Religion & Spirituality
EP77 Pop Culture with Melissa Cynova and Rosered Robinson
In this episode Rosered and Melissa join Andrew to talk about the roel pop culture has played in shaping and nurturing their spritual practices. They talk about Pop figures as altar items, movies and characters that shaped them, and explore what something being sacred to them might mean.
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You can find Melissa on her website here.
Planet of the Ape and other cool buddha hybrids are here.
ANDREW: Welcome to another instalment of The Hermit's Lamp podcast. Today, I have got on the line with me, Rose Red Robinson and Melissa Ceynowa, and we're here to talk about pop culture, and the ways in which pop culture and movies and stories and all these wonderful things can influence us and be a part of our understanding of who we are and our journey. That's the official reason.
The unofficial reason is, I really wanted to hang out and talk about Big Trouble in Little China a lot …
ANDREW: And I'm not saying if you haven't seen that movie yet, that you should stop listening right now and go and do so, but I'm not saying you shouldn't, you know, cause really, if you haven't seen it yet, I don't understand. You should go see it. You should go check it out. It's on Netflix.
So, but, for, you know, people who don't know who you are—let's start with you, Rose. Give us a quick introduction.
ROSE: Okay, I've been doing tarot off and on for 20 plus years. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful podcast of my own that I do with Jaymi Elford, called Tarot Visions, that was started back in 2013, with the lovely Charlie Harrington, and he decided to pass me off to Jaymi. I've worked in … with Tarot Media Company for many years, back in the day, studied tarot for off and on forever, and am now kind of exploring Celtic Hanlon at the moment, and, am just a general happy reader.
And I've been lucky enough to present at various conventions on the west coast, PantheaCon and Northwest Tarot Symposium, being the two, as well as running some successful meet-ups in my local area that I have also passed on to other people, because I'm not the only one who knows everything. So, it's awesome to be able to share, and engage other people to be teachers as well, cause then I can be a student, so that's fun. So that's me!
ANDREW: Cool. Awesome. And Melissa?
MELISSA: I can't really follow that. No ...
ANDREW: Pretty impressive, right?
MELISSA: No, I've been—next year, I figured out, I've been reading for 30 years, and it occurred to me that I might be able to teach people, like only five years ago. So, I wrote a book. It came out last year; it's Kitchen Table Tarot, and my way of teaching the cards is really similar to Rose's, cause we both grab onto what's around us.
MELISSA: As kind of a pathway to what the card means, and... I don't know, I'm a mom, and trying to figure out how to have, you know, three jobs at a time and still pursue tarot, which is my favorite sweetheart in the whole world, is challenging but worth it, so. Yeah.
ROSE: [whispering] Her book is awesome!
MELISSA: Thank you!
ANDREW: Sure. It’s a good book.
MELISSA: Thank you. I like it.
ANDREW: We have it in the shop; you can get it on ... everywhere. So, check it out.
MELISSA: Thank you!
ANDREW: So, tell me about pop culture. You know? What is it about pop culture that intrigues you or interests you? You know? Cause I mean, like, growing up, I always heard, “TV's going to rot your brain, blah blah blah, it's all a waste of time,” right?
ANDREW: You know? But for me, it's certainly ... I guess I'll leave it up to the dear listeners to see if my brain is rotted or not, but, you know, to me it always seemed like a way of understanding, a way of connecting, a way of making sense of things, you know? At its best, I mean, right?
ANDREW: But like, what is it about pop culture stuff that's interesting to you two?
ROSE: Okay, well, it was kind of one of my first experiences of finding spirituality, ironically enough, cause I grew up when we could watch, you know, Bewitched, and you could talk about the Greek gods on the different Hercules shows and all of those things, back with Harryhausen, and all of that. And it was just like “Oh! Wait! These aren't just crazy movies and TV shows, there's, like, stuff that they're based on?”
And then going and finding out that, you know, there’s Greek mythology, and going and studying that … And then, of course, when you're in school, they’re like, “Oh, you're interested in that, here, let me give you more stuff!”, cause teachers want you to learn … And so, that was really how I incorporated the two, and I'm like, well, “Isis is amazing! I love that TV show!” And then, “Oh! It's a real thing!” And then learning more about that as a child, I mean, with the wonder that we have as children, and then, you know, Wonder Woman being, you know, the princess of now, Themyscira, but then, Paradise Island, and incorporating that with the Greek mythology, and going, “Oh, wow, this makes sense!” You know. So, that's kind of where it came from for me. I don't know, your mileage may vary. But that’s … I didn't see it as pop culture at the time, I just saw it as “Oh, cool TV show, talking about something real,” air quotes on the real, cause again, TV is not the real part, and just blending, and that's how I built it up, cause okay, now I've got this connection, and yeah, it made sense.
MELISSA: For me it was kind of finding connection, cause I was a lonely nerdy little child, and I would watch Wonder Woman and I would watch, even Mother Goose, you know, with her pointy hat riding a broomstick with her familiar, you know? Like, I was always drawn to the witchy kind of stuff, but I didn't know what to call it, and I loved Uncle Arthur, and, you know, all of the things that had pieces of them that also fit pieces of me, and so I've always been really drawn to pop culture because it kind of helped me identify who I am.
And, like I just saw A Wrinkle in Time, and I sobbed through the whole thing, because Meg was the only person I'd ever met who was like me, when I read those books …
MELISSA: And finding somebody that could like, reach through pages, and say, “Honey, you're normal, you're just like me,” was just amazing. And that was very spiritual for me, to find somebody who said, “You're not aberrant, and you're not a mistake,” you know? So pop culture's been really important to me because I was lonely. And the weird kids all over, The Girl with the Silver Eyes, or the X-Men, or all of these outside kids, they were me. And finding somebody that showed my face back to me was really important. So.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm. Yeah.
ROSE: What about you, Andrew?
ANDREW: When I was growing up in the 80s, all those bad ninja movies were coming out? I was so fascinated with them, you know? And what ended up happening was, me and my friends started trying to learn how to meditate because of it, right? Because we'd see, you know, these things that were really cool and exciting, but then they’d be like sitting there and meditating. And we were like, “Oh, we should meditate. What do we do? How do we do it?” You know?
