August 11, 2023
The "co-incidence" dilemma + a deck I really like + some EP news . . .
Just to let you know:
Part 1 of this post is extra long—but I couldn’t see a way to make it shorter.
Part 2 is just a glimpse—but I’ll say more in future about La Corte dei Tarocchi.
Part 3 is not exactly short—but definitely not long. So you might as well read to the end!
1. “Weird, though”
We’ll start off with an email I recently received from a long-time friend. He was commenting on notes I’d shared with him about a non-Tarot project I’m working on—and he offered this (to me) surprising response:
One small observation. Specifically, the credit to serendipity in the last paragraph. However one wishes to appreciate the elements of “chance”, “fate” or “karma,” It has been my observation that a great deal of effort always preceded such an occurrence.
My friend is intelligent, successful, sophisticated. Yet he evidently doesn’t know what the word “serendipity” actually means!
I think he meant to say my achievement wasn’t a matter of luck—so I appreciate the spirit of his remark. But the substance is problematic.
When I read his statement, I was immediately reminded of an essay I came across in Aeon, and have been meaning to write about. Which I’m going to do below.
First some context, though.
I use the word “serendipity” a lot. Here’s what I found when I did a search of the EP archives:
And there was more, but that snapshot makes the point.
I’ve explained what I mean a few times along the way, so I’ll just save time by quoting myself:
That calls for a distinction between two terms that are used almost interchangeably, but are quite different in both etymology and implication. According to Oxford Languages, the word “serendipity” was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, taken from “The Three Princes of Serendip,” a fairy tale in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
Which is pretty much my every day.
“Synchronicity,” on the other hand, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “coincidental occurrence of events, and especially psychic events, that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality.”
A couple of things here. First, the word “coincidence” originally (1600s) meant things that happen at the same time with no apparent connection. But over time, it has come to signify things that happen at the same time with no connection. As in “mere” coincidence, “just” a coincidence, and so on.
I usually write out the word to indicate its constituent parts: co-incidence. Which simply means “falling together,” and leaves room for the possibility of underlying connections.
Second, Jung appropriated the word “synchronicity” (which had already been in use for a while) as a way of describing meaningful or non-random co-incidences.
I keep “serendipity” and “synchronicity” straight in my own mind by remembering that serendipity occurs in a linear way (one thing leads to another), while synchronicity is non-linear—a set of things occurring simultaneously.
Note that my explanation contains no references to “fate,” “karma,” or “luck.” All those terms are in a different category, as they imply both a theoretical basis and an element of specific connection that can be personalized: “your fate,” “your karma,” “your luck.”
But when you think about it . . . “your serendipity” and “your synchronicity” wouldn’t make any sense. Those are processes that happen trans-personally, or impersonally.
Never mind (for now) why serendipity happens. Let’s just say it does. And if you are paying attention in life, you’re bound to notice that serendipity presents itself occasionally. Sometimes an appearance seems too minor to take seriously—but sometimes it seems profoundly significant.
Here’s another self-quote:
Of course I’m going to point out the “serendipity” factor, which I think of as a visible indicator of a much deeper order. Confidence in the existence of that order is essential (in my view) to the true practice of divination.
Reading that now, I’m kind of impressed with the fact that it’s really short, but very clear! Not something I achieve all that often.
I’m also happy it provides a neat segue into the essay I planned to talk about:
Quick note: I don’t understand the relevance of the picture at all, and reading the essay doesn’t help. Is it the pumpkins and the Shell sign? (If it’s obvious to you, let me know!)
The author of the essay is Paul Broks, “an English neuropsychologist-turned-freelance writer.” It’s a long read, but worth the time, as you follow along while the author goes through a complicated back-and-forth with himself.
The subhead sums it up: “I am an unequivocal rationalist and yet I still want to see something strange and wonderful in life’s weird coincidences.”
I think a lot of people feel that way. But most don’t go through the process that Broks documents in his essay. There’s no way to summarize that process—so I’ll give you the beginning and end of his essay.
In the summer of 2021, I experienced a cluster of coincidences, some of which had a distinctly supernatural feel. Here’s how it started. I keep a journal and record dreams if they are especially vivid or strange. It doesn’t happen often, but I logged one in which my mother’s oldest friend, a woman called Rose, made an appearance to tell me that she (Rose) had just died. She’d had another stroke, she said, and that was it. Come the morning, it occurred to me that I didn’t know whether Rose was still alive. I guessed not. She’d had a major stroke about 10 years ago and had gone on to suffer a series of minor strokes, descending into a sorry state of physical incapacity and dementia.
