Whatever your experiences of the last few, surreal months have been, you have probably used at least some of the time for self-reflection. Who are we? How are we to navigate the uncertainties of our current global predicament?
There are myriad solutions: Booze? Not sustainable. Religion? Well, perhaps – Bible sales have been on the up over the last few months, and according to various studies, there has been a spike in religiosity in the US. Yoga and meditation? There’s been a spike in meditation apps such as Headspace, with and more people trying to sharpen their mindfulness at home.
Then there’s psychic healing. Pandemic panic has also seen a surge in demand for Astrologers, Tarot Readers and Energy Healers as a means of assuaging uncertainty and stress, and Lára Philips, through her Berlin-based enterprise Sun Tarot, offers Tarot reading and channelling sessions to her clients as a way of navigating the vicissitudes of their knotty existences.
Sun Tarot is in some ways a perfect example of Irish culture in Berlin, with Lára bringing a life-long interest in Irish traditions of folklore and pagan beliefs to a receptive audience in Germany’s famously open-minded capital. As someone coming with no knowledge of Tarot reading, I am fascinated, and over an enjoyable hour on Zoom, I take a writerly inquisitiveness in why Tarot has been enjoying such a surge of interest of late, how it translates to an online format, and how psychic healing can potentially benefit our lives.
What is Tarot
For the uninitiated, the practice of Tarot reading is still a relatively new form of divination. The cards used in a Tarot pack can be traced back to the late fourteenth century, initially used for parlour games in Italy and France. These beautifully drawn cards, similar to modern playing cards in that they use four suits, only started to become imbued with an occult resonance from the sixteenth and seventeenth century onwards, effectively becoming a channel for various ancient beliefs, taking elements from the Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy and hermetic philosophy.
What’s the fundamental goal of Tarot in today’s world? “Tarot can be our own private and personal detective, uncovering the inner workings of our own mind. Imagine an experience that enables you to gain insight about your past, present or future,” writes Lára, enticingly.
All of this is achieved with a Tarot pack consisting of 78 cards divided into two categories: the minor arcana, and the major arcana, featuring trump cards such as The Emperor, The Fool, Death, and of course The Sun, the trump card after which Sun Tarot is named. I wonder why The Sun has so much significance: “The Sun is the luckiest trump card, and the best card you can get,” Lára tells me. “Ultimately, I always hope the readings leave you with a hopeful, sunny outcome.”
Lára definitely exudes sunny enthusiasm and approachability in our Zoom call. Some might even say she even comes across as strikingly “normal” in the sense that she’s not dressed in crystals and beads like a caricatured mystic. This is very much a deliberate choice: “I wanted to make my readings practical because Tarot is very practical. I wanted to take the magical look out of it and go with something that people know…I try to make the reading as normal possible in order to not freak people out!”
Far more important to Lára than the visual element of Tarot is a sincere belief that it can inspire positive change: “I’ve always tried to relate to the person I’m speaking to – I try to make people really comfortable and convey the messages in a way that they are always with a sense of hope that things can be solved.” Some Tarot readers, Lára tells me, are in the business for the wrong reasons. If done badly, “you have the power to wreck someone’s life.”
The goal for Lára is not to hoodwink her clients with doom-laden theatricality, but rather to offer herself as a vessel for Spirit to give guidance. “My hope is that the readings are a catalyst for change. During the sessions I relay information that rests in your subconscious mind, the important topics spirit wants to bring to the light for you. The session should leave you feeling confident to activate this change in your life and believe in yourself.”
Tarot readings have longed been featured in cinema, often with theatrical focus on the scarier cards. I recently watched Agnè Varda’s brilliant Cléo from 5 to 7, which opens with its titular heroine having a Tarot reading, only to be shown a number of ominous cards, including Death. Cléo is waiting on news as to whether or not she has a grievous illness, and the psychic does nothing to assuage her fears. I wonder how, in the real world, all these cards – Death, The Devil, The Hanged Man, The Tower tally with the positive message of Sun Tarot.
