: Yeah. And I think that when I’m actually doing readings, a lot of the structure just kind of falls away, right? It’s sort of there. You’re a musician, you know how it is. You practice chords, you practice scales, but at the moment that you’re playing, it’s not like you’re thinking about that kind of stuff, it’s just kind of there. And so I sort of feel like that the structure of esoteric tarot has helped to shape the way I view the cards as a reader, but I try not to lean in too hard into that at the moment, at the irregular moment, because it might kind of drown things out. So try to stay open.

Andrew: Yeah. I certainly remember when I was first starting as a professional reader and sometimes I’d be sitting there, I’d be like, I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m like, well, let’s talk about Mars and Aries. Let’s talk about that, right? So Mars and Aries. 

Susan: Yeah, it’s very familiar.

Andrew: And it’s like, oh, well, there’s a thing. Right. There’s an inroad. And I think that.

Susan: Exactly, yeah.

Mel: Yeah, it’s a door opener.

Andrew: Yeah, right? And I think that one of the things that I’ve certainly benefit from, as a reader, and on other levels too, is having this sort of default language to fall back on when nothing else is there, right? And I think people who are learning cards often ask me, how much do you need to memorize? And the answer is, maybe nothing. Depending on how you read, maybe nothing, right?

Susan: Yeah, maybe nothing.

Andrew: However, right, especially if you’re going to be much more, maybe spirit-driven or psychic-driven, it sure is nice to have some knowledge when you reach for that spirit energy stuff and it’s not there. Because my experience is and other people’s may vary that that stuff is not always there, not always accessible. So therefore, having a body of knowledge really is fruitful. 

Susan: Yeah. And I really believe that tarot, like all cosmological systems, whether it’s astrology or Tree of Life or whatever, it’s just a way of looking at the entire world. The entire world is in the tarot, it’s the Book of Life. And when we try to read that book, it’s not helpful to sort of say, well, this can only mean this or this can only mean that. It just limits us. And, so one of the things I teach in my online tarot course, living tarot, is backwards tarot. You take the world and you say, well, how would that look in tarot? If I wanted to express this in tarot, what would it look like? And there’s an assumption, I believe, that that is just a way of talking about the world around you.

So if you can do that, if you can develop that language using whatever structure or not structure. Some people can have an access to their entire worldview without the aid of ladders and systems. But if you can do that, then you never run dry. Then you always have something to say, when it comes to the reading. You always have access to everything in the world that you know, which of course is not everything in the world that everyone knows, but.

Andrew: Sure.

Susan: Something that might be helpful.

Andrew: Yeah. I spent a lot of time when I was studying both Kabbalah and astrology and tarot in the beginning, because I kind of studied them all intermingled. Looking at TV shows I’d be like, all right on Star Trek. Who’s what? Which planet [crosstalk]. Which sefra, which temp? And I think that that stuff is so instructive, and I think that… My only hesitance about it is where people start to take it too literally, right?

Mel: Yes.

Susan: Yes.

Andrew: Where it goes from being, this is a way in which we could talk about stuff and we could understand that there’s a similarity of reference or a similarity of expression, but that that similarity of expression does not equal Wharf equals Aries.

Mel: Right, it’s not one to one, yeah. 

Andrew: There are too many things that are just different there for that to be true, even though.

Mel: But that’s really nice. I really like that.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s a meaningful comparison, right.

Susan: I have this I have this lesson that I teach in my course called what’s your jam, and it’s like, I have people do their own correspondences between the thing they’re super into and the cards. And I’ve had people do. I had one person do this amazing spreadsheet of all the possible fonts they could think of correlated to a different card. I’ve had people do characters from the Walking Dead, characters from Game of Thrones and assigning them to court cards or the majors or whatever. It’s fun it’s good to think that way. And, but as you say, not to get too hung up on it. 

Andrew: Yeah. Well, and I guess I want to circle back to something, I think, you mentioned earlier, which is this sort of idea of moving towards something through esotericism, right?

Mel: Yeah.

