Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Healing and Pain

Just thought I'd jump on here again, with a couple of thoughts.

We all hate pain, both physical and emotional pain. But it occurs to me - not for the first time - that pain is one of the signalling-systems our bodies have to communicate with us. After all, we are very stupid, and we need a lot of nudging to get the message!

Perhaps you are in pain right now, or perhaps you are completely comfortable. If you are comfortable, you will almost certainly remember a previous tangle with pain. And I'm talking both kinds of pain, here: pain in the heart, and pain in the body.

Pain, all kinds of it, is caused only by the one single cause: something is profoundly wrong somewhere. If your relationship causes you pain, you need to examine it and change it. If your liver causes you pain, you need to examine it and change it (and keep off the chemicals). If your joint causes you pain, you need to examine that and change it, too.

Both with physical pain and emotional pain, I am greatly loathe to take pain killers (for the latter these might be anything from antidepressants to positive affirmations). I'll take them if there is no option - I remember unanaesthetised childbirth and it wasn't pretty - but anything up to and including a broken bone, I will tend not to grab for painkillers (and yes, I have had broken bones, and didn't take anything for pain).

No, I'm not a masochist. No, I don't use pain to get kudos and sympathy from others. I simply like to feel, really feel, what's going on. If I were to take painkillers for my currently uncomfortable knee - an old injury that has recurred eleven times in the last twenty years - then yes, I'd probably be slightly more comfortable sitting here at my computer desk blogging away. I'd also be blogging about something else, or nothing at all.

But when I finally stop typing and rise from this chair, under the influence of painkillers I'd probably limp less, putting more of my weight down more heavily on the injured joint, compounding the injury. It has been my empirical observation that people who are free with the painkillers tend to ride their injuries more heavily than people who don't, and end up healing slower. Those of us who choose to experience our pain are a good deal more tender with our bodies, and don't overstress them, healing faster than we otherwise would.

Pain tells you how your healing process is progressing, and how you need to treat your body (or heart) right now in this moment. Pain is the most valuable signal you will ever have to help guide you in your self-healing, monitoring your progress and restricting the harmful things you can do to yourself. Suppress pain if you have to - but if you know you have an injury or organic illness, suppressing it to the point of not feeling it at all is self-defeating, and will prevent your being able to access the one most reliable source of information about the progress of your condition.

Yep, I'm officially weird - I actually feel quite positive about the throbbing in my joint right now!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Very Old Tarot Spread

I am an active member of the Aeclectic Tarot forum, where I take part in a number of remote reading exchanges on a regular basis, where we do readings for other members of the forum whom we haven't met and often whose "real" names we don't even know. And they work, and provide pertinent, relevant information, quite specific to people's individual situations. There are a few circles that I enjoy taking part in regularly, and just in recent weeks  have started taking part in a Tarot de Marseilles exchange circle.

In this exchange we use Tarot de Marseilles style decks: decks with older-style artwork reminiscent of woodcuts, with unillustrated Minor Arcana cards. And it was suggested this week that we use a very old spread.

To quote the attribution of the documentation concerning this spread, I go to a member of the forum that I know as Le Charior, who says: This spread comes from an essay called "Du Jeu des Tarots", published in 1871 in the eighth volume of "Monde Primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (The Primitive World, analyzed and compared with the modern world)" by Court de Gébelin. The author is the given as M. the C. of M., and has been identified as Louis Raphaël Lucrèce de Fayolle, the Comte de Mellet.
The actual document being quoted reads:

"... VI
Way in which one proceeds to consult the Fates.

Now let us suppose that two men who want to consult the Fates, have, one the twenty-two letter cards, the other the four suits, and that after having shuffled the cards, and each having cut the cards of the other, they start to count together up to the number fourteen, holding the trumps and the lesser cards in their hands face down so that only their backs are visible; then if a suit card turns up in its natural place, that is, which bears the number named, it must be put aside with the number of the accompanying letter card at the same time, which will be placed above: the one who holds the trumps places this same letter there, so that the book of Destiny is always in its entirety, and there is, in no case, an incomplete sentence; then the cards are mixed again and again receive a cut. Finally the cards are run through to the end a third time with the same attentions; and when this operation is completed, it is a question of reading the numbers which express the accompanying letters. Whatever happiness or misfortune is predicted by each one of them, must be combined with what the card announces that corresponds to them, in the same way that their greater or lesser power is determined by the number of this same card, multiplied by that which characterizes the letter. And for this reason the Fool which does not produce anything, is without number; it is, as we have said, the zero of this calculation.

I used this spread for the first time, not having tried it out first, in an exchange. My exchange-partner had requested a general overview of what they might expect in the upcoming year. As I was using a very old spread, arguably the oldest recorded, it tickled me to use the newest Tarot de Marseilles in my collection (I have several of that style of deck), one designed by Major Tom Schick, that I reviewed once here. It seemed to me that there was an ironic symmetry in doing that, combining an old spread with a new deck

I separated the Trumps, or Major Arcana cards from the Minor Arcana or pip cards, and placed both piles face-down on the table in front of me, the Majors near my left hand, the Minors near my right hand. And I selected my pairs this way: counting one-to-ten for the numbered cards, then eleven to fourteen for the Court Cards (practically, one to fourteen), I turned over the cards one by one with my right hand so that I could see if they matched the numbers I was counting aloud. At the same time, with my left hand I'd move one Major Arcana card at a time from the pile on the left into a new pile.

Four times through the deck, I found that the Minor Arcana that I turned was the same number as the number I was calling, so I would put it aside as a part of the reading I was about to do, along with the Major Arcana card taken at the same time from the other pile.

Four pairs, eight cards, each, comprised my reading for this person. I don't propose to tell you what I said to them in any detail because all of my readings are between the client and myself only, but I'm happy to discuss how I came by what I said to them. I was laying them out with the Major of each pair to the left, the Minor to the right, the first pair on the top, then below it the second, etc, until the fourth pair was the one on the table closest to me.

The first pair was Strength and the Nine Cups. I was struck by how tranquil the Nine Cups looked, and how both the lion's and woman's bodies were pointed towards it, but how the woman's eyes seemed to be looking elsewhere, and how I felt about her glance on that particular occasion. I made some quite specific statements about how I felt that these impressions related to the life of hte person I was reading about.

The next pair of cards was the Devil and the Knight of Wands. I was immediately struck by how the Knight, whom I felt symbolised my client, and his horse, were moving towards the Devil, but how the heads of both the horse and the Knight were turned away, as if suddenly considering other options. And how smug and self-satisfied the two minor minions harnessed to the Devil were, as if some unpleasant, dangerous entity actually made its victims feel as if they were being protected by it. From this I drew inferences about forces in the client's life that might have tempted them into feeling safe when they were anything but safe, and how if they looked at other options they might find a path forward that was a much better option for them. I also felt that I should relate this to a particular area of their life.

The third pair was Temperance and the Two Swords. Immediately, the Two Swords looked like an enticing option again, with bright colours and interesting curves, but very hot and fiery and with sharp blades, whilst Temperance, involving pouring water, bare feet and muddy earth, looked like childhood games involving mud and water. Here, I related my impressions to the client again, with advice to consider whether the dangers of more glamorous alternatives (the Two Swords) were worth it, compared to the safety and child-like simplicity that Temperance seemed to offer in their situations.

The last pair was the Fool and the Five Swords. The Fool was walking towards the Five Swords, on a journey, whilst the configuration of the card made me think of a gateway or passageway towards the future, guarded or possibly blocked from conventional approach. All the unconventionality of the Fool card, I suggested, would be needed for the client to be able to move freely to their future direction.

A lot of people I know, some whose reading abilities I respect very greatly, don't seem to be able to read easily with unillustrated pip cards. I can. I found them hard initially, but these days I find them as easy or even easier than reading illustrated cards with all sorts of visual cues on them. Why?

Largely because they don't have a lot in the way of visual cues. They have colour and basic emblems, which can set mood and tone, but they leave your mind free to follow an intuitive path instead of being nailed down to the mindset of the artist who designed and illustrated the deck. I find if I have a lot of mental activity going on, such as may be triggered by strictly "memorised" rigid meanings for cards or by images that presuppose one major quality for each card such as family happiness, dishonesty etc, these ideas forced on my mind can overrise the intuitive urge to find individual meaning in a card as it falls in that one reading that one time.

So I have learnt to trust my impulses and follow that tiny inner voice, which is much easier with decks that have little or no visual imagery and symbolism to work with. And I believe that I do highly individualised readings specific to each and every client's situation, looking not only for the pitfalls in their situations but the actions they can take to avoid them, and looking not only for the potential in their situations, but for the affirmative actions they can take to make the most of them.

I believe every reader should do that for every client, to the very best of their ability. And this very ancient spread worked so well when I was so inexperienced at it, that I will be using it a lot and mastering this new technique of having no positional meanings for cards at all, but relating a Major Arcana card to a Minor Arcana card in locked pairs, as many or as few locked pairs as the "random" system of counting produces after a good shuffle.

