Angeliska Polacheck might be the nicest witch in Austin.
Polacheck opened Sister Temperance Tarot in 2011. The native Austinite inherited her first deck of cards from her mother and began working with the cards at age 11. After moving to New Orleans in 1999, Polacheck began reading for the public at Esoterica, an occult shop in the French Quarter.
Polacheck describes herself as a witch, but not the green-skinned character of popular imagination.
“In my mind, a witch is someone who does spiritual work for [her] community,” Polacheck said. “We only work in service. We’re there to help others.”
Tarot card reading is more than picking a few cards out of a deck and predicting the future. Polacheck said the cards work as a physical means to identify issues within her clients’ lives.
“The reality is that the future is not written in stone,” Polacheck said. “It’s not predetermined what is going to happen. I believe that there are no accidents, but I also believe that we create and manifest our own future. So it can work positively or negatively.”
Olivia Pepper, another local tarot reader, agreed that this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The biggest challenge that I face is the idea that the cards illuminate definite futures,” Pepper said. “This is a misconception that is played up by media and popular culture. Really, the cards tell a universal story, that when arranged in a specific way for a specific person cast an illuminating light on their possible choices.”
Polacheck uses one of the most commonly used decks, known as the Rider-Waite deck. The deck has 78 cards depicting the major and minor arcana. Major arcana represent major life events or long-term issues. Minor arcana represent everyday ups and downs. The cards are symbols and archetypes, which change in meaning when applied to someone’s life.
“It’s going to be a lot more accurate and a lot more detailed of a reading than saying, ‘That looks like a dog in your teacup, shaped out of tea leaves,’” Polacheck said.
Working in the divination business means encountering the occasional skeptic, but these tarot readers do not feel intimidated in the least.
“Skepticism doesn’t bother me,” Pepper said. “In fact, I believe it is essential to being a human being.”
Polacheck is convinced that her ability to make a living is dependent on open-minded communities such as Austin.
“The reality is that if I wanted to live in a small town in Texas, I would be run out of town on a rail,” Polacheck said. “I could not do what I do for a living, which is really helping people, without probably suffering a lot of persecution.”
This fear of the occult and divination is due in part to a mistrust of tarot readers and psychics just looking to make a buck, according to Polacheck.
Megan Lane, a tarot reader who recently moved from Austin to Burbank, Calif., said it is the popular representation of tarot readers and divinators that makes this career difficult.
“It’s dealing with the reputation of psychics being gypsies or being fakes and taking advantage of people,” Lane said. “The ones who are very good have to deal with the reputation of ones who aren’t.”
Polacheck worked in New Orleans up until Hurricane Katrina. After witnessing the destruction, she decided it was time to return to her native Austin. Little by little, Polacheck began reading again in 2011 and has not stopped since.
“If you told me as a little kid that I’d be doing this as an adult, making my living and doing this full time, I would not believe you,” Polacheck said. “It’s incredibly humbling for me, that people are willing to be present with me and be so vulnerable with me. It’s mind-blowing work.”
What started as a tradition passed from mother to daughter has developed into Polacheck’s passion. Those who wander over to her little vintage trailer in East Austin will leave mesmerized and more in tune with their universe, thanks to Polacheck and her tarot deck.