Tarot cards are the new ‘thing’, aren’t they? You can spot them in gift shops and high-end boutiques. Traditionally designed sets sit beside novelty ones, sporting images of artists, drag queens, and cats. You can find them as easily as finding a pack of incense or a dream catcher.
The first documented tarot card deck originated in Northern Italy between 1440 and 1450. Since then, tarot imagery and lore has inspired countless numbers of people from all walks of life. You’ll find them as inspiration for tattoos and art.
It has also been a crucial part of some creative practices. However, tarot and its related fields (think crystals and Himalayan salt lamps) are often unfairly scoffed at by sceptics.
But should we be dismissing their elusive, mysterious power as hokum?
Or would indulging in this age-old, esoteric practice give us the opportunity to ponder, look inward and see what ideas, themes and patterns arise as we gaze at the culturally familiar images? After all, exponents of tarot swear by the power of the deck.
Whatever your opinion on magic and the occult, there is something special about the ritual of shuffling, cutting, and selecting random tarot cards from the deck, which can inspire something in you if you are open to it.
The writer Sylvia Plath used tarot to meditate and inspire several of her poems. Several of her works from the collection ‘Ariel’ reference the images and symbolism of tarot cards in some way, including ‘The Couriers’, ‘Morning Song’, ‘Rabbit Catcher’ and ‘The Hanging Man’.
With the potential mind-opening possibilities tarot offers, we decided it would be fun to create a special Willoughby Reading List, based on the random cards we pick.
I have shuffled and pulled 7 random tarot cards, using the beautiful Rider White Minor Arcana deck to assist me in this mini excursion into tarot.
Hopefully you find a title or two below that sound interesting to you. Let us know if you’ve ever used similar methods to curate your reading!
This card is one of my favourites. Portrayed as a young child on a horse, with a large beaming sun in the background, it promotes good fortune and happiness, representing the coming together of the universe. Such a positive card requires a book with joy at its core!
If you are seeking the bookish equivalent of stretching out like a cat in a sun beam, we’d recommend Arthur and Teddy are Coming Out by Ryan Love. Arthur and Teddy are grandfather and grandson. When Arthur gathers the family to finally announce he is gay, Teddy has his own secret, but isn’t ready to reveal it to everyone just yet…
It’s a heart-warming book all about self-acceptance and love- perfect for catching those good vibes the universe is sending out.
The Eight of Cups signify a change or gaining of perspective but can also carry meaning of disillusionment and abandonment of things which haven’t been emotionally fulfilling.
Pageboy, Elliot Page’s highly anticipated forthcoming memoir really grapples with themes that the Eight of Cups brings up. Page explores ideas of identity, specifically relating to his transition, his years in Hollywood, grappling with his mental health, love, and relationships, and leaving behind the things that were not making him happy.
It’s a beautifully written piece of non-fiction and it will be interesting to anyone who has enjoyed Elliot’s film work in the past, as well as those who are simply fond of the memoir genre in general.
The Two of Cups is an interesting card in the tarot. When drawn upright, it signifies mutual attraction, unified love, and partnership. It doesn’t exclusively relate to romantic relationships, but any significant attachment, be it with a family member, friend, or soul mate.
For this card, I decided to focus on the ‘upside’ of the card and the idea of kinship and that it manifests. Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson, out now in hardback, is a tonic for our (sometimes scary) times.
The protagonist Stephen is a dancer. He dances to the music at church, in clubs and in the living room. Music and dance are everything to him, but he isn’t so sure of his identity away from this context. Set over the course of three summers, in the UK, Ghana and back again, it’s a story of finding yourself and the profound connections we make with others- our friends, our loves and our parents- when we allow ourselves to do so.
Nelson is a wonderful writer, who explores relationships in a way that I’ve never really read before. Naturalistic, honest, and vibrant, Small Worlds is about fathers and sons, about passion, faith, community, and, importantly, what it means for Stephen to be a black man in the UK today.
Arguably one of the more difficult cards to reckon with, Temperance encourages the learning of balance and patience. Temperance is a card which comes up when you most need a reminder to take your time. And what could be more appropriate for such a card than a good ol’ tome?
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis can seem like a frustrating read. In conflict with the normal tropes of thrillers, the author’s latest release is long. At 595 pages, Ellis takes his time, setting up the initial premise of the book quickly, but then he resolves to take his time, avoiding definitive answers, obscuring our perception of events and plot points. The narrator is unreliable and chaotic, and memories are slippery. It is also a truly gripping piece of literature that will keep you guessing all the way through.
If you like a read that burns slowly, it is most certainly worth a look. It won’t be for everyone, but for readers intrigued by tales of secrets, LA excess, early 80s nostalgia, and serial killers, it will tick every box.
King of Swords
When you pull a King of Swords from a tarot deck, it forces you to stick to the facts of a situation. It doesn’t concern itself with subjectivity and is truly the ‘head-over-heart’ card. When interpreting, it invites you to conjure your intellectual power from within and be completely impartial in your observations.
For these reasons, a book such as Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer would be a great title to pick up. Combining elements of memoir with social commentary, this is a powerful interrogation of the age-old problem of trying to separate the art from the artist. Can we do such a thing? And most importantly, should we do such a thing?
It’s intelligent and unflinching as a conversation starter, prompting you to consider your own viewpoint in a non-combative way. You’ll turn the last page with more questions than answers, but it is a fantastic piece of non-fiction that will engage and enrage you.
Two of Pentacles
The Two of Pentacles arises when decisions need to be made. It’s the tarot card that depicts a man juggling two coins while dancing, suggesting a balancing act between the two.
However, the important point is that while there is chaos, there is also room for dancing and joy, which can prove to be a crucial lesson in our increasingly unruly lives.
The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan is the author’s follow-up to her 2020 debut novel Exciting Times. It plays again with the messy, complicated nature of romantic and platonic relationships, which intersect in familiar and interesting ways.
Luke and Celine begin the novel with the plan to marry within the year. But with cheating, unrequited love and societal pressures converging at once with the lives of three other people in their lives- the best man, the bride-to-be’s sister, and a wedding guest- things inevitably go awry.
The entire book is a question mark, contemplating the decision to marry in the face of personal and wider expectations, with hilarious, and often poignant, observations.
Dolan does not disappoint with her second novel and is a perfect pick for a reader in a quandary!
The Seven of Cups, depicted by a man standing in front of seven cups filled with various gifts, symbolising both desires and curses. While one cup holds jewels, another holds a snake. It suggests we should be careful about what we wish for and to make choices that go beyond that which is simply alluring. It represents new opportunities, but also warns of things not being as they seem.
The 2023 International Booker Prize winner Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel is the perfect literary example of the Seven of Cups. Following an unnamed narrator who works as assistant for Gaustine, an enigmatic figure who opens a ‘clinic for the past’, an innovative and promising treatment for Alzheimers’ sufferers.
Referred to as the time shelter, each floor replicates a decade in thorough, minute detail. However, when healthy individuals seek out nostalgic comfort from this unique construction, the past begins to invade the present in a dangerous way. Politically charged and imaginatively written, this is one not to be missed.