And that led to me getting involved in martial arts and learning how to really meditate, you know, when I was like 10 and 11 and stuff like that, and, you know, it's one of the things that really became a through line for me. You know? And, it's funny, when I met my partner Hanlon, they hadn't seen Big Trouble in Little China, or they certainly didn't remember seeing it, you know? And, I'm like, “You haven't seen this? We need to fix this right now!” Right? Cause this is like one of the best movies of all time.
And after watching it, he was like, “Wow! You're like all three of the main characters in one person. You're like…?” You know? Jack Burton, the dorky, kind of adventurous, like outgoing kind of person … You know, I was doing a lot of martial arts at the time we met, so, you know, Wang and sort of all of this Kung Fu stylings and stuff, right? And then I was into all these magical things, like Egg Chen, you know? And it was like this very funny thing, to have this reflected back to me, you know? Like you were saying, Melissa, it's like there were elements in this character or in the story that fit my sense of who I was, you know? And it wasn't quite as clean cut as like, “I feel like just this one or that one,” but the story and interactions between all three of those sort of fit that sense of who I was and how I wanted to be in the world, you know? As well as my struggles and other things, you know? So.
MELISSA: Yeah. And I think, going into adulthood, because I've always been, like, completely into any kind of pop culture, fairy tales, fantasy fiction, like whatever. But I could put myself in different characters. So, I'd read Madeleine L'Engle and I would be Daniel, because I loved Daniel. And I would read Charles de Lint, and Julie Coppercorn and I are right here, and it kept ... Seeing the depth in the character taught me to see the depth in myself. Almost. Or that there were other options than being depressed, being quiet, being small. And, since I didn't have really an example around me of an adult who was like me, I would base my behavior on the characters that I read who did things that were honorable and kind and ... They kind of were examples to me. You know, I grew up without a mom so seeing Wonder Woman was huge for me. That was like communion. I would watch her every week, and I identified with her and Princess Leia. That was like my mom character, you know?
MELISSA: And it filled a void. And it was ... And, the beautiful thing about it is, Rose and I are both Wonder Woman crazy, and we have a connection, and we'll always have that connection.
MELISSA: And it's so great to meet somebody and go, “You dig that thing? I dig that thing too!”
ROSE: So, there's a whole other world where you reach outside of yourself and say, “Oh my god, I went to, you know, Comic Con, and met three women dressed like Wonder Woman and it was the best day of my life,” you know?
ROSE: Oh, yeah.
MELISSA: So, that level of outside connection is super important too.
ROSE: Well, and, as you just mentioned, it's meeting other people. I think the rise of the Internet has really helped all of us with that because of the “I thought I was the only one who loved this thing,” and in a group where you might have been at school the only one who loved this thing, so you didn't know how to share it with your friends, and now, as you've gotten older, and the Internet exists, you're just like, “Oh my god! I can find people who love my thing!” And I get to talk to people about it.
I mean, one of the things that connected myself with tarot, and gaming, cause that's where my tarot also blends, is the fact that one of the games out there had a tarot deck made for the game, and I'm like, “Oh my god! There's a game! And a tarot! And I can play both!” And I was always the one that wanted to play the tarot character, cause that's who I was. And so, I was always playing the Fate Witch in the Seven Seas game. And then they came out with spreads to do with it, and it just, that built that spiritual connection for me, but it also was, like, reminding me that I'm not the only one who sees that or feels that or connects to that thing that I love.
And then, you know, meeting all of you guys at different events has been awesome, because it’s like now I can talk to somebody else who also loves Wonder Woman, tarot, and five billion other things that are like, “Oh my god, I never knew that people like all those things that I liked,” and I think that's kind of the thing for me, is watching how that has happened over the years, and how pop culture has become stronger for other people as well, because they, who are younger than us, had, have always had Internet, have always had pop culture as a thing, and we watched it grow. And I think that was kind of what made me feel like more and more connected to the magic of it, not just the beauty of connection with people. I'm babbling.
ROSE: But it's true. It's how we can turn something we love into a connection with our world, if that makes sense, and the spirits around us. Okay. I'm going to stop. I don't know, I just—
ANDREW: I think that's really interesting, you know? And for me, I think partly because I almost died when I was 14—
ANDREW: I really didn't carry that stuff through in a lot of ways, you know? So, like, I was 14 and after that, like after being in a serious accident, I was like, “All right, I need to understand everything,” and so although I still read, you know, like Shannara books …
ANDREW: And like some of that stuff, and I was definitely reading and consuming pop culture things and so on, I was also reading Nietzsche and …
ANDREW: Like, I was just, like, “All right, what is this all about?” Right? And so, for me, I enjoyed those things as a sort of through line of entertainment, but I felt like the answers were elsewhere. And then sort of later on, and you know, certainly sort of more in recent times, I've sort of seen how much is, how much, you know, answers and sort of sense of meaning can come from these other places, right?
ANDREW: To my sort of teenage self, they just weren't serious enough, you know?
ANDREW: Like I wanted to know the answers, and therefore, if a book wasn't hard to read, then it probably wasn't really helpful, was kind of a thought that I had at one point, you know?
ROSE: Mmmhmm. And yet—I'm going to interrupt and say, but see …
ROSE: One of the things that I always come back to mind … We, specifically in pop culture items, there are levels, so there's the level for the kid who's reading it, and then if the parent is reading it, there's more in there that we as adults could see, but when we're that young age we might miss something. It’s … What comes to mind right now is the Harry Potter books. You know? They were written, and as they progressed, the child/reader gets older, but so does the characters, but that very first book—it looks like a kid's book, but it's really not, and I think that that's the kind of thing that people miss sometimes, is that there's underlying elements for the adults as well, and so there's something that is being put into motion at first.
ROSE: The next thing that just came to mind while you were talking about this is Steven Universe. It's a kids’ show, but it's not.
ROSE: And that's the beauty of bringing in the myths and legends around, you know, people and connection. But parents are like, you know, “Oh, my kid can watch that, it's a cartoon!”
ROSE: And yet, there's more there.
ANDREW: And I definitely don't think now that those things are missing, right?
ROSE: No. Oh, no, no.
ANDREW: Yeah. I've read all the Harry Potter books, I don't even know now, cause my kids keep rereading them and we keep rereading them to them, right?
