By Taylor Steele
Despite having been doing it for six years, I am nowhere near fluent in reading Tarot cards. I couldn’t, at the drop of a hat, tell you the difference in meaning between the seven of pentacles and the two of wands besides math and shape. Couldn’t dissect for you the symbology of the sword in the Pages’ hand to mean a piercing loss or the arrival of a warrior. But, I can Google. And this is how I ready myself for each reading, knowing I will find an answer.
First, I choose a question to ask. Then, I find a spread that makes sense for the answer I’m seeking—is it three cards in the Past, Present, Future positions, or is it the classic Seven Card Horseshoe? That depends. Am I asking about career choices or whether I should move? When I’ve landed on a question, I meditatively shuffle the deck and lay each card in its place with careful precision, wary not to sully the energy in the space—which is likely just the comfort of my queen-sized bed or the floral rug beside it.
Once, I asked the Tarot about my ex. Well, if I am honest, I’ve asked about him more than once. Each time it repeated what I had already known to be true — leave that boy alone. It is better, now, to be lonely alone than lonely with someone else. And, of course, like I said, I had known this already to be true, but it was coming from a voice deeper than that of my shallow yearning. One that felt both within and outside of me. Bigger than that of my friends’ caution tape tongues or my mother’s precious disappointment. This was a voice seemingly untethered to bias. So it was easier to listen to, to believe. And I still don’t talk to that boy because, if I am more honest than I want to be, I still ask the cards about him, and they echo.
My current deck is one of goddesses: The Moon card is the Roman goddess Diana; the card for Strength is the Yoruba goddess of the Niger River, Oya. The card that speaks to me most, though, is the card that, in most decks, would be considered The High Priestess. In this deck she is Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, arts, and spiritual wisdom. I feel a particular kinship with her and the High Priestess because in every deck I’ve come across, she has been a femme of color.
The High Priestess in any reading calls for us to listen to our intuition, to the divine within us, to the universe. To me it seems she is asking that we believe in our own magic. And isn’t that just like a femme of color, to know that to do the work outside of us, we have to do the work within. So, I believe in this magic. Not that Tarot can tell the future, but I do believe that it can help give shape to what we already imagine our future to be.
But my use of Tarot is about more than the hopeful rekindling of an old romance. As a queer Black femme living in America, I need magic. I need something I can trust. So, I believe in asking a question my spirit only needs a conduit to give me an answer to. Tarot is my peace in choleric times.
With the persistent rate of police brutality against Black and brown people, the white supremacist rallies cloaked in protection by a white supremacist system, and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore calling the best time in America that of slavery, being Black in this country means constantly questioning whether I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, regardless of the place and time and their previous or presumed safety.
I think about my brother, how he was attacked by cops outside of his high school years ago simply for walking, how he had a metal rod placed in his arm as a result of that assault. I think about the white man who told me I was his government’s bitch for the next 4 years and how I didn’t say anything back. He called me a joke, and I can still hear the ringing of a hi-hat. I think about that white man’s son and the kind of white man he will grow up to be.
And this country—helmed by a lying, racist, rapist who continually and rapidly fans the flames still burning from slavery—is mere minutes away from a Twitter-beef induced nuclear war. From Russia to impeachment, America is a nation undone by secrets yelled out loud.
And in this era of #MeToo and holding sexual assailants accountable for their actions, it is easy to get lost in a sea of triggers; I remember the rape kit, and how he smelled of dirt and sweat. I remember my silence and my silence still. As a survivor of sexual assault, I have to be ready to face someone’s new allegation at the drop of a dime, at a thumb scroll down my timeline. I have to be ready for those to trigger my own memories.
And while I’m scrolling, I see the names of TPOC (Mesha, Jojo, Tiara, Jaquarrius, Chyna) murdered at the hands of trans/queerphobic people and grow more afraid for those I love (and for myself). I am not religious, but I find myself praying (for them/us) after every #SayHerName.
I see those of us on the margins all trying to live despite how so many days are the darkest days. Despite the depression that keeps us waterlogged, the empty wallets that leave us unfed, the systems and hands that would un-become us.
I don’t feel safe in any place, let alone in my own body, and my body knows this. I don’t know if I am desensitized to all this violence, but I know when I encounter it, I am washed with a numbness I can only assume is my subconscious’ way of protecting me from emotional and trauma overflow. So, I turn inwards when the world is shattering too much to bear. I turn back to Tarot when I need to remember that I have my own very special life. I have responsibilities, needs, desires, stories to write, people I love and could love better, laundry to do, dishes to clean, a purpose to find and then fulfill.
The last time I used my deck was to ask whether I should quit my job. A quotidian thought. I lit a candle. Drew the curtains. Straightened my bed-sheets to act like some sort of ceremonial cloth. After shuffling, I drew the Moon reversed, Diana and her bow and arrow hanging, now, upside down. According to Biddy Tarot:
A reversed Moon may indicate a fundamental unhappiness with your present situation but also confusion over what else you could do and what you really want to do. It may be that you believe that what you really want to do with your life is impractical or unrealistic […] You need to believe in yourself.
“A fundamental unhappiness.” And I thought, yes, this. I am unhappy with the way things are. I have a job I don’t love, a love that won’t come back, a house I don’t call home, a bank account that withers despite my labor. Once again, these are all things I already knew to be true, but it’s a magical thing to have your doubts and fears affirmed, to have the exact thoughts you’ve been having expressed right before you through a simple card illustration. Telling you that not only is what you’re feeling real, but there is work that can be done around it, however difficult that work is. It’s healing. It’s healing to re-member myself in this way. To know that there are some things I can change amidst all of the things I can’t.
Even when I’m not doing Tarot, though, I always come back to Sarasvati, the High Priestess. I try to listen to the voices vibrating inside of me—especially the ones that tell me it’s okay to rest, to take a step back, to put the phone down, to mute the world in order to hear my own hurting. I ask the universe for signs when I don’t know what to do with that hurt.
When I tell people I read Tarot, I am often told that of course I will find signs if I’m looking for them. But, what a thing that is, right? To always find what you’re looking for right where you’re looking for it? To imagine a way to a different future and, before you, a path presents itself? I mean, how often does that happen? How is that not magic?
“On Being Queer and Happily Single – Except When I’m Not” – Brandon Taylor, them.us
“Trouble” – Ladan Osman, Apogee Journal
“Brief Notes on Staying//No One Is Making Their Best Work When They Want To Die” – Hanif Abdurraqib, Only available in his book They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
Taylor Steele is a Bronx-born, Brooklyn-based writer, educator and performer. Her work can be found at Apogee Journal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Rogue Agent, Blackberry: a Magazine, and more. Her chapbook “Dirty.Mouth.Kiss” is available on Pizza Pi Press. Taylor has written for The Body is Not an Apology, Anomalous Press (formerly Drunken Boat Journal), and Philadelphia Printworks. An internationally ranked spoken word artist, she has been featured by Huffington Post, Brooklyn Poets, Button Poetry and is a 2016 Pushcart Nominee. Most importantly, Taylor is a triple-Taurus who believes in the power of art to change, shape, and heal.