Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
We’re suffering. We’re drunk, we’re overworked, we’re shortening our resumes, we’re ruining our lovers’ lives, and we’re late, again, with another exegetical statement on the first third of the book of Acts. And we have not seen an advice column at Swarthmore. Not one. (OK, fine—until a few days ago.)
Jefferson founded this nation to be the stronghold of the yeoman farmer. He envisioned a nation of enlightened, spunky individuals, tilling with their donkeys in the rain, and spending Saturday evening in the emptied-out dance hall drafting plans for the furtherance of the vision.
But this nation was founded on horror, too. We’re suffering. We’re still suffering. We need advice. We need—trough, now!
Now, what is a trough? An oasis, for the weak cow. A glorious bathhouse, for the poor shepherd boy. A well, for the maiden of thirst. A nice fetish, for the subject-less Monet, when the haystacks spot with mould in the winter. A trough is the site of our hope, the repository of our demand. It is the slick, riveted interior in which the pure water of our ambitions and the slop of our willed blindness blend together in one outward thrust of mercy towards the beasts.
And a trough is one thing more: glissage, a linguistic slip, that unintentional creole of the mind that causes us to hold two notions at once.
(Translation from the dialect of Captain Derrida: Trough is Tarot, as the amorphous entity of the Wikipedia puts it—“pronounced /ËˆtÃ¦ËroÊŠ/, a pack of cards [most commonly numbering seventy-eight], used from the mid fifteenth century in various parts of Europe to play card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot. From the late 18th century until the present time the tarot has also found use by mystics and occultists in efforts at divination or as a map of mental and spiritual pathways.” This is allegedly informative as to our purposes herein.)
In short: We’re suffering in this realm. This blighted planet, this blighted suburb, this little sputter of dung and ambition crowned by the onion dome of St. Parrishburg — we heave and wither under the star of our decay. How little we know about what will happen.
Our thinking is tripartite: This campus has many issues. We need innovative ways to solve them. How about cards with funny pictures?
So listen up, jacks and mayflies: for the remainder of the semester, we’re yours. We’ll take your troubles, right there to the throne of the High Priestess. And looking down Delphi’s furrowed maw, we’ll pull you up some gold worth the story. We’ve got a whole basement full of interpretation theory minors, bound and gagged, and ready to interpret the priestess’s smoke and lights. And we’ve got these great big hearts just a bleedin’ to get you back on your glorious and predestined paths. Act now, and don’t delay, for while the Priestess always speaks, it’s only sometimes that we can convince Uncle Hermes to sit down at the table.
So Uncle Hermes is in our cabin. He kicks off his boots, rolls up those worsted sleeves, and puts his stocking’d feet right on the table. Your tired wife, shrunk and stumbled to the size of a servant, stirs the broth with love and indignation. And you, you, you lucky knave, you darling damsel—why, you shuffle on up to that empty seat, and cry. Stay awhile. Rest awhile. See what the TROUGH can do for you.
But wait! Uncle Hermes stirs, picks up his briefcase, and pulls the projector down on the wall. He wants to show you what he’s got.
He sets his cards on the table, and the little needle of the record player starts to scratch. The gravel road of this record is one we are definitely going down. The sun is going down. The stars are going down. Satan is waiting his turn and — the voices break from that wax-plated prison. Hermes is playing us questions — the questions of citizens just like you, jacks and mayflies. Questions from human beings with heart. Questions from the realm of suffering.
Little Johnny in Oregon, stricken with the plague, sputters, and the disc picks up his stare: “Yo Tarot! What be up with my love life for the next three months?”
The room grows strange — the fog and mist of your holy uncle covers over the clear table-setting. You can’t even see the potted ham. Suddenly, images appear on the wall. Square cards, cast out in small piles.
What’s this, bright Uncle, brave visionary from the realm beyond the orb? What’s this you have to tell us? An answer?!
[Caption to Promote Trough Literacy]
The King of Staves — [The King of Wrapping Around the Phallus]
The Wheel of Fortune — [The Wheel of Tail Noms]
The Ten of Swords — [The Ten of Internal [and External] Bleeding]
The Five of Staves — [The Five of Yr Burning Fingers]
The focus card is the King of Staffs, the master of the suit of feelings. The focus is the light that illuminates the rest of the reading; in this instance, the presence of the King of Staffs indicates that Little Johnny’s future is trending toward emotional growth, toward a point wherein Little Johnny will control and sit with his emotions.