ANDREW: So, you know, you keep going through that stuff, and there's all sorts of wonderful things in there, you know, for sure, right? But yeah, definitely, it was a concept that I had when I was younger about that stuff for sure, right? Yeah.
MELISSA: I always found them too as kind of a gateway. So, like the Madeleine L'Engle books, one of them uses Patrick's Rune, which is a Celtic prayer, and I went to the library and asked the librarian, “Where did this come from?” And she handed me five books on Celtic mythology. And then I wandered out of there and read everything I could about Celtic mythology. And I went back and she gave me Egyptology. And then I went back the next week and I had Chinese divination books. And so, it all kind of fed from each other, and it made me curious about everything, about all of it. And so, I love that within the story is another gateway to another story. I think that's why I'm a big gigantic nerd, if I'm honest, so.
ROSE: You've surrounded yourself by nerds, Andrew. Just so you know.
ANDREW: I know! It's great. I love it. It's perfect. I was looking at my collection of pop figures this morning before leaving, and thinking about recording today …
ANDREW: Because I have ... Pop figures, if anyone doesn't know them, are these little large-headed representations of, you know, most of the cartoon and movie and TV show and pop culture stuff. And you know, I was looking at my pop Jack Burton, I've got Gracie Law, and I've got the glow in the dark Lo Pan …
ANDREW: And then I've also got General Voltan from Flash Gordon ...
ANDREW: Which is another of my sort of favorite childhood movies.
ANDREW: But, it, unlike Big Trouble in Little China, doesn't stand the test of time as well. [laughs] It’s a pretty horrendous movie when I look back.
MELISSA: But the music does.
ROSE: The music's amazing.
ANDREW: The music does, and Ming the Merciless is a tremendous bad guy and a wonderful look, you know?
ROSE: Oh yeah.
ANDREW: But yeah, lots of that movie is definitely really pretty horrendous, though, the last time I looked at it, yeah.
ANDREW: There's nothing wrong with being surrounded with nerds.
ROSE: Something that ... So, I took a class at PantheaCon last year on pop culture and magic, cause that's what you do, and Emily Carlin was talking about how you can, because of the connections with the pop culture and magic, you can use some of those Funko pop characters in your practice, if you don't, you know ...
So, you don't want your friends to know what you're doing, but you want to honor your gods. There's a lot of ‘em out there that exist, and you just mentioned Lo Pan, and I'm wondering, you know, would you consider using that as part of your practice, if that were something you were trying to ...? Or that energy. Or even the energy of Jack Burton, I mean, because I mean, the man's the adventurer kingdom, you know, he's before we even get Indiana Jones!
MELISSA: He never drives faster than he can see.
MELISSA: I mean, the man's got skills.
ROSE: And he knows what he wants out of life. He wants to drive, he wants to adventure, you know, and that's, you know, so what do you think about that?
ANDREW: I think that that's entirely possible, you know ... I mean, I ... So I'm sitting here recording, and I'm looking at my shelf of things, and, you know, there's a picture of Aleister Crowley, there's a painting I did of St. Expedite, you know, there's like some self-portraits that I've done for magical reasons, and in the middle is my Dr. Zaius Buddha. So, Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes, right?
ANDREW: The science person who believed that sort of religion and science ought to be the same and not at odds with each other, right?
ANDREW: And somewhere on Etsy, I found this person who was making Buddhas with different heads on them, like Star Wars ones and Yoda ones and whatever, and I reached out because I was looking for something to kind of use as a magical anchor for my sort of joyous relationship to my work life …
ANDREW: And sort of do some prosperity work with. And so, I reached out to the person, and I said, “Your stuff is amazing; what I really would like is a Dr. Zaius from the Planet of the Apes.” And his response was, “Dude, I'm working on them right now, I will email you as soon as they are done,” right?
ROSE: That's brilliant.
ANDREW: And so, I got one, you know? (photo in show notes) In gold, and ...
ROSE: Oh my gosh! That's amazing!
ANDREW: It sits up here with some other stuff, and it's definitely ... It was, for a while, the focal point of a bunch of work that I was doing. Now less so, you know? But ...
ROSE: Different work now.
ANDREW: Yeah, but, you know, but for me, I feel like I use the pop stuff as tools for psychological sort of inner self explorations ...
ANDREW: I'm, I mean, because I practice a traditional religion, I don't really feel drawn to use them in sort of my more religious or devotional kind of stuff, because those things already have their own avenues?
ANDREW: But I could see how ... And also, when I was younger, if people didn't like what I was up to, I would be like, “Well, screw you, you're dead to me.”
ANDREW: So. Whoever that was. You know? So, the idea of obscuring things has never been a part of my process. You know?
ANDREW: But I can see how that makes a lot of sense, though, if it is? Right? And I understand that for a lot of people the sort of notion of flying under the radar, right, is important.
MELISSA: We have ... Sorry. We have a family altar in the middle of our living room, and the kids help me. We clean it off at the end of the month, and the kids help me kind of build it over the month, and it gets covered with incense dust and whatever rocks we like, and then we start at the beginning of the month again. And any given month, there is a statue of Mary, some fox fetishes from a Zuni tribe, and a couple Wonder Woman Funko pops, and whatever the kids want to throw on. And it's, you know, if my son is feeling particularly, you know, sad or feeling small, than he'll put his Thor Funko Pop on the altar, and that's his way of kind of reaching out and connecting.
MELISSA: And I've never made anything ... I've never disallowed them from putting anything, whether plastic or, you know, any kind of rocks or whatever, on the altar, because it's not really the antiquity or the ceremony around the object, it's what it means to you.
MELISSA: And if Thor needs to be on the altar this month, cool, let's do it. You know?
ROSE: Well, and one of the things that I have in plenty is, I'm a Lego nerd. So, I have this, which is, I'm showing to you, Andrew and Melissa, it's a Lego minifig of the Tarot Reader, who is holding a Sun card and a Tower card. And when I first got one of these ... and I've got like three of them now ... I carry ‘em with me in my tarots, when I do readings out, and people kind of go, “What is that?” “It's a tarot minifig! See? This is not scary!” And ... but it's also, you know, a representation of me sometimes, when I need to focus, and so it's again how pop culture and how pop stuff crosses over with my spirituality.
