Kelsey Henderson talks with her hands. Draws little maps in the air in front of her, rubs the fingers on one hand together when she's searching for the right words, touches the table with her index finger to accentuate points. But when she's doing a lithomancy reading—a method of divination that uses stones to foresee the future—she uses the stones to speak.
I drop a handful of stones into a circular basket divided into 12 sections, like 12 slices of pizza. The way the stones land in relation to the sections and to each other, she says, holds clues about the next 12 weeks of my life. The Pluto stone represents transformation, she explains, and its place in the center of the basket has implications for the whole 12 weeks. The bluish green Neptune stone in week eight means that will be a spiritual time. And so on.
She speaks with the kind of confidence that comes from practice—she's a woman who had to learn to believe in herself. In some ways, she's still learning. And there's something about stones that helps her connect to both the earth beneath her feet, and to untold planes above.
Stones are used for all sorts of purposes in the metaphysical community. Mollie Chivington, owner of Mystic Candle Co. in Tucson, says some people use them to build grids of protection or prosperity around their house. Others drink stone-infused water. She carries different kinds of stones in her pocket depending on what she feels like she needs that day.
Tarot and aura reader Linda Keaford has found that the same stones can have different effects on different people. Today, she's wearing a rose quartz bracelet, for self healing; a sodalite bracelet, for objectivity; a fluorite necklace that helps her maintain flow; and onyx earrings, for security and safety.
Henderson has always been interested in stones—she's been painting and selling her art for ages, goes to the gem show every year and has recently taken to painting on stones as well. But she's only been practicing lithomancy for about five years.
She was raised by an atheist family, but joined a Southern Baptist church and got married during high school. She and her husband graduated, had three kids, moved to Denver for work. When he started drinking too much and growing abusive, Henderson asked several ministers for advice on what to do. One of them suggested that if she were a better wife, maybe her husband wouldn't drink so much.
When Henderson's dad called from Tucson in 2008 to ask for help in caring for her sick mother, Henderson took it as a sign from the universe. Thirty-two years after marrying her husband and moving out of her parents' house, she left her husband and moved back in with her parents.
The years that followed were tough. Her mom's health improved, but both of her parents still needed caretakers. Henderson was angry. She felt betrayed by the church, furious with her ex-husband and at a loss for what to do next. And then her sister called.
Henderson's sister became involved in the metaphysical world right around the time Henderson got involved with religion, so they'd never been close. Now living in Scotland, her sister had been diagnosed with cancer, and asked Henderson to be there with her while she underwent a run of alternative treatments.
"When I went to see her, I just felt like I could breathe, because it was complete acceptance," Henderson says. "And this was a woman who was dying, saying 'It's okay, no matter what you believe.'"
Her sister encouraged her to keep an open mind and heart, and Henderson found herself developing new gifts. First, there was the ability to smell spirits—Henderson would find herself overwhelmed with the scent of roses, lilies and lilacs when there were no flowers in the area. Or there was the time when her sister sensed a presence and warned Henderson not to go near it. Henderson approached it anyway, and felt a force push her, almost to the ground. She turned around and pushed back.
"In those moments, it was like I was taking all that that I was upset about and just throwing it out there," she says. "I just had this immense calm."
She spent the rest of the month talking with her sister and learning more about the metaphysical world. And she wasn't the only one to undergo a miraculous recovery during the month-long visit: The tumors Henderson had been able to see through her sister's clothing when she arrived had shrunk to the size of peas by the time she left.
When she returned home, Henderson found herself drawn to stones and crystals even more than before, and then had a dream that she was using rocks to see the future. She jotted her dream down in the middle of the night, took to the internet in the morning and found lithomancy. She spread all the stones she'd collected over the years—hundreds of them—over her bed, and chose 16 that called out her the most to use for her readings.
She believes spirits, like the ones she encountered in Scotland, are made up of the same energy as we are—the only difference is that we have physical bodies. When she does a reading, it's just a matter of opening up the window between the two worlds and chatting through it. And as far as she's concerned, anyone who really wants to connect with the metaphysical world can.
"I think any of us can choose anything, whether it be this or religion," she says. "There is sort of a magic to faith—there is the inspiration you get from it, and the strength that you get from it and the energy you feel from it, whether it be this or something else."
It's the tough times, she says, that helped her develop such a sense of compassion and gift for lithomancy; conversely, it's her spirituality that's provided healing from old wounds. She's let go of anger at her ex-husband, has a new sense of compassion for her now-90-year-old mother, and even faced her father's death with acceptance. She held his hand and told him it was okay for him to go.
Death isn't the sort of thing she can foresee—her readings have more to do with possibilities and energy types than concrete events. Besides, she says, it isn't her job to bring people bad news. Especially because she's seen so many people come to her to simply be assured that their lives have value. She emailed me after our meeting to elaborate.
"Maybe a better way to put it is that if someone comes to me with a heavy heart or afraid...what I am there to do is make sure they hold fast to the possibilities and not lose hope," she wrote. "My job is to anchor the Light, not give the darkness the advantage. I can help people see through the eyes of love and hope instead of fear. The world is dark enough already."
Kelsey offers lithomancy readings at the monthly Mystic Messengers fair. Her artwork is available for sale on Facebook, at Thistle Do Studio, LLC.