Hermit self-portrait Maranda drew with pills and crystals.
Hello again, Little Red Tarot readers. This week I’ve been away from home on the Glitter Rebellion workshop tour. In these workshops my partner and I use play, magic and art therapy exercises to help participants connect with their ancestors. In this work we call in grief, resilience and the story-shaped holes in our ancestral stories. We see ancestry as being shaped by blood, path and land. It’s complex, rich and messy work. Soon I’ll do some writing here about this work, so keep tuned for that.
I’ve also been supporting my partner through the roller coaster that is the first trimester, because we are expecting a baby this fall! We’re hoping for an all Sagittarius family. Can you imagine? It’s gonna be wild.
So needless to say, I’ve been busy. And I’m very lucky because this week I got to interview the brilliant Maranda Elizabeth. Maranda is a tarot card reader who centers their work on disability justice, though their work is about so much more than that. They are also a prolific zine writer and just generally a witch I feel everyone should know about. So rather than ramble about how much I respect their work and perspective, I’ll let you get to know them yourselves, in the interview below.
Maranda’s tattooed hand on a cane with moon stickers
I came across your writing when I found your piece “Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot”. I love the piece. There is so much to explore there. Could you summarize or touch on how your experiences with trauma, madness, chronic illness and disability influence your reading style?
Because trauma, madness, chronic illness, and disability are core pieces of who I am, it would be completely impossible for my Tarot practice not to be influenced by them. When I draw cards, I don’t get to escape my traumas or illnesses; I don’t get to set my diagnoses aside each time I shuffle a deck. Nor would I wish to! Trauma recovery dares me to learn new methods of being, and so does Tarot.
I think about how one effect of trauma can be to damage one’s imagination and creativity – the fight-flight-freeze responses can become so ingrained – not to mention the realities of coping with pain and poverty – that it’s hard to imagine being able to live a more fulfilling, magical, and dreamy life. And while trauma is real, and oppression is real, and poverty is real, Tarot is one way to (re)develop the imagination and creativity that may have been injured due to traumatic upbringings and experiences.
Madness, illness, creativity, and spirituality are continually invalidated parts of my life, and yet they are the most crucial – they are my entire being. While I’m often quiet about my spiritual practices (I’m a solitary, and I think about, “to know / to will / to dare / to keep silent” a whole lot), I also feel the need to connect magic and trauma, and to talk about healing as a non-linear, unending process – I will always be healing, not healed, recovering, not recovered. Sometimes I get sick of talking about trauma, but it continues to permeate everything, so I have little choice.
Tarot helps me cope. It helps me access internal resources, acts as a healing tool and writing prompt, and shows me where I have agency in my life. Tarot works against existential despair and hopelessness, and connects me to something else. It helps me find magic in the mundane. Tarot helps me resist meaninglessness, worthlessness, and hopelessness. Also, I feel like it gives me permission to be a weirdo, to be kind of a fuck-up, and to find meaning that way.
A lot of Tarot literature will tell you to “align with your true purpose in life,” or whatever. I don’t feel like I have that, or aspire to have that, and I’m learning to be okay with that, to embrace it. I’d rather explore all kinds of different ways of being, rather than find my one true path, you know?
You are deeply committed to creating access in your tarot practice. What are the tangible ways you do this for your clients and community? Do you have advice for other readers who might want to incorporate access into their ethics?
Before I answer this question, I’d like to note that I have conflicting feelings about the word “client” when it comes to Tarot (similar to how I have conflicting feelings about the word “fan” when it comes to my writing). Neither my writing nor my Tarot practice are a business to me – I’m struggling to survive on social assistance, with permanent disability status, in an unaffordable and inaccessible city, in a living situation that is chronically unstable due to poverty and mental illness; writing and magic are how I cope. I have no judgement for folks who do use these terms, and I know how important it is for sick and disabled and marginalized and oppressed folks to be able to build their own businesses, as traditional means of accessing money under capitalism are often impossible, and the system truly is killing us – and I think everybody should be able to make a living doing what they love, and have enough to live comfortably when they cannot work at all – it’s just not where I’m at right now.
This might be a tangent, but it’s crucial for me to make this clear, to demystify my process. Your question helped me recognize some of the ways my internalized ableism and impostor syndrome are interconnected. Because I had originally written a totally different answer, but then I felt pretty anxious, and realized I didn’t want to say anything that would contribute to the illusion that I have anything like a business, or regular clients, or any kind of stability or regular (if tiny) income, or anything like that. Because I don’t. I don’t want to pretend to be a professional anything, or pretend to be living a kind of life that I am not living.
When I wrote my blog entries about connecting Tarot and trauma, I really didn’t know if anyone would care. But then blog hits started going way up. A few friends reached out to me to thank me for writing them, and I got some much appreciated kind comments on social media. But I want to make it clear that, despite that kind of (transient) visibility and encouragement of my writing in that very brief moment of internet-time resulted in $0 and zero clients. And I don’t really know why that is. Perhaps, like me, folks who are exploring these particular issues are too damn broke.