I gave no further thought to my strange dream until, a fortnight later, we returned from the supermarket to find that a note had been pushed through the letterbox. It was addressed to my mother, and was from Rose’s daughter, Maggie. Her mother, she wrote, had died ‘two weeks ago’. The funeral would be the following week. I handed the note to my partner and reminded her of my dream. ‘Weird,’ she said, and carried on unloading the groceries. Yes, weird. I can’t recall the last time Rose had entered my thoughts, and there she was, turning up in a dream with news of her own death.
So, what am I to make of this?
I am a naturalist, but coincidences give me a glimpse of what the supernaturalist sees, and my worldview is briefly challenged. Soon, though, for good or ill, I am back on my usual track. One final coincidence story from my personal archive illustrates this point. It concerns a meta-coincidence, that is, a coincidence about a coincidence. It was a warm afternoon in mid-June, and I was feeling sorry for myself. My partner had walked out on me just the week before, and I thought a good way to deal with self-pity would be to launch into a new project. I would do some research into the psychology of coincidence. So, there I was, settled in an armchair surrounded by books and articles on the subject, including Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence. Among other things, I’d been reading his account of Jung’s golden scarab story.
In need of coffee, I set Koestler aside and went to the kitchen, returning to find, set squat on the back of my armchair, a golden beetle, a rose chafer like the one that had made its way through the window of Jung’s consulting room. It must have flown in through the wide-open balcony door. I quickly took a picture in case the insect took flight again, and then nudged it onto my palm to return it to the wild, but it simply rolled onto its back and lay motionless. Dead.
I sent the picture to my ex, and asked how she was doing. She didn’t reply, but later that evening called with unsettling news. Zoe, an acquaintance of ours, had that afternoon hanged herself from a tree in her ex-partner’s garden. My brain by now was in magical thinking mode, and I said I couldn’t help but link Zoe’s death to the appearance, and death, of the golden beetle. I didn’t believe there was a link, of course, but I felt there might be. Believing and feeling. There was something else at the back of my mind. In Greek mythology, all that king Midas touched turned to gold. His daughter’s name was Zoe, and she too was turned to gold.
Ah, but rose chafers are quite common in the south of England; they are active in warm weather; the balcony opens out on a water meadow (a typical rose chafer habitat); et cetera. And it has since been suggested to me that the beetle was quite likely ‘playing dead’ rather than truly dead. Perhaps, after I’d thrown it back out onto the meadow, there was a ‘rebirth’ of the kind these creatures are said to symbolise.
In the long middle of the essay, Broks goes through a seemingly endless oscillation between reasons to doubt that coincidences have meaning, and the desire to believe they do. There’s a lot of interesting information along the way—including a discussion of serendipity.
I came away with this insight: for some people, it takes a lot of work to avoid accepting what seems obvious to others.
But at the same time: I was reminded how difficult it is to fully accept our own “improbable” experiences--even if we are convinced that coincidences have meaning.
The friend I mentioned above doesn’t seem to make distinctions among various concepts that seem “irrational”: karma, fate, serendipity. He looks at the whole matter transactionally, as if all could be discounted at once, and replaced by the evidence of hard work.
Brocs, on the other hand, works carefully through a long series of distinctions—and still ends up in with all the concepts in one basket. A basket of things he might want to believe in, but can’t quite.
2: La Corte dei Tarocchi
You probably suspected that I came across today’s deck serendipitously. Which I did, but in a fairly minor way. While scanning the latest post (it’s excellent) from, I noticed this illustration:
I was curious about whether the artist and the writer were related—which I never found out. But I did discover a little more about the deck.
The Corte dei Tarocchi seemed immediately compelling to me, and though I can’t exactly say why yet, I plan to figure it out. In the meantime, here’s a further look:
And better still—a very nice YouTube walkthrough.
The deck has been around for quite a while, it seems. But that’s serendipity for you: things (ideas, information, decks) arrive when you need to know about them, and not before.
3. Quick look ahead
Going forward, I want to keep regular newsletters (published on the 1st, 11th, 22nd) for longer pieces--essays, research, etc. I'll also showcase one or more decks each time.
In short: exactly what you’re seeing in today’s post.
But! Since Tarot-related ideas and informations pop up unexpectedly, I will send out three "News and Notes" posts each month. Each one will have a couple of core elements:
Tarot Everywhere shares Tarot connections I come across while working on other stuff. This happens a lot!
Tarot Highlights provides curated notes about new posts from other Tarot newsletters, along with newsy bits related to Tarot books, writers, and current events.
The first “News and Notes” will reach your Inbox on August 15—turning point of Month One for the re-visioned EP.
As always, thanks for reading! C