San Jose Sidequest: The Winchester Mystery House

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“This house will poison you.” The tour guide warned. Between the toxic red wood and the original lead paint, he meant it literally. The Winchester Mystery House was built by Winchester Rifle Company heiress Sarah Winchester who, as legend puts it, was directed to never stop building by the spirits of people killed by the guns that made her family so wealthy.

It’s a solid ghost story made more interesting by the fact that the layout of the home is so strange and unusual. Cabinets open to reveal solid walls. Stairways end abruptly into ceilings. Doors open into 10 foot drops (or more!). And those are only a few of the oddities within the walls of the sprawling Victorian mansion.

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I believed the legend. I believed it because I lived it for years. In high school and into my Freshman year of college, I was plagued by a reoccurring nightmare where I was running from something chasing me through a bizarre mansion. As I ran through decadent rooms, I’d encounter stairways to nowhere, doors that opened into thin air, windows in the floors, walls that sparkled like embers and floors that shifted. I remember several of the rooms, but the dream always ended in the same place – a blood-soaked room full of candles with a pentacle drawn on the floor and a single light fixture in the center of the ceiling with a dim red light.

At least twice a week I’d wake up crying and sweating, but I had no idea this house in my nightmare was real! Then one night Freshman year of college, I had the TV on as background noise while writing a paper and I heard a creepy voice describing the house from my nightmare. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. That moment triggered two things: 1) I never had the nightmare again and 2) I knew I had to visit the house someday.

So with my trip to E3 taking me to California, I booked a little side trip to San Jose to finally explore the mansion.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I booked my Mansion and Explore More tours. Was I Sarah Winchester in a past life? Would I feel weird? Would I get sick? Would I end up possessed? I tempered my expectations by reading Captive of the Labyrinth on the plane so I could better understand the facts of Sarah Winchester’s life.

The night before my visit, I pulled a card in my hotel room while thinking of Sarah Winchester’s life. It was the Six of Wands.

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This card is all about harnessing your talents and embracing success to make yourself known, which is exactly what Sarah Winchester did in building this house. Really, in building her life after the tragic deaths of her baby and husband.

 

On Sunday, I arrived at the site super early. The grounds are free to explore and they have a little cafe and gift shop. I didn’t get any ominous feelings walking through the gardens. Then again, I’d never seen the house from the outside before…

All around the sun-soaked grounds, fruit trees stretched their limbs, heavy with pears and apricots. There were even almond trees shading a quiet patio on the north side of the house. The aroma of flowers was overwhelming, but seemed to delight the hummingbirds darting above my head. I didn’t feel anything ominous or dark (despite the massive headache I ended up with all day). In fact, the energy was buzzing with creativity and curiosity.

I sat down in one of the stone rotundas by the front door and pulled more cards. Again I got the Six of Wands. Clearly, the card is Sarah herself.

Next I pulled a card to ask the spirits what I should expect once I entered the house. They gave me the Moon. It was an invitation to the truth. They wanted to set the rumors straight and remind me that I shouldn’t believe everything I hear. Things aren’t always what they seem.

Finally, the guide called my tour number and my group was ushered into the carriage port to begin. Inside the house, I felt comfortable, confused, but safe and curious. We wandered up steps and through narrow hallways. The guide pointed out a set of stairs that led into the ceiling, just like I dreamed. There was a window built into a floor in one room, which I also recognized. And, of course, the well-known door to nowhere (which is visible from outside as well).

We were several rooms in (there are 160 total) before my surroundings got SUPER familiar. The guide took us into a tight cube of a room with doors on every wall (one of which led to a steep drop if opened). In the center of the room was the light fixture from the end room of my nightmare – the one I’d seen covered in blood and filled with candles. The fixture and covering were almost exactly as I knew them to be, but in my version, the light was red and here it was blue. The guide described this as the seance room where Sarah communed with the spirits on what to build next.

