Monday, November 29, 2010

The Fortune Teller

“The Cure for Anything is Salt Water—Sweat, Tears or the Sea”

K. Blixen

I hung the painting of the ‘Fortune Teller’ in my new office. It fit perfectly above the mantel, and I was able to furnish both the studio and small office with furniture from home. I wouldn’t need a car here.

I brought my old oak desk and placed it opposite the paned window. It was a Larkin desk; a desk bought at a reduced price by Victorian ladies who bought Larkin Soap and saved their coupon wrappers. It fit in with the old- world feel of the room. The amber light of the stained glass lamp on the little table between the rocking chairs gave the room a soft glow, like a sanctuary. I couldn’t have been more pleased. I brought out my favorite green fountain pen, my leather journal, and the ink-stained blotter that Alistair had brought me from a trip to Italy.

The computer screen was the one anachronism here, a touch of the times, but a necessary one. I put it on another table next to the desk but facing the wall.

And then I just sat, feeling ‘nestled’ inside the quietness of the room. I looked up at the painting; it brought back so many memories…

I allowed myself to drift back to Sunday afternoons at my aunts: she and my uncle lived in a tiny Quonset house tucked away high on a hill with a view of the Connecticut River. Going there meant a good time for me. We often went for long walks, sometimes for picnics or ice-skating, sometimes just to walk their dog who I was allowed to lead on a leash. We would often explore the woods and abandoned summer cottages down by the railroad tracks alongside the river. I would collect rocks and leaves for science class, and sometimes find old magazines and fragments of antiques from the attics of the abandoned houses. Some Sundays we’d go in search of daguerreotypes, which we would buy for 50 cents from various part-time antique dealers who’d open their homes on week-ends for Sunday lookers. These daguerreotypes were tiny hard-covered books, which when opened, revealed photographs encased in gold veneer and velvet, taken roughly one-hundred years ago. There we would discover pictures of Civil War heroes and children too cumbersomely dressed to smile. When we got the photos back to my aunt’s house we’d pry open the backs and look for bits of old love letters, locks of hair, or newspaper clippings from that time.

Then it would be time to feed little Teddy, and I would watch as my aunt crushed up little oat-meal bars and carefully mixed them with the meaty dog food. She seemed to know what was best for her little dog. My uncle would then cook up a hearty, and usually too spicy meal, after which there would be a few sprinklings of good-humored criticism from my mother, who was not one to use onions, garlic, and anything more potent than a pinch of salt. That’s the way it was then….but by that time, we’d be full and I’d be tired, and taking a flash light we’d make our way through the darkness down the unpaved road to our car. The stars seemed so close and brilliant on those nights! As we rode home I would nestle my head against my mother’s soft beaver coat, and listen to Jack Benny and Rochester on the car radio.

Those Sundays were a patchwork; crisp November twigs snapping under my feet, cold cheeks and frozen mittens warming near the kerosene heater, glimpses of oil paintings examined through the haze of my uncle’s cigarette smoke.

I stood up from my reverie and walked to the window and looked out. A few people walked by, but I seemed invisible. I’d have to get a sign, put some ads in the local papers, and get some clients. I couldn’t afford to spend all my time day-dreaming, yet the thought of doing that just now drained me. I sat back down and closed my eyes…

There she was—my grandmother; Elizabeth. I can still see the moss-green sofa where she would sit, quiet and untouched. I wonder if her children made her happy; I wonder why she never went back to her art. I wonder what she thought when she looked at that last painting. Was she pleased with her fortune? Had she been selfish enough? Had she been giving enough? Had there ever been enough love to go around?

There was not enough of ‘something’ for my aunt—for as I got older, she succumbed to a series of illnesses after my grandmother’s death. It changed the pleasant Sundays, and changed me. After a severe bout of hepatitis my aunt became depressed and the Sunday visits became less frequent. She often cried on Sundays…especially on Sundays. It became too difficult to go there every Sunday, and my uncle simply said she was “indisposed.” He didn’t let us to talk to her about anything serious, or anything that could upset her; but it upset me deeply.

