Many musicians have dropped names from the esoteric or the metaphysical world. Their motives are usually transparent: seem cool, subversive or a combination of both. But even those with only a passing familiarity with Sera Timms and her luminous work with Ides Of Gemini might suspect a more authentic connection to the uncanny.
It turns out that in addition to her musical and artistic pursuits Timms is a Tarot reader. Here's the fine print: you won't find her advertising or hanging a neon sign in front of her home. As Timms explains, Tarot is more about helping people mull hidden motivations and repressed emotions than it is about telling someone when a refrigerator will drop from an overpass. She talked to us about her path in the ancient art often derided as fortune telling and why there's more to it than many expect.
How did you get interested in Tarot?
It’s one of those things that you don’t choose. It chooses you. I grew up rejecting the metaphysical and anything spiritual, mainly because I grew up in a hippie town in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I don’t like things that don’t feel grounded. There are a lot of things in the metaphysical and New Age world that can be like that. I stayed away from all of it and was super skeptical. I still am a skeptic – I think it’s healthy. Still, I was very interested in psychology and symbolism. I was interested in dreams and Carl Jung and I worked as an artist. But I looked at those things from a purely intellectual standpoint.
Ten years ago, things were pretty messy emotionally and financially and I was unhinged in all sorts of places. A few things happened. I had an intense dream of getting tattooed on my back; there were these dots placed on my back that formed a constellation. A few months later I was in my neighbor’s house. He had a Taschen book called Alchemy and Mysticism. I was flipping through it and I saw the picture of the Sephirot which is the kabbalistic tree of life. Those were the dots I saw tattooed on my back. That was my first opening to the esoteric world. Later, I was with a friend and got a 15-minute reading. I was blown away because I was completely skeptical. I didn’t give Tarot any credit. I thought of it like a lot of people do – pay me and I’ll tell you the future. But the reading I got was from a respectable place with integrity.
That’s interesting you mention that. I remember when I lived on the East Coast I knew someone who was interested in the metaphysical. She frequented this kitschy shop in the middle of a strip mall. Generally when I see Tarot readers they are in bungalows on top of tattoo shops.
(Laughs). There is a big stereotype with the neon sign readers. Stay away from them! I think the best way to find someone good is through a referral. If you don’t know anyone you can generally find someone who does. There’s also Yelp. There are bad things about Yelp but it is helpful to feel your way around first. But overall the stereotype is of a neon sign in a strip mall.
The settings of some of these places are almost too Scooby-Doo for me.
They are way too Scooby-Doo for me. I’ve never been to one of them. I did work for shop called House Of Intuition for two years. It was a place that sold metaphysical supplies and vetted all their readers. With the Scooby-Doo shops a lot of people just get into it to make money. Anyone who gets into Tarot to make money alone should lose his or her privileges.
I don’t have an answer. With doctors there is malpractice -- you can take their license. But anyone can offer Tarot readings. Anyone can tell people horrible things about their future and manipulate clients to get more money. There are tons of good readers out there. They aren’t marketing it as much though because they aren’t making a living from it.
So after this dream you had and the reading following it how do you study and learn this? What’s the path?
I bought a deck after the reading. I’d been through a lot of therapy growing up and the reading was like six months of therapy compressed into 15 minutes. (Learning Tarot) was a bumbling path for a while. I started reading for my friends and myself. I started out with mundane questions like: “should I apply for this job?” That allowed me to learn the deck and the meanings of the cards.
Can you get certified as a reader? Is there a way people know you’ve taken steps to do this the right way?
There are a lot of good courses online. There is something called Builders Of The Adytum. It’s the most ancient school I know of. It emphasizes using Tarot for psychospiritual growth. I do use Tarot for divination, but I don’t know if I’ll stand by that someday. It’s hard not to abuse and it can become a crutch. Tarot for divination can be a good tool when you are confused. But it’s a tool that can only take you so far before you should let it go. The best way Tarot is used is as a psychic mirror. You are seeing things you already know and haven’t been able to articulate. When you see it in the cards it helps you crystallize your own reflection under the surface.
That’s reassuring because my reservation about getting a reading is that someone would put down the deck and tell me I’m going to get hit by a truck.
(Laughs). That’s the irresponsible thing about Tarot – the future stuff. I’ve worked with some talented clairvoyants who can pin down the future. But sometimes they tell you something that doesn’t happen. I don’t believe in absolutes in fate or future. Tarot can tell you what road you are on. It’s better when it’s used to tell someone: “You might want to go in a different direction so you don’t get hit by a truck.”
When a lot of people think about getting a reading I imagine they think they’ll get a big proclamation as opposed to what you’re talking about, which seems fairly practical.
It is practical. I only see it as a tool. It is so much more useful for the human race as a tool than as a predictor. Once you go on to predicting futures you totally disregard the present moment. I think people need to be more in the present. I always try to emphasize that to my clients who get stuck on the future, especially about relationships. I try to get people into the “why” they are doing things in the present moment.
What do you say to skeptics or people who might say a reading is like therapy without formalized training?
It can be therapy without formalized training and I think that’s a good thing. I know that therapists aren’t allowed to incorporate the esoteric or they would lose their license. I’m a holistic thinker. I think everything in therapy plus the holistic work well together. I haven’t had many skeptics because most of them don’t get readings. The ones I do tend to resist in the first five minutes. I tell them that if this doesn’t reflect what’s going on with you I don’t want money and they generally open up.
Has your work as a reader become part of your music?
It sneaks its way in. I’m often halfway through a song and see that it’s about an archetype of a card. Old World New Wave ended up being about the Emperor card. I write lyrics pretty intuitively and it just ends up happening.