In the StarsRachel True Wades into the World of Tarot

Rachel True, a Black woman with curly brown hair, poses against a turquoise background

Rachel True, author of True Heart Intuitive Tarot, Guidebook and Deck (Photo credit: Courtesy of Rachel True)

As a kid growing up in the ‘90s, one of my favorite movies was the cult classic The Craft. At the time, I was always looking for Black characters in TV shows and movies, and The Craft had Rochelle—a Black girl attending a predominantly white school and dealing with racism from her peers. Rochelle was played by actor Rachel True, and over the last 24 years, she has amassed a supportive fanbase that has faithfully followed her career. In October, True added a new title to her impressive resume: author. True Heart Intuitive Tarot, Guidebook and Deck is an essay collection and tarot deck that uses True’s life stories to illustrate the 22 cards of the Major Arcana and detail her personal evolution. True takes concepts from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and updates them to make a more inclusive and palatable deck for new or seasoned tarot readers. True joins the ranks of deck creators who’ve decided to add their flavor to the mix. Their voices push forward intersectional visual representations and interpretations of the cards for tarot lovers seeking decks and creators that look like them. Her deck is an amazing addition to this trend and based on her guidebook and the artwork on each card, she succeeded in her vision. 

More than two years ago, I wheeled down the witchy rabbit hole, and since then, tarot and oracle decks have become tools that allow me to dig deeper into who I am. I discovered these tools after experiencing a tremendous loss, at a time when I was aiming to expand and explore my spirituality. Tarot showed me who I am beyond my grief; it taught me to lean into my new normal. Spiritual tools like tarot are becoming culturally trendy, but witchcraft has an outsized impact when used intentionally. It’s no surprise that True is also a tarot practitioner; she’s an incredible spirit who’s rightfully unapologetic about her life and the lessons she’s learned over the years. Her candidness around owning her truth as a Black woman is something I hope many of us are able to do as we heal, grow, and become who we are.

True’s experiences mirror many women’s experiences, mine included. We each encounter love and heartbreak, racism and microaggressions, and having to navigate a world that tries to crush us. Each story in True’s book explores her evolution as an actor, a woman, and tarot practitioner, as well as how her experiences have influenced the way she views tarot. Bitch spoke to True about how tarot has influenced her life and why she considers the practice a tool for healing.

What led to the creation of the True Heart Intuitive tarot deck?

I was always drawn to esoteric studies. I was very young, maybe 4 [or] 5, when I [learned] to read. I was in foster care before that. As a child, the two books I pulled down from my parents’ bookcase [were] Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols and [Friedrich] Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I was pulling those down because of the cover art and a few keywords. But a few years later, a friend of my parents gave me a tarot deck. I was struck by the images on the deck because they hit me on a visceral level. It’s almost like a language.

And then I realized [the tarot] was very similar to the two books I just mentioned. That began my interest in tarot. I played around with [it] and then started studying more seriously [in my] late teens and early 20s. Nine months before The Craft script landed in my lap, my TV broke. I didn’t fix it because this voice inside me said you’re supposed to be doing something else with your time. If you fix this TV, you’ll just watch TV. So I read a lot of books and studied tarot. I would write down my readings and start[ed] seeing the same cards come up. I was very deep into my studies, and two of my guy friends came over and fixed my TV. A week later, my friend said, “You’ve got to read for this movie called The Craft.” It was all very fortuitous and serendipitous.

I’ve loved discovering that you were into tarot before The Craft.

[It’s] important to me that people know The Craft came to me because I was already interested in [tarot and witchcraft]. Fairuza [Balk] and I were the two [cast members] who were really into the subject matter. And according to the director [Andrew Fleming], we were the first two people cast. It makes sense.

Your guidebook is uniquely organized through the Major Arcana, connecting each card with an essay that centers a pivotal moment or lesson in your life. Why was the storytelling angle important when you were assembling this guidebook?

There are a lot of tarot books out there, so I definitely knew my voice had something to add. I also thought [about how] when I was younger and reading tarot books, I had to [actually] go to the bookshop. It wasn’t quite what it is now. I appreciate you mentioning the essays because people are so focused on the deck, and I’m like, listen, I wrote a whole book. It was really challenging because this is the first book [I’ve written] by myself. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable [calling] myself an artist. I’m an actor—that’s what I am. But now I understand that I am an artist. So whether that art is writing these personal essays, writing a fiction book, writing scripts, acting, or sewing a jacket, I try to live my life in an artistic way. I realized a while back [that] making art every day is the only thing that keeps me satisfied.

