When life feels cluttered, a good tarot reading can slow

My first attempts with tarot readings began on a camping trip with a couple of close friends and their friends. It was Christmas before the pandemic and just before the rains.

The ground was so thirsty that the deepest waterholes in the creek were stagnant (and carrying some kind of parasite, we heard later). Snakes coiled near us.

They were at the steps of the toilet block, underfoot on our walks, sunning themselves on the same rocks where the children whittled sticks for fun. (Honestly, as a parent, you never can predict what will and won’t entertain children when away from their screens.) It seemed a harbinger of things to come that despite being on holiday, we were not quite able to drop our guard.

I brought out my tarot deck, like a parlour game, on the last night. Someone else made espresso martinis and we mingled under lamplight. I did full Celtic cross readings for the practice. Because I was unfamiliar with the deck and not yet skilled at seeing patterns, each reading took forever.

Despite how slow and inexperienced I was, people lined up for readings. I was surprised how solemn everyone was about it. It was nothing like the cocktail-making fun. When a woman who had barely spoken to me the entire trip sat for a turn, I thought watching me muddle through her reading might get her talking. But she watched stony-faced.

“Does any of this mean anything to you?” I asked, looking for clues in what seemed a meandering story I was creating for her about finances. She nodded but gave nothing further away. When I was finished, she simply rose and vanished into the darkness.

Next, a close friend sat for a reading. She has always been the most fearless of my friends, but still, she started at the appearance of the Tower card. “You are on the cusp of the biggest career development of your life, of course the cards are suggesting some upheaval,” I said. “Besides, I am an idiot who knows nothing, and who is literally reading out of a beginner’s book”.

But months later, deep into the pandemic, she called me with lingering uncertainty about the reading.

Could I clarify its intention and did I really think it would all be OK. I was not yet journalling my readings and so could not recall much of it – there were cocktails involved, after all – but I knew in my heart things would be alright and I told her so.

And this is how I learned one does not simply dabble in the occult. I decided to take my new tarot hobby more seriously because, apparently, everyone else did.

Even beyond my social media algorithm, finely tuned by some middle-aged insomnia scrolling, it seems tarot has had a resurgence with the pandemic. It’s no wonder that when everything slipped off its axis, we looked for other ways to make sense of things.

My interest in learning tarot was not unlike my fondness for learning new languages, except that its intersection with another pet interest of mine – psychotherapy – has ensured something more sustained in me. Tarot is a way of unlocking the subconscious in the search for meaningful coincidences. Or as they say in psychotherapy, the principle of synchronicity.

You can pay attention to all sorts of things and sometimes, too many at once. Life is cluttered. But a good tarot reading focuses you on the power and beauty of metaphor. Shuffling and studying the pictures on tarot cards can be like holding a talisman or like a moment of meditation. It can slow down your rush to the solutions, it gives you a little faith. You realise you can wait for things to emerge in their own time.

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Perhaps the nicest thing about tarot is that the reading helps you practise detachment. As well as slowing down, you look at your worries from another perspective and with a little distance. Patterns and riddles towards insight. And sometimes, your own intuition comes alive with a card that resonates like a hit to the heart.

In writing this article I drew a tarot card for you, too. Out of my favourite deck came the Justice card. In the card she is holding a sword with one hand and scales with the other. You must balance your logic with your intuition.

Around her flit tiny angelic and demonic figures, and a bird perches on the end of the sword. In exploring truth, do not be surprised if things are not as linear as you expected.

Andie Fox is a freelance writer who writes about motherhood from a feminist perspective