If you've been around these parts for many moons, you might remember my interview series, Readers in Profile, in which I sit down with some of the many cool cats in our tarot community to talk shop. It's been a while since we've had an instalment of this series, but I'm very glad to be breathing some life back into it with one of my favourite radical cardslingers, Siobhan of Radical Tarot.
Siobhan's one of those readers who inspires me in my own practice, because she never takes a boundary or brick wall as a given. Siobhan's writing and thinking about tarot always, always stretches this old art form into new shapes, and her compassionate, curious, and expansive approach always manages to find new ways of seeing the cards. It's pretty magical!
Let's get to it, shall we?
Hi Siobhan! Tell us a little bit about yourself as a tarot reader and a human person.
I'm a person that both starts with and rallies against a series of labels. Black. Poor. Anxious (or crazy depending on who you ask). Empathic (or crazy depending on who you ask).
I came to the cards with a great deal of fear. Growing up where I grew up there were doubts or questions about my place in the world. I never fit. There was a constant question about my worth. Metaphysical differences complicated these issues.
When I was younger, I saw and heard which were not of the physical world. And I knew back then to keep my mouth shut. Because I was raised in a family that while very Christian and relatively conservative, still acknowledged the unseen. They had to, there were too many unexplained incidents shared between us.
What is your tarot origin story?
By the time I handled the first tarot deck, I was searching very hard for a way to feel safe. I wanted to believe that there were mechanisms through which I could wrangle my own intuition. I wanted to make peace with the part of me that whispered me bits of information that I shouldn't know about myself and others.
I wanted to turn my gift off and on at will, and I had a hunch that the tarot was the way. Even if the cards themselves did nothing, I thought they might at least train my mind so that I might get a say in when I would pick up on things. I hadn't met anyone like me other than my grandmother and other relatives.
I set out to learn about my premonitions at all costs. Even if it meant studying witchcraft and things I was raised to believe came from the devil. I came to the cards out of kind of psychic desperation. I would come to learn as I got older and met more metaphysicians and practitioners that this isn't a typical way to come to the craft. Most come looking to tap into more, not less.
I used the Tarot not to contact spirit realm but to limit contact. I felt that if I could give myself a spiritual outlet, time and space where it was ok to deal with the unseen, maybe the unseen would stop flooding the rest of my life and my dreams. And sure enough, things got better.
The spellcraft I did, and the cards that I pulled signaled to my brain that there was a time for such things and that it wasn't all the time. I could sleep easier, and I had substantially less fear.
The only reason I ever even laid eyes on a tarot deck was through a dear friend. Through school, I was exposed to media that my family couldn't afford, anime, comics, and of course, tarot. My best friend showed me her mother's Morgan Greer deck.
There was a definite weight to the cards. Even though I don't remember the art blowing me away. I don't remember fear or trepidation handling the cards. Even though I had been raised to be afraid of them.
How does tarot fit into your life day-to-day – what are the regular practices you use to connect with and learn from the cards?
I notice myself pulling cards in waves. When I feel like I would be put at ease by knowing how something is going to turn out, when I'm anxious or stressed about the future or when I notice that I'm fixating on something from the past and I want to let it go.
I pull my cards when I'm biking through a particularly beautiful trail, and feel at peace, and when I am visiting places of power. Geographical locations where I feel strong spiritual presences or a spike in energy for whatever reason.
I notice that even on the days when I don't pull a card, I'm thinking about the images. This is how I really came to embrace pulling cards face up. I was doing in my head anyway, so it made sense to pull the cards this way as well.
I reach for my cards when I need to make a decision where I would normally second guess myself or look for someone else to tell me what to do. I'm recovering from a time in my life where I didn't have a lot of confidence in my decision making or even my perception of reality. I have an old habit of looking for reassurance outside of myself.
The cards help me to remember that I can look to the unseen for answers and also that there are parts of myself that I can draw from. That I almost never need to look anywhere further than my own judgment.
Do you integrate tarot into any other aspects of your spiritual or creative practice?
One of the most unlikely spiritual combinations in my life is tarot and sexuality. I’ve pulled cards Face Up, consciously rather than at random, for Tantric rituals before. And lately, I've been drawing cards for my kink.
This is partially due to one of my decks, Manara's Erotic Tarot. It's a hard deck to read. It's one of those made of images that weren't intended for tarot. I don't usually like decks like these. But it's comic art. And I do like comics, so it ended up being one of my first decks. But it's a dark and obscure deck.
It focuses entirely on the male gaze, something that was interesting to me when I was younger but in the last decade or so, underwhelms me. It has some pretty kinky images. At least, at the time, indie decks have pushed the envelope in recent years.
I was already interested in kink when I bought the deck, but I wasn't so experienced at the time. I hadn't been exposed to the range of fetishes and kinky activities that I have at this point. So I used the deck but didn't really hear it, you know?
Years after I bought it, after much more kink play, I recognized one of the images on the card as something I had (almost) done. There were cobblestones in the picture and a partially nude woman flashing traffic at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This card really came alive for me after I'd seen the Arc in person for myself AND after I'd done a brief stint modeling for fetish photography.
