How I Learned to Be Psychic

 In order to explain my theories about the nature of consciousness, I need to first relate how I became convinced that our minds have talents that cannot be explained in the Newtonian universe that most of us live in in our daily lives. I have no natural talent for being psychically sensitive. Instead, like most chronic depressives, I early on learned to ignore all my feelings in order to get on with each day’s business, and those feelings included any intuitive impulses.

In 1959, I and my first wife, Anne DeVere Ralph, were living in a store-front apartment on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, on the corner where the cable-car tracks curve into their final approach to Fisherman’s Wharf. One day Girl Mikel (Mikel Schwarzkopf Clifford, whom Alan and I had both been in love with in high school, and who has long since been out of the closet about being a Red Cord initiate of our Full Moon coven, a decade later) showed up in great excitement and insisted I come meet a novelist named Richard.

Richard showed us his illuminated manuscripts. He had invented the graphic novel, years before that concept became general knowledge; I think, or hope, he later got them published. Richard then proceeded to give us each a Tarot reading. I had never before heard of the Tarot.

One day in 1953 I had discovered that the pages of a book from the post library—it must have been about fairy tales—were decorated with many strange symbols. These aroused my curiosity; the research during the following years, which revealed they were mainly alchemical and astrological, led to my reading of many very strange books.

Richard did not have actual Tarot cards. He had cut card-sized rectangles out of manila folders and written the traditional names on them. The names fascinated me; they linked with all those symbols and strange books. By the time Richard finished our two readings, I had his system memorized. It involved laying out 14 of the 22 Major Trumps in a mandala. I have never found that system anywhere else; perhaps he invented it. I published a detailed description of it in an issue of The Witches Trine, the journal of the NROOGd that my second wife, Alta Picchi (also out of the closet), created in 1972.

After that reading by Richard, I quickly acquired my first Tarot deck, the classic Waite-Ryder HOGD version, and the textbook on it by Eden Gray. I began learning the meanings of the cards and memorizing the book by giving readings to anyone who did not run away too fast to catch. Soon I discovered that during readings I would slip into an altered state, very much like the “visitation of the Muse” that I had been taught to cultivate in my Creative Writing major. I also discovered that the reading process seemed to provide a depth analysis of the person’s psychology and personality. It did not “”predict the future” except in the way that Blake had commented on in his discussion of prophecy: “If you go on so, the result is so.”

After I had a few months of practicing and learning, people began saying, “How did you know that?” and telling me that what I had told them was accurate, factual, far beyond any possibility of random guessing. I began wondering how I could have known such facts.

It was obvious to me that I was dealing not with the cards themselves or the meanings ascribed to them by the books on interpretations. Instead, information coming up from the “unconscious” mind was informing my interpretations of the relationships between the cards as I laid them out one by one into the mandala. I already knew that the “visitation from the Muse” experience tapped into the “unconscious.” Also, within half an hour after doing a reading, I could not remember what I had said, just as happens with dreams after we wake up in the morning.

Okay, fine, using the cards somehow enabled information to slip past the barrier, the one-way mirror, between the “unconscious” and the mundane personal mind; exactly how that works is a different issue. The central question becomes how the “unconscious” could know facts to which my ordinary conscious mind had no rational access. One perhaps plausible explanation was offered by Jung’s concept of the “collective unconscious.” If the “unconscious” consciousness within us is not merely personal, but is somehow shared with others, that would provide a channel by which information could be transmitted from one mind to another, rather like telepathy. I was not willing to make any groundless metaphysical assumptions about how that transmission could take place, although I later learned that the paradoxes of quantum mechanics may provide a parsimonious explanation.

From 1968 to 1973, I was working on staff for Scientific American Books inSan Francisco; that coincided with the period when my friends and I were creating the NROOGD. About 1970 I became curious about astrology, specifically, about whether I could interpret the mandala-like astrological chart by the same mental processes I used to interpret the mandala of my Tarot readings. Accordingly, I bought the requisite ephemerides and instruction books, in good part the classics by Alan Leo, and began teaching myself the calculations.

