Ade Mardiyati – When Indonesian artist and manager Sulung Landung went to Bali in January, he met up with a long-time friend, well-known tarot card reader Noviana Kusumawardhani, for a reading.
"She said at that time, 'Everyone will be tried with something quite tremendous'," the 51-year-old says, referring to what Noviana saw in the cards. "She also said that despite the situation, we should be able to remain positive."
Sulung says he did not expect the "tremendous" trial to be the global coronavirus pandemic that has so far infected over six million people and killed more than 382,000, as well as pummelling the global economy.
He says a number of his jobs have been postponed or cancelled. "But [Noviana] told me then to maintain a 'don't worry, be happy' attitude," Sulung adds, "and that we have to build a positive ambience to radiate good energy. I'm grateful because there are other jobs that I can still do online, including via social media."
Affectionately known to her clients as Bude Novi – "Auntie Bude" – Noviana says her clients have increasingly been asking her about the timeline of the Covid-19 emergency and when it might finally be over.
"Many asked me when this pandemic will end and said they were confused," the 53-year-old says.
Noviana, who read the cards for as many as 1,200 clients worldwide each year before the pandemic began, says that, regardless of what the question is, her principles in reading tarot remain the same.
"The strength of my tarot is not predicting the future, but more mapping the client's energy and helping them find their life path. Once it's found, they can start to grow. This is a disclaimer that a potential client has to agree to before I do a reading," she says. "I just don't want my clients to see me as if I were God who knows everything."
Tarot cards have been used for divination since the late 1700s. The 78-card deck is divided into two, the major arcana and the minor arcana. The former show scenes with one or more allegorical figure, including the Fool, the Lovers, Death and the High Priestess. The four suits of the minor arcana comprise wands for energy and ambition, cups for emotional awareness, swords for intellect and pentacles for financial and tangible success.
The fall of the cards is interpreted to give the seeker insights into what may have led them to the situation they find themselves in, how it may play out, and what actions they can take to prevent an unwanted outcome.
Used around the world, the cards are popular in Indonesia, where a belief in mysticism and superstition is common.
Noviana says her tarot deck can throw up unexpected advice, and cites an example from a recent reading for a client who was forced to close a business because of the pandemic.
"Logically, [the cards] should say something about chaos, because the business was shut down," she says. "Instead, the cards revealed it was the right moment for the person to grow. So if they are willing to take the advice based on the tarot, they can be sure they will be happier. Their happiness depends on whether they follow their soul path and show a willingness to learn."
Noviana adds that the messages the cards give may differ from one person to another, as "people give off different vibes, or energy".
As for the pandemic-related questions her clients have asked, Noviana says she would "give more emphasis to preparing themselves mentally, because the [cards'] spread tends to direct them towards personal growth and their spiritual journey".
Maria Hartiningsih recalls her conversation with Noviana in March this year when Indonesia had just announced the nation's first confirmed Covid-19 cases.
"I asked her how long [the pandemic] would last," the writer and veteran journalist says. "I'm by no means anti-science, but I do believe in some predictions. I remember [Noviana] said to me, 'If it refers to the movement of energy, it is supposed to take around five months [for the outbreak] to end'. And I thought that made sense."
Hartiningsih says she is fed up with the torrent of news about the pandemic. "It makes us feel as if we are helpless," she says. "I don't like it because it just doesn't give us any hope, which is actually what we need right now."
So she sometimes turns to the tarot for advice. "I like to read signs. Reading tarot is reading signs. It's ancient knowledge. Only those who keep diving into the depths of their souls can read and interpret [the signs] well. This is also what makes one tarot reader different from another. Tarot reading for me is not for fun. It is for checking intuitions."
No longer interested in knowing when the pandemic will end, she says she is now more focused on how she responds to it.
"I've done my best by strengthening my immune system instead of whingeing about things. I also believe that what we really need right now is love and compassion. Strengthening solidarity is better than finger-pointing at others for the situation we are in. We can't fast-forward, we just have to deal with it," she says. "This too shall pass."
Lucia Dianawuri's clients continue to ask about the pandemic and how it will shape their future. She has been reading tarot cards for people for a while, but has only read them professionally for the past year. Her clients are mostly women, she says, with most asking about their love lives and careers.
Questions about the Covid-19 pandemic have now been added to the list of popular questions.
"They asked when the pandemic will end, why it has happened, how their financial situation would be affected, and also about the businesses they run," she says.
"I told them we are currently receiving our karma for the Earth," she says. "In general, I said it would take roughly six months for the situation to clear. This is based on the symbols and elements I have seen. Every tarot reader has their own intuition."
Dianawuri adds that she tries to be diplomatic when she detects news her clients might not be happy to hear. "If needs be, I'd say something like, 'You might need to be extra cautious or careful if you're currently involved with someone'.
"There is no such thing as bad cards in tarot. The cards only read the general pattern of the energy of the client I'm channelling."
Jakarta-based reader Bonz Satrio says the demand for online tarot sessions was high in the early stages of the outbreak.
"People were confused because they'd had a sudden change in their life rhythm," says Bonz, who became a full-time tarot reader last year after reading the cards as a hobby for more than a decade. "But I have chosen not to say anything about when the pandemic will be over.
"What we need right now is for everyone to focus on what the government and the experts say."
He says clients still ask how they should live their lives during the pandemic and what the future holds for them.
"For example, a food and beverage entrepreneur asked me how they could keep the business going; a client asked if they would still be employed or whether the company had to make people redundant," he says.
Love, Bonz adds, has remained the number one subject people ask about, despite concerns about the pandemic.
"They ask if they can maintain their relationships during the outbreak, as they are not able to see each other or participate in activities together," he says.
Bonz says his answers to questions related to the pandemic include advice based on the cards.
"The cards are a medium to see how things will turn out amid this uncertainty," he says. "One thing for sure, I always remind them to stay healthy, positive, patient and trusting in God's plan."