I was talking with my old friend Ranger Harry Hunter, formerly a senior medical sergeant at the 1st Ranger Battalion, a veteran of Operation Urgent Fury.
Harry and I share some history that will only be interesting to old Rangers, but he was the senior sergeant in my 300F1 class at Fort Sam Houston in 1983, and he witnessed the death in combat of my friend Ranger Mark Yamane, on Point Salines, revolutionary Grenada on 25 October, 1983.
I mentioned that my wife talked with a fortuneteller who told her that I would die in my 62d year of life. I am presently 56.
This fortuneteller also told my wife that I almost died last year, and this is correct. I almost did die last year. In fact, it was that cardiac episode that triggered me to return to America, and the continuum of those events landed me on a surgical table for a procedure the day before I originally wrote this piece.
Harry said, “only God knows that,” meaning that only God knows when we are going to die. I agree with Harry. While I also believe that my wife’s fortuneteller was correct, that I will die six yaers from now, these are not necessarily conflicting ideas.
Harry is a combat veteran. In my experience, there are no combat veterans who survive that experience without a profound, implacable belief in a higher power.
I told Harry that we all glorify His name differently, referring to our apex deity, and that we name Him and we worship Him in many different ways.
Ascribing gender to God is a reflection of our human limitations, as are the multiple ways that we refer to Him. In my case, I refer to Him as Him, out of habit, and out of convenience.
I know that He has no gender. But I am human, and it is natural for me to ascribe gender to all creatures, even to the one that is synonymous with energy that created our universe.
In any case, I do not think that my wife consulting with a fortuneteller is evil, though I am mindful of the Biblical proscriptions against witches and prognostications.
Here are my favorites. I prefer the King James Version, though I also use the Authorized King James Version. I generally go with the version that is most terrifying. These excerpts are courtesy of the Bible Gateway site.
Ephesians 6:11–12Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Jeremiah 10:2–4King James Version (KJV)
2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Leviticus 19:31Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
31 Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 20:27 King James Version (KJV)
27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.
Leviticus 20:6 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
6 And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.
Deuteronomy 18:10–12 King James Version (KJV)
10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
Revelation 22:15 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
1 Corinthians 10:21 King James Version (KJV)
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.
2 Kings 21:6 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
6 And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
I take these proscriptions seriously, as I grew up a Catholic, but I am also mindful that the Bible is a book, and it is a book transcribed by men from oral histories and earlier Sumerian tales that originated from times before we learned to write as a race.
I learned over decades that evil is a reflection of intent. Evil intent manifests evil actions, and evil consequences ensue. Pagans in Thailand, much like pagans everywhere else, believe in white magic and black magic and grey magic. After 13 years living in Bangkok, so do I.
Christians who grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture will consider all of this pagan heresy, though there is plenty of magic in the Bible, and in fact, Catholics engage in symbolic sacred cannibalism when we take Communion.
What is transubstantiation, if it is not magic?
This is obviously a testy subject, so I will elide over it here and continue.
My point is that my beloved wife, beset with worries over her old, fat husband, is not out of bounds consulting a fortuneteller, as this is something that the Thai do.
On Thai Systems of Belief
The Thai are primarily Buddhist. There are many Muslims in Thailand, and there are a few Christians. I know a Thai Mormon.
I remind you however, that these are just words, these are just labels, just categories. After many years living among the Thai, I now accept such categorizations in the same way that the Thai people do and I agree that they are Buddhist. Just ask them. The Thai will tell you that they are Buddhist.
But there are different schools of thought in Buddhism, and applied Buddhism, meaning the way that people apply the sermons of the historical Buddha, the Dharma, incorporates other ideas, beliefs and practices which are not Buddhist at all.
I am not even talking about the distinctions between Theravada Buddhism and the Mahayana. What I am talking about are the ideas, practices and beliefs that derive from Hindu antecedents, and reaching even further back, from animism, with the earliest exemplars deriving from Tibetan Bon.
