I’ll never forget the first time I read for someone else. I had just finished my A-Levels and had embarked on a gap year to travel, and at the time I was working and living in a traveller’s hostel in San Francisco. I had finished my morning shift and was sitting on the hostel terrace with my new Mythic Tarot deck and usual mug of clam chowder, going through the cards and the guidebook for the hundredth time thinking ‘I am never going to remember all of this’, when a young Irishman who was a guest at the hostel approached my little coffee table and asked for a reading.
I was surprised, he’d been staying at the hostel for over a week and I had found him quite aloof. I admitted that I was very new to tarot, but said that I would be happy to draw the cards for him now and then come back to him later with the interpretation when I had the chance to go through the guidebook. He agreed and sat nervously as I shuffled then fanned out the cards and asked him to draw ten while focusing on his question, which he kept to himself. One by one I turned them over, positioning them into a Celtic Cross, he told me he wanted to take a good look at the cards to be sure I didn’t swap any of them out for other cards when I took them away. I found this mistrust perplexing, but I could also see from his face that his wariness was not born from scepticism but from some superstitious belief in the power of the cards.
I withdrew to my dorm and started to pour over the guidebook, cross referencing the cards and making notes for what each of the cards could mean according to their positions in the Cross, trying to tie them all together in some semblance of a coherent story. Later that evening we sat down together again in the terrace and I completed the reading. I don’t remember all of the cards, but I do remember that the reading was filled with Cups and The Lovers was the central card. He was facing quite a difficult romantic situation and was trying to choose between two girls he cared about. The cards were right. He turned a little green.
After the reading was finished he warmed up a bit and apologized for being standoffish in the previous days, he’d seen me with the cards and was building up the courage to ask me for a reading and didn’t want to “give anything away”. I find this so amusing now, but at the time I just sat there nodding earnestly at this notion that I was sitting around collecting information about people on the off-chance they might ever ask for a reading!
Fast forward about ten years and the Mythic Tarot was still my only deck, and despite having it close at hand for over a decade, I read for myself only occasionally, thinking I could only go to Tarot with big questions and issues, and I still always referred back to the guidebook, unable to trust my intuition alone with the cards. At some point during this period I saw images of the Wild Unknown tarot and fell in love with it. I opened the box, felt a new surge of excitement as I rubbed my fingers along that beautiful matte cardstock, looked at the stunning images… and swiftly put the deck back in the box because the thought of trying to learn it felt so daunting. I didn’t buy the accompanying guidebook, how was I ever going to understand it? My gut would freeze and my mind would second guess everything I thought I knew about the cards.
Then one summer’s day two years ago I woke up one morning with one very set intention in my mind – I was finally, once and for all, really going to learn how to read these cards. My first step was to order a new deck, my bad habit of referring religiously to the guidebook of Mythic seemed inextricably attached to the deck, and to break free I knew I needed something new, so I went on a search and found the Paulina tarot. A few mornings later, I sat on my sofa, Paulina in hand, shuffled the deck and pulled a card. I then searched for the same card in the Wild Unknown, to compare the images and find their synergy. I had a new sense of purpose with the cards, I wasn’t going to go through each of their meanings and keywords again like countless times before, I was on a mission to uncover their essence.
This first card was the Nine of Wands and it is the first one, after all those years, I learned with my gut and with my heart. Each day I would shuffle again and go through that process, drawing the same card from two decks and exploring their underlying common themes. I would refer back to those cards throughout the day and search for their essence in books I was reading, shows I was watching and events or feelings I was experiencing. This continued for 78 days and I haven’t looked back, or gone a single day without at least handling my cards, ever since.
Like most things worthwhile, Tarot is a lifelong journey of learning, experimentation, play and surprises, and it has been through this ongoing process that I have realized that Tarot is a universal story book of life – every insecurity, every hidden talent, every feeling you could ever feel and every experience you could ever have is contained within these cards. And just like any good story book, it asks you to suspend your disbelief for just long enough to discover the mysteries hidden in plain sight, and to weave your own story through the warp of their truths.