It’s All in the Cards

A Review of Tarot Card Reading NIght at Golden West by Alex Barbera and Malka Herman 



When I think of Tarot Card readings I have a distinct image of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter. I picture a woman with distant eyes dressed in colorful scarves making pronouncements in ringing tones. Palm reading, auras, crystal balls all mean nothing to me. And so, when I saw the event for Golden Tarot Card Reading at Golden West Cafe I wanted to attend. I planned on writing a revealing piece to show the emptiness behind the mystical and the occult. I am a firm believer that we make our own futures and I was eager to toss away the idea of destiny.


Last time I had my cards read, it was at my ninth birthday party. I asked the psychic when my loose tooth would come out and when she started giving me some roundabout answer, I demanded a specific day. After all, I was getting impatient and didn’t believe in pulling it. She decided the big day was three days away, on Tuesday. When it came out in my sleep that very night, I swore I’d never have my cards read again. Twelve years later, enough time had passed for me to be open to the idea again. And approaching a pretty big milestone in my life of graduating college, I have to admit, I was curious about what the cards would say was up next for me.





The bar is in the back of the Golden West Cafe. There was a distinct smell of burning incense and a very dim light to set the mood. The crowd had a very Hampden vibe: instead of business suits- flannel shirts and girls with shocking hair colors and piercings. On the wall someone had taped a sign “Cocktails: $10. You can choose your own drink or let fate decide.” The waitress brought out a stack of cards and I drew the top one: The Hermit. This drink consisted of Bulleit Rye, Basil, and Blueberries. I loved the drink but was a little less thrilled with the picture of a turtle on the card and the descriptions: Isolation, Enlightenment, Sacrifice, and Transformation. Still, I got to keep my card and even though I didn’t love the meaning, the drink was delicious.


I, on the other hand, very much had my heart set on The High Priestess, a cocktail made with Gin, St. Germain, Lemon Juice, Chartreuse, Creme de Violette, Lavender Dry Soda and Rosemary. But Malka convinced me that we were here to experiment with destiny and insisted I draw a card. I did and ended up with The Sun, consisting of Triple Sec, Tequila, Pineapple Juice, Lime, cilantro and muddled jalapeno. The one drink I did not want on the list. I hate tequila and cilantro, and on top of that, have been accused of thinking milk is spicy, let alone jalapeno peppers. I considered changing my “destiny” to the High Priestess, but decided against it as soon as I saw the description on the card: Clarity, Redemption, Success and Celebration. The drink tasted pretty darn good after that.



Malka and Alex:

We put our names on the Tarot Card list and braced ourselves for the moment we’d been waiting for. The tarot card reader used the Celtic Cross spread, which is considered the most popular of card layouts because it sheds light on many areas of your life. The first card placed down is called a “Significator Card”, which represents your current circumstances and state. The following card is the “Crossing” which is placed across the Significator Card. The Crossing reflects what is currently influencing you in your life. Eight more cards are placed in various positions around these two center ones, and their placement corresponds to different aspects of your life, for example, the past, your emotional state, your hopes and desires and the future. To avoid this completely turning into a lengthy therapy session, we’ve decided to limit ourselves to revealing our Significator and Crossing Cards…




Upon the first flip of this card, I saw the word “wands” and was immediately relieved it wasn’t the Death card. At closer look, the page actually seemed rather regal and positive, and was, after all, holding a mighty staff. Turns out the Page of Wands is supposed to signify enthusiasm, exploration, discovery and a free spirit. It indicates that I am “experiencing a creative restlessness within me that is waiting for some sort of expression, or, I may be on the verge of some sort of discovery or new phase of life.” So far so good. I am definitely a free spirit who gets bored very easily. Some friends even go so far as to call me a “rolling stone.” On top of that, I’m currently in the process of a career hunt that could even land me in LA. A new beginning was in my future most definitely. With this solid start, I felt excited to see my next card.


Crossing Card: The Hanged Man.

Needless to say, this upside down halo yogi freaked me out. “Hmmm,” the tarot reader said. “It looks like you’re in a rut.” It turns out, the Hanged Man represents a “period of indecision and action.” She advised me to hold off on any further activities that could result in something permanent, because something bigger and better was in the works for me behind-the-scenes. If I intervened too soon, things would go wrong. This card was weirdly relevant. I’ve been waiting to hear back from a job-related contact and questioning whether I should reach out to again or not. I am immediately convinced that I should definitely hold off another week. I walked back to my spot at the bar and was totally mystified. I saw her shuffle the cards. The only thing I told her that I was graduating from college and in a relationship. My friends barely known the details of my job search let alone a complete stranger in Hampden. I spoke with our neighbor about how the cards read me so clearly and he had a similar response. He was a student at MICA who said that he’s been facing a big opportunity. The cards told him to jump on it, so he planned on doing so. We were all sitting there at this cozy corner of the bar, comparing card readings and sipping our drinks, convinced that this woman in the dim candle lighting in the corner of the room had superpowers.