Sometimes I have this attitude of “fuck you, pay me,” but then I recognize that anybody who’s living on a similar income as I am is not likely to be able to pay me, at least not much. So, one of the first things that comes to mind when I think about access is money. And if folks like me can’t afford my writing or my readings, that’s a problem. On the other hand, I’ve also been in spaces where queers on disability and welfare are putting more cash in the pwyc jar than others, because they know how tough the struggle is. It’s such a complex web to untangle.
I began offering readings online before doing readings in my home. Before that, I’d given readings to friends for a few years, and they were quite experimental as I was (and am) still learning how to read for others, which is very different from reading for myself. I’d had several readings from long-term professionals who’d encouraged me to read for others, and stressed the importance of making money. I’d had a few readings over the last couple years that resulted in very real changes. I was nervous about beginning this phase, but eager, too.
When I put the readings online, I thought they’d become a more regular part of my life, simply because so many friends, readers, acquaintances, etc., had encouraged me to do this. It’s been a lot slower than I’d expected, but I’ll keep offering this service, if sporadically, because I want Tarot to be accessible to crazy people. And because it’s fun. As a disabled and crazy high school dropout, I have very few skills that our culture would consider worthwhile or productive, and I’ve struggled a lot because of it – writing zines and reading Tarot are some of the ways I’ve found to make meaning, and I want to continue to do this, even if it sometimes feels absurd and futile.
A few months later, I began offering readings in my home. It’s a very small space, a bachelor (I call it a bachelorex) apartment with a fluffy ginger cat, and I bought a few meditation cushions because the space is too small to bring in extra chairs and a table. My apartment is not physically accessible, and I know that cushions on the floor are not doable for everybody, but it’s what I have space for. I was nervous about doing this, too, but I wanted to experiment with different ways of offering readings. My readings are on a sliding-scale, and folks can pay either with cash, or a mix of cash, fruits & vegetables, and transit tokens, because these are things I have difficulty accessing on my own.
As luck would have it, a few weeks after I announced that I’d be reading in my home, I was hospitalized for the zillionth time, and then my chronic pain condition worsened to the point of barely being able to walk at all, and I realized, once again, that I could barely afford to live. I felt very desperate. I ended up subletting my apartment and leaving the city for Winter. So that’s the uncomfortable reality of where I’m at.
While I offer readings in various forms, I spend significantly more time reading Tarot for myself, and writing about Tarot for others. The truth is, I will never make any kind of living with this; it simply isn’t an option for me. There’s nothing that I do professionally, and there may never be. But I find a lot of joy in offering my own interpretations of the cards, and it’s one way I’ve found of being of service, of contributing.
Another reason I want to be open about this situation is because I know that healing and recovery are not a linear process, and continuing to struggle with my mental health and my mobility doesn’t mean I don’t have the skills and insight to offer readings, despite the instability of my life, my home, and my psyche (in fact, these realities offer immense contributions to the ways I read cards). I also wants folks to know that they don’t have to be uncrazy or undisabled – or “healed” or “recovered” – to practice any form of magic. Each time I come out of another crisis, I feel more dedicated to doing whatever is within my capacity to make life more liveable for other queers struggling with trauma and chronic illness. As a high school dropout and someone who grew up in poverty, there are a lot of resources and spaces I don’t have access to, but I try to do the most with what I do have. It’s not always within my capacity to offer Tarot readings at all, due to the predictably unpredictable nature of my illnesses, and I’m trying to be patient with myself about this.
Access goes beyond money, of course. When I discuss access, I say: “making things as accessible as possible, physically, financially, and emotionally, with the knowledge that nothing and nowhere can ever be 100% accessible, but we can keep trying.” In defining access, it’s important to know what I am and am not capable of. I have white privilege, and I am living and practicing on stolen land. I’m a seeing person, and moderately hard-of-hearing. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I have complex-PTSD and fibromyalgia. All this and more influences how I read.
I feel like my online readings are more accessible, for the person I’m reading for and for myself. I do written readings because I’m a writer and that’s my preferred method of communication. Written readings allow me to share as much information as possible, give the person I’m reading for something tangible to hold onto and return to, provide long-distance readings, and read for people who otherwise can’t enter my apartment. I also like doing written readings because it gives me a chance to offer journaling prompts. I’ve occasionally been able to read at events where the organizers were paying me, so attendees could have free readings, and I’ve read at events where I keep a pwyc jar on the table. Spoons-wise, online readings are much more accessible, and I think that’s where I’ll keep my focus.
As for advice, well, I’ve almost never spoken to a Tarot reader, or read the work of a Tarot reader/writer, who did not use ableist language and/or ideas. This has been really disheartening for me. I’m crazy and I embrace it – I reclaimed the word such a long time ago, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a life without it. I would encourage Tarot readers to consider their language, and to consider their intentions when it comes to the use of particular words, especially: crazy, psychotic, delusional, psychopathic, sociopathic, insane, nuts, paranoid, lame, duh, etc.