Andrew: Because obviously with esoteric tarot the… Well, I wouldn’t even say obviously, but perhaps with esoteric tarot, the idea of moving towards something is less centered in that. But when we talk about esotericism in general and like Western ceremonial stuff, there is often this idea of moving towards something as part of it, right?

Susan: Yeah.

Andrew: That idea of communication with this idea of your guardian angel, this idea of higher levels of consciousness and so on. I’m curious what the two of you think about that.

Susan: Mel, you want to go first on this one?

Mel: Yeah. You always do. Okay. yeah.

Susan: Okay.

Andrew: Let me queue up the hard question and then I’m just going to ask it straight to Mel.

Mel: So, Yeah. I don’t look at tarot specifically as a means of achieving some sort of enlightened state that’s ever higher and leading towards some sort of goal. What it does do for me is it smooths the ways, it opens the ways. It helps you to navigate. It gives you a language and a bridge, a way to… For example, every day I draw two cards, so does Susie, I believe we both have this practice of doing a two card daily draw and I no longer ask myself when I draw those cards. Well, you know what, what’s what’s going to happen today or what are the cards for the day I ask, what energy do I get to work with today? 

And that’s a way of framing. So no matter what cards you get, it’s a challenge. What do I get to deal with today? What do I get to explore today? And how can I use that to my best advantage, no matter what card it is. And by using the prevalent energies that are present for you in a day, I believe you can get to a better place in general, through your day and in your life than you would if you were just always flying blind. That’s a reasonable goal. Yes.

Yes. But it’s kind of the same thing with astrology. You see where the planets are today and what’s going on and it gives you a little bit of, for knowledge, some way of framing things differently so that when things occur, you can go, oh, okay, I know what this is. And maybe come up with a more appropriate way of dealing with things. And maybe even if you’re good at it and lucky a little advantage, you know when perhaps not to schedule something or to schedule something or… And you get that just little bit of advantage, little bit of smoothing out of your life, ideally anyway. 

Andrew: And where does magic and ritual fit into that for you? 

Mel: That’s a good question. Well, I currently have this daily practice of ritual. I do the banishing that is good to do anyway, but then I do an invocation of things and it might be different every day. It might be based on what planetary hour it is or day it is, or it might be something that’s happening in my own chart, like a transit. Right now I’m working with a pretty severe transit of Saturn. And so there’s things you can do to mitigate and make Saturn happy and stuff like that. And it’s all just, I don’t know, it’s not so that I can achieve some enlightened state, it’s so that I can be stronger and better able to withstand whatever life throws at me.

Andrew: I dig that a lot. I think that’s a great answer. 

Mel: Yeah, totally. 

Andrew: Yeah. How about you, Susie?

Susan: Well, for me, magic and divination generally are about the production of meaning more than anything else. I think the great affliction of our time is meaninglessness. And to me, the practice is about feeling like I belong in this world and that there is a sense that I am part of a whole, and then I’m an expression of the whole, that I have a place and some agency, but also something comes through me. Something, the spirit of the world, the animal Mundy expresses self through me as well. It’s not there for me to harness and exploited. Right. It’s just, I’m a part of it. And to me, to be in conversation with that spirit is more than I could ever ask for, just on its own, right?

And to me, when we read and ceremonial magic about conversation with your holy guardian angel, which sounds like a very particular thing with wings and light and all sorts of stuff. To me, how is that different from being able to find meaning in life to me? To me, the search for something larger, the sense of being in a sort of complex narrative that the world is, the world is a story and I am a story within it and being in meshed in that, that’s what I want to have a sense of in my work. And that’s what tarot does for me, both on the divination side and in whatever magic and ritual work I do. But every tarot, every tarot draw that I do, I do spell work with it as a part of engaging with that narrative, as a part of saying it’s not… Mel has talked about was a language. 

If it’s a language, then you get to talk, you get to have conversations, you get to argue, you get to persuade, you get to compel. And you may not always succeed, but to be in that conversation is all that I want. So, every day, there’s a little bit of a couplet. I work with words, so there’s a couple of that goes with every jaw, in order to kind of have my true sense, literally. Yeah. But how about you? I mean, has divination and magic. I always want to ask people this has have divination and magic major life better. 