ROSE: So, it's just a thing, I think that we all need to just grasp what works for us and build our practice around that part of it, and honor the traditional, because that's important. It's finding out what the traditions really are. But then, when it makes it work for you, if connecting that with Wonder Woman for example, or getting the Funko Pop of Hercules, cause, you know, that was kind of cool, works for you, to represent that, you know, or the Athena one, do it, I think that's great. But I also, you know—be aware of what you're connecting with, too, because you’re not, it's not just surface stuff.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm. Yeah. I also think that it's certainly possible with a lot of these things to start opening up in directions, and making connections with things, and then, you know, and then you can kind of go off and explore the spirituality and come back around and sort of revisit the pop culture layer with new eyes as well, right? It's a way in which we can, you know, continue to see deeper layers and maybe even sort of write extra layers on top of it, even if they're not there, right?
ROSE: Mm. Yeah, I could see that.
MELISSA: During my classes, I think Rose does this too, we both teach tarot classes, and we both use pop culture in them ...
MELISSA: And so, I have this feature that, the name of which I accidentally stole from Jaymi Elford—sorry, Jaymers!—called Pop Goes the Tarot, and I take a fandom like Firefly, and I match it with a tarot card ...
MELISSA: And, I've found the response to those has been really huge. Because if you're having a problem figuring out what the Hermit card is, or what the Emperor is, and if I say the Emperor is Erich Hartmann dressed up as a police officer saying, “Respect my authority!” I mean, that is a pretty strong connection to the archetype of the Emperor ...
MELISSA: And if they start there, and then move on to like, Benebell's gigantic book, or, like, another book that has like spiritual historical symbolic meanings of the cards, then they'll already have that first step into it and what it means—what it could mean for them. You know? And I think that if people do that with their own particular fandoms, they'll have an intimate connection with what that card is.
MELISSA: So, it's been really fun, and I keep getting emails about ideas of fandoms to explore, but if they're not mine, I don't have the confidence to assign the cards to them, so ...
ROSE: I'm still waiting for your Brady Bunch tarot.
MELISSA: Oh, that would be a good one! Okay. I know that fan, I got that.
ROSE: [laughing] And I think that's the beauty of pop culture and connection with spirituality is that you are making it a little bit more understandable for yourself. And as you said, yeah, taking the cards, “Okay, this is the Emperor,” well, what’s the Emperor do? You know? Is it Emperor Palpatine? Or is it, you know, the … I can’t even think right now, Dumbledore, let’s just put it that way, that’s not even right, though. But the point is, you’re figuring out which one matches up better for you. You know, I mean, the Devil might be Voldemort, he might be, you know, Darth Vader, but he also might be, you know, the little girl from The Bad Seed, which is a 1930, 45, something, I don’t know, 50s movie about a bad kid who personifies as beautiful and happy and lovely and she does really horrible things for a pair of shoes in one point. But anyway. The point is that you just connect these things. And then you can figure out what your personal connection is to either cards or to spiritual path. And also, the fact that that’s part of the collective unconscious as well, because all of these people … also … the moment you say, Lord Palpatine, to a group of people, most of them, I’m not going to say all, but most of them know what you’re talking about.
ROSE: So, you know, you’re doing something with a group, and you want to go okay, pull a card, “Oh, and this reminds me of Lord Palpatine,” and the rest of the audience knows what you’re talking about. And that’s the beauty of the pop culture. Of course, it is also needing to be aware that it is country-sometimes-specific or fandom-specific, because there are people that haven’t seen Star Wars.
ANDREW: Well, and also, I think that each of these worlds has varying stories and ideas around power and around, you know, who’s the Emperor or the Devil, right? You know?
ANDREW: You know, is the Emperor positive, you know? Is it really like great and endearing and lovable figure? Could be, you know?
ROSE: Could be.
ANDREW: Right? Is it somebody nefarious and controlling, you know? As I was organizing this, Aidan Wachter resurfaced something he had done previously where he had put Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon as the Emperor card. Right?
ANDREW: The guy’s an Emperor, a horrible Emperor, but, you know? And I think that there’s this level at which, you know, we can start to understand the ways in which we or people view lots of different ideas.
ANDREW: As we look at those, you know, what is the notion of justice in Firefly or in, you know, this, that, or whatever, right?
ROSE: The Justice League.
ANDREW: Justice League, yeah. How good are the Greek gods, right? You know? If we’re looking at Watchmen …
ROSE: Oh, yeah.
ANDREW: It’s a whole different matter, right? You know?
MELISSA: Batman has been a total a-hole lately, so?
ANDREW: He always was! That’s why I liked Batman! You know? I mean when I got into Batman Comics, I was reading them when like the Dark Knight starts, like the comic books start coming out, and Arkham Asylum and the Joker and the Killing Joke and all that kind of stuff, right?
ANDREW: Batman was this pretty sort of amoral, you know, fairly dark character, you know?
ANDREW: And it was interesting, right?
ROSE: You needed a counterpoint, though, to Superman, so yeah.
ANDREW: Right? You know? So, I think that yeah, again, it’s always, it depends on what we’re looking at, right? Are we talking about Adam West as Batman, that’s one thing, right? Are we talking about, you know, Christian Bale or, you know, these other comics and stuff, I think that that also becomes quite interesting, and then how do we reconcile sort of what’s behind all of those things, you know? What is that? Right?
ANDREW: That carries through all those through lines, you know? Yeah.
ROSE: Well, and being able to reconcile which versions you’re using, as you’re pointing out. Cause they all have different flavors.
ROSE: But that doesn’t mean they’re different characters, cause they’re all parts of Batman, they’re just highlighting different facets. I mean, everybody, what, freaked out when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman, and my first thought was, well, he’d make a great Bruce Wayne.
ROSE: Not—And I didn’t even think of him as Batman, I just thought of him as the Bruce Wayne part of the character, because I think that he has the gravitas for that part. I don’t know about his Batman. I’m not going to talk about that. But the point is that I didn’t lose my cool over it, let’s put it that way, as other people did, because they felt that Batman needed to be darker. Da. And—
ROSE: Christian Bale really pulled off a very strong Batman, I think. But it depends on who’s writing it. Go ahead.
MELISSA: I think that’s an important part too, is that people take these very personally. I always think that people, you know how you’re not supposed to talk about religion and politics and stuff. I think that’s because people hold their beliefs so close to them, they become integrated with who they are, so if you question the belief, you’re questioning the person. So that’s my base belief.
