Interview With Amanda Yates Garcia, The Oracle Of Los Angeles
FLB: What exactly is an oracle?
AYG: Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi, was probably the most famous oracle. Named after the dragon slain by the God Apollo, the Pythia were priestesses who would go into a trance and communicate with the God of Light, letting his will be known to humankind. But before Apollo erected his temple, Delphi was sacred to Gaia, goddess of the earth. The snake (dragon) was her symbol. Her priestesses would dance and swoon and fall into ecstasies triggered by vapors emitted through a chasm below the altar. Oracles speak to the spirits and to the gods, which anyone can do. What’s most important though is to get information that is relevant and helpful. Anyone can be an oracle, but to be a great oracle you have to be part performer, part poet, part sage, part python. The Delphic Oracle once warned the Athenians against the Persians thus:“Now your statues are standing and pouring sweat. They shiver with dread. The black blood drips from the highest rooftops. They have seen the necessity of evil. Get out, get out of my sanctum and drown your spirits in woe.”I try to be a bit more upbeat in my prophecies, in keeping with the spirit of the new millennium.
FLB: When did you first become interested in magic, tarot and other forms of divination and how did you develop your craft?
AYG: I was brought up in a magical household, learning tarot and spell-craft from my mother at an early age. I think I made my own set of runes when I was 12; I still use them. My mother’s grandmother read tea leaves, we’re related to the psychic Edgar Cayce, etc. I’ve always had Romantic, fantastical sensibilities, probably stemming from my Mars in Scorpio, if we’re going to get technical about it. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I started to focus my energies in other directions: art, critical theory, arenas where the occult is treated as an embarrassing step-child. But eventually I began to see the harmonies Art and Spirit could create, but it took me many years before I saw how I could synthesize them and then communicate what I was seeing to others. I’m still figuring it out, actually. It’s a life’s work kind of a thing.
FLB: I have Mars in Scorpio, too! What was the most fascinating experience you’ve ever had with magic? Have you ever had a scary experience? How did you deal with it?
AYG: It’s human nature that when we confront what is truly unknown and unfamiliar our first reaction is usually terror. The universe is a sublime angel monster. As such it’s likely to inspire two types of terrifying experiences, a) you’re scared because you recognize how small and insignificant you are, e.g. you have a vision of dissolving into the infinite, or you comprehend the amoral nature of the Powers and Elements. Or b) you encounter an entity that threatens you in some way –it could manipulate you, possess you, or do you harm. In both cases what is really at stake is your ego, your self with a lower case “s”. Both of these experiences are completely terrifying if you believe in the fallacy of the ego, if you believe in “you”, and are working to preserve that illusion. When you see that you are already not separate from the universe, dissolving into it doesn’t seem so scary. As far as amoral entities are concerned, well, the things that I found particularly scary when I was younger, I don’t find so scary now. For instance, about seven or eight years ago the spirit of a little girl kept following me around. She was a dark spirit, with dark hair and dark eyes, she felt corrupted. I would see her out of the corner of my eye; without my ever saying anything about it, friends would give me pictures of her. They’d be like, “Oh I found this at a thrift store and just thought I had to give this to you.” Photographs, paintings, I had a whole menagerie of images of this little girl in my hall at my apartment on Glendale Blvd. I actually think she was somehow bound to that apartment, which was built in 1913. She kept appearing in my dreams. One night, I was lying in bed with my boyfriend and I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, he started talking in his sleep, which he had never done before, and never did after. He kept talking about murder and blood and saying something about a child. I was totally freaked out. I tried to wake him up, but I couldn’t. Then I looked down to the foot of the bed and there was the little girl, just looking at me. At first I was terrified and I wanted to hide or run away. But then I pulled myself together and told her that she was in the wrong place. That she couldn’t stay in that apartment. And I told her I would help her find a way to move on. I never saw her again after that. Once you align yourself with helping spirits, and recognize yourself as someone who is here to ease suffering, unquiet spirits seem far less threatening, they’re more tragic. They just want to be loved, is that so wrong?
