samhain

as someone raised in a very conservative protestant tradition, i've been slow to adopt the pagan wheel of the year that so many witches follow. it isn't that i feel that it clashes with how i was raised - on the contrary, i love celebrating the seasons and honoring the past, present, and future, and i really enjoy having holidays and celebrations that are separate from my christian roots. but i have a bit of imposter syndrome, as i rarely cast spells, light candles, or use an altar. i don't generally refer to myself as a witch, even though i want to. for me, praying feels like setting intentions and spell casting. my desk feels like an altar, a place where i can sip tea and consider each day. and reading tarot cards feels like daily magic. my approach may be simple, but i'm slowly learning to make these new traditions feel like my own.

samhain feels like a beautiful time to start fresh. this is my favorite time of year - the crisp air, the sense of change, the slow cold creeping in. the thinning of the veil feels tangible, impossible to ignore. and as a scorpio, with my birthday just around the corner, i can't help but feel like this time of year was made just for me.

with that in mind, i'm using this simple tarot spread to celebrate samhain, the witches' new year.

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what have you accomplished this past year? queen of cups. introspective, kind, generous, caring, creative, empathetic - this mother of water is sensitive but strong, deeply trusts her own instincts, and takes endless joy in both giving and receiving. she takes time for herself, gives herself space to consider and recover when needed, but still honors those around her as often as possible. the depth of her spirituality and emotions are as bottomless as the sea. for me, seeing this lovely archetype fills me with gratitude. last year at this time, i was coming out of a deep depression, having damaged relationships and feeling that i was fully unloveable. a group of friends i deeply cared for seemed to fracture, all because of my selfishness and inability to communicate. but now i have people in my life that understand me, and i have a better understanding of what i can do for others and what i cannot help with. i'm learning to trust my intuition in a way that makes me feel both empathetic and powerful. i feel calm, but there's a little bubble of joy in there too.

what lessons are to be learned from the spirits of the past? five of coins, a card of loss, hard times, illness, lack of resources. it's felt in the past that my depression and insomnia have severely limited what i can accomplish, the amount of energy and empathy i can provide - and that's still a reality, whether i like it or not. but growth can come from challenges, and experiencing those difficult times is a reminder that it's okay to take care of myself. i don't have to fully deplete myself in order to show others that i care for them, especially when it leaves me with nothing. sometimes it takes courage to prioritize myself, and to honor what i need rather than giving too much away or asking someone else to provide for me.

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what advice can we take from the spirits for the upcoming year? ten of cups. fulfillment, connection, overflowing love, boundless gratitude, profound joy. this is a card of completion, of true acceptance. we've fallen in love with ourself, found our chosen family, navigated some difficult decisions, discovered a spiritual path that brings comfort and joy, and now we feel whole, true, content. this is a lovely card under any circumstances, but as advice it encourages me to keep diving into community. going to a-camp earlier this year was a huge risk for me, but it paid off in spades, both in terms of helping me find true friends as well as giving me confidence to put myself out there, make new connections, and open myself to people that feel safe and right. this upcoming year can be one of true community, as i continue to build my chosen family and creating lasting, meaningful friendships with those i trust.

it was a simple spread, but a beautiful one. i feel so blessed by the cards that appeared, and i know i'll be thinking on them in the coming days.

thank you for reading, and have a blessed samhain! i would love to hear how you celebrate in the comments - do you make an altar, cast spells, leave out an offering? do you combine the sabbats with other traditions?

building a mystery

this piece was originally conceived and written as a submission for autostraddle's bad behavior issue. while my essay was not selected for publication, i've decided to share it with the community anyway, in the hopes of receiving feedback and building connection. thank you for reading, and please check out the incredible pieces being published this month! --

A few years ago, a dark figure began to appear in my dreams. I can barely sleep as it is, and when I had a literal vision of Death, quiet and ominous, my insomnia kicked into high gear. This mysterious and foreboding shadow wasn’t moving, didn’t threaten, but instead just waited in the shadows, a question I couldn’t answer or ignore.