And I think that people take fandoms to that level too. Like I was in an elevator one time with my Wonder Woman lunchbox, and somebody was like, is that your kid’s? And this was a stranger and I said no. And she goes, aren't you a little old for that? And I, you know, wanted to say, shouldn't you go, whatever ...
MELISSA: But I almost started crying. Because it was so personal.
MELISSA: And such an intimate thing for me, and I was like, I can't fix what she picked on. I can't make that different. It is part of who I am. So, it isn't something that I can like hide it behind my back and pretend that it never happened. She picked on something that was really intimate with me. And I think that that's why, like people get really upset if their identity of who Batman is, is picked on or it's shifted from who they say it is. It's very personal.
ROSE: Yeah. By the way, the response to that should have been “Um, no,” and “Where's your sense of imagination?” But anyway.
ANDREW: Well, and so, one of the other fandoms that I quite enjoy is Doctor Who, right?
ANDREW: And Doctor Who is an interesting one in that regard, because Doctor Who is always changing, right?
ANDREW: And, you know, I think that it's kind of, it's one of the things that makes it fascinating for me, right? You know?
ANDREW: I certainly have my favorite and less favorite iterations, you know?
ANDREW: But yeah, I think it's really interesting, you know? And I think that this notion that we end up at, right?
ANDREW: I think that it's one of the reasons that we like fiction so much, right? In its various forms. Is fictional characters or stories or whatever: they're allowed to change, right? But if we walk through the world, it's easy to end up in places and around people where it's much harder or maybe sort of unofficially not permitted to change, right?
ANDREW: All of those social constructs of our job and our relationships and our friends and stuff can sort of exert this force that seeks to keep us in a constant relationship, right? We always have to be Ben Affleck, or we never can be Ben Affleck, or whatever it is about that Batman, right?
ANDREW: And yet these stories and the way in which both are reinvented as the worlds get rewritten, but also as they go through their journeys, they get to become different people, which I also think is very fascinating, you know? Yeah. I think the ... I think that, you know, bonking someone in the head with your Wonder Woman lunch bag is probably a good time.
ANDREW: I endorse that. The Jack Burton in me said “Do it.”
MELISSA: It's all in the reflexes.
ROSE: Well, and I ... it sounds like you were surprised by the commentary too.
ROSE: Cause that is kind of surprising, it's like, why would you say that to someone that you don't even know?
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, it's ... Yeah. And I know lots of people who complain or make comment about people doing cosplay or people doing ... I'm like, “Why on earth are you peeing in someone else's Cheerios?”
ANDREW: Just let them have their fun and do whatever they're doing, like, what does it matter to you? Why do you care, right?
MELISSA: That is such a visual, thanks!
ANDREW: You're welcome. But why on earth would anyone care what you watch or don't watch or carry or all these things, right? Like just, you know.
MELISSA: And I've gotten emails from people who said that, like I've had four or five, actually, in the past couple years that said I'm making light of a sacred tradition, and I'm like, if you don't like my book, cause my book is pretty light, I connect things to the publisher, I connect them to stories in my life, I connect the cards to pretty much anything that I find relatable, as a form of teaching. If you don't like it, don't fucking read my book. That's fine. Don't read my stuff about pop culture. Don't. Go find something else that you relate to. If you find yourself wanting to send that email, also don't do that, because, you know, blocked and deleted, as my kid says. It's just, why would you do that? Why would you take the time to try to impress yourself on another adult who already has their ideas? And it just seems so futile. And self-promoting and crappy.
ANDREW: Well, why do people do these things? What do you think?
MELISSA: I think they feel small. and they want to feel big. That’s … I think it's sad. Well, I mean, it pisses me off. But I also think it's sad. And, you know, it's a way for them to feel big. It's a shitty way to do it, but it's a way, you know?
ROSE: Yeah. And also, it's a way to say, “Hey, see, I'm smart, I know this thing, and maybe you don't, and here, let me explain it to you so that you see the error of your ways.”
MELISSA: Well, actually ...
ROSE: And that's, I think, a big thing that's going on is, you know, as the older guard, if you will, starts passing on, unfortunately, the younger guard is going to take what they've learned and they're not going to ignore the sources, but they're also going to make it their own. And I think that's what you do, is that you remind people, yes, there are these big things and sacredness to everything and please honor that, but while you're learning that stuff, to be able to use your tools now, here's a way to connect it to what you're going through with your everyday life.
I mean, part of, okay, James Wanless, cause I talk about him a lot, in general, is him, he created the Voyager Tarot. If you look at his courts, they're not knight/queen/king/page, they're child/woman/man/sage, because it was like, okay, in the 80s, we don't know, anybody, really, not in America, who are knights, queens, kings, and pages, really. Yeah, if you go to England, you can find them, I know, but I know a child, I know a woman, I know a man, and I might even know a sage, who is someone who knows a lot of stuff, so [sigh]. That's like … And it's modernizing something. That didn't mean he threw out the past. He just brought some stuff up to the future.
And I think that's what you, Melissa, are doing with your work, is that you are taking this sacred knowledge that you learned, and then applying the stuff that you love and connecting them and making them more palpable for a modern view. Again, not ignoring where it came from, but not saying, okay, we can ONLY talk about it in that fashion. Because you need to have something that you can connect to, or it's not going to stick. At least that's been my experience.
MELISSA: My biggest hope about this book is that it is completely irrelevant in 30 years. I would love that. Because I want everybody to just kind of get involved, and I want ideas to change, and they're already a couple of things that I put in it that I'm like, damn it, I kind of want to fix that, but it's too late. And, because I think that, you know, my kids think different things than I do, and they're 12 and 14, and their kids are going to have a whole different perspective. And I think that tarot lends itself to being whatever you need it to be, and so I think that what people will need it to be in 30 years is going to be something entirely different. I think that's beautiful. You know?
ANDREW: So, I kind of, I agree, and I disagree with you.
ANDREW: I want to, I'm going to throw out some other options here. And I'm going to start by framing it in a different context and then come back to tarot. Right?
