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Ask Zardulu: How Do You Know If You Owe Someone a Soul?


(Illustrations by Matt Lubchansky)

Welcome to the first installment of Atlas Obscura's new advice column, Ask Zardulu. If you have a life, love, money, family, spiritual, moral or myth-based dilemma, please email your question to askzardulu@atlasobscura.com, and specify if you want your name to be used. (For more information on Zardulu's mysterious work, look here.) Questions are edited for length and clarity. 

HELLO MYSTIC CONFESSIONAL: My name is Bruce Guariglia. When I was about 13, a group of friends and I were sitting around the lunch table in school trading objects, comic books, cards, insults etc. I didn't have much with me at the time, and I wanted my friends collection of "monster in my pocket" trading cards. He jokingly said "give me your soul and they are yours". Super excited to get the good end of this deal, I quickly wrote out an I.O.U. for one soul and the trade was complete. 

A few short years later his life was tragically ended in an auto accident.  

My question to you is, do I have my soul back now? If not, who's property is it? His next of kin? The state? I'm worried I may need this back in another 40 years to continue "being". 

DEAR SOULLESS: First of all, I am sorry for the loss of your young friend. May his soul rest in peace. As for yours, that is another matter. Fortunately, I don't believe your friend took it with him on his journey into the afterlife. It's right where it's always been—with you.

You see, it's not as easy to give up your soul to your friend as you attempted in exchange for his "Monster-In-My-Pocket" trading cards; souls tend to stick with us. Every individual who has bartered their soul has done so with a character of supreme, supernatural evil. One of the most famous souls bartered, that of Father Urbain Grandier, actually required legal documentation for the transaction.

In 1632 a group of nuns and other clergy (who didn't much like the priest) provided a piece of parchment to a local judge in which the priest signed over his soul to the infernal powers of hell, complete with autographs by Lucifer, Satan, Astaroth, Leviathan and Elimi. So, unless Leviathan was in your school's cafeteria to co-sign the deal, as I said, I believe that soul is still safe with you. 

Blessed Be


DEAR ZARDULU: I am a writer who has not just hit a roadblock, but a wall made of pure titanium. Could the lack of passion in other aspects of my life be behind that wall and how do I knock that wall down?

Walled In and Wanting Out

DEAR WALLED IN: Being an artist, I've found myself in your situation and it's almost always because I've exhausted my source of inspiration. I could go searching for a new one but, as you know, the problem with being a creative professional is that you're not always drawing from the well, you're digging it. So, it may not be as simple as finding your next muse.

I'd suggest, before you find yourself in an expensive Tony Robbins seminar, try using a magic spell. When it comes down to it, magic spells aren't all that different from the self-affirming, personal dialogues peddled by self-help gurus.

So, I'll give you one to try. First, gather a paper, pencil. Then, make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and imagine a protective, circular energy surrounding you. You will now call upon the god Cadmus, the first King of Thebes and creator of the alphabet, for his assistance. As you speak the following words to him, write them on the paper before you, and while you're doing it, release all of the writing-related frustration you've been having. Repeat this process until the paper is full and then fold it up and destroy it. Do this whenever the problem reoccurs. 

"Cadmus, god of writing with this spell I call, to you for the words to bring down this wall."

Blessed Be 

DEAR ZARDULU: I don't know what to do with myself for the rest of my life. I enjoy the fruits of honest labor (i.e. money), but I have come to loathe the labor portion of that equation. I don't mind working, you understand. I just am exhausted by self-centered co-workers, bad bosses, and punching someone else's time clock. People wear me out.

I'm not gifted. I have no great talent. I just want to be left alone to read, travel, and create. What middle-aged women do in my situation is give in or give up. I want to live. 

Bored in the Midwest

DEAR MIDWEST BOREDOM: To represent your journey through the past, present and future I have drawn from the tarot the Knight of Pentacles, Two of Wands, and Strength cards. Your journey starts with the knight who, like you, is successful in his career and enjoys hard-earned rewards. He holds out a coin, forcing the consideration of finances while plotting his course, but as the reading moves into the present, we find the man in the Two of Wands holding a small globe instead. For some, a gain in material comforts is enough to keep them motivated, but for him (and for you) this gain is no longer the same driving force it once was. This tells me that there is some other passion that has taken your focus. As we move into the future, we see an image of a woman leaning over a lion, the very symbol of passion, holding it gently in her hands. She is neither carelessly embracing or forcing it into submission. This tells me that you have the strength to focus more energy on what you're passionate about without losing control of your life and your career.