I wonder if she was shocked by the awareness of her limited reality—a menopausal woman with no children, no career—she didn’t even drive a car. What would be the consequences to her marriage if she should try to change? Did my grandmother ever try to talk to her about these things before she died? I’ll never know; I only know the mixed blessings and curses of the family karmic inheritance that has been handed down to me. An artistic nature is part of the gift, but so is a pre-disposition to anxiety—

A fly flew past my face and landed on my arm. That was distracting---but what was that? Another one flew by. I looked up again and could see a couple of nasty oversized flies flinging themselves, in desperation, against the windowpanes. What was this? No, it wasn’t a couple—there must be ten---no twenty flies there! Or more! What was the meaning of this? I must get a vacuum tonight and suck them up.

“Hah!” I laughed out loud. “Menopausal madness! That’s what I have.” I spoke it loudly, confirming my diagnosis--then stretched and paced the small room; thinking…..I can’t control this aging body, but I can resist it from stopping me from traveling, or keeping me from writing, or squashing my hopes for love…I will never let anything violate my personal destiny. Yes, I’m going to write that down in my journal. Not that it was brilliant, but I could never have enough reminders of courage.

I walked over to my desk and took out my journal. One thing I knew was that I wasn’t going to go crazy like my Aunt, and I would never settle for a controlling husband like she had. But I also needed to stop ruminating on the past and finish the book. Did I have the energy now? I decided to anchor myself to the chair for at least an hour and write.

I was sitting there looking at the flies swarming around the panes in the office window—noting in particular, the plight of the trapped fly caught in the screen and the near-by spider, when I saw a man’s face looking in at me—no, he wasn’t looking at me, he was staring beyond me. He didn’t move; his eyes were straining to see the face engraved on the fireplace mantle. I shot a glance at the closed eyes of the black Goddess on the mantle and then back at the stranger’s wide eyes. They were that pale shade of blue that was in-between extreme innocence and cold detachment.

Merlin, my short-haired, long-legged prince of a cat, brushed up against me, curling his tail provocatively around my leg. I reached down and held him to my chest like a protective shield. I didn’t move, in fact I froze. But then the man’s eyes caught mine; he had me pinned. He looked like the artist, Monet, with his straw broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his forehead, accentuating a trimmed white beard.

I tossed Merlin to the floor and opened the door: “Hello. I’m Isabelle…I’m new here.” I extended my hand. He tipped his hat, and put his large hand in mine.

“Didn’t mean to disturb you. I was admiring your fireplace.”

“Thanks." We turned to look at the goddess' noble face. "Yes, she’s why I rented this spot. It’s special to be here opposite the old library and that copper beach tree-- but she—well, she clinched the deal. I think of her as ‘Hestia’, Goddess of the Hearth.“

“Really? I thought she might be St. Bridget. Excuse me for not introducing myself, I’m Tomas.”

“Isabelle Cocroft. Ah…Tomas: that sounds Spanish, but you look—“

“Irish. Actually it’s an old Gaelic name.”

He certainly looked Irish with his ruddy complexion, and I could see that one of his eyes was milky, as if a film covered it. He was carrying a loose over-the-shoulder bag that contained a large leather notebook and some paperback books.

“So what will you be doing in this fine room, if you don’t mind me asking--?

“Astrological counseling.” I paused. “And some writing.”

“Really? Don’t exactly believe in it myself, but I find it fascinating with the myths and all. I’m a therapist myself; though somewhat retired.”

“Which gives you time to walk around the hill and explore?”

Oh, I live here--over here on Spring St. We’ll be neighbors now.”

“Well, come in--- can you visit for a moment?” I pointed to the two rockers that flanked each side of the fireplace.

“Can’t say I haven’t got the time, ‘cause I do.” When he smiled, I saw his yellow stained teeth, and could smell pipe smoke. I looked down, and saw that he was wearing pointed black cowboy boots. So much for Monet.

“Your goddess here...”Hestia” if I remember right, she was often paired with Hermes.”

“Really? I never heard of that pairing. I remember she was a virgin: a woman who was ‘one –unto- herself’ as they’d say.”

He grinned, and took a deep breath “Come in—sit down,” I said, pointing to the chairs. “And if you want to have a smoke, it’s OK…really, it’s Ok.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” He laughed without smiling this time, and with one swift movement brushed Merlin off the chair with a sweep of his hat. “Right…right,” he muttered while pulling the wicker rocker closer. Pulling out a well-used pipe, he lit up the half bowl of tobacco that was still there, and turned all his attention on me. “So this Hermes---did you know, he stood at the door keeping evil out while Hestia tended the fire in the temple…or office.”

“Office?” I laughed at his stretch of imagination. “No, never heard of that. No, in my world we call Hermes, ‘Mercury’, and he’s all about communicating. But he’s got a trickster side to him too.” I could feel a strong hot flash coming on.

