A guest post shared by Brook
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Tarot as Agency: How reading Tarot is a radical break with my past
Growing up in an evangelical household, there were many activities that my parents assured me would in some way curse my soul or end up “inviting demons in”, and in my 30s, I’ve likely done most of them.
Whether it was playing D&D or listening to metal music, I quickly ascertained that perhaps my parents and their church were a little… overzealous. What really broke me out of worrying about their demon-warnings was being a lesbian, and a trans woman. When you have to desperately claw out a space for your gender and sexuality, suddenly things like whether or not you burn incense feel like an easy decision. The queers I knew in my previous home of Texas weren’t quite as witchy as the ones I’ve found on the west coast, but over the years, my partners and friends slowly normalized the very things that would lead to a very stern chat with a pastor in the past.
In a way, I’m in Portland now because of tarot. That may sound strange, especially considering how I view tarot with regards to magical potential, but it’s true. I was just out of a marriage to another woman, and in a phase of life where I was meeting a lot of new lesbians and expanding my friend group beyond many of the straight and cissexual folks we’d both surrounded ourselves with. A friend had invited me over to dinner, and during our very long meal, one woman at a time would go outside with my friend Tara to get a tarot reading. Many of them came back shaken, or sometimes rather ecstatic, but regardless, I understood that Tara was powerful. When my turn came, I stepped outside and sat across from her. She asked me to shuffle the cards myself, and explained how she viewed the practice. I had seen tarot readings before, but never had the courage to ask for one myself; I may no longer believe in demons, but it was still difficult to go from parentally inspired fear to embracing the cards. After I’d shuffled, and cut the deck, she began to lay out a celtic cross, a layout that I now rarely use, but with her drawing, I felt intensity. With the cards on the table, and I wish I’d taken a picture of the important spread, she began to explain what we were seeing.
This card indicates that you have many very amazing choices in your life, but when clarified by these cards, it looks like you’ll need to choose between them in order to not stagnate. I see travel, love, and new work and creative outlets.
At this point I had not really discussed my current emotional or relationship state, but her words pinned me to the floor. As she continued to read, I became agitated, albeit in a lighthearted manner. I was certainly in a place of newness, and was deciding whether or not to take a new job in Portland, or in San Francisco. I was in a relationship I quite liked in Austin, but also wondered what would happen if I tried to stay. To say that I had many difficult to sort out options was an understatement. I told her so. I grimaced and said, “I don’t want to choose. Ugh. Dammit”.
She laughed and said she hadn’t seen anyone so mad about the spread she’d laid out in a long time. I filed away her words for the coming weeks.
A few months later, I was in Portland, no longer dating the girl I was at the time, and no longer friends with the other girl that had a hand in my heart. I am thriving in Portland, and everything about her reading feels present in my life. I have new love, I am traveling, and both my work and creative pursuits are richly rewarding. The power and wisdom I felt in her reading translated into my seeking out of cards that I could read with. Along the way I ended up with a Dreaming Way set that felt feminine and strong in a fashion to match my own person. I now carry these cards everywhere, and do readings for friends and strangers regularly. It’s fun to me to read the faces of those around me as I shuffle the cards, cut, and lay out a square cross to indicate present, past, catalyst, delusion, and future. Daily draws for myself are slowly giving me a strong sense of how the cards work, and my friends’ expressions tell me that I’m giving them insight into their situations and lives.
Cards shown are from the Dreaming Way tarot
To me, I think there is magic in tarot, but much of the magic is of a type grounded firmly in our world.
I often describe my views on tarot as related to flipping a coin to decide dinner. “If you choose heads to indicate you will go out for pizza, and then heads comes up, you may suddenly find that you desperately want tacos,” I say to those around me. The cards, I believe, tell you what you already know, but give you a new framework for thinking through it. We absorb information, but emotional, and cerebral, constantly, but we often do not sort it out as we go. Tarot can let us press pause on the world, and filter through all the raw data to feel the truth or reality of the card’s revelations. Tarot is also a magic that creates its own truth, as through confirmation bias, we may create the answers that we wanted all along. However, I think tarot works best for me when I try to listen to the new information the cards reveal, and gently still my mind in the face of the still active non-magical prejudices.
Tarot also creates more ties and inclusions to my queer community.
My friends and I joke that you have to choose which woo you will practice as a queer woman, and while that is mostly a joke, it is also very true. Friends and lovers practice many magical traditions, between prayer, astrology, mediation, and herbal healing – my tarot reading grounds me and anchors me in a magical tradition that gives me insight to add to social situations, as well as a good outlet for introversion when the dancing or milling about gets too intense. Tarot itself is not a feminine pursuit by nature, but the practitioners I know are all powerful women, some identified as witches, and embracing the tradition in my own life also feels like a confirmation and affirmation of my own womanhood. Through tarot, I’ve met friends, lovers, and insights I never would have expected, and I feel incredibly privileged to be out of the christian world, and into a much more uncharted territory of spasms and mysticism. Reading tarot is my seizing of agency – a decision to do what I believe is good and right, in the face of the narrow-worldview I inherited from my parents, and knowing that the cards will never deny my gender or sexuality. I’m excited to see where my cards take me next.
Brook Shelley is a trans lesbian woman living in Portland, OR who recently moved from Austin, TX where she grew up.
She writes and speaks about trans and queer issues occasionally for The Toast, an upcoming book from OR Books titled Lean Out, and enthusiastically advocates for better conditions for her fellow trans and/or queer women.
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