Transcript for Using Tarot to Make Decisions
Nelufar v/o (00:06):
Hi, Hello and welcome. It's me, Nelufar. I'm a journalist on a mission to find out what spiritual connection means in our secular age. And I'm gonna do it by trying rituals from all over the world. Welcome to Ritually. Today's episode is about tarot. And in a minute you are going to meet Jen Cownie, my guide for this week's ritual.
Jen Cownie (00:44):
A lot of the things that connect ritual is a connection to your intuition and connection to the intuitive self and to that sort of sense of, of instinct and that bit of our primal beings that you can't really explain.
Nelufar v/o (00:57):
But first, why am I desperately seeking the wisdom of tarot reading in the first place? Right now, I'm facing a lot of big decisions and I'm hoping that as Jen turns each tarot card over, maybe I can turn the corner on any one of these big decisions I've got ahead of me. You do not need to be a member of a psychic Oracle Witch Energy club to get into this, but you do need to have an open mind.
Okay. Can we give it one more go? Just do it one more time because I was just chatting shit really.
Sarah Kendal (01:34):
Nelufar v/o (01:36):
What do you think of when you hear the word: tarot?
Sarah Kendal (01:41):
Gosh, I think of a 17-year-old girl alone in her bedroom with a bunch of tarot cards.
Nelufar v/o (01:48):
That's really specific.
Sarah Kendal (01:51):
I know. It's 'cause it was me. That's me. And I'm here just to tell you my little story.
Nelufar v/o (01:57):
What exactly were you doing with these tarot cards?
Sarah Kendal (01:59):
Sitting on my bedroom floor with a bunch of tarot cards and asking the questions about boys I fancied. And then writing them in a big black book. And then it all got a bit much.
Because it all started coming true and I was like, Oh my God, this is too much. So I just got loads of my mom's fabrics that she'd given me and then I wrapped it all up and put it in a special box because I was a bit scared.
Is that what you have in front of you? Yeah, the cursed tarot cast.
Sarah Kendal (02:24):
Yeah, they're not cursed.
They're not cursed. Sorry. It's just sounding a little bit of a culty vibe right now is all I'm saying.
Sarah Kendal (02:30):
It got too powerful. It got too scary. I couldn't handle it.
So, by putting it away in a shoebox, you are actually saying that you really believe in tarot and it worked for you.
Sarah Kendal (02:38):
What I am saying is that I will never do tarot, because I do not wanna know the future and I'm scared of my psychic abilities.
Well, I wanna do tarot because I don't believe it's real and I'm quite a skeptic.
Sarah Kendal (02:50):
Okay, well let's see how this goes.
Nelufar v/o (02:57):
So, producer Sarah has put me in touch with Jen Cownie to turn this all on its head. Jen is the co-author of the book Wildcard, which reimagines the ritual of tarot. It's less about traditional fortune telling and more about playing with story and our subconscious. And it explains how everyone can engage with tarot even if you're not mystic Meg. So one chilly Monday morning, Jen came to my flat with her tarot card to read for me.
Nice to meet you, I’m Jen.
Nice to meet you Jen. Come on in. Have a seat wherever you like. Yes, wherever you like.
Nelufar v/o (03:39):
Sorry, she was greeted by my dog, Lupin.
Jen Cownie (03:41):
Would you like to meet me properly? What's your name? Hello.
Nelufar v/o (03:44):
Back in her twenties, Jen and her friend Fiona Lensvelt decided to go on a tarot course together. Then in 2018, they formed a tarot stage show called Litwitchure. They do their readings at parties, literary events and festivals, and they use tarot as a tool for self-exploration, interview and conversation.
Yeah, have you got the levels right and everything?
I made Jen a cup of yummy tea and we settled on some cushions on my floor.
Ummm, I've got my questions. We've got the cool candle burning.
Jen Cownie (04:16):
The candle is great. It does create some real ambience for the morning. I've got some tarot cards when we need them. There we go.
What should I expect from this experience? I have a very open mind about it, but I'm also a journalist by trade. I'm like, what are you going to give me that I can take into my normal life that's going to be useful to me?
