Yve looked up from cleansing her cards to see that her next customer had glided in almost without her noticing. She had the same routine after each reading: a straighten, a tap to shake off any energies they had picked up, and then she wrapped them back in their silk cloth to keep them protected. Normally she felt the presence of someone dithering by the entrance long before they actually entered the tent, but this woman’s aura had shrunk almost to nothing. Yve hadn’t heard anything either, like the sound of footsteps or the flap of the door. Clearly the tap could hide a lot!
Today Yve’s tent was between two yew trees, in the most secluded corner she could find. It wasn’t ideal, but she had done it before, and it was fascinating who dropped in for a tarot reading when they thought no one was watching. Some came in small groups, especially teenagers too shy to approach on their own, or ‘village ladies’ giving their donation to help the village hall fund but not really interested in what she had to say, treating the whole thing as a social event. She tried to frame her readings appropriately, choosing her language if not the actual cards. But those who came on their own wanted something more. Answers, or help. They may have approached the tent a few times before getting up the courage to enter and, like this woman, would be on their feet again at the slightest breath of wind rustling the tent.
It was so much easier at her house when she could make a cup of tea, adding whatever herbs or spices seemed to be needed. It helped people relax, even if it was only cradled in the hands instead of being drunk.
Smiling a welcome, Yve indicated for the woman to sit down opposite her. Young, late twenties maybe, dressed fashionably and would have been pretty until fairly recently, but today she was like a shadow hiding behind her curtain of dark hair. Bruised and hurting. It made Yve’s breath catch to see her, because it was like looking in a mirror. One that turned the clock back forty years.
“Let’s see now,” she muttered to herself, before her hand seemed to go for the white tablecloth. Light was clearly needed, but she knew better than to think too hard about why she picked what she did. She made a show of spreading the cloth out in front of them, and placing a deck of cards squarely in the centre. A picture deck, that was simple and straightforward and generally didn’t scare people, rather than one of her more gothic decks.
“Would you like to shuffle, or shall I?” Yve asked, cutting out all the smalltalk and getting straight to the point. She wasn’t surprised when the woman indicated for her to shuffle. Yve did so, feeling clumsy and heavy as she picked up the woman’s energies. “Now, could you cut the pack into three for me? And again? And a third time?” she asked, piling the cards back on top of each other each time. “Thank you. I’m doing the Celtic Cross today, so let’s see what the cards reveal.” She wasn’t doing this layout for most people, but the woman didn’t need to know that. Again, it just felt like that’s what she needed to do.
She turned over the first card and her heart started thumping harder. “So, the first card, Five of Swords. Two broken swords, facing three whole ones, which you have no chance of defeating. So this is who you are, or how you feel right now, and the first step towards self-knowledge is to know what you can and cannot do.” Having nothing to base any advice on, Yve decided to move on quickly and hope the next card would be better.
“Second card shows your present obstacles, so Nine of Discs reversed. You have money, but you do not like its source. It isn’t making you happy the way you thought it would.”
Yve wanted to say more, feeling there must be something positive to bring out, but the cards almost drove her onwards. “Third card, present situation, The Wheel of Fortune. This indicates the passage of time, showing how everything ebbs and flows. What has been sown shall be reaped. Everything comes in its season. This can be good or bad depending on what is around it, but given its position you will read it better than me for what you have right now. Fourth card then, the root of the matter, Four of Swords reversed. The swords are decorative and planted in the ground here, so this indicates a time of rest and recuperation. The flowers are known as bruisewort. However being reversed suggests that this is enforced, not of your own choosing. It can mean seclusion, being cut off from others, or even imprisonment.”
The woman sat stock still, giving nothing away at any point. Her lips had thinned to a line, pale and lacking lipstick. Yve was sure she had had lipstick on when she had come in, had it been bitten off?
She paused, too aware that something wasn’t right. The energies had shifted in the tent, darker, unhappy. She tried to fill herself with as much light as possible before continuing. “So the next two cards to make up the cross show the past and future influences. Five of Wands; the spears in this picture hover above the ground, not touching it, and with their heads in the clouds. It is suggesting that in the past you haven’t always been grounded in reality, that you were carried away by dreams, so things are starting to fall apart. Opposite that, we have the Ace of Wands, which …”
A rustle in the door made Yve look up. The woman had vanished.
