The Cartomancer: Underground Smoke

The Cartomancer: Underground Smoke May 25, 2016

photograph of camelia elias and manna hojda smoking pipes
Camelia Elias and Manna Hojda practicing the venerable art of going beyond.

My sister was visiting last night and we did some ritual smoking of the pipes. This is a family tradition that we have inherited from my grandmother on my father’s side. The pipe, not the ritual. As the story goes, my grandmother was a woman of her own mind who invested zero energy in her reputation. No woman in the small village of Caian in Transylvanian Romania smoke pipes, but she did.

This woman fascinates me, as she is the ‘type’ who seems to have been well versed in the beyond: being beyond rules and convention, beyond prejudice, beyond gossip, and beyond petty drama.

Go, go, go, beyond

When I think of my grandmother these days, I actually see her as the embodiment of the famous last line mantra in the Buddhist sacred text called the Heart Sutra, which the Dalai Lama has translated thus: Go, go, go, beyond.

What I like in this text, a text that operates with being in paradox – that to me, at least, equals living the magical life – is the fact that while we have a delineation of three linear stages that lead us to the fourth stage of the beyond, there is no separation between these stages, as they all take place simultaneously with the negation of place and the negation of affirmation.

The first ‘Go’ has to do with getting a glimpse into how intuition operates beyond the conceptual level, as it is practically a glimpse into awareness beyond agency. For instance, I don’t decide to intuit something. I just recognize a phenomenon. Intuition is a way of grasping reality without personal effort going into this grasping.

The second ‘Go’ follows intuition and its spontaneous glimpse into the experience of accepting and embracing of what is ‘seen’ or intuited. The simple interjection ‘Ah,’ summarizes the whole experience: ‘Ah, I see this, I get this.’ But seeing it and getting it are also acts of non-deliberate knowledge. That is to say, the ‘Ah,’ emphasizes the process that goes towards the realization that there’s nothing behind the phenomenon of experiencing reality.

This process is further refined by an act of contemplation, the third ‘Go’, a stage where what is at stake is allowing for curiosity to take over. Those accustomed to sitting in meditation know that after the first initial stages, if we are patient enough and keep going, we arrive at a process of inquiry into the nature of our wonder: What is this ‘Ah’, and where does it come from?

The final stage of this line of experiencing a glimpse into reality is being in what I like to identify as a state of grace, beyond knowledge and the necessity to explain what is happening. We are beyond the conceptual, descriptive, and reflective level of what is happening. What is happening IS what is happening. Whether we have an opinion or not about the nature of what is happening, where it comes from and why, and how we can use what we see is happening to further the value of our experience, is completely uninteresting in the grand scheme of the ‘Ah’ that continues as a pay off and as an anchor in reality. The ‘Ah’ – beginning the circle and ending the circle – is precisely beyond all points of reference and identification.

Underground folklore

So, while my sister and I have this moment of non-identification with the smoke and the ritual while we’re at nonetheless and for a very specific purpose, we talk about our roots. We conclude that most of our Romanian folklore is an underground folklore, a folklore of the underworld, a folklore that is not liminal, but of the beyond, a folklore of vampires and screeching owls, dark maidens and night demons. Sometimes I look for Hekate, the Bearer of the Keys, but in the Romanian context, all I get is Lilith, the Strigoaica, the howler and witch.

‘You know’, my sister tells me, while puffing contemplatively on her pipe, ‘right now there are only two competing funeral parlors in our home town, Arad, near the Hungarian border. One of them is called Cookie and the other Nosferatu. Imagine the dearly beloved dropping dead, and the family having to make arrangements with the monsters or the undead.’

I’m about to meet my own maker from too much laughter, when I realize that, indeed, I can imagine the very thing. Why would the Aradian funeral parlors be about liminality and thresholds? They are all about the beyond already. At this point my smoke takes a swerve, and so do I: I tell my sister that there’s a reason why we were both born in Arad, why Aradia, Lilith’s other name is our patron by default, why we now live in Denmark, yet curse like gypsies, and why we sit in Tibetan Buddhist meditation of the Dzogchen orientation, or the kind that places you in the infinite as soon as you snap your fingers. Sister nods in approval. She knows what she knows.

Beyond Heritage

Following the 4 stages of the beyond outlined above, we decided to ask the cards the following:

What is the best thing about our Aradian heritage?

I used Akron and H.R. Giger’s Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld, as I find that it resonates with our folklore, the vampires and the strigoi, or the screeching owls.

The cards that fell on the table were quite miraculous – but then it is rare the occasion when I don’t find any configuration of cards miraculous. Still.

Four cards from the Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

What we got is Death, Alchemy (trad. Temperance), the Hanged Witch (trad. The Hanged Man) and Virus (Akron’s second card for the World card).

In this set of major arcana only (23), we have two cards for the World: one called the Universe, in Akron’s rendition, and the other, the Creator Virus, suggesting pure awareness and infinity. This card is also the card that proliferates, as we find it as a card in the set, as an image on the box, and as a cover image on the accompanying booklet.

Cards from the Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Perfect wisdom, perfect play

Given the nature of our question, upon seeing these cards we realized immediately the perfection of the mantra, ‘Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond’ – to be more precise.

The first condition for the existence of any ‘beyond’ is death. So death comes as a gift, as a preparatory stage for our contemplations.

Alchemy stands for the mixing of the ‘Ah,’ here quite literally as the final breath, with the other elements: Air, Earth, Water, Fire. Alchemy is an embrace and permutation with all that is already, transforming substance and perception.

The Hanged Witch begs the question: Why? Why must the Witch always hang? The answer to this is obvious. Traditionally, all women who knew too much were hanged, one way or another. On second thought, nothing much has changed. A woman’s insight is followed by hanging. We call this reality. Gone beyond, for sure.

But we are also back to where we started, to Death. And yet, by the time we get to the Creator Virus, we realize that this proliferation at the same time of all and nothing is a different kind of nothing than that of the initial Death, for in the Virus we find a stubborn insistence on going. ‘Go, go, go, beyond’ can easily translate here into a more contemporary and common mantra, in fact, now that I think of it, one that ends all my greetings and mail correspondences with ‘Keep going’.

So the best part of our Aradian heritage, under Lilith’s rulership par excellence, is that we keep going. I asked my sister, while I enveloped myself in a final smoke: ‘Was there ever a time when we were not here already, at all these stages simultaneously and precisely in the beyond?’ She said, ‘no’. I felt at this point that she was echoing my grandmother, who also said ‘no’, who in her own hanging turned into smoke and vanished into the eternal return of the dark.


The intuition about the beyond, that is not only instantly recognized but also embraced, leads to the kind of curiosity about all things that can easily be perceived as a form of radical acceptance: ‘I don’t know what this is, but I like it.’

Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Baphomet: Tarot of the Underworld by Akron and Giger, 2010 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

In this radical acceptance we are even beyond the sum of all our experiences, intellectual and emotional states. We are with the ‘way out there,’ which is also here, the infinite in Baphomet’s embrace, the lemniscate in his belly generating the force of his insight, penetrating Lilith so she can preside as a Queen of the 5-point star, mapping the underworld beyond gates and gatekeepers, beyond even of the state of ‘I’m here now’.

Ah, the virus! Let’s see if this one goes viral.

How is your smoke? How is your folklore? Where do you locate it? Above or below? Within or without? Is it beyond, like mine?

As it happens, I reward the ones who elect to stay in the loop with a free lesson in Romanian spellcrafting. Join my newsletter if you want to hear me curse in my mother tongue. Keep going.

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