ANDREW: So, as you both know, and as people who listen probably know, right? I practice the Orisha tradition in a very traditional way. Right? And, so, for me, this is a very sacred thing, you know? And certainly in my practice, I endeavor to follow the traditional ways of doing things and work with my elders and all of that kind of stuff.
And, so here's this thing that I identify and hold very sacred and not immutable, and not that I think there aren't a few things that might benefit from changing, but in general, I'm very like, this is it, these are the things, this is how it's done, and these are the beliefs within that structure about how these spirits work with people, and so many things, right? And then, I run a store, and I go out in the world, and I do things, and people do all sorts of other stuff, right? And that stuff ranges from interesting and sort of regional difference, to like horrendous, in my opinion, misunderstandings and appropriation, right?
ANDREW: And, so, for me, there's this practice where I have my own structures, and beliefs, and structures in which I work, and I look out from that place into other things that people are doing, and all, so much of it I don't understand what's going on at all ...
ANDREW: Or, from a traditional point of view it's problematic or inappropriate. But I recognize that everybody's free to do whatever they like, and so I just largely ignore, or just don't engage people when they're doing other things, right?
ANDREW: When it comes to tarot, I think that it's very challenging, you know, and Mary Greer just had a big post on this on her Facebook. If you're a follower of hers, you could probably scroll down a bit and find it. About this sort of, can we just do anything with tarot, right?
ANDREW: And I think that to me, while it's not as clearly defined as my religious practice, which is a very clear and sort of longstanding traditional structure, I think that with tarot, there's this sort of central core of things, which to me encompasses what tarot is, you know?
ANDREW: And as you migrate out from those sort of pieces, and depending on which sort of pockets you choose to work with, right? Are you a Rider-Waite person and falling kind of in that line? Are you a more esoteric person and fall in that line? Are you reading in a more sort of European style with, like, Marseilles cards and so on ...?
ANDREW: But to me, there's a place at which it loses its cohesion as we start doing anything with it, right?
ANDREW: There's a place at which the absence of what I sort of perceive as coherence starts ... I again … I have a similar feeling, although it's in a different way, where I just stop understanding what's going on. You know? I just don't understand, what is this? What's happening here? How does this work? So. Anyways. That's my response to what you said, Melissa.
MELISSA: That was a lot. And I do agree with you, but I think what I was trying to say, and maybe didn't do a good job, is that my opinion is not the only opinion. And that there is going to be a core. It can't be tarot and be 10,000 different things at the core, but it has to be basically the same thing for everybody.
But I'm not teaching the core of anything, I'm teaching what I think, and I'm teaching what's relatable to me, and, like, I learned to read on this Eden Gray book, and I read it so much that it's held together by duct tape and prayers, I mean, it’s just, it's really beat up. But she didn't speak my language. And it took me a long, long time to figure out what the hell a Hierophant was, how to say it, I'm still not sure if I'm right, I couldn't relate to it at all.
It wasn't until I found Rachel Pollack and Mary Greer, that I went, “Oh! They're speaking my language!” And Barbara Moore spoke my language, you know? And those three women taught me tarot. And Eden Gray tried to for like 15 years, but I ... It was so far removed from who I was and my understanding, that I had to read it with a dictionary in one hand, you know, to try to figure out what the hell she was talking about.
MELISSA: So, when I say that I hope that my stuff becomes irrelevant, it's going to, I'm not going to be relatable to a 14-year-old in 30 or 40 years. It's just not going to happen. And I think that's great. You know?
ANDREW: You never know, you'll have a syndicated tv show at that point, and ...
ROSE: A couple of books, and movies, and people will be following you on the Internets, and ...
ANDREW: Manga and reinterpretations of your books, and reinventions, and ...
ROSE: You will be then flown to China, many times! And! But no, seriously. And I think I agree with Melissa on this, but I also see what your point is, Andrew, and I think what I ... I'm not saying throw the baby out with the bathwater if you will. Because again, if you're following a tradition, that's very different. In my opinion. Because, again, like you said, your Orisha has a structure.
ROSE: And tarot has a structure, true. And adding pop culture won't—shouldn't, let me be more specific—shouldn't take away from the underlying structure. But as—
ANDREW: And I don't think that pop culture is at all an issue in relation to tarot—
ROSE: No, no, no, no—
ANDREW: I wouldn't be having this conversation if I did, right?
ROSE: No, no, no, no—no, no. No, what I'm saying is I think that the way that I may have phrased it is like, it does not apply to everything. You cannot apply ... You can't take the Orisha tradition and then apply pop culture to it ... They're two very different things.
ROSE: And there is a foundation in tarot that is being something you can move and mesh with. But it doesn't, the foundation doesn't go away, even when you apply the pop culture.
MELISSA: And I wonder if—oh, I'm sorry.
ROSE: No, go ahead.
MELISSA: If the difference between the two is that Orisha is sacred and when tarot is sacred to someone, they don't really want pop figures in their tarot.
MELISSA: So, it's how close you hold it to who you are and your faith. And tarot to me is a tool, it's a stack of pretty cards that help me do my thing, that's fantastic, and I'll be really pissed if ...
ANDREW: Pop culture is sacred to you, right?
MELISSA: It's a tool, it's a tool that I love, but I ... you know, I don't have it on my altar, I don't worship it. I don't think that. ... They're a tool that I can use really well, but that doesn't mean that they're sacred to me. You know? That might be the difference, you know?
ANDREW: For me, with my tarot cards, right, I'm a huge fan of the Joseph Peterson reproduction of the Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseilles. That is basically the only one that I read with right now. And so like, when I realized that they were going to go out of print, I just took three and put them in a drawer, cellophane-wrapped, so that when the one that I'm using now wears out, which it is starting to kind of get a bit worn, I can just be like, yeah, I don't need to be sad about this, they're just ink on paper, I'll go get another one from the drawer, you know?
MELISSA: Yeah. I did the same thing with the Uusi Pagan Otherworlds Tarot. I saw one picture—Ryan Edwards posted a picture of it, and I bought two. And I was like, this is for me, and this one is for future me. And future me is going to thank me, because I'm going to read with this about ten times a week forever, and then I'll need a new one, because they speak to me so much. But it's just like a really good chef's knife. You know? If you find the knife that fits your hand, that's the one that you're going to want to have around.
MELISSA: Not that I can cook. I really can't! But I know that knives are expensive.