I have done many fulfilling readings recently, where I have seen face-to-face clients sit down with anxiety in their faces and leave with relief and gratitude in their faces, but this one reading, using so unusual a way or laying out cards, was the most personally fulfilling and exciting reading I have done for a long time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What are Talismans?

I haven't been present much: for a fortnight or so, the software at the site wouldn't let me post (other bloggers managed, so what was going on I don't know!) and I've been incredibly busy ever since just before service seems to have been resumed.

I take part in a number of internet communities pertinent to my interests, and one of my interests - by no means the only one - is Tarot. In the last few days, I was interested to read a dialogue between Liz Hazel, creator of the charming little Whispering Tarot, and Benjamin Assisi along these lines:-

That talismanic magic is by its nature astrological magic. That magic is the art of changing reality in accordince with Will. And astrological talismans are the oldest form of magic.

Let's look at those ideas.

1) Talismanic magic is astrological magic. I don't necessarily agree. Sure, I'm a pig's snout of an astrologer and it's been decades since I did any in-depth astrological-based magical work, but I do fairly regularly do talismanic work. A talisman is any fairly portable object that has been charged with magic to a particular purpose. A shaman's touchstone is a talisman. A Wiccan's Athame is a talisman. A faether I pick up, charge, and place in the Air quarter of my Circle is a talisman. A piece of jewellery charged with intent is a talisman - none more so than a gift of jewellery intended to win the heart of someone who isn't sure of you.

Even the tattoo I recently had of one of my power animals - Wombat - is a talisman, once that I can never put down and lose, one that will never be stolen from me except in the case of an upper-arm amputation, in which case I'd probably demand that they return that patch of skin to me and allow me to cure it!

None of these things have to be astrological in nature or use.

2) Magic is the art of changing reality in accordance with Will. A working-definition of magic that I have been using for decades is that Magic is the art and science of changing the way coincidence happens such that it goes your way so frequently that it is statistically impossible. Weather that should have happened yesterday that is now happening today, I'm looking squarely at you! (Okay, so I've never been good at timing).

and 3) Astrological talismans are the oldest form of Magic. I think talismans and talismanic magic are far older than astrology. I think they go back to the dawn of animal consciousness. When you foster an orphaned macropod, perhaps a wallaby, and but it into a warm knitted bag, the wallaby knows perfectly well that the bag is not its mother's pouch, but it it a talisman of the safety and nurturing that the macropod would have found in nature in its mother's pouch - and some foster-carers deliberately charge it magically to be so. When you see a pet, perhaps a cat, taking a liking to a particular corner or soft toy, that is primitive talismanic magic. When they then lose interest in it and fixate on something else, it has served its magical purpose for them, whether that is a purpose of reassurance, healing or something else, and they are now looking for a different energy and a different magical outcome in another place or object, another talisman.

Wedding-rings are the ultimate and most widespread of human talismans, although the majority of people who give them don't know how to charge them properly and the majority of people who receive and wear tham don't realise it.

Talismans are everywhere, and only a minority of them are at all astrological in nature.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Travel - a Personal Nightmare

