As fast as online discussions spread about President Donald Trump’s executive orders or odd jabs during TV shows, so do posts and Twitter threads on how best to practice self-care or reduce anxiety in a truly nonstop age of news.
“Self-care” is a broad net for any combination of stress-reducing actions, from giving oneself a manicure to writing old-school style in a paper journal, from watching tea steep in hot water to deleting Facebook from a smartphone. For some, existential comfort can come in the form of divining the future, too.
Tarot cards have been used for centuries to help individuals process past events and look toward their future, with tarot readers explaining imagery and meaning to advise a client on his or her path. Often, individuals will come to a tarot reading with a non-binary question (in other words, a question that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”) in mind. A reader’s interpretation of the cards selected from the tarot deck can provide direction for that once-murky quandary.
Plagued by my own feelings of uncertainty in the wake of 2016’s election results, I wondered whether others were turning to tarot as a way to steady themselves in a tumultuous political time. I reached out to several tarot readers to discuss the significance of divination in today’s world.
“When people are feeling uncertain or scared, they are more likely to seek guidance, especially the spiritual kind,” Theresa Reed, known online as “The Tarot Lady,” explained over email. “Some people choose a therapist, others may choose clergy ... and then there are those who seek out a tarot reader or other metaphysical practitioner. No matter whom they choose to work with, it all boils down to one thing: they want someone to help them find their way through the fog to a safe shore.”
“A so-called irrational approach to problem-solving, tarot seems to make sense in a world that feels increasingly irrational and surreal.”
To begin to understand the usefulness of tarot reading in a person’s life, it does well to discard pop-culture notions of hands waving around a crystal ball and proclamations of a six-foot brunette soulmate. As Reed explains on her website, “No one has the ability to see your entire future. A reader can see what may be coming based on your current circumstances, but you can shift gears at any time.”
Catherine Bowman, a poet and professor of creative writing at Indiana University who has taught classes on the tarot, explained, “I think those that seek out tarot are looking for alternative systems for meaning and in a world where the consensus and mainstream approaches for guidance are proving inadequate.”
For the uninitiated, a tarot deck is made up of the Minor Arcana and the Major Arcana, with the former group of cards consisting of four suits (swords, wands, cups, and circles or pentacles). Like typical playing cards, Minor Arcana cards consist of numbers one through 10 and court cards like king, queen, etc. They are meant to represent the daily ups and downs one may experience in life. Naturally, the Major Arcana cards represent big events or stronger, longer-term energy in an area of life. There are 22 of these cards, and include imagery such as The Fool, Temperance, The Lovers and The Hanged Man.
The meaning and spirituality that underlie the cards allow for a shift in perspective, one that could leave a tarot subject feeling better or more certain about future events than he did before — not unlike, as Reed said, the benefits of a therapeutic session. (To be clear, however, tarot and therapy are not the same.)
“The chance narratives that come out of tarot often present alternative paths to move through problems and day-to-day encounters that embolden the questioner, and provide creative and heartening ways to navigate through a ever-befuddling world,” Bowman explained. “A so-called irrational approach to problem-solving, tarot seems to make sense in a world that feels increasingly irrational and surreal.”
“I think many people had a difficult 2016 and the election was a big cherry on top,” Mary Evans, of Spirit Speak Tarot, told me over an email. “So I have noticed a particular anxiousness, unsettledness, and desire to be grounded from recent clients.”
Evans explained that each year has a card from the tarot deck associated with it — for 2017, it’s the Wheel of Fortune, “a card symbolizing drastic changes and the ultimate lack of control we have in the events our lives take. The affirmation to this card, is to let go of control and focus on how your actions can work for good.”
Reed reported that, as a tarot reader, she was typically “swamped” from October through March, regardless of whether an election was on the horizon or had recently happened. However, tarot reader Lindsay Mack said that she had noticed an uptick in business toward the end of 2016. “I was doing pretty well before November, but now I’m currently booked up until March. I think people are really seeking a sense of clarity and empowerment during these times,” she said.
New president or not, the new year is a time when people naturally seek out guidelines to accomplish goals or trim negativity from their lives — be it in career, friendships, love or something else. Evans explained that she often sees clients during this time, “when we dedicate the most energy to self-reflection.”
Because this new year aligned with Trump’s inauguration, Evans said she believed her clients were especially focused on taking control of their lives and accomplishing work.
“I do feel that in the wake of [the election], a subconscious security net has been taken away,” she said. “I think our past eight years of democracy, although people may have found flaws in it, allowed a certain feeling of safety. Today, many of us feel fear about the future of our country, our safety, and our rights. I think this underlying theme has caused my clients to find a new stance in developing a strength and security for themselves.”
Mack echoed a similar idea, noting that major political changes can incite personal ones, that external chaos can increase one’s wish for internal harmony.
“For the last three years, I’ve had the honor of serving and reading for people who were really in ‘seeking’ mode, shouldering a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety in their lives in general,” she expanded in an email. “Post election, it is the opposite. There is a far more proactive, soul-centered inquiry going on with the people I see currently. People are coming in with deeper questions, with a greater desire to be in their truth, to stand up and be of service to others in whatever way they can.”
While detractors might argue that seeking comfort for oneself ultimately won’t change the course of politics, it’s possible that it might allow an individual to shore up resolve in a disheartening climate to continue working for what she believes is right. As Bowman, the professor, said, “Tarot has become an imaginative way for people to learn strategies for change, to access and see aspects of themselves that may have been hidden.”
“The election is, at its core, a huge invitation to evolve, personally and collectively,” Mack said. “Thich Nhat Hanh’s phrase, ‘No mud, no lotus’ captures it beautifully. The election is the mud, and we are at choice. Do we stay stuck in the mud, in our old ways, in our fear ― or do we nourish a lotus from it? Can we choose growth and expansion through difficulty?”
Using a tarot deck won’t reveal specifics on the nation’s future foreign policy or what other executive orders could be implemented. But for a reeling portion of the country, the spiritual practice can offer a sense of safety and assuredness in an era of doubt.