My name is Kirsten Weiss, and I write paranormal mystery novels featuring metaphysical detective, Riga Hayworth. The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, and The Shamanic Detective, are published by misterio press and available on Amazon.
Summer Solstice, 2008: Marrakech, Morocco.
Noel Coward wrote that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun. Yet here I am, neither English nor mad, staggering about Marrakech’s pink-tinted Kasbah during the height of summer. As above, so below: the heat from the cobblestones bakes the soles of my thin shoes; the noon-time sun broils my scalp.
My companion stands bargaining outside an artist’s shop, which spills into the road. I don’t understand the attraction. The artist paints on rough wooden paddles in what can generously be classed a “primitive” style. I slouch against the cool stucco wall across the street, hugging a sliver of shade and feigning interest from afar.
My friend calls for me to come over and see something; his voice is raised with excitement. Unenthusiastically, I haul myself into the merciless sunlight.
“The artist gave this to me and said it was for you,” he says. “How did he know?”
I look at the rectangular board he hands me.
It’s a painting of a robed fortune teller, her face veiled bandit-style. She reads cards for two women, who lean, rapt with attention, over her shoulders. I blink, dazed by the heat, and ask the artist in my Tarzan-esque French where it was painted. He tells me the fortune tellers are in the Djmaa el Fna – Marrakech’s main square. I’ve never seen card readers there before, and don’t find them in the square that night. But later, as the heat fades, I revive enough to puzzle over the crude painting, which the artist gave me as a gift.
What intuition had led the artist to give me a painting of card readers? And are those actual Tarot cards in the painting? The blobs of color are suggestive, but it’s impossible to tell.
Back home in Casablanca, I do an Internet search for: “Tarot Morocco.” I learn that Paul Foster Case, ex-Golden Dawner and founder of the Builders of the Adytum, speculated that the Tarot originated in the 1200s in Fez, Morocco – positing Fez to be a center of Qabalistic philosophy. Current thinking on Tarot place its origins in Renaissance Italy, though the image of 13th century Moroccan Qabalists hiding their esoteric teachings in Tarot cards is intriguing.
One month later… Witchcraft Island, Casablanca.
The Marabout of Sidi Abderraham is a big name for this tiny spit of land, which only becomes an island at high tide. Foreigners have flippantly dubbed the place “Witchcraft Island” and the name has stuck (at least in the low-brow circles in which I travel). Morocco has a reputation for black magic and this “island” off Casablanca’s coast is something of a fortune telling Mecca. It houses the shrine of a Sufi saint, as well as fortune tellers and magical healers, catering to pilgrims who’d like a side of mysticism with their prayers. It’s also less than a mile from my house in Casablanca – a definite inducement to exploration.
When Moroccans tell me about the island, they speak of women who melt tin and read your future in its twisted designs. Two acquaintances, however, tell me Tarot readers are there as well and that I should by no means pay more than twenty to thirty Dirhams for a reading.
I visit the island at low tide, not trusting the ferrymen with their pocket-sized boats to get me safely there and back. Picking my way across the slick rocks of the tidal pool, I feel a sense of relief when I reach the island’s whitewashed steps. At their top sit a scary-looking pit bull and an Italian-speaking youth. The latter listens to my request and points toward the home of a card reader. The dog glances at me with disinterest and yawns, releasing a thick stream of drool, before sinking its head back upon its paws.
I pass through a curtained doorway into a dwelling not much bigger than a closet, and which has miraculously been divided into two rooms. The fortune teller (card reading is only a part of her repertoire) tells me her name is Fatima.
She directs me into the inner sanctum and to a low bench covered in rough and rumpled blankets. As I begin to sit, the blankets beneath me shift and the tousled head of a small girl emerges. I launch myself into the air and upon re-entry manage not to land on the girl, Fatima’s daughter.
After haggling over the price (I cave and Fatima gets the 100 Dirhams she initially requested), she brings out a deck of cards, about half the size of a regular playing card deck. Fatima shuffles and draws two cards, then instructs me to tuck the cards and my 100 Dirhams inside my right armpit and say out loud, “my heart, my vision.”
It seems kind of icky – how many sweaty armpits have those cards been inside? Nevertheless, I do it, then pass both money and cards back to her.
Fatima cuts the deck into three piles and turns the top card in each stack over. “This card is your heart,” she says, tapping the top card of the first stack. She puts her finger the top card of the middle stack. “This is your thoughts. The last is your vision,” Fatima says, indicating the final pile.
These three cards become a sort of theme for what is to come. She looks at each carefully and reshuffles them back into the deck, then lays out a matrix of cards, five by five, to represent my heart issue. The top card in each column represents the subject, with the below four cards as a sort of commentary. She then reshuffles and repeats the process for my thoughts, and my future. I was skeptical when she said I’d be traveling (Hello! I’m a foreigner in Morocco!). But then she told me that I’d be starting a new and rewarding project and that I would see something terrible (I did and I did).
Seeing my interest in her cards, and likely taking pity on my rotten bargaining skills, she sends her daughter running outside. In a few minutes, the barefoot girl returns with a cellophane-wrapped deck identical to Fatima’s – a gift for me.
