Love, Death, Betrayal and Giant Snails

As a kid I experimented with Tarot cards. I think many of us did. That sort of rampant curiosity that comes with being a teen. The occult didn’t escape my attention. The mysterious Tarot cards, so iconic as a tool of prophecy, drew me in.


Years later, this dabbling turned into downright research for my first published novel—Tarot: The Magician. I didn’t just want a story about evil Tarot cards. That felt too simplistic. Something the Syfy channel would whip up as their movie of the week. Instead, I delved into the history of the cards and how they started as the Dance of Death (see my article on it here).

Three of the Major Arcana cards particularly influenced me: The Magician, Death, and the Hanged Man. These not only became themes for the novel, but characters as well.

The Magician Becomes Love

The title of the novel revolves around a man named Luke Rykell (you can read some of his history here). He helped create the cursed deck. His reward: being trapped inside. But he was no magician.

The history of the card dates back to more of a con-artist or street hustler. One name for the original Magician card is Thimblerigger. Those were the sorts of fellas who tricked people with the three card monty. Their sleight of hand seemed like magic, thus the name of magician.

Here the "Magician" is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

Here the “Magician” is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

For most of the history of the tarot, the Magician was simply a street performer and con man. In fact the card’s name was the Juggler or the Trickster. This all changed when the occultist Éliphas Lévi redesigned this card. He depicted the Magician holding one of the card suits (usually a wand) with the others lying on the table (these items replaced the cups and ball trick). Later, Paul Christian (a devotee of Lévi) renamed The Juggler as The Magus, and the change was complete.

How does this relate to love? For most, the Magician represents skill, creativity, and free will. Yet when this card pops up with a romance question, the meaning shifts. It indicates that the time for a new romance is at hand. The moment is now.

Death is the Ultimate Change

Most folks are frightened when the Death card appears in a Tarot reading. They shouldn’t be. The Death card represents change—clearing out the old to make way for the new. Think about a forest fire. As destructive as this process is, it burns away brush that is clogging out new growth. Only with this destruction can the forest revitalize itself. Even after the Black Plague that scoured Europe, the survivors were stronger for it. New evidence suggests that the disease targeted weaker and more frail people, leaving a stronger populace in its wake.


In the story of Tarot: The Magician, there is a death in our heroine’s past. Right now, this loss weighs on her, and prevents her from moving on with her life. She needs to deal with it, and clear it away in order to grow.

The Hanged Man has Betrayed You

The man hanging my one foot represents a traitor (the original Italian name was Il Traditore, the Traitor). May believe this represent Judas Iscariot, and the fifteenth century Rosenwald deck shows the figure clutching a small bag in each hand. This might be the thirty pieces of silver.


Another argument suggests that this figure is Muzio Attendolo, who had been given a high position by the the Pope and then chose to speak out against him. The offended Pope ordered pictured painted of Muzio Attendolo upside-down and suspended from one foot. This type of art was called shame painting. The Pope displayed these paintings all over Rome.

In both cases, the men hanging upside down were traitors. And that’s the meaning used in Tarot: The Magician. The brother to Luke Rykell is Gabriel and he was tasked with illustrating the cursed deck of cards. Only when he reached the final illustration, he balked—not ready to doom his soul to eternal torment. His betrayal led to the entrapment of Luke inside the Tarot cards themselves.

What Does a Giant Snail Have to Do with All This?

The fact that Luke lives in a tower attached to a snail is not a mistake. While researching the aspects of the magician card, I wanted to hone in on the idea of the will and the mind (both traits associated with the Magician card). This led me to the spiral of the snail’s shell, and how it winds in on itself. This is a common symbol for expanded consciousness. In sacred geometry, the spiral follows the Golden Ratio.


So the home for Luke was both a way to expand his magical powers of intellect, but also a prison that spiraled in forever. It also wasn’t lost on me that in Christian symbolism, the snail stands for sloth. Although Luke is far from lazy, he does linger in his card for hundreds of years and this plays on his mind.

