words + playlist: Zoë Madonna

This is a series about Tarot cards and their meanings. But it’s also a series about music. It’s a series about both things, because for me, Tarot cannot exist without music.

As a teenager, I learned a little about reading Tarot cards, and because I couldn’t take my Tarot deck to school, I made a playlist of 78 songs - one for each card - and used that as a deck on the go instead. Now, more than ten years after I first started reading, my approach has developed such that it would be impossible to pick just one song to represent each card. But every time I hear Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel,” I feel like the Empress is right there with me. Or when I listen to Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing,” I can’t help but think of the Hermit. Tarot, like music, is something we can use to tell our stories.

So, what are Tarot cards and what do they do, anyway? The short answer is that it’s a deck of playing cards, a predecessor of the 52-card deck. Like your standard deck of playing cards, it has four suits, cards from Ace to 10, and face cards, which we call “court” cards in Tarot. But it has four court cards per suit instead of three; these are usually called the Page or Knave (compare to a Jack) Knight, Queen and King.  In the Tarot, these cards belong to the Minor Arcana.

The biggest thing that Tarot has that your deck of playing cards doesn’t is the Major Arcana. These are 22 unique cards, which are usually illustrated with a lot of detail. Each shows a scene with a lot of elements that symbolize a major event or archetype.

If you lay the 22 major arcana cards next to each other, you can see that they tell the story of the Fool’s journey. The “Fool” is the first card in the Major Arcana sequence, and they are tabula rasa. They start out completely ignorant of the world, but eager to learn and try anything. From the next card, the Magician, they learn to take action. From the next, the High Priestess, they learn to step back and listen to their intuition. Every card and experience they encounter along their journey teaches them something important. If you find meaning in the cards or you find them relatable, they might be a way for you to learn something about yourself and your life as well.

When I read, I don’t read to tell the future. The cards can’t tell what’s going to happen any more than you can - in fact, you can probably tell what’s going to happen to you better than anyone or anything else on this planet can. I prefer to use them as a tool to think about situations in my life, in my relationships with people around me, in my work, or in the world at large. The Fool’s journey appears in the mythologies, folklore, and literature of many cultures around the world, and the archetypes and events shown in the Tarot are a familiar language to many, and  with a little guidance, a spread writes its own story.

And just like the images on the cards can trigger certain thoughts, feelings, and memories, so can music. In SHUFFLE, this new series, I’ll be leading a tour through the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana, using music to describe the energy of the card. And because it runs contrary to everything I think about Tarot to declare myself (or anyone) an Absolute Authority on what any given card means, I really want to hear your comments on what songs you think fit for each card too! Maybe I’ll even add them to the playlists.

So pick up your bag, give your dog a few scratches on the head, and get ready to dance off a cliff! We’re going on a trip!