Andrew: Sure. Yeah. First I want to sidetrack that and then we can come back to me, but I want to sort of say, so it’s interesting to me and perhaps this is just the linguistic thing, but what I hear in what you’re saying versus what I hear in what Mel is saying, is you’re sounds very much like mysticism to me, right? And I recorded as part of this series an interview with Jason Miller. And we actually spent a lot of time that the starting point of our conversation in that session was how do we understand what we’re doing and what are the some of the challenges we get into, maybe, if we misidentify what we’re doing, right. Mysticism versus magic, religion versus something else. And the ways in which those sorts of different qualities of practices, not that it matters ultimately, people do whatever they want and that’s fine, but how sometimes enough of finding readings where I’m like, well, what magic did you do about that?

And the person tells me, and I’m like, you sound like roomy here. You don’t sound like you’re working magic. And that’s beautiful and fine, but where’s the action and the change in that versus the communion. I’m curious if that makes any sense in what you’re talking about, because I hear a lot of this sort of idea of connection and communion with the whole and understanding yourself in a relationship through that.

Susan: Yes, yes, absolutely. Well, to me that, how can you even do magic if you’re not in communion with the whole, right? How can you even engage if you’re not part of it? So it’s just a starting point. 

Andrew: Sure. Yeah.

Susan: Right, to me, that’s just the beginning. And as I say, it’s an argument very often and that’s where the magical part of it comes in. The fact that you talk back, the fact that you compel, the fact that you add symbols and ritual ingredients and perhaps times of day if you’re into that side of the electional practice, whatever it is, there is a sort of outrageous boldness, I think to magic in saying that I can do these things regardless of what is already decreed by fate. 

So here we get into that whole question of determinism versus agency, because I believe that when you are at the center of this moment, call it the irregular moment or the backstage or whatever it is, there is flex, there is room for negotiation, there is symbolic drift and archetypical drift, right? So you get to say, you get some say in how you want that to express in your life. So, I think that if I get the tower card, for example, I’m going to do a number of different things to make sure that that card eventuates, or to try and argue that that card eventuate in my life in a particular way, rather than another, you know what I mean?

Andrew: For sure, yap. I have definitely drawn my cards today, looked at it and said, screw you universe. I say no to this and put it back in and be like, I’m taking [crosstalk].

Susan: I’ve done that. 

Andrew: I was like, this is my [crosstalk].

Susan: I say, I reject the.

Andrew: Yeah, exactly [crosstalk].

Susan: See, I normally reject.

Mel: I do not do that. I do not. I never do that because I feel that that is, for me, a core part of my practice, to accept and to argue, and to, to change the shape of what is coming into something I can accept. Because I believe that, there is a better and a worse response to every thing that happens, and a better and a worse way to shape it. So, yeah. 

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Andrew: I wanted to remind people that The Hermit Lamp is also a store. So I have an online store and an in-person store in Toronto that sells over 400 Tarot Decks 300 kinds of crystals and incense, incense holders, candles, oils, and all the magical goodies you might want for whatever spiritual practice you were up to. I think we have great prices on stuff. Everything is sourced to the best of my ability to be authentic, and we offer pickup or in store shopping when it’s not COVID in Toronto and we offer delivery just about anywhere in the world. So do me a favor next time. You’re thinking about stuff drop by thehermitslamp.com. Check it out. See if we’ve got something you need there, because I always appreciate that support.

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Andrew: Well, so I guess for me, there are a few things to say about it. One, my reading for the day, when I do my reading for the day, is only ever one question. And that question is how do I show up fully today? That’s the only question that I ever really pay attention to, when I’m reading the cards for the most part. Unless I’m like, should I teach esoteric tarot, or should I teach fortune-telling this next semester. I’ll use tarot to sort that kind of stuff. Magic is like what’s happened for me over time. So I was heavily into ceremonialism for a long time, into all sorts of groups and doing all sorts of initiations. And I used to spend an hour a day doing mantra and hour a day sitting doing breathing, and then probably about another hour a day of ritual and stuff like that, for years on end.