It was a lot of work in those days before the introduction of hand calculators. One day about 1972 Kip Thorne, already a professor at Caltech and co-author with John Wheeler and Charles Misner of the immense tome on the mathematics of general relativity that I was editing, came into my cubicle, quite excited about the first of the Texas Instruments programmable scientific calculators, which he had just paid 500 (1970) dollars for. I remember him and Fred Hoyle happily programming these gadgets to carry out iterative calculations.

It was a gift to have known Wheeler, an intensely skeptical physicist; he had spearheaded an effort to expel the parapsychologists from the AAAS on the grounds that their methodology was not scientific; yet he was quite openminded about the nature of consciousness and other philosophical matters, and was very good at dowsing. I did not need to keep my work on the Craft a secret from these gentlemen; in fact, I could not have. After the article about the NROOGD appeared in Time in 1972, Kip Thorne commented to me that Time had dealt with us much more kindly than how they usually dealt with members of his profession.

In a letter to Wheeler about editing matters, I chattily mentioned that our group was somewhat worried about a prediction of a severe earthquake in the Bay Area. He wrote back a long letter about how he had visited and told the Old Man of the Mountain about our concern and had received a remedy that he was passing on to us in a little plastic bag. I proudly showed the letter around the office. Richard Warrington, then the President of our division, asked me, “Don’t you realize what he’s done?”

“Perhaps not,” I replied. “What do you mean?”

“He’s sent you some actual Moon dust.”

And so he had. He did have connections. We used it to turn about five pounds of salt into magical Moon dust and used that to work a spell on a map of northernCalifornia. There was no earthquake. That’s an argument from silence.

In 1973 John Wheeler and Fred Hoyle graciously wrote letters of recommendation that got me into my doctoral program. Yeats says somewhere that his greatest blessing in life had been having such friends. I mention my friendship with Wheeler also because his discoveries and his interpretations of them have been central to my thinking for the last forty years.

For me, not having a calculator for doing astrology was an advantage. Focusing on the calculations lowered the normal resistance against messages from the “unconscious.” As with the Tarot, I created birth charts for anyone who would give me their data. One day I offered to do a chart for Elmarie Hutchinson, another editor. “Oh, sure,” she said and gave me her time and place of birth.

At this point I was learning how to do transits and progressions, apparently arbitrary techniques for slowing down the fast planets and speeding up the slow planets in order to chart a  life up to the present. Reading interpretations out of the books, I saw that a certain aspect on about this date meant that a romantic relationship had begun. Other aspects said that it had increased in intensity up to this second date, plateaued until this third date, then declined and was entirely over by this fourth date. I had no idea if any of that was accurate, but I decided to include it and ask Elly if it made any sense.

I gave her the chart with my interpretations soon thereafter at our office. About 20 minutes later she appeared in the doorway of my cubicle, her eyes wide, her skin pale, and said in a quavering voice, “How could you know that! I never told anyone about that!”

I replied, “Elly, I don’t know how I knew that. All I know is that the human mind has powers we do not yet understand.”

She glared at me and said, “I thought this was going to be fun. I didn’t expect it to shake my faith in the scientific method.”

Thus I learned that astrology works. I just didn’t understand how. Esther Orlemann, who wrote an astrology column for the Witches Trine, always signed off with, “This we have written in the stars,” exactly as Jung would have argued. She, Alta, I, and two other friends were trained by Helen Palmer in 1972 in the system Helen had devised for doing clairvoyant readings—but I’ll have to tell that tale another time.

 

 

 

 

  • Megan McEvers

    Fascinating article. A similar process is described in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The protagonist, Lyra, has a complicated device which can answer questions, but it requires slipping into a special state of consciousness.

    • Deborah Bender

      If you are referring to the Golden Compass, my guess is that that device was inspired by the compass used in Chinese geomancy. The state of mind is one which is commonly cultivated by people using any system of divination. If someone handed me a Golden Compass and explained what the symbols represented, I expect I could get some results from it with a little practice.


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