“It is hard to know, brittle,” writes Martha Windahl in an email of a reading for what to expect in the coming year. The LA-based artist and psychic is a medium whose career in clairvoyance has developed in parallel to economic, political and social shifts in the United States and the world, and it isn’t looking like the connection is getting any weaker. “Do not underestimate the potential abuse of power, it is likely to become very real in 2017.”
Graduating into economic crisis with a degree in intermedia arts in 2008, Windahl found herself working in a coffee shop before electing to make her psychic intuition into an actual job. “Initially, out of desperation I was like, ‘okay, what else do I have that I can offer, that can provide me with some flexibility, while I’m trying to do my art practice?’” she tells me over Skype, from her home in Los Angeles about the surprisingly enthusiastic response she received for her shift in creative direction. “I’d always done readings so I just put it out there that I was offering this service and people flooded in.”
Eight years on and Windahl is still a spiritual consultant and intuitive, as well as writer and artist, running her own business and website, MW Tarotscopes. I’d first met her over iMessage, on the recommendation of a friend when I was looking for some guidance. We’ve never met in person before but we’ve talked at length, if not during a personal late-night reading via Skype from London, then in Berlin during Windahl’s early LA morning for a transatlantic divining session via video to a full room for AQNB’s ‘Staying Present’ event. At that point in October, the vote for Brexit had already been and gone and Trump was yet to happen. This collaborative programme with Video in Common at 3hd Festival was heavy with regret over the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and the audience-sourced question for a Windahl tarot prediction was imbued with it: the future of Europe. Two months on and a US Presidential election later, the outlook is even more bleak.
“It will be easy to stall in a state of disbelief,” carries on Windahl’s 2017 tarot reading, “Don’t be afraid to stand out, to stick your neck out when and where this type of action is called for. It will be absolutely necessary to blaze new trails where we didn’t think a trail could even exist. New forms of communication may surface, ones that are not so easily detectable. Where the feminine has been shunned new tools for resistance may be found… We are feeling into the future.”
You mentioned that tarot is an intuitive practice and I wonder how that works with the distance, like carrying out readings on Skype.
MW: It’s interesting because I do readings in person and I do them remotely but I actually find the ones that are done remotely are better because when a person’s sitting in front of me, I get distracted by all this other information. Just recently, I had a reading with somebody and they were very distracted and I could tell so it was hard for me to connect to the person.
When I’m not necessarily physically looking at someone and all I’m connecting with is their voice, it’s easier. It’s hard to explain and I don’t totally have a rational explanation for it, other than it just feels that I’m getting a clearer connection because there’s less information, which actually provides more information, for me as somebody who intuiting information from not just the person but other sources.
Arguably there’s more distraction when you’re doing something online right, especially if it’s via Skype?
MW: Well, it depends on what you think of as a distraction because for me if I’m looking at somebody’s face, or if the person is sitting in front of me, I’m reading their experience of the reading as opposed to connecting with the cards, connecting with information that’s coming through the person. It’s this combination of the three, so I think for somebody who maybe doesn’t do clairvoyant work, I think that doing things remotely or via Skype is probably more distracting but for me, because I take in so much information from my environment, it’s actually helpful to have as little as possible in that environment to distract me.
This emergence of your practice within economic turmoil and a period of dramatic upheaval, it’s interesting that this kind of hybrid practice also lends itself to this idea of returning to religious, or spiritual practices as kind of a response to too much information, looking for answers where rational thought can’t offer them.
MW: Yeah absolutely. What I’m kind of describing too is, when I’m doing a reading and connecting with something, I think about it as the spiritual the part of another person, and I think that’s actually part of what people seek in a reading too. It’s interesting because the Internet provides connection on this one level but there are so many other kinds of connection. It’s a connection that you have with another person, and then this more spiritual connection that people are making. I think in reading, I’m connecting with the person and also this other spiritual element too, as well as connecting that person with their own spiritual part of themselves, their intuition and their guidance.
Also when you say there is no rational answer to a thing, where rationality itself is an ideology, I often think about how astrology is connected to some sort of ‘queer-ness.’ Its not a coincidence that women and queer people gravitate towards this form of communication of relating to people.
MW: Yeah, absolutely, because I think women start out right away having to use their intuition, and queer people as well. It’s this instinct that we’ve evolved it into this other thing. In terms of how it functions within the body, it is a sort of survival mechanism and for women and queer people, there are so many situations, historically and now, where we’re positioned in a way where were using that too. So I think it does tend to be more involved in people where, quote-unquote, ‘rational’ things are not protecting us.
I was thinking about the online as a magical space in itself, because something we might forget is that technology is at a point where not one person can understand it in its entirety, in the same way that you can’t really entirely understand the stars. Because there are so many complex elements that are leading to an outcome, if there even is an outcome. Do you see some kind of parallel between the development of technology and a resurgence in an interest in astrology and mysticism?
MW: That’s an interesting question. I would have to probably think more about it but I’ve noticed with people, even a half a generation younger than me, the work that I do is just sort of accepted. Also for them having all this access to so much information might be a point of being able to connect with lots of different information.
I was just talking with my mum the other day, who had heard this interview where somebody had been interviewing people on a college campus in the United States and they didn’t know the answers to these basic questions. But they knew things like who Brad Pitt had just divorced, these very pop cultural things. It’s interesting because information is all delivered through the same source – we’re either looking through our phone or on the computer, we don’t have this way of locating it in space. The link that I make with that too is that there is less of a hierarchy of information and also less judgment in terms of its level of importance.
Even with my mum’s generation, it was so hard for me to explain to her what I do but when I talk to people younger than me, it’s sort of taken for granted. They’re like, ‘oh yeah, I know about that,’ or ‘I check my horoscope on 50 different websites’ [laughs]. It’s much more integrated and I think it’s maybe because of accessibility.
Maybe this is an essay, but ‘rational’ thought logically can lead to some insane ways of thinking, and I was thinking about that in relation to a person privileging one kind of logic over another. I tend to stereotype based on star signs, which is totally dysfunctional and as irrational as stereotyping based on race or gender.
MW: [laughs] Totally, it’s true. It’s funny because, with astrology, that’s how I kind of started to go deeper into it because I was doing that too. I was trying to find the quick answer to things using that and actually the deeper you go in to astrology, the more complex it gets and the more varied. Then you start to see that, ‘okay, it’s not just this or that, it’s this whole thing [laughs], it’s the entire universe.’**