A Fool Such As I – my Tarot novel-in-progress!

I have finished a complete draft of my spoof-mystery Tarot novel, A Fool Such As I, and mocked up a paperback version.

I’m looking for readers to give me some overall feedback. Like “It’s amazing!” or “It could use some editing!” or “I couldn’t make heads or tails of it!” or “I used it to line my bird cage!” Even letting me know where you bog down will be helpful.

See below for back-cover blurb, online sample, and links to PDF. You can also request a paperback copy if you’ll commit to trying to read at least 30 pages and giving me feedback.

Want to give it a shot? Drop me a line and I’ll get a paperback copy to you – or check out the online or PDF sample below.

Online chapter below | click here for PDF of entire book

Email for paperback copy of bookdirectactionnovel@gmail.com

A Fool Such As I – back cover blurb!

The owner of Arcane Wisdom Magicke Shoppe is dead. His revolutionary new deck, the Trismegistus Meister Tarot, is missing.

Could the culprit be one of the locals on Oracle Street? Perhaps gnostic sage Madame Bluebloodsky?  Self-promoting raconteur Alabaster Crockley? Or maybe feminist maven Wendy Womansdaughter, owner of the Wiccan Wonderland?

Did the shifty mountebank from the esoteric street faire have a hand? And what about millionaire Cornelius De Roquefort, founder of the Headstone Eclectic Metaphysical Outlet chain?

Will the Universal Pan-Pagan Interfaith Council – UPPIC, the highest authority in the brave new Pagan world of the Great Return – succeed in hushing up the affair?

Worse yet, is UPPIC looking for a convenient scapegoat?

Join detective and resident custodian Jeff Harrison as he immerses himself in the minutiae of Tarot, taxing all of his intuitive and janitorial skills in a desperate attempt to clean up the messy affair – before he faces trial by ordeal!

Click here for PDF of entire book

Email for paperback copy of bookdirectactionnovel@gmail.com

                        *                      *                      *

A FOOL SUCH AS I – SAMPLE CHAPTERS

Prologue: The Fool

No mere fool, I.

Indeed, given my grand ambitions upon returning to Key City, one might take me for another order of fool altogether.

Days before, I resumed my old janitorial job at Arcane Wisdom Magicke Shoppe, intent on saving money for a trip to Rome while completing Volumes Two and Three of my magnum opus, Magical Materialism.*

How I dreamed of visiting Rome – epicenter of the brave new Pagan world of the Great Return and home to today’s most powerful Earth-based tendencies and formations.

These fine plans were about to go up in smoke when magical entrepreneur and Tarot virtuoso Arthur A. Arthur died within days of my return, and the tranquility of life on Oracle Street was shattered – perhaps forever.

Soon I would find myself bereft of employer and mentor and stand deeply embroiled not only in Arthur’s mysterious death but also the disappearance of the irreplaceable master paintings for his historic creation, the Trismegistus Meister Tarot.

                        *                       *                       *

My entanglement in Arthur’s death was the fault of my mentor himself, who had drawn my ire several years earlier when he rejected my offer to allow him to co-publish the initial volume of my groundbreaking magnum opus.

Not only did he decline my generous proposition, he apparently never read beyond page 300 of the 2748-page first volume, completely missing the heart of my argument for a materialist interpretation of magical theory and history.

Now, with the tabloids snooping for dirt in the wake of my preceptor’s tragic demise, I would have to mask my burning and completely justified outrage, taking care not to mention that I had contemplated murdering Arthur for his theoretical shortcomings.

What do you take me for, a complete fool?

                        *                       *                       *

Before you answer that, perhaps I should introduce myself.

My given name is Jeff Harrison, which is about as unmagical as you can get aside from sharing my patronym with the “mystical Beatle.”

My initiatory name, on the other hand, is so grandiose that I sometimes feel embarrassed to use it publicly.

The nom de guerre was awarded upon induction into the Right Ancient and Anachronistic Siblinghood of the Bristling Broom, in recognition of meritorious completion of my undergraduate degree in the Sacred Janitorial Sciences.

Even though I prided myself on my devoutly Mediterranean lineage, the Celtic-derived initiatory name – Lugh BroomSweeper – could not have been more fitting.

                        *                       *                       *

The story is told that Lugh, weary from much jacking of various and sundry trades, approached the abode of the Celtic gods and goddesses and deities of various other genders and persuasions.

He rapped on the door and requested entrance.

If one examines the most ancient sources, it is not at all certain that Lugh was applying to be a deity. He probably just wanted to use the restroom, or find a burger joint that was open late.

Be that as it may, the resident gods and goddesses answered thus: “What skill dost thou possess that wouldst warrant accepting thee into our midst?”

“Well,” Lugh respectfully replied, “I know some plumbing.”

“Negatory,” came the word. “We already havest a god of plumbing.”

“I can do a touch of carpentry, including cabinetry and door-hanging,” Lugh said.

“No, sorry, we’re covered.”

“How about tile work? I’ve got my own tools.”

“Tiles?” came the impatient response. “We’ve got someone. Anything else?”

Lugh pondered long and hard, and finally spoke: “I know how to repair toaster ovens, the kind you always have to throw away because one little knob breaks.”

“Impressive,” came the answer. “But we already have a toaster goddess.”

The ancient ones of the Celtic world were about to slam the door in Lugh’s face.

But one of them – we are not told who, but I always suspected it to have been Morrígu, the shape-shifting, fortune-telling triple goddess of Irish legend – interjected: “Wait! Yes, we have a plumber, a cabinetmaker, a tile-worker, and even a toaster-oven repair deity. But do we have anyone who has all of those skills?”

The divine ones turned it over a few times and realized that Morrígu was right. The gates were thrown open, and with much pageantry Lugh Samildánach (“equal at many arts”) was invited into the abode of the gods and goddesses.

“We welcome and grant you equal status with each and every deity in the Celtic pantheon, with all rites and privileges thereunto,” declared Cernunnos, Lord of the Hunt and host of the gala reception for Lugh. “Oh, and by the way – there’s a light out in the front lobby. Could you check on that?”