Right. I did tons and tons of things. And then when I became initiated as a priest of Shango in Afro-Cuban lineage I walked away from all of it. I don’t do it. I don’t do almost any of that stuff anymore. And so a lot of what used to be magical in my life is now exists within that religious structure, right?

Susan: And in community, yeah.

Andrew: And in community, and in relationship to guidance from elders and from spirit directly and so on. Right. So for me, when I really have questions, I just speak to my elder and do traditional divination and go down that road. I maybe three years ago, I decided that I was done with astrology forever and I was no longer going to look at it, and I don’t pay attention to it anymore at all. I talked about it a bunch with Jen’s art in the last episode I did with her, but I just realized that I’m… If I am fully committed to this religious structure, there’s no astrology within it. Therefore, why am I playing with astrology? What am I doing here? It was to counter to it, right. Or a lot was difficult to reconcile, right. And I think that this idea of esotericism, especially like Golden Dawn era, Victorian esotericism, that everything is the same at some level. I think is untrue. 

Susan: Wait, what do you mean by everything is the same at some level? 

Andrew: Well, I think that the Golden Dawn posited, that everything could be integrated into their system. 

Susan: No, right. Yes.

Andrew: Everything had a place. Everything could be understand through their system. It’s the height of colonial and Victorian mindset, right? If we understand this enough, we will be able to understand things that we don’t know through this system. We’ll be able to just integrate and bridge into them. And I think that especially the Golden Dawn, mashed a lot of stuff together and tarot did all sorts of things that are not necessarily. There were more.

Susan: You can say cultural appropriation, it’s all right. 

Andrew: Sure, I was actually going to say, I think there were more interested in proving that everything was the same, than they were interested in deeply understanding what’s going on in other systems, right. So, yeah. 

Susan: Yeah. Well, who can say what their actual motivations were? They’re they’re not here for us to talk to. 

Andrew: It’s true. Let’s do a sounds episode. 

Susan: Yeah, we absolutely should, we absolutely should. And tarot, I mean, all magicians, you have to say have been guilty at some point through the centuries of mixing and matching, right? 

Andrew: Sure.

Susan: They’re not alone in that, but I think that we don’t have to accept everything about the Golden Dawn, to you, some of it, right?

Andrew: Of course, absolutely.

Susan: Right. And if it’s there and it and if it works for you and if some of those structures have an affinity for the way you’re set up, then it’s a match, right. But I can totally see how, when you went deeply into another tradition, you found that you could not reconcile them, that makes a great deal of sense to me. And to me, it’s sort of like, when in the production of meaning, which goes on in what we do, we’re bringing ourselves to it. And that means that that ingredient of the self, it’s going to be… The connection, the magic that happens, the interpretation of the meaning that arises is only ever going to make sense if you bring everything that you’ve got to it, right. So if what everything you’ve got happens to be located in a completely different place, then of course, you’re not going to be able to just mash anything at an equal balance into the reading. 

If you’re working within Lucumi tradition, you’re not going to go bring a Solomonic grimoire magic kind of demon into your practice because it just doesn’t work, right, in the context of what you’re doing. So I think it’s a negotiation between where you place the boundaries of your own self each time you do this.

Andrew: Sure, yeah. And I think the other side of that equation for me is not my personal practice, but my professional practice, right? As somebody who reads cards and does magic for people and so on, right? And so within that practice I do all sorts of things that are I guess animist spirit driven kinds of things would probably be the easiest way to express it if people understand those terms. But basically I have spirits that I work with who have expressed a willingness to intercede on other people’s behalves and then we work out the details between us. And some of that stuff falls back towards more of this other, this sort of Western Golden Dawn things or other things that I have knowledge about. Very rarely is there any planetary stuff involves generally speaking, but except in as much as working with the planets as a force unto themselves, right? 

So I do have this sort of duality that I bridge, right, where I don’t work Orisha stuff for people outside of the tradition because it makes no sense, but for clients who want work done, then I do work all sorts of other things that I’ve been doing for a very long time. So it’s a little bit like, yeah, I’m going to go be an accountant and I’m do your bookkeeping, but in my personal life, I don’t do any bookkeeping at all. And no one attends to the bookkeeping.

