5 -1/4”w x 8”h x 3 -3/16” -
plastic, porcelain, murcury glass, archival board, steel wire, copper wire, wood, acrylic paint, glass
My sister Tracey and I were cruising down a dark, rural road. Tracey was driving. I had been in bad way after some major life disasters and she thought going to a psychic would be a fun diversion for a Halloween night. All I could see was blackness outside the car window. Occasionally, a pool of light illuminated a front doorway, renting the dark comfort I had wrapped myself in.
Angela was going to read our cards. She was the mother of a woman my sister worked with. Tracey had set it up and I was going along, because when you begin to believe that there is no future, you become desperate to prove that belief isn’t true. We pulled into the driveway of a low-roofed house. It was an unremarkable ranch. Behind it, a zeppelin-shaped trailer glowed in a silvery porch light. The metallic light and the odd trailer gave the unassuming house and eerie aspect. I had a feeling that I was leaving the familiar world behind. Inside, Angela sat at a long kitchen table. She looked remarkably like Zelda Rubinstein in the movie Poltergeist. Her hair was dyed a bright red. Her hands were covered in jewels. Why do psychics and fortune tellers adorn themselves so copiously? Is it to distract the seeker from their legerdemain, or is it a holdover from a nomadic people who put their wealth into portable assets? Angela’s ornamentation seemed to me less an attempt at gypsy costume and more a hopeful suggestion of wealth. Still, the diamond lights from her fingers danced around her as she moved her hands in rhythm to her talking, adding a sparkling aura that surrounded her; the star in the room.
As we took our places around the kitchen table, I noticed darkened doorways to other rooms offering vague possibilities. Angela reigned under the circle of light radiating from the lamp overhead. Before her was a deck of cards printed with “Gypsy Witch” in Halloween black and orange. Angela explained her process: she would lay out the cards and interpret their meaning. Occasionally a word, phrase, or name would cross her mind and she would shout it out. “They mean nothing to me, but they might mean something to you,” she instructed.
The reading began. In an ever expanding fan shape, she placed out the cards. They were ostensibly a normal deck with the standard trumps. What made them curious was the addition of illustrations of objects limned in an antique engraving style, complete with mock hand coloring. The images told their story: a house, a hearth, a dog - symbols of domesticity; an anchor, a key - symbols of luck. Mountains covered in clouds, “you will have problems,” she intoned absently. Her voice was a sing-song chant of information about the present and the future. Punctuating the placing of the cards, Angela blurted out names: “Agnes, Laura, Skip; do these mean anything to you?” “I don’t know where they come from; I just tell you what I hear.” Then suddenly, “Who’s Busty!?” shot through the thickening atmosphere. The incongruity of the question broke the heaviness of the moment and my sister and I tried to suppress our chuckling. “I just tell you what comes, I don’t know what they mean” she reminded us again, her face began jiggling with laughter. This gave us permission and we all gave in to the levity. We didn’t know anyone named Busty.
My attention had been on the curious cards and the baroque hands of Angela. Gradually, I became aware of the other kitchen chairs quietly becoming occupied. One by one, women, frail and cadaverous, unsteady in their shuffling, materialized out of the shadowed doorways. They drifted to the table, grasping the backs of the chairs with skeletal hands and joined the reading. It seemed that Angela rented rooms to the elderly in the final stage of their lives. These were her tenants, and the reading was as good an evening’s entertainment as any.
I don’t remember if that Halloween reading held any truths for me, or if the future it predicted actually happened. What I remember is the theatrical character of Angela, her good natured humor about her “gift,” and the near ghosts manifesting throughout the room.
There are many methods that have been devised in our attempts to divine the future. Angela used cards (cartomacy), while Mystic depicts catoptromancy - the use of a mirror. Mirror scrying is akin to crystal gazing, or the use of any reflective surface to obtain images that are usually interpreted as portents of the future. It is up to the seer to make sense of the images that manifest. The seer is the mystic who is supposed to possess the sensitivity to access beyond the present and gain impressions or knowledge of other timelines. The mirror may only be a point of concentration to open an intuitive connection. It may not be magical in itself.
I would see Angela twice more, not because she had been particularly accurate, or because she offered amazing insight. Instead I felt a comfort, as if someone were attending to my particular problems. Angela was the conduit of hope for my lost sense of purpose. Somehow through the cards, her words, and the theater of those evenings, she made my journey to the future possible. Eventually, my interest in the cards led me to learn how to read them myself. They would become a path away from the blackness I had wrapped myself in.
Mystic was part of the exhibition, “A Time in Arcadia” at Curious Matter, May 19 - June 23, 2013