This story traverses the entire Book of Thoth – all 78 cards – according to an order generated by the primitive element 3 of GF(79). That element corresponds, through the assignment process I described in Part I posted yesterday, to Atu (Trump) II: The High Priestess. I have numbered the “verses” of the story by their finite field elements, rather than in ascending numerical and story narrative order. Read them sequentially from beginning to end, from top to bottom. I have based the order of the cards on the order given by Aleister Crowley in “The Book of Thoth.” I have created a table here, for reference.
Important Disclaimer and Relevant Information About Myself (repeated from Part I): Although I have been an avid reader of the works of Aleister Crowley, I am not a member or initiate in Ordo Templi Orientis, nor an actual practitioner of Thelema, Thelemic principles, or Ceremonial Magic(k). My interest in Magick is mainly one of study: Its principles do from time to time resonate with me and my Zen practice, and there is also a connection with Robert Anton Wilson, the late fiction and non-fiction author of “Illuminatus!” (with Robert Shea) and The Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy, which I greatly enjoy in the original three-volume Bantam paperback editions. I do read Tarot cards, on my own as a meditation and for friends when they want me to do so – for free – and my preferred deck is the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot. I see them as a vehicle for generating meaningful coincidences – not fortune telling per se – that resonate with conscious and unconscious elements in both the person reading the cards and whoever else participates in the reading. I am also a mathematician by education, avocation, and my former Federal civilian profession, and have become recently a Retired Member of the American Mathematics Society.
A Mathematical Journey Through the Book of Thoth
in Seventy-Eight Verses
The High Priestess’ Tale
Verse 1: The Querent cleared his mind, exterminated rational thought, became a Blank, a Tabula Rasa, a Fool.
Verse 3: And then appeared unto him The High Priestess who spake to him Her other name: “I am the Queen of the Sciences! I serve the Order of the Universe, and I determine this Order of This Telling of the Book of Thoth!” She then smiled and added, “May I take your order, please?”
Verse 9: Then said the Querent, “Woe is me! Whoa, it’s you! I am a man of unclean lips, for I have polluted Your Ineffable Mathematics with my amateurish Magick, and thrown everything out of balance! In Your mercy, show me some severity, for I am entirely out of Adjustment!”
Verse 27: Then the Power surged higher in the Exponent, and the Modulus had not yet kicked in, and the Querent was despondent, down in his Cups, awaiting his punishment. Such a drama King.
Verse 2: “Art thou not better than this?” demanded the Priestess to know. “Thou art the master of the elements! Thou hast the tools! Hath not the substancc of the past fortnight shown this to thee? Thou art The Magician!”
Verse 6: “Gaze upon the ancient Wisdom,” said she. “Remember what thou hast been taught. Thou dost hold the Key. Drop it not.”
Verse 18: “It is too high for me, this Wisdom!” whined the Querent. “Too Starry, I cannot attain it. And if I did attain it, could I express it? And if I did express it what would–“
Verse 54: “Shut it,” said the Priestess, “lest I reduce you to Absurdity in my Proof.” She then did smile and sway so sweetly. “I am here for thy Pleasure, not thy pain, and certainly not thy punishment!”
Verse 4: “For I am the Queen, the Empress,” she said, “Ruler over that which does not change, which careth not if thou believest, which exists above existence and yet defines its Ideals, and doth influence all of the other Sciences.”
Verse 12: And the Querent, well, now he was Quite Interested. Aroused as all @#$%, was what he was, indeed. It was a feeling, moreover, of Strength. (All feelings of Lust are.)
Verse 36: “Oh, you men!” cried The Priestess. “What am I, the Queen of the Earth, that you should lust after me so? What I desire from you is service more transcendent than that! Shall I treat thee to the coldest of showers?”