In January, I went somewhere for a few days, and travelled with my mother. It was hair-raising, and I blogged about it here. Today my kid brother (I have a kid brother, 50, and a baby brother in his mid-forties) visited, and I tried to show him the blog entry, but it seemed to have disappeared off into the ether, disappearing even from my blog archives. So as I haven't paid too much attention to this blog recently, I thought I'd have another go at writing it up. Our mother isn't the - er - easiest person in the world to deal with, and while the weekend was horrific to live through, it was high comedy to write about and to describe to my brother. I didn't get too far into the story before a friend visited, putting the kybosh on telling the rest of the story, and my co-resident turned up not long afterwards, killing it completely. I was going to show my brother the blog entry, but it has become invisible, apparently, although entries before and after it are still there, so here we go - take two at telling the story.
The trip was all about my daughter, who had recently moved out in order to go to university via the ADFA system - training for an officer's job in the Australian Army and picking up a university degree without a HECS debt at the same time. It's pretty hard to get a free - or even affordable - degree these days, so she did well to be accepted. After a number of weeks' basic military training they were to have a big welcome-to-the-military parade, with all the top brass, and this is what we were travelling to, as it happened on site in Canberra, quite a distant city.
I decided to go down there by train, a five-hour trip starting on Friday at about lunchtime. We were to stay the entire weekend, and come back up on Monday. I was planning to sleep at my friend Niall's place in Cooma, a town an hour or two's drive out of Canberra. My mother, as the all-important grandmother, was going to come, too, and was going to hire a car once we were down there for both our use around town and for me to drive out to Cooma nightly to sleep at my friend's place.
My mother's surname is West. My surname is Merrieweather. Nothing alike. We booked our tickets separately, on the same train as there are only two trains a day between the cities. Guess what - we were given adjoining seats. Knowing what she's like, and knowing what I'm like, this bothered me immediately. Adjoining seats? We'd have to sit next to each other for a whole five hours. Never mind, I consoled myself, I'd do anything for my daughter whom I loved with a ferocious maternal love, anything. Even sitting next to my mother for five hours. After all, isn't she meant to love me the same way? Yeah, right.
But still, it was an important day for my daughter, and I was always damn well going to be there. Her grandmother was also always going to be there. Neither of us were ever going to miss it. It was all good.
The day before we travelled, she rang me to confirm that I had my ticket for the trip (of course I had). She told me not to check in my luggage when I got to the station the next morning, "because it will take ages to get it back, and the train gets in after four, and the car rental place closes at six". Two hours? I wouldn't have thought it was a problem.
I decided that I couldn't face the trip without a moment of peace and tranquillity first, so I turned up a couple of hours early to sit in a cafe with a nice coffee and read a few pages of my book beforehand. Being a good, obedient daughter - or at least wanting to keep the peace beforehand - I didn't check in my luggage. I had one black suitcase with my toiletries and a long-weekend's-worth of clothes, pyjamas etc in it, a black backpack with food and drink for the trip (I have eaten lunches bought on XPT trains before, and they are truly awful) and a warm layer of clothes in case the air conditioning was cranked up to Too Cold, and I had a handbag with all the personal stuff you carry around in your handbag. My black backpack and matching suitcase had been pre-decorated by me, with braids of brightly multi-coloured wool hanging from each of the zippers, and there were a lot of those. A matching set, looking all very hippy and rainbow-peopley. Unique, yes? Remember that, it becomes important later.
So, thinking I was mother-free for at the very least an hour, I sought out coffee. Before I'd even bought one, she found me. She was carrying a handbag - and not pulling any luggage. I asked her where her luggage was, and she said she had checked hers in, and why hadn't I? I'd better hurry and check it in, she told me. Careful not to roll my eyes, I went to the baggage office to check in the luggage that she had told me not to check in. I intended to keep my backpack and handbag with me, and check in the suitcase. She came trotting after me.
We got to the baggage office, and there was a queue of about half-a-dozen people lined up in front of us. First in the door, I added myself to the end of the line. She swanned right in, walked to the counter at the head of the queue, pushed in before the guy already being served, and started talking to the attendant, a man in his fifties. Some of the people in the queue protested, and the guy behind the counter politely suggested that others had been here before her and were waiting, and could she please queue up at the end. She walked back to me at the end of the queue, and said loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear: "I suppose I could let these people be served first." At "these people" there was a very real sneer of contempt in her voice.
So we waited, and it wasn't long - the system was fast, efficient and polite. By the time we got to the head of the line, I had my rolly-bag in one hand and my ticket in the other. As I opened my mouth to talk to the guy, she bodily snatched the ticket out of my hand and told him she'd like to check in the bag. I was fifty at the time - I'd probably travelled before. I'd almost certainly checked in luggage before. But no, I was incompetent, and she loudly and busily checked it in for me. It got X-rayed, weighed and put aside with the other checked-in bags for the Canberra train. Several times, loudly, she asked him to make especially sure this bag got on the Canberra train. Several times, he told Madam that it could only go on the Canberra train, as that was all they were checking-in at the moment. Several times she insisted on asking him how could he be sure it would be taken off at the right station. Several times he said Madam, the bag has a clear label, and will be taken off the train at the Canberra station and nowhere else.
She is only a short woman, though terribly scary, and during this dialogue he glanced at me sympthetically over her head. Each time I met his eyes, and smiled sadly. She was oblivious, although she was looking right at him. Finally my bag was checked in, slower than everyone before us, and he went to hand me my ticket, asking if it was mine. Yes it's hers, she said before I could reply, and snatched it out of both our hands just as he was giving it to me. When we left the luggage office, I asked for my ticket. She said she wanted to make sure I wasn't going to lose it. I retrieved it from her anyway, and ostentatiously put it in my handbag, telling her I wouldn't lose it.
By now, my nerves were already shot (mostly in anticipation of worse to come), and we weren't even on the train yet. I needed that coffee, but there was no chance of enjoying it in peace. We retraced our steps to the cafe, and ordered, now that we were finally freed of the luggage that she'd told me not to check in the previous evening. We had coffee. Conversation was stilted, noncommittal and peaceful. I didn't enjoy my coffee. So far so good.
About half an hour before departure we ended up on the platform, and even though there were signs everywhere not to board the train because cleaners were at work, she maintained that we had paid-for tickets, so despite the signs she had a right to board the train whenever she liked. With difficulty, I restrained her, still keeping the peace, and suggested that we might like some freshly polluted city air before five hours of air-conditioned travel. Grumbling, she settled down on the platform until the cleaners finished. The moment a cleaner emerged from the carriage whose number was on our tickets and even before they picked up their "no entry cleaning in progress" signs and wheeled their cleaning carts away, she was pushing her way on board and anxiously checking and re-checking seat numbers on tickets and seat numbers on seats.
We are both quite fleshy people, and the seats were designed for skinny little dwarves. We were going to be sitting, thigh pressed to thigh, for five hours. I didn't like it. Never mind, I told myself, be barely polite to her. You have a superb natural gift: you can put yourself into a deep, natural sleep at will whether you are tired or not. As soon as the train pulls out, fall asleep. She can't object.
As soon as the train pulled out, I fell asleep, properly asleep. She nudged me awake. "Are you tired?" she asked disbelievingly. ""Yes," I lied, and prepared to sleep again. This went on for some time - every time I fell into a deeper sleep than a light doze, she'd nudge me awake and start talking to me loudly again.
An hour or two into the trip, she decided it was lunchtime. I already knew what that meant, so I had packed far too much lunch in anticipation. Apples, grapes and plums. Wholemeal sandwiches with salami, a really expensive cheese, grated fresh carrot and sorrel leaves from my garden, home-grown, organic and biodynamic. They were probably even still photosynthesising in those sandwiches. Having had prior experience of her lunches, I pulled some of my sandwiches out of my backpack with alacrity.
I was right.
True to form, she pulled a glad-wrapped sandwich of some description out of her bag, unwrapped it, took one of the cut halves, wrenched it into two pieces whilst twisting it and pressing the air out of the bread turning it effectively into dough again, and offered me one of the torn and squashed halves of a half-sandwich. I gratefully refused, opened one of my own sandwiches, and offered her another one, still sealed and unsquashed, just as a sandwich should be offered. She had no idea that I was trying to demonstrate the correct way to share sandwiches. Later on, she tore another half-sandwich in half, squashing it completely, and offered it to me again. Again, I pointed out that I had plenty, and would she like another. She helped me eat my plums, which were perfectly ripe, delicious, numerous, and which I was very happy to share.
I slept again. Every so often she'd wake me to say something. I'd give her the minimum polite answer, and put myself to sleep again. She offered me squashed sandwiches several times, I offered her fresh sandwiches every so often. Once she accepted one, gingerly bit into it and discovered to her surprise that in addition to not being poisoned, it also was quite delicious. I was glad that I had made many of them - obviously my anticipation of what lunching with her would be like had been fairly spot-on.
Despite my attempts to sleep the hours dragged, and arrival in Canberra took forever. I woke up properly five minutes earlier, another sleep-related skill of mine, and stayed alert. Just before we pulled up at the station we passed a huge apple-tree growing on the wasteland along the track, laden with large, perfectly ripe red apples of one variety or other. The tree had never been pruned and had a scatty growth-habit, but its fruit looked wonderful. As a Pagan, to whom apples were sacred and a symbol of the Afterlife, I was greatly cheered by this sight.
We pulled in at the station. This was where she had expected the checked-in luggage to take hours to retrieve. By the time we climbed out of the carriage onto the platform, there was a neat array of suitcases there, in all sizes, shapes and colours. She grabbed the only black one with a big yellow spot painted on it - hers - without checking the label. I grabbed the only black one with bright rainbow braids hanging from all the zippers - mine, and matching my backpack - without checking the label. It was the only suitcase there with colourful braids on it. Nonetheless, she insisted on checking the label on it, and reading it thoroughly to make sure I wasn't stealing someone else's bag. I pointed out the matching braids. That wasn't evidence enough of my ownership, although apparently a big yellow spot was evidence enough for her ownership. Wonderful.
Eventually she ascertained for herself that the bag I thought was mine was in fact mine, and the next stage was to find a cab to take us from the train station to the car rental mob where we had booked the car for the weekend. We walked out of the station, and found two signs. The one pointing left said "To Bus Stop". The one pointing right said "To Taxis". She walked left, the crowd and I walked right. Taxis pulled up in front of her to let passengers off near the doors, then swung away before she could climb in, coming back to the taxi-rank where the first person in line would climb in. I was somewhere in the middle of the line, but she kept bleating at me, so I eventually left my position and walked to her. "None of them will let me in," she said.
I pointed out that the taxi rank was where all the people were lined up, so after she finally digested this information we walked over to the queue. I put myself at the end of it. She waltzed up to the head of the line, giving me a flashback to the luggage office earlier in the day. The screams of protest were louder now - everyone had been travelling for a long time, and didn't want to sacrifice their cabs to her. Grumbling, she lined up with me at the very end of the line, bitching about how selfish people were. It completely escaped her notice that if she had followed me in the first place we would now be ten or twelve people ahead of where we now were in the line.
