What We Talk About When We Talk About Tarot


I remember exactly when all the trouble began. It was right after I thought: she’s so sexy she makes my clothes feel like a prison. That’s when I knew I had to feel her. Like, I had to know her from the inside. I just had to. But I still wasn’t sure if she felt the same about me. Which raised a question that has plagued (straight) men since the dawn of time: How do you know when a woman wants to have sex?

You could wait for her to say something, or do something explicit, or anything that makes it obvious. But I think we all know women won’t always make it obvious. They’re often harder to read than a bio-chem textbook. Whenever I’m alone with a woman and I think sex is in the air, I keep a weather eye out for any signs of her desire or indications I should make a move. Signs were still mixed. Sometimes a woman will electrify the air by doing something rather overt like, say, start talking about sex. It’s almost always a good sign if sex is on her mind when you’re around. That’s what happened with me and this Hollywood executive I’d been chasing for weeks.

We were alone in her bedroom, on her bed, just inches apart, a few buttons and zippers away from slipping into something more comfortable. She wasn’t teasing me. She wasn’t the type to rely on innuendo. Not her. She was a grown woman with grown woman rhythms and rhymes. She was nothing like the girls my age (twenty-two): she was in her mid-thirties and she spoke her mind. At the moment what was on her mind was sex with a black man. Only, dear readers, it wasn’t this black man. You see, she decided in this bedroom moment that this was the perfect time to tell me her story of taking a “huge black guy” home from a club. She painted the picture with bold strokes and great detail. She told me all about how it felt as he fucked her on top of the washing machine in the laundry room of her very expensive apartment building. I hoped this wasn’t her idea of foreplay.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought, maybe this is her way of telling me she kinda has a thing for black guys. Which if you are one, it’s something you get used to hearing. People are quick to fetishize each other. We love to fuck foreigners. I only hoped she didn’t limit her fetish to “huge black guys,” because I stood a finger of whisky under six feet and weighed a buck-sixty with my boots on. But then again, I also thought, maybe it wasn’t about the black guy. Maybe she just wanted me to know she’s really turned on by washing machines. Maybe that’s her real kink.

The story clearly had some meaning. It bubbled up out of her subconscious for a reason. What kept me on the edge of laughter was the way she talked about sex; it was so blatantly vulgar that it seemed like she either didn’t give a fuck, or had lost all sense of how she might sound to another human being. She was that senile old man talking dirty to the poor attendant who has to give him a sponge bath. And in this analogy I was the one holding the soapy sponge.

I’ve found there’s an occupational hazard for those who make movies for Americans. They often become vulgar. Despite her coarse approach to sexual bragging, I liked her story. Well, to say I liked it may be an exaggeration. It was entertaining. Making conversation with this horny Hollywood executive was nothing like talking with some nice, turned-on girl from Minneapolis.

We sat on her bed and I waited for the right moment to make a move. But then, just as she finished her story, she changed gears so quickly I could barely keep up.

There’s a saying that Washington D.C. is just Hollywood for ugly people. Well, it works both ways. With a sudden profusion of political charm, she grinned like she wanted my vote. Her hazel eyes went beyond staring and dove into my dark brown soul-holes. And then, for what seemed like a slow southern moment, she swam around in my eyes. We played at a staring contest. I reminded myself not to speak first. In her eyes, I spied the reflection of the red digital display of her alarm clock. 11:14 crouched in the lower left arc of her iris. As I read the time off the wet hazel of her eyes, she looked at me like she was busy imagining a new way for us to have fun on her bed. I only guessed this because she smiled with a dirty grin. That was a good sign. Or so I thought.

Cracking open her smile so she could speak, she said, as if it were the most normal question to follow a story about an anonymous laundry room fuck, “Has anyone ever read your tarot?”

I didn’t see that one coming. I was really hoping for something more in the line of, “Do you have to work early tomorrow?” Or maybe she might ask something more direct like, “Do you wanna go take a shower … together?” But tarot? No, didn’t see that coming. I didn’t know shit about tarot cards. I told her as much. Nothing against her question but I felt like a man meeting his first used car salesman, instinctively wary. Still, I was horny and thus, ready to hear her spiel. I asked, “You really wanna read my fortune?”

She could’ve said dominoes. I wasn’t really thinking that much about the tarot cards or the fact she wanted to peer into my future. I was mostly thinking about time. Tarot cards? Sure. How long could that take? I calculated the minutes added until we could get horizontal and start taking our clothes off.

At that point in my life tarot cards meant two things: buzzing neon and teenage girls. There were the neon signs in the windows of storefronts for the palm readers. And there was that thing teenage girls did at sleepovers with Ouija boards and tarot cards and Light As A Feather, Stiff As A Board. In college, tarot cards popped up at stoners’ houses on coffee tables and bookshelves, or they were something New Agers did as they sat around drinking wine on a weekday night.

