Within moments of walking into Le Merde to meet with Ona Weatherford, we’d had two discussions about crystals and gender fluidity. I noticed the terrariums with gorgeous crystals and air plants throughout the shop, and I told Ona about the ones my girlfriend and I had been making as a result of a co-worker’s avid terrarium creation. When I asked if a certain plant was a pitcher plant, Ona replied that it was both an orchid and a carnivorous plant, but that the cool thing is that the plant is both a vessel and a phallus in one plant. It’s both male and female and at the same time neither one nor the other. The fact that Ona jumps right into what’s important, to the essence of something, was exciting to me. I knew I wouldn’t have to beat around the bush talking to them because we were already on the same wavelength. When I asked them what their favorite thing they’ve curated in the shop was, Ona pointed out the various containers of crystals throughout the shop including the “vagina rock” which is basically what it sounds like–an agate with striations in a gorgeously yonic formation (see picture). I’ve wanted to interview Ona for a while. They were the tarot reader at CAIRO for quite some time, and they also taught Crystals and Herbal Bathing 101 classes there. Most recently, Ona lead a workshop for the Rose Gold pop up on Incense Making. In my mind, Ona seemed to be crossing a lot of lines and subverting the norms surrounding what healers, spiritual seekers, and clairvoyants are supposed to look like. They also seemed to be doing all of this in spaces that were accessible to a broad demographic. Currently, Ona is a part-owner of a female/queer/femme-owned collective in Phinney Ridge called Le Merde. They describe this as a place as a “sanctuary from whatever the norm is”. They were even wearing a brooch with the words “weird boobs” on their dress, a sentiment I always treasured about my own breasts. You can pick one up there for only $5 because they’re handmade by another owner of the collective.
Jamie: Basically, if it’s not too personal, I’m wondering what your gateway into tarot was, what your first experience was like, and how you got into it because I heard you’re a fourth generation tarot reader?
Ona: My great grandma read cards, and she was based on Capitol. I was born to my mother who lived on Capitol Hill and was also a card reader. I grew up with it, and I bought my pack of cards in highschool where I was the “witchy, queer girl”, but that wasn’t my real intro to it. My mom passed away when I was 14, so I repressed a lot of this because I was angry at her for a lot of things. I felt like reading tarot would be encouraging a relationship with her, and I was too freaked out at the time to do that. So three years ago I was living in LA, and I was depressed because I was struggling with a chronic thyroid disorder. I was driving through Encino, California, and I saw this weird psychic bookstore with such a cheesy name.
J: What was it?
O: It was like Psychic Eye or something like that. And for me, growing up in a family of legitimate practitioners, the word “psychic” can have a lot of negative connotations…
J: Yes! I’m so glad you brought this up because I have a question about it for later.
O: Yeah, so I was like no whatever and kept driving. Then an hour later, I had this feverish urge that was like “I must go in that store”, but it was 9;30 at night so I thought there’s no way they’ll be open. But I go, and they were open until 11 pm which is like what the fuck, that doesn’t ever happen. So I go in, and everything felt like my mom was telling me that I had to be there, and I bought my deck of cards– this deck of cards–
J: What deck is this?
O: This is the Albano-Waite. It’s the classic deck, but it has way brighter colors which I appreciate because I feel things a lot more in color. Shortly after, a friend of mine who I’d been teaching how to do drag called me and asked if I wanted to take this tarot class with them. We barely knew each other, but I went with them to this place called the House of Intuition, and I ended up spending the next 35 weeks taking other metaphysical classes and energetic healing certifications. So basically the Psychic Eye in Encino, California, is how I got restarted.
J: [laughs] So it turned out to be a pretty cool place despite a cheesy name.
O: Absolutely. I ended up going there again. I was driving back from Malibu and my gas light came right near the exit for Encino. The car in front of me had the license plate QCAW88. The QC is for Queen of Cups (my mother’s tarot card), the AW is part of my initials, and the 88 is for the year I was born. I was like okay. The psychic I talked with looked almost exactly like my mother. She was wearing bright copper eyeliner which is pretty unusual and a large straw hat and flowy clothing, all things my mother would have worn.
J: You felt like these were signs…
O: Oh totally. Every sign that could have gone off kept ringing. They had really legitimate people working there, and I had the most magical experiences of my life there.
J: That’s really cool. Do you feel like the universe was trying to get you to resolve issues with your mom?
O: Yeah, for sure. Resolve issues with my mom, resolve issues with myself. Because you can’t be a healer unless you start to heal yourself. There’s this thing that transcends all cultures that practice alternative healing called the shaman’s path or the healer’s path. It says that healers/shamans are people who have experienced large amounts of pain, and then they have to go through an initiatory process to transmute that pain in order to heal and help other people. Lots of social workers have had difficult paths, therapists, etc, anyone who is a legitimate healer or helper has had a difficult past.
J: Yeah because that’s probably why you’re attracted to it. You want to help other people.