Little wonder, I reflected, that a sacred custodial initiate such as I would find a kindred spirit in the legendary Lugh.

                        *                       *                       *

Legends notwithstanding, initiations apparently counted for naught these days. After all, no one was initiated into more secret societies than Arthur A. Arthur.

Yet shortly he would be found stone dead, and the master paintings for his legacy-crowning Trismegistus Meister deck missing in action.

And unless I could unravel the secrets of Arthur’s final, cryptic Tarot reading, I faced the ordeal of trial by the hot iron or ducking chair.

But I get ahead of my story…

CHAPTER I: THE MAGICIAN

Arthur barreled through the front door with a crisp wave. “Any word from Persephone?”

“I haven’t heard anything.” I was finishing up my third day of work since my return to Key City, mopping the main room at Arcane Wisdom Magicke Shoppe after a hard day of divination and magical commerce.

My employer and former magical mentor, Arthur A. Arthur (everyone knew him as Arthur, although I was never clear whether we were calling him by his first or last name), shook his head sharply.

“I wish she’d be on time for once!”

Arthur – medium build, greying hair and thick moustache – was meeting artist Persephone Coalschmidt to put their long-awaited new deck, the Trismegistus Meister Tarot, through its final divinatory tests and simulated spreads before sending the cards off to the printer.

“It’s just past eight.” I pointed to the old clock behind the counter.

“She said she’d be here ‘by’ eight,” Arthur said as he checked the day’s receipts. “Not ‘around’ eight.”

I let it go. Notwithstanding my lingering vexation over his inability to grasp my innovatory formulation of post-Spinozan magical materialism – a failure that led directly to my departure from Key City several years previously – even I had to acknowledge Arthur A. Arthur as a living legend.

Besides being one of the world’s foremost Tarot adepts, Arthur was Key City’s founding metaphysical entrepreneur. Arcane Wisdom, where on my return to town a few days earlier I had resumed my job as substitute assistant maintenance associate, had for over two decades incubated the revitalization of Paganism locally and globally.

The store – twenty feet square and sparkling with fairy lights – overflowed with books, music, jewelry, clothing and vestments, and most of all divination tools and decks.

During the day, readers of all sorts offered their services at side booths, while evenings were booked for rituals, workshops, Uno readings, and Tarocchi slams.

Long a popular local venue, Arcane Wisdom had become since the advent of the Great Return a Neo-Pagan pilgrimage shrine, and Arthur himself something of an icon – particularly to those who didn’t have to clean up after him.

Arthur was about to seal his legacy by publishing a radical new divination deck, the Trismegistus Meister Tarot, which wove the myriad threads of the Western magical tradition – alchemy, astrology, Hermeticism, astral magic, Cabalistic studies, illusionism, and more – into a seamless tapestry that, according to advance publicity, would unfetter intuition and lay bare one’s deepest secrets.

“Anything I can do to help you get started with the tests?” I asked, although I had only the faintest notion of the procedures he planned to perform on the new deck.

I was no expert on Tarot. Far from it.

Cartomancy played little role in my undergraduate degree in Sacred Janitorics. And in 2700-plus pages of the first volume of my magnum opus I found scant occasion to mention it.*

Yet even a novice such as I could grasp the role that Tarot had played in the 20th century revival of popular occultism. No practice had proven more supple and versatile in addressing the ever-evolving demands of contemporary esotericism – particularly since Paganism had re-emerged as the dominant Western religion.

Arthur looked pleased by my offer to help. “Why, yes – would you set up a card table over there?”

I pushed the bucket and mop into the maintenance closet and got out our best table, proud to be of service to Arthur in the final stages of his long-labored creation.

Given my anguish at his rejection of my magnum opus, it was ironically comforting to discover on returning to Key City that my old job at the store was temporarily available.

The anchor janitor at Arcane Wisdom, a spike-haired trans woman named Johanna against whom I’d competed in interscholastic janitorial tournaments, was going on sabbatical to newly-Paganized Rome, fountainhead of the Great Return.

I envied Johanna getting to visit the Eternal City and experience the rapidly-evolving transition from moribund Christianity to a vibrant explosion of Neo-Pagan spirituality, ritual, craft, and commerce.

But after three years of wandering I was glad to be back in my adoptive hometown.

When I learned that Arcane Wisdom needed a substitute janitor I came in through the back door, grabbed a broom, and set about making myself invaluable at Arthur’s store and several neighboring shops clustered along the 1300 block of Oracle Street.

                        *                       *                       *

The front door swung open again. Persephone Coalschmidt – tall and lithe, wavy brown hair tumbling over her shoulders – nodded in my direction, then greeted Arthur with a quick hug.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said, not sounding especially sorry. “You should have started without me.”

“No, no,” Arthur said impatiently. “We both need to be here.”

Persephone went to a cabinet behind the counter, took out a wooden box, and gingerly removed a stack of card-sized paintings – the original artwork for the new deck.

The Trismegistus Meister Tarot, a virtual compendium of Western metaphysics painstakingly collated by Arthur and woven into stunning miniature artworks by Persephone, aimed to transfigure the divinatory process via the richness of its images and resonances.

First, though, the co-creators had to quit bickering long enough to run the final battery of tests and simulations on the master cards.

“Let’s focus on the Majors,” Persephone said. “If they’re okay, the Minors should be fine.”

“No,” Arthur shot back. “I want to know for sure that the Minors are ready.”

Persephone glared at him. “Why wouldn’t they be ready?”

“I’m not saying they aren’t,” Arthur answered without meeting her eyes. “I’d just like to run all the tests.”

“Well, I’d prefer to begin with the Majors,” Persephone said coolly.

Arthur gave a loud sigh. “Okay,” he said. “But we’re not leaving until we’ve done a complete verification.”

“Fine,” Persephone muttered. “Let’s get going.”