A few rooms later, we were in the room with shifting floors. In my dream, the floor was covered in somewhat spongy, moveable panels. As it turns out, in the actual Winchester Mansion there’s a conservatory where Sarah Winchester kept her plants inside a sunny room. The floor panels ARE movable so staff could take them up to water the plants. AND they’re slightly soft, unlike a normal floor. Excess water from the plants would be absorbed and redirected to plants outside in an ingenious irrigation system.

On my second tour, a guide took a smaller group of us through closed off, damaged or unfinished rooms of the house. It was here I saw the “burning ember walls” from my dream. In one of Sarah Winchester’s bedrooms – dubbed the Crystal Bedroom – the walls glittered as the light hit them. As I moved around, the walls sparkled spectacularly. Crushed mica, our guide said, embedded in the wallpaper. It was absolutely stunning.

Sarah Winchester House Crystal Bedroom Crushed Mica Wallpaper

This photo doesn’t do it justice, but the pattern does look a bit like sparkling flames.

There were other rooms I knew – the ballroom, Sarah’s main bedroom – but those three were the most prominent. It was so bizarre to see the house in real life after seeing it so vividly in my dreams for so long. I still don’t know why I dreamed of this place or if there’s any real connection there, but I’m glad I go to see it and end this crazy story.

Have you ever had a wild case of deja vu?

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The Deviant Moon Tarot Interview

The Deviant Moon by Patrick Valenza is my oldest and dearest deck. I was drawn in by the dark, almost Tim Burton meets Salvador Dali aesthetic back in college and it’s the deck I’ve studied and learned on and bonded with over the last 10ish years.

(Catch up on all my deck interviews at the bottom of this post.)

Over those years, this deck has some to truly speak to me. Cards quite literally often “jump” out of the deck at me. This happens so often that I tend to just shuffle until the required number of cards have all jumped out. My Deviant Moon readings are clearest and most comfortable so I’m excited for this interview!

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Tell me about yourself
Nine of Cups
Like the genie on this card, you discovered our power together the moment you opened me. I work as you wish to bring well-being, pleasure and success. I’ve always strived to bring you all your hearts desires.

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What are your strengths?
The Hanged Man
My timing is impeccable. You tend to be impatient and impulsive, but I can guide you to suspend actions or delay decisions until the moment of maximum impact. *Note* the card on the bottom of the deck was Strength, reinforcing this

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What are your limitations?
The Devil
Like you, I can become obsessed and hell-bent on a particular idea or situation. I will not let you ignore a message I have for you, even if it’s not what you’re asking for. It will follow you until you learn it. Only then can we move on.

 

What are you here to teach me?
Four of Cups
Appreciate your success and practice gratitude. Do not grow comfortable with the status quo. Keep seeking your truths and exploring your vast identity. You have no reason to ever e bored or dissatisfied with life.

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How can we best collaborate?
Two of Swords
We are two balanced powers. Stubborn. Strong. Comrades. Old friends. I’m ready to fight for your future. We must remember to work together as sisters in arms and never against each other.

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What’s the potential outcome of our relationship?
Eight of Pentacles
From day one we’ve been working closely to forge your confidence and determination to master the art of tarot. If we keep going, we will build a nuanced and detailed practice to guide your journey and successes.

I adore this deck – the way it moves in my hands, slips between my fingers like it’s an extension of my being. My first love. My oldest relationship. The energy of this deck is more like my own than any I have ever encountered.

Want to know whats in your cards? I’ll read them for you starting at just $5!

Fortune-telling with d20

You're invited to an

There are so many different kinds of modern witches. Kitchen witches work rituals into recipes and turn their homes into vibrant, sacred spaces. Green witches work with lots of herbs and likely keep their homes full of plant-life. Love witches manifest through sexual energy. Tech witches probably keep several magical apps on their phone to practice. I guess I’d call myself a Geek witch. I’m inspired by and often incorporate pop culture themes into my work As much as I love my tarot cards, I discovered a fun new method of divination with a pop culture tool.

