Hermes Beckons: Facing the Absurdity of Existence with Joyous Laughter
Chapter 8
© 2006 John Caris

The sharp wind cut through his clothes and chilled his bones. Summer weather had struck. A thick fog bank floated over head, dimming the July sun, and the wind began flipping at his maroon beret, which he pushed firmly down on his head.

Ralph had finished watering the seed beds along Ocean Avenue and was rejoicing that they all had seedlings. The summer weather would toughen the little plants, and their root systems would grow and strengthen before the normal hot spell in September. The small beds would dry up quickly if the sky cleared and the sun beat down, but by September the plants should have enough growth. His enthusiasm for the gardening project so warmed him that he forgot about the cold as he ambled along the avenue.

Plans for the alchemical light show were blossoming, and he needed to locate a builder of magical apparatus that he could discuss his designs with. The idea might look good on paper but not be practical to construct. He would stop at The Empty Hand on his way home and ask Alice Moore for advice.

A fleeting image caught his attention. Stopping in front of a store, Ralph peered into the window. An unlit candle in an ancient holder stood on a black cloth. Behind it was a picture of a saintly-looking man, who had a nimbus surrounding his head. The other window contained an enlarged tarot card depicting the fool. He studied the card, noticing the carefree attitude of the young man, who seemed to be on the edge of disaster. On the door hung a sign telling him that a psychic who would give spiritual consultations awaited inside. He hesitated for a moment, seeing Gordon’s sardonic grin, and then stepped into the psychic’s realm.

When Ralph entered the shop, the chimes pealed three different tones. Removing his beret, he looked around the room. A couch occupied the left wall, and two upholstered chairs were placed against the other wall. An oil painting of an older woman hung between the two chairs. Over the couch was a landscape watercolor, which reminded him of a European countryside.

The curtains suspended at the back of the room separated, and a tall, slender woman in her mid-fifties entered. Her brown hair was shoulder length. She wore a dark blue dress and a gray shawl around her shoulders. A pair of double looped earrings and a necklace with a pendant were her adornments.

Ralph discerned her intuitive appraisal, absorbing his presence with curiosity and intrigue. Greeting him with a quiet demeanor, she offered him her hand. Her name was Leila Lubec, and she inquired about the assistance she could offer.

Introducing himself, he asked about the kinds of psychic services available. Pointing to the couch, she sat down there, and when he had seated himself beside her, she outlined consulting techniques. She saw herself primarily as a spiritual therapist for mental-emotional health. She could read the tarot cards, perform an I Ching ceremony, construct a horoscope, and examine the lines in his palms. Her readings aided her diagnosis. A meditative session during which she entered a trance and searched for answers was also available. Meditation, she thought, was her favorite and most valuable method because she could delve deeply into the spiritual realm. With any or all of these procedures she could offer advice on personal matters of any nature—love, business, health, travel, or whatever the seeker desired.

He sensed a mystery here in her presence, a feeling he desired to know more about. A tarot reading it would be. She ushered him through the curtains into another room. A table was centered in the room, and around it were two chairs across from each other. Several chairs, he noticed, were against the right wall, waiting to serve a larger gathering. Beside the left wall was a cabinet with shelves enclosed by glass doors and three drawers below. At the back of the room was another pair of curtains. He wondered what they veiled? Perhaps her living quarters or utilities or storage?

The inner room was luminated by a single, shaded light bulb hanging from the ceiling, creating a shadowy ambience as very little light entered from the outer area. The fragrance of incense touched his awareness. A peace and serenity permeated the surroundings. He sat down opposite her and watched as she laid a bundle wrapped in purple velvet cloth on the table. He had not noticed from whence it came. Already the misdirection was happening. Unfolding the velvet cloth, she picked up a deck of tarot cards and shuffled them. What kind of a card routine have I got myself into, he wondered?

“Tell something about yourself, Ralph, and then the question you desire an answer for.”

“You can’t just deal the cards and predict my future?”

“That would give you only a superficial interpretation. The more background I have, the more accurate the reading. The cards that are dealt have been selected by the psychic force, not by me. But I’m the one who finds the meaning in the pattern. Without knowing anything about you other than what I can perceive, I can only interpret your destiny on the universal level. The cards could suggest possibilities that I would need to verify. It’s so much more fruitful if I know about you personally before I deal the cards.”

