LOS ANGELES — Around this time last year, as the world was gradually emerging from the haze of on-and-off COVID-19 lockdowns, artist Edgar Fabián Frías did a tarot reading for the city of Los Angeles. Tarot is a common form of divination, or practice of seeking insight or clarity on a situation or question, that utilizes cards with archetypal and elemental symbologies.
For their reading, published in the Los Angeles Times, Frías, an artist, psychotherapist, and brujx (the gender-neutral term for the Spanish “bruja/o” meaning “witch/sorcerer”), drew three cards and offered wisdom in their message that continues to be relevant today:
We are moving into the present moment with Instructor No. 5 or the Hierophant. Five is an incredibly sacred number for my people, the Wixárika people of Mexico. It is the fifth element, it is the void, it is nothingness — it is what is at the heart, what is at the core …
Los Angeles, you are in for some exciting and transformative experiences in the next few years. There are ancestors here that are working through our bodies. They are moving us in many directions. They are guiding us. And we are being held as we transform ourselves, as we transform individually, collectively, and as a city.
The video accompanying the reading is beautiful, magical, and out of this world, a sensory delight in psychedelic shades. It’s hard to imagine any other major international city whose largest newspaper would host a tarot reading from a brujx to discover its region’s fate, but that’s Los Angeles for you.
I first encountered Frías’s work at the lake at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood, where they joined the Golden Dome School, a community dedicated to mysticism and the arts, in a social practice performance called “The Resurrection of Care.” The participants circled the lake, which sits atop a hill with a panoramic view of the city, and played music and chants. At one point, haunting wailing broke through the silence, expressing the grief of living through the harrowing events of the pandemic and the wildfires in California in the summer of 2022. The performance offered a sense of healing and release during this catastrophic time.
An annual ritual performed in galleries and festivals, “The Resurrection of Care” is designed to “re-instate our vow to care for ourselves and all of the people, plants, animals, water, earth, air, and spirits that are threatened with annihilation by unfettered greed and exploitation.” It emerged alongside a Tactical Magic Series hosted by the School that introduced mystical practices for activists and showed that magic has always been part of resistance work.
“When I learned about our Indigenous ancestry, I really saw how the community I’m from doesn’t really separate activism, ritual, art, and magic,” Frías noted in an interview with Hyperallergic. “These are things that really exist together and are sometimes used strategically together to resist systems of oppression and stake claims on lands they are stewarding and caring for.”
Of all major United States cities (except for perhaps Phoenix, nicknamed “Valley of the Sun”), Los Angeles, Spanish for “the angels,” has the most mystical name. It is the largest city in California, a state named after the Black Amazonian Queen Calafia (sometimes spelled Califia). As Brie Loskota, former executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture, has written, “Far from being a godless metropolis, LA is one of the most religiously diverse and pluralistic cities in the world. Just about every religion and denomination that exists can be found in LA, and a number of fascinating (and even controversial) religious movements began here.”
It is also a city with a deep convergence of the arts and social movements, and in the past few years, LA has come to host compelling artistic projects at the intersection of magical traditions and the work of social justice. With a rich intersection in the visual and performing arts, tarot is one part of this story. It’s tactile, vibrant, and accessible, with the childlike joy of buying and playing with a pack of cards combined with a grown person’s sense of archetype, mystery, and self-discovery.
“I went to LA for the same reasons so many people do. I had a vision,” said artist Eliza Swann in an interview with Hyperallergic. Swann founded the Golden Dome School in 2014 and ran many of the school’s activities in Los Angeles and 29 Palms, near Joshua Tree, to explore magic’s role in countering the effects of capitalism and climate change. Some recent events included a tarot-thon for trans rights and training sessions on alchemical practice. As a paying member and supporter, I received a dragon spell by artist Yumi Sakugawa that I keep in my studio, to help connect me to new forms of power.
Swann sees magic as equivalent to “a force of nature, like gravity, or any other law of physics. It’s a thing that causes change. It creates momentum and ripples and waves.” And anyone who’s spent time with magic practitioners can see, feel, and hear its sensorial nature, which overlaps so naturally with the arts. “We use image and sound and ceremony and movement to try to pin it down to a specific purpose. But it has a being-ness of its own that’s so radical and anti-capitalist,” Swann concluded.
Part of that comes from self-development and self-awareness practices, such as tarot, that have the capacity to foster ease in a time of significant change and uncertainty. For 14 years, artist and psychic medium Marcella Kroll has taught Tarot for Teens at the Los Angeles Public Library across various branches. “I’m not here to be a guru for people,” Kroll said in a recent phone call. “The workshops I teach are about giving you tools either on your own or with your community or loved ones. The main focus is helping people work through healing themselves, especially people who feel invisible.”
“Magic is such a creative practice,” noted Casey Zabala in an interview. Zabala is an artist, witch, and founder of the Modern Witches Confluence, which gathers in Los Angeles to discuss magic, witchcraft, and the arts alongside the work of racial justice and equity. “It opens up these ways of seeing the world that are boundary-breaking. That’s so important right now in so many ways as we try to build new worlds that feel equitable, sustainable, and joyful.”
Maria Minnis, a witch, artist, and teacher in Los Angeles who has a blog about tarot and anti-racism work and is writing the forthcoming book Tarot for the Hard Work: An Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing (Weiser Books, 2024), thinks tarot is having a moment. “I think that more and more people are leaning into how tarot can transform their sense of self and relationship with the world,” she explained as she connected the practice with the possibilities for viable change in the world. “If we can change our lives, we can change other people’s lives.”
Minnis and I discussed the Chariot card, which in some tarot traditions features a young person on a chariot who is about to set off on a new journey and often represents overcoming challenges through self-determination and confidence. With anti-racism work, Minnis explained, the Chariot is all about “choosing a lane. And that is a very literal connection. If the Chariot is going somewhere they need to know what road to take. Nobody can do everything. With the Chariot, I invite people to think about where they already can effect change in their lives and pick an area.”
While LA is known for being a city of healers, artists, and resistance movements, it also has a deep-seated history of capital, violence, and empire, with a name established by conquistadors who devastated the local Indigenous communities and their spiritual traditions. These tensions are, perhaps, what makes the intersection of contemporary mysticism and art so potent with the potential for healing and reparations in this city.
“A lot of things that are cruel and perpetuated in American culture are generated in the city of Los Angeles,” Swann observed. “Poison ivy and the thing that soothes the rash often grow alongside each other. That’s the rule of the forest.”
This article was made possible through the support of the Sam Francis Foundation in honor of the 100th birthday of Sam Francis.