To keep us squirts amused during the summer months, Margaret, my grandmother often humoured us by reading our tea leaves to predict the future as she sat with us in her pink polyester pyjamas, snug in her kitchen after breakfast, the fire in the wood-burning stove behind us, giving off one last crack before burning down for the morning.
Sitting beside her, I would examine the soggy remnants of tea leaves as they clung to the inside of her cup. I was skeptical but still wanted to believe her predictions of the future which Margaret rendered from the leaves’ shapes such as the prophecy of a mysterious letter, waiting in the mailbox in town, or perhaps a visitor arriving that evening.
The anticipation of evening visitors at Margaret’s always meant fun. Kids running and playing Ante Over outside, sailing the ball over the garage roof, screaming with delight, Margaret usually running with us like one of the kids, trying to tag someone from the other side with the ball.
Brian (see article, “If It’s Made for Good, It’s Good”) speaks about his own grandfather Andrew and the use of lightning sage, a sacred medicine that grows wild on the prairie to help him see into the future. He also shared how his other grandfather, Dan, would climb up onto a hill and sit with his pipe, encircled in sage for protection during his quest to perceive what the future held. I wondered if Margaret’s game of reading our tea leaves had actually stemmed from a more serious practice with her own grandmother.
Tassology, the practice of reading tea leaves to predict the future, is a form of psychic ability. Addie’s mother, Pearl, practiced the same in The Will, sitting at her breakfast table still in her nightie, amusing her children with portents of life there on the lake. But at one point in the story, it becomes unclear as to whether the leaves she read in her kitchen that morning were for entertainment or if the clouds she saw in her chipped cup foretold of disastrous real-life events to come, the subsequent storm that caught Addie’s father out on the lake.
The gift of second sight is another form of psychic ability. Its Gaelic name “an da-shealladh” does not literally mean a second sight but two sights. In addition to the vision of the world possessed by those with eyesight, those with second sight possess vision of the world of spirits and the possession of this additional vision gives them “two sights.” Brian speaks about the Indigenous Lodge as a vehicle where visions of the spiritual world are also experienced. As water is poured and hisses over red hot rocks, spirits visit and insight is gained into the past as well as the future.
Second sight was considered to be especially common in the Western Isles off of the Scottish coast where my great great grandmother, Euphemia (born on the Isle of Islay, the most southerly of the Western Hebrides islands, see article, “Slàinte mhath”) and Addie’s grandmother in the story originated. It is believed this ability can be passed down from parent to child. Incidents in the novel indicate that Addie suspects the gift of second sight may have been passed down to her from her own grandmother. Andrew possessed powerful medicine. Where had his abilities originated? Certainly, Alfie would have benefited from some clairvoyant ability to see what the future held for him. How was he to know what loomed ahead, unsuspecting of such historical change both in weather and economic climate, the impact it would have on their lives. How might his life have been different if he’d known? Or would it have made a difference?
I wonder how many of us possess this ability to read tea leaves or experience visions of the spiritual world and live unaware of our spiritual gifts. As a result of my search for an answer to questions such as this, and my interest in learning more about psychic experiences and clairvoyance specifically, I consulted with a clairvoyant. I was about a year into writing the manuscript for The Will and had conducted a lot of archival research and historical reading before first meeting with Tammy, who is both a Claire audient and Claire sentiment, meaning that she can both hear and feel the spirit with whom she’s communicating. As with Margaret’s tea leaves, I was skeptical but intrigued and allowed myself to be a little hopeful that my readings with Tammy might even better acquaint me with the protagonists in my novel.
The first visit to Tammy Moyen @tammymoyen was after I’d learned that she’d just published her first book, Heaven’s Guiding Touch: True Accounts from the Spirit World and that she had gained a growing clientele as a psychic medium both locally and internationally. The readings to follow were to become another form of research entirely. Alfie is one of the main characters in the story, but he’s also my grandfather who I’d never known in real life. Because he passed away before I was born, the closest I came to meeting him was by way of a picture taken of him standing in the middle of his farmyard in a tweed coat and fedora, a pipe clamped between his teeth. Andrew, another main character in the story, was a family friend whose life was a constant battle to reclaim the rights and sovereignty his ancestors once possessed. Although fictionalized in the book, I still craved insight into what Alfie and Andrew had been like, their personalities, a sense of how they felt in their real-life circumstances.
