LOCAL SPOTLIGHT: Emma McFarland of Cloister Mysticism•
Posted on March 12 2021
MAGGIE: Hi Emma!! This is already fun for me to turn the tables and have YOU answer the questions, as you’re the one usually conducting our blog interviews! But it’s about time the audience got to know you a little bit better!
I know you quite well but for those who don’t, can you give us a brief introduction?
EMMA: Yes, hello! Things look quite different here on the other side of the table! I’ll start with the obvious… My name is Emma and I’m the EM behind Cloister Mysticism. I usually love to come up with a charmingly pithy statement about myself, but in the wake of 2020, I find myself being unable to muster anything other than aching earnestness. I’d love to say that I’m a weathered and wise seer who holds a secret key to life that I offer with my tarot practice, but the truth is that I’m a person who is struggling and learning along with everyone else. Last year, I started a website and tarot offering called Cloister Mysticism in an attempt to make sense of the world around us and with the hopes that, in some small way, I could help, comfort, and empower those around me.
*All photos taken by Elise Ewoldt
M: It’s been a great time for reflection over the past year. How would you say your self goals and aspirations have changed or evolved over the last few years since we first met and you became Burke’s first intern?
E: Oh, have I done some reflecting over this past year—lots of reflecting, healing, growing, and transforming. When I first became the intern at Burke, I had just left a PhD program and career in academia (metaphoric skinned knees and all) and was trying to crawl my way out from working bottom-of-the-barrel customer service jobs with the thought of possibly starting my own ethically mindful retail space. As I began to really address the recent traumas in my professional and personal life, I was fortunate enough to be included in the supportive environments at Burke as well as Somatic / Good Fortune where I found much needed homes. The incredible women at these local shops fostered my talents and strengths. I learned a lot about generosity through their example. With their mentorship, I was able to reconnect with my love of writing and cultural criticism and started to feel out the ways that I could apply my skills and use them to build community. When the pandemic and shutdowns came, like so many others, I found myself unemployed and trying to navigate overwhelming uncertainty. In wanting to offer support in any way that I could, I felt called to start reading tarot for others and posted a general offering over social media. In the subsequent months, that prompting grew into a website and Cloister Mysticism was born. I see Cloister as far more than a tarot practice and hope it to be a space for contemplation and resource for inspiration that can foster healing and empowerment. It’s still quite new, I’m excited to follow where it grows.
M: Can you talk about the journey that led you to tarot and called you to this intuitive practice?
E: My journey with tarot really began with the momentous death of self that was initiated when I left the PhD program that I was in; I had moved across the country with no plan other than the desperate need to get out and prioritize my personal wellbeing. I felt like a failure and failed by an education system that I had devoted my entire adult life to. I grew up in school and my academic pursuits constituted my sense of place, purpose, and how I engaged with the world around me—I didn’t know who I was outside of them. I felt so profoundly alienated from myself and sunk into depression like I had never experienced before. I sat in that lost space for several years.
A huge shift came for me when I got a birth chart reading from the incredible Corina Dross. It was a healing and mystical experience in which I felt so witnessed and perfectly in place at a cosmic level. I started to pursue astrology, but found it to be rather inaccessible without professional training. Luckily, around that same time I happened to get a small 3-card tarot reading by Christa of “Into the Mystic” at a popup event; I felt the similar witnessing, resonance, and relief that the astrological reading brought me. Christa was gracious enough to recommend resources to help get me started in tarot reading and I bought my first deck. I remember I got up in the middle of the night and stealthily conducted a very ambitious Celtic Cross for my first reading. Despite my complete lack of knowledge of tarot, I felt a foundational connection to something larger than myself and had the sense that tarot made that connection immediately accessible. It was the first time since I had stepped out of intellectual pursuits that I felt empowered by my own innate sense of knowing.
As I continued to get acquainted with this medium and learned to read it, it helped me to develop a deeply rooted intimacy with myself and gave me an enlarged perspective around the violence and trauma I had experienced as well as an enlarged perspective around the general cycles we move through in life. It helped me access my resiliency and capacity to heal and grow. Tarot became a devotional practice to myself and, now that I am at a point where I’m able to read for others, it has also become a way for me to extend care and be of service.
