This post started out as a signal boost for Virginia Rosenberg’s article, but I’m actually just going to add some more stuff because I found some more stuff that needs to be added. The last 4 or 5 days have broken up a lot of encrusted structures in my mind about privilege, whiteness, and white guilt. On Thursday, I bought the book Radical Dharma after hearing about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile because I didn’t know what to do with my broken heart. Then my heart broke in a different way on Friday morning when I heard about the shooting in Dallas. I wrote a little about all this on my other blog and also began to use tarot to interrogate whiteness, which was heartbreaking in yet another way. I want to write up the results of that reading (hopefully ongoing practice) but for now, here are the words of others.
Use the questions below to journal. Use them as a tarot spread. Use them as a conversation starter but make sure your conversation partner has the energy or interest in engaging these kinds of questions. Use these questions to know yourself better. Use them how you will. Or don’t and save them for later. Take a healing bath instead. May your inquiry be led by love. Even when it burns white hot and lives in you as anger. May your inquiry be a prayer for hope or a precursor for action. May your own truth lead you.
I could ask you to show me where in space and time it is written that there is love, light, and goodness in the murder of a man in front of his family, but I won’t. I could ask you to show me where in the stars is the hope when Black trans women are killed for daring to live. I could ask you to show me where on the dirt we walk on is the reason for Black femmes and mothers heartbreak and dying. I’ll say this instead.
Your silence is complicit in my murder.
That you remain silent while claiming the identity of healer in any form only makes it worse. That I am asked as a healer to remain silent about my pain is unacceptable and is killing me.
Emphasizing “positive vibrations” versus “negative emotions” is another way of perpetuating oppression through distancing yourself.
Beware of giving advice that stems from fear. Telling others to “be the light” when they are experiencing intense emotional reactions is destabilizing and promotes falsehood and confusion. Manipulating the feelings of others is psychologically and emotionally damaging.
This type of advice robs us of personal inner sovereignty. It removes us from an authentic relationship with our inborn navigation system and prevents healing. It also renders us ineffective to deal with reality and contribute to healthy change.
What Asali and Virginia are addressing is a tendency prevalent in many spiritual communities to avoid discussing violence, oppression, and privilege because those topics are “low vibe” (the New Age way of putting it) or signify anger and attachment (the Buddhist way of putting it.) White folks need to realize that the option of not discussing these things is itself a privilege. Furthermore, shutting people down by telling them that they are too attached, angry, or low vibe in reaction to violence and oppression is nothing other than spiritual bypass at the community level and creates toxic communities. It’s a way of pathologizing our pain for the world.
If we are all interconnected–which most spiritual communities believe–and there is pain and injustice happening somewhere in the world, we will feel pain and that pain itself is a sign of our interconnection. (See Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects for more on this.) Let’s honor our pain, feel it fully, and let it move us to action.
One of my favorite people in the tarot community is Kelly-Ann Maddox, whose wisdom enriches any conversation about tarot or spirituality. I first came across Maddox on Instagram, but the real gem of her online presence is her YouTube channel, where she has posted hundreds of videos of a wide variety of topics relating to spirituality, tarot, ethics, and more. Although much of her channel is about witchcraft, which I don’t practice, I still get so much from watching her videos because of her genuine understanding of the processes of emotional healing, self-understanding, and personal empowerment. And she is really, really no-bullshit.
Recently, I saw that back in December she had posted a couple of videos about what she calls “Witchy Consumerism,” which includes the urge to buy tarot decks, but also expands to crystals, ritual objects, altar setups, etc. I wish I had seen them before writing my #decklust post, because there’s so much overlap and I could have gotten further by using her videos as a jumping-off point. I hope to talk more about #decklust/consumerism in the future, but in the meantime, do take a look at these videos if this topic at all interests you. She has great theories about why consumerism leaks into our spiritual practices and practical ways for beginning to examine and undo those habits.
For those in the tarot community on Instagram, sharing pictures of newly purchased decks is a favorite pastime. Every day in my feed, I see pictures of packages containing decks, or new decks still in shrink wrap, usually with a caption that goes something like, “Just got home to find this in the mail! I’m so excited!” But a couple of months ago, I saw a post (I can’t remember whose, unfortunately) that featured a picture of two new shrink-wrapped decks and the caption:
When I own every tarot deck, will I finally be happy?
The tiny Buddha inside my head went, “Nooooooooooo! You won’t because that’s not how desire works!” But this was a person I’d never really engaged with, so I didn’t feel like jumping in and giving her a lecture. I also didn’t because, you know, it’s not like I have this shit figured out either.
For those who talk about tarot on blogs or social media, the temptation to share new decks with followers is irresistible. I do it, too. While we might not associate buying a $20 tarot deck with conspicuous consumption–a term we usually reserve for McMansions, BMW SUVs, and Prada handbags–that’s literally what we’re doing: making our consumption conspicuous to others. I don’t think there’s any harm in a person showing off a new tarot deck to their friends and followers, but strange things begin to happen when you share with dozens or hundreds of tarot folks on social media.
I follow about 220 people on Instagram, and while each of those people might buy a deck every once in a while, I see posts about new decks every day–often multiple times a day–which makes it seem like people are consuming more than they really are and that it’s normal to be buying decks all the time. Rather than conspicuous consumption, which focuses on one person’s wealth, I call it the spectacle of consumption–the illusion, though watching mass consumer habits, that each person is consuming more than they really are, and that it’s normal to consume at such a rate. (Not surprisingly, I’m not the first person to make this term up–if you google it, you can find it in critiques of Late/Post-Capitalism. But anyway.) And from what I can tell, this spectacle of consumption causes people to consume more–or at least desire to consume more.
