By PAOLA NAVARETTE
Once the preserve of fairground fortunetellers, tarot has now gone mainstream. This form of divination dates back to the 14th century, but it has become somewhat of a trend as decks are now sold at almost every bookstore, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram and Facebook pages are dedicated to the art of divination.
We spoke to four tarot readers—Miren Cueto, Alexandra Alzate, Marla Darwin, and Yvette Tan—and asked them to unshroud some of the mysticism, also to tell us how and why they became readers. They also revealed how they bond over tarot and use it as a therapeutic tool to facilitate self–awareness and self–development.
What drew you the practice of tarot reading?
Miren: Well for me, it started with curiosity through my friend who used to send me videos of people doing tarot. So, from there I got more and more curious, and I thought maybe I could do that as well.
Alexandra: I discovered it in high school but I started learning it three years ago. From there, it kind of just clicked. It was something I really wanted to do and something that calmed me down. It was just everything for me.
Marla: My interest was first piqued in college. I was interested in astrology, I still am, then I got really obsessed. I hung around friends who would read tarot cards, and it just resonated a lot because I really enjoyed the way my friends would read it. And then I thought maybe I could try, but I only took it seriously in 2014. I still do it, as a recreational practice.
Yvette: I’ve always been interested in the esoteric. I used to read palms in high school, that sort of thing. I got interested in tarot around 2013 or 2014, after a really bad breakup. The church wasn’t there for me, but I found friends—I found Marla and another friend who helped me through because of tarot. That’s how I learned as well.
Tarot is a form of therapy, much like psychoanalysis. What was your personal experience?
Miren: I think there is a part of every person constantly searching for more clarity, answers, and guidelines. Tarot, for me, has been able to get in touch with subconscious motivations that might not be very clear. Otherwise, it’s been a way for me to tap into understanding. It sounds corny, but it’s like inner wisdom because it’s really just information that’s being given to you based on your current path or situation. It’s been very helpful for me to use tarot for situations that are happening now rather than divination.
Alexandra: I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and tarot kind of just puts into perspective the things I have to focus on right now. I’m like, “Okay, what’s my game plan and what’s my roadmap?” and it showed me what I would do. It helped me learn a lot more about myself and I knew what my boundaries were and what I was doing wrong. It kind of just unpacked all of that. Even with my clients, we unpack all these things that they don’t realize they were doing, and you’re like, “So this is what’s causing the pain, but you can stop it now.”
Marla: Tarot is very useful to me because it allows me to put words to my feelings and not everybody is very verbal. For example, traumatic things happen to you. Let’s say a death in the family. If you’re older and already working, it’s so easy to throw your coping mechanisms into work and to do what you have to do in your house that you don’t pay attention to what’s happening beneath the surface. Tarot allows me to pause and do checks on what’s happening with my emotions and my feelings because I do have a tendency (and the people that I read) to just keep it there, hoping it will go away.
I guess also, like what Miren is saying, tarot allows me to connect with my intuition. A lot of people have different names for it—your higher self, your conscience. I like saying intuition because I really believe that in every person, there is a force and a voice of wisdom of goodness that we forget is there. So when I do tarot, it allows me to tap or access and channel the best in me.
Yvette: When I started reading tarot cards, I had such a hard time because I could not verbalize what I was feeling. The constant practice helped me with that and tarot helped me tap into my higher self. So like, as a regular person, I can be very indecisive, but I can ask my higher self what I should do and it will tell me. It’s not always correct. It’s not always perfect, but it’s more decisive than I am as a regular person. It also helped me with my anxiety because I recently started suffering from anxiety but it always helps me calm down because it allows me to see things outside of myself. It doesn’t replace qualified therapists but it helps.
How do you bond over tarot?
Miren: The community is quite small. When you find somebody who is also a tarot reader, you get really excited because it’s like you’re sharing a hobby. Yvette, Alexandra, and I, we’re quite close like that. We read for each other. Sometimes when there are random issues like when I’m at work and I feel that something is off, it helps me get guidance also from people who use the same methods and modalities.
Alexandra: We bond over all the chika, like we’ll read someone— let’s say a celebrity—and it is just with us. It’s just for practice and for fun and we realize we’re all human. It makes us feel better.
From left: Marla Darwin, Yvette Tan, Alexandra Alzate, and Miren Queto
Marla: When you start reading for people, you can reduce the themes into four major categories. At least in my experience, it is typically about work—and then it will be about love. Family also comes up a lot, and dreams. These are very personal things. So even if you start out as strangers, as you do through the reading, you’re peering into somebody’s deepest desires and their secrets. By the end of it, you’re going to feel close whether you want to or not, because you’re unearthing things they don’t typically share with other people.
Yvette: Reading for each other is a thrill, and it’s a shared secret. You know how doctors when they go see another doctor, they don’t have to pay the doctor? That’s what we do. The nice part about being close to the people who do the same thing is that sometimes you don’t even need the cards anymore because you’re all connected already.
Which card do you resonate most with?
Miren: My signifier, for the longest time, would be The Chariot, which to me, represents balance, moving forward, and being grounded in yourself.
Alexandra: I resonate with The High Priestess. I use my intuition almost every day, because it’s my job, and also because, for the longest time, I was always unsure of my decisions. And then when I finally got to know myself and I got to trust myself with my decision, I realize that I make sense.
Marla: For years, when I would do my readings, characters in my life would start appearing as certain cards. They will just appear. I would tend to show up as The Star, so every time I would see The Star that became like a personal talisman of mine. When you start looking at things as talismans it makes you remember, like who you’re meant to be and who you are at the heart of things. But this was years ago. I don’t know but it hasn’t been appearing anymore. They tend to appear like maybe the Queen cards or The High Priestess.
Yvette: My signifier used to be The Chariot because it represents moving forward, but I don’t know if it’s changing toward The Star or the High Priestess or The Empress but without the pregnancy stuff.
How has tarot changed your life?
Miren: When I was younger, I was very doubtful of things that couldn’t be readily explained through logical means or science. I think the most important thing that tarot has taught me is how to trust—how certain things just fall together if you allow and make space for those things.
Alexandra: For me, it just made me more proactive with my choices because, before, I would just let other people describe who I was. I would let them dictate who I should be and what I should be. When I started doing tarot, that stopped being the case. It matters if I loved myself and if I saw myself worse. It is such a great tool to validate yourself and invalidate other people and tell them, “Hey, you’re powerful.” You can change these things because if you don’t like them, you can transform into something that you like or something that’s more beautiful than what you like.
Marla: It has allowed me to tune into a frequency that allows me to trust and make leaps, because I’m a business owner, and you really have no idea what’s going to happen to you if you’re in the industry. Now that I’m also a parent, there are many things you think can be solved, like, well, if you followed this guidebook. Well, my life doesn’t work that way. But since I started tuning into this frequency, I’ve just felt more equipped to handle things because I have faith. I have hope when I tune into my intuition, and tarot helps me land with my feet on the ground, and believe that good will triumph over evil, and that people who work will reap the benefits.
Yvette: Every day it’s making me realize that there are things that cannot be explained by science. I try to be as logical as possible, but then tarot makes you learn to trust things you don’t understand because you’re essentially doing something that sometimes goes beyond reason. It also helped me understand myself more and understand people more. It’s helping you understand the human condition and all its imperfections.