A few month ago I discovered a very cool tarot site called Little Red Tarot. I started to read a lot of the blog posts and loved how Beth Maiden (the creator and tarot reader) related and almost translated the tarot for the LGBTQ community. I mean, me being a heterosexual cis-female, I had never had to think about how some of the images and meanings of the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith tarot might not reflect the experiences of a gay person or a transgender person. I loved the phrase she uses, "queering up the tarot". So I was excited when Beth let me interview her so we could find out a bit more about how she "queers up the tarot" and her experiences doing so.
How did you start reading tarot?
Honestly, until I had my first reading in my mid-20s, I was such a cynic. I paid no attention to ‘spiritual stuff’ and I’d never even seen a deck of tarot cards. Then this wonderful woman offered my friend and I each a reading, and it blew me away. My friend got a deck of cards, and we used to do a lot of readings together. Then, when I was having a tough time, I turned to my cards and really threw myself into using them to process what had happened. That turned into journaling, which turned into a blog…and then people started asking for readings…and it just went from there.
One thing that is awesome about your blog and many of your posts represent a faction of the spiritual community that is unrepresented in many ways, but also write in a way that anyone (like this straight black girl over here) can read it and get a lot of from it. You talk about "queering up the tarot" (love that phrase by the way). What does that mean to you?
I’m so glad you find my work accessible Ashley! I do regularly write from a queer perspective, but I want to build a tarot learning community that is welcoming to everyone. It’s those diverse voices within tarot, the many many different ways people interpret their cards based on their life experience, culture or beliefs, that make it all so fascinating. Tarot is a mirror of life, so it changes each time someone new picks up that mirror.
‘Queering up tarot cards’ is the way I describe the never-ending process of taking a traditional tarot card meaning, and reinterpreting it through a queer filter. For example, the Ten of Cups - let’s say that’s all about emotional fulfilment, and on many cards, it shows a man and a woman and a kid or two, often a cute little house or whatever. That’s so far away from my idea of emotional fulfilment, I can’t even tell you! So let’s challenge that image and all of its connotations and open up our ideas when we see this card. Or take the relationship language used, there’s this talk of ‘the opposite sex’, which is a) heteronormative (fancying the ‘opposite’ sex is the norm so that’s all we talk about) and b) binary-gendered (sticks with the idea that there are two genders and that’s it). I want to challenge that language, write articles that include the possibilities of different kinds of love, different kinds of identity. Another way I try to do this is by mixing up gender pronouns, e.g. et’s not always describe The Magician as a ‘he’, we can say ‘she’ or ‘they’, too.
Queer as an identity is more than just ‘gay or bisexual’. It’s political, too. It’s a subversive word, a protest word - it’s intended to be challenging and provocative. For me, queer politics is about understanding systematic oppression, working to challenge the norms, which are harmful to so many and benefit so few. So for me, ‘queer tarot’, or ‘queering up my cards’ is another way of protesting heteronormativity, patriarchy, white supremacy, abelism - all that messed up shit.
I also host an awesome guest post series by Cassandra Snow called ‘Queering the Tarot’ - I’m so grateful to her for writing this series as I learn so much from each post she shares. In each post she takes a card or two, and looks at how you might interpret it differently for queer folks, whether that’s people questioning their gender identity, people in polyamourous relationships, people with variant sexualities… it’s great.
The bottom line is, it’s a discussion. Every post I write is intended to provoke discussion in the comments, and over in the Alternative Tarot Network we have a queer tarot forum where issues get discussed in more depth.
You developed your own unique tarot course, The Alternative Tarot Course. When someone is learning tarot, why do you think it's important to develop your own approach to reading as well as using traditional meanings?
Well - you can read a book of tarot card meanings, memorise them, and then when you turn over cards in a real-life reading, you can come out with that learned meaning. No judgement on that - that’s how most of us start, right? But personally I feel like the way to give truly amazing readings is to develop your own relationship with the cards. So you’ve experienced each card as something that happened in your own life, a feeling you’re familiar with, a situation you recognise. Instantly that’s more memorable and meaningful. And from there, you continue the process. Maybe you hear a song on the radio one day and it’s like ‘wow! That’s exactly what The Hanged Man sounds like!’, or a friend calls you up to describe how stuck she’s feeling and you recognize the Four of Cups in it.
