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What Happens When A Spiritual Skeptic Gets Her Tarot Read

Culture

Can a non-believer learn to have faith in the cards?

Tarot, crystals, and other mystical trappings of alternative healing and New Age wellness have transcended the realm of “Practical Magic” to become a full-fledged, mainstream commodity. Gwyneth Paltrow espouses the hormone-balancing qualities of $66 vagina rocks, and Urban Outfitters sells a guide on how to harness the energetically healing powers of gemstones for “health, wealth, love, and luck.” New Age is having a moment, that’s for sure. Whether you believe in it or not, is another question entirely.

Personally, while I try not to be a judgmental asshole toward friends who do find comfort and solace in these things, I often feel a little skeptical when it comes to rocks with purported healing powers, cards that can predict the future, or oils that can guard you from bad vibes. So, naturally, this year I paid money for my very first professional tarot reading. 

The reading (which my deeply spiritual, yoga-teaching sister and I arranged together to celebrate her birthday) took place at Modern Mystic, a bright, cheerful little shop in Atlanta, where sunlight streams in over whitewashed brick and geometric wooden shelves hold neatly arranged displays of protective oils, herbalism how-to texts, and Palo Santo smudge sticks. (My friend Beca once correctly referred to it as “like, crystals for Kinfolk.”)  

While I’m fully aware that New Age practices have evolved in recent years, my expectations were still woefully, cartoonishly outdated. I pictured the reading taking place in a dark, plush alcove, perhaps behind a thick layer of beaded curtains, my future spelled out in cryptic predictions by an ethereal fortune teller as spooky music and swirls of incense smoke wafted through the air. Instead, Kelley led us into a small, well-lit nook within the shop at a long wooden conference table, sans smoke and mirrors. Had you spotted our trio from afar, you may have assumed we were just catching up, talking shop, or having a very chill business meeting. 

Being a tarot virgin, I hadn’t realized that it would be necessary to come with specific questions to pose to the deck—again, my uneducated idea of a reading was more like a palmistry exercise or, I don’t know, tea leaves: lofty prophecies drawn out from a shadowy array of signs, markers, and omens most mere mortals can neither see nor fully grasp. 

The reading, however, was none of these things: no spooky music, occult vibes or glimpses into the great beyond. Whether I believe a stack of beautifully illustrated but ultimately inanimate cards can actually possess the answers to life’s greatest questions is still up for debate, but, as we progressed, my knee-jerk cynicism unwittingly took a backseat. We were discussing real shit, and each card represented a real possibility, a potential outcome, the highs and lows, the long-term and short-term repercussions, the hopes and fears that hang out just below the surface of my consciousness. Laid out, it represented a series of “if then, then that” possibilities rather than neatly delineated “yes” or “no” conclusions. In a way, each card posed more questions than answers, but in a manner that forced me to carefully, critically parse through the potential—like crafting a flowchart for your own future. I, the sarcastic doubter who raises an eyebrow at everything yet loves overthinking most things, was sold. 

My sister had the presence of mind to record my session for me and share the audio with me afterward. Listening back, I can hear my own skepticism and doubts falling away through the session. My nervous giggles and dumb jokes start to subside in place of me saying things like, “Oh, interesting” and “Hmm, I’ve never thought about it like that before” and “Well, yeah, I do kinda feel afraid of that, actually.” I can hear the hesitancy in my voice as I describe the inertia I was feeling in my career and a tinge of anticipation as I pose the question of turning it all upside down in pursuit of something more fulfilling. Thirty minutes in, I can hear my own sheepishness when I tell Kelley that I cannot for the life of me decide whether I want to have a family, and I can hear a bit of yearning to know whether there is indeed an answer tucked in that deck of cards.   

The cards didn’t tell me what to do. The cards forced me to think about the question at hand from a multitude of angles, the obvious ones but also those I wouldn’t necessarily think to examine on my own. It illuminated reservations I didn’t consciously realize I had and reassurances that had never crossed my mind. (Sure, I’m a skeptic, but I’m not going to lie: It was a little comforting seeing the Empress card show up in answer to my concerns about lacking a maternal instinct.) Certain cards called to mind patterns and fears that had lurked beneath the surface, but that I’d never fully vocalized, like a quiet, underlying worry that having kids would mean my own career might suffer while my partner’s trajectory continued unfettered (as illustrated in the wary Seven of Swords). Recognizing that making the decision to have kids would, indeed, be an act of bravery, and, in turn, acknowledging that these fears and doubts don’t automatically doom one to being a bad parent; recognizing that certain decisions will come with a burden of emotional work, but would still be worthwhile in the end.  

Rehashing it with my sister afterward, she remarked that the experience, whether you “believed” in tarot or not, was a little like making a decision by flipping a coin; not simply to achieve an outcome, but to know which outcome you were already hoping for, without even realizing it. You have your answer before the coin even lands. 

As Kelley laid out the cards that represented different potential trajectories in my life—quit my job or stay; have kids or don’t—it encouraged me to see the future not as a singular path upon which I’m making either correct or incorrect decisions. The cards on the table represented the choices I had and the outcomes that may follow, good and bad, a little messier and a little more ad lib. “Like a game of Chutes and Ladders,” I joked.  

I’m still not sold on the idea that a stack of cards has all the answers. But, I’m not ashamed to say that I was floored (and, yes, humbled) at how clear-eyed I felt walking out of the shop. As for whether that clarity came from an hour of guided introspection or from the forces of the divine, well… I don’t think it really matters. Whether it’s a serendipitously drawn Empress card, a burning stick of sage, or the weight of a smooth stone in the palm of your hand, it’s hard to turn your nose up at a lighthouse in a storm. Who am I to deem it irrational for someone to slip a protective rose quartz into their carry-on luggage if it helps quell their fear of flying? If it ultimately makes you feel more at peace, then it’s working, whether that’s a matter of chakras, the placebo effect, or a combination of the above. If it makes you feel more sure, closer to the truth, more aware, then it’s working. At the end of the day, we all just want to have our answers before the coin lands. 

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.