Cabs came and cabs went. We were the very last people in line, and eventually a last cab came and picked us up. It was being driven by an Australian guy with a broad Australian accent, sounding for the world like my baby brother, who has an almost exaggerated Aussie accent. She looked at his face, and decided that he was a foreigner. She immediately started speaking very, very slowly and very, very loudly, to make sure he understood. Recognising racism in action - his ancestors evidently came from India - he flattened his vowels even further until he sounded like the most Australian of Australians. She was oblivious. The whole drive, she pointed out how much she liked Indians (speaking loudly and slowly) and how some Indians were actually very nice people (still speaking slowly and loudly) and how once he had been in the country a little longer he would learn to read street signs and realise they should have gone straight ahead (which would have meant ignoring a detour sign and heavy machinery in the middle of the road). He doggedly followed the detour signs until they brought him back on the main road, being polite and very Australian at her. She was oblivious, and kept chatting in an artificially non-racist way about how nice Indians were, including telling him that his photo on the driver ID didn't look at all like him because in it he was wearing a turban and today he wasn't wearing it. Never mind that his facial features were identical despite his lack of headwear - had he, perhaps, "borrowed" the ID?
I sat there, cringing. He was a normal bloke - why couldn't she just talk to him like a normal bloke? When we got there she paid the exact fare - and I quietly dropped an enormous tip on the seat I was climbing out of. As I climbed out, he shot me a look of extreme compassion and sympathy. I grinned back at him. He pocketed the tip and drove away. He'll remember her, and never let her in his cab again. She then commented about how immigrants would always drive you the long way around in order to earn a larger fare, and how she would have preferred a proper Australian driver. She hadn't even seen the huge, colourful "detour" signs.
We were in front of the car hire place, a reputable international mob who have been around for decades and have a great business reputation. I steeled myself to walk in. I just knew this was going to be awful. Don't ask me how - perhaps I'm psychic. I just knew. She identified herself, and told them she had booked a car online. They checked their computer and said yes, there was a booking. But they didn't have enough of the model car she had ordered, and would she like a larger, more expensive one for the same price? The obvious answer was yes, especially as I was the designated driver. But no, she tried to insist on the smaller car. I pointed out that the car they had was probably more expensive to hire normally, and only then, when we had established that we were getting an effective discount of twenty dollars per day for the whole weekend did she subside. Then she thought of something. She turned to me. "You can't drive four wheel drives."
"Yes, I can. I have before."
"You've never owned a four wheel drive."
"No, but I've driven them before."
This was starting to work up into an argument. The girl intervened. She said that it was a very easy four wheel drive, and I looked like a responsible driver, and my driver's licence was valid, and would I like to practise for a while in the lot before going out onto the road?
Finally my mother doubtfully accepted that perhaps thirty years' driving experience in all kinds of vehicles might help, and I might actually be able to drive the four wheel drive. That settled, it was time to pay for the vehicle. My mother fished a wad of notes out of her handbag. The girl looked uncertain. "Sorry, Madam, we don't take cash." My mother insisted. She only liked to pay cash. The girl insisted. It was unsafe for their employees to walk to the bank with large amounts of cash, so they only took cards. Did madam have a card? Madam did, but Madam wasn't going to use a card to hire a car. Why, what was to stop the car hire people putting a second transaction on her card after she left? The girl was by now nearly in tears. My mother asked to speak to her supervisor. The girl came back with a man in his late thirties or early forties. My mother sneered, and said she didn't want to talk to little boys, she wanted to talk to the boss. The man tried very hard to be polite, insistent and firm. Finally, with me on his side, he managed to persuade her that this was company policy in all their outlets in Australia, and that they had been around for over fifty years, and that in all that time there had never been any allegations of credit card fraud.
Still muttering darkly, she finally agreed. They quoted the agreed price for the cheaper car that she had been given online, plus an $80 deposit in case of accident or non-return of the vehicle. She bridled. She told me that she had known all along they were going to cheat her. I told her I was sure they wouldn't, I had dealt with the same company in my home town a few years earlier, and I had had no problem with getting my deposit back. She wasn't mollified. The supervisor explained that for the deposit they would take a second imprint of her credit card, but that one would be kept on-site and would only be used if we did not return the vehicle. He was sure we were honest people, and would return the car, and if we did, the imprint for the deposit would be destroyed and never presented to her bank for payment. Nonetheless, she insisted on speaking to the "real boss", someone with a bit of experience. They immediately pulled an old codger out of a cubicle somewhere. She immediately relaxed at the sight of pre-retirement wrinkles and white hair. He explained that the credit card imprint would be stored in a locked safe until the car was returned, then destroyed according to company policy.
All this had taken an hour, and the girl was close to breaking down. As we walked out to the car outside, she shot me a "protect me from your mother!" look, a haunted, desperate look. The two gentlemen looked pretty desperate, too, and infinitely happy that we were actually climbing into the vehicle. Remember the deposit. It will become important later.
It was early evening now, and the next stop was the hotel where she would be staying. We got into the car, and I asked what the name of the hotel was. She didn't know. I told her to find out. Her booking papers were in her luggage, so we had to climb out of the car again, open up the back, pull out her suitcase, open it up and rummage around. She found the bit of paper, put her bag in the car, and we got back in. I asked what the address of the hotel was. She looked at her print-out of the booking details. "It doesn't have an address", she said. Great, fabulous. This was going to be a wonderful weekend.
In the taxi we had passed a tourist information booth, so she asked me to drive back there to find out the address of the hotel. We did. It was now after six, and it was closed, with no one there to help us. She complained about how nobody was prepared to work any more, and how you couldn't get service any place. I asked her to recheck her booking papers. Nope, still no address. I snatched them out of her hand. Yes, there was an address - in bold type!
So we climbed back into the car, I thrust the street directory at her, and told her to navigate. After all, she was a supposedly intelligent woman, and I was dealing with two new things: an unknown city and an unknown car. We wandered aimlessly around for a while, turning what seemed to be random corners. We passed several places multiple times. I kept silent, and drove according to her directions. We were whistling down a major road and she had just told me how many streets ahead to turn, when I saw a hotel sign. It was her hotel, where it shouldn't be (according to her). I did a U-turn at the next legal point, and pulled into the hotel's carpark. She was immediately flustered - she wasn't booked in yet, so I had no right to park there. I absolutely wasn't going to unpark the car, park it on the road, then come out and park it again - I grimly told her that I had the keys, and the car was staying wherever I damn well put it.
We walked into reception. I just wanted to flee by now, and escape to Cooma, where I knew friendship, food and low-maintenance, enjoyable conversation awaited me. Behind the counter were two young Australian people in well-pressed uniforms, a man and a woman. And yes, you guessed it - they had South Asian features and fluent English with native-born Australian accents. Immediately she switched on her non-racist, Indian-loving, loud, slow voice. I mean - damn! They were probably born here, she herself was born overseas! Why so judgemental?
She confirmed her booking, then set about booking a room for me. I immediately demurred. I wanted to go to Cooma, and some kind of a personal welcome plus relaxing down-time and probably a feed at Niall's favourite place, the "local Chineesie". The strain had been going on all day, and I just wanted a break. But no, she told me she couldn't trust me to be on time (me, who has a lifelong habit of being early for everything) and I was going to stay in the hotel that first night and I couldn't possibly refuse because she'd pay for my room. $149, and I never heard the end of how she had to pay for it for me. So I finally acquiesced with very bad grace, rang my friend and told him I'd be 24 hours late and yes it was a terrible shame as I'd been so looking forward to staying with him, making sure she heard the whole lot. My last hope was that perhaps the hotel could only find a vacancy on a different level to her room, but no, the room directly across the corridor was free. By now, all the spirit had been whipped out of me, and I didn't even protest. I collected my key, we went out to collect our bags, and went upstairs to our rooms.
Alone at last, I dropped my bag at the end of the bed, took off my shoes and lay down on top of the bed, closing my eyes against the strain. A few minutes later, there was a knock at my door. Before I could get up and open it, the door flew open - her. I made a mental note to consciously lock the door every time I came in. She wanted to know what I was doing for dinner - the hotel restaurant was too expensive, she thought, having not been down there. I gave her the rest of my packed sandwiches and fruit, and told her she was welcome to it.
She didn't go away. Instead, she asked me how I was going to find my way to the parade-ground the following morning. The way everyone else did, I suggested, by reading the street directory. She didn't think that was good enough. I had to go downstairs and get the hotel staff to help me, and it was better to do it right now. And when I went down, mind, I was to ask to talk to a proper Australian.
At least she didn't come down with me.
I went to the reception, and I did in fact speak to a proper Australian, one of the ones we had just dealt with, probably someone far more Australian than she was, who happened to have Indian features. Strangely, he was far more relaxed and inclined to smile now that she wasn't with me. I told him that we had to find this location straight after breakfast and she didn't trust the street directory, and did he know where to go? So he googled the directions for me and printed them out. This was better - I could prop a piece of computer-paper up on the steering-wheel and do my own navigating, easier than with a book-type map.
I went upstairs again, to my own room. I locked the door. I'm not a big fan of air conditioning but there was no other form of heating, and it was getting a bit nippy in the room, so I turned it on and adjusted the temperature. The room warmed just enough. I turned on the TV. It worked. I have no idea what I watched - it was about emptying my mind and persuading myself to relax. Although I am a morning-shower-person I went and had an evening shower - hot water is so healing. Got into my daggy 'jamas. Alone at last. Starting to feel human. Guess who knocks on my door. Yes. I wasn't best pleased. Confirmed I had directions for the morning and yes, I'd got them from a "proper Australian" so they were probably correct. Got rid of her. Ate everything solid in the mini-bar since she was paying - I've never been a big drinker. Crawled into bed, set my alarm, and went to sleep.
In the morning I woke to a glorious flood of sunlight. Got up, had a cup of tea with cow's milk - well, nothing's ever perfect. Made a mental note to bring a litre of soymilk next time I was planning on staying in a hotel. Had another shower. Got dressed in my special being-a-respectable-mother-fitting-in-with-society clothes. Looked at the time, went and knocked on my mother's door. She was also already dressed. We went down to the hotel restaurant for our breakfast, had our names and room-numbers checked off, then went and had a feed at the buffet. There were bacon and eggs, a toaster and fresh bread, yoghurt and fruit, cereal, very good coffee. No soy milk. Oh well, I thought, and made a mental note to bring soy milk next time I stayed in a hotel. Nothing's ever perfect. I don't think my mother's a morning person - she didn't talk very much, which was frankly wonderful.
After we ate, she started talking. The air conditioning in the hotel didn't work. Her shower ran cold. The service at reception when we arrived was horrible. She couldn't see how they had managed to get four stars. If there's a problem with the shower and air conditioning in your room, I told her, tell reception. My air conditioning worked fine, and I had just had a lovely hot shower. The staff will never know to fix the problem if no guests in that room ever tell them about the problem. No no, I couldn't possibly do that, they might think I'm a nuisance. Listen you, we will be out all day. They can get their maintenance people in. And if they can't fix it, they can relocate you to another room, perhaps mine, where you are certain the shower is hot and the air con works. No, no, I'd hate to ever complain about anything.
So I left her sitting in the foyer. With some relief, I noticed that the morning shift had white faces - and one of them had a thick European accent. Far less "proper Australians" than last night's shift, but at least they were white. At least she wouldn't complain about these ones. I told this person, who had no prior experience of my mother, that the sweet little old lady sitting over there was my mother, and we had spent last night in the hotel. She had been in Room Number Whatever, and she told me this morning that her air conditioning hadn't worked, and the only water that came out of the shower was freezing. I was vacating my room this morning but she was staying two more days, and she was elderly and I'd like her to have a room with air con and a working hot shower please. Could they perhaps move her into my room?
