The Star


Trying something new! Some behind the scenes on this production: I wrote out what I wanted to say, but knowing that I was going to speak it aloud and record freed me up from a previous block and made the words flow easier (funny how that works). I riffed a little and flubbed once or twice and went back to edit those parts out along with a few but not all of my ums and vocal clicks. I recorded it using Audacity on my laptop in my living room with no one at home and the fan on, and didn’t do any other audio tweaks. Do have a listen, but if you’d prefer to read text, I have the transcript of the audio below at the end of the newsletter.

Previously, I wrote about the things I love about being a Leo. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌

Things That Are Good

  • The Tarot for Beginners workshop Liy and I organised at the end of July! We had 13 sign-ups, which was exciting, and ended up having 7 participants, which turned out to be just about the right amount for the space we prepared and the activities we had in mind. It was so good to have a few Sunday hours to nerd out about tarot with other nerds, to talk about what it means to us, our questions about how to understand it better for our needs and wants, and carving new paths towards that understanding with each other. The feedback was positive, for which I am very very grateful

  • I received the best array of love letters for my birthday! Comics of a friend's first memory of me, a testimony from an acquaintance I made last year and really connected with through tarot, a little ficlet about College Boyfriend Harry Styles™ - a beloved character from my 1D tumblr days, beautifully thoughtful affirmations so full of love and more grace than I thought I'd be allowed from dear friends️. The sweetness of getting exactly what you asked for and needed 💖

    While in Ho Chi Minh over the week of my birthday, I had meaningful visits to 2 museums: the War Remnants museum and the Southern Vietnam Women's Museum. The former left me with a black sadness and incandescent rage, and the latter inspired me to dream of how I would curate a hypothetical Malaysian National Women's Museum. (If anyone wants to take the ideas below and either collaborate with me on making it happen or running with it for their own project, by all means, please just credit me and don’t take these images / text without permission)

    Text of 3 instagram stories, mainly text laid over images of displays from the SVWM: I would like my Malaysian Women’s Museum to have a) a reading and resource library b) permanent exhibition charting the history of our women’s involvement in nation building, their achievements in all fields (with comprehensive representation c) involve as much of these women’s own voices as possible d) multimedia tools: videos, audio guides, multilingual texts, accompanying reference books in exhibition rooms e) training programme for docents with scholarships for those from marginalised communities f) active programming to contextualise the exhibitions and the progression of various movements g) an interactive space or platform for people to talk about the malaysian women they look up to and have discussions g) adjacent gallery space to feature women artists and art h) display info and content from and by cis and trans women as well as non-binary folk. Dwelling on so many random details like how to make a non-segregated prayer space that allows for privacy, the break room for all the staff, whether we charge for the rolling thematic exhibitions, how to be transparent and handle corporate sponsorships, what’s our security plan. Re: curation and content, the thoughts are more nebulous. How do we approach and feature domestic work, how do we highlight migrant women workers (many of whom are as Malaysian as anybody!!!)
  • Being part of Tugu Kita / Our Monument (FB link), a participatory art performance organised and dreamed by Sharon Chin, one of my favourite artists. I wrote a bit about my experience here. Something I didn't say there was that one of my favourite parts was watching the banners unfurl and overhearing a couple next to me wondering what this was all about, and getting the chance to offer an explanation, to show them the poem Sharon wrote, and hearing them say "Oh, I see now" as they looked at the work again. You can read here an English translation of her poem by writer Zedeck Siew. 


Writing a newsletter during my birthday month has proven to be a bit tricky. There's a desire both to have it MEAN something and also for it not to be a high pressure situation because who needs that ever, least of all the month of their birthday, especially if you're a Leo Sun and that shit capital M matters to you!

So I had two ideas I used to guide me through this, which is to write about The Star, a very important Major Arcana card for me, and to finally test out this audio recording thing on Substack. (I’m not about to call it a podcast, that’s not what it is) I feel like using my voice here allows me to be a bit more casual, a bit more free, and lightness is a big theme for me when it comes to The Star. 

