It's in the Cards

The origins of many Western holidays lie in ancient pagan celebrations, and Halloween is no exception. Halloween conjures images of people dressed as ghouls, ghosts and witches.

Melissa Chow/
Guardian

Leslie, who reads tarot cards at Psychic Eye Bookshops in downtown La Jolla, happens to be a real-life witch. On Halloween she celebrates the traditional pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-wen).

“”Because it is a big party season I usually work. When I’m not working I have a religious ritual,”” Leslie said. “”Samhain was traditionally the time in which it was believed that the dead could communicate most freely with the people on Earth.””

On the night of Samhain, Oct. 31, the veil between the living world and the dead is said to be the thinnest, and “”is a very strong divination holiday”” for witches, according to Leslie. Samhain “”primarily is about connecting with [the witches’] sense of tradition, our ancestors, our spirit guides, the invisible world. … Often there’s an offering of food, or something like that is left out for the ancestors … to let them know we’re thinking about them,”” Leslie said.

Even newcomers to pagan lore can celebrate Samhain right here in San Diego, and no this does not include sitting at home with a Ouiji board. While Samhain celebrations may seem scarce compared to the gluttony of Haunted Houses on Market Street, Witches’ Night Out 2000 offers a traditional pagan celebration.

Witches Night Out 2000 is an annual ritual, put on by Covenant of the Goddess, and took place Saturday at the Scottish Rite Center, 1895 Camino Del Rio South, in Mission Valley. Nonetheless, Samhain rituals are still often difficult to discover.

“”The pagan community in San Diego tends to be pretty loose knit. … So there’s not a lot of public ritual in San Diego”” Leslie said.

Another reason that Samhain celebrations are not as prevalent as trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns is that there are many misconceptions about the holiday.

“”There is no sacrificing of babies that goes on,”” Leslie said. “”Nothing spooky and terrible. It is much more about connecting with our sense of history and our past and honoring that, and respecting that, and respecting the people who have gone before us.””

If spiritual gatherings are not your cup of tea, you can still have some metaphysical fun this Halloween without leaving the posh security of La Jolla.

At Psychic Eye Bookshops, located at 702 Pearl St., readers, including Leslie, will gladly deal the cards and decipher the runes for you. Leslie has been reading Tarot Cards since she was 10 years old. While attending University of Missouri at Columbia, earning her degree in journalism, she began reading at psychic fairs. She started working at Psychic Eye when she moved to San Diego in 1996.

Like the celebration of Samhain, fortune telling is also victim to many misconceptions.

“”I cannot immediately access all information that is relevant to every single person’s life just by looking at them”” Leslie joked “”There are a lot of misconceptions about what we do and what we are capable of doing … just because you go to see a psychic and you get a 15-minute reading, that does not mean that they can channel your dead grandmother; that does not mean they can give you the exact time and place of your death. There are some things that are not very feasible, particularly in a short period of time.””

There is also a difference between psychics and tarot card readers. “”Psychics can use any number of different methods, “” Leslie said. “”Some of them will just read intuitively … some of them work with tarot, some of them work with runes, some of them work with numerology or astrology.””

Most professional fortunetellers use a combination of methods. If you have your heart set on a particular type of reading, make sure you let your reader know before hand.

It is important to find a trustworthy reader. Leslie warns people about phone psychics because “”the vast majority of them, in my personal experience, are unreliable,”” she said.

Wicca, paganism and divination are often lumped together under the generic title “”new age.”” However, unlike witchcraft, tarot and other forms of divination “”are not religious or spiritual systems per se. … They are not a faith or a spiritual practice in the same sense that witchcraft or wicca is,”” Leslie said.

If insight into your life and the decisions you make is what you are interested in, a tarot card reading may be just what you are looking for. But of course if you are confused about what classes to take next quarter, you should stick with Academic Advising.

So, if you are disappointed with the same old Halloween parties and VH-1 rerunning the “”Rocky Horror Picture Show,”” remember there is a lot more to Halloween than face makeup and “”The Monster Mash.””

Like Santa Clause, Disneyland and the Easter Bunny, Halloween loses some of its magic with the passing of childhood. But hopefully discovering its ancient heritage will revive its mystique. No matter how you celebrate this Halloween — the modern or the old way — happy haunting and blessed be!