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A couple weeks ago, I bought a set of beautiful black and gold dice to start playing Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re not familiar, the set includes a 20-sided die that you roll in game to see if and how well your desired actions work. Everyone has probably flipped a coin to make a decision in their lifetime. That action relies on “fate” or the Universe or “chance” to inform your action. But there’s a whole range of possibilities between those two sides of the coin.

Rolling the d20 is like flipping a coin, but it gives you a sort of insight scale to guide your decision. For example, if my character wants to explore nearby ruins, I’d roll for investigation. A 20 might mean she finds a rare treasure. 12 could mean she finds some gold pieces. 5 might find her surrounded by snakes or something. Typically, rolls higher than 10 have positive outcomes where lower than 10 could have neutral or even negative outcomes.

Glux and I used a /roll bot in Slack to plan our joint birthday party next weekend 🎉🍾👯‍♀️

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Ok. That’s kind of a silly example, but shows a practical use, especially when you’re as indecisive as I can be! Unlike tarot cards, d20 works best for yes/no questions. The closer to 20 you roll, the more enthusiastically you should go for it! If you roll low, maybe think of other options or different timing. Interpretation is largely left to your imagination to populate the scale.

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If you want to pick out a d20 to give dice divination a shot, consider picking different colored die for specific purposes:  Green or gold for career, finance, or money decisions. Red/pink for love and relationships. Purple for creative pursuits and guidance. Of course, as always, go with what calls to you!

Do you use any unconventional tools?

Money Magic in Vegas!

I’ve always believed that fate can only take you so far and the rest is up to you. So on my trip to Vegas last week, I packed up a portable Money Attracting spell I created in an effort to put the energy of abundance into the universe and attract some wealth (The TSA must have been pretty puzzled when they went through my bag. They always seem to randomly check my suitcases!). I’m not a big gambler. My preferred casino-gaming style is to drop $20 in a penny slot and spend a couple hours playing. I either lose $20, but have a good time or I win a few hundred bucks and have a good time. Either way, I’m not really making any major impact on my finances.

I’d never really done a specific candle spell to attract money until now. While I looked up some generic spells, none of them felt truly fitting so I ended up taking bits of them and writing my own incantations. Actually, I didn’t write it as much as it just came to me while I was meditating over the candle.

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[Supplies]
Green Candle
Abundance oils
6 coins (or casino chips, or a mix!)
Gold or green pouch
Paper money (optional)
Gold altar items (optional)

Create your portable altar. Find a sacred space in your accommodations (I recommend hanging the Do Not Disturb tag on your door for the duration of your stay to avoid other energies entering the room). The Luxor had a perfect little round table in my room – black with gold flecks! Place your candle in the center of your chosen space and think about how you’re going to arrange spell items. If you brought any additional magical items (I brought my Golden Thread tarot cards and added a rose quartz and copper bonsai tree I bought on my trip) you want to add to your altar, you can arrange them before you start your spell.

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[Spell]
Anoint the green candle with abundance oil.
Meditate while visualizing gold light flowing from your hands into the candle. Visualize the money. What would it feel like to win a jackpot? What do the cash and chips feel like in your hands? What sounds are happening around you as the machine goes wild? What does the total look like in your bank account?
Holding these thoughts, lay your 6 coins or bills around your candle. (I laid several small bills underneath my candle and placed my coins upright around the base. The oil on the candle helped them stick).
Light your match or lighter and imagine the golden light surrounding the altar, surrounding you and illuminating space in your “vault” (or physical bank account) for money to flow into.
Light the candle and the repeat this incantation:

Silver and Gold
Silver and Gold
Bring to me Fortune untold
As I will it, so it be
Money, Money comes to me

Let the candle burn as long as you’re present. Extinguish it when you leave (safety!). Afterwards, place the coins into your gold pouch and carry them with you as a talisman.