It’s all about tying the cards to real life - for some that might mean departing from traditional meanings, for others that might mean the traditional meaning is spot on, it just becomes more relevant to them. In the Alternative Tarot Course we do loads of activities designed to shake up the way you think about a card, and also to build that personal relationship. My aim is that after the eight weeks, you have this whole new connection to your deck, the cards feel like your friends, you can converse with them. I believe that this makes you a better tarot reader, and more confident reader when you’re reading for other people - and that’s definitely the feedback I get from people who take the course.
How has Tarot changed you?
It’s helped me to understand and articulate concepts I had no awareness of previously, or felt on a deep level, but had no idea how to verbalize or use. Concepts such as integration - understanding that all parts of my life make me who I am and contribute to the whole world. Learning about the four suits and the four elements has given me a language to describe what’s going on for me at different times, in different parts of my life.
I feel more empowered and self-directed now than I did before I was doing tarot. Tarot forces you to face what’s going on in your life, and to take responsibility where you need to. There’s no burying your head in the sand or being a powerless victim where tarot is concerned - here’s your way forward, here are your choices, here’s how your behavior is impacting, here’s what’s blocking you. Now go fix it, or change something, or whatever the hell you need to do to move forwards in the best possible way. I love it! My whole belief system about tarot is that you already have the answers you need, before you even get your cards out or request a reading. The cards will prompt you to dig out those answers - which is really empowering.
You have something on-going and awesome called The Queer Tarot project? Can you tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for it and why you think it's important?
Yeah! The Queer Tarot Project is a contributory art project where LGBTQ-identified people can share stories of how a tarot card represents part of their journey. It’s an extension of the ‘queering tarot’ and the ‘taking a personal’ approach stuff I just mentioned - it’s both of those things in action! If you take a look at the site, you’ll find a lot of really beautiful stories of people have wrestled with their sexuality, found pride in themselves, battled for acceptance, come to understand their own gender, experienced oppression - all kinds of things that are part of the collective queer experience. Talking about those experiences via the medium of a tarot card gives those stories a framework - perhaps tying an individual experience to a universal archetype (such as The Tower) or understanding a powerful element of yourself that’s reflected in one of the court cards.
I plan to re-launch the project properly very soon - at the moment it’s just a small collection of people who have participated so far and I’d love for this to be much bigger and way more diverse.
You write a lot of great blog posts about productivity, business and being a professional tarot reader. What is your best piece of advice to someone who is trying to go pro?
Aw man, this is a pet topic for me! But I’ll keep it short. The most important thing if you want to make this work is that you think of it as a business. Don’t faff around being a hippy about it and pretending you’re not doing it for the money - you can absolutely do tarot for love but if you’re going pro, then you also want an income stream. So get serious. Get a decent website. Show up. Deliver the goods. Charge properly. Stuff like that! Theresa Reed at The Tarot Lady is the place to learn about all that - her no-bullshit approach to running a ‘mystical business’ is practical and motivating.
You live on a boat, how awesome is that?
Very awesome! I live cheaply and simply - there’s no room for “stuff”, heating is from a small fire, and I’m really aware of the resources I use - water, gas, wood and coal - because I have to physically get it into the boat in the first place! I love that. When I moved aboard, I sold or gave away almost all of my possessions. I used to be a real hoarder, a junk shop junkie. Now, I’m just not so interested in ‘things’.
My boat is called Empress - in the summer I love the swans and geese that hang around my doorway, in winter, I love lying in bed while a windy storm bumps and rocks her. It’s wonderful being on the water. I’ve had some really fun adventures sailing this boat - and my old boat, Swallow - with my partner Em. We have some big plans for our future home (she’s a builder, so the world feels like our oyster!) but for now, I’m content living simple and small, with just the basics.
I want to thank Beth for letting me interview her and everyone should go and check her out on the web! Links Below!
Little Red Tarot Website
A place of fun, learning and exploring the awesome world of Tarot.