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If you really want to ensure that the pennies you find are indeed charms or messages left by ghosts -- sweep first.
Sweeping ups the challenge level; but also it takes the doubt out. Unless your home is new construction, you'll nearly always find those Last Dustpan Piles left behind by the vacating human occupants. Those coins don't count (you know they don't) so start your ritual with a clean floor.
Sweeping is, in my opinion, one of the most multi-purpose practical, functional, and productive spiritual activities you can engage in -- excepting, of course, exercise. (Yes, vacuuming is the obvious alternative if you have carpeted rooms.)
I sweep daily. Not only the obvious places like the kitchen, but also the sidewalk, the driveway, the curb at the street. I'm sure the neighbors driving by think I'm obsessive-compulsive; when I'm in my senior years, stooped and ancient, I'll hopefully pass for eccentric and a bit anachronistic -- one of Those Little Old People.
For everyday sweeping spells I use a trusty full-size industrially manufactured (but still natural fiber) straw broom; but for rituals, such as the Penny Charm Contract, I go full-on hand-made besom. I've had my besom since the mid 1970s -- it looks like it came straight out of the props collection for a Loreena McKennitt album cover photo shoot.
I swept through the rooms of Daniel, prattling on out loud to whatever spirits might be present. I talked to them just as I would one of my new living neighbors. I have always experienced satisfying results from informal, improvisational rituals; formal prayers scripted by other people or choreography out of books feels a little fake to me. That kind of self-consciousness is a red flag indicating a lack of authenticity; therefore, the true power may be diminished.
I left the house and returned the next day with my first car load of stuff.
On the long drive back into the city, I kept picturing where I was most likely to find a coin waiting for me. I hurried through the front entry and past the living room, a quick raking glance in either direction assured me those boards were still bare.
As I anticipated, I discovered the coin in the dining room at the back of the house, about twelve inches in front of the door with the stairs leading up to the attic.
I was still convincing myself it was indeed there -- a dull rusted penny -- even a heartbeat or two after spotting it. I picked it up to see what year it was... 1973. Aw, wouldn't it have been perfect if it could have been 1969, the year of my birth? Already the stuff of stories, the symmetry of that detail was probably too much to ask for... But it did occur to me that my brother was born in '73.
Maybe they were drawn to him, more than me. He's more naturally sensitive... Ghosts, pets, babies have always found him instantly approachable. Maybe he'd even been by the Daniel house last night, since I performed the spell, and spoke to them, unknowingly or not.
I placed the coin on top of the sill on that most obvious of doorways and thanked the spirits for accepting us into their home.
Well, there it is, I thought. I can officially move in now.
I went out to my car and brought the first box into the back bedroom.
There was another penny, by the closet door. (Minted in the late 1990's; nothing exceptional about that.) This closet was actually the underside of the staircase to the attic -- the same space, reached from a door on the other side.
The most logical places for the two main desktop computers were in the spots where the coins had been found. This proved to be very significant, but that's a story within a story within this one that I will have to come back to some time.
My Old Lady Baby
Sarah would not go into my bedroom. From the first moment she entered the house she knew where the activity centered. She had been physically moved more than most cats can handle and had generally learned to adapt quickly to new places, but during the entire year that we lived at Daniel, she stubbornly refused to go near any of the hot spots in the house or in the outside surrounding property.
Even though she'd slept with me for fourteen years, at Daniel she stayed in the hallway looking into my bedroom. She'd nose in briefly and glance around, but she would never settle down or stay, no matter how often I tried to talk her into it. She simply wasn't comfortable in the room. She'd sit on her haunches watching through the door while I worked at the computer. I finally had to make her a little fleece pallet in the hall because I couldn't stand to see her sleeping on the hard floor like a stray on a stoop.
She would follow me partially up the stairs when I went into the attic, craning her neck to see and calling for me to come back, but unable to commit to exploring the little room at the top.
I was most excited for her about the back yard because she had always required an outside space to go poke about in -- in all the years of my twenties and into my thirties, I had never been able to live in a building because her quality of life required a ground level door or window and a patch of grass. The Daniel House seemed like a dream living situation -- it had an enormous entirely fenced-in back lot with loose hedge rows and ancient trees.
I just knew she'd be in heaven, and I'd be able to release the part of my breath I always held when she ventured outside.
The first time I coaxed her beyond the mud room door and out onto the patio slab, she took one look at the giant's foot print that my brother believed was a cellar and she never went out there again unchaperoned. She insisted on going out to squat on the front concrete steps instead, mirroring the old lady that watched us from her porch across the street.