A lot of people come to Tarot specifically because of their experiences with trauma, depression, mental illnesses, disability, and oppression, and it’s unfortunate and troubling when spiritual and/or witchy spaces are made less accessible by people who have problematic language or ideas. There is so much more to be said about accessibility and anti-oppression, obviously, but to keep it simple, I’d encourage folks to ask: Who am I reading for? Why am I reading? How do my personal experiences with privilege and oppression affect how I read? How accessible can I make my practice physically, financially, and emotionally? What barriers to access do I and my friends experience, and what can I do to change them?
You talk about the tarot as a tool to re-write stories. I also find the tarot to be an incredible story writing/re-writing tool. Can you talk about how this tarot-inspired re-writing process relates to healing and liberation?
I’ve recently begun thinking about pretty much everything in terms of rough drafts, which is related to how I envision “healing” – not necessarily as “getting better” but as its own thing entirely. Healing becomes a form of story-telling, as well as a form of listening, growing, and changing. When I draw a card for a particular question or situation, the image allows me to see that story with a different perspective, and to apply new realizations to old memories, feelings, and patterns. The cards can serve as an interruption to negative thoughts, and as an opportunity to see my experiences in different contexts. Madness has informed every conceivable aspect of my life, from my sense of self to my income, to my creative processes and interactions with others, my physical health, and my ability to care for myself and my friends. Reading Tarot gives me much-needed new languages to go beyond the DSM, beyond symptoms, and gives me the opportunity to learn about myself in different ways.
I ask myself often what healing and liberation might look like. As I mentioned earlier, trauma can injure the imagination, and make liberation seem impossible to dream about as a concept, let alone work toward in concrete ways. I try to imagine healing and liberation as feelings first, and then ask myself how to get there. I’ve spent many years feeling angry and mean, alienated, impatient and lonely – healing doesn’t necessarily mean ridding myself of these emotions, but understanding them, validating them, figuring out how best to respond to them, and creating space for contentment, hopefulness, joy, and possibility. This might involve concrete action in the world, or it might be a more internal process – hopefully, it’s both and then some.
When I think about healing and liberation, I wonder: What would it be like to feel supported, loved, cared for – and to support, love, and care for others? What would it look like to stop running away? What would I do – or how would I feel, or how would my life look – if I didn’t feel the need to spend so much precious energy trying to convince others that I’m real?
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, but Maranda calls it Radiant Pixie, after Pamela Colman Smith’s nickname
You are a prolific zine writer. How has the tarot influenced your work as a zine creator?
The Tarot used to not influence my zine writing much at all, because I didn’t allow it to. I’ve lived a compartmentalized life, and these two ways of writing/thinking/dreaming did not intersect for a long time. For many of the years I spent reading Tarot, I didn’t have a lot of good books about it, definitely didn’t read about it in zines, and I felt that most readers would roll their eyes if I dared to write about it. (I’m sure that at least a few do, and that’s okay.) I think I got my first Tarot deck around the same time as when I started writing zines, which was 2002 or 2003-ish, in my mid-teens, but I didn’t think about one in relation to the other – I didn’t know I could!
I’m not sure if I connected Tarot to zines until 2012, around the time that I published my anthology, which is a collection of ten years of my zines. While I was on tour with Mend My Dress Press in Winter 2013, my friend Ocean gave me a reading in her backyard, and I stumbled into the Sanrio Hello Kitty deck, of all things. On the Eight of Pentacles, Kitty is holding onto a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue, and appears to be making a zine. So as trivial as it may sound, that helped the images on the cards make more sense in my daily life.
I’ve been a prolific zine writer mostly out of a sense of urgency and having very few other methods of communication available to me. I write for different reasons now than I did back then, but I started writing zines because I had no friends and was very lonely in my small hometown. Much of what I write about began when I noticed I was having particular feelings or experiences that I hadn’t found anywhere else yet. When I started writing about being locked up on psych wards, I hadn’t read any zines about psych wards; when I started writing about BPD, I hadn’t read any zines about BPD (same with c-PTSD). When I started writing about Tarot, I hadn’t read much about Tarot connected to madness and trauma, nor had I read about Tarot in zines.
Zines, for me, are about saying what I need to say without asking for permission. And I think healing and liberation are about finding ways to live without asking for permission, without apology, and about learning how to integrate all parts of ourselves – not just the cute, fun, quirky parts, but the ugly, messy, scary, and boring parts of ourselves, too.
Maranda Elizabeth is a writer, zinester, weirdo, non-binary amethyst-femme, identical twin, high school dropout, recovering alcoholic, cane-user, and Tarot reader. They have BPD, c-PTSD, and fibromyalgia. Maranda writes about madness, disability, creativity, magic, friendship, support, self-care, and embracing weirdnesses. In 2012 they published their first book, Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues, and in 2013, they published a queer lit novel, Ragdoll House. Find them at schoolformaps.etsy.com, marandaelizabeth.com, and @MarandaDearest on Twitter.