Susan: Yes, exactly.

Andrew: I have someone else doing my taxes for me.

Susan: Yeah, no. And I really value and appreciate what you and Aden, for example, do, the kind of… I think Aiden describes himself as a dirt sorcerer. The idea that you can go out back, and this is something I’ve done a great deal more of this last year, because I’m in the middle of Jack Grayle’s PGM practice course. And you do things with sticks and stones and bits of trees and stuff that isn’t something you ever find in Book T, Seven Seven Seven, but which is coherent to you in some way, which makes sense to you in some way. So to me, becoming immersed in all of these traditions, isn’t about the specific recipe, but the theory behind it, the idea that there are things that you can do if you have certain… If you combined words and things and your connection to whatever it is you’re connected to. So to me, that’s where I’m going, ultimately.

Andrew: Yeah. Well, and I think that for me, the thing that I carry most from my esoteric time was the development of the capacity to connect to something other than myself, right. And not just in terms of like astral projection or inner work or creative active imagination or those things, but actual connection to entities that have their own discreet existence, completely devoid of human interact, outside of human things, they still exist, right? And I think that, for me, that’s the piece that continues in that capacity, which I opened up through all those tools, continues now all the time, right?

So when I’m like sitting and talking to the tree and the tree is like, hey, you know what you should do? You should do this with me and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, cool, and we’ll just have this whole thing and then I’ll go on and read about it later. I’ll be like, oh yeah, look at that. There’s this footnote over here where there’s that co-relation to this idea, right?

Susan: Right.

Andrew: So now I tend to work in reverse, which is, I’ll spend a lot of time with the thing in and of itself and then I’ll see if there’s a history associated with that, as well that that means breaks it for me. But where there is that history for it, that I’m way more convinced that I’m not mixing up the system a little more in the mix.

Susan: Yeah. I mean, I tend to think these days a lot about the relationship of meaning and doubt and that one of the things that happens when we study systems is that, I think that it can introduce a great deal of doubt into the equation, right? Because it makes you start thinking, well, if this table is so incredibly specific about what belongs to what, then I might be doing it wrong. And what do you do when there’s something that’s not reconcilable, when there’s two different versions? And it just introduces many opportunities for you to question what you’re doing. And so one of the things that I think about the production of meaning is that it exists in inverse proportion to doubt, right? So when we are doing something back there in nature, we are doing it in the presence of doubt and fighting doubt. 

I mean, it’s almost as if in the sense since that courage exists in the presence of fear, it’s not the absence of fear, meaning arises in the presence of doubt, not in the absence of doubt. So to me, what my practice has sort of forced me to do is deal with this sort of enormous amount of tabular information and say, you know what? I’m still going to have things that I believe, that I believe are meaningful to me, regardless of how fractal we get with which sphere it goes with which planet, et cetera, et cetera. Because ultimately, that willingness to kind of put yourself on the line is what matters.

Andrew: Sure. How about you, Mel? Does that factor into it for you?

Mel: Does what factor into it? 

Andrew: Does doubt?

Mel: Doubt? Oh, of course doubt factors into it. Yeah. I think we bring our own meaning to things, and Susie mentioned the dirt sorcery that Aiden watched her does. And I really resonate with his approach because that’s something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. You go out in the woods and you find this deer bone and you ascribe some magical meaning to it and you make it into a little fetish or you grind it up and you do something and you’re convinced in your… You just know that this is going to do this. No one told you, you just feel it, then you just go with it. And I do a lot of that myself. But is there a moment where you go, what are you doing? You’re grinding up this deer bone you found on the ground? What are you doing and why are you doing it? 

Is it going to do anything? Would you tell anyone you’re doing it? And you just have to go with it and know that it’s going to do something. And sometimes like with… I had this interesting experience recently with sigil magic where I wanted to make a schedule for something and I started to do the process and I had only really roughly drawn it out and usually I get out paint and I do it and really pretty, make a nice, pretty one. And I roughly drew it out and I got interrupted and I had to go out for a walk with my husband.