Although I was excited to be present for the final trial readings, I was feeling a bit like the proverbial third oar on the old rowboat. Did the two of them prefer to argue in private?

Did they want to be alone to conduct some sort of arcane Tarot ritual? Or were they waiting until I left to kiss and make up?

Since they began their cooperative venture several years earlier, Arthur and Persephone had been indissolubly linked in the public eye. The tabloids loved to hint at secret ceremonies and initiations, and paparazzi seized opportunities to photograph the two together.

Both insisted that it was purely a working relationship, but in spite of their age difference people couldn’t help wondering whether it was one of those Samhain/Beltane affairs.

Whatever tangled web they wove, theirs was an historic partnership, and despite my well-warranted anger at Arthur for his undeniable failings as a judge of cutting-edge magical theory, I had to admit that the Trismegistus Meister deck might well redefine the occult arts.

                        *                       *                       *

Never before had Tarot carried such a variegated range of images, a synthesis ranging from Assyrian cuneiform to Egyptian hieroglyphics to Graeco-Roman physiques to Medieval grotesqueries to Baroque architectonics to Romantic fantasias.

Each painting was crowded with archetypes, correspondences, symbols, and sigils, as well as countless allusions to Arthur’s compendious learning.

Yet on every card the deluge somehow fused into a seamless whole, an integrated vision that bespoke a deeper well of inspiration that Arthur had tapped – an insight into the unity of the entire Western esoteric tradition.

Was the inspiration really Arthur’s? He was no artist, as attested by the crude stick-figures on Arcane Wisdom’s restroom door indicating that humans of all genders were to sit while using the toilet.

No, the paintings – small-scale miracles crafted to the precise size of the cards – came from the hand of Persephone Coalschmidt, a rising young artist who had first shown her skills several years earlier by illustrating a series of posters for the sorority and fraternity rush parties that preceded the local Eleusinian Mysteries.

Arthur, about to create the deck that all the occult world awaited, eschewed the services of more experienced artists and persuaded Persephone – by means that neither had revealed – to illustrate his new deck.

Her gifts were undeniable, as evidenced by early sketches for the Major Arcana that I’d seen before I left on my travels.

But it was particularly her illustrations for the Minors that shone. No previous artist had brought the images to life in such a rich and convincing manner, vibrating like archetypal aspects of the collective subconscious and awakening the querent’s ownmost intuition.

In fact, you had to be careful what you asked, or you might find out more about yourself than you bargained for. One of Persephone’s friends did a reading about what to get her mother for her birthday and wound up needing emergency psychotherapy.

                        *                       *                       *

As I busied myself dusting the bookcases, the two of them ran what I gathered were standard divinatory tests: the Avicennian Sequences, the Lullian Artifice, the Asimov Rotation, the Rorschach Resonances. With a little tweaking, all produced flawless results for the Major Arcana.

Turning to the Minor Arcana, the pair put the deck through the most rigorous trials. Persephone drew a Pentacle flush to take the pot in Seven Card Stud. Arthur racked up over 120 points in one round of Gin Rummy. Blackjack dealt 21 almost half of the time.

Arthur even called me over for Three Card Monte. Laying three cards face down and naming them Past, Present, and Future, he turned up the first and showed me the Death card.

“Fine for your past,” he said with a knowing nod. “But would you want to find it in the Present or Future position?”

I shook my head, figuring that was the correct answer. He turned Death face down and began to shuffle the three cards like a riverboat gambler. “Watch the cards,” he said. “It’s all in the cards.”

After thoroughly mixing them, he finished with a flourish, holding his arms wide. “Behold,” he intoned. “Where does Death lie now?”

I had no clue. Was it some sort of Tarot challenge? If you really and truly understood all there was to know about the meanings and interpretations of the card, how it fit into the sequence of Major Arcana as well as its resonances in the Minors, not to mention how the archetype had echoed through the ages of Western art and culture, would you know precisely where to expect Death?

Or were you just supposed to guess?

                        *                       *                       *

I shook my head. “Back where it started?”

He turned up the Past position – the Seven of Wands.

“Future?”

He flipped up the Six of Discs. Giving me a sly look, he slowly turned over the Present card – the Page of Swords.

“Huh?”

With a roguish smile he reached under the table and pulled out the Death card. He held it up triumphantly for me to see, then looked at Persephone.

She yawned. “I think that does it,” she said with relief.

“No,” Arthur said. “One more thing.”

He took the 78 miniature artworks in both hands and closed his eyes. He drew a deep breath, then seemed to wait for us to audibly breathe as well.

“This is the ultimate test of the Minor Arcana,” he said solemnly. Leaning forward, he laid out a Solitaire spread.

Persephone frowned. We watched as Arthur began to turn up cards and shift them around. All four aces were soon in play, and two suits were up to court cards.

                        *                       *                       *

But Swords were stuck on Nine. Persephone’s painting showed a frightened clown dodging knives in a carnival booth. “I knew we should have lightened up on that one,” she said.

Arthur’s brows furrowed. “Don’t blame the cards.”

At that moment Persephone spotted a move. Arthur complied, and up came the Ten of Swords, showing the same clown juggling the knives.

“Aha!” Arthur cried, playing the Ten and quickly running the rest of the deck. “That proves it’s ready!”

Persephone allowed herself a tired smile. “Finally.”

As she placed the 78 paintings in a cabinet behind the main counter, Persephone turned to Arthur. “I’ll let you take them to the printer,” she said flatly.

“What?” he said. “You don’t want to go along? I’d like someone to be with me.”

“I have an important engagement.” Her face was impassive.

Arthur scowled and looked my way. “I suppose I could ask someone else to help…”

I seized the chance to be part of magical history, agreeing to meet Arthur in the morning while making a mental note to record the entire incident in the journal which I planned to write as soon as things slowed down a bit.*

Delighted as I was to accompany Arthur, I wondered why Persephone had demurred.