Jen Cownie (04:36):
So, I think it is actually right to go into any tarot reading with a degree of healthy, open-mindedness, but also healthy skepticism. There is a lot around the way that tarot should be ethically practised that isn't always observed. I think a lot of people now, particularly in the sort of modern tarot reading community, are very careful about this. But I certainly have encountered stories of tarot readers who are just like, please give me money and I will tell you something scary, which is not really what I think anyone wants or should happen. I personally feel very strongly that tarot should be an empowering practice. When you leave a tarot reading, you should be feeling like you've got something useful, whether that is a new perspective or confidence in a decision you want to make, or even just a question that you want to turn over in your head.
Jen Cownie (05:22):
What I do often say to people who I read for is, don't expect to be, I dunno, blown away and surprised by some hidden behind the veil meaning being illuminated for you. You know, it's a deck of 78 cards. Each card has a story to tell. Each card represents human experience and archetype. They will all be familiar to you in some way. And really the way that tarot works is about giving permission for you to explore some of your own feelings and your own thoughts to look at stories and go, how does that relate to me? What perspective does that give me on myself? And I feel that it's not actually the job of tarot cards to tell you what to do. It's not my job as a tarot reader to tell you what to do. It's your job as a person to look at this and go, what does this ask me about myself and how I feel?
Jen Cownie (06:01):
What do I want to take away from this story? Do I like this story for myself? Do I absolutely hate it? Do I want to change? And I say this very carefully, because I'm someone who's been in therapy for very many years and would never ever tell someone that tarot can take that place, but it can have a therapeutic element to it. There are times when I've read people where clearly a card comes up and it just gives them the ability to say, actually this is something that's been bothering me lately. Can I talk to you about it?
I suppose the way I think about it is I'm not expecting you to rock my world or dig into my deepest, darkest feelings. I'm also not expecting you to tell me I'm gonna get married to my boyfriend. You know what I mean? Like none of that sort of stuff. But I am hoping that some of the things that have been really heavy on me can be sort of unravelled in this reading.
Jen Cownie (06:47):
Well, hopefully we can do that for you. Are we ready to begin?
Oh my God, yeah!
Nelufar v/o (06:56):
Jen shuffled the cards
Jen Cownie (06:59):
That actually went quite well, which I don't always manage.
Nelufar v/o (07:02):
Jen asked me to pick 10 cards to then lay out in the Celtic Cross.
Jen Cownie (07:09):
Which is sort of a traditional well-known tarot spread.
Nelufar v/o (07:13):
The Celtic Cross cross is made up of 10 cards with four others in a vertical line on the right-hand side. All of them are facing down.
Jen Cownie (07:21):
So first thing to note, just in case you're wondering what tarot card deck we're reading from, this is the Omni Tarot by Olivia Healy. It's quite a modern deck. All of the characters in the cards are generally coded feminine. They have really long legs in a way that I find hilarious 'cause they've got big boots on. And most of the traditional decks will show it in quite a heteronormative, cis-gendered way.
Nelufar v/o (07:40):
These cards truly are stunning. And if you'd like to see pictures of the tarot reading with the Olivia Healy Illustrated card deck, head over to our Instagram @therituallypod. All right. So next, Jen turned each one of my cards face up one by one.
Jen Cownie (08:00):
High priestess, love this for you. Oh, interesting.
Jen Cownie (08:07):
First impressions: Lots of things in here. You've got a real mix. You have the Cups, the Wands, the Pentacles, and the Swords. And each of those suits refers to a different aspect of the self. So the Cups are the heart, the Swords are the mind, the Pentacles are, broadly speaking, the body and the Wands are the spirit, the energy.
Oh God, I am spirited.
Jen Cownie (08:28):
You’ve got a lot of spirit in here, a lot of like what you're doing, a lot of energetic stuff happening here.
Jen Cownie (08:33):
But what you haven't got are any cups. So this suggests to me, although we could be wrong, this is not gonna be reading about the heart. This is not gonna be all about whether you're getting married or whether you're getting brutally dumped at any point. So you can strike that from your mind.
Jen Cownie (08:52):
So we've got two cards to start with. Seven of Wands and the Eight of Wands. This is all about where you put your energy and what you do with yourself. Now the Seven of Wands is basically a card of having principles and the Wands are the suit of energy, one of transformation and change and how you kind of bring about change in the world. The Eight of Wands is basically all about nowness, something you've been perhaps wrestling with or pushing forward with and feeling like, I want to do this - even if other people are saying I maybe shouldn't. The Wands is going, But you feel like it's urgent.
