Will you let the tarot tell your story?
Ever thought that tarot was just something they have at the pub when it’s not bingo or quiz night but that you wouldn’t go because you don’t believe in all that spooky stuff?
Well, tarot readers Fiona Lensvelt, a journalist from Cambridge, and her best friend Jen Cownie, who works in advertising, are keen to show that their secular version of tarot can be for everyone - especially sceptics.
They promise it’s not scary and probably won’t even tell your future, but learning how to read tarot cards could open up deeper conversations with your friends or partner and uncover some unusual revelations.
After taking a course together at occult bookshop Treadwells in London in 2016, the pair took up readings and launched a cabaret act, Litwitchure, in which they interviewed authors by selecting cards from the tarot deck.
Now they have written a book together called Wild Card which is a beginners' guide to reading the tarot.
Jen said: “While other people might have joined a book group, we thought let's learn the tarot properly; which is a bit of a flex I know. But we have quite literary backgrounds. We love to read books, we love stories and the tarot is all about stories. It's all about visual symbolism. So we found an occult bookshop and joined a course thinking it might just be a fun thing to do for a couple of months. Then we found that there were people on that course who had all sorts of different backgrounds - accountants, lawyers, artists, editors. There were people who had like traditional jobs and were quite open minded to what tarot might be to them.
Fiona said: “I think one of the things that we discovered was that, at its core, tarot didn't have to be a tool for psychic divination. It could be and it is really great at being a storytelling device, like a conversation device, a way of getting people to open up and talk about their experiences like what makes them who they are through really beautiful cards, beautiful symbols.”
After learning how to read and interpret the cards, the friends decided they wanted to combine tarot with their love of reading and set up their cabaret act, Litwitchure.
Jen added: “We read for our friends, we read for ourselves. And we thought, you know what, tarot is a conversation device so wouldn't it be fun If we use tarot readings as a way of interviewing authors about what they do on stage at events?”
They both enjoyed going to literary festivals to hear authors being interviewed about their books but agreed what the line of questioning could do with was “a bit more chaos”.
Their first on stage gig doing a reading at a festival was with the author Nine Stibbe, who has recently published One Day I Shall Astonish The World.
“When you go to a festival, interviewers often tend to ask the same questions about the themes of the book,” said Jen.
“We love hearing authors talk, but we both were like you know what they need, a bit more chaos. There’s no way that a person being interviewed can prepare for a tarot reading live on stage. We'll tell them what we think it means and we'll ask them questions. You don't have to volunteer anything that you don't want to talk about. We're never gonna force that out of you. We have no idea what's going come up and neither do you. And it's quite daunting, but it also just means that people are a bit off guard, I think a bit more generous with their answers.”
In their reading with Nina Stibbe the Two of Cups came up, which is known as the marriage card.
“And she just said, ‘You know, don't you?’” said Jen.
“‘You know about my secret wedding!’ We didn’t know what she was talking about but it turned out she had plans to marry her long term parner and hadn’t told anyone about it.”
After appearing at several festivals, the pair now have written a book about how to read the tarot, with their own descriptions of the meaning of each card and how to create simple spreads to answer questions.
Jen explained: “Some people now say to me, ‘Did you always know you were going to write a book about tarot cards?’. And I was like, well, if you'd asked me to predict what I might be doing when I turned 35, that is not even on the top 100 things that I would have said. It's been a bit of an adventure. Neither of us come from very witchy backgrounds. In fact, quite the opposite. It's more or less something that we discovered in ourselves and wanted to make more of and we want to give that gift to other people. It's very much about making it accessible and inviting anyone who's curious.”
Although Fiona is more certain that the cards are a secular way of asking interesting questions, Jen has had some unusual experiences with readings. She says: “We often get asked: does tarot work? By which people mean like, is it really magic? And I can’t answer that. I have no idea. There are days where I think the beauty of the tarot is a sort of secular beauty because every card has a story to tell. And every time you pull a card, it's a chance to ask yourself what that story means for you. How does it resonate? How does it not? But equally, I cannot deny the fact that I've had incredibly uncanny experiences with the cards where I read for people who don't understand how this could come up or reading for myself cards that come up over and over again.”
- Wild Card: Let the tarot tell your story, by Jen Cownie and Fiona Lensvelt, is published by PanMacmillan Bluebird priced £14.99