Yve laid the remaining cards down carefully, then struggled to her feet feeling that she had failed. Her light had been too little too late.
Reaching for her cane, she made her way awkwardly out of the tent. Her corner of the green was fairly deserted, just other villagers enjoying the fête and starting to drift off home or to the pub; her quarry had long gone. She paused and asked the yew trees to guide her. A rustle, she saw a broken branch, and in the distance the woman rounding a corner heading towards the river. Yve thought for a moment, then sent up a prayer for the yew to hold her there. Create a boundary. It might take more than a few minutes for her to walk that far.
“Don’t do it,” Yve called, as soon as she was within shouting distance. Then as she joined her on the stone packhorse bridge, she repeated, “Don’t do it, you didn’t see the future card.” She reached for the woman’s wrist where she was holding a sprig of berried yew, just ripening.
The woman pulled away from her, hiding behind her hair, but Yve wouldn’t let go of her wrist. “Trust me, chewing on yew berries isn’t the answer. It won’t solve anything. Besides, it isn’t your time.”
“Like you would know.” There was derision in her voice, as if her world was so different than Yve’s ever was, as if no one could understand or help her.
However Yve did know, and her heart went out. “I know that the yew tree didn’t want to be taken like that, didn’t want to be eaten by you today. It betrayed you, you see. Showed me where you were. If it was really your time, then you would have succeeded and I wouldn’t be talking to you now. I wouldn’t have caught up with you.”
The woman jumped, then dropped the twig in her hand, defeated. It fell into the river below them and slowly drifted off downstream.
Yve breathed a sigh of relief that the first part of her task was accomplished, although she also knew the spell was now broken and the woman was free to leave at any time. She trusted her instinct that the woman wanted to be found was correct. “That’s better, we can talk now. Let’s go and sit on that bench for a few minutes while I rest my foot. Then you can help me walk back up the hill again.”
“Sorry,” the woman muttered.
Making a bigger deal than normal, Yve hobbled over to the bench she liked to sit at each morning or evening, and then after taking a moment to centre herself, looked up and smiled. A smile filled with love for this woman who had chosen to help and be helped. “I’m sorry I stopped you crossing the bridge,” she admitted.
“That was you? It was like a barrier, I just couldn’t go any further. It was so freaky. Are you a witch?”
“It depends what you mean by a witch. You could have thrown the yew away at any time. Then you would have been free.”
“So I’m free now? I can just go?”
She looked like she was about to make a run for it. Almost petulant, like a teenager Yve thought. It made her feel old. “You could, although you’ve promised to help me back up the hill, remember? And besides, I would like to know what you be going back to. Trying again with another piece of yew won’t do, you know!”
“I can’t do this any more.” The woman bent over and cried silently into her hands, her curled back shaking with the effort of holding it in. She was younger than Yve had first thought, with little experience of life to fall back on.
“Yes you can, I told you, you didn’t see the future card. Ace of Wands. It is good for starting afresh, and holds raw, creative power.”
The woman rubbed her hands on her legs, discomposed. She sniffed, then searched her pockets for a tissue to blow her nose on. “But that first card, it said I couldn’t defeat the swords pointing at me.”
Yve cursed herself. She had known what she was saying was wrong, yet the right words hadn’t come to her. Although perhaps this woman had needed to reach the breaking point for some reason, perhaps only then was she prepared for what was to come. “I think I said you felt that you couldn’t defeat the swords. There’s a world of difference.”
“It was true what they said about money, too. I have all I want, and yet none of it is mine and I’m never allowed to forget it. I feel like a … like a …” She broke off and clenched her fists. “Yes I’m almost a prisoner. I shouldn’t be talking to you. I shouldn’t be here. I was shopping, food, it’s all in the car. Exactly matched to the list with receipts to prove everything I bought. There was an accident, the main road was closed and the diversion route was so blocked I thought I was going to be late. So I tried this way, and the fete… It was like I couldn’t possibly be on time no matter what I did. And when I tried to turn around, there was this tractor, unloading bales of hay. Hay! Isn’t there enough grass? So I thought I would walk around while I waited for him to move. He’s going to kill me. He really is going to kill me.” Her voice rose in pitch as she neared becoming hysterical.