FLB: Are spell work, tarot reading and divination things that can be taught to anyone or is it necessary to be naturally gifted in these areas?
AYG: I believe that anything can be taught. Everyone can learn how to become a competent tarot reader or perform a spell. However, can everyone be exceptional at it? Probably not. It’s the same with anything. Everyone can sing, if you have a voice box you can do it -- that doesn’t mean that you will have perfect pitch. But you don’t need perfect pitch, some people like listening to off kilter voices. And some people just like to sing. If you like to sing and you do it, then you are good at it. Really though, the measure of efficacy is dependent on what you’re using tarot or magic to do. If you’re trying to effect change or get solid information, that’s going to take a lot of practice and focus. However, a huge part of practicing magic and divination is simply that they’re beautiful, fun, and make life more interesting. I like how practicing magic sweeps me out of the ordinary reality I’ve been acculturated to and into the deeper pools of the imagination. If you’re practicing magic because it enriches your life, then it really doesn’t matter how “good” you are at it, and furthermore, whether or not you are good at it or doing it right is completely beside the point. When I am working with my clients though, my measure of success comes from their sense of empowerment and pleasure.
FLB: What tarot decks do you use and what are the basic differences between them? How do you know which one to use on a particular client at a particular time?
AYG: I use two different decks mainly, the Motherpeace deck, which is the one my mother taught me with as a child, and the Waite-Smith deck, which is an industry standard. I don’t believe it’s at all necessary to switch up decks or use exotic decks. I have a bunch of other decks but I only pull them out occasionally. In order to really get good at tarot you need to develop a sense of intimacy with your deck, so it’s important that you use it all the time. As in any relationship, if you’re flitting around “experimenting” with many different decks (or people), it’s really hard to build a solid and lasting connection. Not that I’m knocking the tarot, or any other kind of, one night stand – they can be powerful and sexy and all that. But true knowledge is gained through experience over time. So my advice, with tarot decks anyway, is to choose a primary partner or two and focus on getting to know them really well. I also sometimes use the Thoth deck, which just vibrates with power, but I find that it’s too “scary” to use with clients, Motherpeace is WAY more friendly.
FLB: I’ve had a reading with you and it was very cathartic and helpful in a psychological as well as a spiritual way. How much of your work do you consider psychological?
AYG: Reading with you was such a treat; you bring so much magic to the table already, your sparks made it electric for me. Re: psychology, I see my practice as an art form like any other. And you could ask that question of any art form. How much of writing is psychological? Ummm, all of it, right? Kind of? But it’s also technical and intuitive and spiritual and ordinary. All of the above, always.How does magic work?
Imagination is the source of all that is. Imagination is the prima material (primary material) of being, the fertile ground from which all things bloom. What I mean by that would take a book, and thousands of them have already been written. Since the idea of the imagination as God is kind of Mysticism 101, I won’t get into that too much here. But basically magic works by focusing your intention -- you make of your intention something like a crystal seed, and through a series of rituals you enter into the realm of the Imagination where you plant that seed, and then it grows by magic, just as all seeds do. I mean, sure, seeds grow by cell division and biological reactions, but the fundamental impulse that makes them grow, the fundamental force that animates all life, is magic, is Imagination, is the mystery, is God. However, the part of the universe we mostly live in now, is the material part, necessarily composed of binaries, and subject to specific physical laws. You can’t spit a cherry pit in the desert and expect to get an orchard. For a seed to grow, you have to plant it in the right soil, nurture it with the right foods, give it sunlight. Same with your spells, you have to choose something realistic within this material universe, and you still have to nurture it to make it grow. Plant your spells where they are most likely to take root, then do everything in your power to allow the magic to flourish. Some spells work better than others, just as you could plant five of the same seeds in the same soil and some will be robust and others will be duds. Luckily, as with gardening, performing spells is pleasurable in itself. Still, you want your spells to yield good fruit, in my experience the best way to do that is through having a spotlessly clear intention.