J: So, I just want to ask about that thing I mentioned before. Recently, I read about this guy in New York who lost his entire fortune, like thousands and thousands of dollars, to these psychics because his partner left him, and he was so distraught–
O: Ohhh, I heard about this too…
J: It was so heartbreaking because what–it just reinforces the stigma that psychics are con artists.
O: All pre-Christian practitioners, earth religions, wise women, wise men, anyone who practices an art from beyond, they’ve all been extremely persecuted. It makes me deeply angry at the people who are misusing their abilities to extrude money from people; I don’t think they understand the ripples they cause by doing that. It makes it really difficult for any alternative practitioner to heal.
J: Sometimes when I tell people I read tarot, they get on this line of questioning under the guise of curiosity, but really it’s like an attempt to make me prove something. Do you ever have people who treat you like that, and what is your response?
O: First off, I get attacked online a lot for that reason. There’s not a part of me that has to prove what I know to anybody. My response is usually something like I’m sorry you’re so hurt you have to push that towards me. If it’s in person–
J: Like if someone came to you for services, but you could tell they kind of wanted you to prove yourself?
O: I actually have a funny story. It was during the summer when I was on the sidewalk reading, and this woman with her husband walked by and wanted to stop for a reading. She was like oh honey look a tarot reader. She wanted to stop, but her husband was obviously not into it. They sit down so I pull a card, but immediately I’m like this reading is not for your wife, though; it’s for you. So I start to talk to him, the five minutes are up, and he says okay, another. So I continue the reading, and it turns out his sister had recently been conned by a psychic into turning over their mother’s will, etc. Five minutes turned into an hour. He ended up turning into one of the nicest, most consistent clients, and he had the most horrible reason to be adverse to psychics.
J: Ha. So basically, you just dive in!
O: Yeah! I generally don’t entertain skepticism if they’re asking me for a reading. I’ll listen to it, but I won’t talk about it until we’re done. I’d rather you just know. I also ask people to look up more information about Nikola Tesla who was a scientist, but he also completely understood the void and mysticism. He’s one of the most prophetic and visionary people in our world.
J: It doesn’t have to be one or the other, science or mysticism.
O: Totally. There’s this African story about two babies in a womb, and one baby says to the other do you think there’s another world out there? And the other baby is like no way. This is all there is. We’re safe, we’re warm in here. And then they’re born.
J: How do you feel tarot readings are a valuable service to the community?
O: Everyone secretly actually 100% knows exactly what is for them and what is not for them, what is right for them, what is wrong for them. All it does is validate what they already know.
J: Yeah. It’s affirmation building.
O: I use it mostly to say I can see what you’re thinking, I can see what you’re feeling, I can see what’s going on. All I want to do is help you believe in that. You are 100% magical, spiritual, intuitive like everything else in this world, and all you need to do is know that.
J: So you’re just providing clarity for people.
J: So, my last question is about this resurgence in the last five years or so of people, especially female-identifying people, becoming more interested in crystals, divinatory arts, and alternative spirituality in general or mysticism. What do you think has caused it and what do you think people are finding in terms of empowerment and spirituality?
O: One thing people disregard because it wasn’t the end of the world is that the Mayan Calendar said something very important about the year 2012. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was the end of an era. If you think about the changes that have happened since then, the amount of knowledge, the amount of awakening–even me–
J: Oh, that was the year you went to Psychic Eye?
O: Yeah. Energetically, there’s something insane about the time we are in. The more people shake themselves out of the status quo, white picket fence ideal, you can start to explore what is beyond that. The sixties were the same way. It’s a cycle. You can see it also during the twenties when people were into Spiritualism Movement.
J: Okay, last thing. If you had a piece of advice for people who are interested in reading tarot, what would that be?
O: Learn from someone. These arts are passed down–you can definitely self-teach, but even if it’s just sitting down with a friend and looking at cards. So practice and talk with people. Second, learn the zodiacal and elements that are behind each card. Third, there’s something called the Fool’s Journey which deals with the Major Arcana–
J: The Fool’s Journey is the spiritual journey, starting as a fool and ending as a fool, right?
O: It is. There’s also some great Youtube videos about this.
J: Is there anything else you want to say before we end?
O: Basically, the most radical thing you can do is to stay positive. I can’t say that my pain is any better or worse than anyone else’s. I’ve experienced a lot of negative things: sexual abuse as a child, losing my mother at a young age, traumatic injuries, drug problems, eating disorders, chronic illness, my dad has cancer now too…but it’s still possible to heal from it. Breaking down and becoming negative and hurting myself is exactly what every person who ever hurt me wants. My most inspiring role models are Maya Angelou, Dolly Parton, David Sedaris, RuPaul, Tammy Faye. Find the people that inspire you who have recovered and are positive.
Ona sent me a link to their Youtube channel, which includes all kinds of documentaries and educational resources on tarot and other mystical traditions. Additionally, if you want to read more about what Ona offers in terms of healing products and services, check out http://www.onaleehealing.com.
For more information on the Fool’s Journey, you can find a super cheap, succinct book called The Symbolism of the Tarot by Ouspensky.