Was she secretly embittered that she was receiving so little credit for the monumental project? Although she inked her monogram in the corner of almost every card, her name appeared only in tiny print on the back of the box.

Meanwhile, millionaire Cornelius De Roquefort – owner of the Headstone Metaphysical Outlet chain and chief patron of the Trismegistus Meister Tarot – was emblazoned across the front as “Presenter” of the historic deck.

One might imagine Persephone wanting a smidgen more credit for her efforts.

The three of us left Arcane Wisdom at eleven. Exhausted by hours of arduous metaphysical labor, no one spoke as I locked the front door.

A taxi pulled up for Persephone. Arthur whispered a few private words, then pecked her on the cheek. She gave a quick wave and was gone.

Arthur looked at me. “Well, then,” he said. “I’ll see you back here at nine o’clock.”

“Definitely,” I said, taking note of how crisply he stated the time. “See you in the morning.”

With a nod, Arthur turned and headed toward the cluster of saloons at the end of the block.

                        *                       *                       *

I woke the next morning with a start, as from a bad dream.

Stupid alarm clock. Left to my own devices I would linger abed as the first rays of rosy-fingered dawn brightened to mid-afternoon.

Unfortunately, living in a room known as the Forester’s Cottage with no windows and only a small crack under the door, I couldn’t count on old Sol to summon me to the day’s labors.

As my head cleared I suddenly remembered why I’d set my alarm – at nine o’clock I was meeting Arthur to deliver Persephone’s hand-painted originals for the epoch-making Trismegistus Meister Tarot to the printer!

I pulled on my jeans and selected a faded black T-shirt and color-coordinated grey flannel windbreaker from my clothes nook. My stubble was a bit beyond its ideal length, but on this day of days I didn’t want to be late even for the sake of good grooming. I grabbed my daypack and headed for Oracle Street.

As I stepped out into the balmy Key City morning I realized I hadn’t grounded, cast a sacred protective circle, invoked the traditional elements along with their corresponding attributes, honored the First People and spirits of the land, called in a panoply of allies and deities of blood and crafte who might prove supportive in circumstances seen and unforeseen, done an ancestor meditation to deepen my connection to my magical materialist roots, raised, lowered, adjusted, balanced, and centered my energy, and re-grounded myself after all of that.

In short, I’d plum forgot to remember to begin my day by practicing my daily practice!

Knowing time was of the essence, I drew a deep breath and did all of the steps at once, making a mental note to come back later and shore things up a bit.

Right now, I needed to stay focused on meeting Arthur and getting the master paintings to the printer.

Whatever his philosophical failings, it was a profound privilege to work with Arthur, dean of Oracle Street entrepreneurs. Over the course of two decades, my erstwhile magical mentor had helped turned Key City into something of a Holy Land for magical commerce.

In the wake of Arcane Wisdom’s success, the 1300 block now hosted a half-dozen independent shops as well as several chains such as Headstone Eclectic Metaphysical Outlet and the Mini-Max Magic Mart.

Luminaries such as Russian theasophistical seer Madame Bluebloodsky, feminist sage Wendy Womansdaughter, and cryptic author and raconteur Alabaster Crockley had come to call Oracle Street their home.

An esoteric street faire and sacred swap meet flourished in a vacant lot, with crafte vendors from all over the tri-state area.

Down at the seedier end of the street huddled a cluster of divination saloons: Dionysian Dreams, Bacchus Bar & Grill, and the notorious Happy Endings.

Happy Endings wasn’t really a saloon, but a house of divination. It had a reputation as the place people went when they wanted to be guaranteed a positive outcome to their readings.

                        *                       *                       *

I approached the ’hood from the direction of the street faire. Vendors were setting up their booths in the big vacant lot. Mountebanks erected platforms from which to hawk ointments and cures.

Drawn faces and muted voices contrasted with brightly-painted signboards and colorful canopies. The mood seemed oddly somber. Of course, I didn’t usually pass this way until noon. Maybe it took them a while to get warmed up.

I felt a bit nervous about my impending rendezvous with history, and popped into the Mini-Max Magic Mart for a can of my favorite grounding beverage, Molten Core.

Waiting in line, I noticed “Oracle Street” in the top headline of the Key City Post-Divinator.

As I tilted the paper to see the rest of the headline, the clerk – an imposing woman who looked like she moonlighted as middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears – called out: “Hey! No reading the paper until you pay for it!”

I yanked my hand away as if burned. “Sorry,” I called back. “I didn’t mean to use up any of your news.”

She stopped counting the previous customer’s change and gave me a long stare. “Are you some kind of wise guy?”

“No, sorry,” I said again, this time for real. She was facing a long day at the Mini-Max. I didn’t need to make things harder. “I’ll just take this Molten Core.”

“Oh, you’ll just ‘take’ it, will you?”

“No, I mean I want to pay you for it.”

“I should hope so! Where do you think you are?”

I looked around the little store. In addition to the usual run of convenience items, the Mini-Max Magic Mart carried crucial Neo-Pagan ritual supplies not found in other stores on the block: lighters, magic markers, sun screen, and trash bags.

“Well, I, uh, that is…”

“Look, I don’t have all day! Are you going to pay for your drink?”

I handed her way too much money and fled with her shrill voice rattling around my aura.

                        *                       *                       *

Back on the street, I chugged my can of Core and felt my connection to Mother Earth renewed. Finishing it off, I jaywalked over toward 1313 Oracle Street. A hand-painted sign on an old one-story wooden building announced Arcane Wisdom Magicke Shoppe. A smaller, weather-beaten placard proclaimed: Divination for the People!

I smiled at the way omniscient if blindfolded fate had brought me full circle. Not only was I back in Key City – Arcane Wisdom was once again my place of employment.

Three years earlier I capped my undergraduate degree in Sacred Custodics with a stellar internship at Arcane Wisdom, a stint that culminated in wiring the bookshelves so fairy lights flashed and little bells tinkled gaily when you touched selected titles.