He told her that he had not planned this visit ahead of time; but only on the spur of the moment, after looking at the objects in the front windows, did he decided to enter, if only to satisfy a curiosity. Leila nodded encouragingly. He gave her a short biographical sketch about his life, his career as a magician, his health, and his project to build a new magic show. She smiled with an intuitive gleam upon learning that a magician was visiting her spiritual parlor, and for consultation at that. What was his question, the more precise the formulation the better? He thought for a few moments, realizing that he need not rush. The new magic act, the alchemical light, was at the center of his interest and concern.

“What must I do to make the new show a success?”

“For that question I’ll use the ancient Celtic layout.” She scanned through the deck and retrieved the king of swords, which she placed face up in the center of the table. “This card signifies you as the seeker. Now please shuffle the cards.” She gave him the deck.

“Any particular shuffle? I know several.”

“Your choice. The purpose is for you to participate with the psychic force in arranging the cards.”

“You want my vibes involved, is that it?”

“Yes. When you finish mixing the cards, then cut the deck into three piles with your left hand.”

A slight bemusement struck him as he thought about the many card routines he could perform. If she had asked for four piles, he would have wondered if the four aces effect was coming up. He conjectured about using the left hand. Was it really linked to the enchanted realm, or was it only for creating a mood?

Once the shuffling was completed and the cards were stacked in three piles, she picked up the first pile with her left hand and, moving toward her left, the others until the deck was complete. Leila sat quietly, the cards held face down in her left hand with the right on top, her green eyes focused on the invisible realm.

The magician, influenced by the ambience, moved into his silent place and waited. The solitary light shone onto the table, and its brightness was enhanced by the surrounding darkness. The shadows clung to the walls. The curtains rustled gently. He breathed in slowly—ah—and out slowly—um. His thoughts stilled and feelings abated.

The psychic’s right hand moved, and the first card was placed face up on top of the signifying card as she spoke, “This covers him.” She laid the second card across the first, saying, “This crosses him.” The third card was placed below the signifying card. “This is beneath him.”

The magician watched as a design took shape. The first six cards formed a cross. The last four were placed in a vertical row to the right of the cross.

Leila examined the pattern carefully before she spoke. A concern crossed her face as she inspected the vertical row of four cards. “There are several strange anomalies in the way the cards have spread. I’ll give my interpretation, and if you wish to respond at any point, please do so. Afterwards, we can discuss the reading in more depth.”

Ralph was curious and slightly amused. He thought of Shasta and her dream sessions with their group participation.

“The first card, the one covering your significator, is the ace of pentacles, which designates a solid foundation for your new show. Are you planning a spiritual dimension to the new show?”

He was amazed at the question. He had not mentioned his interest in alchemy and its use as the dominating theme of the show. “Why, yes, I am. How did you know?”

“The spread suggests a spiritual theme to your quest. I’ll specify as I continue the reading. The seven of cups is the second card and crosses the ace of pentacles. The seven, describing the opposing forces for the project, implies that you will face many alternatives, as many as your fertile imagination can invent. With such diversity you could become paralyzed with indecision.”

She gave him an inquiring look. “The Hanged Man below the central cross indicates that you have undergone a major change in your life, a new direction where you have gained a deeper self-awareness and have started to become aware of the many facets of your personality.”

He nodded in agreement as an intense feeling of recognition resonated through him. So far Leila’s intuitive interpretation was walking the edge of truth.

“Here’s the Fool pointing out that as you enter a new cycle of existence you’ll have some vital choices. Be extremely careful. You are on a precipitous path. Gather all your powers to assist in attaining your goals. Now the nine of wands here above the central cross refers to your hidden strength and stability that you will need to succeed against the opposing forces signified by the reversed five of wands here on the other side of the central cross. This card indicates competition and complications in your affairs, especially those that pertain to legal matters. Are you involved in any litigation?”

Leila studied Ralph’s behavior carefully as he deliberated his answer.

