In my third article on trees in Venice, I highlight the Red Flowering Gum. I was particularly excited about being to photograph this vibrant tree at the height of its blooming this year. Here is a link to the article:
Recently, I found out that one of the original, Bodhi Tree Readers died. Her name is Linda Hart Michaels. She died of emphysema on February 27, 2014. According to her friend, Anna, her last two days were peaceful.
I met Linda when I first approached Phil Thompson to let me and my husband, Michael, work as tarot readers at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore. It was November, 1997. We had recently arrived from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Linda told me she had been asking them to add psychic readers for years — but no luck. The two owners were still not budging when I also asked. Why they changed their minds less than a year later is another story, for another day. Today, I simply want to share a story about Linda.
One day, not long after we started up the Bodhi Tree Readings, I went to ask Linda a question. I noticed a beautiful angel card deck on her table. Now, most people who know me, know that I am not easily impressed by angel decks, largely because of their poorly conceived artwork. I had never seen this particular deck, so I asked her what it was. She told me it was called, “Angel Blessings” created by Kimberly Marooney. She then told me that she did not exactly read with them. Rather, she turned over one card and placed it on her table for each reading. She did this because she found the image comforted people. I liked that idea, for some reason. I also could see how the images could be comforting. Each one is an actual reproduction of a fine art masterpiece.
So, in memorium, today I decided to take out my own copy and pull a card for Linda. Above is the card I pulled: “Sandalphon” with the keyword”Power.” According to Marooney, Sandalphon “oversees the many powers given to the Seraphin including strength, abundance, beauty, and joy of living.” The power, however, this great Seraphin is connected with is the power of emotions. Sandalphon helps to identify ones fears and imbalances and take actions to work through them. Marooney says that by expressing ones true feelings and releasing emotional scars, ones power flows through.
I believe when we die that the journey continues. Linda, may your spirit path be one of joy, magic and illumination. Thank you for sharing in an important crossroads in my life. I will remember your laughter, your beautiful hair, and your gentle soul. Blessed be.
by Krista Schwimmer
We left New York State at 8:00 am on November 10th, driving a southern route with the hopes of catching the best weather. As we drove, we watched out for wildlife. There were largely deer. We decided to stop at Fish Eddy’s, off Route 17. We took one glance, felt it was an inbreed crowd, and got right back on the road.
Our first campsite was a bit before Roanoke, Virginia. It cost $23 for the night. We slept well, though, only a bit cold because we left the fly to our tent door open.
Morning brought a wonderful surprise. I was standing by our Sidekick, getting my toiletries out, when Michael called, “Quick, Krista! Look over here!” I was half expecting a friendly crow that we had heard earlier. I walked around to the front of the car. There was a little, black bunny. Tame as can be, sitting right at Michael’s feet. The only food I had was a granola bar. I held it out to the black bunny who eagerly grabbed it, almost toppling over because of the weight of the bar. I laughed, broke the bar up for the bunny, and stroked him while he ate. There were many more bunnies in the surrounding field; but he was the only one brave enough to beg.
In the Medicine Cards, Jamie Sams talks about how rabbit was once a brave warrior, but became paranoid by his fears. At the time, I thought, I do have fears about our journey across country. I was afraid of lack of sleep, running out of money, and oddly, getting pregnant. I was still on the fence about having children. After feeding the black bunny, however, I decided these were not such large fears. The journey would go well.
Our goal on this day was to get to Memphis, Tennessee, roughly a 500 mile drive from Bristol, where we were. We needed some supplies, but was not sure where to turn off. Right before Salem, Virginia, I noticed a black cat running into a wooded area. Then, we saw a cloud formation in the shape of a crow. We decided these were good omens, and got off in Salem. There, we found a local Walmart where we purchased the supplies we needed: fuel for our stove, cheap towels and washclothes, batteries, and some groceries.
We continued south, noticing that the price of gas was going down a bit, to $1.03/gallon. We listened a lot to talk radio, as that was about all that we could get as we traveled. That day, we heard that Louise Woodward, the young English au pair found guilty of second degree murder of her 8 month charge, Matthew Eappen, had her life in prison sentence overturned by appeal. Due to insufficient evidence of malice, the Judge sentenced her to involuntary manslaughter with time served. She was free.
