Gypsies, thieves, trumps and leaves

Bombast and Flitterflop discuss divination and discover why a nice cup of tea beats the Tarot at telling your fortune

PART TEN of Astral Conversations—an unusual series of investigations into the occult with a humorous twist.


Diviners, fortune-tellers and psychics have always existed. Nor has there been a time when people did not use divination to learn the future or seek help in solving their personal problems. As we shall discover from Bombast and Flitterflop's foray into the strange world of fortune-telling, whilst it is possible to predict the future, it may not always be wise to do so.

As in previous Astral Conversations, our two investigators dispel a great many cherished misconceptions to arrive at the truth behind divination. Along the way, the reader may expect not a few shocks and surprises, which are sure to upset those who fondly imagine that the Great Occult Truths can be found in a greasy pack of playing cards or by consulting a quasi-gypsy.

FLITTERFLOP: "I bought some lucky heather from a gypsy the other day."

BOMBAST: "Whatever for?"

FLITTERFLOP: "It seemed the quickest way to get rid of her."

BOMBAST: "And did it?"

FLITTERFLOP: "No. She insisted on reading my palm as well."

BOMBAST: "You must have crossed her's with more than silver."

FLITTERFLOP: "Well, I gave her a tenner actually."

BOMBAST: "I hope you got your money's worth?"

FLITTERFLOP: "Her reading was remarkably accurate."

BOMBAST: "You don't say? Who was this amazing prophetess? Not another 'genuine', direct descendant of the famous Romany family of 'Petulengro' by any chance?"

FLITTERFLOP (astonished): "However did you guess her name was Petulengro?"

BOMBAST: "Because 'Doreen Shufflebotham' doesn't have quite the same cachet."

FLITTERFLOP: "I've been had again, haven't I? Though I'm puzzled how she knew so much about me."

BOMBAST: "There's no mystery in that. I expect she told you that you had an accident involving water when you were young, someone close to you has been taking advantage of you, you're currently experiencing some financial difficulties, and you have been worried about your health. She may also have told you that you are mostly rather shy and retiring, but when the mood strikes you, you can easily become the life and soul of the party. Oh, and someone close to you hurt you badly in the past but you have now forgiven them. If you had been female and not exceptionally ugly, she would almost certainly have added that 'a jealous friend has put a curse on you', and that's why you've been unlucky at work and in your relationships."

FLITTERFLOP (leaning forward excitedly): "That's amazing. All those things are true! Except the bit about a jealous friend putting a curse on me. I suppose that's the opener to asking for more money to lift the so-called 'curse?"

BOMBAST: "Ka—CHING! Got it in one! Look, there's nothing 'amazing' about any of the statements I made or the flapdoodle Gypsy Rose fed you."

FLITTERFLOP: "She was more of a crab-apple than a rose; otherwise I might have given her twenty quid!"

BOMBAST: "Thank goodness for small mercies. Now, if she'd told you that you had a mole on your right buttock shaped exactly like a crescent moon, it would be safe to deduce she was a genuine clairvoyant or had hacked your mobile."

FLITTERFLOP: "So it's all a matter of psychology, deduction, fishing for information, auto-suggestion, guesswork and such?"

BOMBAST: "You've missed out flattery. Don't underestimate the power of flattery. Especially when it's laid on with a trowel on gullible people with low self-esteem who are a bit dim."

FLITTERFLOP: "Isn't that rather unfair?"

BOMBAST (magnanimously): "OK, I concede you're not that dim."

FLITTERFLOP (stiffly): "I meant unfair to gypsies."

BOMBAST: "Perhaps, but I've never met a genuine gypsy outside the pages of Symphonie Fantastique, but I met a great many fake ones when I was a practising professional tarot reader."

FLITTERFLOP (astonished): "You used to read the tarot?"

BOMBAST: "Why should that surprise you? I read palms too and did a bit of astrology and graphology. Or do you imagine I obtained all my diplomas and limitless occult knowledge from watching YouTube videos and consulting dodgy psychics?"

FLITTERFLOP: "So tell me, is there anything in the tarot? Did it really come from ancient Egypt?"

BOMBAST: "It came from France by way of bored Italian aristocrats who played a card game called Tarocchini—a 15th century forerunner of Bridge and Whist. The story that it was invented in Egypt is nothing more than wishful-thinking, unless, of course, someone has discovered a wall-painting of an ancient Egyptian playing Whist? The same applies to the fantasy that it originated in China or that Gypsies brought it to Europe from India. The latter myth was the invention of one Court de Gébelin, who first made the claim in Le Monde Primitif, published in 1781. It has since passed into tarot folklore and formed the basis of at least one 20th century occultist's fanciful teachings.