And I just put it down and said, okay, well, I’ll do this later. And once you know, the thing manifested on the walk instantly, miraculously, and I was just like, holy shit. Well, that one wanted to happen. Yeah. And I didn’t even think that I had finished the process yet and yet, I guess I did. Maybe that was part of the no lust of result. I just put it down. I was like, okay, whatever. I’m done with this for now. And I guess it was done enough, so.

Susan: Things happen. 

Mel: Yeah, they do.

Susan: Things happen, yeah.

Andrew: Well, sometimes the process of… For me, more often than not, the process is the magic, right? And then result is lovely. I have like all sorts of sigils and other things around the studio here and so on. And I like to make things pretty. So I think they’re pretty good looking, but the process of making them is more the work than the actual anything else. Sometimes we do a lot of other stuff with them, but as often as not, it’s really just a matter of the process of doing the work is the work [crosstalk] just the remainder of the work, right?

Mel: Refining your intention is all, like you have to be very specific about what you want and it requires you to really think about your phrasing and.

Susan: You’re doing something to yourself.

Mel: Exactly, right. 

Susan: You’re definitely doing something to yourself. The point, it’s not necessarily the object.

Andrew: Well, I think that a lot of the magic that I do these days, if there’s magic that I do as such in relationship to me is predominantly identity magic, right. Basically just adjusting myself this way or that way a bit to get a better result from a given situation.

Susan: Kind of an Andrew, tune-up.

Andrew: An Andrew tune-up. Mel, you see that? You sure great if you were like 5% more charming and 2% less grumpy on this particular event. So why don’t we just tweak that there?

Susan: Yeah. And you do that through self portraits to some extent, right?

Andrew: It’s true. I haven’t done any in a while, but I’ve been thinking about them again. So I feel like it’s time to revisit that magical self portrait stuff that I was doing for a long time. Yeah. And for people that don’t know about it, the magical self portrait stuff started as an invocation of my future self to now, so that I could get more information about what I needed to do and what was sort of on target and off target for a bunch of things that I was trying to navigate. 

Susan: Well, that seems very consistent with Aiden’s black book process, actually. The idea of working with your future, whatever that is, self. Yeah. I like that idea. 

Andrew: Yeah, my future self is a pretty funny guy.

Susan: Well, I think a lot about that, having a decent relationship with the future self, because one always assumes that the future self is going to view the present self with nothing but contempt. But in fact, I think that if you can get to have a relationship of respect and forgiveness with all your future and past selves, I think you can find yourself in a much better place.

Andrew: Yeah. No, for sure. I think that it benefits us on all levels for our current self and our future self to have nothing but compassion, right?

Susan: For sure.

Andrew: I think that’s so helpful when we can manage it because life is complicated and difficult and we got to trust that we’re trying to do the best we can, even if it’s not ideal, right?

Susan: Absolutely.

Mel: There are some really good Buddhist practice that involved doing just that, offering compassion to your past self. And I suppose you could extend that and do it to your future self as well, because we know we’re all going make more mistakes.

Andrew: Sure.

Susan: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: Yeah. Well, and especially during this time in which we find ourselves now, it’s like just getting through the day is good, gold star for completing your day.

Susan: Yes, yes. Yeah. I remember seeing early in the pandemic, someone had like a little sticker that said I showered. 

Andrew: Yap. 

Susan: Yeah.

Andrew: I picture my guardian angel in a kind of acting like a elf from that movie Elf, right, Buddy [crosstalk].

Susan: Yeah, sure.

Andrew: He’s like you di it, you made it, you finished the day, you back to bed. Good job. Just embroiled with enthusiasm.

Susan: Yeah.

Mel: Yeah. And I think also the isolation of this past year has really been interesting for people. Everybody reacts differently and it throws you back on yourself. I’ve thought about the way that, if you remember before the pandemic, what it was like to travel. When you travel, when you leave your comfortable place, you become a different person and you learn something about yourself. But also being by yourself or with a limited number of people for a year, teaches you something about yourself as well. So, that’s something I’m thinking about because I’ve got… having gotten this Hermit Card today. And there are lessons to be gained from either end of the spectrum. 

