The (Inner) Magic Of Tarot
Text: Heta-Maria Pyhäjärvi
Photos: Jonne Sippola
“What do you see here?”
“I see a woman on the moon. There’s a scorpion-like tail growing from her. She has her eyes closed. She’s resting, gathering energy. There’s a dog that swims underneath her.”
“What is the emotion you get from this card?”
“Exhaustion. She is slowly transforming. She is still, but moving forward.”
I see my current life situation reflected on The Moon, a card from a deck called The Tarot of the Silicon Dawn. The person asking me questions, the reader, is Xe García. I am the querent, the one who seeks answers. García has a humanistic approach when it comes to reading tarot, as opposed to the divination tradition.
“Tarot for me is not about predicting the future”, García explains. “It is a tool for gaining insight into something, for helping yourself or others work through situations and emotions.” Key elements for him are the dismantling of hierarchies and the concept of consent. ”I, as the reader, know the cards, and that is an important starting point. But the querent is the expert in their own life, and my goal is to allow us to have a conversation as equal people.”
Using intuition in reading the cards is important to García. While he acknowledges that it is necessary to understand the tradition of tarot and to know the usual meanings of the cards, he ultimately thinks we must pay attention to what the participants, especially the querent, see in the cards, in the moment.
Tarot cards have their documented origin spanning to 1430-1450 Italy (the origin of the Italian name tarocchi is unknown). Arguably first used as playing cards (for a game called tarocchini), a traditional tarot deck consists of 22 trump cards and 4 suits, known as Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (other names Coins or Disks). Each of the suits bears symbolic meaning, representing the four elements of fire, water, air and earth. The Trump cards are usually called the Major Arcana while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana can be seen as a whole story arch, starting from The Fool embarking on adventures, and ending on the eternal unison of The World.
The practice of gaining knowledge on past, present and future by using tarot cards can be traced back to 1540. Divinatory practices became more popular in Europe especially in the 18th century.
“I sometimes add the word radical to describe my style of reading, and what I mean by that is that I try my best to be as feminist, queer, non-racist, non-classist, non-ableist, and non-oppressive as possible”, García states. This reflects in his choice of decks, which are mostly modern, mostly non-normative decks, such as the one I picked for my reading. Created by a trans woman called Margaret Trauth, the deck, which consists of 99 cards instead of the traditional 78, has some unconventional flair such as hidden images that appear when the light hits in the right angle and new modern interpretations of the cards with some sci-fi flavor. As the author puts it, the deck is “fully prepared to give you the finger”.
Another card I get in my reading is curiously a card number 8 and ½, called Maya (there are usually no halves in tarot card decks). This card represents what I need or where I need to focus on. On the card I see Maya, an intersex femme who clearly enjoys herself while stroking two tied-up people with her feet. Seeing this card makes me smile. It reminds me of playfulness and pleasure, of focusing on myself and also acknowledging something that is hidden under the surface, my shadow side.
The third card which reflects my current situation is The Empress. I pay attention to the yellow colour of her dress; yellow is my power colour. She sits on a high throne, hides her face partly behind a mask. I am puzzled.
“Mistress of all she surveys, ruler of the world’s hearts”, says the book of Silicon Dawn about The Empress. “But can one rule only their half of the World and leave the other half unguided? Both sides need to strike a balance and walk down the middle path; love should not be under law nor should law be under love. But all this complexity gets folded under the mask she presents to society.” Instead of giving me final answers, the ambiguous words leave room for my own imagination and interpretation.
García asks me questions, and I dig deeper. This is kind of like a therapy session, albeit with a bit more wilder and funnier undertones. The energy between us is horizontal, respectful. Sometimes García tells me an anecdote from his own life as an example. I feel empathy and joy.
“I believe I need to decenter myself as much as possible when I read for other people. I try not to have opinions myself; instead, I try to make suggestions, provide stepping stones, and ask questions”, García explains. “Sometimes I might give an example about something that happened to me – but the point of that is not to talk about myself, just to provide an example or something the querent can relate to.”
Having his background in science has shaped García’s take on the tarot. “I don’t believe that the future can be predicted. I don’t believe the power of my thinking alone can affect what happens in the world. I cannot guess accurately what another person thinks or feels. I cannot read the future, and I cannot read minds.”
What got him intrigued in tarot in the first place was Beth Maiden’s Fool’s Journey on Autostraddle-website, which specializes in LGBTQ-themes. Older tarot decks alongside the divination tradition usually rely heavily on binary concepts such as man-woman, masculine-feminine, king-queen – this also affects on how the cards are interpreted. But this wasn’t the case with Maiden.
“What got me interested was the queer and feminist angle”, García explains. “I get really turned off by approaches to tarot that are gender-essentialist or anti-feminist. Beth Maiden is a queer feminist with a critical mind and she likes to think outside the box.”
What also attracted García was the logic behind Maiden’s practice. “I approach feelings with a lot of logic”, says García. “When I’m feeling something, I try my best to understand where the feelings come from, why do I feel this way, what should I do and not do about it. The process itself can teach me a lot.” For García having a scientific mind means that we can try our best to understand the world, but we can also accept the notion that sometimes we just don’t. “The process of inquiry is more important than the immediate results.”
Storytelling is one vital aspect of tarot. There are myriad of stories waiting to be told and pondered upon. Not all stories are linear, not all stories are normative. Take for instance the card number 6, The Lovers, that traditionally is read to tell a tale about a romantic monogamous heterosexual relationship. For García queering up the tarot is a must. ”The Lovers can be about more than two people”, says García. “And it doesn’t have to be about a romantic relationship. It can also represent love for yourself or for non-human companions, or even for a hobby.”
In addition to his multiple decks (such as My Little Pony and zombie -themed decks) García is eagerly waiting for getting The Next World Tarot deck. “This deck is more diverse than traditional decks: it has representations of queer, trans and gender-non-conforming people; also of disabled people, fat people, people of colour.” Depicting the deck as radical, García notes that the author, Cristy C. Road, is Cuban-American and involved in racial justice movements alongside queer activism.
Is there magic in tarot then for García? “I don’t believe in magic in the sense that I can cast a spell to make something happen or curse someone or make someone fall in love with me. I don’t believe in magic in that sense”, he states. “But sometimes I use the word ‘magic’ to talk about something that is completely inside of you – your inner magic to me is the spark of life, the fire that keeps you going and doing things when everything is hard and the world sucks. It’s the thing that sometimes makes us stay alive.” So is tarot a tool to dig into that inner magic? “It depends on the occasion”, García reflects. “Tarot can be used to dig deeper into that, but it can be used to process your ideas, your emotions, anything you’ve experienced, anything you remember, anything inside of you you want to know more about.”