Life is full of opportunities. The problem is to recognize them when they present themselves, and that isn’t always easy. Mine, for instance, had all the marks of a curse: ‘Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993. You mustn’t fly that year. Don’t fly, not even once,’ a fortune-teller told me.
Tiziano Terzani – A Fortune Teller Told Me
My mother once told me, that when I was a child growing up in Ceylon, she had taken me (unbeknownst to my father) to see a fortune teller.
My mother had a rebellious streak in her. She had worked for Churchill during the War, as well as the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, during the Suez Crisis (when she confessed to have shredded numerous confidential files!) and then worked in Hungary during the 1950s when the country was firmly behind the Iron Curtain. She was reluctant to divulge too much about this stage of her life, but the fact that she knew Burgess, Philby and Maclean and later in her life was good friends with Gervase and Pamela Cowell the MI6 handlers in Moscow of Oleg Penkovsky who helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/may/16/guardianobituaries), leads me to have a sneaking suspicion that she may have been working for MI6 at this time!
My mother told me that the fortune teller she had taken me to see in Colombo had asked to look at my feet and then promptly pronounced, with utter certainty, that I was destined to be a traveller! Thereafter it was tacitly assumed by my mother that some day I would leave England and travel the world!
In Korea they would refer to this as ‘unmyong’ or fate. But having one’s fortune told in Korea, as I once discovered, was a much more nuanced affair.
Sometime in the late 1990s when I was living and working in Seoul, I was faced with some tough decisions which I couldn’t easily find a solution to. Somebody, half jokingly, suggested I visit a Korean fortune teller or shaman, to ascertain my best course of action. So I decided to take them up on their suggestion. One summer afternoon I made my way to the area of Seoul called Mia-dong that was famous for its fortune tellers ( as well as its red light district!) and went to see a mudang (shaman) who had been recommended to me by a friend.
In Korea there are around 300,000 fortune tellers (saju) in the country, in addition to 150,000 mudang (or shamans), who provide clairvoyance by communicating with spirits in addition to performing traditional ceremonies such as exorcisms.
I went with a friend to see the mudang, partly to help with the translation and partly for emotional support. I was somewhat apprehensive about how everything would unfold.
After reaching Mia-dong, we went down a small alley (kolmok) to get to the mudang’s house. We rang the doorbell and a wizened lady appeared at the door and led us into her house. We sat down and the ceremony began.
The room was suffused with incense as the mudang went into a deep trance. Then, as if she was possessed with a strange spirit, she began speaking to us in a strange voice that was completely different to the one she had greeted us with a few moments earlier. She asked me what I wanted to know and I proceeded to outline my dilemma.
“You must return to your home country” she replied. ” If you remain here, you will meet with great misfortune. If you return to your home country, you will eventually find the woman you desire. You will not find her here in Korea”.
And with that, the session was over. Now I admit that the mudang’s advice was pretty opaque but I did heed her words and what she had advised eventually worked out for the best. It wasn’t a preordained fate that I was presented with so much as a clearly defined set of options.
I am normally a fairly sceptical sort of individual but one of the reasons I went to see the Korean fortune teller was that I had recently read a book by an Italian journalist who, like me, had lived and worked in Asia for many years.
His name was Tiziano Terzani and the book I had read was called ‘A Fortune Teller Told Me’. Like me he had been cynical about fortune tellers but the events that were forecast and materialised in his life in 1993, enabled him to escape death and left him rather more open minded on the subject of fortune telling. On several occasions I thought of him while walking the VF, because he retired to and for many years lived in a village on the VF in Italy called Orsigna.
I was reminded of the fortune teller episode in Ceylon, as I walked from Langres to Torcenay today. I had said goodbye to Claude in the Le Foy Brasserie in Langres where we’d shared a quick coffee with Baptiste and his girlfriend before I set off for Torcenay shortly after 11am.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse. A mini tornado had struck Langres during the night and it was still blowing a gale as I headed out of Langres along the side of the Lac de la Liez. Telephone wires were down in many places I passed and the trail was littered with fallen trees.
The storm damage reminded me of another story I has heard while I was training to become a transpersonal psychotherapist around 15 years ago. My teacher, who was an American called Alan Pimentel, had originally been an accomplished drummer in an American jazz quartet before pursuing a career as a transpersonal psychotherapist.
One of his clients had been the famous cellist Paul Tortelier who had come to him at a low point early on in his career in the early 1980s. Alan had successfully enabled him to overcome a crisis of confidence and Paul Tortelier went on to achieve great success as a world famous cellist.
Some years later, Alan himself had faced a crisis of confidence and a loss of direction in his life. At the time in 1987 he was living in London. The same evening, on the 15th October that the ‘Great Storm’ struck the south of England, like King Lear, he had gone out onto the roof of his flat as the storm raged around him and screamed out to the heavens in exasperation and agony for an answer to his problems.
Later that week there was a knock on Alan’s door. It was the postman with a parcel for him. Alan carefully unwrapped the parcel. Inside was a letter from Paul Tortelier, with whom he had had no contact for many years, and a CD. The CD was Paul Tortelier playing the Bach cello suites for which he had received many awards and accolades. The letter was from Paul and his wife. Paul wrote that Alan had appeared in a dream to both Paul and his wife during the night of October 15/16th. In the dream, Alan had asked for an answer to his loss of direction in life. Paul and his wife had immediately realised that the answer to Alan’s question. He should return to his musical roots and return to playing the drums in a jazz band. Alan followed the advice and thereafter rediscovered a balance and harmony on his life that he had previously lacked.
As I navigated my way through the fallen branches , I saw one particularly large branch on the path that was covered in mistletoe. Immediately I was reminded of two things. The trees that I had seen over a week earlier beside the canal near Châlons en Champagne. The tops of some trees had been covered with a plant that I couldn’t identify in the distance. Now I realised that they had been covered in mistletoe.
I was also reminded of Olivia’s father, Cavell Cavell-Northam. He used to love growing mistletoe in his garden in Buckinghamshire and every Christmas when he visited us in Winterbourne Stoke, he would bring some mistletoe with him.
Known in his youth as the ‘Rock ‘n Roll vicar’ due to his habit of singing Buckinghamshire folk songs and playing the guitar in local pubs in his parish in the 1960s, Cavell became an inspirational and much loved parish priest in Stony Stratford in the 60s and 70s and his services would regularly attract congregations of over 400! Famous for his erudition, ‘wicked’ sense of humour, ebullient charm, and down to earth approach to religion, he was an inspiring figure who radiated love warmth and who touched the lives of so many people including me.
I’ve often felt on my walk that I’m being looked after in some strange way by various people. Seeing the mistletoe on the path this morning made me feel that Cavell is up there somewhere with a broad smile on his face, wishing me well on my walk to Rome.
I eventually made it safely to Torcenay and my lodgings with Jean-Louis and Sylvie. Baptiste shortly after I arrived and after we’d put out our wet clothes to dry by the fire we all say down for an enjoyable meal that Sylvie had prepared for us.
Life would be a lot simpler if we could see into the future and divine the passage of our lives. I often wonder, if my mother was alive today, what she would have made of my walk to Rome to raise money for the Raise the Roof Appeal. Doubtless she would turn towards me with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and say “Its just as the Fortune Teller Told Me!”