- Negotiating Precarity:Tarot as Spiritual Entrepreneurialism
I normally meet Warren on Monday nights, on the seventeenth floor of a nondescript office building in midtown Manhattan, where he and his wife, Rose, teach tarot classes for anywhere between three and ten students every week. Classes cost thirty dollars for a three-hour session that typically consists of Warren's impromptu but passionate lectures on a tarot card or set of cards as well as a full hour of tarot-reading practice among the students. For the handful of regulars who attend the classes, the school is their community, what some call their therapy, as well as site of pleasure and authority. It is a place where for a few hours, as seasoned tarot students and readers, they are, as Warren likes to say, "masters of their own ships," capable of guiding the discussion or giving pointers to a newcomer. For other students who come and go, the school is a break from the workaday world—it's a place where tarot cards, psychic ability, and magical practice are uninhibitedly discussed as meaningful sites of personal power. Given the school's warm community, it's easy to see why Warren and Rose drive in each from week from Queens, rain or shine, and on most holidays. Creating this space has been their labor of love, and, socially, it rewards them with a revolving cast of friends, students, and interlocutors who share an interest in learning more about a deck of cards that has existed since the fifteenth century and that evolved into a text that now counts astrology, neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, ceremonial magic, Goddess worship, Wicca, and neopaganism, as well as dash of contemporary quantum theory and geometry, as its bibliography.1
Still, for Warren and Rose, the Tarot School is their sole source of income, and over the course of the past year, the general economic down-turn [End Page 264] in the city has started to affect their business. Tonight, when I see Warren, the joy of class is decidedly missing. Sitting on the couch in their apartment cluttered with books, tarot decks, and tchotchkes, Warren and I are talking about the future. "Everything decays, Karen," he tells me in his characteristic slow and intentional speech. "Everything falls away. It is the nature of things. We are in a period of decay . . . . like all things it [the school] too will pass away. My struggle is try to find the energy to get up in the morning every day and keep on going . . . . You know, when the Titanic is sinking you have two choices: you can sink or you can get in the rowboat. The only problem is when you start rowing, you're out there on your own."
I know that there is considerable metaphysical study behind his words, and I realize Warren is speaking two languages at once. On the one hand, he is speaking the language of tarot and its fourfold system of elements, in which the element of Earth (or matter) represents the world of earthly, human, and material concerns.2 This element, which is associated with the suit of pentacles in the tarot deck, has a natural or essential tendency toward inertia, stillness, and decay. While such a toward-death ontology may sound morbid, even a nascent tarot student will suggest that it points toward a larger cosmic balance, or a fourfold dance of elemental particles, with each element moving in accord with its nature and tendencies. In tarot, to say that all is in decline is also to suggest that other elements are at work and that transformation and rebirth will follow. However, Warren is also speaking a more ordinary language of financial crisis, which looms as a more "real" or immediate reality. Despite a metaphysics that can make room for the existence of multiple elemental worlds, Warren is not inured against the tendencies of global capital. On the contrary, he and his wife are skilled readers of the ebbs and flows of the city's money, as they consider themselves members of the service economy, and their business depends on their intuitive ability to glean the excess. When times...