“The Death card doesn’t mean anyone is going to die – I instantly translate it to what it really means in the readings: transformation. The Tower card means everything has to fall apart – but things are moving. The Devil card equals negative toxic energy and attachments.”
Despite this reassurance I can’t help feeling a bit of nervousness along with excitement in anticipation of my own reading. I have already found out pieces of information that make some degree of sense: Lára tells me that my aura is “purple”, meaning that I have a strong third eye and am creatively attuned, and that my spirit animal is a white dog – pleasing information for a canine lover such as myself.
Then comes my reading: from the cards drawn for me, which feature the Ten of Swords, the Journeyman, The Ten of Cups and Death, Lára intuits that I am at a crossroads in my life, and have to soon make a decision which, if made correctly, will result in a great deal happiness. Again, this makes some degree of sense to me – like many people, I am in the midst of reconsidering certain career and lifestyle choices which may have huge bearings on the next stage of my lie. I gratefully accept the reading as a bolstering call to rely on my instincts rather than over-thinking matters.
There was nothing too explicit or implausibly specific in my own reading (“you will win the lottery next year”/ “a friend will stab you in the back tomorrow,”) but rather encouraging words of support that I feel I can take on board as much as I wish. And there was certainly nothing laden with doom, supporting Lára’s focus on the Sun and positivity. To what degree I take the reading to heart is, at the end of the day, my own decision. “Tarot is a malleable thing – kind of like a movie, I’m going to show you a trailer, but you can edit it. You have ultimate freewill about how you edit it,” she says.
Lára’s devotion to Tarot follows a lifelong interest in spirituality. I wonder how, growing up, she got into the world of magic. “Ireland has a magical background, and ever since I don’t live there anymore, I notice it more when I come back. People travel to Ireland and say that they love the country so much, and I’ve always wondered what that meant – why they love Ireland. There’s a very magical feeling. Fairy folklore, myths and legends – Ireland has all that. I grew up in the Boyne Valley near Newgrange – a big megalithic tomb older than the pyramids of Egypt, a very spiritual place, and also not far from the Hill of Tara.” In such a setting, perhaps it’s not surprising that Lára spent her childhood interested in astrology and magic.
And what about Tarot specifically, how did this come into her life? “The Tarot deck came to me from New York,” she tells me, detailing how her sister gifted her the legendary Rider Waite deck a few years back. “If someone gives you the deck, it’s a sign of luck.” She tells me that it took a couple of years to trust herself, but once she really started using the pack, she discovered a love and ease with the cards: “Once I started learning it – I guess it’s like some musicians learning an instrument, it came naturally. I had to study the 78 cards and it took me about a year or two to learn each meaning and how they sync together, but then it clicked. I also realised I was given something special in terms of all the other things that come along with the Tarot – the gift for channelling and all the other little things. You can’t learn that.”
While pursuing a career in marketing in Dublin, Lára became more adept using the Tarot cards, doing readings at parties or with friends in bars after a few drinks. But it was after moving to Berlin in 2017 that she realised she could really start something with psychic healing. Is Berlin receptive to her line of work?
“Definitely – one of the things I think about the most is how much of a sharing community there is here – I’ve been helped so much by so many different people. It was part of the reason I wanted to move away from Dublin – I wanted to live and work somewhere away from the “me and my thing” kind of attitude to more of a creative community feel. I think Berlin really has that – I’ve met so many people who have helped and wanted to see what you’re doing and assist you. As much as I love Ireland, I didn’t get that in Dublin.” Such is her contentment with Berlin that Lára, who lives in Friedrichshain on a street which contains a yoga practice and reiki healer, would like to remain here for three to four years before potentially moving to Hawaii one day, where “spirituality is the norm.”
