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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: On Matters Mystical and Mundane

This month Five Directions Press authors have gone deep to dish about what it means to be in touch with the esoteric side of life: past life regression, serendipity, Scottish superstitions, and Tarot are all covered here.

Vineyard in France

Courtney J. Hall on past life regression: I’ve never been someone who claims to have all the answers about where we go when we die. There are lots of nice ideas, but I’ve never been drawn to any single story in particular, nor have I ever been presented with what I consider compelling evidence for a specific kind of afterlife. But one concept that has always interested me is that of reincarnation. The reason why a soul might be repeatedly reborn depends on the belief system to which you subscribe, but for me, I don’t know that there even is a reason—all I know is what I experienced.

The idea of reincarnation has enchanted me since childhood. It wasn’t like I was one of those kids who could describe something like a battle that took place centuries before I was born, but for as long as I can remember I’ve experienced pretty regular bouts of vivid déjà vu, and I’ve always been fascinated by history—particularly sixteenth-century Europe. As a teenager, I bought a book called How to Uncover Your Past Lives, but at that age the visualization and meditation process didn’t come easy and I was never really able to use the techniques in the book to uncover much of anything.

Enter the iPhone.

They weren’t lying when they said “there’s an app for that.” Turns out, there’s an app for past life regression. And—at least in my experience—it works.

The process is simple enough. Configure the options, get yourself into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and listen to the man on the app as he talks you into a sort of trance. Visualization, again, is important, but I guess at this phase in my life I’m more easily able to calm down and do it. I did everything the voice told me to do—pictured myself walking on a beach, getting into a boat, floating to an island, and walking deep into a forest until … and here it goes blank.

The next thing I knew, I was walking in what I later realized was a vineyard, trellises of winding grapevines extending on either side of me. I walked between two of these trellises, dragging the fingers of my left hand along the vines. It was a cool and cloudy day; the grass beneath my feet was thinning and starting to brown. As I looked down, I saw a long skirt of deep red brushing the tops of my booted toes. I remember seeing fabric with a white, scalloped edge—it might have been an apron, or some kind of underskirt. At any rate, it wasn’t an outfit I’d wear in my normal life. I walked toward a hill, atop which was perched an enormous house with a flat façade and dozens of windows. Later, I would learn that it closely resembled the Palace of Versailles, only on a much smaller scale. As I walked, I heard a woman’s voice call, “Madeleine! Madeleine!” A tiny girl, about age three or four and dressed similarly to me, ran to me and I picked her up, hugging her close. I felt an overwhelming love for her, but that’s the last thing I remember. The next thing I knew, my eyes were open and I was staring at my (current) bedroom ceiling.

Was it even a real past-life experience, or was it some kind of dream? I’m not positive, but considering how rarely my dreams make any kind of rational sense, and how well it corresponded to the times and places in which I’ve always been interested, I want to believe it was a real memory. Will I ever know for sure? Probably not, but my interest and belief in reincarnation persists.

The Five Elements

Gabrielle Mathieu on serendipity: By the time I approached Five Directions Press about joining their co-op, I’d been querying intermittently for over two years. By then, I was desperate, but I still had some standards. I didn’t query one woman from a famous agency because she represented an author who appealed to people’s worst instincts. I passed on a questionable contract from a boutique publisher.

With Five Directions Press, I let myself get hopeful, especially after I read co-founder C. P. Lesley’s explanation about the name: “While researching, I must have come across a reference to Turkic/Mongol cosmology borrowing from the Chinese the idea that there are five directions rather than four, with the fifth being the center that harmonizes the four cardinal points. I liked the idea as a frame for my series.” C. P. Lesley and her two co-founders saw the name Five Directions Press as encompassing (harmonizing) their different styles, interests, and approaches.

The five elements have personal significance for me. When I wrote the first version of Girl of Fire in 1976, I had read a lot of Greek mythology as well as Lord of the Rings and some of Ursula Le Guin’s books. I liked the idea of having my heroine fight powerful supernatural entities, but I didn’t want to regurgitate Tolkien by including orcs, goblins, and a dark sorcerer. I decided on natural forces. In the story of Hercules and Antaeus, Hercules conquers Antaeus only by lifting him off the Earth and removing him from his source of strength. This gave me the idea of having my heroine’s opponents be embodied elements, who have to be fought with the appropriate weapon. The problem would be that the specific nature of the Elemental would be concealed, making it hard to destroy one. If you accidentally approached the Elemental with a weapon that corresponded to its nature, it would only get stronger.

In Western tradition, the four elements are fire, earth, air, and water. You can’t make a weapon out of air, though (unless you filibuster to delay a vote). I considered what actual weapons were made of, and came up with five elements; wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. I entertained myself by writing my book (longhand back in those days), but I never could figure out which weapon could vanquish a particular element, though it was clear which weapons should be avoided. I was stymied regarding the laws of my universe.

Then I reached my twenties, hung-out with musicians, turned thirty, and got sick of being broke all the time. I abandoned writing, got a college degree, bought a house, and went to art openings, stylish bars, and concerts. My boyfriend and I decided to paint the interior of my new house, so we bought a book on Feng Shui to help us decide the best colors for each room. Imagine my surprise when I ran across the idea of the five elements. I was stunned to find out that I had independently come up with the same schematic that was a crucial part of Asian culture. I sought out information on the five-element cycle, which explains how each element nourishes the one that follows it, and controls a different one. I had found the key to my fantasy world.

