Love is watering the seeds of who we know ourselves to be. This is the knowledge that crystallizes for me when I speak to Leona Nichole Black, a spiritual writer and mother of the tarot community House of Black, ahead of the release of her debut book Tarot Therapy.
We talk over a video call on a sweltering summer’s eve, having postponed our meeting to make room for respective naps. I’m sitting in front of two open windows flown open wide trying to tempt in a nonexistent breeze in Stockholm, while Leona calls me from London and opens up about the release of her new book. “I’ve had such a long hermit period and it feels like it’s time to rejoin the world. But there are also parts of me that I hadn’t felt safe showing the world that I put into this book. So it feels like I’m finally stepping into a version of the fullness of me.”
Tarot Therapy is deeply rooted in tangible experience. Covering all the major Arcana, 22 cards in the traditional Rider-Waite deck, it isn’t esoteric in the way that spiritualist literature can sometimes be, where the author promotes the truths they’ve discovered. Instead, Leona offers her personal experience to each card, giving readers concrete insight into how their themes have impacted her journey. The book is a slice of life where the deck, Leona’s salient cultural criticism and hard-won insights, are the main ingredients. Combined, readers are challenged to explore their internal worlds.
“Even as a child, I was constantly having it reinforced in my spirituality that I matter”Leona Nichole Black
In a chapter about love for example, Leona distils the cultural dogmas we have about love as something elusive and ephemeral – something that we can only hope to encounter by chance. She talks about this in relation to bell hooks’ concept of lovelessness in the seminal work All About Love: New Visions while generously speaking on how it has shown up in her own life. She then illustrates what cards like The High Priestess, The Empress and The Emperor can teach us about growing and calling love into our lives.
Having spent 10 years on the path to becoming an academic and eventually deciding to quit her PhD, the release of this book is a significant milestone. “Doing this work was also a process of mending myself and saying ‘I am all of these things’. I am an intellectual. I am a spiritualist. I am an academic.”
When Leona was in primary school, her teacher wrote a song. The teacher asked Leona, knowing that she could sing, to perform in front of the class. The lyrics were: “I am special because God loves me”. From a young age, Leona experienced a spiritual investment – the seeds of which would carry her through pain, abuse and rejection. She knew from seven years old that she was special, an idea that required nurturing when experiencing the trauma of being a Black woman in higher education, abusive family dynamics or being ostracised from the conservative Christian community she grew up in. “I have magiced love into my life out of a deeply loveless experience.”
“For me, this book is about finding the language to communicate the real things [in our hearts] with the universe.”Leona Nichole Black
When I probe her on this point, Leona explains that love isn’t simply an external force bestowed upon us at random, but rather internal seeds that we can choose to nurture. “Even as a child, I was constantly having it reinforced in my spirituality that I matter. That came to bloom at really pivotal points in my life.” Our conversation conceptualised love as being determined not, by our relationship status, sexuality, gender expression or even the world around us, but rather by what we give energy to. We have a spiritual and energetic agency that, when benefitting our innermost truth, can cause love to flourish. Leona summarises this in a question I’ll be asking my own tarot deck: “What is the energy or the water that you pour onto the seeds of your life that causes love to bloom?”
Thus, Tarot Therapy understands the stakes of faith and challenges us to take seriously the wounding we carry. Many of us who are marginalised in the matrix come to spirituality with reservations and hopelessness. ”I’m always speaking in my heart, to people who feel like they have been forgotten in a spiritual space in some ways, or that their stories aren’t accounted for.” By offering her personal experiences, never shying away from pain or trauma or the realities of living as a Black woman under capitalism, Leona offers far more than a spiritualist ‘how to’. “For me, this book is about finding the language to communicate the real things [in our hearts] with the universe. That’s not always easy.”
As I read the book, it felt deeply confronting. It echoed that sensibility often found in the office of a good therapist after you’ve voiced a particularly wayward neurosis. Each chapter served as an invitation to seriously consider the areas of my life that are neglected, to connect with and explore the rich interiority so easily ignored. By stepping into the light and letting herself be known, Leona allows herself to be witnessed. In that sense, she did not write a book about how to use the tarot but rather let herself be seen and invite the intimacy that accompanies that particular brand of courage.
Although she does not consider herself a hopeful person, there is no greater adventure than the one we make with our hearts. “There is nothing in this world to be hopeful about. I genuinely believe that,” she says. “On the flip side, I think there’s everything to be hopeful about in the realm from which we originate, the seeds that we come from and whenever we pull from there into here.” Through that framework, nothing can indeed be loved into something.
Tarot Therapy is set for release on July 7.