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Years of magical thinking

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As a Doctor of Magic, Mui Wo resident Peter Duchemin is doing his part in helping us make sense of the world. Elizabeth Kerr reports

Mythopoeic. Polyvalents. Chimera. Western esotericism. These are some of the easier words Mui Wo resident and tarot reader Dr Peter Duchemin effortlessly bandies about during a rambling conversation at VIBE Book & Music Shop one soupy morning. It’s to be expected, really. That ‘Dr’ is no joke, and it was earned after defending a thesis titled The Art of Hidden Causation: Magic as Deep Mediation. A doctorate a decade in the making, Peter’s argument is simply that magic, philosophically speaking, does indeed exist – from a certain point of view. To quote the great philosophical mind, Obi-wan Kenobi.

“Having an argument with me about magic and religion is not fun,” cracks Peter, something he does often, as he explains the concept of his thesis (for him, mediation refers to the creativity to change the world). Erudite as he may be, Peter is never less than engaging – and engaged. He’s approachable in his braided beard and red fedora. It’s something that probably comes naturally given his Atlantic Canada roots and Newfoundland gift of the gab. “We’re notoriously chatty,” he admits.

Nor does he brandish his obvious smarts like a cudgel. Peter uses his brains for the more benign purpose of actually talking to people. Cases in point: A family comes into the shop and he immediately starts up a conversation about their literary choices.

He chats with a woman who comes in for a scan and print, and nearly forgets to charge her. One look at this writer and he guesses Concordia – not McGill – as my alma mater (OK, I’d admitted to attending university in Québec), possibly the result of having someone to nerd out over the vinyl with that morning. He thinks Henry Rollins is cool. He saw Victor Borge live. He’s into Saharan desert rock. The point is, Peter is here to listen.

Peter’s preferred Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck (Photo by Duey Tam)

Meta Magick Matrix
Peter, 44, is working at VIBE because he digs it. He also runs a magic show company Abracadabra Magic Theatre (@doctor_abra), performing circus acts and sleight of hand for kids and adults – yes, he enjoys mainstream magic too. But Peter’s vocation, his calling, is the tarot.

“The tarot helps us find our place in the great ecology of time, space and spirit,” he says. “Its true purpose is to lead us to wisdom.” Peter teaches the art, offers readings and sells tarot decks through Meta Magick Matrix (@tarotphilosopher). “ Meta Magick Matrix has emerged because there are so many different styles of magic involved in my life and my philosophy, and what I practice brings them all together. Tarot philosophy brings them all together. I am now setting up a weekly online course as well, as an exclusive Patreon (patreon.com/tarotphilosopher), where followers can see my creative process in action.”

To understand how Peter became Hong Kong’s Arch-Mage, you have to go back to the start. Born to an academic household in Ottawa, he eventually settled in St John’s (“St John’s is just extraordinary”) after studying philosophy, linguistics and religion as an undergrad. That gave him an appreciation for nuance; the ability to connect the dots between language, spirituality, science and myth — and zero tolerance for absolutism. For Peter, tarot is a way to understand oneself and the world, similar to traditional therapy, but rooted in interpretation of our histories. It would be easy to lump Peter in with New Age-y flakes, but that’s not what he’s about – and neither is tarot.

“When someone has a reading it’s not so much about me telling them what the future will bear. I wouldn’t consider myself a fortune teller,” he says of the resurgent art. “What we’re doing is drawing a fruitful conversation out of myth and symbol and philosophy and we’re using the cards for a basis for this. That’s what I love about the tarot. And I love it because it taps into just how important the oral tradition is.” He explains the symbols and the dichotomies in the cards, how they relate to each other and tell stories and how
they can be empowering. “Every [card] relationship paring is some modality of consciousness encountering the world,” he continues. In other words, if you ‘draw’ Death it doesn’t mean your days are numbered. That’s for the movies.

Hong Kong’s Arch-Mage
After finishing his interdisciplinary PhD, Peter and his wife Evelyn Osborne, a PhD of Ethnomusicology, founder of Hong Kong Suzuki Music Institute and a fellow Newfoundlander, struck out on a travel adventure. He performed magic tricks on Canada’s national rail carrier, Via, in return for passage: Halifax to Vancouver is five
days after all. From the west coast the duo flew to Japan, crossed Asia and Siberia, and dropped in on Stonehenge – at the summer solstice. “That was magical,” he recalls. After three transformative weeks in rural Ghana they wound up in Hong Kong, where they’ve spent the last five years.

“We were shown around different areas and this is the one that stuck,” Peter says of Mui Wo. “You have more personal space, which is a luxury you don’t realise you have living in Canada until it’s gone.” There are a few cats at home, and a snake, but no kids.

Neo-pagan or not, living in the countryside clearly suits Peter. “I am not a practicing Wiccan, but I have some similar points of view, regarding nature and the sacred,” he says. “I guess you could call me an esoteric philosopher with an eclectic spirituality. I find truth in all paths, but in general I think the Universe is a living being, and we have a relationship to it, and we are part of it.”

Speaking of Wicca, ask Peter what he’ll be doing on October 31 and he says, “I have no specific plans for Halloween, but I will definitely do something special to celebrate the pagan new year at Samhain.”

Peter at VIBE doing a reading for owner Gary Brightman (Photo by Duey Tam)

A playbook for our world
Peter does tarot readings wherever it’s comfortable. (Contact him at [email protected], which any Santana fan will be able to read, or though the All About You wellness centre in Sheung Wan, where he also runs a tarot training programme following the Qabalistic philosophy.) He warns though that anyone seeking guidance on marriage or career should look elsewhere. The cards don’t say anything; they never have. Tarot cards are about having someone with a wealth of knowledge interpret the stories they tell. And as Peter sees it, we all need that right now.

“Tarot is coming back into popularity and being reactivated by the fact we’re overwhelmed by too much data,” he says. “We’ve lost our bearings. We’ve got all sorts of information, which is acting as a substitute for knowledge and we’re feeling that vertigo.” He sees a return to tarot as part of what he calls “failsafe orality;” the return to a moral intelligence that supports embodied intelligence, not reliant on “extended digital infrastructure” but on our own memories, often retold to each other.

An afternoon with Peter is a workout for the mind, something that’s rare in a 280-character, 30-second soundbite world. There’s an authenticity at work that would make it easy to sit down for a reading with Peter. He favours the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, and he’s busy designing one of his own. He’s also writing a few books, but for now he’s content to work his, uh, magic.

“Tarot gives a voice to marginal realities,” he finishes. And anyone who believes there are no marginalised realities in the world right now should pick up a newspaper. “It’s not supernatural. It’s a playbook for our world.”

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2 thoughts on - Years of magical thinking

  • Walter MacDonald Reply

    I remember meeting you in Fortune PEI when you were 8. You were filled with magic!

  • Anne Miller Reply

    Just had a nice chat with your dad, and he mentioned the tarot you were doing. This article was nicely informative—all the best for your book and tarot deck!

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