“The law? Ah, yes, there’s one legal matter that I’ve been recently involved with.” He was shocked at her perceptiveness. How uncanny her reading was. Or had she seen him on TV?

“Actually, this card looks more into the near future rather than the past. But, in any case, beware of fraud and trickery in your legal dealings, perhaps in the production of your new show.” She turned her attention to the four cards lined in a vertical row. Pointing to the card at the bottom of the row, she announced, “The Sun signifies your fears and negative feelings about the new show. This card characterizes attainment of goals, success and achievements in your affairs. But here is one of the anomalies. Are you worried that you won’t succeed or that you will?”

“What? Are you saying I might be afraid of success?” He felt a weird sensation, and suddenly a muscle cramped in the left side of his abdominal region.

“It’s the cards that speak. I’m only the vehicle. The position of the seventh card concerns fears. The Sun card refers to success, so what can we infer? This card also indicates a spiritual renewal in which you unite opposites and dissolve duality.”

Another aha shook him. He grinned. “I understand now. My interest in alchemy. Transforming opposites into the philosopher’s stone. Yes, definitely, I have some strong negative feelings about success in my endeavor.”

Her eyes shone under her raised eyebrows. “What little I know about the arcane science suggests that defeat and negative forces are built into it. These are intense opposing powers that require dissolution. Notice the next card which suggests another anomaly. The reversed eight of wands indicates the opinions of family and friends, their influence on one’s endeavor. Beware of jealousy and quarrels. Impetuous behavior can bring disaster or at least friction. From the alchemical point of view the card points to a possible waste and dissipation of energy.”

He felt flush, a hot streak hitting him. The memory of cutting and restoring Gordon Russell’s power tie made him ashamed. The effect was successful, but his action came from an impulse that he should have prevented. Gordon was still upset by the magical event, and Ralph did not want to lose his friendship.

Leila noticed that the reading was triggering powerful emotions in her client, striking through his self-images. The meaning of the last two cards opened to her, and she continued the reading. “The Hierophant refers to your hopes and ideals that concern your magical project.” She hoped that he would pick up the extra nuance she added to the phrase magical project. “This card signifies conventional and socially approved behavior, thoughts, and deeds. It can also stand for one who reveals what is hidden beyond the surface of convention. If your alchemical texts express the outer forms of the science, then you should move through the veil, seeking the hidden truth.” She paused for the power of the contradiction to be assimilated. “The last card, the ace of swords, sums up the influences of all the other cards. It designates the final result, the outcome. This card speaks about you, Ralph, about your basic self. Your new magic show should be successful if you can overcome the forces arrayed against you, like the reversed five of wands and the reversed eight of wands. The battlefield will be inside you, Ralph, not out on the street or in the auditorium. You contain great strengths but are reckless in their use. You are pulled in opposed directions, sometimes going to extremes. You can triumph, however, by gaining strength through adversity, a power that will stay with you under your control. But, and this is the big conditional, you will need to change. Since the cards show that your life has been undergoing transformation, you only need to pursue this transformation so that you attain your goals.”

The seeker studied the cards, reflecting on the symbolism, allowing his inner being to absorb the secret meaning. He looked up at her. “I’m fascinated. This is my first reading, and being a sleight-of-hand artist, I usually laugh at the notion there’s some truth here.”

“What about your occult studies? You obviously trust them.”

“Yes, I do. But readings have such a tainted history with the seances and fortune-telling and other forms of chicanery.”

“Eek—the ectoplasm is loose again! Of course fakes can spoil the craft.”

“It’s true in my profession too.”

“It’s more like channeling the power so that it flows unimpeded. A better image might be the oracle of Delphi or Syracuse in ancient times.”

“Didn’t they inhale smoke from hallucinatory plants? I thought I read that somewhere.”

“They may have. Herbs have been used by psychics for thousands of years. Specific plants have the power to open up the astral channels. In our ordinary lives we have a limited range of perception. Tapping into the spiritual realm requires us to broaden our awareness.”

“Like a broader bandwidth to allow more frequencies.”

“Yes, that’s a good analogy. But plants aren’t the only way. A meditative induced trance can also increase awareness of the astral spectrum. I use either a drum or rattle. The music is on tape and can be played while I’m in a meditative trance.”