[Results]
I burned my candle every night while I was in Vegas (Sunday through Thursday). While I didn’t win any major money, I HAVE attracted an unusual amount of money in the last week. My first (non-friend/family) Fiverr Haiku commission came through. Incredibly, the request was for a haiku about Dr. Mae Jemison – the first African American female astronaut – and she was AT the same conference! Her speech inspired me so much I delivered 4 haiku and the client tipped me double the price of the poems! Additionally, I had two Rover requests come in – another NEW client with a long term stay (over $600) and a new-this-year client rebooking for this weekend. Oh! And I earned $175 for participating in a market research panel testing a new app. All in all, pretty successful!

Have you had success with money magic?

The Wild Unknown Tarot Interview

I jumped into this latest interview with one of my more advanced decks. The Wild Unknown replaces the knights and pages with “son” and “daughter” cards for each suite. The imagery, while whimsical and gorgeous, presents in a watercolor minimalist style that connects deeply with nature instead of adhering to the traditional tarot symbolism. So I’m still pretty married to the guidebooks when I read from this deck.

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Tell me about yourself

Daughter of Wands
I am a truly visionary deck. Stronger than my soft appearance suggests. A free spirit who embraces transformation. I’m passionate and emotionally-driven. I’m very excited to connect with you and begin our journey together.

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What are your strengths?
Ace of Pentacles
Every tree begins with a small seedling. I will be the soil that grounds you. My connection to all things natural will nurture our relationship into a blossoming tree bearing fruit to nourish you on this journey. My specialty is turning passion into opportunity and turning opportunity into wealth of various forms. I will help you manifest abundance through the things you already love.

What are your limitations?

Daughter of Pentacles
I can only take you so far. You need to stay focused on the tangible outcomes to fulfill our work.

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What are you here to teach me?

Temperance
You’ve never been very good at balance, even though it’s balance you seek. I want to help bring harmony to your life. I will teach you how to heal and renew. Through our connection and work, you will learn to better trust the ebb and flow of the Universe and let go so you may flow within her.

How can we best collaborate?
The Moon
Embrace your light and shadow so you can keep the whole picture in view. Sometimes you miss the forest for the trees. Let go of mental blocks so we can enjoy the path to our destination.

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What’s the potential outcome of our relationship?
IX of Wands
We will go far together, to the moon, step by step. The gaps in knowledge and skill will close to bring abundance. Don’t ever stop climbing. Push on and let nothing stand in your way.

The Wild Unknown carries the most peaceful energy of any deck I’ve used. I turn to this deck in times of great stress or conflict to get a deep breath of practicality.

Want to know whats in your cards? I’ll read them for you starting at just $5!

Oliver Hibert Tarot Interview

A couple weeks ago I interviewed The Golden Thread Tarot. This week, I sat down with another of my newer decks- The Tarot + The Secret Arcana by Oliver Hibert.

Tell me about yourself.
VIII of Swords
I balance the intellectual and emotional to find the best path forward. Every trap has an escape if you look at things from a different angle.

What are your strengths?
Mars
As an Aries, we’ll go horn to horn sometimes. But I’m aggressive and thorough in my search for answers. I’ll paint stories through multiple cards on your one-card pulls.

What are your limits
VII of Pentacles
Sometimes I’m impatient and easily frustrated. I can get bored and go for the “quick win.”

What are you here to teach me?
VII of Swords
Not to run from challenges or darkness or good things or love. But also how to navigate the false motives of others. Trust yourself. Expect others to trust themselves first.

How can we best collaborate?
The Scream
Quiet your own voice and listen. Really listen. Not with your ears. With your intuition.

What’s the potential outcome of our relationship?
Ace of Cups
You’ll build stronger intuition and trust your inner power. We’ll also develop you creatively. I’ll inspire new projects, thoughts and mediums.

As feminine and open as the Golden Thread was, that’s how difficult this deck felt to me. Very foreign and puzzling. Neither feminine nor masculine. I had to sit with the cards for a while to figure out what they wanted to tell me. Many of the answer cards felt contradictory to my questions. I suppose that makes sense giving their mind-bending psychedelic artwork. To add extra challenge, I drew TWO cards from the Secret Arcana, which really tells me how unique this deck will be. I’m glad I shuffled them into the deck. Until now I had kept them separated, but that didn’t feel right. They need to be a full story.

