The Divine Camaraderie of Women and Tarot

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The thought of getting a tattoo has nagged at me for a while, like when the hemming of a shirt comes undone and no matter how many times I snip it off, I can’t stop tugging at it and a new hem straggles free. Recently, a lot of symbols have told me to let it be and allow the hemming to unravel completely. These incessant reminders of my desire to put something permanent on my body have taken the form of naked women, celestial bodies, and the earth.

These are symbols that saturate my artistic presence. I have become addicted to the ideas of mother nature, the divine feminine and sisterhood; what started as a mere liking of these things have festered into a spiritual birth within myself, for the allegories I am drawn to are beginning to reflect something deeper within me.

This phenomenon takes the shape of a tattoo I saw on my friend’s arm when we threw our shirts across the rocks and jumped into the river on a hot spring day.

“Thanks! Dancing women are great. So is magic. Makes me feel more like myself!”  she said when I complimented it. We let the sun dry our skin and drew tarot cards for each other shortly afterwards.

This is a recurring sentiment in a lot of conversations from my female friends, all whilst sharing a cup of tea or crashing on each other’s couch or out the back of our favourite bar – notably all in small and quiet spaces, in pre-empting the off-handed comment from (mostly male) bystanders.

You’ve gotta take it with a grain of salt.

It feels like an excuse.

You’re pretty gullible.

How can you believe that shit?

It isn’t a matter of belief or disbelief, though. Tarot is a vessel for women to develop stronger relationships with each other, and it’s time to allow us to freely enjoy what we want and invite us to take up large spaces trying to understand each other more deeply. We already get shit for going to the bathroom together, and in the same strain, both tarot and the need to traverse spaces together comes with a calling for community and sisterhood.

The hemming had come undone a lot earlier than I realised and crept up more discreetly than I thought. Tarot and I had had a brief history; I had always been drawn to the allegory of elemental symbols and its visual prowess; that bright yellow that was commonly associated with the Rider Waite set was patchwork that held my Pinterest account together and occasionally became my wallpaper. But now, all encounters with tarot had been parallel to female friendship.

The first physical encounter I had with cards was in Tokyo, exchanging a cigarette with a girl I was taking classes with for an oracle card reading.

“Oracle cards? I’ve only ever heard of tarot.” I was curious.

“I carry them around for fun. Just don’t draw the Goblin card… Ruined my fucking life. But there are 25 cards so you’ll be okay.” 

When I picked the first card and laid it between us, lo and behold an ugly caricature of a long-nosed, shrivelled goblin sneered up at us. I was warned very carefully that night: beware of the ego. My friend and those who had gathered hollered, as if flipping over cards was a soccer game and we the ecstatic crowd. There was a quieter reaction to the next card, a symbol of transformation and trust in the psychic – the swan. Between us lay two contrasting symbols, one so beautiful that reminded me I was ever changing, and the other warning me of how my mind could ruin me. 

“Shit, this is kinda intense.” 

She lit another cigarette. “Let’s unpack it.”

I tried not to pay it too much thought – drunk readings were commonplace amongst young travellers anyway; what was there to get so hung up about? 

Since I’m writing about it over a year later, a lot. 

My next encounter was when the loose hemming became obvious to me. I was waiting out a nasty storm by the coast at a friend’s house, and being an hour and a half away from home gave me the opportunity to confide in them. Western Australia had just crawled out of isolation, and all that time alone had given me too many opportunities to drown in my thoughts. I thought often of my Tokyo oracle-reader, the cigarettes we shared, the songs she showed me and the cards I drew. 

My visual and written inspirations began to show all these motifs of transformation and of the psychic – the same messages springing out to me from art that invited me to naturally sit with myself and introspect. This period of reflection, the beginning of a journalling habit that took up too much of my morning and night routine, and the searching within myself opened myself up to more possibilities. 

“I think I’m going through a spiritual awakening – or something along those lines.” I was waving my arms around dramatically to charade a cosmic circle around my head. “I feel kinda stupid– do I even call it that?”

My friend was quick to get her deck and to put a hand on my shoulder. 

“We need to do a reading. Now. How you feel isn’t stupid, this is a good opportunity to work through your thoughts.” She came back upstairs with her deck. “Journalling can only do so much anyway! I’m here for you!”

I’d never had a tarot reading before, and having to draw 10 cards was a dive into the deep end. The celtic reading grappled with my psyche and didn’t reveal secrets to me, but highlighted many things I had overlooked and reminded me to trust myself. Speaking a question into the universe and having the read between the lines of beautifully designed cards, my friend’s interpretations and advice, and my personal feelings actually birthed a sense of clarity and direction, and gave me the opportunity to explain the cesspool of emotions and thoughts I had been going through. For an hour and a half, we discussed revelations, jumped to conclusions, leaped back into discussion and unpacked what the cards meant like literature students dissecting a book. I argue this is the moment our friendship deepened, with the cards being the door to a kinship of mutual understanding. 

Now I braid where the hemming has frayed, turning to tarot regularly. From that stormy night and now well into Perth’s humid beginning to autumn, my encounters with tarot have been met with warmth and familiarity ever since. I have had intimate moments with female friends, some of whom have never had a reading before, revealing a deeper understanding of each other I had believed to be inaccessible. 

“I think we understand each other a lot better now,” one said after I did her reading.

“Thank you for listening to me,” another said over a cup of tea with the cards spread between us.

Even when Perth went into a quick, harsh lockdown quite recently, my phone was buzzing with tarot discussions. 

Here’s today’s card for me. Any thoughts?

This spread made me think of our conversation. Can we call?

You’re in my thoughts. My reading reminded me of you.

Thoughts I found too hard to explain, feelings I couldn’t quite pinpoint, or things too harrowing to discuss could be shared over a quiet moment, a deck of cards and some tea. Perhaps the swan from a year ago was trying to tell me something, not about my own transformation per se, but the transformation of the divine camaraderie of women through tarot.

Tarot has been the new way for me to say, “I’m here, I’m listening,” and my woman friends have stood up at the opportunity. You bet I’ll be having a magical gathering in celebration of some new ink very soon.

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