“Trickster? Hermes? Well, she looks like she’s got a few secrets,” he added, pointing to the closed eyes of the goddess.

“I think she’s just more detached; she likes to focus inward. She was the guardian of the sacred fire.” I picked up Merlin again, and stroked him. “Hermes was a messenger, and I don’t remember ever hearing that he was a guardian at the door to keep out anything…even evil. I don’t exactly believe in evil.”

“Hmph.” Tomas took a long inhale and let the smoke out slowly with a quiet sigh.

“I mean, I’m not saying it’s not true, it’s just that I think of her as my muse, and—“

“—and you don’t need anyone or anything to protect you, eh?” He raised his eyebrows in question. “And perhaps you’re the messenger too—the one who answers the questions?” As he leaned over, I could see a small Celtic cross slip out from under his shirt.

I sank into my chair feeling my face flushing. Turning away I stared at the flies at the window again. The pipe smoke smelled sweet and wonderful and turned the late afternoon sunlight into a blue gray haze. Finally I came around again---“So what’s your sign?” I said with a smile that was as broad as the length of his pipe.

“April 7th” he said. “You tell me.”

The next morning at ten thirty Tomas arrived for his “reading.” When he sat down I noticed that he had a pipe in the pocket of his jacket, and so I offered to let him smoke, as I truly liked the smell of pipe smoke. He was surprised and pleased, and as he sank into his seat and lit his pipe, he seemed prepared to be amused if nothing else.

I was prepared for this reading, and was hoping that the initial reading might lead into a little short term therapy. I can never tell how a session will go though--sometimes it appears to be an easy read and then turns out to be much more complex than anticipated. I think of astrology as being the positive contemplation of change, and try to keep my readings in that tone. This reading might be a challenge for me, as Tomas’s forthright Aries Sun was squared by illusory Neptune, and I puzzled over how to tell him about his Cancer Moon conjunct to Pluto, with its challenging square to Saturn. One has to tread lightly on a person’s psyche and yet be bold enough to let them know that you ‘get it’ and that they can feel safe enough to open up in a dialogue. And clients often assume we see or know more than we do.

But astrologers only see the symbolic language of a life and we don’t know how it’s going to get played out in a person’s life. I always feel it never hurts to allow the client to project onto me what they need to—I won’t lie or pretend, but I encourage self-disclosure, as the sooner the particulars of a person’s life comes up, the sooner the release or healing happens. In a way, it’s like short-term therapy; or at least a beginning to therapy.

And so I began: “When a soul chooses to be born with an Aries Sun, they want to learn courage. And to learn courage one needs to take risks, to feel the fear and do it anyway. So we often see Aries volunteering to be first, and thriving on new beginnings, but we’re all quite paradoxical… and for you, these courageous new beginnings are probably more stressful than most…” I looked over at him for confirmation, but he wore a poker face. “The stress arises more from your private emotional nature, that changing Cancer Moon, which is much more introverted and moody in nature to Aries, and being next to Pluto, the invisible god of the Underworld, it’s suggesting that you’re more comfortable not being exposed. You’re more likely to be the one nurturing the other person while keeping the focus off yourself.”

That comment cracked the poker face just enough to open the eyes a little wider. “But I’m here, aren’t I? Being exposed?”

“Yes, you’re being brave, acting on your Aries Sun now, and that Scorpio rising makes you very curious, a little intense, maybe secretive. But we need to go deeper.”

His boot started twitching a little, as he took a deep inhale. The pungent sweet smoke filled the room. “Go on, you’re doing good. I can take it.” We both laughed.

“Well, like me, you’ve got a family karmic inheritance to deal with, and I’d say it’s probably more intense on the maternal side of your family too. Although with your Sun in the 4rd house that represents your family of origin in hard aspect to Neptune…well….was your father an alcoholic or not there for you?” That was a leap, but I wanted to try.

“You got it; he was both.” He seemed pleased with my success.

My eyes swept around the chart again. “You’ve got some things here—this Cancer Moon conjunct Pluto— that suggests your childhood was rather difficult, and that your mother could have had a powerful if not manipulative effect on you. Perhaps that relationship was---“

“Yeah, yeah, that’s why I became a therapist, you know, to figure that all out. And my childhood was mixed, but with my blind eye the other kids saw me as being different and that didn’t help. She tried to help or intervene for me. I was painfully shy as a kid, and my mother was always breaking up fights between me and the other kids.”

