This is the first instalment of Ash and Stardust, a monthly column exploring how my tarot practice intersects with self-care, healing, and creativity. Note: I don’t claim to be a tarot expert! This is me learning as I go, overcoming creative blocks along the way.
“Everyone deserves an outlet; a reservoir of safety – a comforting warmth in the ribcage – the space surrounding the heart.”
– from the guidebook of The Next World Tarot by Cristy C. Road
I can’t say exactly when I was introduced to tarot. It would appear or get mentioned in passing here and there during my teenage years. I remember once-upon-a-time friends spreading cards on bedroom floors to articulate desires and what-ifs. They’d ask if I wanted a reading done and I had always said no. It didn’t feel right. I don’t mean that I had trouble with the idea of cartomancy – the mystical world fascinated me. I was, however, having trouble seeing myself as someone who could hold these archetypes in my hands, to shuffle and create a narrative out of them that can serve not as divination, but as guidance – or even to satisfy curiosity.
In those earlier years, I was nowhere near okay enough to claim my own story, let alone see it as part of something bigger.
So when the cards were offered to me – traditional cards with white people wearing robes and symbolisms of European-only origins – what resonated to me most was absence. Nothing felt familiar, nothing that looked like the life I had to live.
An awkward, anxiety-riddled brown girl traveling between countries. The shape of her face and the texture of her hair target practice for racial taunts and slurs in different languages. Always wanting to call somewhere home but never feeling safe enough to. My life back then was a collage of crying to bed at night, surviving abusive environments, and sitting in white-people classrooms while living culturally confusing lifestyles in brown-people countries.
In a lot of traditional tarot artwork, there were no hints of anything that were Asian, brown, or familiar without also being exotified beyond recognition. Things were hard enough without me having to carve out more of myself to feign relatability to what could not resonate at that time.
Years later over lunch, I asked the friend I was with if she had brought her tarot deck with her. It was a Morgan-Greer deck, so the symbolisms were traditional and ‘super white.’ But funnily enough, I asked her for a reading that day anyway.
I’m not really sure what changed. All I was sure of was that moment acted as one stepping stone on a path full of the unknown – a path that, once I had said yes to it, brought with it a series of big changes. And, more surprisingly, healing.
I cherished and appreciated the conversations that came up when my friend Syar did a three-card reading for me that day. It wasn’t just the content of our chat that comforted me but witnessing how she claimed these archetypes and symbols as amplifiers for her own voice made me realize there could be space for me to access this tool too, perhaps even for it to be part of my self-care practice.
I’ve now been practising tarot for a year. Syar gifted me my first deck on my 27th birthday, and for the whole of last year I had been diving deeper and deeper into the cards – learning to see all the different ways the story of my life can exist in universes with ever-continuous orbits of myths.
2017 for me was a year of mourning and not knowing whether my body would give up the ghost for good whenever an anxiety attack became too much. It was the year my brother died – unexpectedly – in a fire, in his own home. The first and only time I saw him in 2017 was when he was lowered into the earth. This was the year my historical wars with family, bloodlines, ancestors, and careers peaked. Any imagery of the sky falling seemed apt for what that year challenged me to survive.
Within all that breakage, I receded back into the ash of myself. I couldn’t work, I could barely hold myself together long enough to do what social conventions kept telling me to get done. I tuned in to whatever in me that still had energy to keep on keeping on. Surviving is no way to live a full life, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got and that’s okay. Sometimes surviving brings with it opportunities to be student to whatever it is you’re being dealt with.
Attempting to turn trauma into lessons, I memorized breathing exercises and practiced them like habit. I learned to pull a card when it felt like I needed to talk to someone but couldn’t connect to anyone, not even to my own voice. I kept pulling cards, arranging them in spreads, and writing about them, learning what each could offer – the ways their symbols can be pared open for fluid recontextualizing. What started as an exciting exploration for a tarot newbie became a necessary part of my self-care and creative process.
I began to have conversations with myself the same way I’d hold space for a loved one.
And that started to have ripples of positive effects on those around me, so much so that I’ve been able to offer readings to those I chose to open up to. In these moments, I found I could access a hidden reserve of energy that allowed me to connect, to give. I thought, after how difficult the years have been, that was a pretty fantastic win.
I had never expected to integrate tarot into my work as an artist and writer, but here we are. ‘Ash and Stardust’ is a tarot column I’m hoping to write on a monthly basis to explore the different ways tarot nourishes creativity, self-care and healing. It’s a space for me to document and share lessons, challenges, and findings, in the hopes of feeding the growth of positive ripples – outwards and onwards.
Dhiyanah Hassan is an artist and writer whose works investigate the importance of personal narratives, particularly in the context of healing. She lives in Malaysia and is the Art Editor of Burning House Press. Her poetry has appeared in The Arsonist vol.1 and Rambutan Literary. In the past year, she completed a two-months artist’s residency in Rimbun Dahan and has made artwork for recent Southeast Asian books. She has a poem coming up on Umbel & Panicle. Find out more about her and her works on Instagram, Twitter, and her website.