"Incidentally, Gébelin also claimed that the name 'Tarot' came from the Egyptian word Tar meaning 'path' or 'road', and the word Ro, Ros or Rog, meaning 'King' or 'royal', so that literally translated tarot meant the 'Royal Road of Life'. This sounds very profound and even convincing to the uncritical eye. Unfortunately, Champollion did not decipher the Rosetta stone which provided the key to the ancient Egyptian language until some twenty years after the death of Gébelin. Egyptologists now know that the word for 'road' in Egyptian is uat or wat, not 'tar', nor is there any word in Egyptian resembling Gébelin's 'ro' or 'rog' meaning kingship or royalty. So another pretty fantasy bites the dust..."

FLITTERFLOP: "You still haven't answered my question."

BOMBAST: "Is there anything in the tarot, you mean?"


BOMBAST: "That depends. If you mean is it a book of occult lore dating back to Solomon and Moses, the key to the true Kabbalah, or a vade maecum for would-be Magicians who believe Franz Bardon revealed the occult secrets of the tarot, then the answer is an emphatic no. If you mean can it predict the future, in my experience it can show tendencies, but that is not the same thing as predicting an actual event like me winning the EuroMillions jackpot next Wednesday."

FLITTERFLOP (enthusiastically): "Will you? Are you?!"

BOMBAST: "I shouldn't think so as I've never bought a lottery ticket in my life."

FLITTERFLOP: "Pity...I should think you would be sure to win seeing as you're so unlucky with the ladies!"

BOMBAST: "Well...I'm very lucky at attracting them—the problem is that none of them live up to my expectations."

FLITTERFLOP: "Or you, theirs. But seriously, how do they actually work?"

BOMBAST: "Women, you mean?"

FLITTERFLOP (laughing): "No, they're an insoluble enigma. I meant tarot cards."

BOMBAST: "The 22 trumps of the major Arcana, such as the 'hanged man', 'the juggler', 'the fool', 'the lovers', 'justice', 'the devil', and so on and so forth, are all pictograms, or more properly, emblematical symbols, which may mean anything or nothing depending on the occult knowledge and skill of the reader and their ability to 'tune in' to the meaning behind them. To take just one example, the card known as 'the priestess' is often taken to represent the Egyptian goddess Isis, yet this is an entirely modern interpretation arising out of the publication of the Rider-Waite tarot deck in 1910, which combined the tenets of Freemasonry with the teachings of the popular occult orders of the day to create the image we see today.

"This card was originally called La Papesse—the Popess—a possible reference to the legend of Pope Joan. From this, some scholars have concluded that the card symbolises the Catholic Church, a view, I hasten to add, not shared by the Church itself. So you pays your money and takes your pick: Isis, a female pope, the Church, Mother Nature, Wisdom, Mystery, or if you're that way inclined, even LGBT rights!


"The tarot is simply one way to focus the mind to allow it to see beyond the limitations of our physical senses and the physical plane. Unlike palmistry or astrology, there is nothing particularly remarkable in the cards themselves. You can get equally sensible, or nonsensical results from an ordinary pack of playing cards, a bundle of sticks, the entrails of a dead sheep, or the leaves left in the bottom of a cup of Earl Grey. Some might argue that tea is a better divination tool, as it stimulates both mind and body! Speaking of which, I think it's time we had a brew. Put the kettle on and fill up the teapot, there's a good chap."

(Flitterflop complies, carefully spooning loose tea leaves into the teapot).

FLITTERFLOP: "tarot fanatics won't like to hear that."

BOMBAST: "What? That tea is better for telling fortunes?"

FLITTERFLOP (laughing): "Well, that too...but I meant those who regard the tarot almost as a religion and connect it with the Kabbalah and Egyptian magic. They won't be too pleased to hear it's nothing more than a rather exotic version of ordinary playing cards with no more 'magic' in them than a dead sheep."

BOMBAST: "More fool them."

FLITTERFLOP: "True. What about palmistry. That is much older than the tarot, isn't it?"

