Talking to Myself: On the Occult

The Star Card display. Photo courtesy of Emme Lund.

By Emme Lund

In 2015, in the shed behind the Small Press Distribution warehouse in Berkeley, CA, I had a tarot reading with CA Conrad during Halloween weekend. The shed was warm. Christmas lights lined the crease where the walls met the ceiling. The poet’s painted fingernails bent over the edge of the deck, bracelets dangling from their wrists. “What would you like to ask the cards?” they said.

            “I’m stuck. How do I unstick?”

            I’d had a terrible week, month, whole year, actually. My partner and I were moving to Portland, OR in a couple of weeks. When I first moved to Oakland, I thought I would live there forever, eventually dying in the Bay Area, but capitalism ruins all and the tech industry had pushed rents far past what we could afford.

            CA Conrad shuffled the cards, their eyes closed.

            They laid out three cards on the table in front of me. One for the past, one for the present, and one for the future. I don’t remember the exact cards, but I remember the story they told.

            The first card was a jumbled mess, a forest burning to the ground. They tapped the card. “You’ve had a hard time. Your past was difficult.”

            There’s a feeling I get when something rings true for me, a feeling that I’ve chased for much of my life because, for a long time, most things did not ring true. Everything felt wrong, even things that felt right to others. This feeling comes up in my chest, catches in my throat, and a burning finds the backs of my eyes. I have always been quick to tears. I was reckoning with a lot then. My drinking was out of hand. Queerness was bubbling inside of me but right beside it was bubbles of shame. I had been thinking a lot about that feeling of wrongness I’d felt my whole life, the thing that made it so that many things did not ring true.

The Death Card display. Photo Courtesy of Emme Lund.

            They moved on to the next card. Someone walked among the burnt forest, assessing the damage, a card later in the same series. “Here you are now,” they said, “going over your past, understanding how hard it was for you.”

            This rang less true for me. I wasn’t dealing with my past. I was looking to the future, looking for a way to happiness.

I must have made a face, because CA Conrad smiled and then tapped the next card, a star exploding. “This is a very good card,” they said. “In this card, you are surrounded by people who love you. Life feels like a party. This is your future, but you won’t get there until you’ve reckoned with your difficult past and figured out who you are.”


I felt a kinship to these people and so I let them read tarot for me, I looked up my natal chart, and over and over again, I experienced that feeling of something ringing true, a feeling I had not felt in some time.

It took me a long time to find a home in reading tarot and following astrology. I was raised in a devoutly Evangelical Christian home, a household so strict that I was once forbidden from owning anything related to aliens after my grandfather walked in one day and claimed all things outer space to be the work of Satan. My aversion to the occult was based on the false dichotomy that if tarot and astrology were the work of the Devil, the opposite to Christianity, then it was also a religion, the opposite side of the same coin. I didn’t want anything to do with any religion. I’m a queer trans girl who asks questions about everything around her. All I ever heard was that I was either born wrong or choosing a path that led to my own destruction, all in the name of religion.

            I must admit that when I first left Christianity, I swung too hard into the world of logic and reason. I abandoned any search for magic out of fear that I would find myself trapped in another religion. But I quickly found that something deep inside of me wanted me to explore my depths. My gravitation towards the occult grew out of a desire to know myself.

            And some magic cannot be denied.

            In 2005, I met the person who later became my wife. I fell in love. Early on in our relationship, they said something to the tune of, “Magic is simply science we can’t explain yet.” We moved to the Bay Area together and quickly fell in with a crowd of witchy poets, the kind of friends who throw parties where someone is reading tarot in the corner and new acquaintances ask what your sun, moon, and rising sign is as soon as they learn your name.

I felt a kinship to these people and so I let them read tarot for me, I looked up my natal chart, and over and over again, I experienced that feeling of something ringing true, a feeling I had not felt in some time.

The High Priestess Card display. Photo courtesy of Emme Lund.

           


I don’t think astrology or tarot can predict the future.

I believe astrology lays out a blueprint for the kind of person we may become and the challenges we may face within ourselves, but I don’t believe it is absolute nor is it the totality of our person. We are also our genetics and our social status and where we were born and who raised us and so much more. We have been watching the stars for thousands of years and astrology is a collection of our observations.

For me, tarot offers an opportunity to inquire how I feel about something, a chance to convene with my intuition. In 2017, exactly two years after CA Conrad read tarot for me in the shed, I got sober. I don’t think the cards or the stars could predict I would get sober, but I think I knew, deep down, that sobriety was something I wanted and astrology and tarot gave me the power to tell my story in a way that led to sobriety. For humans, stories help us make sense of the world. Astrology and tarot are a way for our intuitions to apply form and structure to the chaos of this life on earth. They lead us to what we want.

If you do A and B, eventually you will find C.


What I like about astrology and tarot, about magic in general, is that it does not care if you believe in it. It is not like the religion of my youth, full of absolutes. A refrain I hear often when I listen to horoscopes or teachings on tarot is “Take what you will and leave the rest.”

Nearly every morning begins with me seated at my altar, lighting a candle, and drawing a card from my tarot deck. In the quietness of the room and the space between my dreams and the emerging day, I can find a stillness that lets me consider what I’m feeling. Some mornings the card I draw feels exciting. Sometimes it is harder for me to understand what a particular card could mean in the context of the day. Often a card will only make sense later when I look back at what I was doing at the time I drew it, when the details of what my intuition was working on become clear.

             When I look back on my life now, it seems inevitable. Like, of course, I would end up here, a sober trans woman who knows herself better than she ever thought possible. I often think about that time in the shed with CA Conrad, when they told me I would not find happiness until I came to terms with my difficult past and got to who I truly was. I don’t know. Maybe my life was inevitable, but really, I can’t help but look back at all those times I’ve shuffled a tarot deck or read about what the stars were doing, trying to apply both to the context of my life. There’s no doubt in my mind that astrology and tarot gave me the space to convene with myself, to speak with my own intuition, and to choose which way I wanted my life to go. But as with all things: Take what you will and leave the rest.


The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund.

Check out Emme Lund’s debut novel, THE BOY WITH A BIRD IN HIS CHEST, out from Atria Books on February 15, 2022.

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