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Goddesses Never Age
"When a woman is penetrated by a man, his energy stays with her for a year, while a woman's energy stays with a man for a month. Hence you want to be cery discerning about whom you allow into your body–because that person is also entering you emotionally and spiritually." – Llorraine Neithardt
The Tarot Card Reader
I thought I could hold it together, that if I was broadcasting crazy it was at least in a glamorous silent-film-star kind of way. Perfect eyeliner surrounding a glint of madness. But obviously I wasn’t pulling it off. A friend intervened: “You’re freaking me out. I’m going to take you to a woman who has helped me out of tough times before.” She set up the appointment and I washed up at her tarot card reader’s Manhattan apartment.
As an intellectual or whatever, I was skeptical. I was worried it was going to be one of those “You’ll meet a handsome man in the next six weeks” kind of deals. I was also worried that I was desperate enough to latch on to such empty platitudes.
She laid out the cards in a cross and tower as we made small talk. I could see a number of knights, a woman weeping, a man hanging upside down from a tree. She laid a finger on the woman. “You’re in distress?”
Oh God, yes. Not that she needed a card to tell her that. I was not sleeping, I felt eaten alive by anxiety. I started talking: not enough money, my family is a nightmare, my love life is a disaster… She stopped me. “It’s like you’re drowning in a birdbath. Stand up, it’s just a birdbath.”
She showed me the cards again, and what had at first looked to me like a representation of despair now didn’t seem so bad. The knights were in battle mode, yes, but the cards around them were harmless little twos and threes. They were fighting what looked like a guy juggling coins and three women dancing around with cups. Even that hanged man had a look of serenity on his face. Her cat, a beautiful Egyptian Mau, butted her head against my legs and I took a look around the apartment. Her bookshelves were not stocked with hokey books about angels or Gypsies; they were filled with psychological texts, Byzantine histories, gorgeous art books. Her furniture was minimalist and refined. The only hint at her day job was a painting of what is traditionally the first card of the tarot, the embodiment of joy and fearlessness: the fool.
Her reading taught me two things: With a change of strategy, I could get back in control of my life and, also, I wanted to learn how to do this.
Within days, I had bought my own deck of tarot cards. It came with a flimsy manual full of lines like “The queen of coins is an older woman in your life, Virgo, Taurus or Capricorn.” I binged and bought half a dozen books, guides to the meaning of the cards and the different spreads.
I was immediately disappointed. The problem is that I am a book critic. It is no longer possible for me to read a text without taking it apart in my head. And if you take apart one of these tarot books, you’ll be left with nothing. Some soggy material full of mystical woo-woo language and soft ideas about karma and the spirit realm. Or self-help clichés, “no one will love you until you learn to love yourself” nonsense. The writers seemed incapable of distilling the experience I had had, and instead just wanted to tell me how to foretell the future or figure out why that guy left me.
I didn’t believe that the tarot cards were a way of the gods getting messages across (they can use Facebook, like everyone else). And I didn’t want to repair my psyche — I was unconvinced that it was broken. Reading books about tarot made me want to abandon my tarot endeavor altogether.
But I kept coming back to the power of that reading. What she was really doing was telling me a story about my life.
We all tell ourselves stories, as a way to understand and cope with what’s happening. But this one was different from what I had been telling myself, that I lost that job because I was stupid, that he had left because I was unworthy of love, that I was the brave victim of circumstance. The cards — those crossed and reversed and strangely placed knights — weren’t disciplined fighters, they were bringers of chaos. I saw that I had been picking fights against everything in my life because I was dissatisfied. Then there was the nine of swords — the weapons stacked one atop another above a woman with her head in her hands — which was the ultimate “I am going to lie here in despair, just step over me it’s fine” card. It wasn’t a story I wanted to hear. But it showed me how to make changes.
Sometimes you think you’re valiantly battling a dragon, but really you’re drowning in a birdbath.
Stories were my way in. Those figures in the cards became characters and plot points. I would pull one card every morning, and then look for that character or that plot point in my own life. That argument I keep having with my ex, the one that never resolves? Five of swords. That one-way plane ticket to Berlin? The world. Slowly, over a period of eight years, I began to understand the patterns and how to put the narrative together.
I was still terrified to come out as a tarot reader. If you want to lose respect in the intellectual realm, start banging on about Mercury retrogrades or someone’s aura. But after dinner with friends, I would haltingly start talking about what I’ve been spending so much of my time on. The husbands would roll their eyes. The wives would want readings of their own. Eventually, I began to offer my own services as a reader. Cringingly at first, I put up a notice. Tarot card readings: no prognostication or velvet muumuus, guaranteed!
What if I couldn’t find the thread of the story? I stumbled through the first several readings. But then a woman came to me, flush from an affair. She wanted to talk about her new lover and how great it all was. I laid out the cards. The hierophant — a figure of holy wisdom — reversed. The king of swords, crossing the lovers. My client was represented by the grumbling, tyrannical emperor. I could see what the story was, but it wasn’t the happy one she had just told me. “This isn’t about your new lover,” I told her, and I could see her glow fade. “We have to talk about the marriage you are betraying.” It was a difficult, but valuable, conversation.
Now writers, housewives, doctors, carpenters, a whole variety of people come to me. They tell me the source of their distress or ask me their question. And I take out my cards and I tell them a story.
Jessa Crispin is the editor of Bookslut.