BOMBAST: "Yes and no. Although cheiromancy—the proper term for palmistry—was widely practised in Europe as early as the 11th century, it mainly owes its popularity to one man, a colourful Irishman, William John Warner, who adopted the rather grandiose title 'Count Louis Harmon' but is better known to history as 'Cheiro'. He claimed to have learned palmistry in India in the 1880's from a Brahmin astrologer, with whom he is said to have studied for three years. Make of that what you will, it seems a rather brief apprenticeship to me, though I suppose it's possible to pick up the rudiments of divination quite quickly if you're sufficiently motivated and possess innate psychic abilities, which Cheiro was and did."

FLITTERFLOP: "Was he very successful?"

BOMBAST: "He made a pile of cash and was courted by all the celebrities of the time, if that's what you mean. But he also served a term of imprisonment for embezzlement, when, in 1909, he skipped Paris after two disgruntled American clients accused him of making off with $500,000 worth of stocks and bonds. That's around 12 million dollars in today's money. After his release from prison it's said that he kept neither his money nor the rich and powerful friends who had once beaten a path to his door."

FLITTERFLOP: "How does palmistry differ from other systems of divination like the tarot and astrology?"

BOMBAST: "Well, firstly astrology is not a fortune-telling device, though many people regard is as such, for which we must thank the odious Sun-Sign columns in newspapers. It's possible to make accurate predictions using astrological methods, and more than one famous astrologer of the past has done so. Dennis Elwell predicted a major car-ferry disaster in 1987 which resulted in the loss of nearly 200 lives. But this isn't the main purpose of astrology, which has to do with unravelling the enigmas of Occult Science through an understanding of the universal principles and laws connected with the planets, stars and constellations. Yet palmistry and astrology do share something in common, and that is their mutual study and interpretation of patterns and signatures. In palmistry, these are found in the hand whereas in astrology they are found in the heavens.

"From a stone to a star, and a mouse to a man, everything in Nature has its signature, which reveals what it is, whence it came and whither it is headed. To those who can read these signs, all of Nature is an open book. Not only the hand, but the eyes too, contain a map of the man or woman they belong too, which the discerning can read. But this takes a great deal of skill, much practise and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the physical senses and intellect. Very few possess these qualifications to their fullest extent. Those who do not are legion, and the pages of New Age magazines and the Internet are filled with advertisements promoting their extravagant claims."

FLITTERFLOP: "You can't altogether blame them given the fatal attraction fortune-telling has for almost everyone, even those who don't believe in it."

BOMBAST: "You won't find a single sceptic who maintains their disbelief in divination when it directly concerns their own pocket, career or love-life. Mankind has always been fascinated by fortune-telling and always will be. The Egyptians, Druids, and Hebrews all practised divination. The Greeks were addicted to it; and among the Romans no important decision that affected the wealth and security of the Empire was made without the advice of diviners and soothsayers. Belief in divination has existed throughout human history, among primitive as well as so-called civilised nations, and continues to the present day. Presidents, their wives, tycoons, Church leaders, and even dictators still consult oracles today, as we may read in the media from time to time."

FLITTERFLOP: "What are the main systems of divination and how do they work?"

BOMBAST: "Aside from the tarot, palmistry and astrology, which we have already discussed to some extent, the list is endless. There is divination by augury, such as the flight of birds, extispicy, which is the examination of the entrails of animals, bibliomancy, or divination by books, usually, but not always, religious texts such as the Bible and Talmud. Rhabdomancy, or divination by rods or lots, is mentioned several times in the Bible and is still practised today in the form of dowsing, where a rod, or rods are used to find water, minerals, or anything else that is hidden beneath the soil. Then we have gastromancy, or crystal gazing as it is commonly known. Scrying by any reflective object comes under this heading too, and the ancient Egyptians employed mirrors and still water for this purpose. Which reminds me, the kettle is boiling, do make the tea, I'm gasping for a cup."

FLITTERFLOP (filling up the teapot): "Magic mirrors, do you mean?"

BOMBAST: "There was nothing 'magical' about them other than the purpose to which they were put. Many past and present occultists have written about such mirrors without the least idea how they were used, some writers going so far as to give the most elaborate and fantastical descriptions for their manufacture. Actually, any mirror will do for this purpose as we can read in chapter 16 of The Quest of Ruru."

FLITTERFLOP: "I've heard it's possible to see yourself in your past incarnations in this way."

BOMBAST: "So the book tells us. And not only your past incarnations, but your future ones too."

FLITTERFLOP: "How is that possible?"