Significator: The Emperor

When Alex went to get her cards read, I struck up a conversation with the group next to me. There were two guys and one girl, all of whom get their cards read regularly. They were surprised, however, by this idea of combining tarot card readings and drinking. “I just wonder how the alcohol will affect my energy which will then affect my reading.” One of the guys worried. My initial skepticism had been wearing away due to the strong cocktail, but I couldn’t help but scoff internally at this statement. Still, I was enjoying myself. I could hear snippets of conversation all around me and instead of the typical “how was your day?” or “I’m so drunk” statements, I could hear people opening up- sharing their readings or wondering what questions to ask the Reader.

Finally Alex came back, and after a brief “wow, that was intense” it was my turn. I was suddenly nervous. After scoffing the idea of energies, auras, and spirituality I was now about to experience a tarot card reading. Whatever she was going to say would stay with me for a very long time, might even impact the choices I make.

“Ma’am? I asked if you’ve ever had your cards read before.” I looked at her. She seemed normal, there was nothing mysterious or exotic about her short blonde hair, round face, and small gap in her front two teeth.

I tried to relax. “No- never.”

“Well then, I just want to let you know that the cards only tell you what direction you’re heading in if you continue in the same trajectory. If you don’t like what the cards say, it’s all about changing the directions you’re going in.”

I sat back, “Ok. So none of this is set in stone.”

“Exactly.” She asked me if I had any specific questions or if I wanted a general reading. I asked for the general one and she turned over the first card, my significator. “So this card represents you. It’s the Emperor card.” She went on to explain the qualities of the emperor. It is a person who is very independent, relies on no one, and very rational. I’m sure you can guess based on my reaction to Tarot Cards that this sums me up perfectly. Still, I figured maybe she was a good judge of character, maybe she saw the skepticism in my eyes when I sat down. This was not enough to convince me. She turned over the crossing card, this is the card that represents what is currently influencing my life.


Crossing Card: The Hierophant

“This is interesting. It’s the Hierophant card which represents a religious figure.” For the first time since entering the bar, all of my doubts fled. Without a doubt, religion has a larger influence on my life than anything else. Not because I am a religious person, but because my father is a Hasidic Rabbi and I grew up in a strict home. Most of my friends are married and having children while I went off to college. The struggle between me and my parents over my choice to not be religious has been intense and the fact that the Hierophant card was chosen, really struck a nerve. I was shaken, ready to ask all my questions, eager to soak in every answer she could give me.


Upon returning to campus, I felt the simultaneous urge to talk about the reading non-stop but not reveal too many personal details. I wanted to tell people how wild it was that the cards knew I was in this strange career limbo, but I didn’t want to validate them by revealing my specific work intentions. I wrote down notes to remember the accuracy of the cards and have even referred back to a picture I snapped of my tarot card layout to verify that those were the cards’ actual meanings instead of this woman’s reading of me. I checked and they had, almost word for word, the exact meaning the woman conveyed to me. In the days following the reading,when all of my curious friends asked about the verdict on my future, I excitedly told them as much as I could. But they laughed. Many told me the reading sounded generic and sort of like a horoscope or a fortune cookie. They insisted that anyone could be “in a rut for some reason or another and have something big on the horizon” and I suddenly felt less mystified. Did The Sun, that special jalapeno tequila drink, spark some gullibility on my part? Probably. I started thinking back to my ninth birthday and the tooth episode. Maybe these women were just paid actresses. Regardless, though, the cards still got me thinking about and excited for what’s coming next for me. Whether the future is completely up to me or destiny is up for debate, but the cards definitely got me thinking about and excited for what’s coming next.


Now that I’ve had some time to process my experience and discuss it with others, I do not feel like the tarot card reading was as life changing as it felt in the moment. True, the first two cards were accurate (scary accurate), but the rest of the reading wasn’t very deep. She told me I’d meet two men, one with light eyes and light hair and one with dark eyes and dark hair and that I’d have to choose between them. She told me I would travel a lot in my future, that I would be surrounded by love, that I would have to rethink a lot of my values and priorities this year. In the moment it felt so important, but telling people after made me realize how general these statements were, how they could be applied to any college graduate (which I told her I was at the beginning of the reading).

For a while, I dismissed the Emperor and Hierophant card as lucky flukes and nothing more. But as I think through mine and Alex’s experience another time, I realize that my problem is that I was approaching Tarot Card Reading the wrong way. Instead of seeing it as a magical experience one either believes in or not, I think Tarot can be thought of as a method for introspection. It doesn’t matter whether I think this woman is a psychic with the power to channel a mysterious world beyond my detection or whether she is simply playing tricks on her clients. The point is that this is an opportunity to open up to someone, to hear words of advice from a stranger and then to think and rethink about what was said and how it related to your life. It’s a catalyst for self-reflection and change. Take away the scarves and crystal balls and realize that Tarot Card Readers are just therapists who are there to help you reconsider where you life is heading. She may say the words but you get to take them and run.


Venue Information:
Golden West Cafe
1105 W 36th St,
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 889-8891
Tarot Card Readings every 3rd Sunday of the month 9:30 pm- close

Alex Barbera is a harsh food critic, addict of Netflix and dog enthusiast from New York City. She is an expert at getting lost and making guacamole.

Malka Herman is a Baltimore based writer with an unhealthy interest in music, theatre, and art that makes her uncomfortable.


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