Since seeing that Instagram post, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tarot community and what we call #decklust. On Instagram, and probably other platforms where tarot people hang out, the hashtag #decklust sums things up pretty well. As soon as a beautiful new deck comes out, everyone has to have it. And if you can’t afford it, at least you can publicly opine about how you want it. People use #decklust jokingly, of course, but there’s a kind of self-consciousness about it as well. On Instagram and in other places, I’ve seen people talk about how they spend so much money on decks that it’s actually harming their personal finances. Or about how they see tarot as a big part of their spiritual path and feel conflicted about how commercialized it has become. I myself have thought about all these things and have also undertaken measures to work with my own #decklust.
I recently ended a 6-month hiatus of buying anything having to do with tarot. From last April to October, I managed to blow almost $500 on tarot decks, books, and apps. So I decided that from November to May, I wouldn’t buy anything having to do with tarot. I did swap a couple of decks, and received a couple others as gifts. I also made the exception of backing the Next World Tarot on Kickstarter since it was a time-sensitive thing, but aside from that I held to my promise pretty well. During this whole time, however, I was building up my wishlist–putting things on, taking things off. In the end, I had up with a wish list three decks long: the Mary-el Tarot, the Japaridze Tarot, and the Tarot del Fuego.
As I saw these decks on Instagram, especially the Mary-el, I became really fixated on them. But this time I was smart enough and really began to watch the whole #decklust process. I watched the feelings of hope and excitement I got from the idea of buying and owning the Mary-el. I watched the feelings of resistance that came up when I thought: What if I don’t buy it? I watched my state of mind as I purchased it, opened it, and began to use it. The result? I realized very quickly after opening it that, although the Mary-el is a great deck and I will enjoy using it for years, I am not a whit happier for buying it. Furthermore, the amount energy I spent researching it and lusting after it was far greater than the enjoyment I get from actually owning and using it.
My conclusion is that #decklust is a time-waster and an energy vampire. And, most importantly, it’s endless unless you work with it. I still have #decklust, of course, but watching how it works gives me some perspective. Watching other people’s #__lust is helpful, too. For instance, I’m fairly rare in the tarot community in that I have no interest whatsoever in buying crystals. And yet I see people going through the same process with crystals and think, Why is this even an issue? But, of course, most people in the world would look at me and go, Why would someone spend so much money on a pack of cards?
A great way to get some perspective is to poke around in other communities on social media that are centered on collections and hobbies different from your own. One night on Instagram, I stumbled across an entire community of people who collect little pins that you buy at Disney World. I was amazed that anyone would spend their money on this–and then thought about my own spending habits and how stupid they would look to an outsider. My point is that our desires, no matter how well-founded they seem to us, are completely arbitrary.*
But more importantly, just as you can be in love with love, you can desire desire. The desire of desire, masked as the desire for things, is basically what US culture is founded upon. The reason why a new tarot deck will never make me permanently happy and fulfilled–no matter how much I enjoy working with it, and no matter how much happiness it brings in the short term–is that the process of desire is always focused on continuing to desire. It’s a system that is set up to continue desire indefinitely, not bring contentment. Even if I buy a copy of every tarot deck in existence, I will always be waiting for the next one, or turn my sights on something else.
Over the past six months, I have also become more alive to the ethical implications of buying tarot decks whenever I want to–even if I have the means. Why am I buying decks for myself when I could give that money to refugees or famine victims? And what about the reality that decks come from living forests which are chopped down, shipped to China, processed and made into cards using exploited labor and heinous chemicals, shipped back to the US (using tons of fossil fuels in the process), and into Amazon warehouses where they are packaged and shipped by exploited workers. I’m not trying to give anyone a guilt trip, because guilt is not an emotion conducive to positive action, but these are real ethical questions we all have to ask ourselves about anything we buy. Is another tarot deck worth the well-being of workers, the lives of trees, and more carbon released into the atmosphere?
I’ve adopted two strategies for dealing, at least partly, with these questions. The first is to buy used decks whenever possible. It’s not a perfect system, of course, since somebody has to buy new ones in the first place, but I think buying used is a great strategy for many things. The second is to make sure that I donate a dollar to charity for each dollar I spend on tarot. Not only does this curb my tarot spending, but it keeps me from focusing on myself and my own pleasures all the time. I have no illusions that either of these solutions is perfect, but they do make a difference in how I see decks. I’m forced to consider the social impact of spending money on myself, and the environmental/social impact of buying new.
The point I’m trying to make here is not that we should squash and eradicate our #decklust. Rather, I think we should bring curiosity to it. Does wanting new decks make me happy? What does it feel like in my body? Do the decks themselves make me happy permanently? How does it happen that I buy decks even when I don’t mean to? How do I feel about the social/environmental consequences of buying decks I don’t need? Answering these questions may or may not change our habits of consumption. But these are questions that every person needs to answer for themselves, and when approached with curiosity, #decklust is a gift, an opportunity for self-exploration.
*I want to point out that I’m talking about consumerist desires–hobbies, collections, fashion, gadgets, and the like. Basic desires for shelter, food, financial stability, human companionship, etc. are a different matter entirely.