Beginning closest to Little Johnny’s present is the Wheel of Fortune—The Fixed and The Volatile—representing the powers of fate, transformation and change. In line with the King of Staffs posing a point of growth in the future, toward which the Powers That Be shall hurtle Little Johnny, the Wheel of Fortune indicates, appropriately enough, the beginning of such a process of destiny.
At the center (which is in fact the center; which is not divorced from the totality) is the Ten of Swords—The Victim—one who has received severe criticism, who has been stabbed in the back, who has been rejected, who has been injured. A major catalyst toward this process of growth—that, so reinforced by the Wheel of Fortune, Should Occur to the en’ds of this grand teleology—shall be a moment of great suffering.
Near the end of his three-month journey is the Five of Staves—The Burning Hand—the limb that bursts with flame from the force of the creative energies held within. In order to make meaning from his inevitable suffering, Little Johnny must let loose the creative forces and use his hands to take action to transform himself into… the King of Staffs. Destiny demands great suffering for the cause of The Work.
Little Johnny, it seems, is unlikely to find love within this three-month period, but through pain—derived, perhaps, from his lack of success, or, more specifically, an unexpected rejection—he may prepare himself to become a veritable Maester of the Emotional Energies, so as to be far more prepared in the future to find and be with love. Perhaps, through this he will know better what in the future his heart truly desires. It is true, dear readers: he could still be run over by a truck. But we think distant glory is in the stars for him: something beautiful that squints. Something out of Hardy, out of The Catcher in the Rye.
Brittle Sandy comes through next, as charmed and clear as if she had perished just yesterday. “Yo Tarot,” she pleads, her golden locks curling into the record grooves, “I know this is clichÃ©, but I want to know how my love life is going to evolve.”
The 3 of Staves — [The 3 of Why Is My Ship Between These Torches?]
The 8 of Staves — [The 8 of Paul Bunyan]
The Magician — [Uncle Hermes, Proud and Tall]
The 2 of Vessels — [2 of I Like The Sex, But Why Is The Rose There?]
Her focus, naturally, is the 3 of Staves—The Ship—bringing a new wave of reinforcements to war in her heart, for better, or for worse. It is possible, perhaps, that the battle with which Brittle Sally concerns herself—a battle with particular participants, a particular hint at amour—is one that has already begun. The Eight of Staves—The Woodcutter—is cutting back in the Psychic Real, simplifying and focusing his blows on The Log. The Magician—our Uncle Hermes, concerned with the Matter of the Work—rounds out the center, sending to us a message to Brittle Sally about the correspondences between things, and thus the way to heaven on Earth. And, what’s this, Brittle Sally? Your last card is the Two of Vessels—the minor form of The Lovers—indicating attraction lust, sex, and cooperation?
For you, Brittle Sally, the cause is clear; and the path, though long, and frought with badgers, is a noble one. When the fond winds of battle pick up at the Aulis of your heart, you will go forth into your winnowing—whether Iphigenie’s croaked or sings some more. You’ll have to make some tough decisions, Sal—maybe you can’t bury your brother and maintain that all-star record in Civic Virtue; maybe you should only date half of the rugby team. But, Sally, the High Priestess sez: once you separate the wheat from the chaff, and leave in your heart only those few lone twings of importance remaining, things are going to be happening for you. You’ll become like Gilgamesh, that mighty tree stretching between earth and heavens. Your inborn divinity will flourish in your breast. And, best of all, you’ll get to have sex in a vial, with the giant symbolic edifice of W.B. Yeats towering over your sweltering form! Brittle Sally, be brittle no more—The Priestess says you’re going places we’d love to get to go.
Suddenly, the needle scratches to a halt. That luminous screen snaps up the syrup-covered wall. Uncle Hermes, with a flash of his suitcase, is out the door, a trail of burnt-sage aroma and 70s plaid that you just might have imagined.
But you want more, dear readers? Fair jackdaws, be you yet couzened by your neighbor, or confused by your ex-boyfriend, or hungry for an internship? Kind mayflies, long you still for summer nights of peace and enlightenment, discoursing under the eglantine, but know you not how to reach that shrug’d-off paradise? Write here, O knaves, right now. The maw of Delphi beckons to you. Always open, always ready—and Uncle Hermes stops by once a week.
Write now—Trough Later !
Philemon and Sal welcome your comments and inquiries for the Priestess. Any format will do—from the crassest suggestion to a long-winded worry about your future, we deliver to the Priestess without judgment and with roller skates. As the weeks progress, we’ll experiment with different types of readings. For now, send us your troubles — or your dreams! — and we’ll sponge your worried brow. Write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.