As a young child, I was often described as “moving to the tune of my own drum.” It seemed that I sensed things differently than others did, that I possessed an intrinsic intuitive knowing that guided everything from my vocabulary to my line of questioning to my burgeoning sense of style. I’d always felt connected to the movement of the cosmos, and I took pleasure in the intense and varied emotions I’d feel on a daily basis (when I say “varied,” I mean it—I had a distinct emotion attached to driving to my grandparents’ house). For a long time, I wasn’t fully aware that I was an odd duck, but once I reached middle school, it became all too apparent.
I was teased for my refusal to tame my wild, curly hair. I was taunted for the words I used (often archaic forms due to a penchant for reading) and labeled a goody two-shoes. Slowly but surely, I came to understand this intense, intuitive connection to who I was as something strange and unacceptable, and after a teacher publically humiliated me over a sexual interpretation of Robert Frost’s “Walking Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I pretty much squelched my intuitive, magickal urge in favor of the pursuit of logic and knowledge. Don’t get me wrong—I still went out on a pretty lengthy limb in terms of the interpretations I would make, but I always made sure that I had a sound, cogent argument to back them up.
It wasn’t until my mid to late twenties that I began to sense how removed I’d become from this intuitive quality. Like so many people in our society, I distanced myself from anything considered “feminine” because I wanted to be taken seriously, and this included anything that couldn’t be logically, rationally explained. When I became pregnant with my daughter, it was evident how out of touch I was with my body, and thus began a serious quest to reconnect with the feminine, and thus, with my intuitive faculties.
My interest in tarot and my practice of witchcraft were born from this pursuit, as I finally allowed myself to do what my heart wanted even if it didn’t line up rationally. I suspended disbelief so I might experience something transformative and humbling, and thus fall in love with my woman-ness again. As an English major, the archetypes of the tarot were familiar to me long before I picked up a deck of cards, but the practice of channeling messages through images was something I’d only done while painting. The wild abandon I felt when I picked up a brush, then, wasn’t something mutually exclusive from the act of living itself; it was something I could integrate into my understanding of life so I might enrich my experience and the experience of others.
Of course, it took some re-conditioning in order for me to come to a space where I could let my thoughts, feelings, and emotions flow freely again. When I began my study of tarot, I diligently approached it through the lens of a scholar—I read every book I could get my hands on and did my best to study as many meanings as I possibly could. It was during these multiple study sessions that I first began noticing that the traditional meanings of some of the cards didn’t speak to me. The most apparent of these was the Judgment card—the resurrection of the dead to be carried to heaven was simply too biblical for me to resonate with. With this in mind, I decided to try a method I’d heard about—pathworking—to see if perhaps I could find a way to incorporate this meaning into my current paradigm.
I created sacred space and intoxicated myself with plumes of burning frankincense resin. I knelt and touched my forehead to the ground (for the yogis out there, imagine child’s pose) and breathed deeply. I took a mental “walk” around the Judgement card, taking note of the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes I could sense around me. Once this conscious exploration was completed, I allowed myself to slip more deeply into an alpha state and let my mind do the travelling for me.
I was stunned by what I discovered—I was on the banks of a slowly moving river with my ear pressed close to the water, listening. I recognized this image as one I had formed while reading Herman Hesse’s Siddartha, and quickly understood that Judgment was, for me, the realization that All is One and One is All. In the book, this sound of everything converging into oneness is called “The Holy Om,” that which later became the name of the first incarnation of my tarot reading business.
I came out of that reverie with a very powerful lesson—we are the creators of meaning. There is nothing static in this world; everything can be interpreted uniquely. This truth lies at the heart of approaching tarot intuitively—our relationship with the archetypes and the imagery is dynamic and original, and how we read is heavily influenced by this relationship. When we allow for a blending of traditional meaning and personal interpretation, we give readings that are nuanced and complex. We speak directly to our querents’ concerns by allowing their questions to influence what we pull from the cards, and we allow for spontaneous and seemingly random messages to pour from our souls. When we read this way, we tap into the feminine divine, the High Priestess archetype that guards an inner knowing that must be experienced as much as learned. It’s visceral—of the body—and intellectual all at once, and it marries the best and most valuable parts of ourselves.
The road back to my inner knowing challenged much of what I’d been taught and taught myself to believe. It’s an education that, sadly, must often be undertaken independently; the state education system rarely, if ever, incorporates it. However, I sense a rise in this type of thinking, a revival of the old ways in an effort to prevent our species from evolving into automatons. Reading the tarot is my personal contribution to this cause, and as long as I’m able to use it as a tool for self-exploration and healing, I’ll be attuned to the glorious, spontaneous knowing of the universe.
Jessi Huntenburg is an intuitive taroist, yogi, and eclectic witch practicing out of Philadelphia, PA. She is the instructor of Intuitive Tarot, a course provided through Tarot Summer School. To learn more about her practice, process, and reading offerings, visit her website at www.jessihuntenburg.com.