Hand Tremblers

Several days ago my wife and I visited a small craft fair in a nearby market town. Held each month, the fair draws artisans from across the region and is a popular attraction. We’ve attended it several times

One regular stallholder offers an impressive and varied array of decoupage art pieces. However fancy-sounding it may be, decoupage is simply the art of decorating an object by gluing paper cut-outs onto it. I use the term ‘simply’ in reference to the explanation only. It’s a skill I don’t possess.

Of those items on display that day, the common feature was that they were all created on slate. The combination of naturally-formed, rough-hewn material, and layers of carefully-selected images crafted onto the slate’s uneven surface resulted in designs that were both enchanting and appealing.

Many of those pieces displayed were of a mystical theme and possessed an esoteric, otherworldly character. For example, one such piece – a wall-hanging – showed a white bull emerging from a swirling, misty backdrop.

‘My husband doesn’t like that one.’ The stallholder told me. ‘He doesn’t ‘get it’.’

I looked at the picture and, sure enough, the bull was unremarkable and graceless. Not even white – more a dirty chalk colour.

‘But it’s not about the bull, is it.’ I replied. ‘It’s the mist.’

For me, whilst the bull was indeed central in terms of its position, the focus-point was the mist. What was in there, unseen and fathomless? It was that ‘unknown’ element that made the picture what it was. The bull’s only role was to draw attention to the encircling fog, thereby raising questions and tickling the viewer’s imagination.

With a glint in her eye, the stallholder smiled and gave me what can only be described as a ‘knowing’ look. I felt sure that she knew exactly what I meant and that, indeed, I’d ‘got it’.

I browsed the remaining items and was drawn to another wall-hanging. This one:

Everything about the picture – raven, ancient tomes, runes and that enigmatic eye would, I thought, make this a perfect addition for our home’s study. My wife must have known just what I was thinking. Of course she did. She always does.

‘Would you like it?’ she asked, knowing full well that I would.

As I handed the picture and payment to the stallholder I explained to her that I was currently engaged in learning The Tarot and that this was an apt and timely piece.

‘How long have you been doing Tarot?’ she asked.

There was something about the manner in which she asked the question that suggested she may have a personal interest in the subject. ‘A couple of months,’ I replied, ‘Do you do the Tarot, too?’

To that, she gave me that ‘knowing’ smile again and said, ‘No. I was brought up with all that, so don’t need them. I’m a Romany, you see.’ As she spoke, I felt an inexplicable thrill across my neck and shoulders; a tingling sensation.

Such was my surprise at this that I immediately told her of the response. Rather than be taken aback by my comment she simply smiled once again. It was then that she pointed out several of the nearby vendors.

‘They all regularly ask for their pitch to be placed next to my stall,’ she said, adding that another had once asked why this odd phenomenon should be so.

‘It’s your aura,’ I said, to which I received another knowing smile.

As I accepted my purchase from her I knew full well that what I was holding was far more than a combination of slate, paper images, varnish and gum. This was an item that had been ingrained with a whole lot of magick. And that made it ever more special.

As I journeyed home I reflected on my conversation with the Romany lady. I had no doubt that, for her, the veil between worlds is a tenuous one – as nebulous as that mist in the bull’s picture. Was this empathy something she viewed as a gift, I wondered?

Had she willingly embraced from an early age the mysteries and divine knowledge traditionally passed down, generation to generation among those within her culture? Or had she rebelled as a youth, only to acquiesce once she realised that such a choice was not hers to make?

These questions were rekindled a few days later as I listened to the album ‘Riders of the Healing Road‘ while walking my dog down farm tracks and bridleways outside the village. The walk and this album by Native American, Robert Mirabal was the subject of my previous post, ‘Ancestral Kundalini‘.

As soon as the track ‘Hand Tremblers‘ opened, and I began to listen to the mournful narrative, I was reminded of the Romany lady and those questions that had been brought to my mind.

I marvelled, too, at the synchronicity of these events – our meeting, my lasting impressions – and now, this recording:

She said her hands trembled when she was around something unknown.

She always walked late at night. She felt safe in the hours before the dawn.

She wore gloves even in the summer, and she cleaned her hands like they were gold.

She wore gloves in the summer, and she cleaned her hands like they were gold.

Many people would come and visit her, many hours of the day and night. Even the Mexicans from many miles away knew of her. Everyone knew who she was.

When they came, we directed them to the old mud-brick adobe wood shed in the back, where she had an altar with all her saints and effigies of days gone by.

Grandpa said she was a healer, and that as much as she hated being one, she lived a life so peaceful and calm without complaints.

He said she tried to run away from it when she was younger but it always caught up to her.

She healed Grandpa after the war. Helped him become friends with his demons. She helped many warriors find the light after they came home from the war that was meant to end all wars.

She helped many warriors find the light after they came home from the war that was meant to end all wars.

In the spring and summer we would gather herbs and many small birds for her. She would give us a quarter for humming birds.

Her hands trembled when she felt something was wrong.

Her hands trembled when she felt something was wrong.

And as soon as she felt them, she would wait in her little mud shack.

Gran was already old when my hands began to tremble.

Gran was already old when my hands began to tremble.

She would wash them with cornmeal for me and that seemed to calm them down.

‘I’m sorry,’ she would say to me. And then she would cry a bit.

The deer trembled too, and many, many years ago a young man gave his soul to the elderly queen of all the deer so that he could save his young wife from dying.

The deer goddess respected his prayers and loved his conviction that she gifted him with the power of healing like the deer.

And that was where the hand trembling birthed from. But who knows now?

But who knows now?

‘We don’t ever choose,’ Grandma said, ‘It chooses you.’

Now I walk late at night in the hours before the dawn, just like her. Just like her I feel safe when the sons and daughters of the pueblo sleep.

When my hands tremble I wait in her old shack, my old adobe shack, wearing gloves even in the summer.



Washing my hands with cornmeal when I feel the healing.

When I feel the healing



Washing my hands with cornmeal, only when I feel the healing.

‘Hand Tremblers’ by Robert Mirabal, a.k.a. Johnny Whitehorse

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