The Star is one of two cards I pulled for this quarter of the year when I did my year ahead spread back in December. It's also a card I have literally tattooed on my body - please don't tell my dad. Another thing about The Star I find really important is, it's the card that comes right after The Tower, in the sequence of the Major Arcana. 

The Tower has that reputation within tarot, if you know about it, of being scary and devastating and turbulent and massively life changing. If you've never seen it, it's traditionally depicted as a stone tower of sorts, maybe it's made of wood or any other type of material, and there's lightning striking it and it's essentially breaking in half and it's on fire and people are falling from it. So, scary, devastating, and turbulent and massively life changing. It's scary because it's uncontrollable and unpredictable, and it shakes you up. It's not quite a curtain call like Death, I see it more like a blackout in the middle of a theatre as you watch a play. An interruption that changes what you see, and introduces the idea that what you'll see after the light comes back on might not be what you expect or what was there before. In the Slow Holler deck, they renamed it The Storm. Often when I draw it in a read, I think of earthquakes. 

I want to go back to that idea of interruption, when it comes to The Tower. A lot of us aren't great with interruptions - we find them inconvenient and bothersome. We bemoan our bodies' capacities when we get sick and our to do list gets derailed, we stress when other people don't act how we want or need them to because it throws off our plans and our needs, unexpected questions that undo what we expect make us antsy. A lot of us cope through avoidance; I know I do. We barrel through, we steamroller over, we ride roughshod through the yearning and the raw and the hurt so we can fast forward to the easy and the gentle and the joy. 

Something I've come to appreciate so much more in my late 20s and now early 30s - and if you know me well enough you've probably heard me bring it up a million times cause I'm corny AND repetitive - and what that is, is being present. If you've ever suffered loss, it can feel at times like your life after loss, no matter the length and duration, can always be thought of as after disaster. Whatever happens is kind of flattened because it happened after, in spite of, because, following. Sometimes you feel like everything is second best, because what was best was what you had, before it changed, before it was “ruined”. The Star to me is an antidote against that flavour of despair. It occupies the interruption, the pause of treating life like all it is is destinations, and it transforms it into presence. Into being with the hard shit - the yearning, the raw, the hurt, and seeing that those things sit right alongside the ease, the gentle, the joy. The Star really disrupts the rush hour traffic of your life - imagine our highways turned into fields, and imagine having nowhere to be except for under the wide open sky, on the fragrant, lush grass. 

In a lot of the traditional depictions of The Star, they're pouring water from two jugs, one into a stream, and one onto the verdant ground. In my tattoo, she also has one foot dipped into the flow of the stream. The Star is of a piece of everything that was broken and rebuilt and broken again, The Star flows and receives. I've had the immense privilege of never having (directly) experiencing a natural disaster or the aftermath*, never having experienced something like a storm or an earthquake taking something away from me. I can only imagine the immense overwhelm of rebuilding, the weight of the day to day when the only first step forward if that you might have to abandon the home you knew and everything it contained. As I write this, in 2019, deep in the belly of an international climate crisis, I realise the clock's running out on this story of mine and soon I might not have to imagine. 

All that said, who amongst us has not experienced loss? It's something we're all very very familiar with. If The Star is about being present, then the energy of that card is accessible to you any time you remind yourself you're breathing. Any time you ask, if I am not what was before and I am not what I will be after - which is something no one can know - then who and what and how am I now? What does it mean for me to be? What does it mean for me to be both broken and whole, both a part of the world and a world in myself? 

So those are my ruminations on The Star. Tell me what you guys think: should I do this again? Should I do it in a different format? I was thinking this would be great for asking for questions from people and doing reads for them. So that I can just pull a card and kind of stream of consciousness read it out and record it and share it on the newsletter. But yeah let me know what you think, and if anybody wants to see the tattoo, honestly just email me unless you're my dad in which case please forget everything you've ever heard - okay! Thanks so much for listening. I hope you have a wonderful day wherever you are. 

