Up until last week when I had my first Tarot reading with someone who is perhaps one of Karachi’s most eminent fortune tellers, I thought anyone who believed in what a bunch of fancy cards laid out on a table said about their future seriously needed to get in touch with a top neurologist.
Now I don’t know what to think.
Having my hands and coffee cup read a few days later by Raja Riaz and Mrs. Khalil; a renowned palmist and coffee reader respectively only served to make things fester, leaving me rather confused and tentative about something for the first time in my life. Incidentally, I found myself lurking the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar area the next day looking for a parrot that would casually walk out of its cage for a mere ten bucks and single out an envelope from a bunch of similar envelopes containing generic fortune messages—or so I thought, for the contents of the neatly typed note the crafty little bird pulled out for me were eerily similar to what I had already been told by the other three predictors!
To say something about the whole experience resonated with me would be an understatement. I am no longer ready to dismiss or ignore the ideology behind the notorious arts of fortune telling for one, which is funny because I had always been the first to laugh these things off, never putting much stock in them, often reading but never truly believing in daily horoscopes and fortune cookies let alone the arcane secrets engraved in my palms and fanciful natal charts drawn up by esoteric astrologers claiming to know more about me than I know myself.
Faith in the realm of subconscious requires massive levels of self importance and vanity because of the fact that it supposes that the entire universe orders itself around petty humans and their actions. Surely I must have a little bit of humility somewhere in me to renounce such unabashed narcissism? But I have to admit I’m suddenly dithering; incapable of drawing a knowledgeable conclusion to something I had apparently been quite obstinate about in the past. There has to be a logical explanation for the palmist’s and the astrologer’s, tarot reader’s and the coffee reader’s notable familiarity with my past, present and future—most of which, again, they all seemed to have to say the same few things about!
Very few people seem able to discuss fortune telling without emotion, and being a Pakistani Muslim hardly sets me apart. The unfaltering notion that anyone who indulges in the exchange of untimely information about the future is a religious renegade is majorly a matter of pre-programmed temperament, but also often a matter of bias of one sort or another. Granted the Quran and Hadith abhor those who claim knowledge of the unknown and anyone whose faith wavers enough to compel him to visit a fortune teller; the bias can be the result of a simple deliberation of the damage that may be done by an uncritical belief in the infallibility of human spiritual advice, quite as much damage as can be done by the uncritical acceptance of the infallibility of theological advice!
The truth is fortune telling has held great significance in almost all cultures of the world and its various arts have been in practice for hundreds of years in the Indian Subcontinent as well. Psychic powers, visions of the future, and the conscious ability to direct energies etc. are true and attested by spiritual traditions throughout history, especially in the Eastern religions such as Tibetan Buddhism and Mystic Sufism where the enlightened Lamas and Sufis reach a quality of mind truly beyond the comprehension of most ordinary people. The new fortune telling movement that is in vogue these days with the advent of the Morning Show fanaticism has successfully brought these arts to the Pakistani living room. Suddenly women who until a few years ago wouldn’t dare consult a professional astrologer or palmist are found making frantic phone calls on live television hoping for instant solutions to their depressing predicaments, often going as far as downright ridiculous with their unreal queries, desperately revealing things about themselves and their families that should normally have been their most guarded secrets.
“Real fortune telling is an amazing magical, spiritual, sacred art. Sadly, under the influence of the current commercial mentality it has been brought down to the point where it’s become worthless for practical purposes.” Told me Daphne, the famous tarot card reader. “People have started to take fortune telling so lightly it’s almost painful. I’m completely against people ridiculing the science on television because it’s not as simple as they make it look. If, however, you were going to a well attested, honorable and known spiritual adept whom you personally trust and experience as having a demonstrable subtle and higher quality of mind and consciousness, then I would certainly not advise against it.”
