I grew up with fortune tellers peering at tea leaves and shuffling tarot cards. I became a fortune teller myself. Luckily, I also grew up with big old trees hemmed with moss, knee-deep in black fecund earth, and with the smiles and whispers of unseen People living amongst them. So when I decided just recently that tea leaves and tarot cards were an interrogation of the universe, rather than a conversation, and that I wanted something different for myself, I knew where I needed to go. To the glade, to the meadow, out amongst the gauze-winged and double-kneed spirits.
Yesterday I wrote about old Christmas traditions and how difficult it was to reconcile my southern culture with the northern one I had been taught by my elders, who still considered England home, although their families had emigrated more than a century before. And then I learned this morning that the universe had not finished its conversation with me on the topic. It sent me questions, gentle, unflinching from the deeper truth. For example, why do I deride one set of Christmas card images (summer) for the sake of what is merely another (winter)? When I find home in my old traditions, is it the traditions themselves which provide it, or the personal memories, the smell of small high rooms, sand on the floorboards, pine needles in sunlight, the feeling of love?
What real connection is lacking, that I cling so to nostalgia?
Well, when I look, I see its the same connection that I find missing from tea leaves ... a lack of conversation with the world.
I don't mean that I should submit to a suntanned Santa Claus. I mean that I should notice how the pohutukawa flowers are gold-tipped this year, like they're supposed to be, after a long time of being only red. I should feel the heat of scoria pathways beneath my remembered feet, and see the tiny, translucent rock spirits that flicker through the sunlit air. I have access to a rich, beautiful lore of Christmas within my world, right outside my door. And it's not the things that are done - the beach holidays, the cricket - but all those myriad intersections of my heart and Love.
Beneath our memories are the tangly, nutritious roots of more real memories, shared with the earth. For as Martin Shaw says (and yes, the world is still talking to me through his words, many of which I read before without hearing them in the same way I do for this conversation) ... we didn't dream up story, we ourselves got dreamt.
Beneath our culture is the indigenous culture ... and beneath that the animal culture ... and beneath that the memory of trees ... and beneath that the culture of the spirits, the first People of the world ... and beneath that is whatever word you have for the one who birthed us all. Slowly, I am moving my own friendship through the layers (and back again, and down again ...)
So I understand at last that holding on to a specific culture of Christmas is like reading tarot cards - you get something true from it, but are you really in mutual engagement with the deeper leaf-and-dirt truth of the world?
art by flora mclachlan
I know some of you are card readers, and I wish no offence - I love the cards, I am only talking here of my own personal experience. You may feel ... read ... divine ... experience ... differently, and that's beautiful.