They looked up the register. No, Madam, your room has a prior booking, and in any case is a cheaper room than hers was. But we could upgrade her for free into the penthouse, where a senior staff member spent last night. It is being cleaned right now. We know the shower and air con is working. There will be no extra to pay and she will have a nice little balcony overlooking the park. Would your mother perhaps like that for no extra charge? Certainly she would. So I organised it and checked myself out of my room at the same time, took charge of her key, and we moseyed on upstairs to check out her new room and move her baggage. She picked through the room carefully, checking for dirt, and found none.
It was lovely. And the balcony did overlook a park, as well as the hotel carpark. There was still some time before we had to leave if we wanted to be excruciatingly early for the official parade, so she invited me in and offered me a cup of tea. There was no soymilk. I made a mental note to bring a litre of soymilk the next time I stayed in a hotel. She opened the door to her balcony so that we could sit out there at an elegant wrought-iron table and have our drinks. A fly flew in the open door, bumbled around the room a bit, and flew back out a few minutes later. She was horrified. Now she went off again, saying that not only could she not understand how they had four stars, but she couldn't understand how they had any stars at all. For freak's sake, it was just a fly doing what flies do! She could have shut the balcony door and kept it out. Three months after the trip became a bad memory, she was still whining about the bloody fly. Australia is full of flies. She ought to know - she's lived in the continent for well over half a century!
Soon we decided that it was time to leave for the parade-ground. I didn't let her navigate this time, and following the instructions, I found my way to Duntroon, next door to ADFA where we should have been. A nice young boy in a smart dress-uniform not a lot older than my daughter gave us directions - he'd obviously been posted there to redirect lost parents. We parked outside the ADFA complex, and started walking, after she complained about me wearing my characteristic hat. I refused to take it off. After all, it was often the only way my daughter could find me in a crowd. I was in heels - I never wear heels. I could barely walk. The ground was untamed, all nubbly and irregular and stony. I walked slowly. My mother whinged and whinged about how unfit and unhealthy I was and how in her whole life she had never seen anyone who walked so slowly. I sped up, disregarding the pain. She complained that she was only elderly, and I was leaving her behind and I should have more consideration. I slowed down again.
We found the parade ground, a large patch of manicured grass a few hectares in size. There were tiered stone steps, obviously intended for observers to sit on, a small marquis full of people in dress-uniform covered in gold braid, and a couple of rows of plastic chairs. It was summer, and the sun was getting intense. My mother opened an umbrella. "Did you bring an umbrella?" she asked. No, I hadn't. Apparently my daughter had told her we'd be sitting in the sun (which was more information than I'd got), and told her to tell me that we'd both need to bring umbrellas. Mine was many hundreds of kilometres away, standing behind my backdoor at home. Great time to tell me that now, Ancient Parent.
Speeches happened. Music and marches happened. Speeches happened. It got hotter and hotter. I was very grateful I had insisted on keeping my hat - it was affording me a little shelter. My mother waved her ridiculous little umbrella around, helpfully sharing it, knocking my hat off my head or poking an umbrella-rib in my nose without actually managing to give me any shade at the same time. Eventually I got up and moved into the shadow of a nearby building where I could still see most of what was happening, and fell into conversation with an army-wife and her brood of four lively, energetic, friendly pre-schoolers, one of whom was marching stiffly up and down pretending to be Daddy, who was apparently one of the guys covered in gold braid in the marquis. A delightful family - I enjoyed their company a lot.
After a couple of hours of drilling in heavy uniforms in the boiling sun without any shelter, they marched the kids off the field. As they left, one collapsed, obviously heat exhaustion, and an officer and some paramedics ran out to them. I hoped it wasn't my daughter, but it was hard to see. There were announcements over the loudspeakers to stay in the quadrangle until your uniformed children located you, as you weren't allowed in the catering building unaccompanied by military personnel. My daughter had us to collect, as well as my ex Lyndon and his partner, who was the closest thing to a father she'd ever had, and one of her school friends. She made phone calls and sent texts everywhere, gathering us up, then went upstairs in a building and looked out for us, identifying my mother and I immediately from my hat. She said she would never have found us without it. I'm so glad I didn't let her make me leave it in the car. It was the only shelter I'd had from the sun, and it was the only way she found us.
She gathered us up in a little group, and I was dreading how my mother would behave. Suddenly, though, with Lyndon and Camlyn around, she was the soul of civilisation. She was pleasant and polite. It was like being in an episode of "Twilight" or a chapter of "Sybil". I was probably more taken aback with her sudden impersonation of a mainstream human than I had been by having spent so much time with her being nakedly Herself whilst we were alone - any family member will know exactly what I mean.
We left as a group, and spent much of the weekend together, after my daughter established that she had formal leave for the rest of the weekend. Almost the first thing I did was change my shoes - no one complained about my being the slowest walker in the world after that. I was glad of the four wheel drive vehicle - I ended up doing most of the driving, with the whole group of five in the car. We went to Mt Stromlo, where I was greatly impressed with the ruins of the burnt-out circular observatories: like most ruins, they had a poignant and intriguing energy, and some day I would love to take my meditation group out there to either meditate or do ritual in the circular space of one of them in particular.
That second evening, there was no way I was going to stay in the hotel again. I made it abundantly clear at the end of the day that I was just dropping her off, and driving out to Cooma to stay with my friend in his ramshackle little old house. We had a wonderful time: we talked and laughed and ate and talked and laughed some more. At the end of the night he dropped a single mattress on the floor, I pulled out my sleeping-bag, and I effectively camped on his living-room floor, within reach of a wood-fired stove to take the edge off the alpine chill.
My mother and I had agreed on a time in the morning, and I breakfasted with my friend and set off in plenty of time. Sadly, on the long country road to Canberra, someone had rolled their vehicle, and by the time I came over the rise there was a fire crew, hosing all the spilt fuel off the road. There was nothing much I could do - I switched off my engine and sat it out. I was too far from either town to have mobile coverage, so I couldn't ring. Eventually they let me pass, and I sped onwards. When there was a phone signal again, the old lady rang me. She asked when I'd be there. I estimated that I was about twenty minutes away, if I made good time once I hit the urban traffic. I didn't. I took over half an hour.
So I arrived, and got roundedly yelled-at for being late. Then she demanded that I ring my daughter to make sure she was ready to be picked up - and on the phone, I got roundedly yelled-at for being three hours early! She wanted to spend some time with her younger friends before seeing us, and who could blame her. Talk about meat in the sandwich - in the wrong for being too late and in the wrong for being too early, in one fell swoop! I got yelled at by everyone!
A couple of hours later on, we arranged to meet at the National Art Gallery: my daugher and her friend, Lyndon and Camlyn, us, and the friend's family. We had coffee and spent some time together as a group, some time as sub-groups, and some time as individuals. I was particularly impressed by the exhibition of photographic portraiture and by one individual statuette of the Hindu Goddess Durga, whose likeness now adorns both my bedroom and my living-room as a direct result of that weekend. I still light her candles and pay her respect.
A lot of driving happened. Some time in the weekend, my daughter noticed that the registration sticker on the windscreen appeared to be a few months out of date. My mother threw a huge fit - I think she was visualising my being thrown into gaol or worse, all of us. It was a hire car - I wasn't responsible for its registration.
Lyndon and Camlyn went their own way. My daughter went her own way. Eventually it was the two of us again, and the paroxysms over the registration only got worse. Talk about time ruined! So we drove to the car hire place, to find it was closed. We rang the emergency number, one of their other branches, only to find out that the car was registered to one of their branches but hadn't actually been returned to that branch, that the sticker was waiting there, and that the car was definitely legal. Any random policeman had inboard computers which would have shown that in an instant, and I was driving too well to attract police notice, anyway. All of this took hours and hours of super-stressful time which we could have spent pretending to enjoy each other's company, but I suppose that was too much to hope for. I spent a second night at my friend's place, unwinding and regaling him with the stories, which afforded him much amusement. Laughter is a great defusing technique, and I felt a lot better.
The train back to Sydney was going to leave at lunchtime the following day. Early that morning, I packed up and bade my friend and his great big dopey malamute Kia a fond farewell - I don't get to see either of them anywhere near often enough, and I had really enjoyed staying. I loaded my stuff in the car. I drove to my mother's hotel. She checked out. We drove around for a while, then filled the tank as per the contractual agreement with the car rental mob, and headed back to their premises.
Now. Remember that deposit? The credit card imprint that they hadn't used? Keep that in your mind. Fortunately, those same staff members weren't on duty - it was a whole stack of fresh faces.
Firstly, my mother was hugely offended that they went and looked at the vehicle to make sure I hadn't dented it and to make sure the tank was filled. Her word should have been enough - she wasn't a member of the criminal classes, after all. They were very polite to her and assured her it was only policy and they really didn't think it was necessary. They did it anyway, though. Then I handed over the keys and signed the car back to them. Then my mother tried to get her deposit back, the extra eighty dollars that she had paid in cash. Dammit, she remembered paying it in cash, and she wasn't mad! She wanted it back, and she wanted it back in cash, and she wanted it back now, as we only had a couple of hours to catch our train. She didn't believe that the company would employ such dishonest and obstructive staff, and she was going to write to the manager when we got back home. And her husband was a lawyer (also, he was twenty years' dead), so they'd be well advised to return her money.
Another young woman, in her middle thirties, was reduced not to tears, but to being very red-faced and swollen. Another man of about the same age was referred to as a little boy, and was thunderously angry but felt he couldn't even raise his voice, let alone say what he thought (they really, really train their staff well!). Eventually, they actually showed her the credit card imprint, and tore it into little pieces in front of her eyes before she was satisfied. She didn't apologise, though, that would have been too much to expect. Instead, she stalked out of there in high dudgeon, muttering about incompetents and frauds under her breath - but not under her breath enough. I dawdled slightly. I didn't dare say anything audible because I would never have heard the end of it, but I made eye contact with everyone in the room, and mouthed the words "I'm sorry" behind her back. It was the best I could do.
Remember the torn-up credit card imprint. It will become important later.
We caught a taxi to the train station, fortunately without incident so the driver was probably white, I can't really remember. Checked in our luggage two an a half hours early. Went looking for coffee, which involved a walk of a couple of kilometres in the rain. We were only so early because she had insisted that we would be late. Then we had to walk back in the rain, get on the train, wait for it to leave. And all this time, she hadn't stopped talking about the terrible service and unregistered car (it now was properly unregistered, apparently), the dreadful hotel room, and the fly in the hotel room, how unhygienic it all was. I pretended to sleep - I was too wound-up to sleep. Five hours later, the train pulled up in Sydney. She had a short trip home - I had another hour and a half in an inter-urban train plus an hour's bus-ride ahead of me, so no thank you, I didn't want to hang around for coffee, I wanted to get on this train over here, heading my way. But it doesn't leave for twenty minutes, we could - I'll get on it right now if you don't mind!
And I did. For months, every time she spoke to me, she talked about the bloody fly. And half a year later she rang me up for one reason and one reason only. "Do you remember the deposit for the rental car?" I did. "Did they ever give it back to me?" Don't worry, they didn't cheat you. "Because it hasn't come up on any of my bank statements. I can't remember them paying it back in cash, did they pay it back in cash? Or did they give you the cash? If they gave it to you, you should give it to me." They never took cash. They took a second credit card imprint, which they were only going to use if we damaged the car. "Oh. Well, I'm just going to have to keep watching my bank statements, to make sure they don't use it in the future." They destroyed it, they can't use it. "You can never guarantee that - they [the criminal classes] are very clever."
What's the bets that she'll ask me again in another year if they cheated her on the deposit, or if I kept the cash. And keeps moaning about the fly for the rest of her life, and how that hotel shouldn't have any stars.
And she wonders why I don't enjoy family reunions.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Giving Back