*When I wrote / said this I was imagining floods, earthquakes, typhoons, forest fires. We have those here in Malaysia to an extent, and we also have haze which I’m more familiar with, immense amounts of trash shipped here from other countries, choking up our land and waters, so much of our iconic flora and fauna are going extinct or shrinking fast from industry and deforestation etc etc. Of course I’m affected as a person who lives here. What’s being taken away from me as an individual and as a citizen isn’t as tangible or big (yet) but it’s still being taken away.

Previously, I wrote about the things I love about being a Leo. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌

The Sun and the 8 of Cups

'tis the season

Things I Like About Being a Leo

  • The depth and breadth of my self belief

  • I am able to ask for care and love and believe I am worthy and deserving of both

  • I do not believe my needs are unreasonable

  • I nurture trust in my own voice

  • I believe I am a good leader and teacher, and that this is a way in which I can connect and contribute

  • I know what I'm good at and the work that went into that

  • Humility to me is not self-deprecation, my confidence comes from having a firm certainty of my value

  • I share my fears and my bravery with others when I can and sometimes doing that helps them sit with fear and be brave too

  • I am my best advocate

  • I stand up for what I care about

  • And I care very very deeply

  • I love with the largeness of my heart (it's why I hurt easy)

  • My most sincere desire is to live forever in the hearts of my soulmates, no matter the distance and time between us

  • I look out for my loves, who can count on me to show up for them

  • I keep love for myself in constant supply

  • I know what I don't like and I am not good at pretending to like what I don't like

  • Good 🗣 Voice 🗣 Projection

  • I am deft at commanding attention

  • I am well-practiced at making my loved ones laugh

  • Listen, I make a lot of people laugh!!!!

  • I feel so very constantly blessed and also in strong relationship and dialogue with my blessings and privilege

  • I am getting better at deflecting the projections of others from my truth of who I am

  • My use of disclaimers keeps decreasing with age

  • My hair, in all its forms, has always looked good and will only ever keep looking better

(photo source)

Things That Are Hard

I’ve been counting the months and days to the end of the year. I think something this year is really teaching me is the shape and value of hard work. I do not mean labour, or my full time job, and I do not denigrate the various types of work and labour I’ve done up to now. I am talking about sheer effort, about a stick-to-itiveness where the it is living through something difficult, knowing it will be difficult all the way up until it ends (whatever that looks like). I know the end I have in mind, and while some friends know it’s not something I can share openly yet; only that the goal is the end of the calendar year (fingers crossed).

This year has made me think that what I’ve been used to is abandoning the path when it gets too rocky. I can’t remember the last time I’ve committed so fully to sticking to something (for like, a considerable amount of time for me! definitely more than a few months) that’s so difficult for me in so many ways, in the hopes that the experience of going through it will both honour why I chose it in the first place and some of the salvageable “benefits” I hoped to gain, as well as my hope that it won’t totally drain me dead by the time I’m done with it, so I can then dream and build a life that makes me happier. It’s not about being scared and facing that, you see. It’s like swimming for a very long time with the idea of land somewhere past the horizon. In those muscle burning lead limbed hours where my lungs are full of salt and my eyes full of nothing but blue, there is serenity, despair, and grief. The year’s been long, but it’s only now I’ve had the space to acknowledge what’s been lost (friendships, the shape of family, home foundations, old rhythms and connections, a different way to act) and even start thinking of how to reckon with it.

A part of me is like, maybe the last time I felt this stick-to-itiveness was doing Honours (lol academia), like surely I’ve experienced this before right, and maybe I have but it doesn’t matter now because that was then and what’s immediate and now and pressing and hard and ongoing is here, it’s this year, it’s this loss and this hope, it’s me counting, me living, me waking up every morning, waiting for the day I wake up to the end, to what comes after the hard work.

Things That Are Good

  • I met Nidhi I believe 2-3 years ago at a feminist convening, where I got to read tarot cards for them by the ocean. They write an amazing weekly newsletter which I look up to as a standard for newsletters, in its soft sharings and openness. July 9’s includes bits of conversation on what “being there” for others looks like, and includes a little something from me (S2!)