Guileless as I was in those bygone days, I assumed that this superlative effort would redound to my benefit when copies of my own book lined the shelves.

Basking in the radiance of impending graduation (and taking advantage of the high-speed copier at a temporary night janitor job), I made the bold leap and produced the first edition of Volume One of my magnum opus, Magical Materialism, sparing no intellectual effort in editing and amalgamating the book to a crisp 2748 pages.

I pinned my hopes and expectations on Arthur rewarding my dedicated custodial work at Arcane Wisdom by co-publishing the book and featuring it in his store for the next decade or two – flashing fairy lights and all.

Naively I assumed that with a little effort he would grasp the daring new metaphysical science I so painstakingly propounded in the main body of Volume One while coming to treasure the 1600 pages of documentary appendices designed to illustrate the theoretical material.*

When he had utterly failed to seize the unparalleled opportunity, the bitter dregs of artistic rejection left me too disconsolate to uphold the guild standards of the Right Ancient and Anachronistic Siblinghood of the Bristling Broom – the international order of witches and custodians into which I had been initiated near the end of my undergraduate studies.

I found myself waking up nightly with a brain full of homicidal thoughts – nothing more specific than the choice of weapon, the location, the exact timing, my get-away plan, and potential cover stories, but still enough to cause me a touch of alarm.

                        *                       *                       *

Given my occasionally volatile nature (the result of numerous exigent contingencies during my troubled yet formative youth), I needed to get out of town and give myself a breather.

Blessed with an unscheduled sabbatical, I had decided to set out on my janitorial wanderjahre.

It is an august tradition of the maintenance trades that upon completion of one’s undergraduate degree ambitious young custodians set out on the road for a period of seasoning – their wanderjahre, or wandering years – the equivalent of graduate study in this ancient and recondite field.*

The journeying tradition was honored to the letter by the Right Ancient and Anachronistic Siblinghood of the Bristling Broom. Around the globe, lodge halls welcomed itinerant janitors, providing room, board, and gainful if often grueling employment.

The Siblinghood, as initiates were wont to call it, claimed lineal descent from an ancient multi-cultural mystery guild that served the temples of fastidious deities of many traditions.

Unlike adherents of Isis, Bacchus, Freya, or Cerridwen, initiates of the Bristling Broom were not confined to the service of a single deity or even to one particular pantheon. Knowing their skills would be in demand wherever they traveled, janitorial witches and custodial priestesses roamed far and wide through the Western world, welcomed and revered wherever they went.

As part of my initiation into this hallowed lineage I was made privy to the ultimate mystery of the custodial fellowship – the broom as the sacred bond between custodians and witches.

Instinctively I’d long felt the kinship. During my induction ceremony I beheld the shimmering nexus of magical power – witches defy gravity by flying through the air on brooms, while custodians wield the broom as a mighty tool of material change.

The closing words of my consecration still rang in my ears as dozens of sacred janitors shook their brooms in the air and chanted in unison:

“May custodians take to the air – and may witches change the world!”

                        *                       *                       *

For the next several years, even as the Great Return unfolded around me, I traveled the length and breadth of Western custodiandom, visiting such legendary centers of the sacred maintenance arts as Alexandria, Edinburgh, and Prague, imbibing the traditions of my trade along with the occult knowledge of the ages.*

Throughout my travels I sojourned as a welcome guest at Bristling Broom lodge halls. While my hosts good-naturedly assigned me the most arduous and miserable tasks in return for accommodation, many were the moments that I celebrated the material benefits of my initiation during those tumultuous times.

Tumultuous times? The phrase scarcely did justice to the past three years. What changes had taken place since I set out on my wanderjahre!

I had been on the road only a few months when a series of scandals almost too absurd to narrate shook institutional Christianity to the core. Already beleaguered by losing the War on Christmas, the West’s dominant religion of the past 1700 years simply imploded.

Except for a few die-hard Retrobates, people stopped going to church, praying, or tithing. In short order Christian denominations began declaring bankruptcy.

Pundits hailed victory for enlightenment and welcomed the dawn of an era of secularism. Yet beneath the surface another current waxed. As fast as churches went on the block, buildings were bought by Neo-Pagan groups and remodeled into temples, sanctuaries, public bath houses, and esoteric thrift shops.

Christian officials spun into a panic – none more than the Vatican. Several pontiffs resigned in rapid succession before Pope Nicodemus came out as a trans woman who secretly worshipped the Celtic Goddess Brighde under the guise of “Saint Brigid” and danced the sacred spiral around the baldacchino altar at Saint Peter’s.

On Samhain Eve that year she had herself anointed Hierophant Minerva, revoked the pro-Christian laws of Constantine and Theodosius, and with the blessing of all Rome revived veneration of the ancient Olympians.

Catholics everywhere were ordered to burn their Christian artifacts, buy all-new Pagan ones, and memorize the appropriate invocations and blessings for Jupiter, Juno, and the other Roman deities.

The impact reverberated around the fading Christian world, as one denomination after another followed suit, each according to their own kind.

Episcopagans upheld high ritual. PresbyPagans enforced discipline. FundaWiccans waved Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows and called down condemnation on other sects.

Some groups paid homage to Celtic or Nordic deities, others Egyptian or Assyrian. Some were eclectic or free-form, some purist. Not a few invented novel ancient traditions.

                        *                       *                       *

The media dubbed the demise of institutional Christianity and the revival of official Pagandom the “Great Return,” and soon congregations venerating the old gods, goddesses, and deities of various other genders, types, species, and proclivities were popping up all around the formerly Christian world.

True, some people had honored the ancient ones all along. Renaissance artists painted their myths. Romantic Era poets sang their praises. And the 1960s revived the nearly-lost tradition of dancing barefoot in the park.

But it was one thing when a bunch of hippies gathered for a maypole, and quite another when the entire apparatus of the Roman Catholic Church abruptly abjured Christianity, repealed Constantine’s Edict of Milan, and declared the restoration of the classical Roman pantheon.

