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Tarot cards are growing more popular among young S’poreans. I got a reading to find out why

SINGAPORE — In the loft of a quiet bookstore tucked away in Mosque Street, I am seated cross legged on the carpeted floor. In front of me is a deck of cards, spread out and illuminated by candlelight.

Tarot cards are growing more popular among young S’poreans. I got a reading to find out why

Ms Elaine Mok, 21, a first-year university student and part-time tarot card reader.

SINGAPORE — In the loft of a quiet bookstore tucked away in Mosque Street, I am seated cross legged on the carpeted floor. In front of me is a deck of cards, spread out and illuminated by candlelight.

Seated across from me is Ms Elaine Mok, 21, a tarot card reader who works part time at The Moon, an indie bookstore and café located in Chinatown. When she is not reading tarot, Ms Mok is a first year undergraduate student at a local university.

I tell her the question that I have prepared and she instructs me to pick a card from a deck of 78 cards.

The two of pentacles is the card I draw. It shows a young boy juggling two gold coins in his hands.

Think about your priorities in the coming year, she said. “Reshuffle things if you need to. The devil’s in the details.”

Prior to the reading, I had spent weeks ruminating on whether I will ever achieve work-life balance at my job. Because of this, Ms Mok’s answer catches me off guard. It was almost as if she was reading my mind.

The 15 minute taster session that would usually cost S$25 marked my first foray into tarot reading, a new age practice that has gradually become more popular among young people, especially on social media.

Tarot is said to have originated in Europe during the 14th century and was first read using traditional playing cards. Tarot cards were introduced later.

A standard tarot deck has 78 cards divided into two types — the major and minor arcana. Each card features an illustration, with some more abstract than others. Popular cards include “The Devil”, “The Lovers”, and “The Magician”.

As full-time tarot reader Kavita Devi, 33, explains it, taken together the cards illustrate the life experiences that one can have.

Full-time tarot card reader Kavita Devi. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

While sceptics argue there is no scientific basis to the meanings assigned to the cards, it has not stopped tarot from becoming ever more popular.

Local tarot readers have proliferated social media platforms such as Instagram, sharing their readings and services to their followers.

Meanwhile, foreign based tarot readers have also gained a large audience on websites like YouTube, where some readers — such as WaterBaby Tarot and Nicholas Ashbaugh — have close to 200,000 subscribers.

Aside from online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, tarot reading has also become a popular feature at literary events.

Aside from The Moon, where Ms Mok will be a full time reader next year, local publisher Ethos Books will have local author and poet Marylyn Tan, read tarot at their end of year festival book sale ending on Sunday (Dec 1).

Both Ms Sarah Naeem, The Moon’s founder, and an Ethos Books’ spokesperson said that slots for their tarot related events have sold out very quickly, a testament to its popularity.

The tarot readers I spoke to said that their clients are largely women between the ages of 21 and 35. On average, they receive about five bookings a week, with a mix of new and returning clients.

HOW IT WORKS

The practice of tarot reading differs from reader to reader. However, in general, a typical reading will involve a deck of tarot cards, a reader and a “querent” — the person who is having the reading done. The reader will then interpret the cards according to their understanding of tarot.

The tarot readers that I spoke to said that they view tarot as a tool for self discovery and self reflection. Clients will usually come to them when they have a problem they want to resolve or questions they want answers to.

The most common questions relate to love, career, health and investment and finances.

However, tarot reading, they emphasised, is not fortune telling.

“Tarot was never meant to tell someone their fixed fortune. It’s not going to say, you’re going to be rich, for example. It’s never going to be like that,” said Ms Lori Desquiens, 36, who runs an online store selling tarot decks.

“People think of it as something that is a lot crazier, but I think nowadays, people see it more as a self reflection tool, similar to meditation.”

RISE OF THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT

The tarot readers that I spoke to agreed that the increasing popularity of new age practices and ideas in Singapore has contributed to tarot becoming more mainstream.

As yoga, meditation and the wellness industry have experienced a surge in popularity recently, it was only a matter of time before tarot reading became popularised too, they said.

Social media has also helped to destigmatise tarot and make it more accessible to those who may be curious about it.

“It is a really easy gateway to have a glimpse into tarot without necessarily having to go down to someone to practise it,” said a part-time tarot reader, who wanted to be known only as Amanda.

People may be curious about tarot but have reservations about visiting a reader in person and social media allows people to consider remote services, either through email or video, said the 25-year-old, who declined to share her full time occupation.

For example, a part time reader who wants to be known only as Casper, who conducts only remote readings, will send his clients a video of the reading they requested.

He lists the type of reading and how much it costs — between S$18 and S$60 — on his Instagram profile, so interested clients will know exactly what they are getting when they take up his services.

However, Ms Mamatha Ramachandra, 39, a veteran tarot reader with close to 20 years of experience, said that the accessibility of the materials can give rise to fakes and frauds who claim to be skilled in the craft after an overnight course.

Before the rise of online services, readers would need at least a year or two of experience before they would have the confidence to give a reading to a stranger, said Ms Ramachandra, who spent over a year learning tarot from a gypsy woman in London when she was a teenager.

MAGIC IN THE CARDS

While tarot has become less taboo over the years, many still view the practice with scepticism, with some readers telling stories of difficult clients who come to readings with the sole purpose of debunking tarot.

However, some of these clients do come out of a session with their mind changed.

Ms Devi, who has been a full time reader for over a year, recounted an incident with a challenging client who was sceptical about tarot.

“I asked her to draw four cards and I told her what I saw. She told me: ‘Nope, nothing that you said is pertinent or relevant to me’, but I asked her to gather the cards and shuffle again.”

The four cards the client drew were the same four cards she had just drawn.

“The cards you draw might seem random but they really aren’t,” Ms Devi said.

“There are 78 cards in the deck. If you do the math, the odds are not likely.”

“So it’s no coincidence. I told her that the messages were for her, and after that she was more convinced and she opened up more,” she said.

‘A GATEWAY TO THERAPY’

Some readers and hobbyists have said that tarot has helped them gain perspective and clarity during a low period in their lives.

Casper, the writer and part-time tarot reader, said that he attended his first tarot reading in 2016 when he was experiencing difficulties with his career.

“I was really quite tired and unmotivated and I really wanted to practise some sort of self therapy and self care. I saw that tarot could be an instrument for that, so that’s when I just decided to get a tarot reading,” the 29-year-old writer said.

Finding herself in a bad headspace about half a year ago, Ms Jiaxin Lin, 26, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, also used tarot to sort through the problems that she was experiencing.

“Tarot taught me important lessons on self-worth and self-love. In its essence, tarot is a way of finding meaning in existence and happiness through perspective, which I find appealing,” she said.

While cautioning that tarot should not be seen as a substitute for medical care, Amanda, the part-time tarot reader, said tarot can be a gateway for people to consider therapy.

“The exchange is quite similar. It is a good way to talk about something that you’re going through with someone you’re not familiar with on a very personal level.”

This is also part of the reason why Amanda enjoys being a tarot reader.

“My practice is one where I am really trying to make people feel that they are being looked after by people beyond their loved ones and the people closest to them. It’s really about community building,” she said.

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