Lauren Miller discusses a new pastime that has helped support her writing
It’s a full moon, so I’m sat on the floor, a silver ring and a photograph in front of me, framing an awkwardly fanned deck of tarot cards. A candle burns alongside a list of worries I hope to let go of during the next lunar phase. The beam of my laptop interrupts the shifting shadows on the walls while I google what the cards represent. The glare ruins the atmosphere but I’m a long way from owning the encyclopaedic knowledge of tarot, the kind I imagine it’s easy to impress people with at parties.
I was given the cards by a friend and they’ve been sitting next to my bed unopened for months. Spurred on by the pressure to learn something new in lockdown, I finally unwrapped the box, half expecting the cards to come alive with magic in my hand.
This isn’t my first time dabbling in the power of magic. Sat under the full moon I’m reminded of being eleven perched on the narrow windowsill in my bedroom, having to steal matches to light my candles. I’d drip wax over words scrawled on tiny pieces of paper, bury them in the garden, recite spells and draw a pentagram in the air. I was always wishing for a boyfriend, astute enough even as a pre-teen to understand the status desirability brought, and the degree of trickery that’s often involved in acquiring it.
Despite the focus of my wishes, a fascination with the dark-arts deepened my friendship with other girls, and the coven of witches we established. My friends and I would watch The Craft around each other’s houses, a film about cool goth girls who, together, accumulate such unearthly powers they’re able to wreak havoc and revenge on the school that shunned them and the men who assault them. We were fired up by the power they created for themselves, although at the time I missed the cynicism of the message; the only possible way to end sexual violence is to invoke the spirit of Manon through a lightning bolt on an LA beach in the middle of an electrical storm.
As we grew closer our rituals became more elaborate. We’d scheme how to get out of our town and into the woods that surrounded it. We’d practice levitation techniques and spells we’d print from the internet. The wishes seemed less important than the organisation and the careful attention to detail needed in order to enact our plans.
As we grew older, the camaraderie of our coven grew strained. The adult grew too strange and unsettling to ignore. As I became a teenager, my wishes were replaced by an altogether more damaging kind of introspection. Instead of manifesting things I wanted through spells, I started to believe the only way to get the things I wanted was to make myself into an entirely different person, a glamouring if you will. I grew obsessed with my body, so meticulously scrutinising in its nature it hurt to move in my skin. I sought to understand the maddening world that constantly reminded me how powerless I was, through the controlling of my body. I grew isolated, unable to produce the same enthusiasm for friends and life in general. From sharing our inner worlds and exploring the isolated areas of our hometown, I grew lonelier and I spent more time in my room, surrendering the capacity to believe in magic.
In these last few months of enforced solitude, I’ve been revisiting these desperate teenage days as I try and build a world of purpose within the confines of home. Pulling a tarot card each day has played a part in that. Some days the only writing I manage is the recording of the card and its meaning in a notebook. And whether it is the physical isolation, the quietness of the world as we realised all the things we used to like doing didn’t beat staying in pyjamas all day, the scepticism I’d built since my early experiments with rosemary and incense and levitation quietened too.
The definitions for each tarot card are very open-ended, there’s crossover and repetition. I spin small stories, piece things together from my subconscious, start writing. I prefer writing that floats between categories and boundaries, whether tone, form, genre or register. I want to read stories that leave me with work to do long after I’ve finished them. This ambiguity is part of me too, although it can sit uneasily sometimes. I hate that I can’t make decisions. I’m in awe of people who know who they are, what they’re about. I take those personality tests to try and figure it out but I’m an INFP one day, ENTJ the next, then its back to square one. When it comes to the tarot and writing, I’ve accepted that there is no divine magic, that it lies in my hands to interpret what I see.
Much like the young girl I was, I’m also finally waking up and stepping out into a changed world, one that offers hope as well as pain, but one that is essential for me to explore. Something about decoding these cards, with their pretty illustrations and open-ended definitions highlights everyday how important intuition is in developing story, listening to your apprehensions, accepting the many channels a story can travel down, that there isn’t one right way.
That’s what I feel today, anyway.