Exclusive Interview with Artist and Tarot Reader Stevie Chrysanthemum
So how did you get involved in tarot and with Catland?
Well, let's start with how I got into tarot, because that's what led me to Catland Books. I found my first tarot deck in 2010 at a thrift store and, up until that point, I wasn't really interested in tarot or the occult, or even spirituality in general. I just thought it was all bullshit. But I found this deck, and the imagery really captivated me, and it was only $1, so I bought it. That deck really led me on my path. I moved to Bushwick about three years later, and sumbled across Catland, and of course I went in because they had tarot decks there. After that, I started to get interested in chaos magic, and now I'm here.
So, how did you make the leap from someone who doesn't believe in magic and isnt interested in the occult to buying your first deck on a whim, and now here you are as one of Catland's senior readers?
Well, I feel like when I first started learning about tarot, I wasn't getting too, too much into spirituality, per se. I was just using the tarot as a tool to help me psychologically and to help me understand some issues that I was going through. It's really once I got into chaos magic that I got started. The middle point between my interest in tarot and chaos magic was that I was exploring Wicca, because I thought “well, if I'm going to be a tarot reader, I might as well be a witch, right?” So I started exploring Wicca, but it just didn't really click with me. Then I read about chaos magic and I realized that I could create my own magic and my own rituals and that it doesn't have to follow a traditional path.
Do you remember who or what first introduced you to chaos magic?
Joe Peterson (one of the founders of Catland Books). I came into Catland for my second or third time, and, at that point, they had so many different texts, so I knew that I wanted to get a book on magic, but I didn't know which one. So I asked him what he would recommend- but rather than asking “what would you recommend for beginners?” or “what do you have on Wicca?”, I just asked “what's your favorite book in this store?” And he chose Liber Null and Psychonaut by Peter Carroll, which is an awesome book.
Are there texts that you would recommend for people who are trying to explore the occult for the first time? What are the essential readings for young occultists in Brooklyn?
Honestly, Liber Null and Psychonaut is a great place to start, because it's so simple and it really lays the groundwork for what chaos magic is, and once you have a grasp on that, you can really go in any direction. You don't have to just read texts on chaos magic. You can branch out into different traditions and combine things, if that works for you. And when it comes to tarot, everyone really likes 78 Degrees of Wisdom. I thought it was okay, I think there's some good stuff in there, but I think the best beginner text is Joanne Bunning's Learning the Tarot, which you can find entirely online. It's really good for begnners, and the meanings of the cards are super straightforward. She's got descriptions on how cards go together and what they might mean as a pair, and also chapters on how to read for yourself and shuffling and all that stuff. But a lot of the time, when customers come into the shop and say “What book would you recommend? I'm just getting started on my path” I usually recommend to get a tarot deck first. I think the first step in anyone's magical or spiritual path should be to learn about some form of divination, because that can really help guide you. If you're feeling lost and you don't know which direction to go in, you can use tarot or runes or what have you to guide you in the direction you're supposed to be going.
What do you think is the benefit of choosing a deck over a book as a jumping-off platform in an exploration of the occult?
I love reading books, and I think you can gain so much information and wisdom from them, but the tarot itself is a book. It's the book of life. Every reading that you do is completely original and new, and you can gain so much from it. A lot of people completely write off tarot and say that its bullshit and say that it has nothing to offer, and those people are just ignorant. Almost every reading that I do gives me new information, or helps me see things in a new light and gives me a new perspective. And there's specific spreads you can do to connect with deity or whatever path you're supposed to be on. Really the options are limitless.
So, you started working at Catland under the Novitiate Program. Did you enjoy that program? What do you feel like you got out of it?
I really liked it. The first thing that I learned was how to make incense. I feel like I learned a lot. It was interesting because, looking back, the guys (Phillip English & Joseph Petersen, co-founders of the shop) didn't really teach me that much- they just gave me the tools, and I actually really appreciated that. I learned through experience; I think they wanted to let magick itself teach me and guide me. They didn't try to force anything down my throat or say “ this is what you need to be studying.” They asked me what I was interested in, and I told them, and they led me in the right direction and gave me access to the herbs and the oils to just experiment. And that's really what magic is all about – experimentation. It was definitely a really good experience.
And now, you're one of the people who makes the incenses and oils and enchanted candles that we carry. It seems like you made this huge leap from someone who doesn't really dabble in witchcraft or the occult at all, to springboarding into this immersive Novitiate Program, and now here you are. How do you feel about that?
I mean, when I found that first deck- there's a saying that your first deck shound be given to you, and, in a way, I feel like that deck WAS given to me. I didn't necessarily go out and consciously look for it, it just sort of found me. I was meant to find it and it was meant to lead me here. But when I first started the Novitiate Program, the guys had all five of us pull a card out of the tarot deck to see how our experience would be. I pulled the Judgement card, and one of it's associations is being called to your higher purpose. That's pretty self explanatory to me- I was always meant to be doing this. I was actually thinking about it yesterday- I thought “I can't believe I'm a tarot reader, this is so crazy. I never thought that I would get here.” But it just happened very naturally. I had been practicing on my own and I got really passionate about it, and then I just happened to get this opportunity. And once I realized there was an opportunity for me to actually read professionally, I took it much more seriously. I stepped my game up.
So, what do you think are the unique things that you bring to Catland?
Well, I'm an artist, first and foremost. That was my dream before I got into tarot- I wanted to be a professional artist. I'm still working on that and trying to figure out if that's still what I want to do. I'm a very visual person- I love to draw and paint and create things. So, one of the main things that I bring to Catland is the enchanted candles. People have told me that my candles are amazing, and that they're more elaborate and beautiful than ones made by people who have been doing candle carving for years and years. The compliments I receive about my candles are so heartwarming. Candle magic is so potent. It's like tarot - it's another psychological tool where you're focusing intention into something tangible and visual in order to create change. I try to craft my candles in the most beautiful way possible, because to me that adds much more power to the spell. I don't really follow any traditional candle carving systems- I feel like the magic is in the imagery itself. I just put all of my heart and energy into making sure it comes out beautiful.
So what are some new projects that you'r excited about?
I've been really into embroidery and sewing lately, and so I want to start making pouches for tarot decks. I 've also been making loose incense, but I want to start making stick incense as well. I already have a lot of really awesome incense recipes, and I want to make them more accesible to people. I would also love to start a YouTube channel and make videos teaching people how to read tarot. I know there's already a bunch of great tarot content on the internet, but I want to bring my ideas to the table. My goal with tarot is to spread it to as many people as possible - I want to turn nonbelievers into believers. I want people to understand that when they write off tarot as bullshit, they're setting their own limitations, and that sucks. All they need to do is be open minded and educate themselves about what the tarot actually is, and then they will be able to experience it's magick and beauty.
You can see more of Stevie's candles and check out what else she's up to on Instagram - @steviechrysanthemum