There’s more. For years, while I worked as a lab tech in hospitals, I longed to pursue a different area of study for my master’s degree. Five-element theory led me to explore Traditional Chinese Medicine, and I committed to a five years Master program, which encompassed the study of acupuncture, Asian body work, and Chinese herbs. My business name was, and still is, Five Elements Acupuncture and Herbs.

Now, forty years after I thought I’d invented the five elements, Five Directions Press co-founder C. P. Lesley is helping me get Girl of Fire ready for publication and into your hands. It has a stunning cover from our own Courtney J. Hall. You can see it at the end of the video that explains the five-element cycle.

It could all be coincidence. But I don’t think so.

Baby's Pram

Denise Allan Steele on Scottish superstitions:

“The Lord bless thee and keep thee,

The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee,

The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee

And give thee peace.”

Since Saint Columba sailed from Ireland to the island of Iona in 563, Scotland has been a Christian country, and this benediction from the Book of Numbers is sung at every christening to bless the new baby. Ministers and priests conduct services in schools; and people are christened, married, and mourned in a church. However, the old beliefs persist, mainly around seafaring and babies, the times when life is fragile and could easily be taken away.

Laddie or Lassie? Gender reveal parties, complete with pink or blue cakes, balloons, and cannon shooters are popular now, but the old Scottish way of finding out whether you’re having a boy or a girl is still widely used, and in my case was 100 percent accurate with one boy and two girls!

I took off my wedding ring (with great difficulty; I was huge), and my Wiccan friend attached it to a piece of thread. As I lay on my back, she held the ring over my bump and waited. First time around, the ring swung backwards and forwards, a boy, as indeed it was, and next two times, it swung in a circle, each time correctly predicting a sister for the boy. There is of course no science or logic to this. It is literally an old wives’ tale, yet generations of Scottish mums, including me, can attest to its accuracy.

Open the Window and Let the Spirit Fly Free: Until the 1950s, most babies were born at home, with the assistance of a midwife or a local howdie woman (birth attendant). As the moment of birth approached and the baby was about to arrive, the attendants would open the windows and doors to let the baby’s soul arrive safely. At the other end of life, when someone is about to pass, the family or attendants will open the window to let the soul leave, to fly free. I confess I have opened windows for both occasions. Again, no logic or reason, but we don’t want a human soul stuck on the wrong side of a window!

Cross My Palm with Handsel: Another still widely used superstition is the handsel, or gift giving to a new baby. Traditionally, a silver coin was placed in the baby’s hand, and as any new baby would do, she gripped on tightly. This ensured wealth and prosperity throughout her life. This tradition of giving straight into the baby’s hand has changed somewhat into the custom of placing silver in the baby’s pram, and as a new mum, young and broke, I used to love pushing my new beautifully dressed baby around town in his carriage and having endless people come over to have an admiring look and leave silver coins by his head.

A Faerie Tale: I absolutely do not believe that the faeries steal new babies and leave behind a changeling. It’s a myth, literally a fairy tale … and yet … a Celtic cross hung over the crib that each of my grandchildren has slept in, just in case my wee Irish granny was right!

Queen of Pentacles Tarot Card

Joan Schweighardt on Tarot: I studied astrology years ago, back in the days when you had to be a math whiz to get through the calculations necessary to place the planets in their proper positions on a chart. I loved the astrological interpretations I was learning, but I cracked under the weight of all those numbers. By the time there were computer programs to do the hard bit, I was onto other things … though I can’t say I got far with any of them either.

I joined an ESP program in my college days. The director’s name was George Harrison. While I was there in the ESP Center, in a trance state set in motion by George, I could see auras, and I could deduce some basic facts about fellow students just by holding their rings or watches in my hand. But once I got home, I couldn’t find my way into a good trance to save myself. I studied energy healing with a master in New York, but then I moved to New Mexico before the program was over and mostly lost everything I learned. A curandera here in Albuquerque agreed to take me on as a private student but then unexpectedly passed over onto the other side before we could get started.

And so it went and so it goes. You name it, I’ve studied it, and then failed to be able to incorporate it into my life. All I have to show for my efforts is that I am a lucid dreamer, which means I am sometimes awake and dreaming simultaneously, and every now and then I have a premonition that turns out to be accurate, though usually it is regarding some mundane matter.

I had come to think of myself as a failure in all matters esoteric, until recently. My friend, a life-long Tarot reader, bought me Tarot cards and a great book of traditional interpretations for my birthday. While I don’t have the time or inclination to immerse myself in Tarot just now, I have been pulling one card for myself every morning as a kind of guide for the day. The very first card I ever drew, the day after my birthday, was the Queen of Pentacles. Well, that’s me, I thought after checking her out in the book: the queen of my own little world, the queen of routine (my husband calls me that), in touch with physical reality but not otherworldly like so many of the characters in the deck. What’s become so interesting to me since then is that I draw pentacles almost all the time, every two out of four days on average! And that seems more than a coincidence when you consider that in addition to four suits, there are twenty-two Major Arcana cards, which are suitless. I should have known this would happen; I’m a Capricorn!

It still frustrates me that I have not become the healer/psychic/fortuneteller/shaman I’ve always wanted to be, but all the pentacles in my life have awakened me to the fact that there is plenty of magic to regard right here, on planet Earth. As the Queen of Pentacles (how I like to think of myself now), my job is not to cross over and bring back knowledge from the other side but to find it here, in nature, in the people and pets in my life. As Rachel Pollack, the author of my new Tarot book, says, “The Earth in its completeness and solid reality bears its own magic.”

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