photos: Roger Sabaté.
Hannah Joy Graves has a magnetic presence which I have first registered when I showed up for a tattoo appointment at AKA, a Neukölln studio that she managed at the time. With Berlin being more of a village than its map might suggest, our paths crossed again when I found out that Hannah, introducing herself to the world as Cult Mother, began offering tarot readings – a practice that can only grow more relevant as reality becomes increasingly uncertain. As Cult Mother put it: “People are feeling disconnected and disorientated and are discovering that tarot is a great tool for navigating confusion and uncertainty.”
But there’s more to this interview than cards. Hannah told us about finding her way into spirituality, how she envisions tarot as part of Berlin’s nightlife, and why the city continues to inspire her after she got sober.
In your essay “Sober Berlin: On tarot and the stories we tell ourselves”, I read that you used to look down on spirituality yourself. Now that you offer tarot readings, have you encountered many skeptics? Have some of them changed their mind?
I didn’t understand spirituality or spiritual practices. I just lumped spirituality in with religion. I also thought spirituality was just yoga pants, burning sage, and bullshit Instagram inspirational quotes over photos of the ocean. I didn’t realize that I have a spirit, that there is an essence to who I am – and that it needs to be cared for – just like my physical and mental health. I’m still a bit of a skeptic myself! It’s totally normal to have doubts and questions but I think that’s where tarot can really help. I LOVE reading for skeptics, it’s my absolute favorite. I’d urge anyone who thinks tarot is too woo woo to give it a try as they may just learn something about themselves. I’ve converted many skeptics and will hopefully continue to do so.
At what point did you gain the confidence to read for others?
I started reading tarot by pulling individual cards for myself. Then I learned a simple three-card spread. At this point, I would pop over to my best mates house where we would chain smoke, listen to Celine Dion and I’d read their tarot. After a year I taught myself a ten-card spread and would read for close friends. I think the real turning point came for me when Morgan Wood Callisto asked me to read at their drag show. I’d flip cards on a pay what you can basis before the show and during the interval. This was a great way to develop my confidence but I’ve always just tried to trust the cards. As a tarot reader, I’m guiding you through your experience with the cards that come out for you.
“I’m just a punk witch who flips tarot cards for clarity.”
What kind of questions do you advise people to ask the cards?
They can ask whatever they like – but the way you ask is important. I don’t want to know the question before we spread the cards and talk about their meanings, but I give anyone with a query the chance to sit with their thoughts and emotions so they can be confident in their question. I try to offer some clear advice about the tarot deck and the framework it gives us to do that. For example, we’d take a question like “will I get the job?” and form it into “what do I need to know about where I am in my career”. The reason I don’t want to know the question initially is so I’m not projecting too much of myself and my own experience onto your cards. If people want to disclose their question and discuss it after the reading they are more than welcome to but I’m not a therapist, counselor or coach. I’m just a punk witch who flips tarot cards for clarity. I hold space for you to sit with your thoughts and emotions and the cards will do the rest.
How is reading tarot at external events different than your home practice? Do you think that tarot could eventually become a staple of Berlin’s nightlife?
I’m on a mission to make it a staple of Berlin’s nightlife! I think it’s such a fun and interactive element to include anywhere. It’s far more in-depth and intimate to come for a reading in my home studio but even at events I feel like it’s not so difficult to create a little bubble of pause and authenticity – even amidst the bustle of a busy bar or party. I’m not going to be throwing down ten-card spreads but instead stick to quick-fire shots of clarity – it’s always super fun. Tarot isn’t this dark and mysterious deck of cards that is going to disclose anything damaging to you – it wants to open you up, to help you release anything that is holding you back.
How did you come up with the name “Cult Mother”?
This is such a good question and I honestly have no idea! In 2018 I had the idea that I needed a “brand” a platform for all the weird stuff I get up to so I created Cult Mother. It was a feeling, and a series of images and colours but I didn’t really know what I was doing with it. I sold some pin badges and was planning on throwing some events but then it was dormant for a while. Cult Mother as my tarot practice just sort of swam into view late last year. I’m really into the concept of “cult” status and how revered anything can be that achieves this level of devotion – yet people are also so vehemently anti-veneration. As for the “Mother” part? I’m always Mom in the group. If we’re out partying I’m going to be the one making sure you’re drinking water and that you get home ok. It never used to be this way, but I guess Cult Mother actually has a lot to do with me taking care of myself and not being afraid to devote myself to a spiritual practice. Short answer though. I don’t really know!
I read how tarot cards serendipitously came into your life as you were making the resolution to get sober. As of yesterday, you’ve been sober for 3.5 years. Has there been a connection between the cards and maintaining your sobriety along the way?
Absolutely. Tarot gives me an opportunity to get honest with myself, to process my thoughts and emotions, and most importantly to pause. It also connects me with other people in a way that is open, honest and authentic. Cult Mother and my tarot practice is now also giving me a chance to flex my creativity and talents in this really interesting way that I never fully saw coming. Being excited about my life helps me stay sober!
“Berlin continues to be the perfect backdrop for continually discovering myself.”
I found your perspective on becoming sober in Berlin important and refreshing. Is it fair to say that you rediscovered the city after getting sober?
Berlin is such a magical place. I’ve been here nearly 8 years but there are not many days that go by where I don’t have a moment with myself that is infused with pure gratitude for being able to call this city home. I think Berlin can be so many different things to so many different people. Of course, the initial attraction for me was the nightlife, which I still love – but there are so many other things here that I’ve discovered since I changed my lifestyle. Berlin continues to be the perfect backdrop for continually discovering myself. There is so much room to grow.