• Alex

Office Witch: Tarot for a Toxic Workplace

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

This week, I'm kicking off a series of posts on being a witch in the workplace. I'll cover a range of topics from tarot spreads to get you through the work week to witching up your office space on the sly, to tarot apps and other magical technology.

Can Work Be Consensual?

In the spring of 2019, I had the distinct honor of leading a Sexual Assault Awareness Month book club. As a devout, bookish nerd, I took this role incredibly seriously and spent many weeks homing in on the perfect book to select for its inaugural year. When I came across Ask: Building Consent Culture edited by Kitty Stryker, I knew I had found The One. A collection of essays by a diverse cast of authors, this highly accessible book covers a huge breadth of topics from the obvious consent in sexual encounters to the more thought provoking consent in the criminal justice system, and more. Before I go on, let me just heartily recommend this incredible work. You can read my full, gushing review over at A Thousand Lives.

While every essay deserves an entire blog post of its own, one section had a particularly strong impact on me: consent in the workplace. With the exception of the few ultra rich, we must sell our labor in exchange for wages so that we do not starve or die of exposure to the elements. There's no opting out of capitalism (though many valiant and foolhardy explorers have tried), and so we are stuck with job options that aren't really choices. Reading Ask got me thinking about the impacts of being in a life-long non-consensual relationship with work - if we really don't have a choice about whether we participate, and if we as often don't have much of a choice about how we participate, then we are all existing melange of transgression and trauma every day.

When you add a bullying coworker, unethical policies, a tyrannical boss...well, you can imagine why the effects of working in a toxic workplace culture on our mental health are so pronounced. Some of the most common questions I deal with in tarot readings are related to toxic workplaces; "how do I deal with this awful place?" or "how do I leave without tanking my career?" or many other variations are common queries. Even outside of a reading, chatting with friends, interacting on Twitter, catching up with family members so frequently turns to the reality of existing in a place where you aren't respected as a human being.

There's no opting out of capitalism and so we are stuck with job options that aren't really choices.

How Tarot Can Help

How do you survive spending 40 plus hours a week surrounded by people that either do not care about your well-being or who actively mean you harm? For me, tarot and witchcraft have always been sources of comfort, inspiration, and validation (surprising, right?), although I cannot stress enough how important professional counseling, validating personal relationships, and in some cases a good labor lawyer are when you are bombarded by harmful people on a daily basis.

So, what can tarot do to help us survive a labor market meant to grind us into acquiescent pulp? Whether you practice tarot as a magical art or a tool for introspection, the cards help us learn to tap into and trust our intuition. If you are experiencing gas-lighting or verbal abuse at work, you may begin to distrust your sense of reality and that can lead to us distrusting our own inner narratives, emotions, and memories. Engaging with the symbolism and energies in tarot and oracle cards gives us a pathway to reconnect with our experiences and expertise. It's validating to have a card or a spread confirm the sneaking suspicion you've had about your coworkers ill intentions on that project or remind you that you have value and success outside of your job. Tarot offers us a path back to our inherent power when society has done all it can to strip us of that autonomy.

Tarot offers us a path back to our inherent power when society has done all it can to strip us of that autonomy.

The Detox From Your Job Spread

I developed the Detox From Your Job 7-card spread as part terrain overview/part action plan for dealing with your toxic workplace. It has absolutely no antioxidants or FDA evaluated health benefits (like most detox products), but it does pack a nice magical punch. The goal of this reading is to get a clear picture of what is actually going on, beyond your deeply entrenched sense of dread, identify some coping mechanisms, and hopefully start thinking about your exit strategy. While it's often not possible to quit a bad job (in the United States, health insurance coverage is one of the biggest reasons cited for not leaving a harmful workplace), I do believe that having a strategy in place for accessing new job opportunities can have a huge impact on our sense of hopelessness at terrible jobs. "But Alex," you may say, "if all work is non-consensual, what's the point of finding a new job?" Excellent question! While almost all work is in some measure harmful because of the capitalist hellscape we live in, there are places that try their best to mitigate this harm by providing safer, supportive environments and adequate compensation and benefits. You deserve to work with people who respect your humanity.

