She sits in a silent room, reading cards. Mattresses, cushions, and pieces of cloth-covered foam are evenly spread throughout the space like beds for 50 ghosts. The only things moving are two punching bags, swaying gently from her impulse 20 minutes ago. The spread says to breathe feelings in, as if until now to feel had been only an idea. Let rest the analytical voice that usually binds her to her own mind. Sit back and watch the show. She walks out of the room and dunks her head in cold water.
A few days ago, at a moment she’d saved for herself to be with herself for herself, an unexpected turn of events led her to buy a plane ticket and rearrange her entire summer. There was no making it go away, nothing to do except roll with it. At the time, she was elsewhere, elsewhere with folks who spent their days reading parts of the universe, like the history of the Haitian Revolution, in the stars and the cards. She was lucky to be there, lucky to ask these folks about belief and what role it played in their reading. She asked them, can you read without believing that you can?
The cement tires reminded her of what happens when what is born to move solidifies. The wheel of fortune is a helpful archetype for that ailment; it just happens to you. It picks you up and puts you back at another point in the journey. How could she have recognized her own calcification? She felt like the words had been taken from her, stunted, like she was behind a veil. Mars’ retrograde turned her extroversion into aggression, her ear into a gavel, and she couldn’t see the sweeties in the crowd. What did she want to say? Something about belief being the feeling of home, and an important part of her magical practice, and how she sees it scare people.
If belief is the suspension of disbelief, and luck is the suspension of cause and effect, and meanwhile the central trope of our moment is the invention of smokescreens for reality¹, then could belief be a smokescreen as well? Stories lie, like, “if I believe in myself, then everything will be alright”.
Belief was her way of empowering herself with the ability to do these readings. Practically speaking, it went like this: she’d be looking at a natal chart, and wouldn’t remember the meanings of all the houses, say, so she’d patchwork them from the internet and then it would all blend with the situation, and an interpretation would simply shimmer to emergence. Without belief, not only would the interpretations be mere copy-pastes from the internet, lose coherence, and lack that glittering quality that comes from reading the stars, but also she probably wouldn’t have been curious to interpret them in the first place. To believe meant that she had the power to assemble these things. It was the element that enabled the alchemy.
But if to believe is to give your heart to an idea without confirmation of its “real-ness”, then maybe belief isn’t necessary because those glittering feelings are real enough on their own. Intuition: real. Relevance: real. Interpretation: real. Online esoteric resources: real. All of them existed beyond any kind of “believe in yourself”, and of course it was not a matter of believing whether tarot could dictate or predict your life or whatever. You play the game by weaving that glittering over-layer out of the range of meanings possible for that spread. You work with the archetypes until it feels like you have cracked the code. Sometimes the game wins and you don’t manage to crack it, but more often than not, you just play. The meaning emerges through you and how you have built the constellation of information around the question at hand. Feeling like your question is answered: real.
People filter back into the room and lie down on the mattresses. Someone puts music on, and all of a sudden moving her body a little, in the corner by her chair, feels so nice. The punching bags get kicked again, with impressive sound. Folks are laughing because a small grey dog named Jinx gets riled up at this pseudo-violence. Symbols are tools – there is nothing magical about them.²
¹ Sarah Schulman, e-mail correspondence
² Denise Ferreira da Silva, personal correspondence
Words and Images by Louise Trueheart
Louise Trueheart is a dancer and writer based in Berlin. When she isn’t working with COVEN, Louise navigates the european dance and performance milieu, sells her stuff on ebay, reads books, translates a french outsider art magazine, and works out.