Just like any other profession, the world of fortune telling is swarming with charlatans who are out to make a quick buck; they grasp at ideas of cosmic consciousness, use lofty language, claim knowledge of esoteric secrets and, essentially, prostitute traditional Eastern mysticism for the inflation of their ego as well as to vent resentment against traditional forms of spirituality, attracting a noteworthy clientele from the most beleaguered sect of the social order. The result is a lot of unqualified people playing games, living in imaginary worlds and wasting poor people’s time and money who blindly embrace any form of consolation, even when it’s coming from a faal wala tota, hoping to make some sense out of their continuing ill fortune and hardships. It’s understandable in a way for these people spend a lifetime bogged down by issues concerning marriage and relationships; kids; careers; finances and prospective business ventures, but becomes a problem when they religiously begin surrendering themselves to often baseless prophecies made by their street side fortune tellers and invalidated spiritual therapists. Almost always, the prophecies made are self fulfilling because people in all their ignorance start to see signs where there are none or even subconsciously do things to bring the prophecy to fruition. The imagination behind their prophecies doesn’t have anything to do with reality, except that now and again some truth or pattern is uncovered. The mistake people make is to take that as proof of what they want to believe in instead of the fact that most imaginings, however absurd, illuminate truths and patterns in some respect at some point in time.
But then again, there are also genuinely erudite clairvoyants out there who use their power to illuminate the psychological goings-on with their subjects, including what would be hidden from a conventional psychologist. Astrologers, tarot card readers, coffee readers, palmists etc. have all been accused of telling people what they already know about themselves, but don’t you think that this is exactly how they might be helpful? Not by predicting what lies ahead, but by helping people get to know their aptitude and shortcomings better by unlocking the subconscious to realize their inner thoughts, feelings, and desires. Granted it’s an expensive look in the mirror, what with the popular, more credible ones charging roughly about a couple of grand for a single reading, but the procedure can, as Raja Riaz, the good-humored palmist aptly pointed out, “improve one’s thought process and general approach to the world and its day to day disappointments by advising them to throw negativity out of their lives and open their minds to new possibilities by giving them direction…provided they don’t fall in wrong hands!”
Still, whatever the approach, all these practitioners require years of experience, knowledge of human psychology, and a fair degree of intuition and skill. It’s important to find a medium who is also a qualified therapist because the charts/cards themselves may be absolute rubbish, but with proper guidance, they can uncover a roundabout route to what has gone wrong in your life along with the positive actions you can take to get your life back on track. If, however, all you really want is to absolve yourself of all responsibility for your bad luck, and have someone tell you that “everything will be all right” despite the fact that you will do nothing yourself to make it all right, then forget it, because it should be used for strengthening, and not merely to try and turn luck in your favor. You alone, with the backing of God of course, have the power to make your life what it can be, and nothing anyone says or does should supersede that.
I have been told a lot of things about my future in the past few days. Some of the things I can’t wait for to happen; some depressed me and some left me wondering what to think, but I’m certainly not planning on sitting on any of the revelations and living my life around them, because that, I think, is the smartest way to go about it!
Often referred to as the medieval man’s equivalent of today’s highly respected Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests, the tarot is a deck of cards which can be used for meditation, psychic stimulation, or divination. It also can be used as a psychological tool to look inside the unconscious. The first set of tarot cards was created somewhere in northern Italy in the first half of the fifteenth century. The cards bear symbolic pictures, with subjects as the Emperor, the Pope, The Wheel of Fortune, Death, the Devil, and the Moon. Tarot is perhaps the most versatile form of fortune telling because it allows one to ask direct questions and receive multidimensional answers. Although it’s been around for six hundred years, tarot didn’t quite gain momentum in Pakistan till the late eighties. The birth of astrology, however, is generally credited to the Babylonians who used it to predict recurring seasonal changes and other celestial events. Astrology was introduced to the Greeks early in 4th century B.C. and, through the studies of Plato and Aristotle, it came to be highly regarded as a science, only to be embraced by the Romans and the Arabs soon after, and later spreading throughout the entire world, carving an abidingly respectable niche in the Indian subcontinent.
Unlike astrology and tarot, palmistry is friendliest to the voice of Karma and firmly holds its place as the most revered form of fortune telling in Pakistan. The left hand (the non-dominant one) reveals Destiny while the right hand (the dominant one) pertains to free will. Destiny gives you tools and obstacles, but free will determines how you to manage those tools and overcome the obstacles. The lines and texture of the palms are always changing though, more so among people with active lifestyles and expressive personalities.
Coffee cup reading on the other hand has its origins in China where ancient monks predicted the future by reading patterns left by tea leaves in bell-shaped cups, a process known as Tasseography. Later, Arabs took up the practice but used coffee as a medium. While traditional astrology involves mathematics and science, coffee cup reading is difficult and based on the subject’s aura and the reader’s sixth sense. Coffee cup reading is now gaining popularity among Pakistanis.