Unexpected Gifts: How A Tarot Deck Came Into My Life

Once upon a time, I was twenty-three years old and living in a studio apartment in downtown Portland, Oregon. Although I spent all my spare time pouring over books about permaculture, homesteading and sustainable building, I’d never grown so much as a tomato in a pot. I didn’t know where to start.  

At work one day, I read an an article in Permaculture magazine called “Converting an Old Caravan Into an Eco-Home.” The photo in the article showed a woman, ten years older than I was sitting on a couch draped in fabrics. She radiated serenity and self-possession. A wood stove burned in the corner and shelves of herbs and spices lined the tiny kitchen. I longed for her life with sickening intensity.

Tiny houses had yet to hit the mainstream, so my partner and I searched for an RV we could afford. On Craiglist, they found an ad for a travel trailer that had been abandoned at a storage lot. For less than $300 we could pick it up anytime. The catch: it had no title and still held all the junk the previous owners had left behind. 

We towed it with a borrowed truck to a borrowed slice of a friend’s land. Inside lay a three-foot-deep jumble of clothes, bedding, old family photos, dishes and trash. It looked like a giant had come along and shaken the trailer the way a child would shake an unwrapped gift. 

My life at the time resembled that trailer. I was a witch, but didn’t know what to do with the energy and connection I felt. There were no resources, few books. I knew no one else who thought of themselves this way. I was a burgeoning astrologer, but still years away from reaching out for advanced training. I was in school studying environmental science, with vague intentions to ‘make a difference’, but graduating and entering the adult workforce felt like stepping off a cliff. 

I wanted to make a home for myself and my partner that removed us from a way of life I knew was death, but had no idea how to step off the narrow road we are given to walk. I was a jumble of longing and desire. I didn’t know how to make any order of the chaos.

The only step I could see was buying the trailer, so we bought it. I waded in on a sweaty summer day, my mouth covered with a bandana, and sifted through the piles. The pictures in the albums showed a family with young children, but when were they taken? The clothing seemed old, a decade or more, as did the photos. 

Stooping to lift a handful of trash into a plastic bag, I found a tarot card. The Devil, his dark eyes looking into mine. I recoiled, both from the imagery of that particular card and the fact of finding something so unexpected. I felt a visceral fear, as if he were an omen about this undertaking, this relationship, about my very life. Over the course of the day I kept finding cards and, eventually, the entire deck of 78. 

I remember holding them as they seemed to vibrate in my hands. They repulsed and terrified me, but I didn’t get rid of them. I wrapped them in a cloth and put them away in a closet, where they sat for years.

That the Devil was the first card I saw is significant. The Devil is our shadows, those parts of ourself that hurt too much to look at. Whatever pain we are avoiding keeps us bound to the thing that caused the wound. Unexamined trauma and defense mechanisms freeze up our energy and our flow of life force. 

Breaking those energetic chains frees you to do your Work. 

The Devil is the King of the Witches. Not because we worship Satan in a Christian horror film fantasy, but because in our shadow lies our power. The Devil holds us in loose chains. If we turn towards him, we see that our liberation is in our own hands. 

It took years, but magic works on its own timeline. Pluto transiting over my Sun began a long process of shadow work. A labyrinthine chain of events brought me the teachers I needed to connect to myself as a witch. Saturn Return cleared out all the detritus keeping me from myself. 

At some point in those years, I pulled those cards out of the closet and began to work with them. They no longer repulsed me. In my hands they radiated all the power that time and use had brought. They’d been waiting for me all along.

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