by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2022
I apologize for the delay in posting. Today I received my first cortisone shot in my right knee. It was a bit of an ordeal. Thank you for your patience.
FINAGLING THE FUTURE
I was raised Roman Catholic. When it came time for my Confirmation, I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Confirmation meant making a commitment to act as an adult according to the Church’s dogma and practices. I told my mother I did not believe what the Roman Catholic Church taught, mainly because I couldn’t reconcile the contradictions between this God of love and mercy I kept hearing about and the really scary people who served him. In my parish, we had several fire and brimstone Irish Catholic priests, the kind with silvery hair and brick red faces who never smiled. We had nuns, too, the old-fashioned kind in the proper habits with veils and their skirts worn below the knee. For some reason I never understood, those nuns were replaced by an order of nuns who wore what looked like ’50s twin sets in beige polyester with skirts to match and no head covering at all. One of these “modern nuns” taught my afterschool class (Sunday school on a weekday afternoon). She was more like a social worker than an actual nun. (She talked like a lawyer, which makes sense given how legalistic the Roman Catholic Church tends to be.) This drove me even farther away from the Church. I needed to find a source of spiritual growth that didn’t send so many mixed signals.
Mom let me off the hook for Confirmation, but she didn’t give me any ideas about filling the sudden void in my spiritual life. Chaucer said an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. He must must have known a few teenagers. I had an active mind, a strong curiosity, and a love of reading, so I started looking into subjects much better left alone. Back then I liked to watch horror movies, classics featuring Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. I wanted to know where the filmmakers got their ideas for the monsters, sorcery, and strange occult organizations. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Lucky for me, my Holy Guardian Angel kept a lifeline attached to my silly soul and hauled me out of danger more than once.
I mention all this to give you a context for what I was like when I plunged into the world of divination, or fortunetelling. A lot of those scary movies I’d been watching featured curses, omens, and ancient artifacts, even items that could help foretell the future. So I rushed right out and bought myself a Tarot deck. Even in this new hobby I was very much a traditionalist, because I bought the deck created by Arthur Edward Waite along with his book on interpretation. Waite was a member of at least one of the occult organizations very prominent at the turn of the century when spiritualism was all the rage among the intelligentsia. The enormous popularity of séances, table-tapping, and Ouija boards, prompted professional illusionists such as the great Houdini to debunk the frauds. I’ve met a lot of people who have really wanted to believe they were psychic. A lot of them just wanted their dreams to be real. The problem with that kind of thinking is, you can’t just have the good dreams be real. The nightmares are part of the deal too.
When I was in high school I worked in community theater as a stage or lighting technician. That meant I got to hang around backstage, be part of the magic of a live performance, and go to the cast parties. The show onstage was nothing compared to what I’d see at the cast party afterward. At one of these parties I brought along my Tarot deck and set myself up in a corner. This was not a smart idea. Trying to peer into the mysteries of the Infinite for people who are drunk and/or wasted on recreational drugs does not end well. Divination should not be treated like a party game, like one more neat thing to do after you have your face painted. But there I was, sixteen years old and so sure I knew what I was doing.
A few people came to have readings done. The only one I remember clearly is the one I hope I never forget. An older woman wanted to ask the cards a question about a problem involving her daughter. I don’t recall the problem. I worked my way through the cards I’d dealt, watching the woman for her reactions. Fool that I was, I let my eagerness to please color what I saw in the cards and how I expressed it. The woman went away quite pleased, with a smile that seemed a little too broad. I was bright enough to spot that, but totally blind to what caused it.
A man who’d been sitting nearby watching me do readings asked me if I understood what I’d just done. By his tone I could tell he thought I didn’t know. He pointed out to me the way the older woman asked the question indicated she’d already decided what her daughter should do. I worked so hard for her approval that I totally missed the trap. I’d given that woman the answer she wanted. Now she’d go to her daughter and tell her daughter what she should do. If the daughter had other ideas, the older woman could back up her own opinion with the authority of my Tarot reading. I had given the older woman power she perhaps should not have gained. By doing so I might have set in motion events that would lead to a place that the daughter did not want to go, creating friction and hidden resentments and who knows what other emotional and spiritual damage. The man who explained all this to me wanted me to understand that I had no clue how much responsibility went along with presenting myself as any kind of fortuneteller. He was right. Even now, forty years later, I still feel ashamed for being so arrogant and ignorant.