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The magic is in you
Astrology and tarot cards might just help you see it
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In the fall, a friend met me for coffee and, after I cried for a half hour, gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received: my own tarot deck. The Mystic Mondays deck is feminist and radiantly colored with holographic edges—my friend said it reminded her of me. Since then, I’ve used tarot spreads as a healing practice that helps reflect my own fears and knowledge back to me. If tarot or astrology isn’t your thing, that’s totally fine—but I’ve found it to be a comforting and useful tool not to guide or predict my life, but to know myself better and listen more closely to my own intuition. Discovering a new interest I feel so connected to reminds me just how much of the good stuff of life I may have yet to find.
On February 8, I took a Tarot 101 class at Brooklyn Brainery in Park Slope. I liked our teacher, Russ Ross, instantly. He took us through the cards’ meanings and a few simple spreads to use in our daily lives, all while cussing up a storm and giving it to us straight. When I did a spread to see whether it would be a possibility to travel through work, he looked at it and said, “Oh yeah, that’s not going to happen.” (And here I am two months later, unemployed!)
Russ made a prediction for the country that I wrote down in my journal that day: “Shit hits the fan in March.” Well it certainly did, didn’t it?
I’m not so interested in knowing the future, but I’m certainly interested in learning to accept unwelcome change and letting go of my false sense of control, things Russ and I discussed when I called him on the phone last week. It turns out, his tarot practice grew out of grief as well. We talked about how to use tarot and astrology as self-care, the upside of Big Change, and his predictions for the rest of the year. He’s got some big ones.
We need to talk
Jillian Anthony: Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with this line of work.
Russ Ross: I started this in 2014. I was always interested in tarot as a kid, but I was very embarrassed about it. As a teenager I would do readings with a book by my side, but it really never took because I didn't think of the deck as a whole system. Through my twenties and thirties I never even touched it. In 2013, the universe took everything away from me. I lost my job, my mom died and I had no money. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do and I was like, what do I want to do to fill my time? What will make me happy? And I decided to start learning tarot. I’d go online and get my info from any free resource and I just started doing readings. Eventually I got this prediction that was so out there. It said money was going to come to me from my father’s mother, who had been dead for ten years. She was hit by a car by some guys that were trying to do an insurance scam. About three or four months after I got the prediction, my uncle contacted me and said that they were reopening the case because of some law that had been passed, and now there’s going to be a settlement and they’re going to distribute it to all the kids in the family. And I got 30 grand out of it.
That’s out of a fairy tale or something.
Yeah, and I was like, okay, this shit is real. Eventually I started teaching at Brooklyn Brainery and it took off. As I kept doing it I was like, this is fun, but I feel like it doesn’t make sense to me. I like tarot but why are the cards the way they are? What do they represent? And that’s how I got into astrology. [Editor’s note: Every tarot card corresponds to an astrological sign.] To me, astrology is the structure of the literal planetary alignments that speak to the events that transpire in our lives, and the tarot cards are the tools I can use to see what will actually manifest from these alignments. I’ve been using both tools in tandem ever since. Astrology’s great for telling me what’s going to happen and when, and tarot tells me how we’re going to feel about it and experience it personally.
How do you use astrology and tarot in your day to day life?
I use it all the time. The best thing about this is it gives you this kind of control. When you get into astrology you quickly learn you just have to wait for these things to transpire whether you want them to or not. So in that regard we’re not in control. The free will part, for me, is you get the choice of saying yes to the experience and leaning in, or you say no and resist. I think it gives me and others a sense of timing and the ability to plan and see what certain events will happen at different points in our lives.
What I’ve learned a lot about this year is, don’t resist anything that happens to you because that’s what creates suffering. So how does that play into what you’re talking about?
For example, I have this prediction that I have to move in September. I love my apartment. When that time rolls around I could resist and say, no, I’m going to stay here and figure out a way to continue to make this rent and make it work, and then I will see how it will fall apart. Or I can say, as much as I love this apartment it’s not my time to stay here anymore. It’s time for me to move somewhere else and accept the experiences I don’t necessarily want in my life, but I understand they’re coming to show me a different point of view that I’m not necessarily open to yet.
Most of life happens as it happens and you don’t get to choose.
That’s been my experience, but at the same time people don’t like to hear that. We like to think we’re in control. But the universe time and time again shows us that we are not. But what you are in control of is your reaction to things. You can’t control what other people do but you can choose how you react to what they do. Years ago, before I really got into tarot, I would have been mad about it or fought or done something abusive to myself. I get frustrated—trust me, I was not happy about this prediction about having to move—but what am I going to do about it? So I have to just accept it.