I'm trying to think, could we be talking about this? Could we be talking about this? It very much feels like in a sense we're kind of navigating my subconscious.
Jen Cownie (09:28):
Yes. Well, we're coming onto your actual subconscious, but it's…
Jen Cownie (09:39):
Now, we're gonna go into two pairs of cards now. And you have here a twin set of Pentacles. You've got the Four of Pentacles above and the Ace of Pentacles below. And this is very interesting for me because it feels to me like we are here at a bit of a crossroads between the knowing, the safe, the secure, and something that might be a little bit more of a risk, a little bit more of an adventure and a little bit more of you don't know where it will take you and it's hard to decide whether or not you should do it. It's an interesting pairing here because there's that sense of doing what's right and feeling like now is a moment where you need to kind of make some big decisions. And that maybe what you are struggling with is that sense of moving from a place of security and knowing where you are to something that's a bit more unknown.
Yeah. I hadn't told Jen about this, but I was thinking about buying a place with my partner Matt. Now I've always been an independent person and something like sharing paperwork in a house with someone else for the first time ever. Well, it made me lightheaded. Was I ready to take on such a big risk? Okay, let me, let me rephrase that. Was I ready for such a big opportunity? So yeah, the cards seemed to be speaking to me. Onto the next one: The Ace.
Jen Cownie (11:04):
The Ace is the lowest card of the suit in the tarot. It's a small thing. It's not the card of going and buying an island.
Listeners. I, in fact, I'm not thinking about buying an island.
Jen Cownie (11:14):
So, I was like, if I were reading for Richard Branson, I'd be like, Oh Richard, are you thinking of buying another island? It's more the kind of small changes you put out into the world. And there's a beautiful line of poetry that I always think of when I see this card, which is from Angela Carter. And it says, the smallest things are not the least marvellous. And it's just that sense that sometimes putting something small out into the world, something new, something different, something fantastic can grow from it.
Nelufar v/o (11:36):
Jen then explained the next pairing: the Eight of Swords and the two of Wands. It's all about my starting point, looking at where my mental state might be rooted and then the direction that it was going in. Basically, how my subconscious is directing my future. And the Eight of Swords is an uncanny-looking card. The blindfolded woman on the card jumped out at me straight away.
Can I just say, so, this is the one I'm most interested for? And the one I've been waiting for you to get to. So the dichotomy here that you're talking about, the idea of the mental state that I was in and the mental state towards which I'm going, I'm so interested in because one of the parts about being in therapy or going through traumatic events in your life is that transition from unwellness to wellness. I'm so eager to see what you are going to explain about the Eight of Swords and the Two of Wands.
Jen Cownie (12:34):
Okay. Let's, well, let's see. It's interesting that you mentioned therapy there because the Eight of Swords is a card that I personally associate a lot with people going into or going through a therapeutic process. So…
Yes. That's quite a personal association. Um, partly because I've been in therapy for a long time and this is a card that's really spoken to me a lot and that I've seen a lot for myself through that journey. I'll describe the visual metaphor, because I think it is quite important for a listener to see. The Eight of Swords is usually a woman and she's blindfolded. And she's wrapped up in ropes. So she's tied and bound and blindfolded in a ring of eight swords. So it's not the cheeriest visual metaphor that the tarot has to offer. And when in the tarot you see someone with their eyes covered or looking away, it's often about them looking into their internal landscape.
Jen Cownie (13:19):
And also it should be pointed out that the Swords is the suit of the mind. So again, you can begin to see how these metaphors kind of coalesce around a person who might be in quite a difficult place where they feel very trapped. They're in a cage of their own thoughts and their own memories, their experiences. This is not someone who is being physically held. This is someone whose mind has created a bit of a prison for them. It is a very difficult place to be in. And it's one that whenever I see it in anyone's reading, we always think we should, we should tread carefully.
So this card suggests to you that I should be in therapy.
Jen Cownie (13:49):
This card is where you're coming from. And I think this is a place that a lot of people are in when they first decide to engage with therapeutic process. Where they've recognize that there is something that is holding them in place and that is making them feel trapped or small or unhappy or miserable. And that they need to sort of try and work out how to break free of it and how to get out of it.