M: On your website, not only do you offer tarot readings but you say you also offer ‘suggested texts for personal research, and resources to assist in the cultivation of spiritual-intellectual nourishment.’ Can you expand on this and why this was important for you to include in your practice?
E: Learning, challenging, and inspiring ourselves is how we grow as people—it’s how we enlarge our perspective beyond the familiar and the small bubble of our lived experience. It’s how we touch into our intuitive knowing and spark what is alive in ourselves and connect to what is alive the world around us. When we don’t do this for ourselves, we enter into a spiritual death that renders us vulnerable and available to control by external forces that are looking to harm and exploit us rather than care and support. It’s so easy and is culturally rewarded to live our lives as walking dead. Capitalism and the pressure to conform to the status quo are some of the most pernicious and successful of these forces. Taking up the responsibility of our own spiritual and intellectual nourishment is not only vital on a personal level, but it’s our social responsibility—I would even go so far as to say it’s our social duty to live in a way that is alive and striving for endless growth that is aware and considerate of others around us and ideas that are larger than the limits of our perspective. Life is empty and we’re not doing what we’re here to do if we’re not learning, growing, and supporting others.
M: I’m interested to hear you share more in depth what ‘the path of soul’ means to you and how we might all come to better understand our own.
E: It is my firm belief that one of the most important things we can do in this life is to live unconventionally, by which I mean to live according to our intuition and knowledge of what is authentic and supportive to ourselves and benevolent to others. I feel that if we’re not living against the grain, we’re not doing it right. We all have something unique to offer that is particular to us and connecting to the wealth that is our particularity is not something that we can do if we blindly follow the expectations of others. The language “path of soul” is something I learned from Lindsay Mack, who has been my primary tarot teacher. I love how it so beautifully conveys the idea that we are here for a purpose and that we will all walk a unique path. It also speaks to our connectedness to that which is larger than ourselves, whether that be divine, a sense of social responsibility, or growth through traversing the unfamiliar. When we really tune into how we move through life, tune into how and why we make the decisions we do, and open up to our intuition, the uniqueness of our path opens up to us. The foundational practice of understanding our soul path is to come to understand and develop intimacy with ourselves, our capacities, and our higher knowing.
M: Unrelated to tarot, you’ve always been a major style muse and inspiration for me! Personal style can be such a strong form of self expression. How do you experience self expression through dressing compared to self expression through your intuitive practices?
E: Gracious, Maggie, that’s so kind of you to say, especially coming from someone who is a major style muse and inspiration for me! Thank you also for this fascinating question—self expression through intuitive practice is not something I had explicitly considered in this way. I would have to say that self expression through dressing is a kind of imaginative play for me. I get to imagine other personas and step into these personas through the act of dress. (You better believe that behind all my outfits there is a character and a concept that I could readily articulate if asked. Some examples: “1940’s boyfriend, aka your grandpa” or “American Institute of Architects Power Dyke.”) Clothing and style is an embodied way to approach cultural critique and challenge cultural expectations. Ru Paul articulates this so beautifully, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” As I think about this, it strikes me that intuitive practice could be seen as the sister expressiveness that helps you to get at, explore, and expand our authentic sense of self that is the foundation underneath all that drag. While we put our clothing on and take it off every day, intuitive practice helps us learn to express ourselves through growth and time and puts us in touch with what is unique about our particular modes of expression.
M: In closing, I turn your question onto you! Can you share what has been inspiring you or bringing you joy lately?
E: Ooo, yes: watching my favorite Bette Davis & Ingrid Bergman films on repeat; the sensual tactility of my favorite sweater; pecking away at books that have been on my to-read list for years; most essentially, feeling the abundant and overflowing recognition, love, and support from the beautiful people in my life. Also, so sincerely, connecting with others over tarot brings me such delightful and grounding joy—it really is a gift to be so inspired by the strengths and struggles of those who reach out for tarot readings. Thank you to everyone who has shared this with me.
Visit Emma's website HERE to explore her journal and read more about her Tarot services.
Visit our IGTV page HERE to watch Emma's monthly Community Tarot Readings for the Burke community!