Have you ever called upon a Tarot witness? Our idea here shouldn't be confused with eye-witness testifiers in a law court, or with Christianity's idea of openly professing one's faith through words and actions. There's a more metaphoric concept of witnessing, since even eye-witness accounts tend to be of questionable factual accuracy. As Berel Lang notes in Philosophical Witnessing (2009), it is "less the specific details in [witness'] accounts that give them their special force, but the fact of their speakers' presence in the event witnessed, and the persistence of that fact in the continuing (in this sense, perpetual) present. The metaphoric aspect of witnessing thus adds itself to the historical reference, even for those who were physically present" (p. 14). And so when we call upon archetypal witnesses via Tarot cards, we summon a cultural or collective validation from visible, trusted presences who articulate after the facts so as to separate important events from the mundane, thereby facilitating understanding and meaningful change.
Imagine our delight to encounter in an old book four witnesses who can serve as a Tarot spread template. Underground, or Life Below the Surface by Thomas Wallace Knox (1873), introduces us to "the interesting witness, the knowing witness, the deaf witness, and the irrelevant witness."
A Tarot card placed upon the "interesting" witness would testify to something in particular that should catch and hold the querent's attention. This is something you should want to know or learn more about, and it's something positive, perhaps even exciting, but certainly worthy of curiosity.
The "knowing" witness points to something that you have knowledge or awareness of that others do not, or to something that you can now discover through observation or inquiry. We say informally that to know is to be "clued in," and the "knowing" witness is your clue.
The "deaf" witness is oblivious or otherwise indifferent to what his Tarot card communicates. This is a message that is within earshot but which hasn't yet penetrated and may need to reach shouting proportions before it does.
The "irrelevant" witness points to something that has been exhibited as evidence but which is immaterial or otherwise beside the point. This is an issue that is actually unrelated to the matters at hand and can now be let go of.
Not only do we believe in unicorns, we have one in our family tree! (Our 21st great grandmother was Blanche of Lancaster, wife of John of Gaunt, and is the lady in one of the famed "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries.) Over the past four years, British recording artist Ben Berry (of Fear of Tigers fame) has been working on a musical companion to our Field Guide to Identifying Unicorns by Sound. As we just can't wait for that release, we've been recording some of our own tracks. We've even worked in some fantastical unicorn facts not previously revealed in the field guide. Our first recordings are available for free listening over at Soundcloud. Remember that for every heart icon you click, a baby unicorn takes its first steps.
The following is from our guest piece for magician Jeff McBride's Museletter:
The most controversial word that magicians use might very well be “laypeople.” Its primary definition of course refers to a non-ordained member of a church, but that’s the least of the problem. We might do well to consider whether the very idea of laypeople is an illusion in itself. As a well-diplomaed philosopher, if my professor friend Larry chatted about the nature of reality with a stranger, that person wouldn’t strictly be a “layperson” but a fellow philosopher (even if to a lower “degree”).
The very concept of a layperson might put up invisible walls that are more of a disservice to the magician than to his or her participants in wonder. That’s because we all have specialized knowledge and experiences that others don’t, and if only we had a way of knowing how to communicate them, we’d all blow each other’s minds quite regularly. Sure, a magician may know the secret of a particular card trick that the participant doesn’t, yet a participant may be well-practiced in some other operation or art equally difficult or requiring flair. The participant may in fact know a card trick of his or her own, too, but not necessarily self-identify as a magician. The word “layperson” literally means a non-expert person, and is that how we’d describe our audiences (at least on our better days)?
A passage in César Aira's novelette The Literary Conference feels apropos, in that it's about how unlikely it is for any two people on earth to have read even just two of the same books, and how the unlikelihood increases exponentially for three books and so on:
An intellectual's uniqueness can be established by examining their combined readings. How many people can there be in the world who have read these two books: The Philosophy of Life Experience by A. Bogdanov, and Faust by Estanislao del Campo? Let us put aside, for the moment, any reflections these books might have provoked, how they resonated or were assimilated, all of which would necessarily be personal and nontransferable. Let us instead turn to the raw fact of the two books themselves. The concurrence of both in one reader is improbable, insofar as they belong to two distinct cultural environments and neither belongs to the canon of universal classics. Even so, it is possible that one or two dozen intellectuals across a wide swathe of time and space might have taken in this twin nourishment. As soon as we add a third book, however, let us say La Poussière de Soleil by Raymond Roussel, that number becomes drastically reduced. If it is not 'one' (that is, I), it will come very close. Perhaps it is 'two,' and I would have good reason to call the other 'mon semblable, mon frére.' One more book, a fourth, and I could be absolutely certain of my solitude. But I have not read four books; chance and curiosity have placed thousands in my hands. And besides books, and without departing from the realm of culture, there are records, paintings, movies ... All of that as well as the texture of my days and nights since the day I was born, gave me a mental configuration different from all others. [p. 9]
Indeed, every person has a unique mental configuration, meaning that we’re all fellow unlikelihoods, all brethren of wonder. What if no one of us has ever technically met a “layperson”? What would happen if a performer came on stage, looked at a sea of faces in the audience, and quoted Bob Neale about what an honor is it is to be in the presence of so many genuine magicians? Even at a pro-magicians-only conference, given just how many magics there are (see Magic and Meaning by Eugene Burger and Robert E. Neale), who is technically ordained when there’s no one holy order, no one definition of kosher? How does the concept of a “layperson” serve us?
As Bob Neale has expressed it: "I am a magician . . . and so are you. We are all magicians—illusionists—who survive, take pleasure, and find meaning in life by means of the illusions we create. I am here to remind you that such magic runs rampant in our lives and that this is a good thing."