(FYI)

(Some pieces have been taken down so I can pitch versions of them elsewhere; if there’s a card that’s missing that you’d like to read about, you can email me at loabeckenstein at gmail dot com, DM @james0ctober on Twitter, or use this contact form.)

Bye!

Fuck, you guys, I’m gonna miss you.

Two weeks ago, after I sent out the last post, some friends and I had a mini celebration. There was pie and a screening of episode two of Are You The One? (~~~sexually fluid season~~~) and my friends got me just drunk enough to be allow myself to be convinced to play “drivers license” on guitar at 1:00 in the morning. (Sorry, Astoria.) It was all new-ish friends, people I hadn’t known when I started Pop Tarot in September of 2019, and I found myself not quite sure how to explain to them what this had meant to me. In September of 2019, I was still in bipolar year one. No longer in constant crisis, but still constantly on the edge of crisis. (Also, and I totally forgot this until I went and looked at the date just now, I had gotten dumped like the week before I sent out the first post.) When I started Pop Tarot, I promised myself that, no matter what, I would send something out every week, even if it sucked, even if the rest of the week was just trying to function. And I fucking did it (with one exception). I’m more proud of that than I can begin to try to express.

I’m proud of a lot of shit, actually. I’m a much better writer than I was when I started. I’ve never written anywhere near this much, or anywhere near this regularly. By the end, I was no longer ashamed of the posts I didn’t think were good, which is lit. I’m truly honored to have gotten to share the guest posts. Like, really, genuinely honored. Also, humbled. Y’all are incredible. And there’s so much I’m just generally happy about. I made friends! I’ve never done that not irl before! And I’m in a coven with some of them! It’s extraordinary! I’ve had the honor of reading for some of you, and being read for by some of you, which has been an absolute joy and a kick in the ass.

Thank you— thank you— for reading Pop Tarot. That even a single one of you read one post is so meaningful to me. I hope it has made your witchcraft a little more of whatever you needed it to be. I hope you’ve learned new shows and books and songs. My genuine greatest hope is that there is at least one person who, through the course of reading this, is a little less abashed about loving low culture. And I really hope you stay in touch. You can find me @james0ctober on Twitter, and my website has a contact form. Tell me if you watch Black Sails or The Untamed! Tell me if you run into a song that reminds you of a card! Tell me if you watch a show that makes a card finally make sense!

Housekeeping: I’m gonna shut off paid subscriptions after I hit send on this. I did not make much money off Pop Tarot, but it wasn’t none, and I’m nervous about losing that income. If you never paid for Pop Tarot (or if you have some extra $$ and want to throw it my way), you can do that @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein [at] gmail dot com on PayPal. I didn’t link to my The World playlist last time, so here it is. And shout out thank you to Isaac Fellman, Calvin Kasulke, and Charlotte Wang for helping me edit that last post.

A final self-promo paragraph: hi! Hire me for things! I would like nothing more than to read for you, and I read on sliding scale, including barter. I also read for groups of all sorts, and at events (people remember parties with tarot readers, is all I’m saying). I teach tarot lessons individually and in small groups. Some non-tarot stuff you can hire me for: writing, oral histories (individual and institutional, if you’re curious but also like wtf just reach out and I can explain more), dramaturgy (mainly new work), sensitivity reading for trans stuff, queer stuff, and mental illness stuff, and Trans 201 trainings (for when your workplace/ group/ whatever knows the basics but not how to apply it to their lives). You can also buy a book of spreads I created here. I am looking for part-time work, remote or in NYC, hmu if you’d got anything.

I’m bad at endings. I always have been. So I’ll end on a repeat, something that it’s really important to me that you take with you. Seriously, for real, from the absolute bottom of my heart: thank you.

Asterisks

Free readings for anyone doing any work wrt Palestinian liberation, including attending protests, and/or for anyone affected by the attacks. You can reply to this or get in touch here. #SaveSheikhJarrah


I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Brokeback Mountain, but it’s in the double digits. I also don't know how many times I’ve showed it to someone for the first time, but it’s possible that that’s in the double digits, too. I do know that in college, I discovered that my queer roommates hadn’t seen it, and I decided that I needed to correct that posthaste. Posthaste wound up taking most of the year; we were seniors, and when we had downtime we were more likely to smoke weed and have Gene Wilder marathons than to, like, feel things. 

I spent months warning them about how devastating Brokeback would be. But when the day came, I freaked out. I spent the whole morning disclaiming. Maybe it wasn’t actually that sad after all! Maybe I oversold it! It’s good and everything, but I’m sure you’ve seen better! 

I did not make it to the party I planned on attending that night because I spent too long with a crying roommate curled under each arm. 

The Two of Pentacles is learning how to sell a show to your friends. It’s striking the balance between warning them that the first season sucks and scaring them off from watching entirely. It’s particularly strange in this moment in TV history. I think that at this point, we’ve pretty much gotten used to a massive volume of content; I haven’t heard anyone say “peak TV” in a while. But when there are so many options, it’s hard to sell something that isn’t perfect. Why would anyone want to start a show that they’ve been told has a shitty first season if they have infinite other options? 