ROSE: Knives are important, knives are important, good to know, I agree. But again, it's kind of like, you're honoring the basis, you're not changing it. And you're adding a layer to understanding, I don't ... [sigh] It's just, oh gosh, that's just two very separate things for me.
Cause again, I do put tarot cards on my altar, and I generally use the Rider Waite Smith just because it's simple for that. I don't read with one of those very often, unless I'm at an event where I don't know if people are going to know it. I bring in one with me, but my cards always vary, I'm either carrying around the Everyday Witch Tarot, which just recently came out in the last two years, or the Druidcraft, which I've cut the borders off of, which was a thing you didn't do back in the day and now you do if you want to, and I've got like three copies of that particular deck cause it spoke to me.
I've got my Robin Wood because again, my mood changes, I mean I've got three different copies of the Voyager, and I have one that I've cut in fours so that I can like, have a focus, I need to have something focused, pull that corner of that card and go, okay that's the thing I need to look at, then go get the bigger image and figure out what that was, and … But again, I don't think I'm getting rid of the sacredness that the tarot, air quotes, is founded on, cause again we're still, there are still arguments about how that's been founded, but anyway.
But I wouldn't necessarily take pop culture and put my religious aspects on it, cause like I said I'm trying to study Celtic recre- recreation- bleh. Ah, talking! Celtic reconstructionism, that's the word, and I'm trying to find out that by reading their actual text. And that’s not … But again, now how do you talk to people who are studying Norse mythology right now? And, you know, all the love of all of the Thor movies, and all of that, you know, and what about Loki and those movies, cause people are now making their version of Loki look like Tom Hiddleston. Lovely as he is, that's not the Norse mythology Loki.
ROSE: So, but they're blending that a little bit. And is that going against the sacred text, because that's their image of it, even though they may be reading the actual text, they're still visualizing Tom Hiddleston? I don't know.
MELISSA: I'm always a fan of visualizing Tom Hiddleston, just to be on record, I have no problems with that.
ANDREW: I think few people have a problem with that, very very few people. Yeah.
ROSE: He's lovely, but, do you know what I'm saying?
ANDREW: Yeah, absolutely.
MELISSA: Yeah, absolutely.
MELISSA: But I think it again goes to, how close do you hold it to you? If that's something that you hold very close to you, then that's not okay, and I think that we have to be really mindful of that, with other people, of how close they hold something, before we go goofing around with it, you know? For sure.
ROSE: Did that answer your question, Andrew?
ANDREW: Did I have a question?
ROSE: Well, I want to make sure we spoke to the ... cause again, you said you agreed and disagreed with our statement, and I’m thinking, well, yeah, I get both of what you're talking about, and I want to make sure that we responded.
ANDREW: Yeah, I think that there's a couple things, right? One is, people get really upset about the tradition of tarot. Right? And what they mean by the tradition of tarot depends on who that person is, right?
ANDREW: Do they mean, you know, Arthur Waite, and Rider-Waite-Smith, and sort of the various things that come from that?
ROSE: [whispering] The Golden Dawn!
ANDREW: Do they mean, you know, something different, like ...? And to some extent, I think that there's this sort of ... It's a ... It's a fake argument, right? Because ultimately there are at least a handful of branches of tarot from a big perspective, right?
ANDREW: You know, but you can go down and then there's all those sort of branches that come from these things, and if you're in one and looking at the other, they're always kind of challenging, right?
ANDREW: I mean I started reading tarot initially with the Mythic Tarot but really focused on Crowley's work, right, and so I basically just read The Book of Thoth, right, over and over and over again ...
ANDREW: And people would say to me, like, well how do I learn Crowley's Thoth deck, and I'm like, “He wrote a book, you read it, like, I don't understand the question,” right?
ANDREW: And, it's kind of unfair, cause the book is complicated and obtuse and difficult to read and you know, all of those things, right? But again, it was the only thing I could get my hands on and, back in the 80s and 90s, as far as I knew, it was the only thing in print. There was nothing else to get. So, I was like, I'm just going to keep reading this thing until it makes more sense.
ANDREW: So, there's that, right? But I also think that … I think there is the challenge where people layer other things like well, maybe like pop culture, certainly like their own intuitive or self-derived meanings, and then assert those as like, you know, universal or inherently true or all those kinds of things, right? Because there ... I think that one can do anything you like with tarot, and I think that you should do everything that you like and feel like you want to do with tarot. And associate those meanings and all of that kind of stuff ...
ANDREW: The challenge is where people sort of erase the rest of the branches of the trees, right?
ANDREW: You know, I've met a bunch of people who were very good psychics who used cards, but I would never really consider them card readers because what they do has no bearing on anything that I've ever understood to be reading the cards.
ANDREW: They lay them out and they start talking, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, this one, and blah blah blah blah blah,” and I'm like, “Why is the Ten of Swords getting a new job?” and they're like, “I don't know, that's the message I get,” and I'm like, “Okay.” And their readings are true ...
ANDREW: But they literally have no bearing whatsoever on anything that anybody would agree upon who has studied cards at all. Right? So, I ...
ANDREW: But those people—the couple of people that I've met that way—asserted what they were doing was traditional, was reading the cards, and I'm like, “It's not, it's something else, you know?” And not that it's invalid, but it's where things get confusing, right?
ANDREW: So. Yeah. So that's my mix of things.
ROSE: Now I want to meet some of those people and see how they read. Cause that'd be interesting, cause the Ten of Swords as a job ... Huh. Interesting.
ANDREW: It's easy. You just like, deal out like 20 cards on the table in some random ever-changing pattern every time you do it, and then you just look at them and say things, and that's it. That's what it looks like, so.
ROSE: Okay. All right. I will have to find somebody who does it that way, then. That's interesting. Yeah. Hmm. I don't know.
ANDREW: Uh-huh. Were you going to say something, Melissa? I saw you like, lean in there.
MELISSA: Yeah, I, you know, I think that I've read like that before, when I've just done the readings intuitively and the cards don't matter. I don't … I hardly look at them, and if I need them to make a point, I'll find the card that makes that point with what I'm saying, but it becomes like a connection psychic reading or whatever, and I'll glance at the cards and just do the reading, and I'll pull stuff out of wherever it comes from, and the cards … Basically shuffling them helps the person relax, you know? Handling them helps me get in the place that I need to be, and then the reading just happens.
