FRESH YARN presents:
Reflections of an Unlikely Oracle
In the Beginning
When I was born in L.A.'s Queen of Angels Hospital on All Souls Day, Loretta Young was in the next delivery room giving birth to a son. My first generation American parents named me Carole, an anagram of Oracle, but also a nod to Lombard. (The "e" was everything.) My childhood was an idyll of palms and the Pacific, pony rides and ice cream parlors. I played in a backyard that was a jungle of cala lilies and fig trees, tiny frogs and ancient turtles. Every day when my dad came home from work he did magic tricks for me, producing candy with his sleight of hand. My mother cooked like an angel -- fried chicken and spaghetti, roast beef and mashed potatoes, and on Valentine's day, an iced layer cake that she let me decorate with cinnamon hearts. I appeared to be on the fast track for the life of a blond surfer girl, the ultimate Beach Boys' Wendy.
Too good to be true? Fear not.
In the course of a week my father died suddenly, was buried on Christmas Eve, and my family uprooted itself to Jersey City. I arrived on New Years Eve, 1955, at Idlewild Airport, a curious six-year-old desperate to see her first snow, yet owning no winter clothes.
Whenever a guest visited my first grade class at All Saints School we would be asked the Big Question. "How many of you have a religious vocation?" All the tiny hands flew up, eager at the chance to be Father or Sister. It was even more exciting than being a Fireman or Mommy. To become a nun had a certain mysterious cache. (I once bought a very expensive nun doll just to see if she had hair under the habit. She didn't.)
Rather than waiting for some guy to propose, I could to be a Bride of Christ on my own timetable. The dress rehearsal -- First Holy Communion -- was a sacred occasion when we welcomed Jesus into us, body and soul. We dressed up as miniature brides and grooms and sang the rousing anthem, "Oh Lord, I Am Not Worthy!" The lyrics successfully penetrated my fragile child-psyche. I spent the entire night before my Communion in the bathroom hurling up my unworthiness.
As the long years wore on, we began to question our vocational choices. Too many boys were lured to the sacristy by Father, then sedated with a bit of sacramental wine. The good Sisters of Charity bruised too many girls in the name of discipline. I moped around the house in my pajamas reading the lives of the saints. I was particularly struck by the response of St. Therese of Liseux when she produced her blood-flecked tuberculin spittle. Giddy at the promise of impending death, she rejoiced with orgasmic fervor. I envied her. I would have gladly traded my miserable existence for the guarantee of an early exit and timely canonization. And if the Communists came over and challenged us to renounce our faith, like the good Sisters said they would, I could be twice blessed in my sainthood- not only a Virgin, but also a Martyr.
The bigger we got, the harder they hit. Nuns would stand on chairs to "box the ears" of the boys who were twice their size. One kid got a shiner for screaming "you old bitch" at the Bride of Christ who came at him with a wire coat hanger, promising to throttle him within an inch of his life. (He was a local hero for years.) My folded hands were split open by a brass ruler for the ungodly crime of arranging my arithmetic homework incorrectly. I sat paralyzed as Sr. Catherine Baptista made ten bloody geysers erupt from my knuckles.
look as if the vocation thing was going to work out. And as for sainthood,
I was already saturated with impure thoughts. Now I had to answer the
question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Lock up five hundred hormonal teenaged girls, dressed in navy blue blazers and pleated skirts, and things will get ugly. The highlights of these years include seeing kids get expelled because they skipped school to greet the Beatles in New York, hearing girls being pulled into the sewing room to have their hair sheared off because it was too long, and personally, being summoned to the principal's office for a furious cross-examination because my ears were visible in a yearbook photo. (It was considered Unchristian to show your ears.)
When deciding upon a vocation, my mother suggested teaching because teachers got the summers off. Since I knew I hated children, even though I was one, I nixed that prospect.
I had more important issues. My weight was going up and down faster than the elevator at Macy's. I memorized calorie counters and binged on Metrecal. Dramatic weight losses were followed by equally stunning gains. I needed two aunts to zip me into my senior prom dress. The Good Sisters made the prom compulsory upon pain of expulsion. Girls paraded out their brothers, cousins and uncles so that no one would be dateless. We were advised not to wear white prom gowns because their similarity to bed sheets would inflame the boys with desire. I wore a white prom gown.
caloric research convinced me that I should be a dietician. Already I
could tell the difference in food value between a green grape and a purple
one, between a Twinkie and a Snowball. I was obsessed with food; why not
make it a profession? Before graduation I had a session with a career
counselor. After reviewing my aptitude tests he was unequivocal. I was
not a dietician; I was a budding mortician. He said that being a mortician
would allow me to push people around without resistance. I'd almost rather
be a saint.
It was everything. It was the Summer of Love, the Age of Aquarius, the Season of the Witch. It was the '60s! (Brace yourself) I was still in a Catholic institution, but the University of Dayton was a faux-Catholic school, named for the town that housed it. The Good Marianist Brothers replaced the Good Sisters; many of them so confused by their closeted sexuality that they bailed out during my four years there.
My future as the world's grooviest dietician floundered when I attended my first chem class. I had aced the course in high school, so what were these hieroglyphics that the professor scribbled on the blackboard with such gusto? Fearing nothing more than getting my knuckles split open again, I dropped the class. I drifted around campus dressed completely in purple -- jeans, jacket, sunglasses, and Indian shoulder bag from Azuma. I joined the "Occult Book of the Month Club" and with the help of unlimited cuts, was able to devote myself to metaphysics, a subject that wasn't unilaterally focused on punishment, dread, and unworthiness.