Something I only recently figured out is thematic in tarot is mutual exclusivity. In the Two of Pentacles, you can’t grow everything at one time. If you warn someone about the negative parts of a show, they are going to go in with those on their mind. If you don’t, they will be unprepared. The first might stop them from trying the show, and the second might keep them from continuing. That can be a scary balance if you’re extremely invested in them watching. It’s not just about getting someone to start watching, but if you can deal if they do watch and don’t like it. Why do you want this person to watch this show? What will you feel if they start it and then stop? If they hate it? If they just don’t care about it?

Recommendations are a cultivation of trust, and the Two of Pentacles is about growth. The card is mainly about what you’re choosing to grow, so it can be easy to forget that actually, choosing to grow something is a big thing in and of itself. If we’re sticking with the seeds metaphor, sometimes plants die no matter how much work you put into them. The Two of Pentacles comes with a reminder that no matter what decisions you make, things are dynamic. You can’t predict what someone will feel about a show. But it’s up to you how, and if, you try. 


Second-to-last week, so I’m not going to advertise subscription anymore, but get in touch any time for a tarot reading, tarot tutoring, or if have any questions, and you can tip me at @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein at gmail dot com on PayPal. Be safe, watch TV. <3

Guest Post: Hannibal

By James Factora

One of the saddest things for me about finishing Pop Tarot is that I’m not going to get to share other people’s beautiful pop cult and tarot writing with you anymore. So it’s with great joy and sorrow that I say, for the final time, this piece is fucking great and I’m very happy that I get to send it out.


“This homosexual dream of perfect metaphysical union is not so much a reflected heterosexual ideal as it is the compensation for having wept in the darkness.” — Thomas E. Yingling, Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies

“We're conjoined. I'm curious whether either of us can survive separation.” — Will Graham, “Dolce,” Hannibal


As a child, when I was merely unruly and not yet monstrous, I was convinced that it was my lot in life to never quite be satiated. In my mind, the world was divided into people who got what they wanted and people who didn’t, and I fell squarely into the latter camp. Even in high school when I thought I had evolved beyond this archaic mindset, I stayed with a girl for far too long, the two of us entangled in mutual destruction, because I believed I was so singular, so wretched in my desires that no one else would ever love me. 

I didn’t watch Hannibal until 2019, long after my desires had proven too much for my high school girlfriend, but I still felt uncomfortably exposed, in a number of ways, by its depiction of the relationship between Will and Hannibal.

In season 2, episode 12, the psychiatrist and his patient are sitting shrouded in shadow. It’s unclear if they’re in a session or if this is an after hours visit; it’s unclear whether there’s a real difference anyway.

“We are just alike,” says Will. It’s unclear if there is a difference. “You're as alone as I am. And we're both alone without each other.”

To clarify, I do not mean to present the relationship between Hannibal and Will as an example of a “healthy” relationship, nor as “good gay representation.” I do, however, mean to present it as the apex of a particular queer fantasy, an obsession so strong that one must constantly resist the temptation to be consumed by the other — in Hannibal, of course, that desire for consumption is quite literal. 

But Hannibal and Will never quite merge into that singularity, as close as they come. Instead, they sublimate that desire through acts of violence, and, to Will’s horror, take pleasure in that violence. In Hannibal’s words, Will delights himself in wickedness and berates himself for the delight. 

The Hannibal Lecter canon as a queer and trans story has been explored endlessly — including quite excellently by the main author of this newsletter, whose essay on Hannibal and trans self-creation inspired me to write this (also because they so kindly asked me to). Oddly, the BDSM themes of the show haven’t been explored quite so extensively, even though every letter in the acronym is represented. 

Hannibal appears bound in rope quite a few times throughout the series — including in many of Will’s hallucinatory dream sequences. Yet even when it’s Will fantasizing about tying Hannibal to a tree to be torn asunder by a nightmare deer, or Will holding a blade to the neck of a straitjacketed and suspended Hannibal, Hannibal is still the one who gets what he wants in the end — total psychological domination over Will. 

He even goes so far as to ask Will, “Do you fantasize about killing me?” in their first session after his patient has been freed from false imprisonment, which he facilitated. 

“Yes.”

“How would you do it?”

“With my hands.”

As is, it’s difficult to believe that this exchange, layered with double entendre, aired on network television. Ironically, the words are rendered acceptable through the lens of violence, rather than through the lens of queer desire, an overt depiction of which would likely get the scene axed. The trick is that in Hannibal, gay lust and bloodlust are one and the same. This is a classic tactic of queer-coded villainry, yes, but it’s also the sadomasochist’s creed. 

This is also the only reason why Alana Bloom is allowed to ask Mason Verger if he knows what happens when you stimulate your prostate gland with a cattle prod, which Hannibal naturally knew. 

“He helped us milk you,” she says, before tauntingly holding up a vial of his sperm and proceeding to shove him into the pool in the middle of his room, holding his head underwater with help from her lover (who happens to be Mason’s sister!) until the eel he’s been keeping there forcibly worms its way into his mouth. In other words, death by deepthroat. 

