The Cartomancer: Questions of Excellence

The Cartomancer: Questions of Excellence September 9, 2015

Most of the time we assume that people seek a fortuneteller because they need answers to their questions. Wrong. Most of the time what people are seeking is excellence: The excellence that goes into formulating a good question. The excellence in knowing that a good, focused question can lead you to making the good, right decision. The excellence in knowing exactly that which we are really good at, and which serves both others and ourselves.

What we fear the most is the paralysis induced by ambivalence: This job, or that job? This woman or the other one? This school or that school? The woods or the city? Ambivalence is a nasty state. When it doesn’t lead to apathy, it leads to indifference: ‘Who cares that I need to do something about my physical workout? I can just sit here and watch professional alpinists conquer the Everest on TV.’ Ambivalence is connected to not taking risks. And when we don’t take risks we risk never finding out what we love, who we love, and why we love.

My whole professional life has revolved around asking questions. While I also comply with the rules of reforms and bureaucracy, however stupid, and pay my dues to Caesar, I teach students to ask questions. I myself try to get better at formulating questions. I prompt people to ask the right questions. What is really interesting? Does it have a soul? Is it really useful in that way which bypasses capitalism and self-promotion and self-interest? I’m all for self-promotion and self-interest, but it has to go somewhere. Some real sharing must be at the heart of it.

What do you want to know?

What I like about the cards is that we can come to them with anything.

We can pose a meta-question:

Visconti Sforza Tarot, Gabriele Mandel Edition: Monumenta Longobardica (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Visconti Sforza Tarot, Gabriele Mandel Edition: Monumenta Longobardica, 1975  (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Cards, why are you so clever?

Because, as a pack, I’m a master strategist. Because posing a good question is like going to war with yourself, and then negotiating for the best course of action.

We can ask the cards a personal question:

Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot, 1650, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot, 1650, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Cards, why am I so stupid?

Because you fail to see that not all rides into town are good for you.

We can ask the cards a spying question:

Jean Dodal Marseille Tarot, 1701, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Jean Dodal Marseille Tarot, 1701, as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Cards, what does he think of me?

He thinks you’re fascinating. But he’s probably asking: ‘Can I seduce the moon? Hell no.’ Alas…

We can ask the cards to enable an encounter:

Carolus Zoya Marseille Tarot, ca. 1790, facsimile of the original in K. Frank Jensen's collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Carolus Zoya Marseille Tarot, ca. 1790, facsimile of the original in K. Frank Jensen’s collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Cards, how can I meet the Devil?

Go into some dense woods. Make an offering of 5 coins. Wait until sunrise.

We can ask the cards to perform magic:

Cartomanzia 184, Modiano Trieste, 1955 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Cartomanzia 184, Modiano Trieste, 1955 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Cards, how can I tie the tongue of my lying boss?

Wait for good tidings, when the dragon is asleep and you hold the sword upwards. Then take your cane and an oil lamp and go to a remote place. There, remember what Eve did. She struck a deal with the serpent for knowledge. Make an open fire and cook some tongue on a spear. Eat it.

The Question is Everything

Why is the question so important? Unlike many diviners, in my personal practice I never ever read the cards without having a properly formulated question. The cards have a way of telling a story that makes us aware of the power of understanding ourselves in context. Understanding ourselves in a situation where we don’t just use analogy to create more clichés about our lives. If we get to the point where we can proudly declare: ‘I’ve worked my socks off, and here I am, all powerful and all-knowing,’ are we also able to remember what question got us there? Was our ambition even connected to a question at all? In my counseling with the cards, I often come across this very situation: Successful entrepreneur, miserable soul. If your life trajectory is not the result of a really good question, chances are that it goes to hell.

If you are under the pressure to tell a good story about your achievements, or lack thereof, you will not tell a good story at all. You will fall into melodrama, and start repeating a point about your life that makes us all yawn: ‘Tell me something I don’t know’.

How do we keep the Geist then? Finding a good question to pose is like hunting. First you have to quiet yourself. Then allow for your sense of smell to kick in. A good question follows the nose. Are you curious enough about what you hunt for? Do you even have an idea of what it looks like? The best question will also allow for some mystery to occur: ‘I want to ask about how I can become the governor of California.’ Good. How is your sex life? Do you remember the essential rule of political hunting: ‘If it ain’t sex, follow the money’. I apply this rule to everything.

What we call excellence is often related to acts of violence: You cut. You essentialize to the truth even when some insist that there’s no truth out there. It takes real skill to be able to cut the crap. Skill and diplomacy. Some things you need to keep to yourself. Spilling the beans and rendering yourself irrelevant and predictable in the process will not get you there, to what keeps the Geist, namely, to the point that allows you to exercise some excellence in your ability to give and receive an idea to work with. For free.

Intellectual Fortuneteller

I often tell people that I’m an intellectual fortuneteller, as I make en effort to not only get the other who comes to me to formulate a good question but also make sure that in that question there’s a real idea we can both work with. Sometimes I send people three times around the block of formulating a good question before I actually get to lay down the cards. What fascinates me the most is when people formulate a very clear question, but in that question I sense a mystery, or a secret that they keep to themselves. The cards have a way of uncovering that part in a way that makes me feel like Sherlock Holms. Or better yet, forget about Sherlock Holms. How about some black magic conjuring à la the Raven in Edgar Allan Poe?

In the conversation thread following my latest post here about the personality test, I suggested that what we call the secret card – what we know about ourselves but we don’t want others to know – is all about diplomacy. But I could just as well have said that it’s about keeping the mystery of ourselves.  Your question has a red thread. Good. But does it have a black one too? The one that excites you in the dark? The one that makes the fortuneteller give you the squinting look? How do you weave what you know already into what you don’t know? Are your threads dancing yet? Is your nose filled with the smell of your prey? Even when you ask about how you can better your communication skills so that you score your dream job? What do you keep to yourself that’s most fascinating, which, however, others can also sense? Do you allow others to hunt you for your excellence? Or are you still watching the alpinists on TV conquering the Everest?


I don’t get the idiotic New Age insistence on ‘tell all’ because only so can you create a connection with others. Such nonsense. I like distinction, and I like essential stuff, not the ‘everything’ of the cliché life, not the ‘I totally get you’, when it’s as plain as daylight that the one saying this is completely clueless about everything. Some fortunetellers aim for that. I don’t. I don’t exercise my empathy by ‘totally getting you.’ I use my excellence to cut to the bones, but in the process, I go mercilessly for the mysterious beauty of the impenetrable obvious.


For my program in Tarot Prompts, you’re welcome to check a full cycle here.

All the cards shown here are in my collection.

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