Until that moment, tarot cards had always remained on the periphery of my life. And they would’ve stayed that way if it weren’t for the Hollywood exec. She and I had fought and flirted for weeks. But that’s how she was. She was so smart she was angry about it. Even her hair was churlish. She had this undomesticated mane of dirty blonde curls that preferred to crowd around her face, tickle her cheeks and ears. She sat up with the suddenness of a mid-afternoon Florida rainstorm. No warning. Raised her hands to her head and smoothed back her curls. With well-practiced efficiency, she tied her hair up, then nodded at me and promised, “This will be so cool!” I didn’t argue.

She spun around to retrieve her tarot cards from a drawer in her bedside table. I heard it open. I remember thinking: Whoa, she keeps them close.

When she turned back to face me, she asked what I knew about the tarot. I mentioned the goth teen girls in my hometown; the ones who smoked cigarettes and listened to dark European music before anyone else. They thought the tarot had mystical properties. They also thought Robert Smith was sexy so I considered their judgment a little questionable. They introduced me to the tarot. But they’d never done a reading for me. With a smirk, the Hollywood exec said, “Oh, fun! You’re a tarot virgin.”

She handed me the deck. The skin of our fingers slowly rubbed past each other. For a brief moment it felt like all my attention rushed down to the spot on my hand where we touched and all of me was pressing out from inside my skin wanting to feel as much of her as I possibly could.

She told me to shuffle the cards and to imagine putting my energy into the deck. I know innuendo when I hear it, so I grinned and did as I was told. I moved the cards around, slowly, folding and shuffling them, sliding one stack into another. As I handled them, she told me a short history of the cards. I’ll give you an even shorter one.

The tarot makes its first official appearance in the world’s memory in the 1400s, in Italy. Some insist the cards are a product of Jewish mysticism and the Kaballah, and they date them back to the Temple of Solomon. Others say they’re even older and we inherited them from Egyptian mystics and that the cards crossed the Red Sea with Moses and his followers. This is all speculation. What we do know is the first recorded deck appeared sometime between 1430 and 1450. As best we can tell, the tarot was created as an adaptation of the standard deck of playing cards (or as some insist, it was vice versa).

Both decks have 52 cards broken up into four suits with cards numbering 1-10 and a “court” of four face cards and toss in a joker (renamed the Fool in tarot). The chief distinction is that a deck of tarot cards (traditionally) has 78 cards. The additional cards are called the major arcana (and the traditional 52-cards are called the minor arcana).

In Europe, primarily in rural areas or urban centers where old school ways still hold sway, people use tarot cards to play card games. But dating back to some time in the nineteenth century, gypsies and other folks living in English-speaking parts of the world started using the cards to tell the future. This history of divination is what gives the cards their cultural cache. Naturally, once they got a hold of tarot cards, psychologists, just like palm readers, grew fascinated with the hidden meaning in the tarot. Never one to miss out on a symbolic language he could use to seek communion with the Collective Unconscious, renowned psychotherapist Carl Jung was particularly drawn to the tarot. The following is taken from a lecture he gave at a seminar:

“These cards are really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individuation symbolism. They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents.”

After she’d impressed me with the history and secret mystery of tarot, she asked me, “What’s your question?” She may not know shit about foreplay but she knew how to play witchy games.

I said, “I want to know … about my immediate romantic future.”

That seemed like the most sophisticated way I could ask if we’re gonna fuck tonight. She smiled at my question and asked if it was cool if she used a Celtic Cross layout. I said sure, since I had no idea what that was but figured it’d make my Irish ancestors happy.

She laid my first card. Her face scrunched up a bit. That didn’t seem like a good sign. My second card was worse. She actually flinched. From there, it sorta snowballed. After she flipped over the third card, she laughed out loud. It was like the punch line from a joke I didn’t get. I mostly stared at the images. They reminded me of renaissance era art.

The fourth card she dropped on her bed was The Fool. It’s a card from the major arcana — the ones depicting a person or situation — he is the zero card. To a true reader of the tarot, The Fool represents the beginning of the soul’s journey. At that moment, he was me, and I was him.

Based on her reactions, the best card I got had to be the fifth. The sixth one was another good card. When she flipped over the card, she smiled. I thought — that’s two in a row —hold on a sec — looks like sex might be back on the menu.

With the first six cards she’d laid a central cross and surrounded it with the next four cards arranged like they marked the cardinal directions. Together, they formed the Celtic Cross. But she wasn’t done. We still had to climb the staff. Next to the circular cross, usually to the right, the staff looks like a tarot totem pole. And my pattern of fucked-up cards held true.