“I’ve read about trances but have never been in one. What’s the experience like?’

“If you want an excellent source that examines trance experiences, I’d recommend Felicitas Goodman’s Where the Spirits Ride the Wind. The posture or physical position of the body during meditation affects the psychological state of mind but does not make any physiological difference. The trance state, though, does have its own peculiar physical characteristics. My personal experience during meditation depends upon the question asked, that is, the purpose of entering the trance itself. Have you ever had an out-of-body experience?”

“Not that I know of. I’m working on lucid dreaming at the moment. My wife Shasta is quite good at it.”

“I suppose lucid dreaming could be used for a comparison, but the physiological states are different. You can read about all of this in Goodman’s book.”

The magician discerned that their session was completed and left invigorated. A feeling of wonder had arisen, and he decided to locate Goodman’s book and others on the topic.

Visiting Leila Lubec had been a spontaneous act that delighted him, discovering that he could improvise. He could follow a schedule, yet abruptly change direction. A sense of mystery was what had attracted him to the tarot reading. If he could maintain that mood and inner guide . . .

Now was the moment to visit the fiery wizard and her enchanted world. While he was walking toward magic land, a vivid image of the fool card emerged in his mind. The card was in the spread, and during the reading he felt at times like a fool even though many of Leila’s remarks were on target. It was not so much being silly for requesting the consultation but more for entering the weird and confronting his destiny. A sacredness shrouded the event, and at this moment on his life’s journey he was at a crossroads needing to choose which path to travel.

The fool card morphed into a clown. Startled, he paused and then continued his journey, pushing his beret firmly on his head. Indigenous people have their sacred clowns, and of course modern society has those who try to perform the role. Clowns are full of contradictions. They mix innocence and wisdom; they can be totally foolish or as wise as holy people. The sacred clown sees into the dark side and challenges the spiritual order, at times going berserk and acting contrary to socially accepted behavior. The clown is protected by a mantel of spiritual power, which prevents total disintegration and madness.

Kraaah, kraaah.” The harsh sound halted his reverie, and Ralph glanced up at a utility pole. A raven was peering down at him. Ah, he thought, another sacred being, the great trickster.

“What advice do you have for me?” he called out.

Kraaah, kraaah,” the raven answered and then flew along Ocean Avenue toward The Empty Hand.

Brightening, he followed the sacred sign. The way to face the absurdity of existence, he realized, is with joyous laughter. Several pedestrians looked at him in amusement, wondering at his humor. ***

A group of young men and women were crowded around Percy Juska, who was performing one of his card routines, when Ralph entered the magic shop. Saturday afternoons were show time at The Empty Hand, free performances by visiting conjurers and sleight-of-hand artists. A small area at the back of the shop had been reserved for wondrous journeys into magic land. A tall, heavy-set man who looked more like a defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers than a sleight-of-hand artist, Percy usually could be found there mystifying the youth and even the elders. Ralph stood watching when suddenly Percy threw the deck of cards up toward the ceiling. Cards fluttered down, all except one which was stuck to the ceiling. Cheers exploded from the aspiring magicians.

Alice Moore had her own audience gathered at the front of the store. Charlene and Edwin Elwell, partners in a successful magical team that worked cruise ships, were being enthralled by Alice. Nodding his greetings, Ralph watched the red-haired magician produce bouquets of red roses from underneath a blue foulard.

Charlene and Edwin were staying over in San Francisco for a few days before they left on their next cruise. Whenever they were in the city, they stopped by The Empty Hand for gossip and perhaps a new effect. Life aboard a cruise ship was exciting and challenging. They mingled with the passengers, often making friendships that continued on land. Sometimes they performed sleights on deck or in the lounge. One of their popular routines involved telepathy. While Charlene was blindfolded, Ed would borrow objects from the audience for her to identify. She held the passengers spellbound when she not only identified the item but also commented accurately on the owner’s personal traits. Because every passenger had the opportunity to evaluate the activities aboard ship, they sought to attain the highest approval for their magical talents.

“Hey, we hear you’ve been fishing on the streets of San Francisco.” Ed laughed.