  • Annika was the first and best friend I made in Melbourne when I studied there, and it was her birthday last week. I sent a short, belated email to her with a wish, and she sent back an email like an envelope of crisp scented air, like a portal into her warm home and snorting joyous laugh. I’m still snickering at She said, with eyes narrowed, “you look too young to have students that age” and I said “thanks for the compliment” but upon anxiety-overthinking I wish I had Maeby Funke-d it: “marry me” and swooning at it gave me a pang of missing you, your intelligence, quick wit, level headed advice and views, your heart and your head 💗

  • Dhany sent me a #leoszn meme and then told me “You are SO intimidating in a cool kakak kelas way!! Big janeane garofalo energy ✨✨” and geez isn’t that something to live up to 🥰

  • The light play from the current set up of our altar:

  • My birthday’s coming soon, which I always love (It’s the 9th! And I have a wishlist). But this year I’ve also had some attendant anxieties about how to celebrate it, which is rare. My dearest wish is to have everyone I care about in one place, with food and drink and merriment, and for various reasons this is not possible. I thought of an alternative thing, and then felt self conscious about it, and then the anxiety spiralled and then I was like, fUcK, but now I’m back to you know what I’m just going to go for it - what I would LOVE for my birthday this year, would be to get love letters or notes from my friends and friendly acquaintances* all those near and far and with different types of distance and closeness between us. This is a kind of way to have you all in one room, like you already are in my heart. I’ll respond to each one however I can. Thank you, no pressure, I love you already and still and always.

*If you’re thinking, Me? Look into your heart OR in our previous correspondence to see if you would call yourself this 🌸

Previously, I wrote about The Chariot (did you catch me using Gavin DeGraw lyrics). If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌

The Chariot

the sun was just yellow energy

Like an overworked bread dough, I've spent too long futzing with the idea of this latest newsletter and now it's tough and close textured and kinda flat but I really want to get something out for June so I'm just going to remember that I started this as a low stakes low pressure writing project and here we go.

This month saw me going to 5 different locations (last one on this coming Saturday) in and around Klang Valley to do pay what you can tarot readings for mostly strangers. It was a really interesting experience, and I loved that through planning it I was leaning into the social energies of Gemini season (I'm usually a real homebody who speaks to the same like, 4 people every day). Surprising nobody I’m sure, everyone came to the cards essentially asking for direction, and to know what was ahead. So often people come to get tarot readings when they're not sure what else to do, when they feel stuck, or like they want to cash in one of their last hope tokens to see if something, anything, can move them from where they are. 

The Chariot came up a bit, more often than it usually does in the readings I do - for others, or myself. I note this only because sometimes I have a hard time figuring out how to articulate The Chariot beyond the usually platitudes of movement and direction and momentum. I wish often I could convey instead the mental movie montage I invoke when the card shows up: of the scenery passing you by as your train rockets forward, as the hissing of rushing wind past your ears, as the vast unrolling of the hours on a long road trip when your body and the bodies of your fellow travellers become one with the road, the vehicle, the landscape, all movement. 

In reading this column called Ask a Cancer: Why Do You Cry So Much?, I found out that The Chariot is actually associated with the zodiac sign Cancer! Which I'm sure I've heard about before but had forgot entirely until now. I'm not that interested in the interpretations I could find through a cursory search on what this means, so I'll share something I loved from the column instead (read the whole thing, it's pretty good). 

Gala describes the cyclical growth of a crab, and how they outgrow their shells and undertake a vulnerable molting process to leave that old home and build/find themselves a new one that fits. Here’s Stephanie K. Hopkins' answer, in part:

"What strikes me most is how in this molting phase, the old becomes acutely visible against the new. Before, the old was just the way things are. But suddenly, the old is revealed as a story. Sometimes, I dive into change impulsively, but then I often end up in the same story with different circumstances. It's the slower change, the fully molted one, the one that often feels painful and endless as it's happening, that ends up sticking. But first I've got to be in the uncomfortable stage of being both old and new for a bit. For example, maybe I'm leaving behind an old story about "strength as toughness" and growing into a new story about "strength as having the courage to be receptive," but I catch myself applying the old value of toughness to this new way of being when I give myself a hard time for not being receptive enough."