Watching the transformation gain momentum, I yearned to go on pilgrimage to Rome, font of the Great Return and cutting edge of the Neo-Pagan revival.

Rome, home to the Olympian-honoring Vatican – and headquarters to practically every new spiritual tendency in the West.

Rome, where I planned in due time to launch my own bold new spiritual tradition, the Newly Realigned Order of the Silver Shining Wheel of Radiance.

Lacking the finances for even a brief visit, I heard the siren’s call to return to Key City, rest my weary bones, and complete Volumes Two and Three of Magical Materialism – essential to securing wider acceptance of my pioneering Neo-Lucretian theoretical framework – while saving money for a journey to the Eternal City.

Alighting a week earlier, I secured housing at the local Bristling Broom hall and pitched into my job at Arcane Wisdom.

Either Arthur was pleased to have me back at the shop, or he never noticed I’d been gone. In a few days I was ensconced in the job, which along with an hourly stipend included fringe benefits such as divinatory readings, jewelry repair, random magical advice, and the occasional opportunity to take part in secret initiatory ceremonies simply by working late.

                        *                       *                       *

It also meant that I was one of the few to have seen the precious original artworks for the Trismegistus Meister Tarot, which had been veiled from all except those privileged to enter the back room at Arcane Wisdom.

Knowing the likelihood of counterfeit and forged versions of their long-rumored deck, Arthur and Persephone refused to allow even a single card to be displayed, photographed, or scanned. The only versions were the actual card-sized paintings, which we were about to deliver to the printer.

A couple of evenings earlier, on just my second day of work, I had to hold the line when a reporter from Neo-Platonic News and World Soul Report came by as I was closing the shop and demanded to photograph the cards.

“Just a few quick shots! We’re doing a feature on Arthur A. Arthur and his lifetime of contributions to modern magic. The story simply won’t be complete without images from his new deck.”

“You’ll need to check with him,” I had said nervously.

“I’m sure he’d approve – this is an incomparable opportunity for advance publicity.”

I knew she was right. But Arthur and Persephone wanted the entire deck to remain a mystery until the day it was published.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s out of the question.”

She had tried to push inside. “I have a Ninety-Second Amendment right to see the cards,” she said, angrily asserting her right of access to any divination deck in public distribution.

“I believe they’re in the private domain until the deck gets printed,” I replied uncertainly.

I hadn’t stayed current on all of the Constitutional amendments since the Great Return, although everyone knew about the ones guaranteeing the right to dance skyclad under the New, Waxing, Full, and Waning Moons (Amendments Seventy-One through Seventy-Four, respectively).

“Just a few photos,” the reporter insisted. “We won’t print them until the deck appears.” She lowered her voice. “I could make a donation to your ‘college fund.’”

I recoiled. “I already graduated,” I said. “And if it’s a sell-out you’re looking for, I seriously doubt that you could afford it!”

After a bit more blustering she had departed, leaving the Trismegistus Meister Tarot paintings unphotographed.

                        *                       *                       *

Now, picking up my step, I savored anticipation of the impending historic moment when Arthur and I delivered those paintings to the printer – a story I no doubt would tell and re-tell to the grandchildren I planned to have once my schedule cleared out a bit.

I bypassed the front door. You’d think as the all-but-official substitute janitor of Arcane Wisdom, with the level of responsibilities that such a calling entailed, I would have a key.

But I had something better. I was privy to one of Arcane Wisdom’s deepest secrets – the back lock didn’t work. The door appeared to be locked, and stuck when you tried to open it. But a good solid kick just below the handle would open it every time.

I put my foot to the task and felt the lock give.

Stepping inside, I was surprised that the back room was dark.

                        *                       *                       *

Hoping I wasn’t late to meet Arthur, I groped for the light switch. Energy saving bulbs flashed a distinctly unmystical light on the back room, which housed the store’s precision machinery as well as Arthur’s workbenches.

Bulletin boards covered the right wall with a thousand scraps of paper, most of which looked like relics from a bygone era.

To the left hung Arthur’s first great magical achievement, the one that made his reputation in the esoteric cosmos – the Periodic Table of the Tarot.

Using his own empirically corrected magical valences and energies of transmutation, Arthur had constructed a chart illustrating relations among the 78 cards. The rows and columns of Major and Minor Arcana highlighted recurring patterns as well as elucidating puzzling incongruities such as why there’s a lobster on the Moon card.*

The Periodic Table of the Tarot soon appeared on the front wall of every alchemical lab and in the back pages of every magical text, and had a profound effect on divinatory readings, illuminating the multifarious cross-currents of the typical spread.

As I started toward the front room, a bizarre spectacle leapt out at me, the likes of which I never expected to see in Arcane Wisdom.

                        *                       *                       *

A Tarot spread covered most of Arthur’s workbench. That wasn’t unusual. Most mornings before he opened the shop he did a reading to assess the energy on the block that day.

Although his interpretations were private (or shared only with Persephone), he generally left the cards out, and his favorite Bergamo Renaissance Tarocchi deck was a familiar sight in the back room.

But the present reading was harshly dissonant. In addition to two cards from Arthur’s usual deck, a hodge-podge from a half-dozen other decks were laid as a mandala: Motherpeace, Thoth, Marseilles, Gnostic Gnowers, and in the center an empty box from an outlawed deck that for reasons of common decency and the general good of humanity had never been put into production – the Fast Food Tarot.

The cover of the box depicted a grinning rodent, iconic mascot of a well-known burger chain.

I sucked in a breath and stepped back. There is a reason that the Prague Accord on Tarot Spreads long ago proscribed multi-deck readings.*

Authorities since Etteilla and Eliphas Levi have recognized Tarot arcana as living beings. Each deck is, as it were, a unique species of the broader genus, Tarot.

Mixing decks is the occult analogue of genetic engineering, of tampering with the integrity of living beings.

Standing under the glaring fluorescents in Arcane Wisdom’s back room, I studied the disconcerting multi-deck spread, apparently created by one of the epoch’s foremost devotees of the time-honored traditions of Tarot.