It’s a funny little deck, with pips numbered from one through seven followed by three court cards – pages, knights, and kings – numbered 10 through 12. There are no ladies, no eights and nines, and no Major Arcana – this deck is used for games and cartomancy – it’s not Tarot, by any means. But there’s something oddly evocative about these little cards. The clubs are actual clubs rather than those funny clover-like things one finds in regular card decks. And the Page of Coins has a white goat sketched into the background – it must have some meaning though I’m baffled as to what that may be. None of the other court cards have animals in them.
In the audio book, “The Process,” Dan Pelletier advocates using regular playing cards to practice Tarot, translating Minor Arcana meanings to the suit cards. I try it with my Moroccan deck. It’s easier than I expected – the Moroccan suit cards are much closer to the Tarot pips than are those in a “normal” deck of playing cards. And I like the funky, occult vibe of this deck, with its riotous colors and flimsy cardboard.
Back to Marrakech
Another month passes and I return to Marrakech, hunting the Djmaa el Fna for card readers in the afternoon heat. I’ve been told the fortune tellers are behind the snake charmers, but I only find ladies aggressively wielding long syringes filled with black henna.
I beat a hasty retreat.
At night, however, the card readers appear. I sidle past snake charmers taunting cobras, their mouths sewn cruelly shut. Crowds form a raucous circle around the spectacle. Behind and apart from this tumult, upon plastic pastel-colored stools, squat the card readers. Thick veils bisect their faces; their eyes are rimmed with coal. One older woman has a lumpy knit hat upon the cobblestones before her. A pack of cards, bones and beads lie inside it. Smoke from the tajine and kabob stands blows between us. I step forward, sit down across from her.
Her eyes crinkle in a smile. I cross her palm with silver.
Fortunes are told, mysteries revealed, wonders promised.
“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
What is All Fool’s (or April Fool’s) Day and what connection, if any, does it have with Tarot? The most obvious association is with the Fool card in the Major Arcana. Cultures going back to the ancient Romans have celebrated holidays when the normal conventions of behavior did not apply, when people were given the opportunity to shun the rules and play the fool. Many such holidays occurred near the spring equinox, such as the Roman festival, Hilaria, and Jewish Purim. While the roots of All Fools Day are lost in the mists of history, the holiday appears to be connected to these lighthearted springtime celebrations.
The spring equinox was celebrated as the beginning of the new year in medieval Europe and plays a large role in origin theories. Many believe that All Fool’s Day celebrations derived from the switch in Europe from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, a changeover which progressed from France in the 16th century to England in the 18th century. During this time the rural folk, who continued celebrating New Year’s Day at the beginning of spring, may have been considered fools by more “sophisticated” urbanites who made the switch to a January 1st New Year’s – hence All Fool’s Day on April 1st. But this explanation for All Fool’s Day doesn’t take into account the fact that the Julian calendar also celebrated New Year’s Day on January 1st, and All Fool’s celebrations in France and England actually preceded the calendar changes.
While January 1st may be the first day of the calendar new year, the spring equinox signals fresh beginnings for the earth (in the Northern hemisphere, at least). So perhaps the roots of All Fool’s Day derive from the universal lightening of hearts that follows the bursting of buds from the ground after the cold and dark of winter? The spring equinox is a sort of solar balance point, when the hours of day and night are roughly equal. From that day until the autumn equinox there are more hours of day than night, and the extra sunshine naturally lifts people’s spirits, just as the lack of sunshine during winter can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Traditional interpretations of the Fool card fit neatly with All Fool’s Day’s celebrations. Aleister Crowley perhaps said it best in his Book of Thoth: “The Fool stirs within all of us at the return of Spring, and be cause [sic] we are a little bewildered, a little embarrassed, it has been thought a salutary custom to externalize the subconscious impulse by ceremonial means. It was a way of making confession easy. Of all these festivals it may be said that they are representations in the simplest form, without introspection, of a perfectly natural phenomenon.” When drawn in answer to a timing question, the Fool could, therefore, indicate early spring.
The Fool is typically associated with Uranus, but in the same text on the Fool, Crowley takes care to mention that the Sun enters Aries at the spring equinox – the start of the astrological year – almost as if Aries is a secondary attribution to the card. This makes some sense as Aries represents many classic “Fool” traits, such as having a pioneering spirit and the ability to live in the moment. However, the Aries/Fool impulsiveness can have its downside too. Partnered with other Aries/Mars influenced cards, one might ask if these tendencies are leading to destructive or constructive results.
Aries, which holds sway from March 21st to April 19th, is attributed to the Emperor card, and there is an elegance to All Fool’s Day falling within the Aries/Emperor calendar period, suggestive of state-sanctioned high jinks. However, the Emperor brings a warning as well. In The Book of Thoth, Crowley says of the Emperor: “With regard to the quality of this power, it must be noted that it represents sudden, violent, but impermanent activity. If it persists too long, it burns and destroys.” Clearly, we Fools must know our limits. Do we step blindly off the cliff? Or, like the man in the Three of Wands (another All Fool’s Day card, attributed to March 31st – April 10th), do we take considered risks, contemplating what lies beyond the cliff’s edge?