10:30 pm that night, we stayed out another KOA campsite, right off the interstate. With our 15% coupon, we paid only $14. What we got, however, was: a gravely place to tent and the sound of the “Indianpolis 500” as trucks sped by through the night. Right before I went to sleep, I imagined a bubble around us to block the noise. Then, I told myself I could sleep. Amazingly, it worked.
On the third day of the journey, I was already exclaiming how traveling was highly overrated — at least the way we were doing it. We left Tennessee that morning, and moved into Arkansas, Clinton’s state. The road was terrible. You’d think with the President from this state, they would upgrade the Interstate roads.
Traveling on this stretch of the Interstate was flat and boring. We listened to Howard Stern to keep us from going insane. After Dr. Laura and her fundamental moralism, Stern was a much welcomed voice.
We camped that night at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Oklahoma. At that time, it only cost $6/night to tent in any Oklahoma state park. We loved Oklahoma! We wanted to stay longer, but realized we did not have the money.
There were few people at Red Rock Canyon state park. We tented in a soft, green, luxurious field. In the morning, we found a nearby shower stall, too. We decided to take turns showering, so one of us could stay with the belongings.
There was just one shower stall in the back: a long, rectangular shape with a button you pushed to start the shower. The shower was low. I had to bend my legs just to wet my hair.
As I showered, my mind was flooded with creepy, violent images. Once, I even pulled open the curtain to make sure I wasn’t being watched. I chalked my experience up to a mild form of paronia. When Michael came out next from the shower, we discovered we both felt the same thing. He thought it could be because the park was situated in a canyon area. Perhaps, there had been a massacre where the stalls were. Later, I learned that it was indeed, a favorite winter camp for the Plains Indians, as well as part of the famous California trail, which emmigrants used to come to California.
We left Oklahoma, driving once more on the bumpy, I-40. It was the fourth day without sun. Still, we managed to have a great, cheap breakfast along the way: 5 bean burrito, and a soft taco for $5.01.
We drove for some hours with little entertainment. As we got into Texas, however, we noticed a huge, white cross, visible from Interstate-40. A sign said: “Groom: Home of the Cross of the Plains. Exit Now.” This stark cross is the largest in the United States, or was then, standing 190 feet high. In spite of its record height, we decided to barrel past it. After all, we were tarot card readers, not the favorites of some Christian folks.
We still had a lot of distance to travel: New Mexico and Arizona, our destination for that day. We were losing another hour, too, that day, at the New Mexico border. When we reached Flagstaff, however, a snowstorm was just starting. We did not have the right camping equipment for such weather. So, Michael made the decision to keep driving. On top of it all, it was a full moon. We ended up driving 27 hours straight, with just a brief rest at a rest stop. I’m no good without sleep. Never have been. We fought terribly over absurdities and impossibilities. The storm passed. For the first time since we began our cross country journey, the sun came out. We were now ready to cross the Mohave Dessert. We decided to drive northwest to another campsite called Red Rock Canyon State Park. We liked the synchronicity of it. The universe, however, had other plans for us. Because of a wrong turn on Route 66, we came across a slew of cheap motels. After our long night’s drive, we really wanted a proper bed. On top of it all, we both wanted to watch one of our favorite shows at the time, “Millenium”. In fact, I loved the character of Frank Black, played by Lance Henricksen, so much that I wished outloud that I could do a tarot reading for him someday.
We decided to see if we could get a room for $20. After a bit of negotiating, we found one for $22. We decided to splurge, feeling like the $34 left would get us to my mother’s house in Sonoma. The motel was very plain. My only complaint was the water was luke warm. Otherwise, it felt luxurious.