Maybe this is also Chariot energy, being caught in the tension of what you're leaving (without feeling perhaps like you’ve completely left) and what you're heading towards (whether you know it or not, whether it materializes or not). In those baking backseats, in those cushioned train seats holding paper cups of slightly-too-bitter tea, in the recycled air of an plane gliding over clouds, there is a sense of being nowhere in the bigger story of going somewhere. Arrival feels mildly implausible, but it is hoped for. 

There's a nothingness to the Chariot, for me. The blankness of external velocity being enacted upon your physical form. Movement, yes, the will to move, yes. But also a kind of surrendering, to the momentum. The Chariot of the Slow Holler deck, one of my favourites, depicts a figure lying in the bed of their truck with their dog, looking up at the stars. And that's perhaps the closest visual depiction I've found so far of how I feel about this card. It reminds me of another favourite of mine, this line from the song Hymn, by Fleurieanxious in my roaming, stranded on the move.

There's a searching in that nothingness of the Chariot, a waiting, a silent challenge in that waiting for the Universe to show you something, to move you from wherever you are and show you all of this (whatever this is for you) is worth it. Eventually, someday, maybe soon, soon enough so you can stop and rest your feet for once, and rest your anxious heart too.

Previously, I wrote about North and South Nodes and being an INFJ and some stuff that in hindsight also has Chariot energy. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌


this is the stuff that goes on in most of my group chats

I’ve been thinking about this space, and writing. April was a hard, hard month. I’ve always appreciated being surrounded by April and May babies in my life, getting to experience the twin forces of Aries fire and luxurious and solid Taurus earth, but there’s been a lot of other people’s stuff these past weeks that’s made me feel unanchored from myself. I strayed from the power of these seasons by forgetting to celebrate myself. I sank deeper and deeper into just functioning and pitching in to hold up what felt too heavy and broken that somewhere in the work, I forgot myself.

I learned about North and South Nodes in an astrological chart recently, thanks to this column by Gala Mukomolova. “In your natal chart, the nodal placements represent the points that the moon crossed the Earth’s orbit around the sun. These points symbolize south and north nodes—where you’re coming from and where you need to go. Or, more particularly, the values and talents you accumulated in your previous life and the work of your soul in this life.” My North Node is in Pisces, which means my South Node is its opposing or sibling sign, Virgo. This is a simplistic explainer for what that means, but I’m baby so it was helpful: “People with Virgo and Pisces lunar nodes are constantly balancing fact versus fantasy, intuition versus logic. You can be a masterful manifestation magnet but also a micromanager seeking answers and explanations.” I especially love the sentence “At times, these nodes can go too far off the woo-woo deep end” because this newsletter is probably one piece of many in the enjoyable woo-woo deep end of my late 20s early 30s.

I’m known to be quite organized, which is one of the generalizations about Virgos. There’s a practicality to how I approach life that I’ve chalked up to my dad’s leading parenting ethos of raising us to know how to care for ourselves and care for ourselves well, no matter what happens (most relevant to my dad: his death). But it wasn’t something I could make sense of in my BIRTH CHART you guys. I’m all fire and water, strong will and feelings, wanting to lead, wanting to nurture. Where was this practical earth and pentacles energy coming from?? Why do I love lists so much and why do I get so much joy from packing and organizing mess?? Didn’t feel like I found that in my Aries Mars. I’m a birth chart amateur (I also recently read this article on how the internet is making learning astrology more accessible to the masses and how that means all of us are astrology amateurs now) and I’ve yet to have my chart read by someone more practiced and learned, so I feel like the “answers” are there and I just don’t know the language. But being able to anchor this part of myself to one small bit of earth in my chart felt important*, it felt as enlightening as when I first learned about moon and rising signs, that there was more than the narrow box of sun signs, and “being a Leo”.