There is a lot of talk in the community generally and the spiritual community in particular, about giving back.

Our parents tell us - and we in turn tell our children - that it's not enough to expect the community to support us, we need to work, we need to give something back.

The environmental lobby tells us that the environment cannot support multiple billions of people, and we need to lessen our demands and give something back.

We tell each other that if we expect others to help us out and do us favours, we must be prepared in return to either do them favours when they ask, or at least pass it on and do other people favours. And we tell each other that if you borrow something, you must return it.

Some of us are told - or tell our children - that giving to charity is important.

All these things are based on keeping the larger community and the structure which supports it in balance at the very least.

But then, what happens when we move into an explicitly spiritual context? The major religions tell us to pray, to ask things of their various gods, even if the thing we are meant to ask for is forgiveness for being born human, something which these gods, you would think, had banked on. Spiritually we ask. We ask for worldly power or success in our spiritual life, or for spiritual power and success. What Judeo-Christian is happy to pray to go to hell to make more room in heaven for others, after all?

And we Pagans are just as bad. The vast majority of Pagans that I know - or know of - with a few select exceptions, begin and/or end our rites by "grounding", expecting the earth-mother to give us energy, strength and healing. If we do healing rites, we take the imbalance out of the person and give it to the earth to deal with without a second thought, or expect earth, the sun, the universe or whatever, to supply a limitless stream of healing energy to our client through us. There isn't often an effort to set up a two-way flow.

An example: in recent times (recent in my personal language, is quite a flexible concept!) I asked two shamans I know and trust to investigate the Otherworldly connections of an issue I had. Both of them were gracious enough to do so, and to report back to me. Both of them used animal-helpers and spirit-helpers as a part of what they did for me. And both of them were pleased (and, I think, a little surprised) when I thanked them, and offered to feed the physical analogues of their spirit-helpers in the flesh. The most recent example, for instance, involved a spirit-crow, and afterwards I kept smelly little tidbits on me for a few days until I came close enough to the next physical crow, whereupon I gave them something they thought was delicious as a thank-you to their spiritual equivalent.

Recently in my last three or four solo rituals, I have had a turn-around. I still see the Earth Goddess as powerful and unbounded - but where has my sense of right-doing been, all these decades? So I've embarked on a series of rituals designed not to take universal energy and focus it for my own ends (selfish or unselfish), but I've taken to concentrating my personal energy, and making offerings back to the Earth, my most frequently used deity, as a thanks and a blessing for the energies I have in the past used. And I intend to continue to do this.

And I'm finding it extraordinarily satisfying! In fact, I'm finding a lot of giving satisfying, at the moment. For example, I read Tarot for money. Recently a person rang me and asked what I charged, I told her, she said she was the organiser of sheltered housing for disadvantaged people, and she was organising a fund-raising weekend, and would I like to read for them. At all times she was negotiating on the basis of my getting rewarded for my time whilst her fund-raising drive also got something out of it, but specifically because she didn't ask me to donate my time for free, I ended up suggesting that. And so on a weekend in a few months, I'll give them a day of my time and effort. No, it won't make me more prosperous, but it has already made me feel much more positive and that will increase when I'm actually doing it.

Making money is one thing. We all need money. We need to pay for accommodation, food, power. When our clothes fall apart, we need to pay for new ones, or the material to make them ourselves. And I had a decade when I was on a very generous income indeed. I wasn't worried about money. Brand-new cars and expenditure on luxuries happened. And I was happy. Well - I was entirely free of the financial worries I was to have later in life. Nowdays, my income is much smaller than it used to be, but these days, I am much more inclined to share what I have, buy meals for friends, help out someone on the bus who doesn't have enough change, give my spare coins to every charity-collector I pass. And I can honestly say that with lesser money and an ethic of giving, I am a lot happier than I was with more money and the ethic of saving that had been taught to me in childhood.

And this works in my spiritual life, too. Magic, contemplation and worship is less about what I can get out of it - and even aiming for spiritual growth is ultimately selfish - but more about what I can give back to the deities, on however small a scale. One individual human can, logically, make no difference at all to a deity large enough that the entire universe fits into one cell of their "body", but if I continue, I am less of a drain on the spiritual organism that sustains me. And if I can spark one more person to behave likewise, and they spread the idea to another, a ripple effect will, in time, pass through the community, even if it takes thousands upon thousands of years to become significant.

I think that is well worthwhile, don't you?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sanitising Your Tarot Deck

Someone recently asked if it was a good idea to sanitise the Tarot deck before use, to remove "negative" cards. The following represents my thoughts on the subject:

Nope. Not for the very young, not for the very old.

As to "sanitising" the deck to make all the readings happy-happy-joy-joy, well, you might as well buy a Doreen Virtue deck and have it done for you before purchase, if that's all you want from a reading.

I've had a number of traumatised clients (and seen a number of internet discussions from people who had been throught the mill), who uniformly said they didn't like happy-happy decks that didn't reflect reality.

Every time I read for somebody, I set about discovering people's problems and bringing them to their notice - then set about finding potential solutions so that they can repair their lives. With a deck that has had cards like Death, the Devil and the Tower removed, I simply couldn't function to help people. I'd have to talk meaningless puff, as some other readers I know do.

This means that, in the absence of being able to truly identify people's problems, I can also truly identify no cures, no courses of action that they can take to change things for the better.

I did a reading just today for someone in late middle-age who had very severe problems. If the only cards my deck had to offer were all happy-happy-joy-joy cards, I wouldn't have been able to detect what was really happening for them in their life, nor the emotional impact that was having on their inner world. Without that information, I would have been able to make no constructive suggestions, specially as so many of these so-called "negative" cards hold within themselves hints to their own solutions.

Do people really want readings that change nothing and don't help them? I don't think so. At the end of the reading, this person left, giving me a hug and promising to come back and let me know how things play out after they put into action some of the suggestions that the reading brought out. I simply couldn't have said anything important or helpful today if my deck had had its teeth pulled.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I have a dream!

Well, I had it this morning, just before waking up after sleeping in shockingly late.

I met Jesus. Not your iconic Jesus, blonde and with rippling muscles, and nor did he fill me with awe as a living manifestation of godhood (any more than any of us are, anyway).

No, he was an Arab, and a rather grubby one - I suppose showers weren't mandatory back then. As such he did, in fact, have a bit of an aura, but it was the kind of aura that, goodwill aside, you didn't really want to inhale. Surprisingly, he was clean-shaven and very young-looking - but these days, even forty-year-olds look like fresh-faced youngsters to me. There was a puffiness about him that made me think of kidney disease.

I felt sorry for him. There was a little dialogue but not much, and by now I don't recall it at all well, I just recall my impressions. He was totally lost in the modern world. No one understood him. There was no place for him. And no one was following his teachings to get back to being an authentically good Jew.

He faded away, and I awoke late with a slight headache, a sign of having had far too much sleep for a change.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Happy Miscellany

Today has been - er - an unusual day. To explain it properly, you will need a bit of backstory. Well, two bits.