Which reminds me… there is one card missing. Hibert released a new card with a 10 part experience. Magic. And I bought the whole thing just to get that card. I feel itchy that this deck is incomplete. Maybe that’s why it was so temperamental. I’ll revisit our interview once the final card arrives.

Do Tarot Cards Get Jealous?

Since 2009, I’ve been working with a deliciously dark, Tim Burton-esque tarot deck known as the Deviant Moon Tarot. I don’t remember how I discovered it or where I got it, but it was the beginning of my tarot practice and study for a series of poems I’m eternally writing. This deck has always connected with me. It’s become an extension of myself to the point that cards will literally leap out of the deck to give me messages. I trust it and I’ve bonded with it, but I wanted more options. [Deviant Moon Tarot Interview]

Some years later, the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn found me. This deck bills itself as a challenge with extra cards (Void cards and 99 cards for each suit, four Fools, etc…) and also presented stunning, colorful, comic book style imagery. I fall in love with it every time I open the box. It’s been the toughest to connect with, but I keep crawling back to it begging for love. [Tarot of the Silicon Dawn Interview]

Back in January I was casually feeling up books at The Strand, as I’m prone to do any time I’m in the vicinity. I was poring over Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when I felt a sort of warm tugging. I looked up and locked eyes with The Wild Unknown sitting randomly atop some stationery. That’s never happened before. I picked it up on the spot. [The Wild Unknown Tarot Interview]

For Galentine’s Day, I treated myself to a tarot deck based on one of my favorite games- The Binding of Isaac Tarot. It’s not the most functional deck. The suits are non-traditional and it doesn’t come with a booklet to ascribe meaning to the suit of hearts (cups?), keys (wands?), bombs (swords?) and coins (pentacles?) but the art is fantastic and it crosses my love of magic with my video game vice. [Binding of Isaac Tarot Interview]

I gifted myself the decadent Lioness Oracle Tarot for my birthday in April. Drawn in by the beautiful and surreal collages- particularly Nosferatu on the Nine of Swords and David Bowie on The Star- this has become my regular deck recently. It traveled the country with me last year. [Lioness Oracle Tarot Interview]

As a bit of retail therapy, after a summer of working nights and weekends non-stop, I splurged on a deck I’ve been pining for on Instagram for a while- the psychedelically divine Tarot and Secret Arcana by Oliver Hibert. With roots and imagery deeply based in the traditional Rider-Waite tarot, this deck is easy to read and learn through. The saturated colors truly make this deck a favorite. [Oliver Hibert Tarot and Secret Arcana Interview]

Oliver Hibert Psychedelic Tarot

Finally, for Christmas Ryan got me the ornately minimalistic Golden Thread Tarot. These cards are made of a thin plastic with golden overlays so they feel completely different from any other deck I’ve owned. [Golden Thread Tarot Interview]

So now I have seven decks. Seven personalities. Seven moody mistresses who fall in and out of my favor. If I ask the same questions or if my decks have a message for me outside of what I think I want to understand, they’ll get frustrated and serve up the same card until I’m finally enlightened. But when it comes to sharing a shelf, I like to think they all conspire together for my greater good. With all those personalities in a room, they must have some otherworldly debates and discussions. If cards are jumping out of decks at me or I’m getting the same card, unrelated to my questions, over and over, I believe it’s because they’ve all pooled their energy to give me a cosmic kick in the ass.

UPDATE: See all the tarot deck interviews, including a NEW deck, below!

Deviant Moon
The Wild Unknown
Binding of Isaac
The Lioness Oracle Tarot
The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn
The Tarot and Secret Arcana by Oliver Hibert
The Golden Thread Tarot
Eight Coins Tattoo Tarot