I NEEDED A PLACE to clear my head. To find some space to think and breathe. I booked a ticket to Baja, Mexico and packed a small bag containing only the essentials: a bikini and my tarot cards. I would stay at a friend’s secluded yoga resort an hour outside of Cabo, built in the desert on the Pacific Ocean. I found exactly what I needed.
Organic meals, daily meditation, the soothing crash of ocean waves. I felt peaceful and centered, physically and mentally. Perfect for some quality time with my tarot deck. I walked down to the secluded beach, gathered my thoughts, and pulled a random card.
I am supposed to start graduate school this month. I moved to New York City, enrolled in classes, applied for student loans, and convinced myself that this was the right decision. Yet, I keep imagining myself as a travel writer, a childhood dream I have dabbled in for the past year but not fully committed myself to. I seized the card in my hand, held my breath in anticipation, and flipped it over. I smiled.
I had chosen the Magic card, which suggests a growing awareness of the magic within, a yearning to grow beyond perceived limitations, and the ability to transform through the strength of originality and power. Renewed creativity. The Magic card is an excellent omen symbolizing new opportunities, the importance of new enterprise and that you will have the willpower and initiative to succeed in whatever you do.
My love of the tarot started in college. I went to Ireland to study James Joyce for a semester and I brought my cards with me (they were a recent impulse purchase). As soon as the deck came out I was surrounded by fellow students. Some curious, some skeptical, but each with a question for the cards.
I refused to take payment in anything other than a free pint of Guinness. I wasn’t psychic then nor am I now, but I am good at listening and tapping into my own intuition while encouraging others to tap into theirs. Tarot by itself is not magic. The magic comes from the individuals.
The tarot started as a game in the 15th century, a time when few were literate and printing was expensive. The tarot offered the masses an illustrated version of their lives. Today, the cards are seen as examples of archetypes that all humanity can relate to.
A traditional tarot deck contains 78 cards, divided into 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Major cards are the biggies, where you will find the famous Sun card and the infamous Death card (which is actually about endings, not about physically dying).
When I got back to New York, I set the Magic card on my desk and emailed Wald Amberstone, co-founder of The Tarot School in New York. He has been reading cards for over 50 years and teaching others how to do it for 16. I wanted to know, how does one become a tarot card reader?
At what point can a reader start accepting money and not beer as payment for her skills? He invited me to his Monday night class. When I walked in the door, Wald’s partner, Ruth Ann, greeted me. She asked me for my birth date, did some calculations, and announced, “You have a burning need to travel. I can see it in your birth cards.” Was this a sign from the universe?
I took a seat at the conference table among 14 other students. Some had been coming to class for nine years, others were brand new. The tarot decks were spread out in front of them.
Wald used an analogy to explain learning to read tarot cards.
Becoming a tarot card reader is like making a cucumber into a pickle. You take a cucumber, throw it in with the other pickles, let it marinate, and eventually you have a pickle.
Unsatisfied, I pressed him further. “But how long until you get really good?”
“One year to become confident. Two years to become amazing. Three years to be a pro. And you can’t skip years. I tell my students, you come to me with whatever talent you have. Maybe you’re a little psychic, you have a third eye. I can’t make you more psychic, but I can give you skills. I can teach you to observe, notice details, and give you knowledge.”
He spent the next two hours talking about the Moon card in comprehensive detail. When my brain had almost reached capacity, Ruth Ann announced we would do a reading in the round.
One student asked, “Am I marrying the right man?” Another drew her cards and we went around the table — each student describing what they saw in the drawn cards. The querent seemed satisfied. Her cards were all positive, full of bright colors and feminine cups, a good omen for marriage. “That’s what I thought,” she said.
While I walked home that night I let my thoughts wander to fantasies about traveling the world with my tarot cards, reading for locals and tourists in different locations. I sat down at my desk and looked again at the Magic card. Then I went online and dropped my graduate courses.
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