It’s interesting to me that it comes up, because I think so much of my life has been about breaking through things. I was born in Afghanistan in 1988, in the middle of occupied, of a battle ground in Kabul, becoming a refugee from there, becoming an illegal immigrant, being trafficked to the UK and then dealing with the mental anguish. And I remember knowing that I can't speak the language of English. And I remember wanting very much to be like, I have things to say and I really wanna know what you're saying. And feeling that entrapment. And sometimes it feels like what the Eight of Swords represents in tarot, I feel like I constantly get pushed that way. It doesn't matter how much progress I make. It doesn't matter how much therapy I go to. If someone chooses to, they can just press a button, click send, and I am right back to that anguish.
Jen Cownie (15:05):
That's a really difficult place to be.
It's something that I feel tethered to. Like I can't, it keeps forcing me there and I'm trying to break away from it.
Jen Cownie (15:15):
I wish there were a way that we could sort of switch off those awful parts of the world. But I think that self-knowledge that you have, that it's not you putting yourself there, I think that is probably a gift that you have in a way. To go, that you can't control other people, but you can control your own feelings to a certain extent. Not entirely. And I think the Eight of Swords recognizes that you're being put back in that place. Recognizing that and being able to name the beast and to see it for what it is, I think can be an extraordinary blessing. And certainly with this card, the gift of it is that sense of, if you can see it, if you can actually sort of open your eyes and go, Wait, I'm in this Ring of Swords and I'm being bound, that's the first step to being able to step out of it.
Oh, it just got shivers.
Nelufar v/o (16:03):
I had fallen deep into a hyper-focused zone. It was like a kind of check-in for my subconscious. Like the tarot was scanning me and finding parts of my mind and my sense of self that needed attention. Okay. Next we left that difficult place with the Eight of Swords and we moved on to the Two of Wands.
Jen Cownie (16:39):
Two of Wands is very different. So, if the Swords are all about the mind and the Eight of Swords is all about kind of feeling, feeling trapped a little bit by thoughts, by anxieties, by feelings, the Two of Wands is about basically standing and looking out. So in this image you can see a person who's got two big wands, sticks, big sticks, and they're looking at a globe. And in most tarot decks, this is actually a globe of the world. It sort of sense that sense of being able to go out there and decide where you want your adventures to take you and to be able to like, look into the…
Oh that's so lovely!
It's, it's, it's great, isn't it? And it's usually someone sort of staring off into a distant landscape and being like, where next? Where should I go?
Jen Cownie (17:12):
And it is this card of feeling quite free, of feeling like you've got like a galvanizing spark in you. And this is about being like, I'm gonna go off on my adventures. It's gonna be great. And the Two of Wands therefore sometimes speaks to – and I think this is where it comes back into the cards you've looked at before – decisions to be made. So you're off on your path and you've set out and you are, you’re on
I'm on my Jollies.
Jen Cownie (17:34):
You've got your backpack and you're like, like I'm going on my way.
Got the dog leash.
And you're there and you're like, I'm moving away from this place of being trapped and into a place of freedom and into a place of being kind of liberated and able to kind of chart my own course.
Are you in my head? Go on.
Jen Cownie (17:48):
The tarot are in your head. And it says, but there are decisions to make along the way. You get to a fork in the road and then you're like, Oh, but there's more than one thing I could do. That's difficult, isn't it? There'll always be more ever branching points of decision in your life. And you never know where the path might lead you. And I think these two, going back, I'm pointing at the Four of Pentacles and the Two of Wands here, speak to me quite a lot, because actually sometimes when you're processing difficult emotional situations, you need comfort and you need stability, you need a safe place to do that from. And actually, if you're beginning to move away and to feel more confident in yourself, to feel more able to do things, that's when you can take some more risks, some more kind of leaps of faith to go, Actually I'm gonna try something. I'm gonna try the thing that isn't the sure bet, because I can do that now. I have the, I have the resilience and I have the power within me to do that.
Everything you're saying speaks to me very much so.
Jen Cownie (18:37):
Okay. Well that's good.
Yeah. No, she's not a charlatan producer Sarah.