INTERLEWD [n., from the Latin “Lewdus Interruptus]: Just then, the Querent’s wife, alerted by a notification that the Narrator – er, I mean, the Querent Himself Who Is Not By Any Means Necessarily The Narrator – had badly misread the meaning of that last card (she is a Virgo, after all, and attuned to such matters, and to that card), peeked into the room from the split seam in the narrative fabric, frowned, and said to herself, “So THIS is what he does when I’m away!” She then placed her phone in a secret nook on “RECORD VIDEO” mode, and vanished just as cleverly (and self-protectively) as the Narrator had acted in thinking her up just now. Heh. Ahem.
Verse 29: But the Querent, he could not hear the High Priestess, for his mood, like a younger man’s mood, had gotten him Quite Carried Away.
Verse 8: “Be carried away, then!” said the Priestess. “Be moved elsewhere entirely! Why do I waste my time with men – er, with Mankind?” For she was by this time getting a tad tetchy.
Verse 24: She then did zap the Querent with her Wand,/Her Scepter made of mighty knotty pine,/For though the Queen of Science was quite fond,/She knew she had to somehow draw the line./”Did I do well?” she asked of no one there./An unseen voice replied, “You did just fine.”
Verse 72: The High Priestess then raised her Scepter high, and it crackled with real, whole, positive, transcendent (but not imaginary) energy, a throbbing Surge that genuinely frightened the Querent, whose own motivations had curiously subsided. Maybe it was the zap, or the slight and inexplicable feeling of having been caught. But anyway, …
Verse 58: The Querent then suddenly felt a strange fullness, a Satiety of sorts, I suppose, and he asked, “Is there a bathroom around here?”
Verse 16: The Devil Himself, watching all of this from Hell, angrily pitched his pitchfork into a nearby pitch lake, impaling some burning swimmers, and said in disgust, “It Is Happening Again.”
Verse 48: The heat of the fire of Hell thus surged in its oppressive response to the Horned One’s fury, and the Oppression reached even the place where the High Priestess and the Querent stood. “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” asked the Priestess, but before the Querent had barely opened his mouth to reply, she said, “Don’t start.”
Verse 65: The Querent, sweating, but not now in a good way, just wanted out of there, and even though he turned and clawed the walls, he could find neither purchase nor penetration, and he turned back around, sighing at the Futility of it all.
Verse 37: “Pizza!” shouted a suddenly appearing young male pizza guy, dropping off a pizza, which was quite pizza-like. The Querent then saw the sign “Men” and briefly disappeared into the Plotty Potty Device for the rest of this Verse.
Verse 32: “You don’t,” said the Querent once he returned, trying to look casual as he grabbed a slice of pizza, “happen to be a reader of Kurt Vonnegut, do you?” The High Priestess frowned, and he explained, “I mean, you do kind of have that brainy vibe going on.”
Verse 17: “ONLY BLUEBEARD!!!” she screamed in a voice so loud, a nearby Jenga tower made of pure Abstract Expressionism just fell over, its layers of Sateen Dura-Luxe peeling from it like a dropped author’s name.
Verse 51: “But I have read a ton of books,” cried the High Priestess, “you have probably never even heard of! Erdrich! Jemisin! Niven! Zuckerman! Polya! Szego!” She then gestured to a wall behind her, and a door swung back to reveal a well-lit and immense library with an Abundance of Printed Material. Not a single Nook reader was in sight, even if they still sell those things anymore.
Verse 74: The Querent, fascinated, wandered into that enormous library, soaking up the smell of books but also sniffing for the presence of Archaeologists, and looking all around, when his eyes fell upon a most curious volume. He picked them both back up and adjusted them so he could read the title: THE SECRET OF SUCCESS.
Verse 64: “What does this book have to do with Mathematics?” he asked, turning his head to see The High Priestess following him into the room, a look of weary patience on her face. “What does ‘Bluebeard’ have to do with it, either? It’s not even Science!”
Verse 34: The High Priestess sighed, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Homunculus, than are dreamt of in your philately.” While the Querent puzzled over that choice of words, a young girl with horn-rimmed glasses and a big, thick volume of W. B. Yeats’ poetry walked in and said, “She’s right, you know.”
