How I, a Lifelong Skeptic, Learned to Love Tarot
I might be expelled from the queer community for what I’m about to write, but I’ve never been all that woo-woo. Sure, I’ve been to some crystal shops over the years (I did use to live in LA, after all, where if you didn’t have a hunk of rose quartz stashed in your bra, you were basically nobody), and I hoard incense like it’s going out of style, but that’s more to combat my apartment’s day-to-day grossness than anything else. Otherwise, I don’t know my moon or my rising sign, and I don’t put nearly as much stock in the power of positive thinking as your average Goop reader would suggest I should.
All that is why when my friend Eliza pulled a tarot deck out of her backpack one night in 2017 toward the end of our trip to Southeast Asia, I was instinctively suspicious. I was going through a lot during those two weeks, muscling through what a psychiatrist would later tell me was long-undiagnosed mental illness but felt at the time like just more of the same chaos that had engulfed my life for as long as I could remember: I rapid cycled through emotions daily, boarding our two-hour flight from Cambodia to Vietnam smiling brightly and then, by the time we touched down in Hanoi, crying so hard that a flight attendant rushed to my side with tissues.
If I’d been in a better frame of mind, I might have brushed off Eliza’s attempt to read my tarot, but as it was I barely managed to express my discomfort before I found myself shuffling the deck (in order to “get your energy on the cards,” as Eliza put it). She had me pick three cards—one representing my past, one my present, and one my future—and as she read out their meanings from the handy little guidebook that accompanied her deck, I was shocked to find myself...soothed? The cards’ predictions were vague, but I remember pulling the Star, representing hope—something I desperately needed at that time. I felt like I’d been running on empty for so long, trying to get from day to day without direction or any way to give my struggle meaning. Although they fed into a mystical culture that I’d long dismissed, the cards offered an antidote.
Fast-forward six years, and I am so many things I wasn’t on that heady, emotional trip to Asia; I’m now openly queer, properly medicated, and a proud devotee of tarot, even if I’m still slightly dubious of crystals. (Jaya Saxena’s book Crystal Clear, however, has done a lot to change my mind on that final front.) I no longer see tarot as a ticket out of the mire of depression and anxiety—it’s just a practice—but ever since I came into possession of my first tarot deck last year, I’ve been using the three-card draw to organize my thoughts and plans in a way that feels right for me.
Almost every Sunday night for the past year or so, I’ve stuck to a tradition: First I cook or bake something delicious that I’ll be able to eat all week long, whether it’s a tomato galette, a gigantic salad studded with roasted beets and goat cheese, or Tejal Rao’s kale-sauce pasta. Next I watch Succession because I want to have something to talk about with my coworkers on Monday morning. Finally I do my best to clear my mind, throw on some calming music (currently it’s Enya’s album Dark Sky Island), and draw three tarot cards, just like Eliza taught me to so many years ago.
I let the first card I draw represent my past, which I apply to the week I’ve just completed. The card itself doesn’t always match what I’ve experienced, but I tend to think of its symbol in the abstract, taking what feels right to me and leaving the rest. When recently I drew the Four of Swords, for instance, I let its suggestion to rest and set limits remind me not to put so much pressure on myself to work 24/7; and when I drew the Page of Wands, I applied its reminder to back up inspiration with action to my despair over the state of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Texas, where I currently live. I apply the second card I draw to the week ahead, taking that opportunity to mull what’s coming up over the next seven days and to try to get in the right frame of mind to meet whatever challenges I’m to face with integrity and as much excitement as I can muster.
The last card I draw is the future card, which I apply to the following week, and this one is perhaps the most useful of all. I’ve never loved tarot readings that look too far into some nebulous future I can only half imagine, but even at my most cynical, I’m capable of thinking two weeks ahead and reflecting on what I want my life to look like once I get there. Before I started my Sunday-night tarot practice, I felt like I was living day-to-day, rarely stopping to consider the past or hope for the future. Now I feel like I’m making some small communion with the person I was yesterday and the person I hope to be tomorrow, even as I try to retain the most useful tenet I’ve learned from my years of therapy and eating-disorder treatment and take it one day at a time.
Tarot isn’t for everyone, of course, but I’ve learned slowly that it’s for me. I enjoy getting more in tune with the meaning of the various cards in my Rider-Waite deck and even occasionally offer readings to my friends, but I’m not an expert. I know there is a lot more to learn—I love following astrologers like Jeanna Kadlec and Mecca Woods—but for now I’m content with letting the cards be one of the many tools I use to organize my weeks and regulate my emotions on nights when my old feelings of depression and anxiety creep up again. I can’t always correct the mistakes of my past or anticipate my future, but I’m comfortable taking it all three weeks at a time.
Originally Appeared on Vogue