I'm outside with a photographer one day wearing this corset and these heels and not much else, and it's a real struggle balancing on these cobblestones in 7-inch platforms, and I was cold and nervous about being so scantily clad in the middle of the financial district. I had to use the restroom and the photographer, being a bit of sadist suggests I go right there in the middle of the street.
I tell him absolutely not.
But I go ahead and imagine what it would be like, the relief, the release. I imagine what it would be like to be a person who has no shame about doing this very private act in a very public place. It would feel free. The kind of freedom and bliss you can only get doing something extreme.
This is the image on the nine of cups in the Erotic Tarot. It has this puddle beneath a woman in the photo. And after this fetish shoot, I realized it's not rain water underneath her. It's not the exhibitionist flashing that causes her to bite her lip.
Once I could understand this deck, it changed the way I looked at all the others, opening up a world of interpretation concerning all kinds of sexuality that had never occurred to me.
In your professional work, are there any pro tips or insights you’ve picked up along the way that you’d like to share?
At least two things stand out to me about reading tarot for others. Both things that it took me a long time to realize. The first is whether or not the reading is about you. The reading can be about you. Many people read tarot this way. Some realize it. Some don't. Some do it pro this way.
They read tarot to fulfill a need that they have, and this is the primary focus. And I suppose on some level this will always come into play. Any interaction between humans will involve, hopefully, the needs of everyone getting met. The difference I am focusing on is one of primary-ness.
Some people never bother to ask themselves the question of what is primary to their tarot practice. Are you looking to feel wise? Magical? Holy? Caring? Useful? Are these needs primary? Are you looking to be of service?
And even if you think you mean to serve, it can be tricky to see the root of why we do the things we do. Until we face something annoying. The no-brainer. The stupid or infuriating things. These things are the clues. The pregnancy questions. The questions about a third party. The questions where some people feel the ethics are plain as day and not even worth looking at.
These are the places where we find out our real motivation. Are we drained or are we angry when we receive the less-than-ideal questions? If we feel any heavy charge when reading, there's something we're taking personally or a need that we feel is not being met.
If we don't happen to have the awareness to notice moments like these, we may spend our entire practice thinking we are doing one thing but in actuality doing another. This comes back to a question I've asked before on my blog that I got from Betty Martin, an educator that I love: "who's it for?"
The second thing is what a reading actually entails. We all know it can take days, months, or years to learn the cards, the symbols and their meanings and our own personalized interpretations of the archetypes. We all agree on that part. But what about communicating the reading to the querent? What about doing so without unintended triggers, microaggressions, miscommunication? What about how we listen?
Many of the people who want readings may not have another outlet to express their issue. What about recognizing when to refer someone for services outside the realm of tarot? And if you read tarot professionally there are several more layers of expertise that it wouldn't hurt to cultivate the same as with any business. What exactly does it mean to be spiritual or emotional triage for someone?
Having a business is its own journey without even considering the part where we learn to use the cards. There are so many ways to both run a business and use the tarot that it really behooves a person to know why they do what they do. What their values are. And yet there are so many who don't know these things about themselves. Discernment is key.
Discernment of the teachers that we choose to learn from, the words we use, the attitude with which we approach other humans. It takes a lot of actions, daily habits, and work to handle all those things with grace and integrity. And not everybody will want to invest what is needed, and not everyone will realize that they don't want to right away.
I just have to ask – what would be your five desert island tarot (or oracle) decks? Which ones couldn’t you live without?
If I were on a desert island, I'd honestly really focus on my God-given divination tools, words, breath, and dreams. One day you ask me this question I might say the Margarete Peterson. One day maybe the St. Croix. One day Thoth (No really, it might just have to be Thoth. That deck seems to scream at me.) And maybe that means I'm a bit ambivalent about the decks I've seen so far. And maybe there's room for me to fall in love and for this to change.
The further down the rabbit hole I sink toward minimalism and toward letting go of objects, both of which are pretty important to me lately, the less I notice preferences that I used to hold so strong. I sometimes think about a year-long ritual I could do that involves getting rid of every deck I own, til' I own one or maybe even no more decks. To test myself and see if I could remember the impermanence of everything.
I read a book years ago, I don't remember which one in it said, "a witch has no possessions." And me, with my Aspie-leaning heart, took it quite literally. That I couldn't call myself a witch until I had nothing or until I did not consider my relationship to things one of ownership.
I don't identify as a witch anymore. But this concept works well with my more recent Buddhist approach to things and so still serves. And when we think about the earth, isn't this for the best? The mindset that is the most sustainable is to be attached to absolutely nothing, not even the bones we breathe through. Not the most fun way to look at this question I know...
Where can we find you?
You can find me blogging at radicaltarot.com. It’s a good idea to sign up for my newsletter. Between my column on Little Red Tarot, random publications, free monthly tarotscopes, and seasonal professional readings, there’s kind of a lot to keep track of.