In the meantime, it’s not only Berlin and spiritually receptive clients who matter to Sun Tarot – lockdown has meant that Lára has gravitated much of her work to Zoom sessions. Thankfully, an increased global interest in astrology and spiritualism has meant that there is no dearth of people seeking psychic healing online. “With the pandemic…people need something else now, with being inside so much and having so much time to think…that’s lead to people needing other practices.”
Lára enjoys the flexibility of her work online, which allows her to work with clients in Berlin, but also across the world, with particular interest coming from the States. How do online sessions differ from physical ones? “In some ways Zoom sessions are better,” she tells me. “It’s been the biggest shock that they work so well! It’s a more controlled setting. Once you go into a subconscious in a live reading, you’re delving into stuff that’s in people’s past, stuff they don’t know, and all of that takes a lot energy. After an hour it’s a huge amount of energy – you can compare it to a workout at the gym.”
Tarot has a growing number of devotees, but like every practice, it has its fair share of dissenters, sceptics and critics, and Lára has little time for people who come to a session insisting that she “prove” the reality of it: “If people are sceptical but come in with an open mind I can work with that. But the minute I have to prove that something is real, the energy is ruined.”
What about people, like me, who take a polite curiosity in the practice? What approach should an agnostic take to Tarot readings? “I always say to people: keep an open mind and an open heart. If your heart is open, you’ll listen to the messages; if your mind is open, you’ll receive them. It’ll only not work if you’re very closed – closed to the point of not being open to learning.”
Concerning my reading, Lára intuited certain information about my state of mind and character that has given me food for thought concerning where I am and how I should proceed in life. But she’s careful to stress that this is not ultimate life advice on which we should pin all our hopes and dreams, stressing the malleable nature of Tarot, and memorably comparing it to playdough, saying we can form and ply the information as we see fit. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a healthcare professional – it’s for an entertainment interest purpose!” she says with a smile.
That’s not to say that entertainment can’t be a catalyst for huge and lasting change. Lára tells me the biggest delight Tarot gives her is the positive impact on her clients, many of whom joyfully report back on life-changing decisions made after her readings, whether by applying for and getting dream jobs or starting meaningful relationships. Dazzled by the positive impacts on their lives, many clients return after the first reading to hear more words of affirmation and spiritual guidance. “They tell me how the reading came true and how it impacted them. To me, this is the best result of doing this kind of work. It’s endlessly fulfilling – more fulfilling than any other result of doing a Tarot reading. I believe in my ability but it still shocks me,” she says, with palpable delight.
That clients return to Lára does not surprise me in the least and can surely be explained in no small part by her infectious enthusiasm, sincerity and dedication to her work. We tend to gravitate more towards people who love what they do than those who sulk and groan about their lives. And her assuredness is contagious. As she points out, happiness is reachable when you fully and honestly acknowledge what you feel happy doing: “It usually takes experimenting a bit or taking some risks – it did for me. Find out what you love to do, not where you make money, do it naturally and keep working towards that.”
In times of continued global bleakness, there are some things can be grateful for: We can be grateful for digital communication as a lifeline to keep in touch with those we love. We can be grateful for the wonders of modern technology in giving us digital entertainment to keep us sane during the pandemic and providing us with a means of seeking guidance and therapy online. We can also be grateful for Berlin as a pluralistic, tolerant environment for all manners of practices and beliefs to help us navigate through the crisis. Amidst all these options Sun Tarot offers an overriding message of positivity: We may not be able to decide how the cards land for us in life, but we can always decide how to respond to the obstacles thrown in front of us. Lára’s own story of coming to Berlin, giving up a reliable career in marketing to follow her dreams and making a living from Tarot and psychic therapy is the perfect example of how personal fulfillment is attainable when we tune into our true wishes and needs. The sun waits eternally and patiently behind the clouds, if we choose to acknowledge it.
Photos: Cleo Wächter, http://www.cleowaechter.com, instagram: @cleo_nora