Verse 23: The girl then asked the Querent, “What man is at rest in his inn?” to which the Querent, annoyed with all the potency of Fiery Fire, barked, “GET OUT!” … which she did.
Verse 69: You’ve been waiting for Verse 69 all night, haven’t you? You naughty person.
Verse 49: The Querent then looked more carefully at the shelves surrounding him and The High Priestess. They seemed to shimmer, the light coruscating in weird formations that seemed like – waves? “Are we at the bottom of a swimming pool?” he asked, while the B52s started singing “Private Idaho” in the background. Indeed, this place seemed to be the Very Root of the Powers of Water.
Verse 68: “RUIN NATION!” shouted the High Priestess, undoubtedly referring to America Itself and worriedly looking up. She then looked back at the Querent, who was mesmerized by the shimmering effect. “Tell me, have you ever been drunk?” she asked him.
Verse 46: “Oh, yes, lots of times,” said the Querent, who then blushed at having answered with such Swiftness.
Verse 59: “Well, this is going to be rather unpleasantly like that,” the High Priestess replied, as the Querent looked up and realized the skylight mixed with the shimmering made him feel like he was in a giant glass of water, and made him wonder whether it would not have made more sense to put a library in a place controlled by the Root of the Powers of the Air.
Verse 19: “What – what’s so unpleasant about being drunk?” he asked her, seeing the Moon (not the Doctor) through the skylight.
Verse 57: “You would have to ask an unsuccessfully recovering alcoholic with a ruined life,” replied the Priestess, and the sepulchral voice of a laughing Douglas Adams seemed to echo in the distance, chortling with Happiness that his own joke had not been bested, no, not nearly.
Verse 13: Just then, a length of rope that seemed to extend from nowhere the Querent could see grabbed him, noose-like, by his ankle, tightened snugly, and yanked him upward, arms akimbo, toward the skylight. At the top, it stopped before breaking the surface of the water, leaving him there, a Hanged Man, but still inexplicably alive.
Verse 39: The High Priestess, swimming quickly up to where he was, and knowing the destructive effects on sensitive dispositions of too much dramatic suspense and stress – thus making Douglas Adams laugh distantly again – adjusted her Scepter to The Root of the Powers of Fire Setting, burned the rope that held the Querent in two, and wrapped her non-scepter-bearing arm tightly around his waist. What work this was turning out to be!
Verse 38: She and the Querent flew out of the water and crashed through the skylight, making a graceful arc and landing on a nearby catwalk. A cat, walking along, transformed into another little girl, who asked them both, “Is there any pizza left?”
Verse 35: The little girl’s stern grandfather showed up just then, told her, “There’ll be no pizza for you tonight, little Missy: It’s spaghetti night!” and disappeared with her through a secret door. The High Priestess and Querent just stared, blinking.
Verse 26: Another young woman, with red hair and wearing a red pantsuit, emerged from yet another convenient secret door, and addressed the two main characters of this story: “I am the Librarian. How may I help you?”
Verse 78: “What does a librarian have to do with the element of Fire?” asked the Querent, to which the Librarian screamed “SILENCE!” at such a volume that his head throbbed. She then handed him a large sack of, apparently, cash. It had one of those dollar signs on it. Such Wealth!
Verse 76: “What’s this for?”” he said, slowly taking the sack. “Yeah, what’s that for?” asked The High Priestess, a bit indignantly. “I’ve been doing all the heavy work around here!” The Librarian sighed, thought, and then in an act of admirable Prudence took the sack back from the Querent and s-l-o-w-l-y handed it to the High Priestess.
Verse 70: Just then, the Querent looked at the last several Verse numbers and chuckled, “I think we’re stuck in the Seventies.” The High Priestess smacked him in the head with the sack of money, sending coins flying everywhere. The Librarian picked up the loose Change and handed it to the Querent.
Verse 52: “There is no Profit without Honor,” she then said to the Querent, who fished a gold piece out of his hair. “Librarian,” continued the Priestess, “whence came this wealth? I know what Librarians get paid, and I cannot imagine thou livest in Luxury.”