Jen Cownie (18:44):
Oh. Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you.
Nelufar v/o (18:50):
Next up we look to the cards in the middle of the cross, which show you how you're doing things and how other people see you.
I mean, yes. Go off sis. The High Priestess and the strength.
Jen Cownie (19:05):
These are both actually, I would say, among my favorite cards of the deck. So I'm very pleased to see them here today. So the high priestess is how you are approaching things and strength is how other people see you.
I'm just a baddie? Is that what I'm getting?
Jen Cownie (19:16):
Oh, okay. Tell me, tell me, tell me. Pretty much…
Jen Cownie (19:21):
So the High Priestess. A little bit about what it says on the tin: You're looking at this and you're thinking, is this someone who's quite witchy and in touch with her intuitive side? The answer is yes. Now she's not actually necessarily a magician or a magic practitioner. She is the card that asks you sometimes to look within yourself to follow your gut instinct, to follow your intuition.
I have been battling that a little bit.
Because I'm quite an intuitive person, but I have to sometimes quash that little voice inside of me that says, Really though now, like, are you sure here? And I'm just like, but be quiet.
Jen Cownie (19:52):
I definitely hear you. And I know certainly there is always a bad side to every card. One of the bad sides to the High Priestess is when people are just too like, no, no, no, it'll all be fine. I just trust my instincts. And my instincts are always right. Now your instincts are not always right. Not always. Certainly not. And you shouldn't, I think, just blindly go after stuff when there is evidence to the contrary. Like you should always be holding yourself to, to think critically and think with reason and to apply a sense of, No, but what is the evidence? As well as what do I feel about this?
Do I see the contradiction in using a bunch of magical cards telling me to think logically? Yes, I do. But do I also like it? Confirmation bias me.
Jen Cownie (20:32):
Absolutely. But what I think the High Priestess says is, Don't allow yourself to completely lose your instinct or intuition. At the other end, though, I think you can get to a point where you're so worried about the data and so worried about the numbers, that actually you find yourself kind of going against something that you know is right for you personally. Or you can get yourself into a real threat where you're worrying so much about numbers. Numbers can't tell you everything. I know this because I work in advertising. I do huge amounts of data crunching. And you're like, cool, there's lots of evidence that suggests this, but it can't show you the whole world. So you need to, to marry those two things together, you need to marry those two together. And I think it is really interesting that you're doing this podcast, this series right now.
Jen Cownie (21:12):
I think to me, a lot of the things that connect ritual is a connection to your intuition and a connection to the intuitive self and to that sort of sense of instinct and that bit of our primal beings that you can't really explain. The High Priestess, when she turns up, is not saying give over everything to the intuition, but she is saying, Find a role for it. And bear in mind also that that is sometimes where the magic happens. Sometimes you might go, If I were just going purely on evidence, the most viable route is this one. But I feel like there's something in this one. Got it. We are not robots. We have to trust our hearts as well as our minds. So keep doing it.
Jen Cownie (21:53):
The Strength. Now, I love the Strength card and this is a particularly great showing of it In this deck. In this deck, it is a woman with giant red boots, riding a lion to victory. It is not about being really strong and hench, it's not about going to the gym more. It's about inner strength. And in this instance, the woman and the lion both represent complementary parts of the self. The rational side, the sort of the side that knows what you should do, but also the more kind of basically feral side. You have to be able to make both parts of those part of who you are. And this is a lovely card for how other people see you, because it suggests other people look at you and think that you are able to recognize and to acknowledge and to embrace all the parts of yourself.
Jen Cownie (22:39):
Two more cards to go.
Let's do it.
You have the Hopes and Fears card, which is kind of, I guess a card that's about things that you are thinking about, things that might be worrying you, things you might be hoping for. You've just got just casually caught the world, which is
Whatcha are worried about now? Just the world. Just everything. The world guys. I've got the world on my shoulders. I'm just the world.
The world is actually the final card of the tarot. And so if you feel like you're coming to sort of a point in your development in your life where you're like, this feels like the end of an era. You are thinking what next? And you're thinking, but you're also thinking, what can I take? What have I learned? Quite a lovely card to have there. Just a casual little world.
Jen Cownie (23:15):
And then interestingly, your final card, your sort of,
It seems the least interesting. I’m not gonna lie, it seems just like the wild card of the tarot reading is giving me meh.
