As several folks know by now, I'm home again — yay! Home is wonderful; I think it's truly where those you love are, rather than any particular geographical location. I'm writing as swiftly as I can — whilst also unpacking, relaxing, greeting old friends, and otherwise enjoying myself — since I want to get down all the wonderful and varied memories and reactions I have of the trip, before they fade. Forgive me, please, if things get a little long or jumbled as a consequence.

So! Returning to my favorite place: there were a few other things I got to do in New Orleans which I rather enjoyed, and which made my time there personally wonderful. For example, one of my instructors at CIIS told me of Voodoo Authentica which is a store selling voodoo paraphernalia that is owned and run by an actual voodoo priestess. The store clerk there that day was friendly and quite pragmatic about the spiritual practice, which said to me that they were far more for real than the supposed voodoo shop now located in what is believed to be Marie Leveau's former little house. I peeked into that one and saw a sign over the door that said something about strange beliefs and strange gods, in a garishly drippy font — and on the back wall was a figure of a supposed voodoo deity. It was the classic christian devil, depicted as a mix of the Smith-Waite tarot deck devil and Goya's El aquelarre — except it was wearing a painted-on bra! Utterly hilarious; I hope no one actually believed that tripe was "real" voodoo. :)

Also, it's been my experience that it's the small things that really bring joy to a day. I was walking down Bourbon Street and feeling rather overheated, and I noticed one of the small metal gateways leading down a dark, cool alleyway into an inner courtyard was propped ajar. I took a photo of what little I could glimpse of the inner courtyard, then stood there and thought a moment. It looked like apartments rather than a single home, and there was a small hanging sign saying it was the Bon Maison… the gateway was propped open… why not? The worst that happened was I said I was lost and they called the police on me or something, right? So I walked on in.

It was absolutely lovely. The little inner courtyard was full of greenery and a few decorative wrought-iron tables and chairs. The environment was cool, breezy, and beautiful, with the peaceful tinkling of a small fountain chiming along with the chirping of a big aviary of blue parakeets. I found myself wonder if this was some sort of bed & breakfast, and if so… could I talk some friends into coming here to visit with me later? I stayed long enough to take some photos and to cool off; it was a really pleasant, almost magical interlude.

Later, strolling down various streets and proudly sporting my lovely new N'Awlins T- shirt, I was deeply amused to be mistaken on three separate occasions for a native! In one case it was a tarot reader sitting on a street corner, as I paused to chat for a bit. He did not have the usual Waite-Smith deck, but rather an unusual one which used symbolism from several mythologies: Egyptian, North American Indian, a sort of Northern/Norse mingle, and Hindu. For example, I noticed the Venus of Willendorf was one of the "Northern" queens, which intrigued me and and was what got us chatting. I also noticed not only zodiacal symbols, but also I-Ching hexagrams and Norse runes on the cards, which fascinated me — this was clearly a deck with a lot of varied symbolism woven into the lovely paintings. Not only that, but instead of kings and queens, the court cards were Mother, Father, Daughter, and Son, for a more pleasing and equal representation of gender.

I've since discovered this deck is called the Haindl tarot deck, and that it "is not an occult tarot deck in the sense [of] Crowley/Frieda Harris' Thoth Tarot… [but] is rather… a holy tarot, reaching back into the spiritual traditions of many cultures. … the main theme of the deck is the revival of the Earth, not only of the material resources of the earth, but also the spiritual life" (from the above-linked web site).

Discovering the deck's spirituality has made me even happier with the reading, actually. The young man had me pull an initial card for him for my current relationship with my environment, so I shuffled the deck, cut, and held the selection up without looking, saying only, "This one." He looked startled, so I looked at the card — and found I'd selected the High Priestess. He blinked and asked me to shuffle the deck again, then pull a card or three — I think to see if he wanted to read for me. I pulled two cards side-by- side: White Buffalo Calf Woman (the Mother of the West or Stones/Earth — Earth is my zodiacal element) and Strength (a woman before a large, gnarled tree, who is effortlessly holding up a huge, calm snake — all powerful Goddess symbolism). That's when he mistook me for a native of the city. When I laughed and corrected him, adding that despite not being a native I loved the city already, he said the most curious thing. He told me that those whom NOLA loves, she removes their masks one by one — until what is left is their truest, most heartfelt self… but those whom NOLA does not care for? She takes the mask they're wearing when they enter her — and makes them no more than that, for as long as they live within her.

He added, at my raised eyebrow, that she and I seemed to be getting along quite well already. My thought: This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship! I definitely want to return to New Orleans. ;)

I've since discovered the meaning of the rune Uruz, the Aurochs, which was also depicted on the High Priestess card; I found it an inspiring omen. Uruz apparently signifies the following, which I believe works really well for someone about to embark on their dissertation!

Characteristics Terminations, new beginnings. An opportunity disguised as a threat. Mental agility. Physical development, mental and bodily health. Power. Uruz encompasses physical strength, endurance, courage, and the raw, wild power of freedom. It includes emotional and spiritual strength, … and good health. It can also imply a challenge leading to a major life change.

Personal Interpretation You have the strength within you to fulfill all your dreams, but with strength comes responsibility. Strength is not a force to wield over others, but a force to stop others exerting power over you. Use your strength to keep focused on your path and to stop yourself being outmanoeuvred [sic]. There will always be negative people, but don't let them upset you. Master your own ego and you will succeed.

The rune on Strength was a thrill to discover too: Sigel, also known as Sowilo or Sól! Her meaning is: "a rune for good things, a time of joy, when all good things are in place, and for a while, we can rest." The Light of love, life, and knowledge has always held a special place for me, as does knowing the Norse saw the Sun or Sunna as female.

So, returning to the tarot reader: the young man then had me pull ten cards for the reading I'd asked for, which I thought turned out quite well. The Haindl tarot cards have their definitions written at the bottom, so my draw started with Power (which he emphasized meant both power earlier taken unrighteously from me, as well as power which I will be gaining) and ended with Knowledge. I remember the Tower (apparently a power card in the Haindl deck), but not much more — I wish I'd thought to write down all the rest of the cards. I do remember being amused at how many court and arcana cards there were. Since I was wondering how my dissertation would go, I think overall it was an excellent and inspiring reading for me. ;)

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