A guest post shared by Jane Flett.
I started reading tarot when I was sick.
I had Lyme’s disease, though I didn’t know it yet. All I knew was that I’d found myself inside a detuned skeleton that smelled of sour sweat. It was summer and my room was far too hot and I couldn’t get out of bed. The days sloped into an anxious hallucinatory soup and all the doctors told me it was normal, it was the weather, it was just my imagination.
I was so mad that I hadn’t finished writing my novel yet. Whenever I tried, the words would all writhe away from me and I’d end up just staring into a dank ring of space. Still, I knew I should be trying harder. Maybe the doctors were right. Maybe I was lazy. I certainly didn’t feel like doing anything ever again.
That was when I met the tarot reader. They were reading at my friend’s event and I sat with them, not expecting much. I thought they could give me some advice that would buck me up, set me back on the path to getting things done.
I don’t remember much about the reading, except that at the end the tarot reader asked me if I had any questions. Am I too hard on myself or not hard enough, I asked. They looked like they already knew the answer to this stupid question, but they humoured me anyway and drew a card.
Back then, I didn’t know what it meant, but even I could tell it wasn’t saying you ought to work harder, Jane. When the tarot reader asked me what I thought it meant, I tried not to cry. Maybe the world wouldn’t end if I took a break.
Maybe I should find my own tarot deck and try to learn what these cards had to tell me.
Later that year, I was asked to be part of the Stadtsprachen literature festival in Berlin. I was feeling witchy. I designed a performance where I lurked in a dark little den of candles and talismans. When someone ducked under my curtain, I had them pick a tarot card. I blindfolded them and read a poem in their ear. There were spells and shots of potion, and I told them that poem was their destiny for that night.
It was a lot of fun, and matching the cards to the poems made me realise how perfectly tarot could correspond to a poetry collection.
The Major Arcana would make for the perfect template – that sense of movement, the thematic progression through the work. To start with the glorious open heart of the Fool and end up with the whole World inside you.
My collection took shape, but something was missing. Although I liked the way my poems grasped at the spirit of the cards, I missed the immediacy of the illustrations, the tangible symbols. Besides, although tarot brought me comfort when I was sick and lonely, it always felt more powerful as a collective project, an act of community and covens. So I got some friends involved.
I invited twenty-two artists to participate. Some were already tarot readers; for others, it was their first experience with the cards. Everyone had the same brief: design a card based partly on the corresponding Rider Waite Smith image, partly on my poem.
The artists were from all different kinds of practices – tattoo artists, zine makers, ceramicists, costume designers, printmakers, musicians, directors, board game designers, writers, and a few professional illustrators too. Most were women and many were queer. My own poems are stuffed with grubby queer lady desires, so that seemed to make sense. The work they created is full of glorious things and grotesque things, delicious oozing bodies, wolves and sunbeams and skeletons and UFOs.
Together, we made this book.
It took a while for me to get better from the Lyme’s disease. Every day, I drew a card, and the same ones kept coming up again and again. Ten of Swords. Ten of Wands. Eight of Pentacles, chip-chip-chipping away at recovery. Every day, I shuffled the deck harder. Where were the yellow cards, the cards with pouring water and rainbow skies? They were there somewhere, they came up for my partner and my friends, I saw them.
Still. There was something about being able to pull an extra card when I needed to. The next day I would shuffle and try again, and surely it was impossible the same cards would appear forever. What I was clinging to was this: my body was the Tower, my body was the people falling. Eventually, I would hit the bottom. Then, and only then, could I rise up like the Star.
So Fool’s Journey is a reminder to myself.
I might be the Fool, but I’m also heading in some other direction. It might be hard, but I don’t need to be. There’s another card tomorrow. And the next day. And all of them are looking great.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? / THE WORLD
If you want to be
immortal, stick a
wax mould all around
your bones and take your
temperature when the moon
is full. Is it better
to be hollow or just
the skeleton inside—are you
more afraid of emptiness
or losing your edge? Without
enamel, we’re all just parakeets
turning to dust, but if I wrote
my name in stitches
in your skin, would it hold
you together? We’re all just
hags in the morning,
shimmering and unslept,
but like most things that don’t
sleep, we don’t have a
beginning. Mostly, we’re
without an end as well.
Pre-sales for the Fool’s Journey book and the limited-edition accompanying tarot deck will start on November 5th on Indiegogo. In the meantime, you can see the artwork being revealed every day on Facebook or Instagram.
Jane Flett lives in Berlin, where she reads tarot, hosts queer events, and rollerskates down Tempelhof runway in hotpants. She’s been published in over 70 literary journals, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and translated into Polish, Croatian and Japanese. Jane is also one half of the riot-grrrl band Razor Cunts.