Googling “death dreams” isn’t something I’d recommend. But it quickly became clear that I wasn’t just seeing the vague image of a grim reaper - I was specifically fixated on the Death card from the tarot, something I knew nothing about. Rather than signifying the end of life, I discovered that Death represented release, transformation, closure, and was also associated with my Scorpio sun sign. This difficult card is one of the most famous, and most feared, but I found its presence strangely calming, an invitation to leave something behind and start anew. There are hundreds of versions of this card, each showing a new side of Death that pushed my understanding far beyond its limits. I was fascinated, entranced, infatuated. My conservative, religious roots were rebelling, telling me firmly that this was dangerous ground. But my heart was crying out for more.

After months of obsessively researching decks and tarot primers, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to buy cards of my own. I mean, I was already queer. Why not also be a witch? If I’m going to hell, I may as well do some divination about it.

I eventually narrowed my search to The Wild Unknown, the deck I was most consistently drawn to in my research. After wandering the aisles for almost an hour, hands clammy, I finally made my way down to the Dark Arts section of The Strand, hidden in the back of the lowest floor. I was awkward and nervous, sure that someone would see the stain of Baptist theology on my skin and laugh me out of the store. But nobody stopped me, because nobody particularly cared, and when I finally left the bookstore with my brand new cards it was as if I’d been reborn. That simple act of defiance gave me courage, felt like a brave step into an unknown spirituality that I’d always been too afraid to explore.

Unwrapping my new deck was exhilarating. It felt like I was holding a promise in my hands, an invitation to a new way of seeing everything. I’d read about tarot expanding worlds, inspiring and challenging, pushing readers outside of themselves. I believed I was ready to shed my traditionally religious roots, prepared to embrace a new way of thinking. That rebellion that had been simmering in my blood for so many years was finally free, and I was joyful, expectant, and deeply terrified.

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But when the time came to actually start reading, everything shifted. In theory, I adored the idea of every card having layers of meaning. I wanted to be able to read for a hundred years and still find new interpretations of the symbolism, new combinations of cards that brought out hidden layers, new decks that challenged what I thought I knew about a well-studied card. But in reality, I hated the ambiguity. My chosen deck was bold and graphic, with simple hand-drawn illustrations and little of the classic symbolism found in more traditional decks. I was lost in the images, unsure of how to proceed. Instead of relying on myself, I filled notebooks with research, studying the interpretations of others. I wanted to be an expert, but I didn’t trust my own experience. And after a few months, I put the cards away, ashamed of my failure.

Reading tarot is like learning to speak another language. It’s complicated, and difficult, and fluency feels impossible. There is always someone that has been speaking longer, that has more natural ability, that uses a dialect or slang that feels completely out of reach. Tarot is about connecting with the cards, building your own meaning, and trusting your gut - all things that I had absolutely no experience with.

The only other language I knew was that of conservative evangelicalism. My parents planted a fire-and-brimstone Baptist church when I was just six years old, and I quickly learned that I should listen to my elders, ignore my intuition, and fully accept that any instinct I possessed was driven by sin. By age fourteen I knew that I was probably bisexual, even if I didn’t have the language to explain it to myself or anyone else. Church had spiraled into a weekly torture as I worked my hardest to pretend that I was straight, “normal,” and the perfect leader my parents needed me to be. Listening to my pastor preach on the evils of humanity year after year, particularly the insidious and destructive nature of homosexuality, broke something inside of me. It convinced me that I was damaged beyond repair, a mistake that God was ready to discard, and told me that everything I wanted to explore was deeply wrong.

For most churchgoers, Biblical study is something that’s left to the ministers, scholars, and theologians. We sit in silence, listen to their wisdom and interpretations, and accept their understanding as truth. Most of the experts I studied were white men, privileged and powerful. They seemed more interested in having the last word and maintaining their positions than in making their work accessible, and were rarely willing to change their opinions. It was our job to memorize and submit to their methods, not to explore.