The episode of “Millenium” was so intriguing to me at the time, that I wrote it down. It was titled, “The Hand of Saint Sebastian.” Peter Watts, Frank Black’s boss, was searching for the origins of the Millenium group, contrary to what the group wanted him to do. The episode opened with a scene from 900 A.D. in Italy. Two monks were talking in the woods. They were in danger of being persecuted. They were part of a group called the Knights Chronicler. Their tatoos were the same as the Millenium emblem. This group had in its possession the hand of St. Sebastian, a hand believed in current times to hold the knowledge that would prevent the prophesies of the Millenium from coming about. Peter tells this legend later to Frank, who he enlists to help him without first telling him what he is up to.
The episode ends dramatically with Peter and Frank discovering the body of St. Sebastian in a peat bog where he has been naturally preserved. His body is covered with tatoos, one being a serpent curled in the shape of a spiral. When Peter asks Frank if he thinks the knowledge is contained on the body of the saint, Frank replies that the knowledge was contained within St. Sebastian. St. Sebastian would tell us to look within for the answers.
In hindsight, I can see just how much our journey across country foreshadowed our early experiences in California. That there would be fears to overcome, dangers to face, and knowledge to be harvested from within.
Laurie Cabot, Samhain in Salem, and Hunting Pheasant
by Krista Schwimmer
We drove and drove in the dark, rain falling lightly. We drove past New Brunswick “Elvis”, a male dummy bicycling by a gas station that once scared Michael when he was taking a whiz beside the road. We reached the border around 2 am, and managed to get through without too much of a problem, largely due to my husband’s “Bat Hearing.” He said he has always had this ability, to hear conversations clearly that normal people cannot hear. When the immigration officers were in the back, he could hear them conversing about whether or not they should search our car, largely because we did not have a fixed time-frame for our return. When I told Michael I was worried they would make us take everything out of our car, he said he knew they wouldn’t. He could hear them talking about it and deciding against it. Sure enough, when the officers returned, they told us we were free to go. We had nothing to hide — I was simply tired and wanted to be on our way.
After 16 hours of driving, we arrived in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We were planning on staying there with Don and Kathy,a married couple Michael had known for some time. From Sturbridge, it was only an hour and a half from Salem. We planned on visiting there, so it was perfect.
Nobody was home. A note on the door told us someone would soon be back. We took out our little lawn chairs and relaxed a bit in the sun. Kathy soon arrived and showed us to our room. It felt good to lie down on a proper bed, large enough for the both of us after crashing on our friend, Shane’s couch for the past three months.
The next day, Michael and I drove to Salem to attend this witch town’s famous celebration of Samhain. We arrived midafternoon; so, we decided to go over to Crow Haven. At that time, Laurie Cabot, the Official Witch of Salem, still owned that store. She happened to be there signing her new book, “The Witch In Every Woman”, which I promptly had her sign. Michael decided on having her other book, “The Power of the Witch,” signed. I had wanted to meet her so it was a wonderful synchronicity. She was dressed in her robes and had a spiral painted on her left check that day. When I told her how much I enjoyed the scientific part of her book, she replied that she had put a lot of her soul in that book. She immediately gave credit to her elders, too, saying she had merely added to what her elders had taught her. She also said she felt this part of witchcraft was very important. I was quite impressed with her sincerity and graciousness.
As evening approached, we made our way to Gallows Hill for the annual Samhain ritual. This was my second year in a row visiting Salem at this time. Just last year, Michael had organized a group of our friends to visit together. It was a wonderful trip. We managed to have time for both historical and theatrical events. We visited the Farmstead of Rebecca Nurse, one of the famous, elderly women accused and executed for witchcraft in the late 1600’s. We also attended a dramatization of Bridget Bishop’s witch trial, where everyone in the audience got to vote on whether she should or should not hang for witchcraft. That year, the audience voted against her execution by a single vote — so we felt our presence had purpose!
