My whole life I've felt a connection to all things mystical. As a child, I kept close my dream dictionary, hoping to find the hand of the divine gesturing somewhere in my subconscious. As a teen, I consecrated my walk-in closet and used it for meditation and rituals. The small desk along the back wall of the room worked as an altar, and throughout high school, I procured enough candles to run a small shop if I wanted. Although college spelled a brief pause for my occult dabblings, it feels predestined, in a way, that last week I finally caved and bought my first Tarot deck. I had been lusting after a deck for years but had put it off for a number of reasons. I didn't know where to buy a deck from, and, more importantly, I didn't know which deck to choose. For all the uninitiated, Tarot cards function as a divinatory medium, similar to a crystal ball or one's palm. The cards are meant to represent archetypal experiences in human life, and together the 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana serve as a method for illuminating those parts of ourselves or our lives that we may need help addressing. There are hundreds of different decks out there, each with their own design and theme. Some of them, like the Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets attempts to update the original imagery of the Rider-Waite deck, the most popular deck in the English-speaking world, with a new distinct flavor, while other decks eschew the traditional iconography all together and, instead, present the cards in their creator's vision.
The day I bought my deck, I was expecting cards the size of a Samsung Galaxy, glossy and inflexible, more like small arcane tablets heavy with power and significance than actual playing cards. I entertained daydreams of myself in a beaded headdress, like a mythic seeker, decked out in flowing gossamer silks, whispering someone their future over the soft glow of a black candle while the cards were spread face up on the table in between us. I could almost feel the weight of the future in my hands and the weight of my new responsibility along with it.
It's only taken four days for me to realize how silly my expectations were. I've heard it said somewhere that the spirit is a subtle thing, and imagining myself as the vessel of some vast supernatural truth was far from the point of reading Tarot. My deck could be confused for regular playing cards when face down. They are small, unassuming, and beautifully designed, not “arcane tablets of great knowledge”. When I do a self-reading, I concern myself with how long I want to shuffle the cards, whether or not I want to cut the cards while shuffling them, and if I should ask my question before or after I shuffle. I never rush to throw on my good lace dress, shut out the lamps, close the windows, and light my candles, because I would just feel like a phony more interested in aesthetics than actuality.
More than anything, there is something beautiful in the cards that I don't want to betray. Their beauty stems from their potential for inaccuracy. They aren't some strange receiver for supernatural energies. I bought them online from Walmart. They came wrapped in cardboard and plastic, not ancient secrets and power. One day, I ask a question, and I get what I think is the perfect answer. Another day, I draw a card that stops me in my tracks because I have no idea how it could possibly be what I need to see, but I trust them nonetheless. Twice I've drawn the eight of cups, as an a response to two vastly different questions, and I believe there is something poetic in its recurrence. The deck has advised me to look up and down, right and left, inward and outward. It gives me pause, and even if through the lens of a particular card, my life makes very little sense, I like to think that the reason the cards are so important is that they encourage me to look at my life in ways I normally wouldn't. They demand that one accepts interpretations that might be difficult to acknowledge, that one is critical, mindful, and as connected to oneself as possible. They aren't magic, even if they appear to be so by candlelight. They are like a mirror, constantly reflecting the world around them while revealing nothing of themselves in the process.
I can't deny their opacity might have more to do with my novice status than anything else, but at this point all I can do is wait. I draw a card every day, and hopefully before I graduate I'll be able to read them without the help of my Little White Book. I've always had trouble with the concept of faith, but, in a way, these cards offer up a solution. It's in how they muddle the boundaries between chance and destiny, chaos and prophecy. Reading these cards could be as bogus as going to a magic eight ball for a my fortune, or, maybe, it could be exactly what I need to center myself. I can never know for sure, but I think it's worth it to give it a shot.