Verse 77: “Seventy-seven … we are stuck, aren’t we?” said the Librarian, then composing herself and facing the High Priestess to answer her. “I read that book, ‘THE SECRET OF SUCCESS,’ and it taught me how to gain wealth, yea, even in whatever the heck realm this is in which we find ourselves. It was the first book in this Library, because it taught me to acquire the funds with which I built it. It was my perfected Will – my Fire! – that made it happen.”
Verse 73: “But this is my Library, said the High Priestess. “You only mind its function!” She thought a while. “Isn’t that true?” But the Librarian simply gave a slight smile, which disconcerted the High Priestess, and she began to Worry.
Verse 61: The Querent, however, was obeying the mystical advice To Keep Silent, for truly, he did not know what was going on. And yet his Empress, the Queen of the Sciences, the High Priestess, in showing herself concerned and confused, made him indeed Worry. How real was this world, and these beings? How real anything?
Verse 25: “Honey?” said a red-haired man appearing suddenly on the same catwalk, looking with concern at the Librarian, who suddenly looked less confident, nay, a little embarrassed. “What are you doing out here with these people? And who are they?”
Verse 75: “You’re not the boss of me; I do what I want!” said the Librarian, her eyes switching back and forth between looking at the High Priestess and looking at the red-haired man, as if trying to maintain confidence … but ending in Failure.
Verse 67: “You mean she isn’t –” started the Querent, but the High Priestess shushed him, leaned into his face, and whispered, “SSHH! Don’t let on that we suspect something. All is not as it seems, and I cannot tell why.” This was the wrong thing to say to the Querent, whose face turned ashen, thinking that the High Priestess, the Librarian, and perhaps even the red-haired man were conspiring together in Cruelty to confuse him.
Verse 43: “Are you or are you not the real Librarian?” the High Priestess demanded of the red-clad woman. “And this man! Who is he? You told me not that you were married! And that story about the book, and about buying the library!” She frowned. “Is this Twin Peaks Season 3? Are there multiple timelines happening at once?” And it was at that time that the red-haired man shouted and charged at the High Priestess, as did the would-be Librarian, and indeed, all was Strife.
Verse 50: And so it was that, during this commotion, the Querent had a sudden inspiration, and leaped down from the catwalk into the broken skylight, into the Library, still full of water, and swam down to where he had seen “THE SECRET OF SUCCESS,” and did take the book and open it, only to find one word on all the pages: LOVE.
Verse 71: “How sappy can you get?” he wailed, not minding the fact that he was underwater and the words came out as bubbles. In disgust, he swam back up, then took several minutes to get back to the catwalk, making a huge noise and stopping the fighting trio of the Priestess, the Librarian, and the red-haired man, demanding of the Librarian, “You don’t really Work here, do you?”
Verse 55: All three waited for the requisite dramatic pause, looked at each other, and burst out laughing. “Of course not! We’re cosplayers!” they told him in unison. “We just gather here every so often to enjoy a Night of Debauch!”
Verse 7: The High Priestess then saw the stricken face of the Querent, and did reassure him, “Fear not, mortal. I am truly who I am, the High Priestess whom you invoked. Mind you, I enjoy dressing up and role-playing as much as anyone else. But these two?” She pointed at the Lovers with her thumb. “Mischievous fire spirits, a seasoned influencer of wills and his young apprentice, became enamored, and I have helped them by putting on little dramas like this for those who invoke me.”
Verse 21: “Oh,” said the Querent. “It all makes sense now.” It did not all make sense now. The Querent felt that it would be an Aeon before anything made sense again.
Verse 63: “Fine!” he said. “You have shamed little old mortal me for calling up High and Mighty You. I admit Defeat!”
Verse 31: The High Priestess huffed, and the two Fire Spirits vanished, rather than risk being blown out by her huffing and puffing. She told the Querent, “Would thou wert a man of learning, of intelligence, and not such a Drama King. I sought thee seeking me because thou wert down in thy Cups. Pick up thy sword!”