On the way over to Gallow’s Hill, Michael and I met another couple dressed in lovely capes who were from Ohio and also recently married. When we arrived, many others wearing robes, capes, or costumes were already there. We made our way to the North part of the circle just in time. The Temple of the Nine Wells, the coven performing the ritual this year, had carved all the rune signs on pumpkins, lit them, and placed them around the perimeter of the circle. There was also a beautiful arch decorated with cornhusks, which all of us danced through, hand to hand, weaving a spiral dance. Just as the decorations promised, this particular Samhain ritual turned out to be very moving. During the meditative part of the ceremony, where each person individual thought of his or her ancestors who had died, I was completely surprised by the spirit of Clark, one of my favorite childhood dogs. We had given him away when we moved to Ireland as my parents thought the quaranteen would have been too much for him. None of us had wanted to do this — he was one of those remarkable, sensitive, loving dogs. So, I was quite thrilled to feel him bound to me in spirit form.
After the ritual was over, all of us participated in the Witches’ Commemorative Candlelight Walk. We held our lit candles and lanterns, and respectfully made our way back to the heart of Salem. This was a walk to remember those women and men who died in the witch hysteria of 1692.
On Sunday, Michael and I returned to Salem one more time. I had decided to make a dream pillow to give to Laurie as a thank you for all that she had done to change the public’s perception of witches to a more positive light. Laurie had been one of the first witches to come out of the broom closet so to speak, during a time when it was actually dangerous for men and women to do this. A dramatic figure, she was known for wearing her witch garb publicly, and for speaking out for religious injustices perpetrated against other witches.
Michael left me at Crow Haven once more to give it to her by myself. I found her sitting in the back, signing books again, across from a great case filled with varying sized crystal balls. I gave her the pillow, made from fabric with an owl on it, and filled with lavendar, mugwart, sandalwood, and a crow feather I had found, explaining it was a gift to thank her for all she has given. She squeezed the pillow, smelled it, and then opened her arms to embrace me. She said that Owl was one of her totems, too, and that they had even come to her in the daytime. I was glad I had trusted my intuition and picked the Owl.
One of the goals of our trip was to find places to do some tarot readings as we traveled. So, of course, we inquired in Salem. We had no luck at all — one store owner was downright rude, saying how she wasn’t sure she liked our energy. Michael did have some luck, however, while sitting in a cafe one afternoon. Seeing his tarot cards, a woman asked if he could do a reading for her — he agreed, saying she could just pay with a coffee. She liked the reading enough to buy coffee for us both and give us a $20. On top of it all, she was from California and gave us some ideas of places we could go to in the Santa Cruz area.
Our adventures in Massuchusetts extended to Sturbridge as well. Michael’s friend, Don had two Brittany dogs which he would take pheasant hunting in a private range stocked with these birds. I had never been hunting before, but really wanted to see what it was like. Don gladly took both of us. We went to a wooded area where one of his dogs immediately began to find the bird’s scent. Whenever I go into nature, I truly lose track of time — so I don’t remember how long it took to actually flush out a bird. Eventually, she did. The bird shot up into the air, just long enough for Don to shoot it. It happened so quickly, that I barely had time to register it.
Oddly, I felt at ease with the whole process. The Brittany was truly happy to be hunting; the pheasant was killed quickly and cleanly; and, on top of it all, Kathy prepared and cooked several of the birds that night for supper. Hunting for them was not for fun; it was for food.
Our next stop was Woodstock, New York. We had decided on a southern route to California to avoid the cold as much as possible since we would be camping once we left New York. Woodstock was my spiritual stomping ground until I moved to Nova Scotia. My teacher, Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, was and still is the Abbot of this monastery. I had often gone there through my 20’s and early 30’s to participate in lectures, and retreats. In the 90’s, too, I had actually lived right in town, working at a lovely, spiritual bookstore called Mirabai Books.
While in Woodstock, we stayed with a dear friend, Lainey, and her family. Lainey, was the first person to introduce me to the Medicine Cards, as well as to one of my main animal totems, crow. Although she would probably never call herself a teacher, to this day I consider her one of my spiritual mothers, having learned much from Lainey through the making and waking of masks. There, we visited, did readings for her and her family, and met their new puppy, Namu. Before we left, she and her husband gave us $100, a big, plump, blue sleeping bag, and a road atlas — all of which proved invaluable.
