The Paris Review

Schizophrenia and the Supernatural

The Rider-Waite tarot deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.

One winter morning I shuffled a deck of oracle cards with my eyes closed, and I realized that despite the blackness, I could still see what was happening in front of me. Here were the details of my hands, with the movements of each finger, every twitch of every narrow knuckle, made plain; I could see the cards, which were not clear enough to distinguish completely, but showed their blurry, colorful faces in broad strokes. I decided to further test this ability by holding colored pens, randomly chosen from a pouch, before my shut eyes. The pen test indicated that I could also “see” the colors behind my lids—imperfectly, yes, but well enough to grasp whether I was looking at a light color or a dark one, and I called out the hot-pink one immediately.

Journaling and drawing divinatory cards had both become routine parts of my life earlier that year, when I was fighting psychosis and struggling to make the world cohere; I’d found that tarot and oracle cards offered a decent framework for structuring a fractured existence. Tarot cards vary from deck to deck, depending on the artist and/or creator, but typically follow a seventy-eight-card structure of Major Arcana, consisting of twenty-two archetypes, from The Fool to The World, and Minor Arcana, consisting of four suits of fourteen cards each (Wands, Pentacles, Swords, Cups), from Aces to Kings. Oracle cards offer more variety; their content and theme depend entirely upon the creator. The one I primarily used that winter had watercolor illustrations: “Redefine Boundaries,” read one card; “Higher Self,” read another. Whichever card I drew served a double purpose, foreshadowing how the day might take shape and also giving me a shape with which to understand the events of the day. And on that day in 2013, I could see with what some call clairvoyance.

But the day went on, and the strange ability left me incrementally, as though a heavy curtain were dropping, until when I closed my eyes there was only darkness. If I close my eyes right now, I still see only this ordinary darkness.

At first I mentioned this only to C., and then to one or two of my closest friends. I joked with them that as far as superhuman abilities go, being able to see what’s in front of me with my eyes closed is a rather pathetic one. I certainly couldn’t take that show on the road. And my “sight without sight” happened only one other time, on September 29, 2014, when I was not psychotic: again, I realized that I could see the world with my eyes closed. Again, I tested myself with colored pens and found myself to be accurate. I asked a new friend, a mystic, for advice, and she told me to contemplate whatever seemed unclear to me at the time.

My response:

So after a bunch of fleeting images—a girl clutching a book to her chest

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