BOMBAST: "Because time is not what we think it is on earth. Past, present and future are ONE, as you can read in The Golden Star when Ma-u and Ma-uti ask how it's possible to have heard the lectures they are attending in the past when they contain the most modern, up-to-date scientific facts. The answer they receive from the Divine Messenger is that 'the lectures you both heard may have been a blend of all past, present and future lectures...All is contained within the Consciousness of God, and therefore in the Soul of Man. If his Mind knows how to raise the Veil, or is helped to do so, he can attune with that Consciousness of God and Man.' We may also regard time as a circle, without beginning or end. We, who are placed on one infinitesimally small point on the circumference regard a point ahead of us as the future, and that behind us as the past, but to a being who dwells in the centre of the circle, there is neither past, present nor future, but only an infinite NOW."

FLITTERFLOP (handing Bombast a cup of tea): "What other divinatory arts are there that are still practised today?"

BOMBAST (sipping gratefully): Thanks, I needed that. There is divination by dreams, by names, divination by casting runes and of course, the Ouija board or planchette, but that comes under the category of mediumship as much as divination since the questions are invariably directed at the so-called 'spirits'. I believe the Ouija board is still immensely popular with American teenage girls hell-bent on learning whether their current squeeze is going to cheat on them or not!"


BOMBAST: "Cheat, you mean? Invariably!"

FLITTERFLOP: "No, I meant discover the answers to their questions."

BOMBAST: "That depends on the mentality, sensitivity and intuition of the practitioners. Generally speaking, what is obtained from an Ouija board is gibberish, especially when the questions are frivolous, or the participants are simply having a laugh to while away an idle hour or two. If there is a strong mind present which is able to concentrate, and if one or more of the participants are remotely psychic, definite words and messages may be received. But if that happens, the messages either arise from the minds of the participants themselves, or from low-grade, elemental beings who like nothing better than to play tricks on human beings. Some of these beings are definitely malicious, if not actually evil, and the Church is quite right to condemn the use of Ouija boards for that reason alone.

"All these various systems of divination work in slightly different ways, though all depend to a large extent upon the intuition of the querant, such as in the tarot. As we have seen, astrology, augury and palmistry are mainly concerned with the interpretation of patterns and signatures, whereas crystal-gazing depends upon the ability of the mind to extend its consciousness into other dimensions."

FLITTERFLOP: "What about numerology and the I-Ching? How do they work?"

BOMBAST: "In a similar manner to palmistry and astrology, though the I-Ching or Y-King as it is also called, is considerably more accurate in its predictions in the hands of an inspired expert than any other system of divination. Numerology, as it is popularly misunderstood, is more of a pseudoscience than anything else."

FLITTERFLOP: "Why do you say that?"

BOMBAST: "Numbers are the cloak of Divinity, which, if studied scientifically, reveal all the secrets of creation and evolution, both in the macrocosm and the microcosm, but they cannot be used to tell fortunes, however much the believers in the modern pseudoscience of numerology would like them to. It is not generally known that the students of Pythagoras spent seven years studying the Occult Science of numbers in the famous college of Crotona. This at once demolishes the claims of those who purport to teach it in a few short weeks, or condense it down to a thin book of 100 or so pages!

"The calculation and employment of so called 'life path numbers', 'lucky' and 'unlucky' numbers, 'destiny' and 'master' numbers is complete bunkum, which anyone can easily demonstrate for themselves by comparing the contradictory methods of the purveyors of this poppycock with the actual system taught by Pythagoras himself. For instance, the most popular method of calculating your 'life path number' according to one of the leading proponents of this pseudo numerology is to add up all the numbers in your date of birth. So, if a person was born on 23 October 1972, you add 1972 to 10 and 23, making a total of 2005. You then add 2 and 5, to arrive at the 'life path number' of 7. As the best statistics tell us that no less than 300,000 children are born every day of the year throughout the world, if we are to believe in this rubbish, all these individuals will share the same characteristics and have similar 'life paths', which is clearly poppycock."

FLITTERFLOP: "Isn't the same criticism made against astrology?"

BOMBAST: "Only by the ignorant who base their criticism on the Sun-Sign astrology found in the pages of newspapers and magazines. If we know the exact time and place of birth of any individual and take all the factors in a birth chart into consideration, such as the rising sign, or ascendant, the house positions of the planets and the angular relationships between them, the number of possible permutations runs into millions. Consequently, as there are only about 150 babies born every minute, the number born at the exact same place and time is reduced to almost zero. Which is why astrology can and does accurately predict character and destiny, but numerology cannot. Not that this will convince the numpties who believe in 'life path numbers."