But, on another level, I believe I wanted to check in to get a read on how “ok” my family’s spirits were feeling about my writing project as well. Some of what I was planning to reveal in my book was not pretty. I was seeking their approval.
The first evening, as I settled in for a reading with Tammy, she was able to communicate with Alfie very quickly. She told me that she saw the shadowed image of an older man in a fedora leaning on his cane and I knew immediately that this was Alfie, for I knew he had used a cane right before his death because of the vehicle accident he’d been involved in. I inadvertently transposed his dark leaning image onto the image of the barn, an important structure in The Will as it veered away from the north wind in the novel. The barn became a personification of Alfie in the story.
After Tammy’s first communication with Alfie, I later woke up that same night at home with the distinct feeling that Alfie was sitting in my kitchen below, hunched over my laptop in his tweed coat and fedora at the old wooden table where I write. I lay with my eyes open, listening, and I imagined him there, willing the words to come forth, his story to be told. Then I turned over and sank back into sleep with the comfort of this knowledge.
Just prior to my second reading with Tammy, I’d returned from a holiday in Mexico where I’d learned that Monny, a friend there, had lost her young son. He was an engineering student who was killed in a street attack in Guadalajara. Distressed at his violent death, struck from the earth far too soon and without having had any opportunity to say goodbye, she was torn with grief, distraught with the belief that she would never be able to speak with him again. I told Monny about my experience with Tammy and that perhaps Tammy could be of some help to her.
On my return home, I hadn’t mentioned Monny to Tammy, but it was not long into our second session when Tammy became aware of another presence in the room totally unrelated to my own family members. She felt an undeniable force that seemed to burst in with such strength and determination, Tammy was obliged to give it her full attention. By piecing together the messages she was receiving from this unknown presence and the details Monny had shared with me of her son’s death, Tammy understood that it was Monny’s son that was visiting her that evening and that he wanted his mother to know that she was not to worry about him. As a clairvoyant, Tammy was later able to conduct more than one spiritual reading with Monny directly and help bring comfort and closure to her with her son’s death in Mexico.
The day any doubt as to the authenticity of these readings was completely removed from my mind was just after having finished writing the chapter “The Heifer.” In this part of the story, Andrew is in the barn giving instructions to Alfie as they deliver a calf. The scene took place in early spring, and it’s noted in the narrative that Alfie found the barn to be uncomfortably cold. Tammy had no idea that I’d just written this chapter or had any knowledge of the details which it contained, but during the reading that evening, she relayed the message from Alfie to me that indeed the barn had been cold. I was awestruck. Alfie seemed to have full knowledge of what I’d written as if he’d been peering over my shoulder as I wrote. And yet I was surprised to find that this knowledge didn’t make me feel uneasy whatsoever but, instead, provided assurance knowing that Alfie was indeed along for the journey and that I had his support in writing his story.
Through Tammy’s eyes, I was also able to construct the scene in the chapter, “To Stand Alone.” This chapter describes Andrew’s visit to Alfie’s home one evening and the words that I used in the first line of the chapter are much the same as what Tammy heard as medium from Andrew: “We beat them. We beat those fools at their own game.”
As I sit, swivelling my empty tea cup between my fingers, I think of the role that psychic ability has inadvertently played in our lives over generations and presently. I think of Tammy’s impact, how she eased Monny’s sorrow and gave her the opportunity to know that her son is ok in his afterlife; how she connected me to the grandfather I’d never met and helped me to represent him in The Will with the compassion I would have otherwise shown him in real life. I think of Indigenous medicine and how men such as Andrew used it to guide them.
I wonder when Tammy first realized that she was clairvoyant. I wonder if my own great great grandmother Euphemia from Islay had possessed the gift of second sight as so many others who had descended from that part of the world. And if that’s the case, are there vestiges of that same gift drifting through my own veins? Is it possible that perhaps I’ve inherited it but just haven’t recognized its existence and power? What insight do I stand to gain if only I could learn how to access such a gift?
I contemplate the tea leaves that cling to the inside of my cup and wonder what I’m meant to see, what message the leaves’ shape might hold. I recall those moments with Margaret as she sat in her pink pyjamas at the kitchen table, enjoying a relished cup of tea steeped in the peacefulness of her kitchen before we exploded into her world for the day. I wonder if perhaps she saw more than what she let on or perhaps was at least meant to see more. I guess that remains to be seen.