Recently I also retook the Myers-Briggs test, and for the first time in years the quiz yielded a non-INFJ result. I spun out, I won’t lie. It was ridiculous and it was deeply serious. I couldn’t deal with my new type. It didn’t gel. I read the description distractedly, discounting every new sentence like I was spitting out seeds, and yet still reading as if the letters were going to rearrange themselves into something I knew and liked better. I told Cass and Dhany, because we usually talk about this stuff, I told Liy for the same reason. I freaked out, they retook the test too, THEIR results were different too, Dhany’s like wtf is this hippie bullshit (she famously does not have an F and is a strong T), Cass is like chill and being like okay I can see how mine makes sense, I’m like NO I HATE IT, I retook the test again and it was STILL the same different result but more ASSURED, Liy was like you’re the INFJ-iest INFJ I know, I reject this. I’m like, SAME.

Reader, the only thing that changed for my result was one letter. The N curved up into an S. I retook the test on another site that gave you the top 3 likeliest matches based on your answers (and would only release your ~true type~ if you paid for the premium whatever which lol never) and it gave me ENFJ and INFJ as very good matches, and the third option – a good match (no very) – was ISFJ. This I could accept better. One of a few options, okay sure. Some days I’m more S than N, and I liked that blurriness better, that movement along a spectrum (that revolved around my INFJ essence).

As you can see, some afternoons I have a little less to do than usual. I don’t know why I’m writing all this down or if it will make sense to you, but it was the story I felt like telling when I opened up the text editor. Sometimes you want new parts to your well-worn story so your fingers can touch something new, and sometimes the introduction of new texture chafes and pricks and itches. It was a little easier to read endless articles telling me about my personality based on charts and quizzes than it was sitting in the hollow room of myself trying to remember what I’m working towards. I’m waking up again, remembering the red amaranth seeds I’m growing in a DIY greenhouse on our back deck (an upturned clear plastic container), my birthday trip to Vietnam in August with my partner, the things I wrote down as my aspirations back in January, that there are new books I’d like to find time to read (and that I’ll add to Goodreads first in the meantime). That I’m promising myself again and again and again in this hard slog of a year to give things time, that the hard stuff is in the service of something worthwhile, that I am capable of making my present GOOD and not just bearable as I work towards a more open and promising and exciting future.

I’m being flung on two 14-hour journey (with layovers) for work next week, to a place where I’ll be lucky if the temperature breaches 20 degrees Celsius – boo, hiss. I am seeding joy in myself by preparing for it, and by giving myself the reward of being a tourist while I’m in a place I’ve been to before but don’t get to go to so often. Travelling long distances = afternoon at a museum on an off day. Handling logistics = buying a ticket to a movie I’d never get to see on a big screen at home. Being away from home and my comforts = consuming good food and drink ALONE and away from the people I work with (who are lovely and who I will see enough of at the end of this trip). Being COLD WHICH I HATE SO MUCH = all the complaining, which everyone must magnanimously put up with.

Thanks for reading. I hope your May is warm and comfortable and with pockets of time to spend on silliness. It would be delightful if you replied this with the tools you use to tell the story of your Self (do you use MBTI, are you another INFJ, do you use enneagrams, are you chaotic lawful, have you been Slytherin ride or die since you were 12), but only if you want.

Previously, I wrote about my first times with tarot and shared some things I hoped would be helpful for others coming to tarot. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend 💌

* According to my progressed chart, which Cass and Dhany told me about in March, I’m a Virgo sun now but that felt like too much to add to the already precarious Jenga tower of this newsletter so maybe next time. You can find out your progressed chart here though.

Coming to Tarot

How I started, and sharings that can hopefully be of use

When I was asking friends on Instagram what I should write about in this newsletter a few weeks back, Ruby asked "How did you know you were ready to read for other people?" So I'm gonna tell that story, and I'm going to focus a bit on firsts: my first times with tarot, and what I can share about some things to expect from a tarot reading if you're new to it (as a reader and as someone seeking a reading). There’s also a little announcement at the end re: tarot readings that are for this time, subscriber only!