On November 10th, Michael & I began the truly unknown part of our journey. Between New York and California, we had no friends. We still hoped to busker along the way. Perhaps that’s why we thought $600 would be enough to cover our expenses. It was a time, luckily, when gas was just around $1.00 a gallon. We left New York in high spirits. More adventures lay ahead for us — some not so pleasant — but though we were not physically prepared, we were mentally ready, open and receptive to the road ahead.
Lost & Found in the Faery Realm of Nova Scotia
by Krista Schwimmer
In the mid 90’s, I found myself traveling to one of the most magical places in the world: Nova Scotia, Canada. Heart broken and lost at the time, I simply felt a deep desire to be near wild and rocky coast lines. A dear friend of mine, Ken Friedman, who I had met through Tibetan Buddhism, invited me to stay with him in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He told me later he laughed to himself when he saw how I had packed all my belongings in my car to “visit” him. He knew, even if I didn’t, that I was there to stay a while!
As soon as I arrived in Nova Scotia, I fell madly in love with the terrain. Once I settled my things with Ken, I traveled around on my own for a bit, heading up to the spectacular Cape Breton for a brief stay at Gampo Abbey. When I returned to Ken’s apartment in Halifax, I decided to go back to school and study marine biology at Dalhousie University. Although I went back to the United States one more time, I soon returned after checking with a relocation astrologer who confirmed that Nova Scotia was indeed the ideal place for me to pursue and obtain my dreams.
A year after my arrival, another student and good friend, Yvonne, took me with her to an interesting, pagan bookstore on Barrington Street. It was called Little Mysteries. One of the owners of the store, Vanessa Smith, held “Meet and Greet’s” after hours for the local pagan community. Michael and I met each other at one of these, and soon, started dating. From the very beginning, we got along, sharing a lot of similar passions such as philosophy, nature, and anything Celtic. A waitress in a restaurant even thought we had been married for quite some time. Oddly, too, when I was in my 20’s, I loved that Joni Mitchell song, “Michael from Mountains.” Somehow, I got the notion that I would marry my own Michael from mountains. I even deliberately looked out for a man named Michael in my 20’s; but soon, gave up on the idea when other men came in my life. Later, when I told Michael this story, he said he had actually lived on a hill when he was a child.
When I first met Michael, he had been studying the tarot on his own for almost a year. In fact, on our first date at the Granite Brewery, alongside an incredible plate of steamed mussels with garlic and a home brewed lager, he proceeded to give me a reading. Although I don’t recall the details, I do remember thinking he was the first person who had ever given me a decent tarot card reading. Tarot is a divination tool readily available. As a result, I find that many people don’t really get to know the tool itself; or, if they do, they use a one dimensional and even, overly literal approach to it. Although self-taught, I could tell Michael had a natural ability with the cards.
Michael decided to test out his abilities on strangers. So, he advertised that he was an apprentice tarot card reader needing to practice his skills on others – for free. The first call he received was from a woman going through a divorce. Reluctantly, Michael agreed to do the reading. Much to his relief, the woman called back and canceled the appointment. He thought surely he would start with something easier than a divorce.
The next call he got was from an Arabic man whose whole family had been cursed by someone who did this for a living. In our culture, when people come to see us thinking they have been cursed, we have found this largely to be in the person’s imagination only. There are cultures, however, where it is woven into their beliefs in the same way possession is for the Catholics. Although we do not personally remove curses or even ethically agree with the exorbitant charges some readers charge to do this, we will on occasion look into the situation to see if there is really a curse on the person or not. Of course, when Michael put himself publicly out as an apprentice reader, he had no idea he would be presented with such a heavy situation right away. Still, he decided to meet the man and see what he could do to help him.
While Michael did his reading, me and some of his friends waited for him at Moca, a local coffee shop in Halifax. After two hours, he arrived. He said they had loved his reading. Apparently, he had faced his fear quite well.
That was one of the first lessons we learned as professional readers: whatever fear you may have about doing readings, the universe will immediately conjure it up for you to face.