I am a member of the Red Hat Society, a worldwide social group for older women who are done with being proper and respectable, and just want to embody Cyndi Lauper's song "Old Broads Just Wanna Have Fun" (or something like that), and Jenny Joseph's poem about when she grows old wearing purple with a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit her. When we go out, which I've been slack about these last few months, we are a sight to see: anywhere from twenty to fifty of us, all in purple, with red hats. We stand out, and we have an outrageously good time. That's bit number one.

Bit number two is that yesterday I received formal notification that a company that provides me with a regular service decided that a valid payment I made, cash-register-imprinted an' all, wasn't valid for some weird convoluted reason of their own. Having received no satisfactory response to emails or phone calls, yesterday I rang my local Member of Parliament, who sadly is currently embroiled in a scandal of his own dating from his pre-parliamentarian days, hoping that a phone call from his office might expedite matters.

So I awoke in a state of nervy hopefulness, and left the house way before I needed to, to meet my appointment. Along the way, knowing how ridiculously early I'd be, I chose to break my journey, and when I did so, my eye was immediately caught by a mob of older fellers all wearing the identical blue fleecy polo-neck and blue baseball cap. From a distance they looked as if they worked together, but for two things. They were a fairly large group of men, and they were all even older than I am, if you can imagine any such unlikely thing.

When I spotted them, I immediately thought "Red Hatters!" They were entering the door of a certain well-known morally and nutritionally bankrupt franchise which supplies hits of fat, sugar, starch, poor-quality protein and fat again, one of the prime movers of the underhand American Cultural Invasion. I'm not going to mention their name because I don't choose to give them publicity this side of the River Styx, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

So of course, being curious by nature, I tailed them in.

For once, the high school students from the school across the road - where my daughter was School Captain last year - were badly outnumbered, and not by random civilians but by these sartorially coordinated guys. Drawing nearer, I noticed the following logo on their fleecy polonecks and matching baseball caps (why, in a country where hardly anyone plays baseball, do so many people ape the wearing of baseball caps? Just another part of the American Cultural Invasion, I suspect),.

Immediately I felt right at home: the logo looked as if it could have slotted quite comfortably into the Tarot Major Arcana at card number thirteen. A skeleton with a top-hat leaning jauntily on a gravestone? I'll tell you, I'm not much for men, but these ones were My Kind Of Guys!

On the pretext of wanting fats and salts, I queued up with them, and waiting for the atrocious service provided by inadequately trained and overworked teenagers, I fell to chatting with one of them. He told me they were "just a social group" for older men who felt like "growing old disgracefully". How many times have I and my Red Hat companions explained our own mystical order in those same words? I felt right at home. I ordered some caffeine and a sample of the currently-promoted fat and salt wrapped up in gratuitous glutenous carbohydrates, and chose a table near the succession of tables that they were invading.

I wolfed the calories (that was just under eight and a half hours ago, and I haven't eaten since), and started on the caffeine. They offer two kinds: cheap and horrible, and slightly pricier and bearable. I had opted for the latter, so I was happy to linger. As I did so, I pulled out my copy of the Radiant RW Tarot deck, which is not my preferred reading deck but certainly invites strangers to walk up and talk to me, and started playing Tarot Solitaire, a game of my own devising. As I did this, I wasn't actually eavesdropping, but it was nice to hear a group of older men, talking and laughing, no bitterness or competition or dark masculine silences in the air, just having fun together.

One of them got up and went to check that the place had functioning plumbing. On his return, he had to pass my table, and asked if he could sit with me. He pronounced "Tarot" correctly, and asked me how I'd bent the rules of Patience (our word for Klondyke Solitaire) to fit in with the Tarot. So I explained it to him, and we chatted about his slightly fey daughter, who was forty now but had been shamed out of her gift by her peers at high school. Sadly, I think that happens a lot.

Another guy came over and joined us, and all three of us ended up chatting quite freely and openly about geological features and man-made features, about power-places and ley-lines, about sacred space and the divine, and about draughtsmanship and over-engineering backyard constructions! It was thoroughly delightful, and I ended up handing out a few business cards although they don't hail from around here, and I really hope one or two of them keep in touch.

They had touristy things to do, though, so they took their leave as the rest of the group prepared to leave, and I went on the next leg of my journey. I spoke to the politician's staffer, and she rang the company in question, and at last I was put on the phone to someone who actually had at least a semblence of power, and who promised to investigate my case without cutting off their services to me. It's amazing how a whiff of political power intimidates tin-pot bureaucrats!

I left, knowing it wasn't resolved yet and wouldn't be for a while, but that at least they were prepared to hear me out and allow me to present my documentary evidence. Much lighter-at-heart, I waited or a homeward-bound bus, and a vision of loveliness walked past me. Don't get me wrong - I don't usually ogle teenage girls, but she was something else. Or at least her legs were. She was wearing leggings (tights in Foreign, I believe) and an oversized tee-shirt, and I simply couldn't take my eyes off her legs. The tights were over-printed with the most sensational and realistic Hubble Space Telescope images of a colourful nebula on her right leg, and some stars and galaxies on the left.

I asked her where she got the leggings from, of course, and she seemed amused, pleased and quite accustomed to strangers dribbling all over her legs and asking that - she bought them online. She wrote down the website for me, but when I arrived here and fired up the net, the URL didn't function. Drats - foiled again! I would have loved to walk around with my legs wrapped up in the heavens.

So I went out in my backyard, and found the most peculiar bird on my washing line, along with a butcher-bird and a couple of native Mynah birds. I looked at it, and it looked at me. Then I started thinking of some shamanic work done for me recently, and I started having a suspicion. As soon as I was thinking along those lines it opened its beak and let out a burst of song, as if to allow me to identify its species. It was an albino Australian magpie! Its normally black-and-white body was all-white, its eyes and legs were albino-pink and its beak, normally a two-toned black-and-white, was a delicate two-toned pink. It could only be identified by song.

And it sang for me personally. I have no idea what happened to the time or to its escort - it was just the two of us. I was mesmerised. After a long time it paused, and I roused myself. In fifty years of bird-watching I'd never seen an albino magpie before, so I scurried in to grab my camera. When I emerged, the pink and white creature was gone, leaving only a delicate tracer of memory and a faint echo of its melodic warble in my ears.

Today has been a magical day.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I was having a conversation with a friend of mine earlier today, and we touched on the subject of generosity.

She felt she was generous because she gave to the Red Shield Appeal and gave all her second-hand stuff to St Vincents to be sold cheaply - helping someone who needed cheap goods and raising money to help others. She also felt she was generous because she tipped poorly-paid wage-earners such as the girl who served us our lunch today, and because she bought my lunch and was randomly prepared to do things like that for various people at different times.

My experience of her is that she is a generous person - she is generous to me and to others around me, I see her generosity. She also knows what I was doing in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I was much more affluent than I am today, and I felt a little bit - ambivalent - before I changed the subject after she said: "Perhaps one day you'll be earning enough again to be able to be generous".

And in a sense, she is right. My income is only just adequate to support me, and has no room for largess to others. But does that make me mean? Her comment took me aback, because I feel like a generous person, no matter what my material circumstances.

I give people my time. I give people my laughter. I'll give people a hand with anything I can do for them. I give people my considered opinion. I share whatever resources I have. I'm always happy to help a stranger out, remembering times when people have helped me out, and thinking that perhaps they will one day help someone else out. I don't count favours: those I ask for, or those I do for others. I'll help the old lady down the road, whom I know is in constant pain althugh she never, ever complains. I'll routinely let someone with only a few items line up in front of me at a supermarket checkout.

And most importantly of all, I smile. I smile all the time, to everyone. As I walk down the road (and I walk everywhere), I smile at everyone. The way I look at it, every morning that I wake up still breathing has got to be a good day. Why not smile? It brightens someone else's day, if only for a moment. And it gives your own spirits a lift.

If I had a large income again, I'd probably do what I used to do, which was to have around 12% of it automatically deducted and forwarded to the charity of my choice. These days there are two: in NSW I give all my spare change to the Guide Dog Association, and in Western Australia to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

But when I had the kind of income that allowed me to give $50 per payday to charity without even noticing it, I wasn't anywhere near as happy or as fulfilled as I am now, living on scraps. And I didn't see any happiness or joy coming from my acts of giving, so if I were able to give like that again I would. But I'd still keep on giving way at checkouts, helping the old lady down the road, doing favours for strangers, sharing my food, sharing my laughter, sharing my opinion, sharing my emotional support, and most of all, smiling.

Financial generosity helps with the mechanisms of life, but it is a strictly short-term help. Emotional generosity, generosity from the heart, doesn't pay the bills but it can touch someone and leave them changed potentially for a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's the Deaths I Remember

The topic of past lives is a vexed question. In some circles, you'll be regarded as a nutter if you acknowledge that it might be possible. In others, you're dismissed as unevolved if you don't constantly recount tales from your past lives, and claim memories from Egypt or Atlantis. Flat-Earthers and conspiracy theorists similarly jeer at the idea of lunar landings. I suppose that, ultimately, you can only know the truth of something if you have experienced it yourself. Ultimately, what I say is my own experience - I can't make it real for anyone else.