“Perhaps she took center stage for a long time--even up to your Saturn Return at age twenty-eight? Did things change then? They usually do…”

“Yes, I had been studying for the priesthood—another idea of my mother’s actually, and it was around that time that I became disillusioned with the church—just before I was ordained. It was a shock to her--- she never understood. I took a little time off, and then did some things and then went on towards getting my psychology degrees. It was a rough road for an Irish Catholic kid.”

“I bet it was.” There were some real issues around illusion and disillusion in that Sun/Neptune aspect, and possible abuse as well, as the 8th house was full of planets as well. I also guessed that he had been married at some point and acquired some hidden Plutonian money as well. Cancers like the idea of family and being financially secure. “But you didn’t go for the analyst degree right away did you?”

“No I didn’t. I was married for awhile and worked as a social worker with kids—the really gritty kind of social work with abused boys. My wife inherited some money, so we didn’t have to depend on my money.”

Yes, this Moon/Pluto aspect would give you an understanding of the underworld that those boys lived in….and yet that opposition to Saturn reflects how you turned your personal hell into a “structure and a way” of helping others…well done! But your wife…..did you leave her? I see a lot of change in your chart around the age of forty-one, at your Uranus opposition.”

“No, she left me. I was exhausted from trying to care for those kids, but then I miss it sometimes still….being able to make that much of a difference in someone’s life.”

What a good man, I thought; what a decent person he seemed to be, and yet with all that Cancer in his chart he probably had acted out the ‘puer’ quite a bit too. Maybe I’d check in on that thought: “So did you ever feel that part of you was like Peter Pan and never wanted to grow up?”

“Oh yes. The boys loved the Peter Pan in me, but my wife hated how I resisted responsibility.” Just then the desk phone rang, and the answering machine came on…

“Hello, you’ve reached Priorities Astrological Counseling. I’m either with a client or out of the office so please leave your number and a message and I’ll call you back.” The caller hung up. It felt a little embarrassing. “Let’s go on…sorry.”

I picked up Tomas’s current transit charts for the year and the coming year ahead and looked at what I had circled. “The transit charts here give a kind of ‘weather-forecast’ of the year ahead---I don’t like to think of it as prediction, but more a general mood of the time….and you’ve got a couple of well—life changing aspects here.”

“I should hope I have a few. Wouldn’t want to bore you!”

“Well, you’ve made it past your second Saturn Return as you turned fifty-nine last year. That can sometimes be a hard passage because it’s about coming into your own as an elder. Everyone goes through these Saturn Returns…one at around 28 to 30 and the second one around age 59. Actually, the second time isn’t usually as hard as the first Saturn Return.” I smiled knowingly while trying to think of words to describe a transit I thought was much more difficult.

“This year your progressed Venus conjuncts Pluto and the Moon, and with your transiting Uranus squaring your natal Uranus, it feels to me like something is stirring uneasily in you….a little revolution beginning to happen.”

“I certainly have felt rebellious in a way that I haven’t felt for years. And also open to being in relationship again. That’s new.”

“Well, since you’re a therapist, let’s talk a little about how Venus-Pluto relationships can be like. It feels like you’re being drawn again into the underworld to explore something within yourself that wants to come up and be made conscious.” He didn’t say anything, so I went on: “Venus-Pluto relationships arise from unconscious complexes and become compulsive. They move into the realm of the taboo…lover’s triangles, incestuous feelings, dangerous love affairs. The stuff of novels.”

Tomas let out a big sigh and put down his pipe. “And when is that happening?”

“Well, it’s happening now and for most of next year. Do you know what I’m talking about? Can you feel this at all?”

“No, not really.” It was awkward. Then the phone rang again, and this time I didn’t answer, but turned it off instead.

“We could finish this up later, and you could take your call. Maybe it’s important. I could come back on Friday. And I could pay you then…or now. It’s up to you.”

I thought it would be nice to see him again, since I knew no one yet. “Well, we’re far from finished, but yes, that would be fine, especially if it works for you. I don’t usually do two-part readings, but why not? It will give you time to think about it.” And it would give me more time to try to find words for some of the more challenging aspects on his chart.

And so he left, and I anchored myself to the chair like I said I would and brought out my journal. The telephone call was forgotten, as his presence seemed to overpower my thinking, and my willpower pulled me back to my work. (c) elizabeth spring

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