Since its inception in 2020, my series of Tending the Hedge interviews have highlighted inspiring individuals who engage in a practice of “magical stewardship,” living and working with intention. I wanted the series to be an exploration of themes of mutual aid, rejecting a mindset of competition and scarcity culture and instead lifting up the voices of others. I am so inspired by the myriad ways in which folks are tending the hedges of their own communities, so to speak— folks featured talked about things like sustainability and stewardship, body positivity and social activism, spirituality and disability awareness, and staying true to oneself in a world that is full of “should’s.” I am really in awe of the community and conversation that developed through this series, and I am so honored to feature today’s magic-maker, Charlie Claire Burgess of The Word Witch. Creator of The Fifth Spirit Tarot (now available for pre-order!) and the forthcoming Gay Marseille Tarot, their story of self-discovery through tarot resonates so deeply with me, and embodies the spirit of Tending in such a profound way. Truly, queer magic is what the world needs right now, and I am so pleased to share with you all today.
What are your pronouns and what is your sign?
My pronouns are they/them and I’m an Aquarius sun, Gemini moon, and Scorpio rising.
Are you a witch? If so, what does that word mean to you?
Yes, I am! I love the word “witch.” (I did name my business “The Word Witch,” after all!) I think the common idea of a witch is someone who does magic—which I do—but for me a witch is so much more than that. The witch is the wise one who lives on the edge of the proverbial woods, at the meeting place of wildness and civilization. They’re the helper who tends to those who have no other recourse—the ill, the pregnant who don’t want to be pregnant, the poor, the cast out. From their perspective on the margins, the witch can see the workings of the center without becoming caught up in it—meaning they can see through the establishment’s B.S. and weave their spells for a better reality. That’s what a witch is to me. And as someone who has felt a sense of otherness for as long as I can remember, when I first stepped into witchcraft as a closeted queer teenager in the deep south, I felt electrified! Here was a path in which my weirdness, my contrary-ness, my queerness, my difference didn’t make me broken—it made me powerful. It made me wise. It made me belong. Some may shudder and withdraw at the idea of the witch, but I found a home in it.
What drew you to your work? Why is it important?
The story of how I came to this work is a long and twisty one, but the short answer is that tarot saved my life. Or maybe it’s truer to say that tarot brought me back to life. I know that sounds melodramatic, but for most of my 20’s I was doing the functional equivalent of sleepwalking while awake, following the motions of the path that had been prescribed to me by society and culture. I was living as a straight, cis woman even though I’d been questioning my sexuality and gender since I was a kid. I worked a “real” job, got married, bought a house, got a dog, did all (well, most) of the things I was supposed to in order to lead the happy, fulfilling American life that had been sold to me. And I was miserable.
When a chance encounter brought tarot back into my life and I began reading the cards again for the first time since high school, all that started to change. Reading tarot helped me examine my learned beliefs and question the paradigms I was living under, and before I knew it I was getting a divorce, quitting my job, and moving cross-country. I was embracing my queerness, discovering my gender, and falling in love.
That’s why my work became tarot, and specifically queering the tarot: because I know first-hand the power of tarot to help us question assumptions, challenge roles and rules, expand our notions of what can be true, and revolutionize our lives. And I think that’s really necessary always but especially right now, when more and more people are waking up to the urgent necessity for change, not only for our individual happiness but for our collective survival.
How can others engage with this work and tend the hedge in their own communities?
Whatever it is that you do, queer that shit! The verb “to queer” doesn’t just mean to make it gay, by the way. It means to make it wierd, subvert norms, reclaim power, fuck with the establishment, and create inclusive, intersectional, and expansive forms of whatever the thing is. It means to consider a thing from the perspective of the margins—the perspective of the witch, one might say—and consider the new truths and possibilities that are revealed from that vantage. If you don’t feel like you can authentically contribute to queering your field, then seek out those who are doing that work, listen and learn from them, and support their work. Queering is a form of magic all its own.
Did you enjoy this feature? Check out other magic-makers in the Tending the Hedge series!