Calm Before Storm

Dec 13, 2011 at 12am

Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, I couldn’t even look at a tarot card, Ouija board, or other objects of divination. We were told that doing so would cause Satan and his demons to enter into our minds and possibly possess us – or worse. Since leaving the religious group in 1999 and moving through years of therapy, I’ve been pursuing many once-forbidden interests. Among those activities: investigating tarot card readings. 

My friend Sarah recently told me about a tarot reader named Storm who uses X-Men playing cards as his deck. The concept sounded too cool to pass up, so I booked an appointment. When the day of my reading arrives, I know in my adult brain that demons will not whisk me into hell the minute Storm pulls out his cards. But I have a friend drop me off and stay in the area – just in case I have a major panic attack and need rescuing. 

Storm works out of a collectively run art and clothing shop on Divisadero called Swankety Swank. I browse the jewelry section as I wait for him to lead me to the reading area, which I imagine to be down in a dungeon, an abyss, a dark room with candles and incense burning.  

But when I meet him, Storm has a great energy that immediately puts me at ease, and he leads me to the front of the store. He pulls back a curtain to reveal a small table in the window of Swankety Swank, brightly lit and overlooking Divisadero Street, and pulls out a worn deck featuring X-Men characters. The cards are quirky and oddly comforting to shuffle. I handle them respectfully, knowing that these mutant superheroes hold clues to my future. 

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Storm splays the deck in front of me and asks me to pick a card. I turn over Beast, the seven of diamonds of the X-Men family. He explains that the card corresponds with the Seven of Pentacles, which traditionally symbolizes patience. He then counsels me to allow the projects I’m working on to “have their own process” even if they take longer than I would like. “Know that you’ve planted the seeds and things will take care of themselves,” he adds. 

I went into the reading thinking I needed to have a specific issue to focus on, so I’d been mulling over the adaptation of my first novel,  Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk , to a television series. I’ve worked with a producer for months, putting together a pilot and treatment for the series, and now things are in a holding pattern. I’ve been obsessing about moving this process forward. Storm nails the issue, and then further explains that Beast is parallel to the Farmer image in a traditional tarot deck. The Farmer does the hard work of nurturing the soil. Then he needs to step back and let the natural process of his work produce fruit. 

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The Beast becomes the anchor for the reading and we move on. The next card I pull is the Bishop, which corresponds to the number 10. It signifies that I’m much further along with this novel adaptation than I realize, and we pull another high card, the nine, which is Jean Grey. Storm explains that having so many high numbers spread before us means I’m nearing the finish of this project. He also warns me that a lot of emotions are coming up now that could lead to self-sabotage. 

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We continue to pull cards as people walking by on the street glance up at us. Storm explains the symbolism of the images before us, as well as the ways the backstories of specific X-Men relate to traditional tarot images. The cards have meanings of their own, he says, and when they’re built into a spread, the associations bring together a fuller story. 

We discuss my relationship with my girlfriend. Storm reads that she and I come from painful backgrounds, but that working together, we will find healing. Again, I’m intrigued, since we both had rough divorces and we escaped from similar religious backgrounds, causing a cutting off of friends and family. 

By the end of the reading, Storm has pulled close to 30 cards. I feel vulnerable and oversaturated, like I just had an accelerated session with a therapist. I’m trying to remember every detail of our conversation. Storm assures me that this is normal. He says I’ll probably forget certain things about the reading, but they may come up later in my memories or my dreams. I’m intrigued to learn more about his take on tarot and divination beyond this reading, so I suggest we go for lunch. 

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Before we head down the street to Herbivore, Storm puts on a long, dark coat that hugs his slender, six-foot frame. He accessorizes with a scarf. He’s so glamorous he looks more like a runway model than a witch. But he tells me he’s definitely the latter. His interpretation of witchcraft is a positive one. He honors the cycles of nature and seasons and works with the community. He says he doesn’t manifest his will for anything negative – he’s always looking for positive energy in the universe.  

This sunny disposition didn’t just land on Storm. He had it tough when he was a kid. He moved around a lot and he grew up a Southern Baptist, which made it hard for him to come out as gay. When he was young, he prayed to Jesus to stop him from being attracted to Harrison Ford. After those pleas went unanswered, he started praying to the Egyptian goddess Nephthys. He’d been reading books about ancient Egypt and loved the stories about ancient gods. He felt a strong connection with Nephthys because she was mysterious and kind.

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Storm stumbled upon his first X-Men comic at the grocery store when he was still in his early teens. It was issue 201, when the “earth goddess punk rock chick” kicks Cyclops’ ass for leadership. She instantly became his favorite of the X-Men, inspiring him to read through previous issues and to order a subscription. He eventually wanted to pattern himself after her. She can be both passionate and serene, but needs to control her emotions or the weather will be adversely affected. She also has to keep her power mostly under wraps, but she’s a wild creature who lets loose when appropriate. She became his hero – so much so that he legally changed his name to Storm in September 2001.  

Storm tells me his parents didn’t like his obsession with X-Men. His mother went so far as to claim that X-Men stood for transvestites or transsexuals. When he was 17, she kicked him out of the house for being gay. “It’s kind of funny how it all worked out,” he tells me, finding the positive even in his familial situation. Coming from a similarly rigid religious upbringing, I understand that life can get a bit messy right before it turns around. 

After Storm changed his name, X-Men continued to hold great significance for him. There were times he would stay up late into the night playing solitaire with his X-Men deck. One day a friend suggested he use the cards for tarot readings. He went through the characters and found corresponding archetypes to the ones in traditional tarot cards.  

Tarot is about symbolism. Storm explains we can put an identity on anything, and he describes a reading he did using hangers. He assigned a unique meaning to each one, then hid them behind his back and had the person choose one to start the reading with. It’s the same idea with the X-Men cards. 

He says he does his readings in the window of Swankety Swank to break the stereotype of magic being done under a shroud of darkness. The whole point of tarot is to shed light on ourselves, he adds. 

When I first heard about Storm and his X-Men cards, I thought it was just a fun idea. By the time we finish our lunch, I realize the significance is much larger than a novelty. These characters really are modern archetypes – not just for Storm, but for anyone willing to believe in the messages they’re meant to carry. They can help bring out the inner hero in all of us. 

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Storm performs tarot readings at Swankety Swank.

Book appointments online at  www.stormantic.com .

One hour readings are $65. 

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