There are many stories attached to the Tarot cards. The symbolism is rich and goes back centuries. The more you dig up on the Tarot, the more they will amaze you.

Tim Kane

The Dark Whispers of the Elder Futhark

I don’t buy into most divination practices. Many don’t make sense (like the I Ching) or some are too darned complicated (Tarot), but I do have a yen for runes. Maybe it’s the German heritage, but these symbols speak to me.


The word rune has a long and clandestine history. The Old Norse called it runir meaning secret or hidden lore. In Old English it became rün, a secret consultation. Finally the Gothic language titled it as runa, dark sayings, or whispers. These dark whispers are not malicious by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, the runes are like a friend, confiding secrets to you, and rune casting is the best way to get your new friend talking.

Each rune symbol represents both a letter of the alphabet and an idea (see the letters here), but these are a far cry from their true meaning. This only comes from using the runes, over and over and over again. I don’t mean be a fanatic about it. For goodness sake have a life, but allow these messages and the stories they represent to enter into your life.

I don’t put in for the various meditations and soul searchings that many of the books I’ve read suggest when working with runes. I’m a pragmatist. How can I get these things to work for me? What I’ve found is that the runes, as a divination source, are far more practical and straightforward than say the Tarot. I tried various divinatory techniques with the runes, kept what I liked, threw away the rest.

One that I use most often and with tremendous success is rune casting. What’s best about this method is that I don’t even need to have any runes on me to practice it. Once I threw a casting in the parking lot of McDonalds with a bundle of coffee stirrers. I’ve found that there is a bond that develops between you, the caster, and the runes themselves. Often you must read into the casting to find its true meaning, sometimes going by gut reaction.

The manner for casting is pretty simple. If you’ve purchased or made a set of runes, make sure they’re all inside a pouch. Reach inside with the question posed clearly in mind. It helps to be brutally specific here. The more loopholes you allow the runes, the more they’ll take. This method works best with questions that can be answered with a qualified yes or no. Don’t ask how or why because the runes won’t tell you. As in everything in life, you’ll have to figure those out for yourself. Reach inside, grasp a handful of runes, and toss them onto the ground or table. Now a word of caution here, toss does not mean hurl with the force of a two-year-old with his ball. You don’t want to loose any of the runes, just scatter them randomly. Let them decide how to land. The basic interpretation is simple, if more runes are turned face up, the answer is positive (yes), if more are turned down, negative (no). The trick comes in qualifying the answer. What’s the ratio of upright to overturned runes? If you have, say four to one or five to two, the answer is a very sure yes. If they’re all turned face up, then you have little doubt in the matter. The same goes for face down. When the ratio is close or dead even, then you’re stuck with a qualified maybe. Don’t be disappointed. This only means that your fate isn’t decided yet.

EhwazFinally you can interpret the meanings of the upright runes themselves. The most important rune to see is Ehwaz, because it confirms without a doubt those runes around it. It can push a maybe over to yes or confirm a negative result for sure.

If you don’t have runes to cast, you can also use a set of nine sticks, or coffee stirrers or straws, anything about the same size. This method is little more unpredictable and sometimes yields nothing more than a vague notion. I’ve used it for a quick spot check when away from home. Cast the sticks out just like the runes and then examine them. Because the rune signs are all made up of straight lines, sometimes the sticks will form the shapes of a rune. Be careful though, not every crossed stick is Gebo or Naudhiz. When a rune is created, it’ll be rather obvious. If you get nothing, then you’re left with another maybe. In this method you typically see only a single rune, and must interpret the answer from that rune’s meaning. Usually this will not give you a yes or no answer, rather a quality regarding your question. Like I said, it’s not rocket science, but it can help guide you in a clutch.

Rune casting is like inviting a new person over for diner. The first time you meet will be awkward. You may struggle for things to say. But the more often you two meet, the closer you’ll become, until soon you’ll find yourself rather comfortable with those crazy looking symbols. Then you might feel a gentle rush of air by your ear as you catch just a snippet of those dark whispers. The secrets of the runes.

Tim Kane