Do you have a favorite tarot card? If so, what is it?

It changes all the time, but while I was writing the book, it was the High Priestess for sure. I’ve gone on a journey with the book. I’ve gone [to] New Orleans on a hunt for the High Priestess in myself and others. When I was younger, I really didn’t like her; I was intimidated by her. I thought she was too austere, quiet, and buttoned up. But as an adult, I realized [we] don’t know what she has on under that robe. She just knows not to give it all away. I felt really connected to Pamela Colman Smith, the artist of the original deck, [while] writing. But now I feel much more Queen of Wands. Maybe it’s because I talk in the book [about the fact that] I’ve never been married, and [it’s something] I would like to experience.

There are some lessons you can only learn in concert with another person. I wish middle-aged men weren’t so goddamn grumpy because I really do like men around my age. We have the same interests. They get my pop culture jokes, but lord have mercy are they grumpy. I’m bound and determined to find a husband, though it may be a younger man at this point. I don’t know. I feel like the Queen of Wands, and I’m just exploring that side of myself.

As somebody who has had a few decks, I always find it interesting to read everyone’s interpretations of both the Minor and Major Arcanas. What are the similarities and differences between the decks?

My interpretation sticks to the classic. They’re pretty Rider-Waite specific. I did that on purpose because Joseph Campbell talks about the hero’s journey, and the Rider-Waite-Smith really breaks down the hero’s journey in a tremendous way. I also realize a lot of people, being raised on YouTube or TikTok videos, may not know the classic interpretations. I’ve seen some modern twists on the cards that are great, and I’ve seen some modern ones [where] I’m like, that ain’t the card, but okay.

For example, the three of anything doesn’t always mean there’s an interloper in your dynamic, [and I don’t love that it’s being twisted that way]. So I just thought if people have the classic interpretations, then they can use their intuition to decide if [there’s] a third party in [their] thing. I wrote the book to encourage people to do their own readings. For $30 or less, you can do your own reading instead of hitting someone up for $100 or looking willy nilly on YouTube. I [strongly] encourage people to do their own [readings]. It’s not as hard as people think.

When I was first coming up, a lot of books about tarots and decks were heavy and very homogenous—by that I mean all white. Since then, there’s been a plethora of decks that have come out, and there are more diverse decks out there. But I was happy to throw my hat in that ring because having all different kinds of brown skin tones in the deck was very important to me but [so was] not excluding white people. We’re all in this together. I wanted a deck that beginners can wrap their heads around. I wanted the deck to be friendly [and warm]. There are a few decks out there that are super popular, but I swear I think the creator was depressed or it was raining the whole time they made it because [they have] a heavy feel. I wanted this deck to have a light feel.

Your deck is stunning. You did a marvelous job. How did you and your illustrator work together to develop and design these cards? What was the process?

She did an amazing job with the deck. A lot of the images are absolutely stunning. [Some] of the process was different from how I would have done it. I wanted to go and brainstorm with her. She’s in Canada, and because I was working with a major publisher, I wasn’t afforded that luxury. We had to do it all over the phone. I basically wrote a second novelette while I was writing the book. I would scour the internet for images and then write a description of the card. I would show her the original Rider-Waite card, my brief on what I wanted for my version of this card, and then a lot of artwork that I pulled. That would get sent to the publishers, the publishers would send it to the artist, the artist would send her sketch back to the publishers, publishers would send it to me, and we would go through a couple iterations like that. We turned up with a beautiful deck. I’m super proud of what we created together.

True Heart Intuitive Tarot is a light blue book that features an illustration of a Black woman holding a yellow knapsack over her shoulder

True Heart Intuitive Tarot, Guidebook and Deck by Rachel True (Photo credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

You were on the Tarot Ladies podcast in October discussing how you felt about Black bookstores and owners not supporting or carrying your book.

I get why people might not know there’s a book because there’s a lot of focus on the deck. But there was a hashtag a couple months ago about supporting Black authors. I’m a Black author and I’m really proud [that I] wrote a book. That was one of [my] goals in life, and I’m very proud of my work. I would love it if some Black people, entities, bookstores, or groups would understand that I’m a Black woman who wrote a book.