It’s not the only death by deepthroat in the series either. There’s also the scene where Hannibal’s therapist, Bedelia du Maurier, reaches into a former patient’s mouth trying to “save” him. There’s a moment of hesitation before she gives in and shoves her arm ever deeper, withdrawing it from his mouth coated in blood. Naturally, she later blames this impulse on Hannibal’s influence. Bryan Fuller himself has said that he came up with that scene partially because “the imagery of Gillian Anderson fisting Zach Quinto tickled” him. 

In the same interview, Fuller says that the camp of Hannibal comes from the storytelling being “so dark, it’s so unrelenting that you can’t help but giggle at some of the ridiculousness.” This, too, is a crucial aspect of leather and BDSM — that might be why we call the associated activities “play,” after all. And ultimately, play is about storytelling, stretching the boundaries of our reality for the length of a scene, living our wildest dreams, until we come back down to earth. Almost like the escapism of a good episode of television. 


James Factora is a writer and musician in Brooklyn. You can find them on Twitter @jamesfactora


Second-to-last week, so I’m not going to advertise subscription anymore, but get in touch any time for a tarot reading, tarot tutoring, or if have any questions, and you can tip me at @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein at gmail dot com on PayPal. Be safe, watch TV. <3

The Two of Pentacles

So uh. This is the last regular week of Pop Tarot. Next week, for the last card, I’ll be doing a single, longer post instead of two, which I’ll send out on Wednesday. A week or two after that, I’ll send out a mushy wrap-up post. And then, that’s… it. I will turn off subscription payments, and Pop Tarot will melt into the archive.

This Wednesday, though, I will be sending out a final guest post! It’s a James Factora piece about Hannibal and leather, and honestly, how possibly could I ask to go out on anything better?


Let's count/ The ways we/ Could make this/ Last/ Forever. I did not save the Two of Pentacles until the end for romantic reasons, but it’s kind of a romantic thing to do nonetheless. Like many cards, it’s about balance and growth, but unlike those other cards, I feel like I kinda get it. Even with 78 specific cards, they’re still all about large-scale shit, archetypes and concepts and ideals and whatnot. But the Two of Pentacles feels like something I can actually do. If the Ace of Pentacles is a seed, the Two is two seeds planted in the same pot. (For me, this imagery is taken from the Raven’s Prophecy deck, but I think it’s relatively common, at very least for the Ace.) The windowsill the plants live on only has the amount of sunlight that it has. You could angle the pot so that the sunlight hits both seeds insufficiently, or so that it hits one of them completely and the other not at all. With the first, both seeds will grow, but neither to their full potential; with the second, you’ll have one extraordinary plant, but only one. (I am not actually sure at all that this is how plants work, but definitely do not correct me if I am wrong, it’s a very functional metaphor.)

The Two of Pentacles is about deciding what you’re doing to do with that square of sunlight. There’s no objective right or wrong here. Morally, practically, personally. Sometimes, quantity beats quality, and sometimes it’s the opposite. Mostly, it’s muddy. 

***

It’s not so cut and dry/ It isn’t black and white/ What if it’s all black, baby/ All the time? One answer is the repot the plant. A scarcity mindset is, after all, often unnecessary, and good to push past. And if you’re a person for whom that idea feels hot or raw or new, I think it’s great to take the Two of Pentacles as a call to arms to lean into it, try to rewire your thinking. But if you’re a person who’s been repeatedly told that scarcity mindsets are unnecessary and is starting to feel like that is maybe perhaps a lot of the time pretty much bullshit, the Two of Pentacles can be a strange sort of affirmation. Yes, actually, you can’t do everything that you want, or even that you need. That deserves mourning, and often anger, and at the same time, it’s simply a fact. The Two of Pentacles is the moment after the emotion. It’s the time to take stock of what you do have. I don’t mean time to get unnaturally optimistic, but to be really clear and practical about it. The resources aren’t enough, but they’re still resources. Where can they go? What can they do?

***

I'm alright with a slow burn/ Taking my time, let the world turn/ I’m gonna do it my way, it'll be alright. I love the beginnings of the Minor Arcana suits. I mean, they frustrate me to no end, because they’re all ripe with the promise of a future and a self that you simply can’t speed up. But I think they’re also all inherently hopeful. The Two of Pentacles, particularly, feels grounding to me. Sure, you may not have sufficient light for two plants, but there’s no version of the Two of Pentacles where there’s no light at all. There’s give and take in this sort of growth. Finding the balance is this early in the suit not because it’s something you need to figure out before you can move forward, but because it’s something you’ll always be learning.

***

Pynk, Janelle Monáe

Hardline, Julien Baker

Slow Burn, Kacey Musgraves

Playlist!


Second-to-last week, so I’m not going to advertise subscription anymore, but get in touch any time for a tarot reading, tarot tutoring, or if have any questions, and you can tip me at @james0ctober on Venmo and Cash App and at jamiebeckenstein at gmail dot com on PayPal. Be safe, watch TV. <3

Loading more posts…