Me and the cards

My first real and meaningful experience with tarot must've been with my the cosine to my sine Cass. It would've been sometime before 2015, I can't remember when exactly, and it probably? happened over Skype because we didn't live in the same country. Every time after that, it was this rare treat that always felt like a kind of pilgrimage. Even as a pure novice then, I knew asking Cass to read my cards wasn't a casual ask. She never told me that duh, but I definitely thought I needed to cash in only when I had collected enough tokens. The readings were conversations, and they were always so expansive and deep, like diving together to the floor of the ocean for pearls. The weight of these sessions and the questions they opened up inside of me, would—among other effects—forever bind me to her deck, the Universal Tarot deck

My own first deck I bought sometime in 2015, the Morgan Greer deck. I didn't know yet about independent or "alternative" decks, and the only place I knew to look for a deck was a big-box bookstore. Kinokuniya did not let you crack the plastic seal of a deck box to look inside so I stood outside the locked glass case with an impatient employee while I looked at the cards on Google Images for the nth time. What sold me on the deck was the luscious beauty and melanin of the Nine of Pentacles and it was really her that unlocked that glass case for me (jk, thank you Kinokuniya employee).

I took a nerdy approach to learning what each card meant: I separated the cards into majors and minors, and then the minors into different suits, and I studied them a few cards at a time with Biddy Tarot open on one side and my little notebook where I filled in a page per card on the other (I was very happy to learn that Jessica Dore did something similar too!). I saved the majors for last, it all took me ages, I was disciplined and not—coming in and out of the practice over my days and weeks. I picked up the basics of the Rider-Waite-Smith symbolism, I learned about the light and shadow of each card as I read about reversed interpretations, I highlighted key words for reference.

I wish I could tell you what my first reading for someone else was like, who it was, what I felt. 1) I don’t really remember and 2) it was a process of stumbling. It was a process of slowly telling friends, pulling a card with them and looking up the meaning together on my phone or theirs, taking out my notebook a lot and not feeling like it was a "real" reading because I didn't "memorize" what the cards could mean. What I can tell you was that it took me a while, and I'm glad for that. I realize now that “realness” was inconsequential and irrelevant, this was how I built my confidence to develop my own relationships with the cards, regardless of what services I could render for others from that process. I didn't know when I was ready, but I got myself ready through trying, and staying really curious about the cards, what they could open up in different spaces and times, all the different depths I could find each time we visited each other in every new reading. 

The earliest tarot reading I remember where I felt for myself "Hey. I am doing this with the cards, we are communing" was probably a big Celtic Cross spread I did for my friend N, following a season of upheavals in their life. Every other card was a Major Arcana, life and death shit that made me audibly draw breath (I give everything away the minute I flip your cards over, that will likely never change). It was heavy, and it was apt and right, and I rowed that boat (sometimes shakily) through the muck with them in it, and we got to shore. That didn’t “make” me a reader. It made me feel, oh, tarot is going to continue being a big part of my life, and it’s something that could grow a lot of connection in my life. That has only grown more true with time, and here I am.


The cards and you, maybe

Recently a friend slid into my DMs to ask about what I could share about how a tarot reading "should" be like, to advise/assure a friend of theirs about a tarot reading they'd had where the things the reader said and the way those things were delivered unsettled them and made them uncomfortable. This was a distressing thing to hear—for me, reading someone's cards requires a baseline of trust and strong boundaries on both sides. There are responsibilities to consider. From that conversation, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts to guide those looking to engage a tarot reader/reading (shorthand: querents), and for those who work with tarot and want to begin including others in that work (shorthand: readers). I wanted to keep these thoughts fluid, but let me start by saying there is no one way a tarot reading should be. These are based on my personal experiences and principles, and I only hope to add them to an open and ongoing conversation.

  • Share your expectations. Is there an articulation of how the reader is approaching tarot, what they use it for, what they hope to achieve in working with the cards, the history, the symbols? Do the expectations of the querent and the reader match? When my co-brain Liy and I set up our tarot booking Google form, we put a list at the end of things we weren't offering: professional therapy or advice, fortune telling. We had experienced these expectations before, so we wanted to upfront them explicitly for those seeking readings from us. Clarity makes more space for what we can offer, and how we can collaborate with the querents on what they are hoping to work on.  

