Book of Tokens

I was wandering around in a metaphysical shop back in the mid-90s.  I wanted to browse, but my Marxist boyfriend was with me and I felt obliged to sort of explain myself and translate in the hope that maybe my secret passion for the esoteric wouldn’t seem like deluded idealism.  Suddenly there was a small figure blocking our path and looking at us rather severely.  She reminded me of Wednesday Adams, but in her early twenties, clad in jeans and a drab t-shirt.

 “What are you looking for?”

 It was not so much an offer of help.  More like a curt request: Tell me what you want.

I didn’t know what to say.  Honestly, I was there to browse.  I was a seeker just starting to seek – and I was embarrassed about it, especially with my Marxist boyfriend standing there.  But I had been experimenting with the Tarot for around two years by then.  I had a Rider-Waite deck, a pop interpretation book, a feminist explication book and a desire to learn more.  So I told her I was looking for a book on the Tarot.  She disappeared without a word.  Relieved that she was gone, I went back to browsing while trying to explain myself (quietly) to my inner materialist critic, whom I was projecting outward on my Marxist boyfriend.  I was ambivalence in action.

Suddenly she appeared again looking severe as before.  She didn’t say anything – she just held out a little book.  I took it from her and she hurried off.  I was at a loss.  I wanted to explore and pick out something on my own.  I didn’t want her help to begin with.  And looking over the little book, I could see right away that it was something I would not have selected.  It was strange.  It seemed she had brought it out of the back room where it had been absorbing incense smoke for years, judging from its heavy scent.  I thought about ditching it on the shelves I was browsing – I had my eye on another book – something bigger and glossy, but then I saw the glossy book from her perspective and knew it was cheesy.  I suspected that Wednesday Adams was issuing me a challenge to move beyond fluff in my seeking.

So I bought the strange little Tarot book.  I took it home with me and tried to find my way in.  The heavy scent intrigued me.  But no, it just wasn’t what I wanted.  There wasn’t any direct instruction.  It consisted mainly of short poems and illustrations of cards that were slightly different from the ones I was used to.   There was Biblical-sounding verse and “O Israel” exhortations.  It seemed way too much like prayer and religion for me, half-Marxist that I was. 

I stopped experimenting with the cards and put the strange little book aside.  But I did not get rid of it.  It survived numerous painful book purges when I moved from apartment to apartment and eventually to my own house. 

The book was The Book of Tokens, by Paul Foster Case.  In more recent years, it came in handy when I was reading essays that referred Major Arcana images as they appear in the BOTA deck.  It wasn’t until last year that I read Paul Foster Case’s more directly instructional The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages and finally understood the point of the strange little book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for the last fifteen years.

Of course, the Tarot cannot be explicated in mere prose.  The cards are to be meditated upon for their symbolism speaks fluently to the subconscious mind.  And through the subconscious they can help bring us into conscious communication with superconsciousness. 

So after all those years of sitting mostly unused on my shelf, the strange little book is now picked up and pored over every day.  I was taking it for granted that it was always there waiting for me until I was ready.  Lately, though, I’ve been musing on the odd way it ‘fell into my hands.’  Why did Wednesday Adams thrust this particular book on me?  If she was bent on directing me to something by Paul Foster Case, why not hand me the more accessible A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages? 

Whatever her reason, I appreciate the result.  So thank you, dear Wednesday.  The metaphysical shop in Belleville is long gone, but its incense-laden scent lingers in the pages of my strange little Tarot book.

Eyeball Kid
June 20th, 2009 4:48 pm

I never quite had an experience like this, but I have had books thrust upon me that have had a major impact on my life. Thanks for the intriguing post.

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