When the astrologer Linda Goodman came to my campus to promote Sun Signs, I was among thousands of students who filled the field house to hear her lecture, a crowd worthy of Hendrix. Linda was able to take an arcane and archaic system and make it fun. The next day I bought her book in hardcover for $10, an extraordinary commitment when you consider that paperbacks then cost fifty cents.
astrology teacher was a computer named Astro-Flash who resided in Grand
Central Terminal. During holiday breaks I would pilgrimage with friends
to buy my six-month forecast. The computer was programmed in France and
the translations were sophisticated. "You may feel your passions
and emotions rise to the surface, your cravings, needs and appetite for
life reach a new high. A frame of mind such as this may incline you to
greater intimacy with your nearest and dearest, and to put new life into
your relationships. On the other hand, your changing status quo could
cause a problem in your love life. In short, there will be a temporary
acceleration of your amorous proclivities, a happy form of aggression
when it is only passing, but apt to complicate things if it lasts too
long." Oh those French with their cravings and amorous proclivities.
I went to the head of the class.
I graduated with a BS, incomparable friends, and a comprehensive lack of plans for the future.
I was so naïve that when I read an ad in the New York Times for an "astrologer's assistant" I actually believed that the job existed. When I arrived at the employment agency, they gravely informed me that the position had been filled five minutes ago, but they'd be glad to send me off to an interview at a rug warehouse.
Fate played around with me, and I played around with it. Fate won. When I was 24 I had a meeting with a remarkable stranger. I had heard from my artist friends (who knew everything) that there was an astrologer on the Upper Westside that I should see. When the day of my appointment arrived, I was so excited I skipped work. (Work equaled a corporate job with a title and decent salary. Go figure.)
He was the first person to address my soul. Sixteen years of Catholic education had done a fine job of convincing me that I had none, or that if I did, it should be beaten into submission. I walked into his room and after two hours left with a plan. He was intelligent, intuitive, kind, and connected to a voltage that interested me. I had been exposed to enough "psychics" whose devastating readings had sent me to bed for a week. (One palmist said to me, "You have the same mark on your hand as Einstein. Why aren't you successful?" I'm sure even Einstein had off days.)
My astrologer showed me that there was a way to incorporate everything that interested me into a profession. A metaphysical counselor was part Witchdoctor, part Personal Coach, and hopefully part Friend.
In the Golden Age of Metaphysics (1967-1975) it was actually possible to study Astrology, Parapsychology and even Witchcraft at reputable schools. I was a steady customer in the night classes at the New School for Social Research. Ten years later I was ready to practice.
I had some adventures. I temple hopped my way across Asia, found redemption at a gospel service in the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, courted a guru who blessed me with peacock feathers, checked out a mosque in Senegal, dug up the sacred dirt at Chimayo, N.M., left offerings at Marie Laveau's grave in New Orleans, sat in a dark room with a group of Spiritualists every Tuesday for four years waiting for ghostly apparitions (they came), received a white flower cleansing from a Santero in Brooklyn, floated in an isolation tank, did yoga, joined an online monastic organization to honor Bridgid, ate dal at the annual Ganesh festival in Queens, had my dogs Ginger and Hope, blessed at every St. Francis feast, paid my respects at Salem, meditated at Stonehenge, carried a Gris Gris bag blessed by a Voudou high priestess, drank tea and ate cookies with a Sri Lankan monk, made an offering of gin at 11,000 feet altitude on the rim of an volcano in Hawaii to Pele. And I never once missed an opportunity to light a candle anywhere.
In April I will celebrate my 25th anniversary of private practice. (A term used to indicate that I don't work from a storefront.) Introducing myself as astrologer and card reader (or, "Planetary Spin Doctor and Cardeologist") makes some people think I'm raving about supernatural powers. I'm not. I don't market myself as a psychic. Psychics have TV shows and leisure capital. They have biographies that state their abilities came to them in childhood, supported by a Grandma who could see the future. (My Grandma had too many Grandchildren to even remember their names.) Some readers attempt to take the stigma out of the word psychic by substituting "intuitive." An intuitive is someone who wants to be a psychic, but isn't that secure. It's "Psychic Lite."
When I gave my first paid reading to a neighbor, I was so nervous that I served him dinner to compensate for any inadequacies. My next client was a woman who showed up at my studio apartment with her boyfriend and three young kids. I had to shout out the answers to her angst over their racket. One prissy customer told a colleague that while my reading was good, he was outraged at the golden dog hair on his suit from my overly affectionate hound. (Never saw him again. Never wanted to.)
And then it got so much easier. My guiding philosophy was "Above all, do no harm." Most people come for a reading when something hurts, something scares them, or something is so mysterious that they need a detective. I learned that the tools I use -- the stars and their motions, or a deck of cards -- can work wonders with illuminating the obvious. Together, the client and I work as a team to define personal happiness and success. It's very simple. We listen.
I've read that those who study the stars have God as a teacher. Good company. I have finally managed to change the jukebox in my head. No longer does it play "Oh Lord I am not Worthy!" A line from The Charge of the Goddess has replaced it: "All acts of love and pleasure are my ritual."
I can live with that.
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