I have just turned 50, a momentous age, apparently, and realised that I have been using tarot cards for 30 years. I bought my first deck, the Thoth Tarot, when I moved to London at the tender age of 20 and started buying books and learning the cards’ meanings straight away. I did temptative card spreads for skeptical, curious friends in squats; at druggie parties; in the restaurant where I was working as waitress and for my first live-in boyfriend, who was more scared of them, or maybe, of having a witchy girlfriend, than he let out. The cards’s imagery and metaphors, became closely woven into my journey into and then through, adulthood. They illustrated my life events.
That original Thoth Tarot deck that I bought at Mysteries in Covent Garden with my weekly waitress’ wages, is still with me, and it’s been with me, wherever I’ve lived. However, there have been periods when my involvement with the cards has ceased completely, only to bounce back reenergised and with new insights. It always happens. There were years when i’d forget about the cards, but their powerful images stayed with me, perhaps because I was young and my life was tough, but taking form, and they embedded themselves, with their meanings, into my own personal life narratives.
I have never deliberately put my cards aside, but there have been periods when I didn’t feel a need to use them, so they fell by the wayside because they didn’t fit with my mindset at the time. Normally for months, but I took them with me, wherever I moved to, from house to hose, from country to country. Even if I didn’t unwrapped the silk scarves, they were somewhere near me, in a drawer, in my student digs, in my first flat, even in my suitcase, on my first intercontinental trip.
I have never been a compulsive tarot user, I don’t use them daily, but there are times when they are more present in my life, and times when they aren’t. However, I think of them when events happen, of the three of cards and utter heartbreak and despair, of the Lovers and the need to go forth and multiply (in a symbolic sense)…
Only on one occasion, about 9 years ago, and due to a tragic life event, I felt that I had lost all connection with the cards and wanted nothing to do with them. I couldn’t even look at them and they were forgotten for a very long time.
My belief in the cards is perhaps not very standard. I am an atheist and I have no spiritual beliefs, no interest in the esoteric nor in any New Age stuff. I am not knocking other people’s interests, I respect them all, but I’m not into the esoteric and spiritual stuff that comes often attached to the Tarot. So when my life was turned upside down due to bereavement, I felt that the cards had no place in my life anymore. I felt that they clashed with my rational thinking and with my university education. I wanted nothing with that need to explore my intuition, although I do believe that we are intuitive beings, and that the cards are a vehicle to channel this intuition in our minds. However, i felt very conflicted, specially around issues concerning future predictions, and I never spoke about my studies of the Tarot with anyone.
It was only after years of mourning and healing, that I began to think of the cards again. When my life pulled itself together once again, the cards waved to me from their dusty corner. Very powerfully too.
It felt as if during this time in the dark, my understanding of the Tarot had grown richer and more complex, along with my own life experience. I had gained a new understanding of them, deeper, more mature, for sure, but also, aligned with my own values and beliefs. They didn’t clash with them anymore. I had been studying the cards from a young age, and their imagery has become part of my own symbolic understanding of the world. Its images and symbols are very old, that’s why we humans relate to them: they speak in a universal language. I understood that this language was part of me, and that it fitted in my life better than I suspected. How the tarot works, what you get out of it, is entirely subjective and adapted to your philosophy and your needs. The tarot is malleable, it doesn’t impose itself, you mould it into your own instrument. I have found how the cards work for me: for example, I don’t do future predictions, and I refer to my consultations as guidance or coaching. I also incorporate elements of feminist and queer theory thinking, which are part of my “other” work. I question it’s gendering and binary tendencies, it’s sense of class and hierarchy; but I think that these are ideologies imposed by those who write books. You start reading books about the tarot, to learn the basic, traditional meanings of each card. Slowly, you depart from them the more you use them, and off you go, into your own journey. New interpretations and meanings reveal themselves to you, customised for you, that often, only make sense to you and are in position with traditional interpretations. You do with the tarot whatever you like, and if you want to associate it with chakras or with angels, that’s your choice; but if you prefer to think that it’s a form of counselling, that’s perfectly fine too. The cards must speak our language, not the other way round.
I don’t know if or when my exploration of the Tarot might become dormant again, but I know that, as a tarot reader told me many years ago, when i was starting, that they will always call me back when I need them, and each time, I will come back to find richer, deeper meanings in them. We don’t stop processing the symbolism of the tarot when we stop looking at it, even if we put our cards in a box for years. Those dormant periods when the cards stop calling us, are an essential part of the path.