“On the other hand, when Buddhism arrived in Tibet in the 7th century AD, by invitation of King Sangsten Campo, it incorporated many of the symbols and practices of the indigenous shamanistic Bon religion, and converted some of the native deities into Buddhist bodhisattvas and lesser divinities.
This is apparent when one compares the rich symbology of Tibetan Buddhism with the restraint of the earlier forms of Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka and in Southeast Asia.”
David Fontana, The Secret Language of Symbols, 1994, p. 19.
Anybody who knows the Thai firsthand will admit that a Hindu veneer with a deeper core of animism attenuates Thai Buddhism.
The Thai, you see, are not truly Buddhist at all, though the experts say that they are, and I accept the decree of these experts.
Nor are Thai Christians merely Christians, and likewise, Thai Muslims. They are, above all else, Thai. And that means that their beliefs and their practices are an inevitable melange of multiple influences.
The Thai, you see, regardless of whether they worship the Buddha, Allah or Yahweh or Brahma or Vishnu or Krishna or Shiva or Kali Ma do not consider it outlandish to release small handmade boats bearing candles down a river as a prayerful offering to the river goddess.
When people die, as we all must, their cremated ashes are consecrated to the river goddess and to the universe and they are floated downstream, where they dissolve in the unimaginably vast ocean just off the coast of Bangkok. A fitting metaphor.
There are no goddesses in Islam, or in Christianity, though there are many in Hindu systems of belief and I personally consider Mary the mother of Jesus to be a goddess, as I know her as Lady Isis.
The Thai, in fact, do worship the Buddha as a deity though they claim that they do not, because the Buddha himself admonished the Sangha not to worship his person.
I can go on. The Thai do not consider it outlandish to festoon sacred trees with ribbons, they wai to such trees, they call them Don Po, and they believe that spirits live in them. I could go on, and on.
These are obviously not Buddhist practices and concepts, though it is primarily Thai Buddhists who do act on them. These are animist ideas, they derive from modes of worship and practice that are far more ancient than the Buddha, more ancient than the Sanskrit and the Pali scriptures, more ancient than the Hindu pantheons, and far older than the sacred books of India.
On Thai Fortunetellers
Another thing that the Thai do, included among a constellation of sacred acts from multiple religious traditions and practices that are jumbled and layered and mixed over the course of centuries, is the Thai also consult fortunetellers.
It is an interesting story, how my wife came to consult this particular fortuneteller at this particular time, but I will tell that story elsewhere, in a dedicated story, as it deserves it.
Most Thai would not condemn my wife for consulting a fortuneteller. It is a cultural act, it is an act that is normal in Thai culture. My wife was motivated by love and worry. Jesus himself would never condemn her.
My wife did not even set out that day to consult with a fortuneteller, but Grandpa told her about his own visit to this particular fortuneteller, how he was eerily prescient and accurate, and then they went to the village where this fortuneteller lives, on other business.
After they completed their business, it turned out that the fortuneteller was available, so my wife sat down with him. My wife and Grandpa just happened to be there, and the timing was fortuitous. This prognosticator is very famous, he is widely known in this part of Northern Thailand.
Now I must explain a bit about this fortuneteller. This fortuneteller is actually a woman in her mid-thirties who lives in a remote village upcountry.
She serves as the conduit for the spirit of this fortuneteller, who is an older gentlemen of indeterminate age. The spirit of this older gentleman occupies the body of this young lady, and he prognosticates by interpreting the palms of truth seekers.
I understand that this sounds demonic and bizarre, but you have to live here to understand these matters. Strictly speaking, a Christian would consider these proceedings demonic. They are not. My wife knows the difference. So do I.
This fortuneteller occupies the body of this young lady, her entire body language changes, her facial expressions change, her voice changes, and she retains no memory of the proceedings. She is just a conduit, a vessel.
Christians consider consulting a prognosticator a sin, but I do not believe that Christians hold a monopoly on the sacred. As I told Harry, we worship and we glorify Him in many ways, using many names.