Verse 14: He did pick up his sword – for one was strangely there – and struck her dead!
Verse 42: “And now this arrives at Completion!” an immense voice said from nowhere, frightening the Querent. He looked up, then back down. The newly dead form of the High Priestess was nowhere to be found.
Verse 47: “You better believe it does!” said the Querent to the unseen voice. He noticed the sack of money was still there, grabbed it, and found it really, incredibly heavy. But he put his whole Self into it, lifted with his legs (Good Boy!), and his Strength prevailed. “I am taking the money and running!”
Verse 62: He ran as best he could, with the heavy sack and the heavy sword, to the end of the catwalk, where a figure in armor – he figured the armor must conceal the source of the earlier voice – stood with eyes glowing red beneath the shadow of a sinister looking helmet. “Truce!” the Querent said immediately, dropping the sword and money.
Verse 28: The high-tech mechanized armor vanished – it was too expensive for this narrative to maintain – and beneath it the Querent saw, to his surprise, a blond-haired, buxom woman holding a chalice. Her pink T-shirt looked familiar, and the Querent recognized it immediately: The word “LOVE” in letters just like the book appeared thereon.
Verse 5: But then her aspect changed, and she became a mighty ruler of many lands.
Verse 15: Another change, and the figure was both man and woman, holding two different chalices, mingling their fluids by pouring them into a third, carefully, as in the alchemist’s Art.
Verse 45: The Querent felt defeated, still bewildered, but now his fortitude was telling him not to back down. He listened to it, resolving to make sense of this strange world, or at least die in Valour trying.
Verse 56: The chalice filled, the two-faced figure slumped, dropping the other chalices from which he/she/they had poured. At first the Querent thought the figure asleep, but then he saw both faces, jaws slack, eyes open. This was not sleep: this was Indolence.
Verse 10: More moments passed, and then the Querent resolved to move past the motionless strange figure, which he did, finding a passage to a door, going in, and then spending a long time wandering, feeling more like a Hermit with every minute he meandered.
Verse 30: Then footsteps behind him made him turn around to see a small fellow bearing the chalice with the blended liquid. “This is yours,” the little man said, setting the large cup down on the floor.
Verse 11: The Querent reached for it, but the little man said “Wait! You can take the chalice, or trade it for a chance to spin the Big Prize Wheel of Fortune to regain the sword, the big sack of cash, and Who Knows What Else!” A large ornate prize wheel indeed had appeared behind the little man.
Verse 33: “What kind of Initiate do you take me for?” asked the Querent, to which the little man replied “First class!” As soon as he said this, another little man appeared beside him, with a jacket that had the words “First Class Messenger Service” on it. He held an envelope.
Verse 20: “Is that a letter for me?” the Querent asked. The little messenger nodded. “But it’s too dark in here to-” The Querent was interrupted by the messenger pressing a switch in the wall beside him, at which point the ceiling opened, and somehow the light of the Sun began to stream in.
Verse 60: Suddenly, without an explanation for all the mysteries, the Querent felt at Peace. He took the envelope and told the other little man, “Spin the wheel. Spin it!” which that little man did.
Verse 22: Opening the envelope, the Querent took out a piece of paper on which were the typed words: “The Wheel Will Stop on the Best Thing in the World.”
Verse 66: Then suddenly, the Querent could no longer see the Wheel, the men, or his note. There was simply too much Interference.
Verse 40: And a voice spake from the static, “And he shall be given Dominion over the static, and the chalice, and this story, and whatever else he wants!
Verse 41: And the Querent recognized the voice, which was the voice of the High Priestess. He resisted his earlier feelings for her as the static cleared and he found himself back where he originally had been, his heart filled with Virtue.
Verse 44: It had been an incomprehensible journey, but the High Priestess had brought him to Victory.
Verse 53: The Querent gazed upon the High Priestess, and smiled. This really was a big Disappointment.