Let’s talk through a couple of things you mentioned in the book. Of course, I have to mention The Craft; it’s how many of us got to know you.

What, you didn’t see CB4 first? No, I’m kidding.

If we were old enough to watch it!

That’s right because you’re [just] a baby.

I know you don’t like labels, but people may be surprised by how witchy you are in real life. Rochelle is still a relevant and powerful character for those who see themselves in her. What are your thoughts about that role nearly 25 years later?

It was an important pop movie. The Craft was one of the first movies I’d seen where Black and white people were leads in a teen movie together—and I was in it. Before that, there was Pretty in Pink and all those [teen] movies in the ’80s. Those movies were great, but they were very white. [Sixteen Candles] had an Asian character, and the whole joke was that he was Asian. It was very separate and unequal. So The Craft was important on that pop level. Fairuza and I giggle sometimes [because] we helped bring witchcraft to the forefront of pop culture. That movie really did help kick off this modern [witchcraft] movement because [the practice] was a little maligned in the ’70s and ’80s.

The ’70s had the white woman’s feminist movement, [and] a lot of witches were [depicted as] old, desexualized krones who steal your soul for their beauty. In the ’80s, there was satanic panic. So [there was] a misunderstanding [about witches and witchcraft]. When I was cast, I remember thinking, “[Rochelle’s] burned, suicidal, and she’s Black. Is [being Black Rochelle’s] problem?” I wondered if the producers and the world at large thought my Blackness was a problem. And as a Black woman, I was like, racism is an everyday [problem]. [So] what’s [Rochelle’s] actual problem? Gen X was raised [understanding that] people are going to be horribly racist, [and] you’re just going to have to deal with it and work twice as hard. So I remember thinking, “shouldn’t [my character] have something else?” But the fact that racism is her storyline is important and probably more relevant than ever. You can ignore racism, but it’s here. It’s in the White House. I wish I hadn’t been excluded from the movie’s publicity, but it’s a cute teen movie.

In 2019, you tweeted about the microaggressions and macroaggressions you endured during press junkets for The Craft. I wasn’t aware that you’d experienced this until you publicly shared it. But your fans go hard for you and won’t let you be forgotten. What does that mean for you? 

Oh, it’s fabulous. Frankly, talking about a movie I did a million years ago is not that exciting [for] me as a person and as an artist. But then I think about what Rochelle means. It wasn’t just Black girls who got to see themselves onscreen—every weirdo [did]. I can’t tell you how many gay men loved Rochelle because she was different and [got] picked on for no other reason than her skin color. [She] really resonated with a lot of people. I appreciate that the fans understood [why I was upset]. I don’t expect a reporter to know my name, but if you’re going to put up a picture of the four of us, talk about the movie, but only mention [the other] three, I’m going to be triggered. My entire childhood I watched Black people in things [only being referred to as] “the Black person.” They weren’t even worthy of a name.

three tarot cards, 3 Discs, The Empress, and Queen of Swords, feature people of color in colorful poses against colorful backgrounds

3 Discs, left, The Empress, and Queen of Swords cards from True Heart Intuitive Tarot, Guidebook and Deck by Rachel True (Photo credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In the book, you write about your complicated relationship with your mother. This is something a lot of women, especially Black women, deal with. Imperfect mother-daughter relationships are common, but I loved that you were real about the delicate dance that comes with navigating that. That takes a lot of growth.

As children, our world is centered around us, as it should be. We all have our baggage, but we get to a certain age [and we’re healthy-ish], we realize that everybody is their own person. [Everybody] has a lot going on. I will say I regret not putting in a little more about [my birth mother in that essay]. I put stuff in there about my stepmother [because] she is the woman who raised me, and we have a really great dynamic now. But I want people to know I wrote an essay about my birth mother because it’s an important part of my childhood. I also wish I put a little more in there about my stepmom because so many of us have step parents who raised us.

You call tarot a “shrink in a box,” giving us insight into our current and future selves. How can those of us who understand tarot as a guide utilize it more for healing and growth?