My wife is too wise and too ethical to seek a deal with infernal powers, she knows that we must respect the will of the universe, which is indistinguishable from saying that we must accept the writ of God.
But the accuracy and the prescience of this particular fortuneteller was undeniable, and his accuracy shook my wife, and after she told me the tale of her visit, I was also shaken.
The Book of Light
Apocryphal traditions, specifically from the Books of Enoch, claim that there is a book of light, and the names of the worthy are inscribed in that book.
This book of light is not reserved solely for the eyes of the angels. Enoch read from this book, it is written, and it is likely that others will also read from it at the time of the coming apocalypse.
I remind you that the angel Metatron was once Enoch, once a man, just as you and I. I do not believe that Enoch will be the last of our race to ascend to angelic rank.
I know that many of you are rolling your eyes at me now and shaking your heads, and this is fine. Everybody cannot be in this book. Whether you believe in this book or not does not affect its actuality.
And not everybody can live among the Thai for 13 years. Not everybody can read the Apocrypha, finding there many answers, nor can everybody read the Ramayana, or ponder over the distinctions between Buddhist sutras and suttas.
As I said, we acknowledge the sacred in many different ways. My wife was acting from a posture of love. Her act would have found favor from Jesus himself, whom I remind you overturned the tables of the moneylenders, and who will unquestionably raze the Vatican to the ground when He returns.
We know evil when we encounter evil.
My Invisible Benefactors
Which brings me to my next topic: my invisible benefactors. We also, you see, know goodness when we encounter it.
Among many other perplexing observations, my wife’s fortuneteller told her that puyai would help me in my travails. Puyai is a Thai term that refers to the exalted, to those with power and influence, to those of high social rank. It can also refer simply to our elders.
Her fortuneteller told her that puyai would help me, he did not know who this personage was, but he was an “old soldier,” the Thai term is tahan, and this exalted one would facilitate my path through many challenges.
And this indeed seems to be the case.
Somebody, I would swear to it, pulled strings for me and whispered in ears at the Veterans Administration in my favor.
My wife also observed that this could all be good fortune, it could be that the universe suddenly turned favorable for me, it could be that the VA suddenly clicked into a mode where it functions the way that it is supposed to work, where everybody gets appointments in a timely fashion, and the medical care sets the standard for socialized medicine.
So you ask yourself: Occam’s Razor. What is more likely? Maybe I am just a skeptic.
I believe that somebody helped me.
I do not know who you are, but please do not stop. I accomplished amazing things with the VA, my health is already much better, and the ground is set for me to enjoy even better health.
Please do not think that I am greedy. It is not greed motivating me.
I am, you see, on a mission from God, just like Joliet Jake and Elwood. I need to complete books that I have been writing for decades now. My first book, titled Idioms of Dreams, is now complete, and it is in the hands of an agent.
He is doing whatever agents do, and I am now doing what writers do, which is wait on agents.
My wife’s fortuneteller told her that I would live to be 62. I cannot tell you why, but this feels ineluctably correct. Aside from the fact that this fortuneteller knew details about me that he could not possibly have known.
I believe that achieving my goals with the VA will set me on a path to complete my life goals and to complete my remaining books.
My second book, The Rosetta Stone of Memories, is mostly complete. My third book, Tales of the Rangers, is about 75% complete. My fourth book, In the Valley of the Shadows, my favorite, is about 80% complete. Yes, I write them all at the same time, it is a long story.
If I can complete these books, I will die a contented death. If I die before I complete them, I suppose that I will still be ok with it. My first book is done. One way or another, whether I am alive or not, it will be published.
I do not know who will publish it yet, but I know that it will be published, even if I have to do it myself on Amazon.
So this is why I was writing in a borrowed bed the day after a cardiac procedure on this night. I went to America to address my health, so I can complete my life’s work.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have already done.
One step at a time.
But now, I am on the path.
Somebody, or something, guided me there.
It could be God.
If it is a person, an invisible benefactor, how is this different from carrying out the will of God?