In sharp contrast, tarot has room for both classical study and inner wisdom, with two different religious archetypes within its major arcana. The Hierophant is right at home in evangelicalism, and while his strict traditions and rigid structure can be stifling, he is also a powerful reminder of the beauty and majesty in ritual. There’s divine magic present when we sing those old hymns, take communion, whisper ancient words - we trace the pathways build by generations of disciples and followers, connecting to something far beyond ourselves. But the High Priestess whispers of darkness and mystery, inviting us to explore our own shadows, trust our intuition, and embrace what we cannot know. It is the High Priestess that teaches us to make our own magic, that helps us learn and speak the language of tarot. She was the one I wanted to be, to learn from.

My deck and notebook sat idle for weeks. But the pull of the Priestess was irresistible, and eventually I reached for the cards again, determined to make my own way.

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Day by day, my deck began to feel more at home in my hands. The paper became softer, worn, and shuffling made me feel calm and comfortable. I learned the language and meaning of the cards, because I created my own. I could feel my rules softening, my impulse for control easing, and I stopped consulting my meticulous research on spreads and symbols during every reading. I spoke to the cards gently, spilling my secrets to them with less and less restraint. Whispering my worries, laughing at the wicked, clever responses - I’d never had a friend quite like tarot, one that I could be fully honest with, one that wouldn’t judge my questions, my fears, my doubts.

Somewhere along the way, those quiet conversations began to shift into prayers. Instead of crying out to a faceless Father, feeling endlessly alone, I had a tangible way to communicate and understand. The cards made it easier to be open, telling me what I often already knew but still needed to hear. Having an actual dialogue free from judgment soothed me, the cards offering reassurance or challenges or a swift kick in the ass. Even when the conversation was hard, it still felt real, honest and pure and so good that I couldn’t believe I’d been afraid for so long. I hadn’t abandoned my faith - I’d simply found a new way to experience it, one that made more sense to me than anything else I’d known.

Tarot hasn’t erased my pain, but it has given me a new outlet for exploring and understanding it. While attending conservative churches, I was constantly drowning in confusion, unable to understand how my identity as a bisexual woman and my religious beliefs could possibly work together. This theology told me that my depression was something I could pray away, that my queerness made me an abomination, that my confusion was a weakness and a sin. My churches taught me to hate myself, and I’m still trying to unlearn those lessons. But tarot has space for all of my identities and struggles, accepting me exactly where I am. It gives me room to explore every side of myself, permission to be the flawed human that I’ve always been, and a chance to reclaim the faith that nearly destroyed me.

Now, I carry my cards with me the way I used to carry my Bible - tucked into shoulder bags, protected in luggage, cherished when away from the rituals and comforts of home. I read them every morning, and they help the rest of my day fall into place, much like the simple private devotions of my childhood.

My faith and spirituality are still a work in progress. I’m not quite ready to identify as a witch, but I feel very uncomfortable using the label of “Christian.” I’m somewhere in-between. The cards have helped me carve out my own space, where my queer identity, love of tarot, and evangelical background don’t have to make perfect sense. I may not have all of the answers, but I’m no longer afraid to ask the questions.

Tarot isn’t a religion, not for me. But like any good practice, the cards push me to examine myself, from the deepest darkness to the quiet flickers of light. Tarot challenges me to be more, to be better. It gives me a voice, and encourages me to use it. It listens, and it hears. These little cards have given me access to a new side of my own faith, have let me keep Christ and queerness and kindness, all in one beautiful, messy tangle.

Now, I laugh when the Death card appears. I pray with the High Priestess and the Magician. I feel seen with the Ten of Swords, the Five of Cups, the Ace of Wands. And I let the Star tug me forward, acting as my guiding light.

Tarot cards have helped me to heal, in a way that I never expected. Every time I read, my decks teach me how to put the broken pieces of myself back together, into a person that I’m learning how to love.