So we've got a lovely figure holding a sort of scales and Six of Pentacles. Six of Pentacles is basically a card about fairness and about unfairness.
I guess it's a surprising thing you should mention because this idea of justice and injustice is very much in my life at the moment.
I think it's interesting because to me that also tracks back to that first card, Seven of Wands, and about standing up for principles and standing up for what you believe in, even when the world seems like it might be disagreeing. And the Six of Pentacles is about how we can use our voice, our power in whatever form it takes to try and help right those injustices in the world.
Well, this is bizarre because I feel like I've come to a decision about something that I've been unsure of for a while. Yeah. Wow. Does that often happen? Do people make decisions based off of readings?
Jen Cownie (24:12):
It should be an empowering practice and it should be one that helps you to sit with and think about some of the things that are in your own mind. And I think a great outcome is when you get to the end and go, actually that gives me a sense of confidence about a decision I want to make.
Thank you so much.
Jen Cownie (24:29):
You're so welcome.
Nelufar v/o (24:30):
I hadn't made the decision there and then. It was more like I discovered the decision that had been deep inside my mind all along. And the tarot cards were instrumental in my journey to realizing that. Tarot is not about reading your future and the turning of the cards. It's more of a choose-your-own-adventure book where you get to pick the ending. And if you don't agree with it, that's fine, because you can just start all over again and come to a different conclusion entirely. That is all we have for this episode, but if you are titillated by tarot, then follow me into our next bonus episode available to Brazen subscribers where we hear more from Jen. And we talk to the woman who researched the secret history of tarot reading: Laetitia Barbier.
Laetitia Barbier (25:28):
Tarot was invented as a game in northern Italy in the 15th century, about a century after card playing became an important game in Europe. The Italians were very fond of trick ticking games and decided to complexify the game by adding another set of cards that were figurative.
Nelufar v/o (25:54):
Thank you for listening. If you'd like to share your experience of this ritual, or you've got another one for me to explore, please let me know. Connect with me @Nelufar on Twitter and TikTok and follow us on Instagram @TheRituallyPod. And we have a bonus listener episode coming up and I wanna hear from you, what do you think of the series so far? Are there any rituals you've been doing or that you think I should look into? You can record a voice memo and send that over for us to listen to or just write down your thoughts and I'll read them. Our email address is Ritually@projectbrazen.com. You can also record a voicemail on our website, Ritually.fm. If you like what you're listening to, please rate. Yeah and review. Okay? It makes all the difference, you know. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest Ritually updates. We've got the link in our show notes. You can learn more about Jen Cownie and her friend Fiona Lensvelt at litwitchure.com. If you fancy learning more about tarot, then buy their book, Wild Card: Let the Tarot Tell Your Story. Next week on Ritually, I'll be sharing an extremely personal story about something that's very common: abortion. And with the help of an abortion doula, I experience some of the most transformative rituals of the series.
The medical trauma alone is tough, but I never really got over it, so that's why I'm here with you today because there's the medical side of what happened to me and then there's the spiritual side of what happened to me and I never dealt with it.
Nelufar v/o (27:35):
See you then!
Nelufar v/o (27:39):
This has been Ritually with me, Nelufar Hedayat. This podcast is written and co-created by me and Sarah Kendal who is also our series producer. We produce the show in partnership with Brazen. Susie Armitage is our Story Editor. Troy Holmes is our Audio Editor. Mixing and Sound Design by Clair Urbahn. Our theme tune is by Amaroun and our original music is by Jay Brown. Executive producers for Brazen are Bradley Hope and Tom Wright. At Brazen, Mariangel Gonzales is our Project Manager, and Lucy Woods is our Fact Checker and Head of Research. Charlotte Cooper is our Marketing Consultant. Francesca Gilardi Quadrio Curzio and Nour Abdel Latif are our podcast strategists. Megan Dean is Programming Manager and Ryan Ho is the series Creative Director. Cover art designed by Julien Pradier. For more from Ritually, head to the Brazen channel on Apple Podcasts. There, you can subscribe to Brazen Plus for ad-free listening and exclusive access to bonus episodes. If you’d like to learn more about this series check out our website Ritually.fm.