Six tarot cards in a spread

The baking summer heat is relenting just a little today. I slept in, and once I was up, hopped on my bike for a casual ride around Salem. The sunshine, the breeze on my arms and face, the feeling of my legs pumping beneath me–it was a welcome reminder that I’m alive.

When I got home, I sat down at my kitchen table, took a few deep breaths… and did my first focused tarot reading, using the “Keep Calm (While Gravely Fucking Concerned)” spread by Evvie Marin of Interrobang Tarot.

Six tarot cards in a spread

This is probably where people who’ve known me a long time just did a spit take. Sorry about your monitors, y’all.

See, in high school and college, I latched onto my identity as an atheist and skeptic. I roundly rejected anything with even a whiff of the mystical, esoteric, or religious, including, as you’d expect, tarot. My dad–a man with whom I ungraciously associated all manner of nonscientific, woo-y philosophy–occasionally would consult the I Ching, and it lodged irritation in my mind like a raspberry seed between my teeth. Why do you need such mystical bullshit?, I wondered. Your sticks aren’t going to tell you the future!

As the heat of that identity has smoldered down into gently glowing coals, however, I’ve come to develop a more integrative appreciation of the “mystical”, in a way that younger Spencer would have found incomprehensible. As it turns out, I can draw tarot cards and reflect upon them without ever believing they’re endowed with any form of supernatural power. They’re symbols, nothing more and nothing less; distributed by chance, sparking the meaning-making part of my brain. Brains are very good at making meaning, and sometimes a little bit of novel stimulus goes a long way.

And, at the same time, there’s something beyond the strictly empirical explanation. Again, not anything supernatural, but something emotional. Something felt, not thought. After all, even with my meager coding knowledge, I could probably rig up a JavaScript program that randomly produces the names of any number of tarot cards. Click a button, get cards. Done. But that’s not the point, is it? Part of the point is to slow down, to handle a beautiful artifact, to tickle the senses, to enrich one’s life for a moment. I picked this deck of cards, the Prisma Visions deck by James R. Eads, for my first tarot deck because the artwork just draws me in. The cards are sturdy and a delight to hold. The edges are gilded with silver foil, so the deck shimmers and shines from every angle.

white and gray stone on brown wooden table
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

Or take crystals. They’re minerals. They’re formed by fully comprehensible physical processes. There’s nothing supernatural about a chunk of quartz… but there can be something special about it. After all, we don’t encounter crystals on the regular. They have qualities we don’t tend to experience–translucence, vivid colors, geometric shapes. If humans were cave-dwelling sentient gemstones, if in place of trees, we had crystal spires, then maybe crystals would be mundane. But we aren’t, and they aren’t, so they feel different.

These things don’t have to be supernatural to be magical.

And all of that magic comes from us. A deck of cards is magical in part because the human brain is hilariously bad at comprehending statistics and probability. Tarot is magical because of our ability to reflect and make meaning. A crystal is magical because it’s so unlike the things we encounter regularly. The sparks of “magic” that I see are, ultimately, reflections of our human existence.

creativity magic paper text
Well, that seems apt. Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Earlier this year, I joined a group dedicated to reviving the Humanist Year project, a resource I discovered right when I was starting grad school. The idea of A Humanist Year, like Sunday Assembly, and like this “secular humanist magic”, is that, in contrast to what I thought in high school and college, there can be a place for these “mystical” values and practices in a secular humanist life. Ritual, for instance, can be used to help us mark chapters of our lives. Gathering together can help us process human existence and build a sense of community. Magic can help us find meaning, beauty, or unexpected joy. These have traditionally been the domain of religion and the supernatural, but they need not be.

Besides, meaning, community, flexibility and groundedness–all of those seem like important values for the moment we live in.

I’m so happy to be able to explore and engage with this in a way that doesn’t require me to compromise what I believe about the universe, but instead sits comfortably alongside the rest of my worldview. That’s pretty damn cool. Magical, even.


As for the reading? Well, in a nutshell, it prompted me to reflect that:

  1. The world is changing and there’s no going back. The only way out is through.
  2. To stay cool and collected, I can lean into my loving heart. Now is the time for me to love stronger and strengthen my ties with others.
  3. How to pass the time? Focus on the mundane parts of everyday life. I can keep the house in order. It’s not sexy, but it’s good discipline.
  4. We are at a tipping point between future outcomes. The forces of fascism and hegemony hold a lot of power and are attempting to bend truth to their ends. I need to trust my gut; I know this is wrong, but they will continue to try to convince us otherwise.
  5. Fighting back for me right now looks like putting more resources into things like my little homegrown social network–building community and branching off in ways that serve me and my people more. It’s work, but it will be worth it.
  6. Finally, I can channel my fear into being a safe haven and a rock, taking advantage of my fortunate position. I can shelter others so they can recover and grow. How lucky I am that even my day job allows me to do this.

That’s pretty cool. And now that I’ve written all this, it’s time to do some housework. The cards told me to. 😜

Further reading