Tarot Cards – You Got to Know When to Fold Them

Awkward or Amazing?


I’ve always been fascinated by tarot cards

Anything magical, fantastic and arcane, really. Ghosts, wizards, witches and warlocks, vampires, unicorns, werewolves, angels, demons, voodoo dolls – the whole shebang. As a kid, I was really into astrology and palm reading. It was more about recognizing clues or features and then linking them to something else. Now that I’m older I recognize that these hobbies were just a form of data analysis – a large part of my day job that I really love.

I have never believed in divination. Only God knows what’s locked up in our futures – and He doesn’t need tea leaves or stars or animal intestines to figure it out. The idea of interpreting tarot cards – with the pretty and ominous depictions of cups and swords, hermits and empresses – felt exotic and somehow wrong. I knew that if I brought a tarot deck home, even though I just wanted to look at the pictures, I would be in big trouble. So I didn’t. And I stayed curious.

Nearly two decades later, I found myself in New Orleans

New Orleans practically drips with magic and horror. It’s the home of the 19th century voodoo queen, Marie Laveau. In the French Quarter you’ll find the LaLaurie Mansion, haunted by the tortured slaves of Madame Delphine LaLaurie. This house was also briefly owned by Nicolas Cage. In the Garden District you’ll see the home of writer Anne Rice – the mother of vampire literature. You’ll also find the grave of the vampire Lestat from Interview with a vampire (or at least the grave that the studio version was modelled on). There’s the house from American Horror Story: Coven – a television series about witches. While all these things are either works of fiction or remnants of centuries past, the streets of modern day New Orleans is littered with psychics, sitting at at tables decked with tarot cards and candles, just waiting to tell you all about your past, present and future.

I’ve made up my mind to have my tarot cards read

I had no expectation to have some divine wisdom revealed. I just wanted to see the cards. Get 20 years of mild curiosity off my chest. It would be fun. Little did I know how crazy my card reading experience would get. But, to explain what happened, I need to tell you about London.

London is a guy

No, his parents didn’t call him London. It’s just the town where he hails from. I’m bad with names. We briefly shared breakfast in a hostel in Chicago. Curious fellow. He’s in theatre and tends to talk as if he is delivering lines on stage. Very eloquent too. He had a slightly creepy something about him, something I couldn’t quite place. A week later, I bumped into him again at my hostel in New Orleans. That night, about 10 of us went out to paint Frenchmen Street red. It was my first night in New Orleans and I just loved it. Jazz everywhere. Good street food. London and I shared an awkward dance at the Spotted Cat during which I managed to knock over the mic with my heavy bag.

When we all left the bar to find some street food, London and I started talking. And I figured out what gave me the creeps. You see, London considers himself a magi. He claims that he can read palms and cards. Not only that, he truly believes that he had cursed some guy who stole his clothes. And I don’t mean that he called the thief unprintable names,  I mean he dabbled in the dark arts. Or so he claimed.

Personally, I think the thief is quite safe from having his flesh rot beneath his stolen breeches. But in the spirit of the conversation, I told London that I wanted to have my tarot cards read. And he apparently knew just the guy who could help me out with that. Some voodoo king who was definitely not a charlatan and divined all sorts of things with great accuracy.

You’d think finding this mysterious psychic would be hard, but at  4 am that same night he was sitting just around the corner

Yup, there he was. A morbidly obese bald guy with nails painted black, sitting behind a table with a tarot deck. The randomness of the situation was just too great to resist. What were the odds of that happening? So I sat down for a reading.

What the tarot cards said

He instructed me to shuffle the cards and cut the deck it into three equal piles. I then had to choose the pile that I thought was mine. They all seemed the same. It was dark, so I chose the pile that was most illuminated by the candle light. He cut the pile into three smaller piles: one for career, one for relationships and one for the future. We started with career.

All the statements were very vague, but cleverly constructed so that it is possible to link something vaguely similar in your life to the cards. I was a little disappointed because he flipped the cards so quickly that I didn’t have time to look at the pictures. He said a lot of things that I might have been able to link to my work life. Stuff about company restructures and alternative career paths that were surprisingly relevant. But all the predictions were three months off. He clearly couldn’t see that I’d still be travelling  when all these work- issues were supposed to happen.

We then went into relationships. And boy, did he get literally everything wrong. As in everything. Every now and then he would take my hands, stare deep into my palms and say ridiculous things. I tried to keep a straight face, but it was difficult.

The reading on my future was more of the same. He ran out of cards and moved on to the next pile. I wanted to say: “Hey, I didn’t choose that pile. How do you know those are my cards?” Finally, he took my hands and told me: “You have a deep love of music. Music moves you like no other. You should take up an instrument when you get back home.”

Say what? The only time I listen to music is when I commute. I go to concerts, but I never know the songs. When I took piano lessons as a kid, my teacher recommended occupational therapy. I have so little rhythm, I have trouble knocking on doors. Hell, I knocked over a mic just that evening.

I thanked the psychic, left a tip and walked home with London. Disappointed and perplexed.

On the way, we couldn’t help comparing notes.

I didn’t want to offend him, so I told him about the career bits and kept quiet about the rest. After all, it’s possible that I’m just really difficult to read. I’ve been told I’m a complex person. What did I know about magic?

But then London said: “He told me that music moves me like no other and that I should take up an instrument.”


Suddenly, the mysterious veneer disappeared. All the magic vanished from the world and all I could see was fairy tales and insecure suckers. I never believed in divination, or any of the other stuff for that matter. But somehow the real life story of a real life magi not being able to recognize a real life charlatan was like a bucket of cold water in my face.

I knew that I would cancel the New Orleans ghost/voodoo/vampire tour. I  couldn’t stomach the idea of someone selling my beloved fiction for something fake.

Instead, I spent my time searching for a signed copy of an Anne Rice novel. I found one, but it was too heavy to carry and too expensive to mail back to South Africa. Pity that you can’t sign an e-book.

Even without magic, my time in New Orleans was still magical

At  the risk of sounding like Albus Dumbledore, friendship and love are the strongest kinds of magic.  And I found plenty of that in New Orleans.

Life List Entry: Had my tarot cards read



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