When I was a kid, my mother read Tarot for friends and relatives. She used a regular deck of cards with their mystical significances marked on the backs of her own Gregg shorthand. My mother claimed she was “born with a veil,” a disgusting birth membrane that, according to folk magic, granted second sight. I believed her, of course – even today, my gullibility is legendary in our family, and anyway, most children believe their parents, don’t they? It made an interesting contrast for me, being in a Catholic school where fortunetellers were a no-no.

She read mine a lot, just to keep in practice. Usually, she would shower me with good tidings and promises of rosy tomorrows, but occasionally, she looked at the cards and gasped and refused to tell me what they said. It was wildly disconcerting. I spent a lot of my childhood worrying what terror awaited me, what disfiguring disease, what disastrous accident would make my life the living hell she foresaw. I was a teenager then and she died before I could confront her as an adult. I spent a lot of time thereafter trying to get another seer to tell me she was wrong, that I was not about to get hit by a cosmic truck.

Fast forward to the late sixties — and this is relevant — my husband of eleven years and I have taken up skiing, which is to say we have purchased ski clothes and rented equipment – skis, boots, and poles. Joe’s secretary and her husband have volunteered to teach us to ski. She says her husband is an expert skier. They live in an ancient farmhouse on the road to Brodie Mountain Ski Center, where we plan to ski the next day and we are staying with them overnight so we can get an early start in the morning. Their names are Ron and Marcia and they live with Ron’s mother, Mrs. W., who is a medium. This is a surprise to me. This evening, she invites Joe and me to “sit in the circle,” which she conducts every Friday night and it is Friday night. I’m game; Joe is not, he prefers to sit upstairs with a bottle of scotch while the rest of us contact the spirits. I’m a little put out at Joe, dumping me here with a bunch of strangers for God knows what. I am also attracted to the idea of a séance and I am still searching for the good news, which will free me from my mother’s black predictions, whatever they were. So, I join the circle, which has already formed in the downstairs parlor.

A ring of about thirty chairs runs around the room – they are almost filled. Ron finds places for the three of us, together. At one end sits the medium, on a folding chair, on a small Oriental rug upon which also rests a crystal bowl of water and a regulation brass trumpet. All the windows and doors have been covered with black oilcloth to keep out any light.

The medium lights a candle and turns off the other lights. She explains that the water and the trumpet will amplify the spirit sounds so we can hear them. OK. We are asked to join hands while she prays, aloud, asking the spirits to join us. I am not so crazy about this. I think my mother was nuts and now I cling to whatever skepticism I can muster. We sing “Let Us Gather By The River” and “Rock of Ages.” There are quite a few men in the group and it sounds fine. We sing at least 500 verses of the River and then switch to Rock of Ages. I didn’t expect this to be so Christian!

Things start to get interesting when Mrs. W. announces the arrival of our spirit guide, a French-Canadian Indian, curiously named Mr. O’Neil. Mr. O’Neil is the “doorkeeper” and apparently buttonholes passing spirits to come through “the door” and keeps undesirables out. I don’t let myself think about what that can mean. Mr. O’Neil sounds exhausted and says the doorway is very narrow tonight – he had trouble getting through. I smile to myself and listen for the twang of a microphone or static – anything. A panting female voice – really panting – she sounds like she has just climbed up through a manhole — starts to speak about how hard she is working; someone in the circle says she deserves it, “having stolen the old man’s money.” The voice agrees. It doesn’t sound like my vision of Hell but it doesn’t sound good.

The next voice claims to be somebody’s mother and describes her experience as being in a golden chalice, full of love. It’s hard to picture but it sounds delightful. She tells someone in the circle she has been watching them and has left an odor of flowers to let them know she was there. They say yes, of course, they had smelled the flowers. A young, angry voice says he is a recent Viet Nam casualty. He says he is 19 years old. Other strange voices chime in that they are trying to end the (Viet Nam) war.

A baby cries. The medium asks if anyone has lost a baby. My husband and I lost our first baby ten years earlier and I can feel the hair on the back of my neck starting to rise. I very softly say, “I have,” but there is no further comment and I don’t know what to do, so I just sit there, swallowing, wondering. It takes me a second to regain my skepticism. I make a mental note to ask Mrs. W. about this later.

A hush; a voice announces itself as the Archangel Michael. What is he doing here; I think, why isn’t he out smiting something? I am so busy doubting I don’t hear what he says and he is gone in a flash. Ah, well. Mr. O’Neil says the door is closing and he has to go. We sing Rock of Ages again and someone turns on the lights and it is over.

There are coffee and cookies in the kitchen. People swarm around Mrs. W. with questions until she pleads exhaustion and then they start leaving.

I head upstairs to join my chicken husband, who is nice and sleepy from half a bottle of scotch. I pour a healthy glass for myself and we get into bed. “Whaddya think?” he asks. I say I don’t know and I don’t. He says he heard things moving around downstairs. It wasn’t me, I say.

We repeated this exercise throughout the ski season. Once, we sat for an hour, in the dark, holding hands and singing hymns and “nobody” came, so Mrs. W. declared it no séance. As I said it was an experience. I am a quasi-believer. The medium got nothing material out of the gatherings and she paid for the refreshments herself. She told me if she profited from the circles, she would lose the gift. I was willing at the time to buy that and I don’t really care, now.

Now, I have my own various methods for keeping on the good side of the spirit world. I have a psychic, who is probably a mind reader but that’s OK with me – I need someone to tell me what I’m up to and she does. The first time I saw her, she told me my totem was a flying horse and I was suitably impressed with my own power until I remembered stopping for gas at the Mobil station on my way to her house.

I check with three horoscopes before I get dressed in the morning, one in print, two online. And, of course, like everybody else in the country, I check my Free Will Horoscope on-line every Thursday. Because I’m a regular at the on-line astro-sites, I now have my own personal astrologer, Bethea. She sends me invitations to buy magical objects every so often and as often as not, I do. I have prayer beads, amulets, a Zodiac necklace, a Chinese money necklace and ten jeweled magical animals: a dragon, griffin, salamander, tortoise, dog, owl, phoenix, unicorn, money frog and elephant. I have runes and energy charts and a “good voodoo” doll that my son brought me from New Orleans. And yes, I have Tarot cards.

Rarely do I use any of these things. Occasionally, I pull a card for fun but have never had any bad news so I assume they are built to not give any. It feels so full circle to me, pulling a card and reading the meaning of each card in the book that came with the deck. Believe me when I say I respect this stuff but don’t take it as seriously as you might think. I keep everything in a basket on the bookcase in my bedroom, with the lovely little animals prancing across the top shelf. They make me happy, that’s all. And my mother would have loved them.