Luck is, perhaps, the best way to describe my chance meeting with Christena Linka.
A few months back I placed an ad on a Pagan forum trying to put a reading group together. Seeking other people with an interest in a feminist perspective on witchcraft and occultism, I set a simple trap hoping to attract people to get through my stack of Starhawk books with. I received a few interesting replies, for sure. But I was totally surprised, and smitten, to receive a message from Christena.
The subject line read, “Crone Contact.” Inside was an offer of to hand off a few stacks of titles from her once very large book collection; now down-sized to fit into her tiny apartment in her retirement home.
Christena Linka has been working as a psychic for more than 45 years, and learned to read tea leaves and playing cards at the age of 15. In the ’60s, she more fully immersed herself in learning to read tarot, but it wasn’t until many years later that became the resident Crone of Deerglade coven, her former family home.
She came to all of these practices through the guidance of a great aunt, and — of course — with the help of a few good books.
When and how did you find yourself interested in witchcraft?
I think it probably goes back to high school. The high school library had books on witchcraft in the history section, and I think the first one that I picked up was Sybil Leek’s The Complete Art of Witchcraft. That just fascinated me, I think it was that book. I think I actually gave a copy of it to you.
My great aunt Edie, she lived in Peterborough, Ontario. She was a marvellous woman, born in the late 1800s, a single woman who never married. She used to say that one of our ancestors in Scotland had been murdered because she was a witch. She used the word murdered, that was her take on it. Much much later on I was able to get a hold of the lists of people who were taken for witchcraft, burned and elsewhat. Being that she was in Scotland, I don’t think she was burned, she was probably killed in some way, but her name was Agnes Finney. This came from my aunt, and I know we are related to the Finneys, I have done the whole genealogy thing, and sure enough, when I found this list, there was the name. It all seemed to jived together, though I don’t exactly have documentary proof, but from what I’ve been able to discern… I feel like I can believe it.
So, that was another part of why I was interested, but also with Aunt Edie being what she was. I think it was Tuesdays and Thursdays in Peterborough, she would have people come over and she would read their tea leaves, and she also had a crystal ball that she used. She was very good, she really was. I inherited her crystal ball, I call it “Baby.” It’s a genuine crystal ball. The ones you see at shows are glass, but this one is genuine crystal. It’s a rainbow. If you hold it a certain way the light refracts, it’s gorgeous.
That’s how I started getting into witchcraft — I was always interested in it and always reading. But, I got married in 1958, I became a mom, and had two children, and then it wasn’t until we moved out of Toronto that I got interested in it again. We moved to a small village and eventually I became the public librarian there. I was always in the library and I used to help the librarian, and she needed an assistant. When she left, I stepped into her job. It was a no-brainer. I had the library there for six years and that’s where I got my education.
It sounds like you have been in and out of witchcraft in different intensities at different points in your life.
Definitely. Fast forward in time, a long time. I had delved into the craft here in Toronto after my marriage broke up, maybe 14 years after it started, I ended up divorced and back in Toronto on my own with my kids. It was the mid-’70s. I had gotten in touch with the Wiccan Church of Canada and gone to two or three of their Merry Meets. Roy Diamond, now that’s a really old name in the craft, I talked with him and met with him several times, and he had a library, it was across the road from Christie Pits Park. His library was absolutely jaw dropping. It was a room lined with bookshelves lined with books. He’s long gone now.1 He was an incredible man, I really admired him.
Would you say that there’s a specific type of witchcraft that you practice?
When I was more actively practicing, basically what I ended up doing was my brother was interested in it as well, and so the two of us kind of got together on it and kind of brought our families into it, so it became a family thing. There’s a book I didn’t give you that I kept in my library — West Country Wicca, by Rhiannon Rhyall — it’s a little thin book, but it’s about Wicca from the border area of Scotland and England, and we pretty much based our rituals on that although a lot of it was homegrown stuff, based on a lot of reading, of course. This all happened when I was married again the second time.
We lived out near Tweed, Ontario, out in the country, my second husband and I, we bought an old Catholic Church. We totally renovated it and sold it five years later, but for the five years we were in there, oh my gosh, what a wonderful time we had! Every holiday, the family descended and we just had a hoot; the rituals, the food. I had a website called deerglade.com that talked all about it. I didn’t invite anyone out to the house because it was more of a private family coven. Eventually we sold the house and everyone started to drop off the planet, I’m the last one left now, except for the kids and that.
Do you think that psychic abilities are innate or are they skills that can be developed?
I think maybe one could and yes, and I’ll qualify that yes, because firmly believe that we can do anything and be anything we want provided we believe that we can. And if the belief if there then absolutely. It takes practice, constant diligence, to be completely aware. Being psychic is just being aware on another level.
