New York is in the middle of a tarot revival. We live in a city where covens like the Witches of Bushwick host parties covered by the New York Times, where occult shops run by young practitioners are thriving. And if nothing else, the deep selection of smudge sticks at the Gowanus Whole Foods is a reminder that the line between the mainstream and the occult has dissolved. Divination is back, more publicly than ever before.
Darcey Leonard is at the forefront of the local resurgence. In 2015 she founded the Tarot Society with her partner Kevin Pelrine as a place for tarot readers to practice their craft with proactive compassion, because she’d never felt a sense of community before she found tarot. “I was booking rock shows and being a part of [that] scene, but I was kind of in the broom closet” — concealing her interest in tarot and the occult — “except to my good friends.” As her appetite for knowledge about the occult grew, it began to fuse with her passion for music, and she went back to booking shows. But this time, it was with a purpose. “It’s important for marginalized groups who feel like they’re not seeing what they want to see to just start booking shows,” she says. “Create what [you] want to exist.”
Her latest creation happens tomorrow at South Street Seaport’s Out to See festival, where Leonard is co-curating an evening of music that will also include tarot readings between sets. Taking inspiration from her experiences of women-centric performances, the lineup is composed entirely of female-identifying performers. “I booked these women because I think that they’re incredible musicians doing interesting work,” she explains. “They’re not playing within the orthodox musical world.”
Amanda Salane is one of those unorthodox performers. She was nineteen when she got her first tarot reading at a fair in the basement of a church. “The [other] kids didn’t take [the tarot reader] seriously at all,” Salene remembers, “but when I got to her I said, ‘I trust you, give me the works.’ She told me everything that’s been manifesting, to this day.” Since then, Salene has become a deep believer in tarot, which has worked its way into her songs. “My music is informed by what I consume, and tarot is one of those things,” she says. “It’s a tool of evolution and understanding of the self, and using it affects how and what I create.”
In her project GODXSS, healing and female empowerment are one and the same. “To me, being a witch
means having a deep relationship with the earth and my environment,” Salene explains, “[an] awareness that I am creating my world, that we are all creating our world.” Her music, an experimental breed of electro that brings to mind a young Lydia Lunch, is “strongly feminine” and inspired by her exploration of identity through goddess culture.
René Kladzyk, who will perform at the showcase with her synthpop project Ziemba, also takes inspiration from the goddess archetype. “The muse is very potent to me,” says Kladzyk. “There [have] been times that I’ve had songs emerge organically in whole form, and it’s hard to give myself credit for that. I feel much more comfortable with attributing those songs to beings in the ether.” For Kladzyk, the muse and its adjacent archetypes play roles similar to guardian angels and ancestors in other faiths and traditions. “I think of my grandmother and my godmother,” she says. “They all can breathe through the songs I sing.”
Kladzyk sees her music as a therapeutic space in which she offers catharsis to her audience. Existing at a crossroads between folk and dream pop, her lo-fi songs allow the listener to lose themselves fully in the narratives. “You can place stories or sounds within specific associations, and that can be fantastical, scary, or inspiring,” she says, noting that music has the capacity to create sacred spaces.
Leonard, the organizer of the showcase, says she also wants the sacredness of the music to be the main focus of the evening. Multifaceted, complex, and diverse, tomorrow’s performance highlights the divinity these musicians find within their art and their tarot cards. “That’s what we’re trying to do here,” says Leonard. “Put the muse back into music.”
Out to See hosts the Tarot Society showcase tomorrow night. For more information, click here.
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