It's the deaths I remember, mostly. With the exception of one life, I remember only the deaths and the lead-up to them. Most of them, with one notable exception, were horrific.

One was in an American city, to judge by the clothes (and I am no expert) in the 1940s or 1950s. I was living in a dingy concrete block of flats, alone. I had some kind of job, and I walked to and from work. I lived upstairs, and there was a single narrow starwell between the bulk of the building and one of the outside walls which twisted and turned twice between each floor, with little landings where people could barely pass each other.

There was a girl in her twenties with curly black hair living there too, and I met her on the stair sometimes. She seemed to dislike me - I don't remember why. One day she pinned me against the wall and gouged at one of my eyes with an old-fashioned corkscrew. I tried to keep my face away, and in my struggles she gouged a chunk out of my left cheek. It was very painful and bloody. I can't remember how we separated on that occasion, but I do remember frantically looking for somewhere else to live the next day. That evening, I was coming home up the same stairwell, and she was coming home. She met me in the stairwell, and pointed some kind of a small handgun right at my face. I remember a very long moment looking right into the muzzle of the gun, knowing that this small, black hole would be the last thing I would ever see.

When in my early thirties I got introduced to the sister-in-law of my then-partner, she was the spitting image of the girl in the stairwell.

Another memory is also set in America, on the Mississippi on a paddle-boat. I was very young, perhaps a teenager, and wearing one of those old-fashioned dresses with lots of layers and wooden hoops in them to keep their shape. They were very difficult to move in. There was a party of some kind happening inside the riverboat, with a small band playing in the corner, and a table with lots of food, and small glasses of sticky wine. I was slightly drunk and very hot; I went on deck alone to get some air. The music seemed a long way away, and the air was nice and cold on my cheeks. I leaned against the rail, and watched the reflections of the lights from the cabin reflecting on the ripples as the water slipped away behind the boat.

Suddenly someone grabbed me with two hands around the waist, and made me overbalance over the rail and fall in the water. I was a Lady, and of course, had never learnt to swim. Even if I had, my dress filled with water quickly, and dragged me down. I kicked and struggled and tried to call out, but every time I did, I got a mouthful of water and no one inside could hear me anyway. As I sank, I could see a man, the one who had thrown me over, watching coldly as I struggled, his face slightly blurred by the sting of water in my eyes.

The surface got further away, with him still watching, and I couldn't hold onto my breath any longer. I drew a deep lungful of water. It burned all the way down and felt ironically very dry. It hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced, and I was still feeling that pain as I started to lose consciousness. The man in question was a generation older, perhaps in his early fifties, and I recognised him immediately with a shock of horror when I did a Reiki seminar in the 1980s. And although I can swim, I'm not keen on it, and absolutely hate to immerse my face in water.

There was one death that was completely different, peaceful and even lovely. I was again female, and very, very old, small and frail. I lived in a small village, I believe in a mainland European country - which, I don't know. I was being looked-after by my grandson, who was old enough to have grey hair himself. I wasn't in any pain, but I somehow knew I was dying and didn't have much time, and I prevailed upon him to take me into the forest, because if I died in the village they would have had a Christian funeral-rite performed over me, and I didn't want that.

Eventually he agreed, and we walked out of the tiny, smoke-filled cottage and out of the village. We passed a stone well, and suddenly we were in the forest, surrounded by deciduous trees wearing all of their leaves but all in Autumn colours. I got tired and started having pain, so he picked me up and carried me in his arms like a child. I was very tiny and he was quite solid - it wasn't so bad for him. Cradled in his arms, I looked around.

We were looking for a fallen tree, and we checked a few before I found the right one, one riddled and rotten with termites or something. He put me down gently, took up a stone, and started scraping away at the wood to create a hollow. It took a long time. When it was ready I lay down in the hollow and looked up at his face above me. He made eye contact and held it. Dying took a long time. We didn't speak, we just watched each other. I could feel myself slowly ebbing away, slipping further and further from life. He just watched. I reached a point where breathing was too much effort, so I stopped. He bent down, picked up a handful of fallen leaves, and scattered them gently over my body as a symbolic burial, then turned around, his face full of sadness, and walked out of my field of vision. As far as I know, he never looked back. I lost consciousness shortly afterwards, feeling happy and satisfied.

Yes, it's mostly the deaths I remember. I also have a fleeting recall of walking over a cobblestone road in London (don't ask me how I know it was London, I just knew), and sitting in a dark, dirty cafe somewhere, eating hot smoked eel.

And on an occasion when I was washing dishes, I recalled everything except the first seven years of the life of one of my blood-ancestors, giving the lie, incidentally, to a number of family fables concerning her. But that's a little bit personal for a blog, frankly, and it was only the once.

Generally, it's just the deaths I remember.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Becoming a Fan

I don't do being a fan. I don't go weak at the knees at celebrities. I don't follow a football team. My patriotism is predicated on my being a member of the human race, and a resident of planet earth. I don't even know how to read rank on military or police uniforms.

So I surprised myself, this past weekend. I became a fan.

I am currently sharing my house with someone who doesn't inconvenience me in any way. He does his stuff, I do mine. In between times, we watch Time Team and Minuscule together whenever our schedules allow, and have a meal at home together once a fortnight or so, with neither of us particularly expecting to be fed by the other, or expecting to have to do the cooking. Housework is very ad hoc - but no more so than when I lived alone.

So I was slightly taken aback when I was asked if I'd like to go to a dragon boat regatta as a spectator. What, me? I asked. Watch something you do for fun? Okay, I can do that. It involved a four o'clock start to my day, but I'm okay with odd hours, and I spent many years of my life routinely waking up early enough to be well away from home before dawn. So I thought I'd do it again just this once to watch dragon boats.

I'm not a sea person. I don't do water. Well - I do, I've been known to drink it with great pleasure, boil it to drink it with greater pleasure, get rained on without undue horror, and even take showers. But the sea?

For me, the sea is the place that fishermen pull a portion of my diet from - I like fish. It borders my country on all sides. When I had a large dog, until he got too old, our early morning walk would involve about a kilometre's walk down to the beach before dawn, an amble along the beach for a while, then a walk home, with a happy, relaxed, salty and slightly less smelly dog trotting happily by my side in the early morning light.

But normally I feel more like a wombat than a dolphin - I am a red earth person. The happiest times of my life were spent in a little bush town in Western Australia without so much as a supermarket, seventy kilometres inland as the crow flies, much more by car. I went months without seeing a ripple, so much as an ocean. My idea of a good view is an unimpeded horizon created by the distant curvature of the Earth, red earth, rocky outcrops, saltbush, bleached animal bones, dried-out river-beds, caves, even hilly ridges sometimes. What, water? Nah - perhaps a muddy trickle in the wetter years. And worse, getting onto it in something that doesn't even stay steady on the ground, like a boat? Never. Not happening.

So I stepped out of my usual self when invited, and took about a second and a half to relax and say yes. We were to leave before dawn the following Sunday. I set my alarm, fell out of bed when it rang, unglued my eyes under a hot shower and looked forward to the day with anticipation. A day out of my usual routine for that time of week - what could be better? I'd had a late night the previous evening - our meditation group met up, something which I very much treasure and try never to miss if I can help it - but hot water externally as a shower and internally as tea set me up to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on three and a half hours' sleep.

Before long we were on the road. The car radio stayed off, the GPS kept criticising the driving, and Paul Kelly's song "Love Never Comes On Time" got stuck in my head. I don't know - perhaps it's because it's one of the very few totally successful road-trip songs despite the multitudes that have been written over time.

Eventually we found our way there, and found our particular team amongst all of them setting up shelters and having their pre-regatta pep-talks. Then periods of talking, sitting around and consulting race-lists alternated with periods of wild activity - for the crews. Me, I had an easy day. I wandered around, chatted to people mostly on "our" teams but others as well, babysat a dog when all the members of her team happened to be off racing, and once when I was by myself, picked up litter and threw it away.

Being a current resident of the Central Coast and there because of a member of their team, I found myself feeling as if I was under some obligation to support their team. So whenever a dragonboat went past with its crew wearing blue tops and white caps, I cheered my lungs out. And they quite frequently won, or crossed the line in second place! I must be a good luck charm.

Cheering felt odd. I threw myself into it, thinking "I may as well", but I had the sensation that my cheering and team-worship was all very tongue-in-cheek. Did they know I was faking it? After one race in particular, I went back to the marshalling area and spoke to the team in general and my friend in particular, praising him to the skies and telling him it was obvious he was solely responsible for the victory. I think there might have been some suspicions then!

There came a time when I had had enough, but being dependent on others for transport I had to hang around. At last the award ceremony happened, and at the same time, the sky, which had until then been half-hearted about raining, let everything down. Our team collected six cups, including four firsts. As soon as we were decently able, we all bolted for the shelter of our cars.

Much of the team re-assembled at the Mooney-Mooney club for a meal, a drink and a speech or two, then we headed off home for real. We came home to a cold, dark house, as happy as larks. As I said before, I don't follow sports. I might do this again - it was enjoyable.