Yve covered the woman’s hand with her own, and was surprised how cold it was. It seemed to calm her though.
“People tried to warn me, years ago. What he was like.”
“You’re not the first person to be taken in by someone, and you won’t be the last either,” Yve said gently.
“I have to lie to go anywhere and I’m always terrified of being caught out the whole time. I thought the cards would give me hope, but they were so accurate it was horrible. Everything. Why do you read them?”
Yve rubbed her forehead for a moment. “Okay, if you want to believe everything the cards said, let me tell you the last four. Then you can decide. Card seven, your attitude, was in fact not Death but Initiation, which is a ritual death, renewal and rebirth. I would suggest that you wished to die not physically, but spiritually, so that you could be reborn stronger, able to cope.” She paused, letting her words take effect. She could feel she was on the right track now. “Its hard, harder than you might believe at times, but possible. Remember, this card is in the position that shows what you want, not what is necessarily coming. Card eight shows how others see you, which was Ten of Cups. The cups are brimming over, you have an amazing harvest to reap, your talents and achievements are recognised and admired by those who know you. Card nine shows your hopes and fears, which was Seven of Discs. The discs are bright gold, but there is aconitum growing around them. This is a warning that there are no shortcuts, you will need to work for what you want. Finally card ten, the outcome, was in this deck The Druid card. Others label him The Heirophant, or even The Pope. He represents the ability to tell right from wrong, good from bad, and can find his own balance. He is deeply spiritual, and wise for he knows how to listen.” Yve wondered whether to add that it could also indicate the presence or arrival of a teacher, but as she did not wish to influence the outcome, stayed silent.
After a minute or two the woman repeated her question. “Why do you read them?”
The question had a different meaning the second time, which Yve felt she had to try and answer. “Personally I respect them, I respect their wisdom, and I like their shortcuts to the truth. I could use alternatives, like Runes, or a crystal ball, but somehow the pictures of the cards give people something to latch onto. I would suggest you wanted a different answer to the one you got. You have been trying to avoid reality, hoping somehow things would magically change and then all would be okay. You came looking for when and how this magical change would happen. The cards didn’t give you that. Instead they showed you your inner strength. You can make the changes.”
“Yeah right. You make it sound so easy.”
“No, but I believe in you. What is more, the yew trees believe in you as well. Yew showed me a better way, forty years ago now. I’ve never gone back. Karen my name was. I changed that too, along with the rest of me.”
The woman looked up abruptly, as if she couldn’t believe anyone else had ever been in a similar position to herself, let alone Yve sitting demurely next to her in her blue tunic and cream trousers. As if she’d been a yoga teacher all her life, perhaps, instead of having to be very creative in how she earned her living and only settling down to a ‘normal’ life in her fifties. “What do you mean? What did you have to change. Sorry, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“I don’t mind. I was married once, a long time ago. Like yours, it wasn’t a happy relationship. I still bear the scars, like this ankle. Its been better over the years, but some things can’t be fully repaired. It reminds me though, of why I needed to leave, and why I’m never going back there. Never going to let someone else tell me what to think, how to act.” Her story was past history now, and it felt like someone else she was describing. And yet it had shaped who she was, who she had become. She thought back to what her feelings had been forty, thirty, even twenty years ago. “You know the strange part is that I always made excuses for everything that happened, that it was my fault in some way. It took me years to realise that it wasn’t my fault at all, that what I put up with was simply wrong.” And then quite a few more years to realise that actually some of it was me, just not in the way I thought, she added silently. She was such a different person now, able to love herself at last, and to forgive herself for what she had allowed to happen. But it could be hard to explain that to others.
“With a Y. It’s the old name for yew, like Yvonne or Yvette, or the French Yves. But he always called me Eve, the temptress, the seducer, who can’t be trusted. Before hitting me across the room.”
The woman started. “Last week. It still hurts. I didn’t want to be late today, didn’t think I could cope if it happened again.”
