Wednesday, July 1, 2009


 It was spring 1972, and the movie The Exorcist was scaring the hell
out of Americans. My mother had always been interested in the occult (she
currently has a modest sideline as a psychic, tarot reader, and astrologer),
and at this point in time she was in her Wiccan phase. Not that she was
something any 15th or 21st century Wiccan would be proud of: the occult
scene in the early 1970s was more concerned with going through the motions
than getting to the source. Being a witch to them meant buying groovy
candle-making kits at Korvettes and dipping those candles in salt and
vinegar while saying the proper incantations in the hopes of getting
something for nothing. In the world of Druidic dilettante, there was no
premium to understanding the Goddess.
My mother had come across Wicca as she had come across much of her
occult wanderings: she wanted to control the universe because she could not
control herself. Wicca, Tarot, astrology were all ways she could pretend
there was some sense of order in her life, some illusion that the incredibly
random things that kept happening to her could be explained, understood, and
kept in check.
Unfortunately (and quite accurately), we never got a hint of future
events from her astrological work. She never told us that tomorrow would be
a good day for this or that activity, as most astrologers do. My mother
always used her horoscopes to deconstruct what had happened to us in the
recent past.
"You've been in a car accident? Wait a minute." We'd hear pages
turning and subvocal mutterings as my mother rapidly computed a daily
horoscope, then we'd hear her verdict. "You have Mercury square your natal
Sun today. It's a minor accident and you're all right."
"Thanks for the prognosis. Now can you come pick me up?"
Even into my twenties, I was getting phone calls at work:
"Hello, who is this?"
"This is your mother! DON'T TRAVEL TODAY!"
"Ma, I'm at work."
"You have Mercury square your natal Pluto and Saturn today. Don't
travel any more than you have to."
"Look, I traveled to work already."
"I already took the subway, ma."
"Well, I could always buy a kayak, I guess. Stop worrying, willya."
"How could I stop worrying with Mercury square Pluto and Saturn??"

Her psychic powers, separate from her astrological readings, were the stuff
of family legend. My brother and his girlfriend were going to spend a
weekend skiing in the Adirondacks. They were packing the car, and my mother
came out into the street, trance-like, and said "You're not going to make
it". We were used to these pronouncements, and by our teens they weren't
anything but gotten annoying. My brother got all pissy. "You tryin' to put
the whammy on us," he yelled. He knew that she hated when we traveled, and
it would be just like her to put a curse on his car because she didn't want
him to go.
My mother said it was no curse, she just felt that they weren't going to
make it. So my brother remained pissed and told his girlfriend, who was
trembling at the exchange, not to pay any mind, it was just his mother
trying to put a curse on them. Into our teens and twenties, never occurred
to me or my siblings that other people hadn't grown up under the constant
threat of being hexed, hadn't grown inured as we had, and therefore wouldn't
know how to handle the news.
They got in the car, got onto the parkway, got 20 miles from the
house, and the engine blew up. My brother walked to an emergency phone and
called a tow truck, and the two of them spent a cold day on the side of the
road. They got a ride back to our house, but my brother's girlfriend
refused to come inside. She chose instead to wait on the sidewalk for her
parents to pick her up, occasionally looking up at the house and shouting
"You're a witch!!" My mother just smiled.

Anyway, this story is about the spring of 1972. The Exorcist was in
theaters, and for a while Satanism was cool in the arriviste occult
community. One night, at one of my mother's Wiccan circles, one of the
women brought an incredibly tall, evil-looking bald man to our house and
introduced him to the group as a Satanist. To this day I wonder if it was
Anton LeVey, the head of the Church of Satan. My mother always thought my
brother and I were safely asleep during her occult meetings, as my
stepfather certainly was, but I used to crawl out of bed, sit in the hallway
and listen to what was going on. I remember that night being petrified,
literally unable to move, when I heard that that tall bald man with the evil
beard worshipped the Devil.
The Satanist guy had come to my mother's paganklatsch to make some
converts. I had overheard him explain (as a terrified 8 year old with an
already psychedelic imagination) that one of the rituals of pledging
allegiance to Satan was to write Satan a note, asking him for something.
You had to sign the note in your own blood, and then burn that paper in a
candle flame. My mother's compatriots wrote their notes, and I remember a
lot of nervous giggling as Mr. Satanist pricked their fingers with a pin to
draw their blood. When it came my mother's turn, she balked, and asked
Frank, a gay man in her group, to sign the note for her. Frank agreed. Gay
men tend to do anything for my mother. When the ritual was over and the
papers burned, my mother stupidly/jokingly commented to the group that they
all were going to Hell, but she wasn't, because she didn't sign her note.
Frank turned to my mother and said she was condemned to Hell with the rest
of them. My mother reminded Frank that he had signed her note. Frank
informed my mother that he had signed _her_ name!!
The Satanism guy said that was sufficient: my mother's intent had taken
her far enough, and as long as the intent was there and the proper name was on
the note, Satan wouldn't argue over trifles. After all, the guy said, "it's
not like we're dealing with God!"