It felt like Sarah was telepathically downloading data -- energetic history about the house -- from that little crone, right through the screen door, across lawn and asphalt and grass again.
It wasn't the first time my familiar befriended a neighborhood granny woman -- she was drawn to them. I imagined that they delivered her updates of wisdom in their coos and whispers and little fishy treats, instructions from some secret network of Bene Gesserit overseers for whom she was an agent in disguise.
Even when she was the size of my fist, Sarah never really behaved like a kitten; she seemed more like a tiny Bette Davis stalking about in feline furs (a bit disgusted with my direction, disappointed with the role, but playing it to the full extent of her thespian power).
My own little frustrated fairy god mother. I called her my Old Lady Baby.
Sarah hunched in the back doorway beside the washing machine and the recycling bins and watched me sweep the patio slab. She eyed the wet concrete with her wary sneer, as if I skated on the frozen gray crust of a poisoned pond. Perhaps she had already read the uncanny language written there, the hieroglyphs of fallen twigs.
I'd been obliterating the patterns with my broom for several afternoons before I began to notice the calligraphic lines of the sticks and leaf stems.
The tree that towered above the little house was an Ent leaning over to write across Daniel's roof, sidewalk, and drive. I was standing on a giant dryad's composition, padding and scratching back and forth between the margins, erasing whole parts of paragraphs in the middle of a tree spirit's page.
This was several years ago, remember, at a time when I acquired my first cheap digital camera. I snapped hundreds of gritty pics of these formations. My first thought was honestly photographing fairies not ghosts, that I was capturing evidence of some kind of geomancy.... the patterns alluded every so slightly and delicately to something more like crop circles, ley lines, and standing stones.
(I didn't plan on including That Writing in this particular piece of writing or else I would have better prepared for it. Somewhere, among boxes of hundreds of burned CDs and computer cables, there is a folder on a broken external drive obsessive-compulsively filled with these images. If I find them I will replace the illustrations here or maybe dump a handful in a Facebook photo album. I will one day run across them -- it has happened before -- and when it does, I'll alert you to check them out with a post or a tweet.)
The more I looked, the more this leafy litter began to seem arranged to me. The most unsettling thing about that was the needle prick of realization of all the messages I must have already destroyed with my sweeping.
The empty moss-edged slab became a deleted document.
I don't remember where the impulse came from -- the idea that I might be able to put back what I'd removed -- but I scooped a fistful of sticks and stems, acorn caps and pine cone scales, and then yanked the floor of my palm out from under them, letting the debris fall to the pavement like a handful of jacks.
A column of repetition and pattern appeared, a streak of order. And the order wanted to mean something.
I hurried into the house to find the camera, as if the message would dissemble or somehow blow away if my stare wasn't there to hold it in place.
I photographed the sloppy wannabe Andrew Goldsworthy-esque graffiti.
Then I threw another handful. Pic snap. And then another.
The afternoon light faded toward dark-thirty, and Sarah nagged me to come back inside. She had given in once or twice to the overwhelming impulse to scuttle up, tail low, and sniff at my divination.
Digression: Isn't it misleading that the word stichomancy is a form of throwing open a book and selecting a random passage for the purpose of divination? I've run across multiple terms but the word cleromancy will do: a very ancient technique of divination by throwing lots using small objects like beans, stones,sticks, shells, dice, bones, or pottery shards.
My friend Seth taught his little niece and nephew to play a game based on my experience where they throw sticks and then see if they can identify an image that the composition looks like -- perhaps a laughing face, or a racing boat, or the exact moment a flower's petals are blown off by a breeze.... The hope is that a child might unselfconsciously crack the code that an adult mind worries into nonsense.
Sarah seemed to think the lots I'd drawn were meaningful as well, but she insisted by her head-tossing meows that I could just as easily study the images on the computer. I spent hours that night watching the pictures slowly cross-fade in a slide show, accompanied by an iTunes playlist provided by the Ghost in the Machine.
In the pauses between songs I started to hear it; and with a mouse-click I hushed the house. Sarah and I cocked out ears to listen....
There it was again, through the wall behind the computer -- no, the ceiling in my closet, which was the attic stairs --
The unmistakable ping and the miniature drumroll rattle -- the tiny manhole cover clatter -- of a coin dropped on a hard floor.
...to be continued...
Image credit kaiton via Creative Commons on Flickr
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