“Did you beat the rap?” Charlene wanted to know.

“Actually, the charge was dropped. I requested a court session with a judge, and the officer never showed up.”

“That’s how traffic citations often work too,” Alice added.

“I had an unusual experience today.” Ralph paused and when assured of their complete attention, he continued, “I visited a local psychic who has a consultation room on Ocean Avenue. Her name is Leila Lubec.”

They all chuckled.

“Did she read your palms?” Alice asked.

“No, she read the tarot cards for me.”

Ed turned to Charlene. “Why don’t we divine Ralph’s future?” He looked at Ralph. “And it won’t cost you a cent.”

“Oh, dear. My spectral divining blindfold is back at the hotel. I’m sorry Ralph, but we’ll have to do it some other time.” Charlene feinted sadness.

The fiery wizard of The Empty Hand jumped into the fray. Picking up a deck of cards, she shuffled it and then placed it on the red close-up mat. “Please cut the deck, Ralph, into three piles.” She winked at Charlene and Ed. When Ralph had divided the cards as requested, Alice gathered up the packets and squared the deck. “Now, Ralph, tell me when to stop.” She ruffled the deck and paused at his call. “Take the top card. Look at it and show our friends.” The mentalist looked into her telepathic space. “Your card is the jack of clubs.”

“You’re correct.” He placed it face up on the close-up mat.

“I’m not finished. I’ve yet to divine your future.” She placed her hand on the card. “Ah, vibrations are strong. I detect a moving frequency. Ralph, you’re going to travel.”

“Actually, that’s on the mark. I’m seeking someone to build props for my new show, and I thought about that magic company in Healdsburg that you suggested. Have any information on it?”

They were interested in hearing about Ralph’s latest project. He sketched the outline of the act and described his thinking about props. While Charlene and Ed were making suggestions, Alice went into the back room, which was office and storage space, and returned with a catalog. “Here, take a look. These props are in the general field of what you’re thinking about.”

While Ralph browsed the catalog, pausing here and there, examining several items, Ed and Charlene told Alice about their new contract for the cruise line. Besides the forty-five minute act they perform twice a week, they would do a totally different thirty minute show. “These new ships are marvelous.” Charlene enthused. “We perform in a 1,200 seat theater, accompanied by a small musical ensemble, and the high-tech equipment is fabulous. The technical staff is helpful and competent.”

“Besides,” Ed added, “the pay is excellent, much better than many gigs on land. So we’re building a nest egg for later.”

Finished with his perusal, Ralph placed the catalog of the Healdsburg Magic Company on the counter. Retrieving a small notepad and pen from his pocket, he wrote down the name of the owner, Ray Villota, and the company’s phone number and address. While he was saying goodbye, a young woman detached herself from the group being enchanted by Percy Juska and came over to speak with Alice about the chop cup effect. Alice took the cup off the shelf and began demonstrating her version of the routine.

As Ralph approached the shop’s entrance, Alice called out and reminded him of the Society of American Magicians’ meeting next week. She was chair of the membership committee of Golden Gate Assembly 2. Besides the S.A.M. he was also a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and attended the monthly meetings of the local Ring 38. The members of both groups were very supportive, visiting him during the first year of his convalescence and then encouraging him to continue his magical career.

He had joined both I.B.M. and S.A.M. while in college, thinking that being a member would help him meet professional magicians, but he did not start attending the local I.B.M. Ring regularly until the 1970s when the Magic Cellar Saloon was attracting magic enthusiasts. At that time S.A.M. Assembly 2 was in a dormant state and only began functioning again in 1999. Now with Alice as the main recruiter it was gathering strength.

Waving at Alice in acknowledgment, Ralph left, thinking about the equipment that Ray Villota could build for him. ***

Reaching home, he went directly into his studio. Karma was sleeping in the rocking chair while Lucy was stretched out on the stage. He turned on the monitor and brought up the file on the alchemical light show. Then he opened the folder with the written notes on the show and began comparing and collating ideas. He needed to organize his thoughts and prepare a detailed summary of the props Ray Villota would build for him.

