Up until a few years ago, I thought tarot cards were synonymous with crystal balls. Someone with psychic powers would look at the cards, see something the rest of us couldn’t, and be able to tell you your future.
Then my friend Loa Beckenstein started writing Pop Tarot, a newsletter about tarot cards and pop culture. “There’s a school of thought in tarot reading that it’s based in storytelling, that I’m very on board with,” Loa told me when we sat down to talk about Pop Tarot wrapping up its almost two-year run this month. A major goal of Pop Tarot has been to demystify tarot cards, while also treating pop culture seriously. “It’s easier to think about witchcraft if you can also think about, like, Phoebe Bridgers.”
Loa started Pop Tarot in 2019, looking to replace income after becoming disabled. “It’s not a great origin story. I was sad and I needed money.” They set out to look at all 78 tarot cards through the lens of pop culture—mostly television, like the first post about The Good Place and the Ten of Swords, but also music, books, film, and the Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Writing about the cards repeatedly while trying to avoid covering the same topics over and over again has helped Loa understand the cards on a deeper level. "There's fucking 78 of them! That's so many. I was finding myself being like, I think I said that, I think I said that already. But it helped me identify themes from the deck that I would not have previously identified." They’ve also enjoyed sharing a different perspective on tarot with the newsletter’s readers. “People separate out tarot as this mystical, magical higher realm,” when it can be a part of their daily lives just as must as watching re-runs of The Office can. “Tarot is less precious than we think it is a lot of the time, and perhaps TV is a little more precious than sometimes we think it is.”
Why end Pop Tarot? Well, Loa and a slew of guest writers (including yours truly) have finally covered all 78 cards, and it’s time for them to move on. “I’ve only got so much writing time, and Pop Tarot takes significant time.” Thanks to writing two posts a week for the last year and change, Loa now writes a lot faster, but still estimates that their income from readers evens out to about $2.00 per hour of work. “Part of the reason I got faster is that, sometime in the last year, I realized my not-great writing wasn’t embarrassing. It’s just like, that wasn’t very good, not, oh no people are going to see that and I must die. I just became less precious all around.”
I asked Loa what they thought people would get out of reading all 140+ Pop Tarot posts today, from cover to cover. “Keep liking [pop culture] seriously. Yeah, it’s just TV or whatever, but use that to do whatever emotional or spiritual bullshit you need. You can take it seriously."
Loa also did a tour of their bedroom for my webseries Museum of You pre-COVID. Watch it below to see some of their favorite tarot card decks (and apologies for the very rough sound—I did make sure the captions are accurate to try and make up for it).