FLB: You are a visual artist, a dancer, performance artist, filmmaker and a creative writer. (Did I leave anything out?) I think you and I share the belief that art is magic and magic is art. Can you explain this a bit?
AYG: As far as human history goes, it’s only relatively recently that we’ve come to think of Art with a capital “a” as in a class of its own, distinct from spirituality, science and the political world. Magical talismans, spells and icons, myths and prayers, these are the originators of art and writing. Art and magic are both creative acts of the imagination, and when they’re at their best, they work to dispel the hegemonic power structure’s claim on “reality”. Then, once that reality is shaken from the jaws of the beast, our goal as witches should be to rush in and grab it, to transform it and make it ours, to reclaim the earth for the fairies, to transform reality in the name of Beauty and Love and the Lady of Love: the Great and Furious Angel of the Imagination who is the source of all life. No more work, no more ugliness, no more misogyny, racism, slavery. No more debt. Poison, pollution, corruption begone! We banish you, we banish you, we banish you! Enter the Lady, her tears and blood, her amniotic fluids will restore our world to a state of Grace, I invoke an era of perfect love and perfect trust in her name. By the powers of three times three as we will it so will it be!
FLB: Your beautiful short piece is going to be in our upcoming anthology Rough Magick (and my story features a character based on you). I know you have an MFA in creative writing from Cal Arts. How does your writing relate to your work as The Oracle of Los Angeles? What other writing are you working on? What authors inspire your writing? What’s the best book you’ve recently read?
AYG: Writing is magic, magic is writing. This is commonly known, Alan Moore has a lot of interesting stuff to say on the subject if anyone out there is interested, Google it. For me, my work is way of creating intimacy between myself and the world and the things that I love. My main interest is in connecting with my people, those of us who are skating along the lacy fringes of our culture, we who want to resist. Most of the time, resistance feels futile. I’m reading a lot of David Graeber right now, both for pleasure and as research for a major project I’m working on. He argues that the revolution is already happening, it’s already been won, that there are anarchist, well, something like utopias, that already exist right now, here in the slave-making machine of capitalist consumption. But because our brains have been so colonized, we don’t notice them. We don’t realize that we are part of them already. So my work, as writer, artist, oracle, all of it, is to find a way towards recognizing our own liberation right here and now, then using that fire to re-enchant the world. As far as writers I love, lately I’ve been super down with Kate Braverman, Joy Williams (The Changeling is a personal favorite), John Haskell, Brenda Peynado and Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book.
FLB: What else are you working on now?
AYG: Well, there’s the book of spells for the city of Los Angeles, of which the “Spell to Get Over a Broken Heart” included in Rough Magick is a part. I’m super excited about that project; it’s got “Incantations for Navigating the Cardinal Directions of Los Angeles” (which is sort of like the Book of the Dead, only for LA. Instead of getting stuck in the intestines of Osiris, you’re caught in rush hour on the 405. These were originally little artist’s books that appeared in the Tapping the 3rd Realm show at the Laband and Ben Maltz galleries. Now you can get them at Skylight); and it has a bunch of other spells and magical stuff we love. I’m also working on a novel, a feminist gnostic gothic romance.
FLB: I heard that you and a certain L.A. writer are planning a retreat in Joshua Tree. Can you tell us more?
AYG: I’m so glad you asked!! Joshua Tree is where the illustrious Francesca Lia Block and I are going to take a very exclusive group of celebrants out to the desert to work spells, practice tarot, conjure spirits, and call our muses into being. It’s a witch writers workshop and it’s going to be phenomenal. So stay tuned everyone, because if you’re reading this, you’ll definitely want to be there. As a matter of fact, if the words “writer witch” just turned you on, let us know through the comments section what kinds of things you’d be interested in practicing and we’ll include them in the retreat. Can’t wait to rock some magic with all of you!!