You should move forward without any apprehension, whether its one of the activities you've mentioned or something new you've been waiting to begin. 

Blessed Be 


DEAR ZARDULU: I have two best friends, called Richard and Mary (not real names). The past couple of months, Mary has been extremely distant and doesn't respond at all to calls or text messages. She has occasionally had contact via text message with Richard (he told me) but it wasn't anything too intense. We have confronted her a while back (via text message, she didn't respond to mine but did respond to Richard) with her strange behavior and she has said it is because we don't invite her to anything we (Richard and me) do. We try to involve her with anything we do together, but she often (almost always) says she can't make it/is sick, so sometimes we don't ask her anymore. 

This has been happening for a year, maybe two. The last couple of months she just doesn't even respond anymore and I don't know what to do. She is a very isolated person and doesn't have any other friends, and sometimes I worry about her mental (and physical) health. She has been my best friend for almost 9 years now and I'm scared I've lost her forever. Do I let her go and hope she will eventually come back (or not)? I hope you can help me because this has really been bothering me a lot, I dream about the situation pretty much every night and I miss her a lot.

Kind regards,


DEAR ANNE: It troubles me that your search for Mary has lead you away from the comforting arms of Morpheus, the god of dreams. It's time to find your way back before you drown in the river, Oblivion, that flows through his world. We've all had people leave our lives abruptly, and while it may take some time, we've evolved the psychological mechanism needed to cope with those situations: we grieve. However, when that someone leaves in the context of a friendship, like with Mary, it's often over a long period of time, making it difficult to know when the friendship has ended and, in turn, when to should start grieving. This breakdown of the grieving process has left you with unreconciled emotions that are having a negative impact on your life, like the troubling dreams.

By letting go of your friendship and allowing yourself to grieve, you can begin to handle your negative emotions and it can become a positive force in your life. You'll be better able to open yourself to new friendships while learning from and fondly remembering the one you shared with Mary.

Blessed Be

 ZARDULU PLEASE HELP: I have a two year old named Luca who wakes up every two hours during the night.

I love him dearly but my wife and I are struggling with the broken sleep.



DEAR ANDREW: To represent your son's journey I have drawn from the tarot the King of Wands and Justice cards, symbolizing the present and future. Being that he is just two years old, I did not draw for his past.

The King of Wands tells me right away that your son is quite good-natured and garners a lot of positive attention from those around him. I find it significant that the king is depicted wearing a robe emblazoned with lizards and a small lizard even sits by his side. Just as lizards change their skin, your son changes as he passes through the stages of his development and, with any change, there is a period of adjustment that can be difficult. As we move into the future, we have the Justice card that depicts a woman sitting on a throne holding a sword and a scale. This is a clear indication that your son’s restless nights will soon pass, as Justice represents the ability to adjust and achieve equilibrium in life.

Unfortunately, there is no immediate resolution. It’s just going to take a little more time. 

Blessed Be

DEAR ZARDULU: How can I more gracefully adjust to the coming of old age?  I have always been a rebel, refusing to grow up and conform but things that used to be tolerated by others with affection and amusement now are merely seen as irritants.  

I guess I need to finally bid youth adieu and learn to welcome the next stage. (I am 75).

Peace on earth,


DEAR TWIGA: Never stop being you, ever. Don't change a single thing. I'm sure the people in your life have good intentions but they are undoubtedly wrong. There has been a dramatic shift in the way our culture views older adults, and it's not for the better. Throughout human history, they have been revered for their wisdom and consulted on all important matters. Now, there's a growing tendency for the younger generation to view this wisdom as antiquated and to disregard it. It's a real tragedy. Next time it’s suggested that you make changes in your life, just smile and remember, no one has more wisdom to make decisions for you than you. 

Blessed Be.

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