Tarot For Modern Times: Q&A With Litwitchure

Since last summer, Litwitchure — otherwise known as Fiona Lensvelt and Jennifer Cownie — have been delighting crowds at festivals and literary events with their fabulous tarot cabaret, interviewing authors, hosting workshops, and offering tarot consultancy services. Our associate editor, Terri-Jane Dow, caught up with Fiona to talk tarot.

Photo by Gavin Day

Photo by Gavin Day

Firstly, can you explain who and what Litwitchure is?

We are Fiona Lensvelt and Jennifer Cownie, 32 both.

We're London's first and so far only literary tarot cabaret and consultancy, which is a rather opaque way of saying: Jen and I interview authors using occult methods. Rather than asking the questions in the usual way, we read their tarot cards. Jen's background is in book publishing and marketing; mine in journalism and editing. We've both spent a lot of time, professionally and personally, around books and authors. Litwitchure is our way of injecting a little mischief into our work.

How did you both get involved in tarot reading? Was it something you'd always done?

We've long been dabblers but as anyone who has dabbled in tarot probably knows: you need to do a lot of work to learn the cards. So a few years ago, we decided to take a course at Treadwell's in London, which helped us to cement that knowledge and began us on our journey to become certified card slingers.

Why do you think there's been such a tarot resurgence recently?

I guess one reason might be that we're living in turbulent times: there was a resurgence of interest at the start of the 20th century, when times were tough. Today, many people feel that the systems that are meant to govern us and protect us are broken. The future feels uncertain and people are turning to alternative methods — however unlikely — to seek reassurance or understanding.

Another thing worth noting is that this new wave of tarot is much less focused on fortune-telling than it has been in the past. Many people, including us, are using tarot not as a way of predicting the future but of reexamining the present. For many, the tarot has more in common with mindfulness than mediumship. For us, it's also a cracking conversation device — when you place tarot cards in front of your querent (the term that is used to describe a person you're reading for — it means "one who seeks"), it doesn't matter if they're well versed in the tarot or not. Everyone responds to the images and symbols that are laid out before them. Think: Rorschach blots with more mystery to them.

What are your favourite tarot decks?

I have to say, I love the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman-Smith, which was published 110 years ago this year. The RWS is the best-selling tarot deck in the world but Pamela died with barely a penny to her name and in obscurity. It's only now that Pamela's legacy is being reappraised and rightly so. The artwork may look a little outdated to some but her imagery is so rich — the more you get into the history of the cards and the tarot, the more it bears fruit.

I love and regularly use the Spolia deck by Jessa Crispin, formerly of Bookslut, and illustrator Jen May. It's based on the RWS but the images, which are collages, are more modern and free of the "woo-woo" occultness that occasionally puts off those who are new to the cards. People respond very well to this deck when I use it and tarot readers can gain a lot from reading Jessa's interpretations of the cards. Her interpretation of the Lovers is spicy! And her Ten of Cups is fabulous, too.

What advice would you give to budding tarot readers?

Learn from someone who has been using the cards for much longer than you! And be creative with how you could use and adapt tarot for your own purposes.

What's been the best thing about Litwitch-ing, so far?

Travelling the country with my best friend Jen, combining our favourite things: books and tarot (and, often, wine)