The challenge was to design props that would illustrate the ideas he envisioned. Studying the storyline he had written for the performance, he marked places where magical happenings would occur. The routines must enhance the spiritual aura surrounding the story.

Glancing toward the stage, he noticed that Lucy was sitting up staring at him. He called to her, and she strolled over and jumped into his lap. Scratching behind her ears, he asked, “Do you have any ideas for me, Lucy?” She purred and nestled in his lap.

Hearing a melodious meow, he looked over at Karma, who was intently watching a moth. He, too, became entranced by the moth’s antics. It circled the ceiling light, flying closer and then moving away, continuously, until it landed on the light fixture. The moth has found its place to die, he mused. It flies upwards to die; then its body falls to the ground—a metaphor for life. Did the moth choose its death, he wondered? The life span of an individual was so short in the cosmic flow. Was there more to the moth’s life than reproducing its species? Was there more to his life? Shasta and he had never parented any children, so was there another purpose to their lives?

His philosophic bent had always carried him into unknown territories and at times perilous thoughts. A strange image arose in his mind: a rope ascending into the sky and a young boy climbing the rope and disappearing. Like the moth the boy would die, his dismembered body scattered to the ground below.

Stories about the ancient rope illusion that supposedly originated in mysterious India had charmed people for eons. Europeans had unsuccessfully tried to witness a performance that accurately reflected the venerable description of the routine. Had such a routine ever been performed? Only hearsay and rumor prevailed. Recent scholarly evidence indicated that the stories were based primarily on the imaginative fiction of a newspaper editor who wrote a fake story about the miracle.

Placing Lucy on the desk, he rose, walked over to the bookshelves, and selected John Booth’s Extending Magic Beyond Credibility. Much had been written about the rope routine and its history, and Booth’s rendition was a favorite. As he approached the rocking chair, Karma hopped down and began cleaning herself. Seating himself, Ralph opened the book to the section on the rope illusion and began reading, gliding to and fro.

Some modern magicians had staged parts of the routine, primarily having the rope rise and a boy climb it and then disappear. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the British illusionist David Devant also included the restoration of the dismembered body.

The storyline alluded to mystic practices and could be interpreted as referring to shamanic themes. The shaman, living in the middle world, can visit the lower and upper realms during power quests. A very important part of initiation is dismemberment and restoration. The theme of cut and restore is found in many religious stories. After her husband-brother Osiris is cut into pieces by their evil brother Set, Isis collects the scattered parts and resurrects Osiris.

Gliding to and fro, he watched his thoughts flowing in rhythm. An analogy of the three shamanic worlds can be found among many Native Americans. In the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story Sky Woman, after passing an initiatory test, leaves the upper world and, floating downward, participates in creating the middle human world. The creation stories of the people of the southwestern United States posit three or four earlier worlds, the present being the fourth or fifth. Each stage of the people’s journey is to the next higher world, but not all can reach it. Many remain forever in the lower world.

Getting up, he walked over to his collection of small props he had used in earlier years. Examining them, his attention was caught by the wood ball and vase set. He lifted the cover off the vase and stared at the red ball inside. Inspired, he visualized the vase as an athanor and the ball as an egg resting in its sand bath. Dropping the ball into his right hand, he recovered the vase. Passing his left hand over the other, he vanished the red ball. He uncovered the vase and the ball was back, resting in its nest. Yes, he could envision a stage-size prop for the decomposition process.

A plop sound caught his attention. Peering toward the door, he saw Shasta standing there and Lucy with Karma in tow sauntering toward her. “Hi, love,” he said, “how’s Nancy?”

Beaming, Shasta replied, “She’s fine. She’s been constructing table settings and assemblages from her beach-combing treasures. I’m inspired to make some, perhaps adding some flowers. I’ll tell you the details during happy hour. I’m fixing a special basting sauce for the Cornish hen.”

“Stuffed with wild rice?”

“Definitely. Would you cut some herbs for me, Let’s see . . . I’ll need oregano, thyme, basil, and a little sage.”

“Delighted.”

Rising, and the last to leave the studio, he thought about the day’s marvels he would relate to Shasta that evening.

Hermes Beckons Chapters The Way That Can Be Imaged Is Not the Way A Mystery Shrouds Life Itself