To begin my tarot journey, my first step was choosing a deck.
As I looked through many, many blog posts, I came across this one, in which Beth talks about cards that can make or break a deck for her. Among the cards she discusses is The Hierophant, a wise mentor who imparts wisdom. In many decks it’s shown as a Pope-like figure which bothers me on many levels, but in her post she noted that in the Shadowscapes deck, he looks like an Ent from Lord of the Rings.
I basically fell in love. It was the first image I saw that made my heart go “I want that!” So I went and looked up the website and spent a while looking at the cards.
But before I bought it, I had to make sure there wasn’t something else out there, and in looking through dozens of decks – decks that were diverse and subversive and creative and dark and light and amazing -I came across The Wild Unknown deck.
Suddenly I wanted them both, but decided that at least until I prove I’m going to stick with this, I don’t need two tarot decks. But which to choose?
The Wild Unknown appeals to me because of the minimalism of the drawings, the use of rainbow colors as accents to the black & white ink drawing, the lack of people and so avoidance of any hetero-normative/ableist images, and it just has a really cool look about it.
Still, I kept coming back to the Shadowscapes. The richness, the lushness of the images called to me. I loved the beautiful art, the layers of meaning, the sheer beauty. I wanted to go live in this vibrant, colorful land.
The two decks could not be more different. Which led me to wonder how I could be attracted to two such different decks. Was this a subconscious choice between what I actually want and what I think I should want? Was this two sides of my identity battling it out? Was I reading way WAY too much into this decision?
So I texted a friend of mine that – haha I can’t decide between these two – and she replied that while she would pick The Wild Unknown for herself, “there’s undeniably a ‘you’ quality to Shadowscapes.”
As soon as I read that, my heart said, “Yes! There is! That’s the one I want!”
And that’s the one I bought.
But I’ve been thinking about it ever since, because why did I feel I needed permission from someone to like what my inner child was calling out for?
I’m also, as I write this, working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way which I highly recommend. I’m going to finish it. This time. I will. The chapter this week was all about God – God/god as the source of creativity – and giving ourselves up to that source of power. Skeptical girl was skeptical. One of the main points the book made was to ask us what we would do if we felt we were “allowed” to do it. Initially I thought, “I’m allowed to do whatever; I do what I want!” But clearly, this dilemma proves that I don’t.
So why didn’t I feel “allowed” to like the florid, colorful deck full of pretty people?
Well, three things, I think.
1. I think, because it is the kind of artwork I was very strongly drawn to as a child and tween. I wanted to escape into those worlds on a visceral level. But then I became a teenager and decided that I wanted to be, not ‘cool’ exactly, but edgy. Angry. I was going to wear black and listen to metal and that meant I couldn’t also want to have posters of fairies in my room. It was one or the other. So I abandoned the little girl who really did believe in fairies.
Now, I think that was largely an act of self preservation. That little girl was vulnerable, and was told on the daily that she was fundamentally bad and wrong. Femininity in the Mormon cult was simultaneously prized and degraded, which was confusing and disorienting. I was “supposed” to be soft and girly and passive and nurturing, but at the same time these qualities were deemed “less than” those expected of the men in the cult – a very “bring home the bacon/ man of the house” kind of dynamic. So my beliefs and feelings about liking pretty swirly things is also confusing and disorienting.
2. Another part is because leaving the Mormon church destroyed my whole world, even though it was absolutely necessary. It razed my world to the ground and I walked away from it taking nothing with me. I rebuilt my life and it could not be more different to what I left behind. So the idea of finding that little girl and bringing her into this new life I’ve created? It feels daunting and scary and impossible. It still feels like I can’t be the Social Justice Warrior, the librarian who attends Black Lives Matter rallies, the woman who’s decorating taste is minimal, whose clothing is simple, and also want swirly, silver, thin, pretty, fairies in my tarot deck. It just doesn’t seem compatible.
This also taps into my first post about my inherent skepticism. I’ve established myself as a person who thinks logically, who knows there is no god or higher power of any kind. I don’t think people need spirituality in their lives to be complete. I believe all spirituality is just a way of accessing the subconscious mind.
So if that’s who I am, how can I possibly entertain the notion of adding some spirituality into my world? How can these two things be even remotely compatible?
If I’m not someone who believes there is nothing- no meaning, just us living our lives- then who the hell am I after all?
3. The third part of this feeling “not allowed” is the oppressive culture I was raised in. Mormonism is all or nothing. Either the Prophet actually talks to God, or he doesn’t. There is no in between. And I was raised being told that there is one right path, one right answer, one way to phrase the question. For everything. We never decided anything for ourselves, everything was determined for us, but in a way that made us feel like we had control over our lives. We didn’t technically have to go to bed early and get up early, but the Prophet and the General Authorities and the Bishop and my Sunday School teacher and my Seminary teacher all told me that the Holy Spirit would speak to us best if we went to bed early and got up early. And didn’t we want the Holy Spirit to speak to us? To help us make decisions? We did want that. So, what choice did I really have?
Even 14 years after leaving the LDS cult, I still find myself almost paralyzed by the idea of making a decision without anyone else’s input. Even something as simple and personal as buying tarot cards aren’t exempt. “Is it okay that I like this? Does this make me a bad person? Does this make me into someone people won’t like anymore?” Is what I was really saying when I texted my friend. Typing it out it looks ridiculous, but that’s the long-term affects of trauma for you.
I was so completely conditioned to believe that I couldn’t be trusted with my own life, my own choices; that there was only one right way, one right answer; that any new addition or deviation would bring the foundation of my identity crashing down that even now I struggle to free myself from that instinct. Realizing that I wanted the girly, swirly, fairies triggered in me a trauma response that set in a full blown panic attack of “who am I actually anyway everything has come crashing down and I don’t know anything.”
As my therapist is fond of reminding me: 18 years of trauma don’t get undone overnight.
As soon as my friend validated my gut feeling I felt free to purchase it, to connect with it emotionally. But if she hadn’t done that, I might have let my “should” overwhelm my heart and bought the other one.
Would that have been the worst thing on earth? Of course not. And I still love The Wild Unknown and will probably buy it at some point. But it feels like a deck I’m not ready for right now.
Right now I’m letting my inner child come out to play, and she wants to play with pretty fairies. I’ve locked her away for so long, she needs to rule the roost for a while. She needs to talk to me through these cards. She needs me to listen to what she wants, what she fears, what makes her sad.
She peeks over my shoulder as I unwrap the deck and squeals with excitement.
And so we begin.