FLITTERFLOP: "Does this accuracy apply to the I-Ching too?"

BOMBAST: "Yes, it does. The I-Ching takes into account a host of different factors, not just the date of birth. It uses the full name of the querant too, as well as the full names of his or her parents, so arriving at a final number, or numbers which are virtually unique to any given individual."

FLITTERFLOP: "Do the I-Ching and astrology predict actual events?"

BOMBAST: "Only in the hands of an inspired expert. A birth horoscope can give tendencies only, and even then only for a very short time. In ancient times astrologers used to make a map at the moment of birth and replace it with a new one when some drastic change occurred in the life, such as a severe illness, sudden riches, sudden poverty, and so on, and these showed new tendencies for a while. Much the same procedure was followed by those who employed the I-Ching."

FLITTERFLOP (musingly): "When you boil it all down, isn't all divination just a rather grandiose form of selfishness? I mean, whatever our circumstances, and whether we're a dictator or a dustman, life is short. Whatever riches, power or fame we may amass during our lifetime is taken away from us at death. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things that thanks to acting on a lucky prediction we got a particular job, dumped a potential bunny-boiler before she potted our favourite teddy-bear, or avoided a financial speculation that may have emptied our bank account? Has it also occurred to you that, assuming a prediction is accurate, and assuming we choose to act upon it, and so and so happens as prophesied, what guarantee is there that the outcome will be to our advantage?"

BOMBAST: "How do you mean exactly?"

FLITTERFLOP: "Well, let's suppose that the tarot, I-Ching, or the tea leaves in my cup predict there's a high probability that if I go in to work on Wednesday, I will be involved in a car accident and break both my legs. So I stay at home. On the face of it that seems like a lucky break—pun intended. But, let's suppose that I ignore the prediction and I go to work and it comes true. While I'm in hospital I meet a nurse who is the woman of my dreams. We fall madly and deeply in love and live happily ever after! Unless we are able to see all the possible results of every action we might or might not make, it seems to me that relying on divination to guide our decisions in life is fraught with peril, especially when it comes to the really big choices."

BOMBAST: "You make some very good points. I would say that divination has its place provided we don't allow ourselves to be ruled by it to the detriment of our spiritual progress, which is, after all, what we're here for. If, by the judicious use of astrology or any other art, we improve our lot in life and have the charity to share whatever we may gain in the way of good fortune with others not so fortunate, I would say there is some merit in it. But if, like one chap I know, we never step outside the door without casting the runes, twirling a pendulum or laying out the tarot, then I think we have taken a step too far and risk ending up as a neurotic, self-obsessed lunatic! Speaking of which, I can't help noticing that while we've been talking you keep peering into your teacup."

FLITTERFLOP (playfully): "Well...the pattern of the leaves does rather resemble a palm tree...and what looks like a bird flying toward it. So I if it might mean that I was going to take a trip to some tropical, sun-kissed island?"

BOMBAST: "Very amusing." (Leaning forward to peer into Flitterflop's teacup). "The tree looks more like a chap frantically waving his arms in the air to me."

FLITTERFLOP (laughing): "And the bird?"

BOMBAST: "Is probably about to crap on his head from a great height."


BONBAST: "Well, it's obvious, isn't it? If you publish this conversation lots of soothsayers are going to be a bit cross with you for ruining their trade."

FLITTERFLOP: "I don't think there's much chance of that. If we've learned one thing today it's that there will always be a future in telling the future and no shortage of people who are happy to part with their money to know it."

BOMBAST: "You're probably right. Put the kettle on again."


BOMBAST: "If you want that holiday on a sun-kissed tropical island the sooner you start learning how to read tea-leaves the sooner you'll earn the money to pay for it. Now...where did I put my old deck of tarot cards?"

If Bombast and Flitterflop have convinced you to pay a little less attention to fortune-tellers and rather more to the Words of the Wise, their investigation will not have been in vain. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Until we hear from our two colourful friends again, we wish them, and you, dear reader, the understanding to use good fortune wisely and the patience to bear bad fortune with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that everything that happens to us in this illusory world is for our ultimate good.

You can find a complete list and brief descriptions of all the conversation between these two colourful occult students on the introductory page to these Astral conversations. Although these conversations can be read on their own, they are best read in chronological sequence as they form an ascending scale of revelation.

© Copyright Article added 12 October 2016. Updated 22 July 2023.

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