And, should I see something in the cards that pushes forth what I'm getting, then I'll be like, “Oh, yeah, this thing here, right, yeah, this is what the sword is doing,” and it kind of ... I did it more when I was first starting out, because I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And I was like, “Oh, well, I'm thinking about your mother, and here's a lady sitting in a chair, so clearly those two things are related.” But now, if I'm not paying attention to the way that I'm doing readings, I'll just start reading for somebody while they're shuffling, before they've even put the cards, like, down, and I'll start the reading, and then I'll be like “Oh, crap! I was supposed to wait. Sorry, my bad!” And that's just how my readings have evolved. So, it's strange, but, you know, it is what it is. I'm not everybody's cup of tea.
ROSE: But you are someone's shot of whiskey. It's fine.
MELISSA: I'm a bit weird in that way, but I think that it's just kind of merging two different styles of reading, because I can read just the cards, and I can read without them, and when I merge the two, sometimes one way is stronger, and sometimes the other one is. So.
ANDREW: Yeah. But you're not ... it doesn't sound like you're confusing the two.
MELISSA: No. They're definitely different.
MELISSA: And. Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
ANDREW: So. For people who want to play with pop culture, what should they do?
ROSE: What do you mean?
ANDREW: Well, people listening to this and maybe this is a newer idea, or they've been thinking about it, but don't know where to start? If you're, like, going to start, like, incorporating or thinking about pop culture as a thing that could overlap and intersect with spiritual practice, like reading the cards or something else, where do people start?
MELISSA: I always like, when I have students, I ask them to start a tarot journal, and I ... One of the first things I ask them to do is to find their favorite fandom and match the major arcana to as many characters as they can, and then we talk about why they came up with those answers.
MELISSA: The other thing I do is ask them to find a song for each card. And a song that kind of speaks to the meaning of, like there's a song called “Pendulum Swinger,” and I'm like, this to me, by the Indigo Girls, is the High Priestess. And, so, they listen to the song that I pick, and I say, “Why do you think that I picked that?” And it just gives us like, an hour's worth of conversation based on a song in Firefly about cards, that it helps them connect to them in a way that they didn't know that they could, and it's fun. It's really fun. So, that's what I do.
ROSE: I generally try and have people just look at the cards and see what they see. If they're new, and they're like, “I'm not ... This makes no sense!” The first thing I tell them and, sorry people who write the Little White Books, or the LWBs, I tell them to put that away. And to just take time with, you know, tarot journal, every day, pick a card, write what you see, tell me what it feels like to you, find a word, just one word, to describe that card. And go through all the cards.
And then, is there something in your community, your stuff you love, the interests that you have, that comes up for you when you see that card? Write that down. And then, when we meet, we talk about what it is you saw, why did you see it, and how does it connect? And sometimes it's pop culture, sometimes it's just, you know, something they read, but, and that's still something that's going on around them, and then we talk about it. And then, you know, it might be—cause most of my friends are Star Wars fans—we talk about Star Wars connected to the tarot. Or we'll talk about Star Trek cause that's the other fandom, cause we're old school like that.
ANDREW: Well, when I ...
ROSE: In that way.
ANDREW: Was studying Kabbalah the first time, Star Trek Next Generation was on the air, right? So, the conversation was, all right, Tree of Life, which one's the Captain? Which one's Worf? Which one's, you know, whoever, right?
ANDREW: Kind of running through that. And making those parallels and sitting in a room of people and discussing that.
ANDREW: That's such a wonderful, like, I think that one of the great things about these kinds of ideas is the dialogue about where they can get ascribed to is tremendously educating, you know?
ANDREW: There's no right or wrong answers, you know, depending on the angle or the lens we use, they could be a variety of things, right? You know? I mean, Jack Burton can be the Fool, right? But they can also be a variety of other things depending on where they are in that journey. Right?
ANDREW: But, yeah.
ROSE: Well, and who would you make—I would say Wang might be more the Fool, and Jack is the Magician.
MELISSA: I don't know. I put Wang as Temperance, and Burton as the Fool, cause Wang balances mind, body, and spirit a lot better than anyone else.
ANDREW: Yeah. I think, I mean. You think about Jack Burton, you know? Especially that scene where like, all of the scenes with him that machine gun, right? Like he's there and he's got this machine pistol thing, right?
ANDREW: He jumps out and he tries to shoot it and he's like, “Oh, it doesn't work.” And then he goes back and tries to fix it, he comes back, and all of a sudden everything's whatever, he drops it, or he shoots the bricks over his head, they hit him in the head and he falls down, you know like, there's this constant set of things. To me, Egg Chen would be the Magician. Right? You know? He's got his potion, right?
ANDREW: That helps him see things nobody can see and do things nobody can do?
ANDREW: And he's got his bag and ...
ROSE: But I would make him the Hierophant.
ROSE: I'd make him the Hierophant because he's the teacher, even though you might not want to learn the lesson, or you're not ready to see it, he's got the answers. But that's me.
MELISSA: Yeah, I think that Gracie would be that, because Gracie has all the back story and the information that they're missing to go on their adventure, so Gracie Law basically jumps in to say, “Oh, by the way, you need to go to this place, this is who that guy is, here's what he's up to, here's who these guys are, and in that way he hands them the keys to their adventure, right?”
MELISSA: And the cool thing about this conversation is, all of us disagree, and nobody's being an asshole about it.
MELISSA: Which I think is really cool, and that more people should probably do when they're talking about tarot.
ROSE: Yes! No matter what the lens that you're talking about it with, I would agree.
ANDREW: Absolutely, absolutely. All right, well thank you all for hanging out and indulging my ridiculousness around this conversation. I deeply appreciate it. Rose, where should people come find you online?
ROSE: You can find me on Twitter @RoseRedTarot, and also on Instagram @RoseRedTarot, or you can find me at Tarot Visions podcast, on iTunes and Pod Bean.
ANDREW: Nice! And links in the show notes. And, Melissa?
MELISSA: If you Google Little Fox Tarot, you'll find me. I'm out there!
ANDREW: Perfect. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, and yeah, it's been really fun and ridiculous, and thanks for agreeing and disagreeing but certainly for showing up, so, awesome!
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