  • Start with your first impressions! They are not insignificant or silly. I love asking querents to lead or start the reading by asking them which card they feel most drawn to, intrigued by, or even scared of in a spread. I like starting with the visuals (which I had to learn to do even though tarot is very visual, since I started learning about tarot through words and text), I bring up colours, emotions, shapes. Maybe they are drawn to a card with the most amount of red in it, maybe they're drawn to an intriguing pair of eyes - what’s the story there?

  • Related to the above, something I do if I don't know where to start is word association. Think about what you can do with a cup or vessel: consider it empty, overflowing, cracked, shaped, held. Consider water and swimming and diving and drowning and cleansing and mud. Consider what happens when one element comes in contact with another. Follow your first instincts to the next and the next and feel out a shape, a pattern, a movement. I see this as another form of making space, and what can come into that space is your imagination, intuition, fears, desires.

  • Talk openly about confidentiality. As a reader, you should ask yourself some questions about the space you create for what the cards will bring up between you and those you are reading for/with, and what they share with you. Where will that live, what trust do you both build with each other for the short time you may be with each other, what might you agree to leave at the close of the reading? As a querent, check out the language a reader uses or doesn't use around this, see what and how they share on social media (if applicable). This is something I think I haven't articulated as clearly previously, and am only thinking about in a more dimensional way myself, so it's a process. 

  • I used to stress about not having the answers when I conducted a reading, but imo tarot really isn't about answers, it's about fine-tuning our questions. Most people get some level of frustrated by this, naturally! I ask my querents, "Did any of this resonate?" and I have to be ready for them to say no. If they do say no, how do I sit with that? Do I hand it over to them, do I invite them back into the space to revisit the cards, or do I redirect us both? Do I ask more questions, do I facilitate more sharing from the querent, do I draw more clarifying cards? Querents, you can also ask for more clarity in these ways, with respect to the time and rates you have both agreed on for the reading. There are so many options, it doesn't just stop at the reader going, "Huh, I'm feeling like I'm not getting this right." 

  • It's also okay to say exactly that, readers! Tarot readings are not mind readings. If the querent feels guarded to the point where they don't feel like they want to or can open up, that's a bigger problem that might not be about the cards or what you're saying about them. Sometimes you have to shift, and see where they're at, to evaluate if it is possible at that time to continue and have a consensual and satisfactory mutual exchange, or if it's not.

  • Also, sometimes I feel like a card needs to marinate and more time needs to pass, and so I ask the querent to ruminate / meditate on a particular card a bit more than the others as the days go by, and if we continue to stay in touch, it could be something we refer back to the next time.

  • Querents, it is fine and normal to disagree with anything the tarot reader you go to says. Sometimes, it behooves you to sit with that resistance and peel back the layers of it to figure out where it's coming from,. Sometimes it's best to listen to your gut instinct; you can take what you need from the reading and leave the rest, always. If you feel like your tarot reader is really insistent on one eventuality / possibility / mode of being or moving forward, that would make me personally uncomfortable. The story can always change, and you always always have a say in your own story! 

I would love to hear from other people who work with tarot cards what they would share to add to this list, or what their meaningful firsts with tarot are—you can email me at ssalia at gmail dot com or find me on Instagram or Twitter. I linked it already but I loved this interview with tarot reader and mental health worker Jessica Dore, it has a lot of gems for those new/starting out/hesitant with tarot. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter too if you’re not already, duh.

TAROT READINGS: I am offering four tarot readings for April! Online or in Telawi Bangsar from 8-9pm on 15, 16, 29, and 30 April. 1 hour reading at RM100 and 30 minute reading at RM50. Please email or DM me to set one up and please note I will not be available (for now) outside of these scheduled times. For testimonials and what you could expect, you can check the Mellow Tarot booking form!

Previously, I wrote about the Ace of Fire, and meditations on power and purity. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend.

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