In the autumn of 2019, when a friend of Ariana Minwalla presented her with a deck of tarot cards, something in her soul was soothed.
“My most cherished teenage memory is of sitting by my grandmother’s side as she pensively contemplated the tarot spread in front of her,” says 22-year-old Ariana. “There was just so much colour and energy in them.”
For Ariana, the tarot deck gathered together the various strands of her sense of spirituality and religious identity that had frayed due to a lifestyle that had not been of her own choosing.
“I’m a Parsi and I grew up in an Army colony which is a wholly different experience from being raised in a Parsi colony,” explains Ariana. “It was difficult to enjoy our own festivals because there was just no one around to celebrate them with us.”
These childhood experiences formed the basis of Ariana’s desire to have a personal language with which to make sense of the chaos around. And this led to her own idea of true spirituality, which she both discovered and nurtured on her own. This world of spirituality comprises vivid tarot cards, angel healing, oracles and the promise of hope.
“I started reading tarot cards on my own in college,” she says. “Oracles are just channelised messages from the beyond—your ancestors, the moon. The cards will only tell you what they want to tell you. I’d like to call this soul therapy because it goes very deep. Certainly, in my case, it does.”
Youth is the age of exploration and discovery. It’s also when most of us are at our most idealistic, strongly believing that the various societal systems set up by the generations before us must be dusted off, examined closely and perhaps set aside if they don’t work in our new world.
Having said that, spirituality for many young Indians is not necessarily a rebellious act against organised religion. It is simply a way to use their free will to choose and find their own path, minus any potential coercion.
Much like Ariana, 22-year-old Devansh Savernya’s relationship with spirituality was altered because of his experiences with religion as a child.
“I’d see my parents say prayers and perform rituals with a baba only when calamity struck. To them, spirituality seemed like a last-ditch effort when everything else failed,” he says.
Devansh came to the conclusion that his relationship with the beyond could not be transactional. It had to be rooted in the personal, in the particular, in the spaces between meaning and magic. This led him to explore various spiritual practices so he could find the path most suited to him, including meditation.
“As someone who suffers from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), it is incredibly difficult to sit in a stable position and meditate,” Devansh says. “It was in one of these meditation sessions that I tried pendulum reading.”
In this practice, Devansh focusses on a swinging object in front of him and asks questions. Depending on the motion of the object, the answers could be one of four: yes, no, maybe, rephrase. “The belief is that the answers come from your ancestors. But the pendulum readings are also a space for me to introspect.”
Devansh employs a range of essential oils in his surroundings depending on what he wants to think about: eucalyptus oil when he’s contemplating money, lavender when something romantic pops up. He also believes that crystals such as moonstone and aventurine, present at his altar, often aid the process of introspection.
Rituals are essential for many young people exploring the depths of their spirituality. The time spent in setting up the rituals helps them clear the chaos of day-to-day living from their minds. The rituals themselves put them in a space where they are open to the answers they seek.
Rohan Dahiya, a 27-year-old poet, began exploring the universe within and beyond him in 2016, when a friend gave him a deck of tarot cards. Over the years, everything from incense sticks to crystals became part of his daily rituals.
“The basic three crystals, amethyst, moonstone and tourmaline, help you get attuned to certain energy levels,” says Rohan. “Amethyst, for instance, helps you open and develop your intuition. Some days, I’ll just carry a crystal in my pocket for clarity.”
A safe space
Their sense of spirituality helped Devansh and Rohan cultivate patience, stabilising the jagged emotional peaks of their lives.
“I’d get easily triggered when someone said anything politically incorrect,” says Devansh. “Now, I pick and choose my battles. Sometimes it is painful, but I’d like to believe I understand people.”
For Rohan, sitting patiently with his tarot cards, bird feathers and crystals has imparted a meditative, almost conciliatory touch to the way he approaches situations.
“I don’t attach conditions to things now. The idea that I’ll do X only if Y happens doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m no longer endlessly frustrated if I don’t hear back from an editor or a friend,” he says.
For 25-year-old digital content creator Maniza Khalid, spirituality is a safe space beyond the manic rush of laptop screens and frantic cups of coffee at work. Her first experience with what would later colour her world was simply going through Reddit and Tumblr threads on the gothic poems of Mary Oliver, the idea of an imperfect paradise in the works of Linda Pastan, and the inexplicable links between the natural world and the human world in the poems of Jane Hirshfield.
“They use magic and a sense of fractured darkness in the most personal of ways,” says Khalid. “That resonated with me. What’s not to like about colours and rituals?”
Over the years, she developed and cultivated her own set of rituals, some of which mark the change of seasons, honour the starkness of winter or simply celebrate life in all its hues and mores.
“I borrow from different strands of spirituality and faith,” Khalid explains. “For instance, I could include mulled rum in a ritual or simply use candles as a banishing spell for evil.”
She finds solace in simply uttering the names of pagan goddesses. These goddesses, she believes, have been forgotten across the centuries. “I’d like to believe I’m keeping them alive in my own way by either scribbling their names on a blackboard or simply chanting every morning when I wake up.”
More than anything, it’s the act of “putting together something beautiful” in the form of an altar for a ritual that lends a sense of purpose to her days. Khalid says that there is no “physical evidence” to describe what she truly feels, no empirical formula to corroborate how these rituals expand her world.
“Ultimately, it all boils down to capturing something beautiful and appreciating it,” she says. “I sleep in peace knowing that there is something in this world that I truly understand, that is truly my own.”
From HT Brunch, March 6, 2022
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