Our country's past, present, and future, as predicted by a mystical iPhone app
The record of international analysts at predicting world
events is so hopeless it would put a third-rate palm reader to shame. In ivory
towers, think tanks, and intelligence communities across America, the Ph.Ds, models,
and theories pile up, but the professionals have failed to anticipate almost
every epoch-shaking cataclysm of recent years. The end of the Cold War? Virtually no one saw it coming. The 9/11 attacks? Sorry, didn't predict that one either.
The wave of revolutions shaking the Middle East? No idea. It's enough to make
you give up the models and theories--and embrace the tarot.
So that's what I did. I performed a
tarot card reading of America's past, present, and future on the world stage.
After all, if the experts can't forecast what will happen with any accuracy,
it's hard to see the tarot doing any worse.
I should begin by putting my
sooth-saying cards on the table. Do I have extensive knowledge of mysticism and
the occult? The short answer is no--my fortune-telling experience extends to
brief impressment as a palm-reader at a children's party.
I do, however, have access to the
Internet's tarot resources and the iPhone app Tarot Pro (which costs $2.99 but
you might already have foreseen that). To keep things simple, I used the
standard 78-card tarot deck, and went for a three-card reading: past, present,
Here is the fateful spread, which I
will decipher one card at a time.
America's Past: The Five of Swords (Reversed)
Let's start with America's past on the world stage. Here,
we turned over the Five of Swords, which is from the Minor Arcana, or the 56
cards in the deck that represent the swords, wands, cups, and pentacles.
The image shows a strong figure in
the foreground grasping three swords, with two more swords lying on the ground.
The man looks on confidently, in possession of the field of battle, as two
enemies retreat in dejection. The card signifies conquest and the completion of
But the card is reversed, meaning an
opposite interpretation, or a restriction on the original meaning. The reversed
Five of Swords can signify loss or an empty victory, a sense of victimization,
and feelings of failure and humiliation.
So how does this apply to America's
past? The picture of triumph and conquest in the original Five of Swords could
refer to World War II, when the United States won the spoils of victory.
The reversed image may capture
America's difficult military experience since 1945, including stalemates like
Korea, defeats like Vietnam, and successes that felt hollow like the first Gulf
War. We've struggled to recapture the glory days of D-Day. Where did all the
America's Present: The Empress (Reversed)
What about America's present? Here, we turned over the
Empress, which is one of the heavyweight cards from the Major Arcana (the 22
key images in the deck).
The empress sits on a throne,
wearing a crown emblazoned with stars, and carrying a scepter. Bountiful grain,
forests, and a waterfall surround her. The Empress card symbolizes creation,
nurturing and sustaining--a harmonious and natural balance.
But again, the card is reversed,
meaning an opposite or restricted interpretation. This could refer to America's
difficult recent experience of creation--or building stable regimes in
Afghanistan and Iraq. The high hopes with which we began these adventures have
given way to conflict, uncertainty, and unintended consequences.
With the card upside down, the
natural harmony is lost. The empress falls from her throne, the trees are
uprooted, and the water drains away. This suggests ecological damage, which may
signify America's failure to lead on environmental issues like climate change.
America's Future: The Two of Wands
Tell me something I don't know: What about America's
future? Here, we're back to the Minor Arcana with the Two of Wands.
A man stands on the battlements of a
castle, holding a globe in his right hand, while grasping a wand in his left. A
second wand is attached to the wall. Mountains stretch away into the distance
beyond the sea.
Finally, we get an image that is not
reversed. The wands signify growth, energy, creativity, and patience. The card
suggests caution and determination--taking stock before striking out on a great
project. The man is confident in his self-knowledge and in the individual path
he has chosen.
The card may signify that America's
future lies in Asia. In the picture, the figure seems to be looking at China on
In the wake of interventions in the
Middle East, the United States will pause and contemplate its true path. From
behind the barricade of Fortress America, there may be a period of wariness and
But an idealist and visionary
society like America cannot forever stare out to sea. The United States will
embark on grand projects again--perhaps next time in Asia. The idea of independence and
non-conformity may refer to American exceptionalism. The country will continue
to sing its own song, and strike out alone if necessary.
Overall, the three cards tell the
story of a troubled past and present, and a cautiously optimistic future.
Should we shut down the international relations departments, and hand professional
forecasting over to Mystic Meg? I hope not because this would put me out of a
But what does it say about the state
of expert prediction that a tarot reading is not clearly worse than many
analyses we read?