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reclaiming my masks

today is the beginning of the last quarter moon, a time of releasing burdens, acknowledging struggles, and forgiving ourselves. i've been reflecting a lot on the challenges of last year, and the cards i drew today feel very encouraging, both in light of 2017 and in the face of a new year. IMG_2883.jpg

what to accept: three of pentacles. cooperation is not a dirty word. finding a community, learning from and leaning on others, discovering strengths and weaknesses - combined power is how we get shit done. collaborating with friends and neighbors, strangers and new acquaintances, gives us fire and energy and passion. it can give us that push towards a new goal, and help us actually reach it. this is a time for finding others with similar passions, and seeing how we can work together.

what to forgive: ace of swords. there's so much potential in this gorgeous, powerful card - but truth can be brutal sometimes, can cut through what we think we know to the beating heart of the matter. this past year brought a lot of difficulty, but it also forced me to be honest with both others and myself about what i need. i may not flawlessly execute every idea, and i may not always express my truth well, but i'm trying - and i need to forgive myself for the mistakes that were made.

what to learn: five of cups. there is a place for grief. there is a place for sadness. there is even a place for loss. but learning to let go is something i've struggled with my whole life. as a scorpio (and a half, honestly, i'm such a scorpio it's ridiculous) i find it nearly impossible to put hurt aside and forgive graciously and fully. my sadness and pain and anguish run so deep, they're a part of me. but honestly? maybe that's okay. maybe i can find strength in it. maybe the pain will make me better, more empathetic, more kind.

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like so many others, i felt that 2017 was an intensely difficult year. i vacillated between checking the news obsessively and working to ignore it, finding myself constantly drowning in the political horrors that seemed to occur by the minute. it was a tough year for all of us, but especially women, people of color, lgbtq+ folks, immigrants, muslims, the disabled community, the lower classes - basically anyone that wasn't a rich, straight, white "christian" man woke up with a feeling of dread each morning, wondering who would be on the chopping block.

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personally, 2017 was also a major struggle. i worked hard last year to open myself up, to shed some of my protective layers, to be more honest and real with the world. i came out to friends and family, even those that i worried would shun me. i attended my first pride, and pushed myself to find a place for myself in the queer community. i began working with a therapist, had several sessions with a psychiatrist, practiced yoga, started a tarot instagram, and gave myself permission and space to find new ways of healing that resonated.

but being open comes with a heavy cost. i've worn masks my entire life - not out of choice, but out of necessity. growing up bisexual in a very conservative church plant, with a pastor that was vocally anti-homosexual in our church and community, meant that i had to hide in plain sight. navigating a lifelong chronic sleep condition means pushing myself daily to perform normal activities, to stay alert, to remain focused - often while simultaneously accepting advice and judgment from well-meaning friends and strangers about a form of insomnia that most don't really understand. and suffering from major depressive disorder means i face a daily battle between being honest about how hard things are and locking the darkness up inside, where it can only hurt me.

in 2017, i pushed myself to remove some of the masks. not all the time, not with everyone - just with a trusted few, when it felt safe and right and accepted. and at times, it felt amazing. when my conservative family members accepted my bisexuality with open arms, when i walked into queer public events and nobody told me i didn't belong, when i opened up to my therapist about the Things i never talk about - it was such a relief to stop hiding, even for a few moments.

IMG_0296unfortunately, i also learned a devastating lesson in 2017 - my masks are absolutely necessary almost all of the time, and especially when dealing with my depression. reaching out for help is hard, but stretching out a hand and finding that no one is there? it's impossible. i made the mistake of being honest about how tough my depression was, and it scared friends and family away to the point that i thought i'd lost everyone. when i finally emerged from the darkness, i found myself terribly alone. and if i'm being perfectly honest, i still feel that way. i've apologized, made amends, acknowledged my errors, but i know now that i can't be my whole self with anyone, that i have to wear masks to protect others, that i don't have a safety net to fall back on. maybe i never did.

2018 offers so much promise. i have new goals in mind, new things i want to accomplish, new ways i want to push myself. but i'm also giving myself permission to lock certain things back up, to smother them in heavy blankets, to hide again. my depression is a dark, scary part of me, and while i wish i could find relief in sharing it, i know that it's too much of a burden for anyone to bear. i have to hope that the practices i've put into place, and a lifetime of experience wearing masks, will keep me safe this year.

in the meantime, i will greet this new year with strength, humility, and a hope for something better. and if you're reading this, i hope you find those things too.

