I have a hard time going into the water. Something that has confused my parents who had both been lifeguards and swim instructors in their youth. Despite their greatest attempts, I failed to ever learn how to swim. I took my aquatic hesitance as a symbol of resistance, understanding myself as a rebel to the world and to my family. I was my own person and that alone would dictate my underwater adventures, not a learned ability established by my guardians for my guardians.
I now, as I’ve aged, have passed the fault on to astrology. I’m a fire sign: naturally illuminating, easily shifted, and eternally at conflict with water. The one time in my life I got close to completing suicide, it was my plan to jump from a cruise ship dock, extinguishing my light forever.
A few weeks ago, I began a journey to understand my role in this life. What was my purpose, and for that matter, what was purpose overall? I was a woman in search of answers and I found the office of Judith Wozinski: an older bejeweled mystic whose hovel was filled with charms and gems from around the world.
The office was small and covered wall to wall with curios. There were petosky stones on a chest in the corner with other shells and various fossils. Skeletons of animals sat on shelves. Jars of embalmed fetuses and a taxidermied owl in flight overlooked the area as books were strewn on almost all surfaces. A calculus book laid open, weighted down by a large pair of glasses. I must have interrupted some very intense reading.
A statue of Shiva caught my eye, hanging in the corner. Her feet were dancing in mid-air above a quad-colored dream catcher. The bronze wasn’t exactly feng-shui against the black, yellow, red, and white web, but it fit into the full image of the room. Though she touted herself as a psychic, her space held more of a philosophers’ feel.
I moved through the small shop, checking out all the intriguing items, and was hit by a slight odor. It was a musky and sharp scent, but natural and somehow calming; the likely culprit being a colorful, bright terrarium in the corner. Upon closer inspection, the tank housed a pair of spotted leopard frogs who had found solace on a warming branch under the heating lamp. Below them was a hand-made forest landscape with fallen branches, moss covered stones, dewed leaves, and a puddle of water mimicking a small pond. In the water swam seven tiny tadpoles in various stages of growth. Some had sprouted back legs, but still used their tail. Others had grown front legs and were learning how to get along on land. They were enjoying life down in the stinky tank. Enjoying the feel of the sun on their faces, despite it being a snowy winter’s eve in December.
“Come sit” sang Judith as she appeared from behind some curtains. She pours me a cup of tea and waifs the steam as it mists her face.
“I like your office,” I say, taking her in. “ You have very interesting things.”
“Oh thank you dear. I like to keep life about me. It helps me remember.” Judith points to the frogs.
“I see you have met the darlings”
“Oh… yes,” I say, taking a seat. “That’s a nice set up you’ve got.”
“They are my muses,” Judith gushes.
Internally I groan a bit. Muses? Was she serious? I take a deep breath and Judith notices.
“You judge me?” She questions, looking disappointed. She had obviously thought more of me.
“I’m sorry?” Trying to feign misunderstanding.
“Don’t think I didn’t catch your shifting in the chair, dear, the flair of your knees. That moment of hesitation. You judged me and this reading will only go so far unless you own it.”
I was stunned.
“I… well, umm… “
“Oh, take your time, sweet. This is a heavy load I’ve dropped upon you and you have every right to take a moment to digest it.”
So, I do. I take a moment and a deep breath. I felt suddenly flushed. Judith had left me rattled; feeling both ashamed and yet somehow comforted. And curious. What had I missed? She was right, I had judged her. I let four little words tell me her story.
“You’re right. I judged you, I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” says Judith graciously. “Let me offer you a piece of advice for moments like these in the future. When next you feel faced with an unknown, take a moment and before you judge, try curiosity.”
The idea struck me and so I formed a question.
“Okay, so… hmm. What do you mean the frogs are your muses?”
“Good question, darling. Would you join me at the tank?”
I took the last sip of tea and made my way across the room. Judith was standing there seeing deep into the habitat. She was filled with an illuminating beam. She seemed to be emitting sunshine. I noticed the two adult frogs had chosen a closer branch to bask in her glow.
“Look at them, so happy. Enjoying life down in their little pond. Such an easy thing to make, a home. But a life. It takes a lot of energy.
“Of course, your electric bill,” I respond, thinking too small.
“Oh that too dear, I suppose,” Judith says with a chuckled grin. No doubt chiding me for being young and naive.
“What we have here is a terrarium, a small bit of Earth habitating outside of nature. A perfectly preserved environment that is surviving, if not thriving.”
Judith playfully battered the glass, stirring the tadpoles listening to her story.
“I don’t create the environment that lives here. I just provide the tools and turn on a light. Sure, there’s some occasional upkeep, but overall everything here works together as it should. A community, and within it, a family.”
She taps the glass again noting the tadpoles had gotten bored and gone back to their tadpole games.
“So, they are you muses because..?”
“They remind me how life is meant to be. Living by just being.”
I took a minute with that, and another deep breath. It seemed I would be getting much more from this reading than anticipated. Judith walked back to her table. Though I had many more questions, it seemed she was ready to give a different set of answers.
“Good, let’s begin.”
Judith Wozinski unwrapped from a cloth a brown scuffled deck of elongated cards. She held the pile out towards me.
“Shuffle please, three times, in any way that you know how.”
Growing up playing cards at camp, I had become a good shuffler, and Judith marveled at my ease.
“Now, hand them back to me please.”
She laid out the cards in three neatly stacked piles.
“Choose one, please.”
I pointed to the middle deck and she removed them, combining the outside piles and placing them back into their wrapping. From the remaining deck, she proceeded to lay out ten cards in a peculiar pattern.
“Interesting,” Judith hums.
