Stepping into the shop was like entering the wand store in Harry Potter. The store was small, dark and filled with crystals, swords, and rows of books on mysticism, goddesses and sacred texts. Velvet chairs faced a fireplace and the proprietor immediately launched into a rant about how much he hates the term “new age” (the mysticism he practices is ancient).
I was there to have my tarot cards read. A friend of mine had seen a card reader in this mysticism shop and recommended him as a particularly intuitive guy. I was immediately curious. At 30, with several years of work experience under my belt (and many, many more ahead), I’m trying to figure out what I want in my career. I’ve started taking time to reflect on this a few times a year, and decided that a tarot card reading would be a good start for my springtime reflection. I don’t personally believe that there is magic in the cards, and certainly wasn’t expecting him to predict my future or anything, but I figured it was guaranteed to be something to reflect on.
The reader I went to, Patrick, used a deck that featured animals. A website describing this type of deck explains, “This unique and powerful divination system draws upon ancient wisdom and tradition to teach the healing medicine of animals.” Patrick opened our session by praying to the “Grandmother,” and would often say, “Let’s ask Grandmother,” or “Let’s see what Grandmother says,” before he pulled a card. I gathered that calling on Grandmother was his way of invoking a wise and gentle higher power.
Patrick first laid out a pattern of a dozen cards and walked me through what the animal on each card symbolized (butterfly: possibilities, armadillo: boundaries), sometimes noting the card’s status in the deck (“Oh, this is the top spiritual card!”). At this point, I hadn’t told him anything about myself, but as he talked through this initial pattern of cards, I was surprised by how much resonated with me. He talked about a year of reflection and growth and an upcoming decision. I had spent the past year job searching, starting a new position, soul-searching and separating a bit from my family, and was facing a decision about my job in the next few months. This might be like your horoscope, where any month’s description could be made relevant to anyone, but it truly felt like the reading fit what I was going through.
When he finished describing this first pattern of cards, I told him what his explanation had brought up in my mind, especially noticing that I had really focused in on my work and career. I told Patrick a bit about my current situation: I work for a local government agency in a grant-funded position, where I work on an issue that is important to me (the environment), but the tasks and work environment aren’t always very inspiring. Yet working government hours (pretty 9-5 and flexible) leaves me with time to explore other things. I had started drawing again after years without making time for any art.
While pulling more cards and sharing stories from his own life, Patrick encouraged me to shift my attitude about my job. Instead of focusing on not being totally fulfilled at work, I should be grateful to work on the environmental issues that are important to me, while still having plenty of time to do other things (like write about this experience). We talked about specific strategies to address some of the challenges I’m facing at work—the mountain lion card told me that I needed to be bold, and make sure to get what I need. The eagle indicated that there was power and promise in a new project that I had just started. I also asked him about family and romantic relationships. He spent over two hours talking to me, sharing his stories, and advising me based on what both the cards and I told him.
I had been nervous going in to the reading that I would be told something I didn’t want to hear (perhaps that I should leave my job?), but I left feeling wonderful. Patrick had affirmed what I had been feeling about my situation, but was reluctant to say out loud because it sounded unambitious. If anything, this is the magic in the cards and in their reader: They give words (and animal symbols) to the thoughts already swimming around in our head that we haven’t been able to voice.
Some of the cards particularly stuck with me and have even turned into mantras that help me return to the good feelings I had when leaving the magic shop.
When I feel discouraged and need to assert myself more actively, I think: “Be bold like the mountain lion!”
When I wonder if the job is the right fit, I tell myself: “Follow the raven! Be grateful for the miracles I have.”
Stephanie Stern works on energy efficiency and environmental issues in San Francisco. You can learn more about her at stephstern.com.