Andrew: Yeah, for sure. So I guess maybe let’s talk briefly about, before wrapping up today, maybe, if people are excited about this kind of idea, where do you start? Because I can tell you, starting with Crowley’s a bad idea, right. Yeah, people ask me how I learned the TOF Book, like how I learned Thoth tarot, and people used to ask me, what’s a good book and I’m like The Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley, why would you read anything else? And then I went back and re-read it, and I was like, why was I saying that to people? I mean, it is a great book to read on it and it is inscrutable and difficult. And the fact that I spent probably about 15 years with the deck and that book, and I read that book like a hundred plus times led to what I know about it, but that’s not the place to start. That’s a bad idea. Just like Crowley’s idea [crosstalk].

Susan: It might not be a bad idea. It’s the journey. I used to say that that book would be one to have on a desert island, but only if you could have all the other books referenced in it. You’d be busy for the rest of your life.

Andrew: It’s true, yeah.

Susan: I tend to think that if people are just getting started, I think everyone should read tarot. I don’t necessarily think everyone should read esoteric tarot, but I think everyone should read tarot because it will make your life better. And what I tell people often, because when I teach tarot because I don’t teach it in an esoteric way, I say just draw cards, just draw cards every day and see what happens because tarot will tell you, if you let it. Keep track of, I tell people to track, which is not for everyone, obviously. Not everyone’s Virgo like me, but if you just keep track of what happens in your day and use your imagination to see how that connects to your cards, it will give you something every single day. 

And the other thing is that it becomes a way of having something to bounce off of. I tell people, if nothing else, your card of the day is there to help you at those moments during the day when you’re confused or scared or you don’t know what to do, or you’re just buffering. It’s there to give you something to think about. And perhaps in that process, what meaning arises will give you some sense of what you are meant to do ultimately in your time on this earth, long-term. So I just tell people to just draw cards and see what happens. And not be too fuzzy about what should happen or… I think that not too fussy, but also not too doubtful, because one of the things that I think that we do as moderns is we kind of reflexively diminish what’s numinous. Got a funny feeling, feel strange, write it off, right? But one thing that tarot, I think, helps people do is reconnect with that moment where you get a chill down your spine and follow that and see where it goes in a spirit of openness. 

Andrew: Yeah. How about you, Mel? Where do you point people to start? Is it the Book of Toth for you? Is it something else?

Mel: To start in general?

Andrew: Well, to start learning tarot, but like, if people are already reading and they’re kind of like, I’m curious about this esoteric thing.

Mel: I think that everybody’s gateway is a little different. For some it’s going to come from the astrology that they’re really attracted to or already know as their framework. And then they want to see how that works with tarot. Or for other people, they might be really attracted to the Kabbalah, for other people, it’s really an intuitive thing and a psychic process. And so I don’t think there’s a one size fits all, this is how you start. You find what draws you and then once you get that little toe in the door, if it’s meant to be, you’re going to get hooked and you’re going to start doing this and that, and it’s going to lead you like a stepping stone through all these other things. But you have to start with where you’re at and what you’re drawn to. 

Andrew: Yeah. Once you get your toe in the door, the tentacle of esotericism will pull you inside.

Mel: Wraps around and pulls you in.

Andrew: You will never get away again.

Mel: Into the wormhole.

Susan: Into the wormhole, yes, yes.

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, my advice is basically similar, right? Figure out what you’re excited about. Don’t worry about it at all. People often say like, well, I just get so overwhelmed with looking at the Thoth deck and I’m like, you don’t need to read everything. You don’t need to learn every symbol. I don’t even think that I know every symbol, still, even after spending so long with it, right. I’ve been working with that deck for 36 years now or something like that. And it’s like, that I still occasionally see things that I feel like I’ve never seen before, so.

Susan: Yeah, and I tell people that at some level there is no novice tarot reader. It’s sort of you look at the card and something jumps out at you and you have a reading, with even if you’ve never looked at tarot before. 