Had Arthur done a reading to forecast the fate of the Trismegistus Meister Tarot – using the very decks his own was likely to supplant?

Did he feel that all was not in balance on the occult planes, and that there might be negative energetic vibrations from his challenge to Tarot orthodoxy?

Or perhaps he feared all-too-material negative repercussions from the other divinators on Oracle Street whose work he was about to disrupt?

Realizing that I was not meant to be looking at the weird layout in the first place, I passed through the curtain into the main space.

                        *                       *                       *

Darkness.

Or close enough to indicate the likely absence of my employer.

The store was several steps below street level. The front windows, cluttered with displays and paraphernalia, admitted only stray sunbeams.

I turned on the lights, which cast a fairy glow through the twenty-foot square space. The main counter stood to the left. Shelves and stands filled most of the scuffed wood floor.

Greeting cards for Wheel of the Year holidays brightened a rack near the counter. Arthur’s customary array of dragon pendants, pentacle necklaces, and Celtic knot nose-rings rested on their usual plinths.

The bookshelves, too, were irritatingly unchanged. Where by all rights I might have expected an eye-grabbing display of my magnum opus I saw instead the usual assortment of magical texts, self-help tomes, and fantasy novels.

(Why Arthur would not at least test-market my book by dedicating a display rack or two along with the front window to stacks of copies, I could not fathom. I even offered to xerox the cover on different colors of paper so it would be like a rainbow on the shelf, all to no avail.)

A row of tables demarcated by low dividers lined the right wall. During store hours, these cubicles were home to Tarot readers, palmists, tea-leaf diviners, and card sharks.

Card sharks did the crispest business. The house share was fifteen percent, as prescribed by law, and I respected that Arthur kept the stakes low.

                        *                       *                       *

I looked at the clock – half past. Unusual for Arthur to be late. Especially on this of all days.

Arthur had his faults – particularly in the realm of magical theory – but tardiness was not one of them, as I knew from my undergrad internship at the renowned local divination shop.

I’d originally found the part-time position quite by chance when we were required to do a six-month practicum to complete the Sacred Janitorial Sciences degree.

Being prior to the Great Return, I assumed I’d be mopping some musty old cathedral after high mass or understudying for the shovel brigade at a religious cemetery.

Instead, what popped up was a job at Arcane Wisdom Magicke Shoppe, then best known as sponsor of the internationally-televised Tarot Twister Tournament.

My interview for the position hadn’t been with Arthur, who seemed a bit remote, but with the store’s anchor janitor, Johanna.

Although she was a few years older, we’d competed in janitorial tourneys including the all-state regionals, where she edged me by a single point in Horizontals to take the Golden Dustpan.

I thought she might feel kinship due to our shared specialty – the maintenance of horizontal surfaces such as floors, hallways, driveways, and – most importantly in the small, crowded shop – shelves.

But she had seemed competitive. “I hope you can do verticals,” she said as she tapped her pencil on a legal pad. “That’s really the help we need.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m pretty handy with a squeegee.”

She jotted a note, then looked up. “What about dusting? Any allergies?”

“Well, yes. I’m allergic to certain kinds of eggplant.”

“That interferes with dusting?”

“No, not typically.”

“Eggplant,” she said as she wrote on her pad. “One more question – any moral or religious scruples about working in a new-age store?”

                        *                       *                       *

I gulped – in fact, I did have a few concerns, including whether my ground rattling new magical materialist paradigm might prove off-putting at a store which spelled the word “magic” with an extra “ke.”

Materialists are minimalists. If you can spell “magic” without the extra letters, save them for another word, I always said.

Still, I wanted to be considerate of others’ feelings. During my undergraduate years I had become aware that devout spiritualists often took offense at my resolute materialism, particularly when I cited specific passages from my magnum opus to refute their views.

For all my fine theories, though, materialism ultimately boiled down to one thing. I looked Johanna in the eye and posed the question.

“What time would my shifts start?”

“We open at noon, so you need to unlock a little before that.”

I groaned inwardly at having to wake before noon, but I needed the internship to complete my degree. “I believe I can handle that.”

“Okay, then,” she had said in a businesslike voice. “Start tomorrow.”

I had kept up my end, arriving by 11:59 almost every morning. Once Johanna saw that I’d show up and do the work, she relaxed and was almost friendly. She seemed fine with me covering most of the shifts, and I enjoyed being facilities manager for the quirky little shop.

Of course, that was the olden days. Now that Neo-Paganism was the West’s dominant religion, what had been a quaint tourist excursion had become an obligatory destination for myriad newly-coined Neo-Pagans.

Spiritual seekers from around the world traveled to Key City to imbibe the mystical air of Oracle Street and – dream of dreams – get a reading from Arthur himself.

                        *                       *                       *

Given recent developments , the once-marginal Oracle Street area had become integral to the bustling metropolis of Key City. But the neighborhood still brimmed with a small-town vibe, a veritable junior high cafeteria of interlocking relations, passions, feuds, and circles.

Back during my internship I had become privy to Oracle Street’s most outlandish rumors and gossip.

Even if I barely knew someone – or had never even met them, as with the reclusive Dr. Papyrus or globe-trotting priestesses like Sunshine MoonBeam and Esmeralda RagingWitch – I certainly knew what everyone else on the block thought of them.

No one attracted more gossip than Arthur A. Arthur, who (aside from the well-placed frustrations of a young pioneer of a new magical materialist paradigm whose magnum opus the man had declined to carry at his store) was publicly hailed as the sage – no, the magus – of Oracle Street.

Having kept my ears open, though, I sensed that other locals might have a few private bones to pick with him.

With his radical new Trismegistus Meister deck rumored to challenge the theories, moral fiber, and income streams of other denizens of our neighborhood, relations weren’t likely to improve on the domestic front.

                        *                       *                       *

As I waited for Arthur to arrive for the morning’s errand, the antique clock behind the counter tolled quarter till ten.