Let's walk through a fictional case based upon a conglomeration of different folks I've worked through workplace toxicity with (myself included). Let's call this avatar Elvis. Elvis has been working at The Ad Company for 3 years. She's a mid-level administrator, doing that ambiguous set of tasks known as "project management". She's always felt her job is mostly pointless, but after a series of bad fiscal reports at the company, tensions have been high and a job that used to be "fine" is now driving Elvis to tears on a regular basis. Her boss is erratic and often takes her stress out on Elvis, and her coworkers are clearly out to save their own hides at any expense. To top things off, Elvis recently learned that because of the bad financial reports, everyone's annual raises were being postponed, even the cost of living increase Elvis was hoping would cover her son's higher school supply expenses now that he was entering middle school.

In a word, Elvis's job sucked, and it was sucking the life out of her on a daily basis. When Elvis contacted me, she was primarily concerned with finding a way to cope with the situation until she finished her master's degree in computer science. Then, she'd be able to start looking for jobs that really spoke to her passions, or even start freelancing. Together, we pinned down a specific question, "how do I minimize the damage my job causes to my well-being, while simultaneous staying afloat long enough to finish my degree and find a new gig?" We agreed that the Detox from Your Job spread was the right fit, and then we started shuffling the cards. Here's the spread that I laid out for Elvis:

Pictured Deck: The Modern Witch Tarot by Lisa Sterle

The Ace of Swords in the first position is a very nice reminder for Elvis to trust her experiences and instincts at work. She is a clear-eye person, a parent to boot, who knows bullshit when she smells it. It can be easy to undermine our intuition when our boss says something one day and the exact opposite thing the next. Elvis can cope with this ever shifting landscape of truth by attempting to pin it down; ask for requests in writing, take minutes of each conversation, avoid one-on-one meetings where someone can try to manipulate the truth after the fact. The Star in the second position, coping at home, is a sweet promise - Elvis will come out of this difficult period her strong and brilliant self. The Star is a major arcana card and speaks to big life events and themes. Elvis should focus on her ultimate goal of being a computer engineer, when all the hard work of the past several years will come to fruition and she can take a breath.

Wow, her greatest threat is The Fool - serendipitous, right? It may be tempting to label any of her outrageously awful coworkers the Fool, but I think in Elvis's case, this card is actually warning her off the temptation to be spontaneous and carefree. She may act rashly and without forethought; Elvis's greatest threat may be her propensity to call bullshit on actual bullshit when she sees it. That habit likely won't fix anything in the vapid echo chamber her office has become, but it is likely to land her in her boss's cross-hairs. The 2 of Wands here is reiterating the Star's advice to stay focused on Elvis's goals. She is a powerhouse, evidenced by being a single, working parent and putting herself through school. She has the tools she needs to survive the situation already and roll it into her next success. Maybe she can stay stopping by the IT department at her office and talking to the folks there about their work - that will prepare her to start networking in her new field and will give her an escape when her current department is too overwhelming.

The Page of Cups confirms my reading of the 2 of Wands. Someone unexpected is gong to come into Elvis's life and offer her a helping hand. If she is able to keep her head above water enough at work, she may be able to see this opportunity when it comes her way. The Knight of Pentacles is tripling down on the theme of "keep your eyes on the prize, tiger". Elvis knows how to be effective, working smartly to balance all of her responsibilities, and she isn't afraid to roll up her sleeves and get sweaty to manifest her dreams. If work is draining her emotional reserves, she should carve out time to work on the projects that fill her with a sense of satisfaction, whether that's classwork or a side gig preparing her for a job in computer engineering. Finally, the Moon is watching over this whole situation. Elvis's sister couldn't be more different from Elvis, a visual artist working part-time in a gallery and starting a performance art collective. While her sister is not typically who Elvis seeks out for career advice, she is just the person to help Elvis find an outlet for her work frustrations and provide some much needed perspective on what her real priorities are. If I were Elvis, I'd plan a weekend away with her sister at a retreat or workshop, a place where she can let her hair down and reconnect with the world outside of her cubicle.

You deserve to work with people who respect your humanity.

I hope that walking through Elvis's hypothetical situation illuminated how a tarot spread like Detox From Your Job can be a tool for reclaiming your power when so much of society exists to take it away. If you're interested in working with me regarding your career or educational environment, head over to my shop to select the best reading level for your needs.

Alex is the founder and primary spiritual navigator for Dead Reckoning Tarot. She has been working with tarot cards since she was an anxious and overeager teen, and now as an anxious and overeager adult enjoys finding ways to infuse the every day world with magic. You can also find Alex writing book reviews and short stories at A Thousand Lives when she isn't slinging cards or chasing her miniature dachshund around the house.

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