What is your relationship to your cards and your advice on protecting your deck?
I don’t subscribe to any of that. I’m not a ritual person. I’m not big into ceremonies. I don’t sage them, I don’t cover them in cloth. It’s just a deck of cards. The “magic” isn’t the deck, it’s you. When we ask a question, we’re also answering the question. But we’re so clouded by our own experiences or our own distractions that we can’t see the clarity there. These are just tools to reflect back ways to get to the answer faster. Some people use yoga, meditation, acupuncture, psychedelics—all of those are tools that connect us to the ultimate truths that exist inside of us.
For me, it’s not that I am witnessing magic happen or even a higher power. I very much believe in intuition and I’ve been working really hard to know myself better, and to not seek outside of myself when I have a question or a worry. And I think tarot is an amazing tool in that way because every card is open to interpretation. You’re getting these messages, each card means several different things and has several different elements, and it’s up to you to read what you see there.
Exactly, and the more you do it the more you define your relationship to what each card means to you. When I wanted to learn how to do this on my own without the assistance of a book, in the morning I would ask the deck to tell me about my day. And I would do three cards, one for the morning, afternoon and night. Then later, when I read all three together as a whole sentence, it was a theme for the whole day.
Is that what you recommend beginners do?
Hell yeah. Don’t waste your time with just one card. You need the dynamism, you need to be able to force them together to see how they respond to each other and how they relate to each other.
What did you use to learn about tarot?
I used Biddy Tarot and Psychic Revelation. They had all these definitions that were really helpful. I bought a cheap book that put the whole tarot deck into a narrative story and clued me in to, oh wait, this is a system that works together and it is built from one to another.
I’ve noticed that I sometimes see the same card come up again and again. Is that common?
Those are cards that resonate with you. Especially if you’re going through the same struggle over and over again and you keep getting the death card, it’s telling you, “Bitch, stop this shit! Move on!”
I took your class in February at Brooklyn Brainery and I wrote down that you said “Shit hits the fan in March.” Quite obviously, it really did. Why did you say that and what predictions do you have for the rest of this year?
Every year I always do a spread for my year ahead. I put down 12 cards for what each card will represent each month for me and the world at large. When I got to May it gave me the five of Pentacles, which is a card of not having money or feeling a lack of resources. I immediately thought that it made no sense—May is my busiest month for real estate photography. And here we are and I’m going to be broke in May. I didn’t know that coronavirus was going to be a big theme, but I knew March was going to be a big issue from the cards and looking at the planetary alignment. What’s happening is the retrograde of the planets. In mid-May Saturn, the planet of rules, restriction and karma, will go retrograde. April 25th Pluto goes retrograde, the planet of control, secrets and transformations. That’s why we’re already starting to open up. We’re going to see people returning back before mid-May, even though they shouldn’t, because they are itching to get back out there and seek control of this. Everyone else isn’t going to start to go back until Saturn and Jupiter retrograde on May 11th and 14th, respectively. Venus also retrogrades in between those two. And then Mars goes retrograde this fall which brings the whole coronavirus issue back again. The quarantine was extended to May 15th in New York City, but it won’t get extended again. By June it will almost feel like it’s back to normal, but in September this shit comes back and slaps us in the face.
That’s awful news.
It is and it isn’t. We’re dealing with this shift so now we have the opportunity to set up the life that we want to live going forward. It’s pulling us out of society and pulling us into this individual space to say, okay, what the fuck do you want? Why are you here? What are you generating and how are you connecting to everybody? Stop being distracted by all their bullshit and focus on acquiring what you can do in a different, inventive way and break the confines of the life that we’ve had. Change is difficult and forces us to take action, but if we can understand this is changing us to open us up to a different experience, then it can actually be good.
More about Russ: Russ Ross employs his training as an astrologer with his decades of tarot experience to provide comprehensive yet concise predictive readings. He distills his understanding to offer students a simple, no-nonsense approach to the tarot system.
Russ offers tarot and astrology readings (currently at reduced prices), writes a weekly astrology newsletter, and offers an annual subscription for an astrological look at the month ahead. His astrology Instagram is cosmosweekly.
By day you can find him hiding behind the lens of his camera as he shoots some of New York’s finest commercial and residential properties.
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