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The Daily Tar Heel

Triangle Tarot and Friends meets every month to deepen their understanding of an old practice, and most importantly, to connect with other like-minded people.

Beth Livingston, the group’s coordinator, who is known magically as Beth Owl’s Daughter said they host guest speakers, discuss tarot card interpretations and occasionally create tarot-related crafts like candles and junk journals.

Livingston has read tarot for over 50 years. During a reading, the tarot cards are used to perceive wisdom and guidance, not only for the future, but also for an individual’s present state of being. However, the cards’ original use was not so mystical.

In 15th century Italy, Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, the duke and duchess of Milan, commissioned a deck of tarot-like cards, with no intention of fortune-telling or divination. The deck of elaborately hand-painted cards, likely completed by fresco artist Bonifacio Bembo, was intended as a simple card game called tarocchi.

“Originally, they were ways to commemorate this noble family and their friends,” Jameela Dallis, a writer and tarot reader who received a doctorate in English from UNC, said.

When Dallis was 16, she received a tarot reading in the back of a coffee shop in her Tennessee hometown. She said that it changed her life and kick-started her interest in tarot. Dallis went on to write part of her dissertation about it.

Dallis said the correlation between tarot cards and divination didn’t come until the 18th century. 

The connection started when a French author, Antoine Court de Gébelin, falsely traced tarot imagery back to ancient Egyptian wisdom. Although the association was found to be incorrect, Court de Gébelin gave tarot a new life in the spiritual realm.

One of the most popular decks used today, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was created in the early 1900s by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. Both were occultists and met through an occult organization.

Smith was a talented artist, so Waite commissioned her to create the art for his new tarot deck. She was paid only a small flat fee for her work and the name of the publisher, Rider, was put on the deck instead of hers, making it the Rider-Waite deck. 

Although Smith’s contribution to the tarot world was overshadowed by Waite, her illustrations for the deck are some of the most iconic symbols of tarot, even today.

“Most educated tarot people call it the Waite-Smith deck now and give her credit,” Livingston said. “And we know more and more about her life because tarot people have wanted to know more about her and they've done some digging, and she lived a very rich, interesting life.”

The culture of tarot has changed dramatically since the early days of occult clubs and hand-painted decks. Now, just about anyone can pick up a deck and start learning.

Jenna Matlin is a tarot reader in Chapel Hill. She has been a full-time professional tarot reader since 2012 and began practicing in the '90s. 

“I did not think that 10 years later, we would have the acceptance of it in popular culture that I'm seeing,” Matlin said. “That has really just accelerated and I'm pleasantly surprised and happy with that.”

Beginners in tarot have a plethora of resources at their fingertips, from books like Matlin’s “Will You Give Me a Reading?” to meet-up groups like Livingston’s Triangle Tarot and Friends. 

Livingston said that part of her tarot teachings involve helping people unlearn the misinformation they’ve been taught from unreliable sources like social media.

Still, there are many people committed to learning the truths of tarot, she said. 

“There are people that really are dedicated and care about it and they’ll still be doing it ten years from now when the next fad has come along,” Livingston said. “And that’s what’s really interesting. There are some amazing, younger people that are involved with it now that are just — it gives me such great hope for the future.”


@dthlifestyle |

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