Andrew: No. For sure. 

Mel: Yeah. I’ve seen people do that. Just with friends or whatever, having a reading and then be like, well, what do you see? And all of a sudden they’ll come out with some great shit. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they do. 

Andrew: Absolutely. Yeah. All right. Well, this has been delightful and I feel like we could keep chatting and chatting, but I think we should wrap it up here. For folks who want to come and follow what you’re doing out there, where should they come track you down? Where are you hanging out or not hanging out, what’s what’s around for you?

Susan: Yeah. So central clearing house for me is www.tsusanchang.com. And I also, if people want to reach out on social media, I usually direct them to the Fortune’s Wheelhouse Academy Facebook page. There’s like 900,000 people on there, but there, it’s free to anyone to join and I’m there every day and it’s a way of just connecting and having a community. Also, I’ve got the Etsy shop and I’ll just throw a couple more URLs out there. The Etsy shop where I make cases and perfumes, is at etsy.com/shop/tarotista. And then for the podcast we’re at www.patrion.com/fortuneswheelhouse. 

Andrew: Great. And how about you, Mel? I understand you’re not much for social media, but.

Mel: I’m not on any social media, honestly, unless you count the patrion page for Fortune’s Wheelhouse as social media. I just don’t have enough hours in my day or inclination for that sort of thing, but I do have a blog at www.tabulamundi.com and I have several decks and books that I sell. The Rosetta Tarot was my first deck. My second deck was the Tabula Mundi and that has a couple of different editions of it. And then I did a majors only deck called the Pharos and now I’m working on a fourth deck that is as yet unnamed, but that I’m in the process of going deck in by deck in and incorporating the deck in imagery from Seven Seven Seven primarily into the artwork for the minor cards, as well as looking at other sources, like the Pick and Tricks and a Grip on Libor Her Medicine and stuff like that, and kind of cherry picking some fun stuff out of those. So any of the decks and the books that go with them can be found at www.tarotcart, T-A-R-O-T-C-A-R-T.com.

Andrew: Perfect. 

Susan: Oh, right. And let me just give a last plug for the books. Well, the book, the joint production of course is Tarot Deciphered, which Mel and I just published with Llewellyn. Decoding Esoteric Symbolism in Modern Tarot that is essentially a 600 and something page tome that is the sort of book version of the first 78 episodes of Fortune’s Wheelhouse, but expanded and made consistent and revised. And then I’ve got Tarot correspondences from 2018, which people use as a sort of guide to the tarot specific parts of Seven Seven Seven. It’s a way of sort of bringing all of the post Golden Dawn references that are embedded in in English school tarot decks, non-Marseille tarot decks and putting it in one place so that you can work with them. 

And then I’ve got 36 Secrets, which came out at the beginning of this year and which is my, everything I have to say about the miners kind of in the same way that Mel’s doing her deckanic deck. And which interestingly began with a reference to what happened to you in with your… Because it was my deck and well, that began in March, 2019, I guess, which was when you had your catastrophic event at your store and.

Andrew: Correct, yeah.

Susan: Yeah.

Andrew: The great fire.

Susan: The great fire, yeah.

Andrew: Cool. Well, go and check them out. And as always, I am at The Hermit’s Lamp basically everywhere you might look. If you searched for that, then I probably am there. But thank you both for making time to hang out with me today. It’s been delightful and, yeah, I really appreciate the conversation. 

Mel: Thanks so much, Andrew. It’s really been fun.

Susan: Thanks a lot.

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Andrew: All right, folks, that is episode 118, which is episode three of the spring season. Still to come are conversations with Maria Minnis, as well as my friends Stacking Skulls and my Lukumi elder Willie Ramos. Those will be coming weekly for the next few weeks, and I hope you enjoy them. Please do support the podcast by going and checking out the funding options through buy me a coffee, PayPal, or e-transfer by sharing this in a bunch of places so that people can find it, discover it, and by you know, rating it, give me some feedback in whatever platform you’re looking at. All right, thanks so much for listening. We’ll be back next week with new episodes.

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