Welcome to Demystified, Unbothered’s spirituality series for Black and brown folx. Through a lens of reclamation, Unbothered is helping its audience reconnect with ancestral practices while debunking myths and misconceptions. As stigma surrounding non-Christian spiritual practices fades and Black and brown folx reclaim spiritual tools for self-healing, we’re educating our readers while making spirituality accessible for the seasoned practitioner, the curious and uninitiated, and everyone in between.
In terms of religion, you could say that I was raised in a blended family. On one hand, I was so Catholic that at 17 I was chosen by our priest to meet the then-Pope when he came to the UK for the only second time in history (not Francis, sadly). And on the other… an event or outing that had been planned for weeks was regularly in jeopardy because my mother “had a dream.” This is so normal amongst my peers that it’s become something of a meme, but my mother’s interests — and abilities — went one step further. It was very normal to look for a fresh towel and have to move aside tubs of crystals, or to skim over birth chart books when finding something to read. (It was very hard not to feel smug about my head start when it became fashionable to know your Big Three.)
But it was always Tarot cards I returned to. I was and still am a big myth lover, and a steady diet of Renaissance and religious art as a teen meant that the dense, intriguing imagery of the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck was irresistible — there’s nothing more satisfying than finding the right key for a locked image.
No matter how much I begged, my mother never gave me a card reading (that I knew of). Her admonitions not to meddle with things I wasn’t ready for were so strong that I didn’t buy my first deck until I was well into my second year at uni. I remember reading that your first deck had to be a gift but felt too embarrassed to ask any of my friends to get me one for my birthday. Well, who’s to say that buying something for yourself isn’t a gift? I reasoned as I waited for the post to come.
I didn’t do much when they arrived except take them out of their velvet pouch and pore over the images, always finding something new. It took me years to start reading because I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information — how was I supposed to remember all of those meanings?
Ironically, it was abandoning the idea that I’d ever grasp every single concept and detail that helped me gain confidence with my readings. Tarot started somewhere in the mists of fifteenth-century Italy; we’ve probably lost more about tarot than I’ll ever know. I currently only use my RWS deck for paid readings, as I like to get really familiar with a deck before I use it with other people. Having a favourite for the hotline has really curbed my collector’s instinct — Oh, this deck is foiled! Oooh this deck invokes my favourite goddesses! — and now I only buy a tool if I know I’m going to use it regularly. It’s why Marie Kondo’s philosophy has resonated with so many of us — our things want to be loved and used!
I’m also lucky enough to be in a loose kind of coven with my witchier friends. When we’re all in the same place, we’ll break bread and after a bottle of red and a cloud of green, decks of all kinds emerge from bags and coat pockets. It was these joyous meetings that gave me enough courage to become a professional tarot reader. My criteria for working for a psychic reading hotline were:
1. Do they actually pay enough?
2. Are they actually interested in the occult and metaphysical?
I found a hotline that seemed to tick both boxes, breezed through the application and interview process, and soon found myself waiting by the red rotary phone I’d purchased for the occasion. My first few calls were… not good, to say the least. The jump from reading for people I knew to not even being able to see the complete stranger I was reading for was very unsettling.
It didn’t help that I’d always found focus and meditation tough; “emptying my mind” felt impossible. But the hotline gave me no choice — having nothing but a voice down the phone or words on a screen meant that I really had to shut out the distractions and focus on what was in front of me.
Reading for a hotline also sharpened the instinct to reach for compassion first. Do they need to hear this? How do I tell them in a way that allows them to receive this information? The very best people in my life fashion even the hardest instances of honesty into a gift, a skill I am finding very necessary for more difficult readings.
That commitment to the truth is something I hold onto when I’m alone. We’ve all heard that honesty is the best policy, but we forget the dangers that come with lying to ourselves. If I had a pound for every time a lie that a querent was either telling me or themselves was revealed in a spread, I’d be a rich woman. Being honest with myself (and about myself!) is the only way I’ll ever know who I am.
Greater compassion means that the pursuit of a better ethical practice has bled into all aspects of my life — everyone in the world is my neighbour. While that may mean that we all live in the same house, we still need our own private spaces. Being trusted with very sensitive questions on the hotlines means I now don’t ever read for or about other people’s situations unless they ask me or affect me directly. I’ve always felt a vague unwillingness to be nosy via tarot, but now it’s a hard limit. Not everything that a person transmits is my business!
Unfortunately, my experience with the hotline became more difficult precisely because of these new boundaries around my practice. I got into huge trouble after turning away a client when she revealed that she’d spent over three thousand pounds getting readings — all about the same question.
Two paths diverged ahead: accept the reading and stretch it out — spinning promises and possibilities as the minutes and pounds stacked up, or trust the alarm bells and tell her that she should apply the advice she’d been given before I could give her another reading. Getting into hot water because I refused to do only strengthened my conviction around guarding what I say yes to with my life. Not all money is good money, and being told that I had no power over whether I could refuse or accept a client reminded me that the most important power is the power I have over my own choices. I have to be able to say yes or no under my own steam. I have to be able to choose. Would I like more choices? Absofuckinglutely! But knowing that I can’t be bought and that there is a line that’s too far for me is an incredible thing to know about myself.
Ultimately, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from reading for the hotline has been about movement and change — I left because I remembered that you really don’t have to stay anywhere forever, especially when it’s stealing your peace of mind. The cards shift with every shuffle and cut, and so does life: accepting that and learning how to steer those waters has brought me so much fulfillment.
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