With a chill I realized that my employer might have come and gone before I arrived. Maybe he had already delivered the deck, and I had been aced out of my chance at vicarious glory.

There was one way to tell. I’d seen Persephone put the master paintings away the night before. I strode over to the cabinet and dramatically pulled the doors open.

Empty. I stuck my head inside. Nothing.

My stomach lurched. Had Arthur really arrived early and departed without me? Wouldn’t he have left a note?

Had he or Persephone come back the previous night and moved the deck? I yanked open one cabinet after another, then rummaged through drawers, scattering papers and merchandise all over the place.

Suddenly a key turned in the front door. With dismay I saw the mess I’d made.

If Arthur walked in now, he’d never trust me as substitute custodian, let alone helping deliver the precious paintings.

My eyes darted around, searching for an escape or at least an alibi. A broom leaned against the counter.

It is the foremost skill of a true custodian – one born to the trade, not merely working it as a job – to be able to execute a lightning transition from pursuing one’s private affairs to appearing hard at work.

In a deft motion I grabbed the broom and swept it across the floor just as a scrawny body on a pair of spindly legs duck-walked into the store.

CHAPTER II: THE HIGH PRIESTESS

Perkins, one of Arthur’s initiates who sometimes tended the store in the owner’s absence, stood in the doorway with hands on hips.

“I came down to take a look around the shop and make sure everything is okay,” he said dramatically.

Perkins was a lanky and ill-humored fellow who assisted with the preparatory work for the divination and spellcasting that earned the shop’s rent – shuffling cards, clarifying crystals, and the like.

I’d taken scant fancy to him during my Sacred Janitorics internship at Arcane Wisdom, as he seemed to imagine himself some sort of senior assistant to Arthur A. Arthur.

I recalled the sting of humiliation when, as a raw intern working my first day at the shop, I referred to a pack of “tah-roo” cards.

Who should be minding the store but this Perkins fellow. He laughed so hard he spewed bits of his lunch all over the countertop.

Despite my evident desire to get on with sweeping the floor, Perkins couldn’t resist showing off his superior knowledge, forcing me to repeat the word until I got the proper aspiration on the “r” as well as the correct dipthonic lilt to the final syllable:

“Dtah-hro’-uh.”

Chastened, I rehearsed the pronunciation for several weeks before I dared utter it again in public – at which time Arthur himself let me in on one of the great secrets of Tarot – no two cultures have ever pronounced the word the same way.*

Right now I had more on my mind than how to pronounce the nomina sacra. I needed to find Arthur and his deck and secure my personal place in Tarot history.

First, I needed to rid myself of Perkins. In spite of my visibly fidgeting with the broom, he was apparently incapable of grasping a social cue.

Was he challenging me? “Why wouldn’t things here be okay?” I asked. “I’m just waiting to meet Arthur.”

He squinted and stared at me. “Huh? Don’t you know what happened?”

My stomach tightened. “No, what?”

“Arthur,” he said as if that explained everything. After a moment he began again. “Arthur – he’s dead!”

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FOOTNOTES (in the PDF and actual book, these are on the same page as the corresponding text)

* – Magical Materialism: A Socio-Politico-Ontological Treatise Inaugurating the New Dialectical Historical Science of Metaphysical Paralogic, Along With Refutations of All Previous Systems, Accompanied by Numerous Helpful Appendices

* – The brief excursus in Appendix M-7 concerning the historically-inflected iconography of the Major Arcana will be seen to discuss primarily Roman-era astrological signs and their correlations with bird entrails, with later Tarot analogues referenced only parenthetically.

* – During my wanderjahre, of course, I kept a Book of Maintenance Mysteries, as every graduate level janitor is expected to do. But those pages, which will fill several volumes of my Collected Works, are of a technical nature and lack the personal touch that I would like my journals to exhibit.

* – See Appendix A-1, In Praise of Appendices: A Brief Parahistorical Survey.

* – Undergraduate degrees in the Janitorial Sciences have been recognized as legally equivalent to completing an apprenticeship since the time of King Ethelred. See Appendix J-17 to my magnum opus, where I discuss recent controversies surrounding Ethelred’s well-known statutes (12 Eth. XXIII et seq.).

* – The word “occult” has, over the centuries, taken on a mystical quality resonant of the deepest and most arcane secrets. All it means is “hidden.” As in “occluded.”  An occult science is one that doesn’t publish a journal. An occult ceremony is private. Underwear, when worn properly, is occult clothing. If you sit in your underwear writing a mystery novel about the esoteric sciences, you are probably suffering from meta-occultism.

* – Tarot adepts have debated the celebrated crustacean for decades, discerning occult references to beginning a journey, delving into the unconscious, or ushering in a new aeon. Arthur’s Periodic Table connected the Moon (number 18) to the Hermit (number 9) to highlight these attributions.

* – Prague Accord 1909, amended Milan 1957.

* – See Appendix M-3 of Magical Materialism for a defense of pragmatic minimalism based on Occam’s Razor, which recommends against unnecessarily multiplying things like letters or deities.

* – As a helpful aid to uninitiated readers (or those who flunked this part of their initiation exam), I plan to offer in Appendix P to the forthcoming Volume Three of my magnum opus a mnemonic to the pronunciations of different epochs and cultures based on close examination of the most authoritative sources, which regrettably do not for the most part include pronunciation guides.

Though the way be dark and narrow
Cleave to the path hewn by the Tarot

Paracelsus taught his parrot
How to read the cards of Tarot

’Twas at the court of Fontainbleu
That Frenchmen deigned to play Tarot

In a dungeon dark and smokey
Alchemists studied the Tarocchi

Magi gave up playing hockey
When they learned to play Tarocchi

Schiller thought it was a joke
When Goethe spoke of the Tarock

Yet it was a greater shock,
When Nietzsche learned to read Tarock

All of these pronunciations
Rose in certain situations
None of this did yet I know
When first I learned to say: “Tarot”

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