 

protect yourself

i've been seeing a lot of swords and cups in my reading today, and i think it's a perfect (if very on-the-nose) representation of my current mental state - my emotions and fears at war with what my mind is telling me i must do. today's card is the seven of swords. seven-of-swords

like the four of swords, this clever creature is completely aware of the swords over her head - but unlike the lamb, channeling her power and setting boundaries for herself, this fox keeps an extra sword hidden, waiting for something big to happen. perhaps she's aware of a threat in her midst, and doesn't trust those around her - or maybe she's the one with the secret, and is wary of being discovered. either way, she is on edge, keeping an eye on everything.

this card often reminds me of the seven of cups, another card that can speak of secrets, illusion, and deception - both speak to internal issues, whether they're mental or emotional. and having seen both suits so many times in recent readings, it seems fitting to mediate on them both.

IMG_0338last week i wrote a post about coming out, and struggled with whether or not to share it on social media. this blog is not private, and i rarely write secret posts, but it also doesn't get a lot of traffic - i write mainly for me, and while i occasionally send posts to friends, rarely share it beyond that. as i work through how to come out to some remaining family members, i've been wanting additional support from those that already know, along with those that don't but will be strong allies. but i've been putting it off, worried that no one would care, that it wouldn't mean anything. i'm out to almost everyone in my life - surely posting that on a site like facebook, where my connections are friends and real people i've met, shouldn't be that scary. right? if i can write things that are available to strangers on the internet, surely people that care about me are less intimidating?

but oh, the fear is palpable. just considering posting this publicly (along with writing this post, right now) feels self-indulgent, self-involved, self-serving. sharing a post about my sexuality, as brief and broad as it is, feels like a huge personal step for me. and perhaps it's the seven of swords speaking - this secret i have is impacting so many relationships, so many decisions, simply because i haven't shared it yet. but the seven of cups looms too - is my brain pushing my heart to do something it's not ready for? do i only think this is an important step, when it actually wouldn't matter to anyone? will i feel better when it's over, or simply obsess about likes and comments and fear nasty private messages?

i'm honestly not sure. but the phrase i keep seeing in blogs and forums about this card is act consciously. what's more important - feeling calm and at peace with myself, or getting attention and support from others? do i want to tell people for them, or for me?

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finding the color

after yesterday's nightmarish draw, i was quite hesitant to return to the cards this morning. the nine of swords was so present in my day, and night, and i couldn't seem to find that wand energy that i knew i needed. but today's card seems to be continuing the energy of my clarifying card: the three of wands. this is a powerful card, full of both intention and action. the ace and two are about IMG_0305inspiration, finding direction, and moving forward towards a specific goal. the three seems to solidify that movement, encouraging the reader to envision the future, clarify goals, and invest fully in a strong sense of self. threes reflect the power of the suit in action, and wands are all about growth, energy, and fiery passion. the wild unknown guide stresses that it's time to "rely on yourself for guidance" and explains that "the future is infinite and it is yours."

and the swirling colors and brilliant light depicted between the intersecting wands are indeed beautiful and infinite. there's endless possibility here; a vibrant, colorful future that is ready to be shaped. limitless, transcendent, brimming with hope.

...except.

all i can see these days is that grotesque vision from the nine of swords. and the inescapable upheaval of the tower. and the necessary abandonment in the eight of cups. and i'm so tired of writing about depression, seeing depression, being depression. i can't escape it. it's been dragging on so very long, consuming everything in its path, and i'm ready for fresh air, for light, for color. everything is a tangled mess of ugliness and i'm desperate to get out. how do i change the seemingly permanent hellscape in my mind into this glorious vision of a dynamic, effervescent future?

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frankly, i don't have a clue. i don't have fresh new ideas, or opportunities bursting forth from nowhere, or boundless energy to pour into passion projects - just getting out of bed feels like an accomplishment. i have no spoons for anything these days. the pure, blinding optimism of the three of wands feels absolutely impossible.

but maybe this card is simply reminding me that somewhere in the future, hopefully not as far away as i think, is a glimmer of light. maybe this card is a small reminder that there is life outside of depression, that the world isn't always this dim, that eventually color will start to seep back into my vision.

tarot isn't meant to be literal. and it doesn't tell the future, or always answer directly. but i hope this is my deck's way of looking into my eyes, squeezing my hand, and telling me that it's going to be okay.