Historically, I have turned to various fortune telling rituals in times of uncertainty or when I really, really, really wanted something: a new job, a crush to like me, a bag filled with diamonds mysteriously placed in my mailbox. I pull up a horoscope (or several, depending on whether my desire is immediately confirmed or entertain a tarot card reading. But I don’t really believe in any of it, and that’s not just because for some reason 70 percent of my Susan Miller readings include some long-winded monologue about me moving furniture or acquiring property. I may be a hedonistic Taurus, but I am also a blogger, thanks. The divining is just sort of a balm for whatever restless energy I’m currently feeling. If I can blame the stars for my failures and fuck-ups, why not?
So I was intrigued by Inner Compass cards, which are also the most bullshit version of a sort-of Tarot deck devoid of any rules and calculations. You can essentially project anything you want onto these cards as their printed meanings are frustratingly vague to the point of nonsense. They were created by a “spiritual motivator” and self-described “visionary” named Neel van Lierop and apparently are inspired by “a combination of ancient wisdoms linking maya mythology, taoism, buddhism and the i ching.” I bought them on Goop for $55 (Jezebel’s money, not my own, my god) intrigued by the free-for-all they seemed to inspire.
Could I pull one out when contemplating what pizza toppings to order? Pull for one when I’m about to send a spicy tweet? Pull one out for whether or not to blow up my life and move to the woods and become an artisanal goat milk purveyor? I wanted Goop-y shit, this was Goop-y shit.
There are 49 cards to a pack of Inner Compass cards, each with a vague nugget of wisdom. “This card is an invitation to drop anchor. Intuitively you feel that something is not quite right, but you are too busy to act upon it,” read the Anchor card’s description. “Now is the time to slow down and take a long, good look around.” The cards are intended, the website reads, to “propose questions that awaken opportunities that have been waiting for you.” So I decided to try and “awaken the opportunities inside me” by offloading my decisions to the cards for a day. If they failed to awaken any opportunities in me, I vowed to burn the cards in a large funeral pyre in the Gowanus Canal and mail the ashes back to Goop headquarters.*
The directions are basically, “every day shuffle the deck with focus and intention, pick one or more cards instinctively, and your intuition will guide you toward a new pattern of belief and positivity,” the website reads. You can’t pick a wrong card. In the morning I shuffled the deck and pulled a card: The Healer. I flipped through the little book of explanations to find mine. “You are currently going through a process of deep healing,” it began. I was told to shed “everything that distracted me,” to “open myself to change,” to “rise out of the mud like a lotus flower with increased empathy, understanding, and wisdom.” This was redundant, considering that among the Jezebel staff it’s already widely known that I’m a lotus flower who has already risen out of the mud with an increased empathy, understanding, and wisdom. Was I comforted by this apt assessment? Not really.
The thing that sets Inner Compass cards apart from a Tarot deck, is that the latter anticipates the future. Inner Compass cards do something much lazier: they don’t predict, they just give a pep talk. They’re billed as “oracle cards,” a category that can become whatever you want it to be, as long as you’re thinking about “your intentions” while you pick a card. That looseness also means that many of them feel mind-numbingly repetitive. Later, before lunch, I pulled “New Chapter.” I was told to “not stay stuck in my own resistance,” to “be confident,” and to “leap towards the unknown.”
All of this sounded lit, but I wanted, almost, to be talked down to. I wanted a strong sense of direction and authority from these cards, the way that the Zodiac and Tarot have a sense of storied authority from centuries of use and recommendation. But the Inner Compass cards work in opposition to that rhetoric, essentially urging users to manifest their own destinies and merely use the cards to guide their intentions, not predict their futures. I wanted the cards to know better than me.
Isn’t the best part of getting your fortune read when some wizened old witch lady, with an outstretched boney figure pointed at you, screams for you to leave her psychic shop because of all the bad energy you’ve brought in? “Leave now, child, and don’t ever speak to the dark man who looms in your dreams,” she says, a gust of wind forcing the rickety shop door open sending in a swirling cloud of dry leaves and soot as the lights of the store flicker wildly. You ever have that happen to you? (No, seriously, has that happened to you, or is it just a thing that happens in movies?)
I flipped through a book built on ~ good vibes ~ looking for negativity. Maybe I wanted to be cursed, not enlightened. I might turn to horoscopes to be emotionally coddled from time to time, but I also admittedly search for concrete warnings and reasons to say “no” to my future. But as I searched through the deck’s accompanying booklet that explains the cards meanings, all of it was the same whispery yoga rhetoric: let your anger go, let go of control, let go of limiting patterns, clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, etc.
Okay, so I wanted these cards to be something they weren’t. But as my day went on I found a much better use for them: “awakening the opportunities” in other people. I made my co-workers Kelly and Megan pull cards, because who could resist? Megan pulled “Back to Nature.” “Maybe there is something in particular that catches your attention? A tree, a flower, a leaf or an insect,” I said, reading aloud from the book in my office. “Make contact with it.”
“I connected with a bug this morning,” Megan said. “I killed it.”
Kelly pulled “Many Thanks,” which advised her to open her heart and “meander at a higher vibration,” which she interpreted as “get worked up and walk around.”
Later that night, at a hot pot restaurant, I explained the cards to my friends and why I was using them. They all wanted to pull one. In fact they were all extremely excited to pull one. But why? Was nothing cornier than a Goop-approved stack of “oracle cards?” Shuffling the cards, having my friends pull one, and me reading aloud their meaning felt like something I would have done at a slumber party as a child. The cards are so vague and peppy in their descriptions, not bogged down by the adult responsibilities of families and jobs and relationships, that they reminded me of making and sharing paper fortune tellers with friends, or using a Ouija board, or playing M.A.S.H. The casualness with which you can pull a card (just shuffle, set that “intention,” and pull) had me bringing them out over meals and at my work desk. It wasn’t a ceremonial act, even slightly goofy as I made my friends entertain a little bit of Goop-y mysticism for a second of their hectic days.
The cards didn’t ground me, nor did I feel like, even with sustained practice and shuffling each day, they’d enlighten me. But having my friends pull them, as if they actually meant something, was cute and admittedly fun. “By exploring the different themes and patterns, you will discover the world as your playground,” the Inner Compass told me. Or maybe the world is a 6th grade slumber party?
*I didn’t do this.