Michael decided to take a chance as a professional, tarot reader; I jumped in, deciding to compliment him by working beside him doing readings with the Medicine Cards, a Native American system developed by Jamie Sams and David Carson. I was still in school part time; but I was beginning to feel the cost of education was too much for me. I did not want to end up with a student loan debt I could never repay!
We decided upon the Mystic Raven for our business name, as we are both great fans of the intelligent and magnificent corvids. The only place we could find to do the readings was a table at a nearby mall. It was a lot of money for us at the time just to rent – $500 a month. We took the table and began our business, sitting there from the time the mall opened to the time it closed, six days a week. One reading included first a medicine card reading with me; then a tarot card reading with Michael. I will never forget what I thought when I had my first paying client: what in God’s name am I going to talk about to this stranger for more than 10 minutes?
In just a few weeks, due to the tarot’s popularity, we realized that I would need to read it as well if we were going to make a proper living. Besides, I was already beginning to fall in love with the tarot as a unique and accurate system. So, I literally learned what Michael knew in less than a month. Granted, I had a heavy background in metaphysics, having studied numerology, astrology, and other subjects since I was 17. I also already had a strong, natural intuition and an empathic nature. Still, it is not something I would recommend to most people. I recall that even my dreams reflected the intensity of the process: one I remember being about brain surgery. Another time, I found myself waking up with my leg in the position of the hanged man.
Our business took off there in the Halifax mall. We gained a public reputation strong enough to get the attention of Vanessa Smith at Little Mysteries. She invited us to read there, which we happily agreed to do. There, Michael easily found his stride as a reader. Indeed, he was the more popular of the two of us. My turn was later – though I do remember impressing a woman on a cruise ship so much that she returned with most everyone else on the ship!
After the birth of our tarot business, Michael and I decided to be hand-fasted. We picked the Summer Solstice for our wedding day; then changed it to the day before as the weather looked like it was going to rain, and we were having an outdoor hand-fasting at the secluded Bear Cove. The rain followed our day anyway – though it stayed dry enough for the ceremony itself.
We also worked at the Halifax waterfront, using cloth covered boards as our lap tables. Beside multimillion dollar yachts and tall ships like the Bluenose II, we did non-stop $10 readings often until the wee hours. I remember one woman I read for there, first asked to look at my palm. I held it up for her to see. She simply nodded, and then agreed to get a reading from me. Evidently, in her mind, I had the necessary marks!
One of our favorite times to read at the waterfront was during the annual Halifax International Busker Festival in August. This 11 day festival showcases the world’s top street performance artists right alongside the Halifax waterfront. More than 500,000 visitors come through for this amazing event. Although not officially open to tarot card readers, somehow, me, Michael, and our friend, Shane, (who saved our hides by letting us sleep on his couch for free several months) were welcomed.
Although we were building up steady clients and a great reputation in Halifax, Michael thought we should test our talents on a larger scale. On October 29th, 1997, we packed Michael’s Suzuki Sidekick with two crates of books, two suitcases, a tent, blankets, one pillow, a Coleman stove, music for the road, a bit of dirty laundry, and both of my bow and arrows. We had only $500 to our name. Our destination was California, where both my parents lived. We thought our journey would be short – 6 months to a year. We never dreamed we would end up living in Los Angeles for over 14 years. I suppose some of it was my fault. Once, playfully, I had told Michael that I was going to read for the stars! I meant nothing by it– in fact, I am one of the least star struck people you will ever meet. Still, I had spoken it out loud; the universe had heard.
Before we left Halifax, our friends gave us a warm send off, blessing us with a CD compilation of Celtic music for the road, a medicine bag of crystals to protect us, and hearty farewells. We were like the Fool in the tarot: eager for the adventure, trusting of the world, and completely oblivious to the pitfalls ahead.
One of the last memories I have of leaving Canada, was later that night when we drove through St. John’s, New Brunswick. It was raining lightly; the air reeked from the local paper processing factories. I looked out the passenger window and saw what I first thought was a dog. As I looked more closely, I realized it was a beautiful, red fox. I felt relieved: though we were leaving behind the Faerie Land of Nova Scotia, Magic was trotting along right beside us.