The seventh card, of course, was a bad one. Occasionally, she’d asked me questions about how I interpreted the cards, and with this one it seemed key. She told me the general meaning, and then I agreed that I was chasing after pleasure, first and foremost. That was the gist of the card and I applied it to my life. This was my way of saying “I’m down for whatever … let’s go find that washing machine.” But she didn’t seem to want to hear that. Her eyebrows huddled together — deep in thought. She said the seventh card was kinda a bad sign. If I were looking for romance it suggested I was lying to myself; it appeared all I was really after in that moment was cheap thrills.

I’d stepped in shit interpreting that card. But damn if it wasn’t honest. On the outside, I remained nonchalant. On the inside, I was thinking: WTF, tarot, why you gotta be such a fucking cock block?

As much as I was attracted to this woman, as much as I liked to argue with her, I never imagined us getting married. And I hope she didn’t either. All I imagined us doing was fucking all over her apartment until the sun came up. But when I agreed with what the cards were telling her, I confirmed her suspicions. With more experience, I learned thirty-something women hate when their suspicions about the man in their life are confirmed. They hate to be right about that shit. Like, hate it. She wanted more than a laundry room fuck and I was so young I was quick to let her know that’s exactly what I wanted. Oops.

The next card up the staff was the eighth card. She said it represented the people you’re dealing with, the folks who affect or are affected by your situation.Since I was asking the tarot about my immediate romantic prospects, we both knew, that meant her. Once again, I got a shitty card. I had to stifle a laugh. I was starting to think the tarot should buy me dinner and some wine since it was fucking me like a cheap date.

By the ninth card, I fully regretted ever saying a tarot reading would be a cool thing for us to do. When the last card was laid, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be. I don’t think you could pull a worse card. For the tenth card, I got Death. She was sweet about it. She was quick to assure me this didn’t mean my literal death. I didn’t have to worry about driving home. It was just my symbolic death. It was the death of my immediate romantic future. The worse part was how cool she was with it. Like that shit did not bother her one iota. She’d done that romantic math and said, yep, checks out.

With the last card laid, she was done with my reading. I kinda felt like I was naked. But not in the good way. More like in the we-just-played-strip-poker-with-the-tarot-cards-and-I-lost-every-hand sorta way. Which if you think about it, is also terribly ironic since getting naked was my whole original goal.

I stared down at the spread and saw my one-night stand intentions spelled out on her bed. Now, I should tell you plain, I make no claims about the mysticism of the tarot. I don’t think that it can be proven or disproven, at least not in any substantial way that would satisfy both believers and critics. However, like Jung, I learned the cards are a symbolical system you can use to draw out your unconscious desires, subconscious opinions, and unexpressed hopes, fears and dreams.

And she and I had done just that. I don’t know if she truly believed in them or if she sorta subconsciously knew she could use them like a tool to crack me open. If so, it worked. I broke open easy like a breakfast egg smashed against the metal of a hot griddle.

These days, you can do online tarot readings. Find an app you like, download it to your phone and in moments of debate, you can circumvent your worrying rational mind, as you interpret your cards and “make sense” of your reading. While your conscious mind is distracted, your subconscious emerges like those purple rays of dawn, poking out over the edge of the horizon from some unseen place. As clear as the breaking day in the desert, and yet illusory as a mirage, you can spy glimpses of your future dance before you. If you haven’t noticed, your subconscious draws up most of the plans for your future. And it tells you almost nothing about those plans. Even though it works in the dark recesses of your mind, it has far more influence on your behavior than the part of you that’s reading this sentence.

In case you were still wondering, the horny Hollywood exec and I didn’t have sex that night. The cards killed all that momentum. As I walked my candy ass home, unsexed and hornier than a busload of teenage nerds, I tried to figure out how it all went wrong and just how exactly the tarot gave such an accurate reading — because we didn’t fuck the next night, or any day or night after that. The tarot was right. You could say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I would argue that all of your life is. And I’d add, working off that same principle, tarot cards offer you a way to see what you’ll be moving toward in your future, what you’re moving away from and what you’re chasing.

Since the deck is symbolic you must project the meaning onto the cards. They have no intrinsic value without your interpretation; as the observer you make sense of the nonsense. In many ways, it’s like experiencing a waking dream. Lacking the linear nature of printed text, having no sentences to follow, no words to insist on a meaning, tarot cards are purely associative, they are an invitation to your unconscious to come out and play before your conscious eyes.

The tarot may or may not be some secret tool of the universe. I don’t know. And, like astrology, frankly, I don’t care. I like them. They’re fun. Don’t piss in my pool. Now, despite the sad fact that I never got to feel that vulgar Hollywood exec from the inside like I wanted, she ended up giving me a way to feel myself, which is way cooler than some of the other options, such as telling me to go fuck myself. Instead of an orgasm, she was the first woman who blew my mind with the tarot. If you’re a tarot virgin, I strongly recommend finding someone to blow your mind. 

This article originally appeared at Medium.

featured image – Flickr / meglet127