Yve felt angry on the woman’s behalf. “And why should you have to?”
A shrug. Despair. “What did you mean, yew showed you the way. Did you eat it?”
“Like you, I wanted to!” She was surprised how vivid the memory was, even now. And how much love she still carried for the ancient yew that she had chosen apparently at random. “I sat under a wonderful old tree, debating the best way to do it. Should I eat the berries, the red bit is apparently sweet and quite edible so I thought that might make it palatable, but I didn’t know how many seeds were needed. Did I need to just swallow the seeds, or chew them, and would I eat enough? Or should I try the needles or chew on a twig, given they too are poisonous and might be more concentrated? Maybe I should carve something into the wood first, my last message to him, to the world. I was scared. I don’t think I really wanted to die, and I didn’t want it to be painful or prolonged, but I didn’t know how to live either. If I just made myself ill, would someone be able to rescue me? I’d been in hospital before, but always had to go back home again because he had lied and covered over whatever happened. But would the yew buy me enough time to escape? I didn’t want kidney or liver failure, that wouldn’t be much of a life. I had so many questions, and forty years ago there wasn’t an internet with answers at the click of a mouse.”
“So what did you do?”
Yve grinned. “I did what we all do when pushed. Started talking to the tree.”
A look of puzzlement. “And?”
“Well it started talking back. It was an old tree, used to communicating, so we just sat there and talked. Actually most of the time we sat in silence; it was a pretty slow conversation. But we talked. And it started to tell me things. Like how to make myself invisible. How to be stronger. How to regenerate, to start again. Yes I died that day. My old self was no more by the time we had done talking. We talked all night, and into the next day. I walked from the tree to a police station and got help; my hospital records showed quite a picture once they were all brought together. I rebuilt myself and my life. I’ve never gone back.”
“Is that when you became a witch?”
Oh dear, labels, Yve thought. And not one she had ever been particularly comfortable with. “Does it make you happier to call me a witch?”
“Do you want to be a witch? Is that it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Good. Just be yourself. Find out who you are. If it turns out you are a witch, then so be it. If you are something else, then that will be fine too. No fixed ideas. The old you has gone, was prepared to die and has died metaphorically. The new you is formless, waiting to be created in the way you choose. So who are you?”
“Amy. Amy Fletcher, I want my old name back.”
“And what are you, right now?”
Amy took a deep breath. “Free.” She let the breath out. “Penniless, homeless, starting from scratch. You don’t happen to need an apprentice, do you?”
Yve laughed and shook her head. She had known from the moment she saw The Druid card that the question would come, but hadn’t worked out how to answer it until now. “I didn’t, but maybe that’s the direction I’m being called to.” She thought of her impending retirement, and her doubts over how to continue her shop which supported so many craftspeople through its sales. She wanted to reduce her hours, and spend more time doing other things. She hadn’t planned on teaching, but maybe it was time.
Then she suddenly realised Amy had said she was homeless. “Do you mean now? Right now?”
“I don’t want to go back. I don’t know how to go back.”
Yve rubbed her hand over her forehead again as she asked for guidance. This was more extreme than she anticipated, and actions taken through fear would ultimately lead to a harder road than if the actions came out of some more positive impulse. Love of life, for example.
But for her it had been the only way, and it might be like that for Amy too. She hoped what was left unsaid was as powerful for Amy as it had once been for her.
She nodded. “Okay. There were two yew trees by the tent. If you are ready to help me up the hill, then we will go and see the one you stole from. It’s a warm, dry night, I suggest you stay with the tree. Let it hide you, shelter you, conceal you until first light, by which time you should have the answers you need to move forwards. Then come and find me and we’ll have breakfast, and you can tell me what you have learned, what you have decided.”
Yes it was a brave step, but as they parted by the yew trees, one that Yve was now fairly confident that Amy could take. Yve knew that she would be there to help and support her, like a mother or grandmother, and in return maybe she would gain a child. The one she had never had.
She suddenly felt warm and loved inside, and thanked Yew for giving her something so unexpected, that made her feel life was going to be even better in the next decade than the last one. Everything was going to work out and be worthwhile. Life was wonderful.