A lot of people say, “oh, I’d like to be psychic; I want to do what you do,” and they go and take a course on tarot. That’s not going to work. Not really, not to call themselves a psychic, what they are is tarot card readers. And that works, that’s fine. You memorize every little nuance and meaning, and away they go. They can become a tarot card reader. But that’s not being a psychic, being a psychic’s a whole different ballgame. I use the tarot cards, but I never recognize any of the meanings.
Why use them then? What role do they play in your readings?
I fell into fascination with the tarot cards. Aunt Edie had taught me how to read playing cards. It was this card means this, and that card means that; that kind of a thing, but I also found that I was using psychic abilities. Whether Aunt Edie had psychic abilities or not I have no idea, I really don’t know. I can’t speak for her, I can’t speak for anybody other than myself. So I learned the meanings of the cards that way.
In 1966, I was a public librarian, and I found a book in my library about tarot cards, and I thought it looked really interesting, I had never heard of them before. And I thought, I’ve got to get me some of those. So I came down to Toronto, it was in February 1966. I went down into Yorkville, cause I knew that was where I was going to find tarot cards.2 I went to this little shop, it was in the basement of some place, and sure enough, there they were. I had my oldest son with me at the time, I was like, wow! Look at these! There were two decks there in the store, one was the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the other was the Thoth Deck, and I got the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for two reasons. One, the size, — the cards in Aleister Crowley‘s deck were so big — and I couldn’t make heads or tails of the pictures anyways. So, I got the Rider-Waite-Smith because it was a smaller deck, and it was also the deck that was in the book.
The book that was in the library was The Pursuit of Destiny, by Muriel Bruce Hasbrouck. That book still is in print, it’s got a slightly different title now, but the subtitle is still “pursuit of destiny.”
It was a 10-day birth cycle formula, sort of like astrology, and I was always fascinated by astrology, but in the book somewhere she mentioned there were also fortune telling methods. And the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was used in that book, so I got it, and started playing with it.
I’d sit on the floor on the rug and spread them all out and look at them, put them in different orders, all the twos together for instance. Then I started to become more and more interested and I bought a book on tarot card reading — Eden Gray‘s.
That’s what one has to do if they’re going to be a psychic. No matter what tools you use, they’re just tools, and you have to make them your own, and do it your own way. It’s not going and taking a course and “this way is the right way and therefore the only way.” The psychic world doesn’t work like that.
I also have a wand. It’s got two crystals, one on each end, it’s a healing wand. But often times if I’m having a difficult time getting through, if somebody has a pertinent question, and I’m just trying to get through… I get into that psychic realm of the mind. I hold that wand, and I make that shift. I go into a very light trance. The crystal ball that I inherited from Aunt Edie, I decided at one point to try it and see how it works. Boy was I surprised! I slept with it under my pillow the night before I was going to use it. The old put the book under your pillow maybe you’ll learn something kind of trick. So the next day I had a gentleman I was going to do a reading for, I was doing readings in my own home at this time. We’re there, sitting in the kitchen, and I’m gazing at the crystal ball, and I didn’t know a thing until I came out of it. I went into a trance and I had no idea. The guy was sitting across the table from me with this strange look on his face — I had no clue as to what I had said or that I had said anything at that point. Apparently I had told him about a past life that he had had.
Today I no longer use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
What do you use now?
I use the Gendron Tarot. The deck came out in 1997. In 1997 ,my husband Peter and I were down in Florida and I was working in a little shop just outside of Tampa. What a place, run by a very old lovely lady. Middle of the week, I was doing readings out of her shop, there was nobody there. A shipment came in from US Games, and there were two decks of the Gendron Tarot.
As soon as I opened it, I was blown away. Number 21 — the Universe — had this gorgeous angel on it. The first card I like to look at is the ten of wands — that goes back to Muriel Bruce Hasbrouck‘s The Pursuit of Destiny, because I was born under the 10 of Wands with her birth cycle formula, which, by the way, got me nailed to the wall. So, I looked at the 10 of Wands, and I was like, uh-huh, this is it. The woman who owned the shop was disappointed that I didn’t want to do readings with it, but I didn’t know that deck at the time, I hadn’t made the deck mine.
When we came back to Canada years later, I was working at the Peterborough Exhibition; I used to work a lot of the fall fairs. I’m still using my good old Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and a woman came in, first of the day, I laid out her cards and looked at them, and it was a bunch of pictures of pieces of cardboard. I didn’t have a clue. It was like it had stopped speaking to me. I was like is it me? I told the woman that I was very sorry, but I just couldn’t read her and I’d have to give her her money back.
A little while later, another person came in, and the same thing happened. I went and told Peter, my husband, that I had lost it. I was getting a little worried, but I grabbed my Gendron Tarot deck and took it back to the tent with me. A guy came in, and slow-learner that I am, I tried my Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and nothing. I explained that I was getting nothing from the deck. I felt like I was being told something, and sure enough, as soon as I opened up the Gendron Tarot deck, and bang, there it was. I have goosebumps just remembering it. And that was it.
I still have my original Rider-Waite-Smith deck, tea stained and all.