The Querent

Fortunetelling is easy to ridicule, frequently misunderstood, and, for some people, extremely powerful. Unfortunately, what’s very tough to predict is what reading futures will do to the person with the cards.

Alexander Chee

Credit: Lauren Nassef

Like many children, I wanted to be more powerful than the world around me, and so I became interested in magic. I read novels of wizards and sorceresses, dragon-riding heroes and lost kings hidden from their enemies, raised as commoners to protect them. I went to the library and read first into the mythology section and soon found myself coming home with The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer. This, I did not know until I got it home, was a famous anthropological work on magic. I’d hoped it was a spell book. All I knew was that I wanted to whistle up a wind.

Any skill I have now at whistling came from those early tries at learning the tricks of a druid. At Halloween I dressed as a mage in a long flowing cape and borrowed one of my mother’s favorite cocktail necklaces, a giant topaz pendant I thought best resembled a magical amulet. I became—again, like many—perhaps too proficient at Dungeons and Dragons.

As I entered middle school, I developed a plan to go someday to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where you could study parapsychology. The idea of studying grandmothers who felt they had “the sight” was the best thing I could think of for my life.

And then my world flew apart in just about every direction: My father was injured severely in a car accident, the safety windshield of his car blowing in instead of out during a head-on collision. The accident left him paralyzed down the left side of his body, with severe internal injuries. The man driving the car he was in was injured less severely, but died.

I was 13 at the time of the accident, 16 when my father died of complications related to his injuries. When I look back at why of all the forms of the occult I’d found the one that appealed to me most was fortunetelling, it seems to me the answer came from my father’s accident and death. I wanted to know how to tell the future. I wanted one of those mirrors, the ones positioned so you can see around a corner, but for my whole life. That’s what I believed the Tarot could be.

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