Electronic Rituals, Oracles and Fortune Telling

Electronic Rituals, Oracles and Fortune Telling / Spring 2019 Schedule

Syllabus here.

With a few exceptions, all readings should be accessible via the hyperlinks provided, as long as you are using a computer connected to the NYU network. Alternate methods of obtaining the readings will be discussed in class.

Students will be assigned to topical connection presentation slots separately. I’ll provide this schedule by e-mail.

Turn in meditations and projects here.

Session 01: Introduction

Date: 2019-01-30.

  • Introduction and syllabus
  • Divination: Concepts and directions

Reading assigned

To be discussed in session 02.

Questions to guide your reading: What is a “third place” and what does it have to do with ritual? Do you agree with the idea that “if people take something as real, it is real in its consequences”? Is the idea of “plabor” applicable outside the realm of digital games? Do you agree with Altglas’ characterizations of spiritual bricolage and exoticism? Can you think of examples that Altglas doesn’t mention? What “rituals” do you perform with your electronic devices? (Or would you categorize the behaviors that Alexander describes as “ritual” in the first place?)


  • Wallendorf, Melanie, and Eric J. Arnould. “‘We Gather Together’: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 18, no. 1, 1991, pp. 13–31. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2489481.

Session 02: Ritual and society

Date: 2019-02-06.

Meditation #1 assigned

Due at the beginning of session 03.

Imagine an “electronic” ritual and prototype the necessary systems to perform the ritual. Then perform the ritual and document the process. (This can be a ritual that you perform on your own, or you can involve other people.) Your imagined scenario can be speculative (e.g., a science fiction), critical, mystical, oriented toward self-care, etc. What effect does your ritual have in the world? On its participants?

If you need more structure for your process or some ideas about how to proceed, try How do you design a ritual? and About ritual design from the Ritual Design Lab.

Session 03: Cleromancy

Date: 2019-02-13.

  • Meditation workshop
  • Introduction to cleromancy. Slides here.

Reading assigned

To be discussed in session 04.


  • Semetsky, Inna. “Tarot and Projective Hypothesis.” Re-Symbolization of the Self: Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic, SensePublishers, 2011, pp. 73–83, doi:10.1007/978-94-6091-421-8_7.
  • Semetsky, Inna. “Stories Lives Tell.” Re-Symbolization of the Self: Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic, SensePublishers, 2011, pp. 85–144, doi:10.1007/978-94-6091-421-8_8. (NOTE: You only need to read the first two or three case studies in this chapter.)

Session 04: Fortune telling as collaborative storytelling

Date: 2019-02-20.

Meditation #2 assigned

Due at the beginning of session 05.

Invent your own “oracle deck.” Your deck doesn’t have to be a physical object (though it can be). Keeping in mind the formal characteristics of cleromancy discussed in class, consider how digital media can complicate/diminish/augment the parts and processes of a reading. (Some questions to get you started: Who gets to participate? Can a computer program be a “reader”? A “querent”? What can a “card” be? What can a “deck” be?)

A few examples:


Session 05: Prophecy and prediction

Date: 2019-02-27.

  • Meditation workshop
  • Omens, augury, phrenology, predictions, interpretations
  • In-class exercise: Random birth chart

Reading assigned

To be discussed in session 06.


Session 06: Astrology and dream interpretation

Date: 2019-03-06.

Meditation #3 assigned

Due at the beginning of session 07.

Invent an “-omancy,” or a form of divination/prophecy based on observing and interpreting natural events. Your reading of “natural” should make some reference to digital/electronic/computational media. (What counts as a “natural event” on the Internet? What’s the electronic equivalent of phrenology, from both a physical computing perspective and a data analysis perspective? Does it count as “interpretation” if it’s being performed by a computer program?) I’m especially interested in responses that take the form of purposefully inaccurate data analysis.

A few examples:


Session 07: Mediums and messages

Date: 2019-03-13.

Related work:

Reading assigned


Session 08: Automatic writing

Date: 2019-03-27.

Meditation #4 assigned

Choose one of the following options:

  • Make a prototype of an electronic spirit board or other method for facilitating automatic writing (communication from unconscious/subconscious/collective gesture.) (You can use procedural methods like those discussed in class, or invent your own method.) Questions to consider: How does your spirit board produce “coherence” (if, in fact, it does produce coherence)? Who is participating?
  • Create a psychic “experiment” with your interpretation of an electronic equivalent of Zener Cards. Document your methodology and your results. (What is it possible to be “psychic” about in a digital context?)


Session 09: The aesthetics of randomness

Date: 2019-04-03.

  • Meditation workshop
  • Introductory notes on randomness (in class)

Code examples and resources:

Readings assigned


Session 10: Computer-generated randomness

Date: 2019-04-11.

  • Reading discussion
  • Final project proposals
  • In-class exercise

Meditation #5 assigned

Due at the beginning of session 11. This assignment has two parts.

First, produce your own implementation of digital randomness, without using any pre-existing implementation (e.g., you can’t use the random() or noise() functions in p5.js). Consider mathematical solutions and physical solutions. Aim for a generator that produces randomness with a uniform distribution.

Second, incorporate an alternative random number generator into one of your existing projects. You can either use the generator you implemented for step one or a generator that produces random numbers with a distribution other than uniform. Be curious and creative!


Session 11: Hexes, spells, amulets and talismans

Date: 2019-04-17.

  • Meditation workshop
  • Final project check-in
  • Amulets and talismans
  • Deck from class

NOTE: Class is cancelled on 2019-04-24.

Session 12: Collaborative work day

Date: 2019-05-01.

(Note: In addition to class this week, I will be scheduling 30-min sessions with small groups of three to four students for more individualized feedback.)

  • In-class discussion and user-testing
  • Other topics TK

Sessions 13 & 14: Final projects

Date: 2018-05-08. NOTE: This will be a double session (from 3:20p~8pm).

  • Final project presentations