Well, forget all the airy-fairy, mystical, esoteric, occult stuff. Let’s just talk on a practical level: Carl Jung said the best way to predict the future is to understand how the present was determined [by] or derived from the past. That’s where tarot is exceptional—in one’s reaction to the cards. [Your] reaction to the cards is going to be very different [from] your friend’s or your spouse’s. So the magic isn’t really in the paper, the cards, or the ink. The hero’s journey is full of symbology. I can look at a card on one day and it makes me happy, and [on] another day it might fill me with dread. If I can get more honest about where I am at, what my motivations are, and why I make the choices I make, then I can then make better choices. [This] leads me to the future that I want. It’s so much more helpful to do a tarot reading for yourself than it is to call up your friend and vomit all your stuff onto them without consideration for what’s going on with them. So I’ll do a reading when something really bothers or triggers me and then try to calm myself down. It’s a self-soothing [tool]. Tarot’s really good at helping [us] figure out what’s actually going on, and it’s exceptional for helping open up [our] intuition.

When you walk in a room and go, “It feels weird in here. It feels really tense,” that’s all I’m talking about. Everybody has that already. Nobody attributes that to anything nefarious. Tarot cards can help you understand that energy. I use tarot to help work with my energy because I’m the only thing I can shift. I can’t shift someone else’s behavior.  For example, I [wrote] about an essay about getting sick. It was very tiring to have something sideline my career. I was in a “can you believe [this]?” period, but if you just stay in that shell-shocked position, your pain [becomes] your identity. Black women don’t have [that] luxury.

What advice would you give Black women who are curious about but also scared of tarot and want to learn more about it?

Ask yourself, what [are] you actually scared of? And then examine that fear. Are you fearful because somebody told you [to be]? Or are you fearful ‘cause you’re [navigating tarot on] your own? We have forgotten some of our own history. When we go back to different countries in Africa, there were many beautiful religions—most of which would be considered kind of “witchy” by today’s [standards].

It’s so much more helpful to do a tarot reading for yourself than it is to call up your friend.

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What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

I would love for people to read the book, use my cards, and tell me what their takeaway is. I don’t [personally] have one specific takeaway other than always striving to keep myself mentally, emotionally, and energetically in a high-vibe place. I truly believe that if I’m happier, that vibration affects other people and they’re happier, and then the whole planet [will] be in a better place. It has been a rough, tricky time. These last [nine] months have been a lot for all of us. I’ve never experienced anything like this in all my years. My Gen X fortitude and Black woman fortitude [have] enabled me to [say] this is really weird. Everything I had planned is sidelined. Every movie [and project] I was going to do is gone. And launching a book during COVID is weird, but at the same time, I understand it’s like the Wheel of Fortune in tarot. It’s always moving and turning. So it’s about how gracefully you can dance on that wheel without falling off.

What’s next for you?

I really do enjoy writing. Well, like every writer, I love/hate it. It’s torture at times. But I’d like to write another book. I [also] get so many questions about how I look. Everyone’s like, “Black don’t crack. That’s what it is.” It’s not that simple, especially because I had a major illness. I’ve done it all naturally. Honestly, I look better now than I did when I was younger simply because I’m not sick anymore. So I’d love to write a grown woman’s health book. I’ve learned tricks over the years [using] no Botox, no fillers, no nothing. I would also like to write a fiction book; there would be so much freedom in [that].

I do a lot of little videos on my Instagram stories. It’s just shooting and editing practice for a film I would like to make. I’m honing my [directing] skills. I shoot the shots, and then I edit [them without a program]. Now that I have finished the book, I would love to get back to acting as well. I really do love acting. I took a break because they were typecasting me age wise. I stopped auditioning for a minute after a producer for a grandma role said to me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I don’t know. I go where they tell me to go. I told him I wasn’t right for this.” The producer said, “Next time, stand your ground.” I [got] tired of this game, so I wrote a book and focused on other stuff. But now [I realize] I’m probably grown up enough to play someone’s mom and have some fun.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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Photo of a young Black woman with her hair parted and hanging down straight.  She is smiling and facing the camera sideways in her wheelchair.  She is outside under the tree branches while wearing a white and black dress.
by Vilissa Thompson
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Vilissa Thompson is a macro-minded social worker from South Carolina. Ramp Your Voice! is her organization where she discusses the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled woman, including intersectionality, racism, politics, and why she unapologetically makes good trouble. Vilissa can be found on Twitter at @VilissaThompson, @RampYourVoice, and on Patreon.