She looks at me, studies my face, and then goes back to the cards. They are all face down, so I’m not understanding what she sees.
“All of your cards are inverted, dear. All except one.” I can’t quite tell if she thinks that’s a good thing or not.
She flips the first card: The Emperor.
“Hmm… You’re a powerful woman. You’ve achieved a lot in your short life. You’ve done much to climb the tower, but you’ve noticed the Tower is falling, and that’s why this card is inverted.”
She flips the next card: The Chariot.
“Ha! Spirited, I like that. You’ve come all this way on brute strength and will alone, tools that will never leave your shed. However, this card is inverted too, which seems to represent a new understanding that there’s more to life than just pushing through it.”
She flips the next card directly on top of the last: The Queen of Pentacles.
“Ah,yes. The Queen mother herself to confirm it. You’re learning to nurture life: your own, your community, and your environment. She’s trumping your chariot and asking you to slow down. Don’t just be on the ride, enjoy it. She’s inverted because you still have work to do, but reminding you that you have all that you need to succeed.”
Judith’s words caught me off guard. ‘You have all that you need to succeed.’ A phrase my mother used to say. To hear it from Judith’s mouth sent a shiver up my spine.
“Take a sip of tea, dear. We aren’t quite finished yet.”
As I did, she flipped the next card: The Nine of Cups.
“A battle indeed,” said Judith looking at me over her bifocals. I had lost the moment when she retrieved them, and was noticing their presence for the first time.
“You are a warrior, I see now. The wars you have won. These cups are deceiving. They look as though they can be filled, but they are trophies. Eternally empty. In time, you will turn away from them and look toward the infinite potential of the sea.”
I shuttered. I could almost feel the seabreeze on my face, the mist, but it was only Judith pouring more tea.
Another card: Page of Pentacles.
“You’re at a fork in your life. You can see, though, that there are not two, but three paths: the two in front and one behind. The one behind is the only option with a map. You’re ready to risk it all, putting your chances up to luck. Not normal luck though, the kind you make for yourself. This card is inverted to say that you’ve already set forth the transition.”
“The moon comes next,” she flips another card.
“She represents the opposite to all things. You have a talent for seeing two sides. Harnessing this power will always produce greatness, but as is the nature of all things, that greatness could be good or evil.”
“So know the power that I hold and use it wisely?” I interrupt.
“Wisely indeed,” Judith whispers.
She flipped the next card and chuckled: The Hermit.
“The time of the hermit is over my dear. For far too long you’ve been holding back, holding in. This card is inverted because you’ve already started to open yourself to new thoughts, and ideas. Keep going.”
“Hmm, the page of swords can mean the surfacing of new ideas, curiosity, intelligence. However, turned upside down like this, it comes as a warning. Your ideas have energy and your words have meaning. Make sure that you are following through.”
Judith paused, looking at me with concern as though I had suddenly turned green.
“How are you doing, dear heart?”
“I’m doing fine; this is actually really interesting. I feel… Well, I don’t quite know, but it’s not bad. Please continue.”
There were two cards left to be revealed. The first: The four of pentacles.
“Lots of stars in your sky tonight dolly, you’re calling a five-pointed light. Though this is another warning about not allowing it to shine. The inversion of this card tells me you aren’t jumping all the way in. It’s a hesitance that disturbs all these other cards.”
The final card laid beneath Judith’s fingertips. It had been the only card upright and the last to be exposed: The World.
As Judith flipped it, I noticed the tears growing in her eyes. She gazed lovingly at the brown scuffled omen. The card was a picture of a woman bathing in a blue abyss. It was an odd color of blue in that you couldn’t tell if she was immersed in the sea or the sky.
“This means everything dear. You will succeed, you must.”
And Judith Wozinski left it at that.
Judith lit a cigarette before beginning to clean up. She huffed on it as she carted the teacups back to the kitchen. She thought that the reading had gone well, another happy customer. The young girl hadn’t had enough to cover the full fee of her hour, but Judith didn’t mind. It had been delightful to read for the girl. Judith had in fact felt energized by it. She sat down in the client’s chair to finish her Virginia Slim and immediately noticed how hot the seat was.
Judith was collecting the cards when she noticed a bird in one of the illustrations. She didn’t remember ever seeing birds on this deck before, the pictures were generally devoid of animals all together.
She picked up another, the Queen of Pentacles. What looked like a hawk was located high on a branch behind the royal woman. It was positioned in such a way that the creature looked almost as though he were perched on the queen’s shoulder.
Judith scanned each card from the reading and found that somewhere in the illustration was a bird of some sort. She grabbed the remainder of the deck and shuffled through. Just as she had remembered, no other pictures had any trace of animals whatsoever.
A single card fell from the middle of the pile and Judith recognized it immediately. A shadowed figure in a hooded robe with a tall walking stick held in his skeleton hand: death, a foreboding sign of great transition. She held the omen close trying to stay calm.
Death certainly meant a storm was brewing, but it wasn’t inherently bad. All things had the ability to be two in one, but Judith had a sour feeling. With a final glance, she noticed for the first time that the rib cage of the cloaked figure was actually the skeleton of a large bird.
Judith suddenly went into a trance. She could hear herself breathing, thinking, knowing, speaking.
“The child of the center comes, the one who can see light in the dark. Wanderer of the woods. The one who speaks to owls, guided by the hawk. The middle path is all this child knows, and it will show her the meaning of suffering. The infinite confined.”
Judith coughed and sputtered, her cigarette lost to the floor. She couldn’t remember what she had said, but she knew she had spoken something important. She quickly covered her tarot deck, putting them away, wondering after the young woman who had just left her shop.