With religious celebrations such as Christmas, Thaipusam and Hari Raya still being observed with much fervour, it’s clear to see that Singapore still maintains a degree of traditional practices despite the younger generation adopting more progressive beliefs… or lack-thereof. However, the spectrum of beliefs and practices in the city-state run further than the official, mainstream religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.

There exists a minority in Singapore that has adopted New Age customs and occult practices that may baffle those with a more traditional or regional-centric understanding of spirituality and religion.Such practices stem from Neopagan traditions that date back to pre-Christian, pre-modern Europe, Africa and the Near East.

Although they do share similarities, contemporary Pagan religious movements are diverse, and no single set of beliefs, practices or texts are shared by them all. These practices comprise the likes of Polytheism, Wicca and Pantheism, all of which are based on a reverence for nature. These traditions also hold customs that are still practiced in New Age beliefs, such as divination and astrology.

Tarot cards, originally meant for card games, have been recorded for use as divinatory tools as early as 1540, with the cards being used to gain insight into past, present or future by posing a question to the cards. The reasoning behind this practice ranges from believing the result is guided by a spiritual force, to believe that the cards are instruments used to tap either into a collective unconscious wisdom or into the querant’s own subconscious.

In the first instalment of this series, which delves into occult practices and practitioners in Singapore, Izzy Liyana Harris speaks to Tarot card reader Janet Chui about her journey into New Age spirituality and what she does to help those who seek answers.

Hi Janet! Thank you for agreeing to be part of this interview! Let’s start off by telling the readers a little about yourself and what you do. 

Janet Chui. Photo by Ben Matchap

I’m a spiritual artist and creative coach. I create watercolour paintings and oracle cards; I also read energy and write about it. When I read Tarot and oracles cards for people, they are really just a tool (but a good one!) for deciphering an individual’s energy and current circumstances. When I’m not working on “woo” as I call it, I think I’m just an ordinary single mum and entrepreneur.

How did your practice begin and what was the journey like? If you could point to any specific moment or incident that set you on this path, what was it?

Ooh, that’s a long story I’m working on writing at the moment! I know I started early in my obsession with metaphysics and the supernatural, as a child and teenager. But in my 20s and 30s, I think the desire to “fit in” with “normal” life was so strong that I tried to leave it behind.

It was never quite an option because even in sleep, I’d have strange occurrences and conversations. One particular night (and I remember there was a lunar eclipse on), I was woken by sounds in my room and the mattress behind me was sank under the weight of something or someone, even though there was nothing to be seen. It was all so auditory and physical that there was no denial from that point that I needed to understand my unusual experiences and gifts.

How has your journey changed your life?

It opened me up. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Most of us grow up under very strict and limited views of reality and how society should be. To be honest, I’d made myself miserable most of my life chafing against other people’s beliefs and fears that I didn’t share.

Once I started accepting myself more, I found myself becoming happier. There was no longer a need to fit in or live according to other people’s shoulds. I’m slowly getting out of judging other people (too much). Baby steps! I tried to put as much as I had learned into the Self-Love Oracle, which is about loving oneself and one’s own truth.

How long have you been doing this in Singapore and how has it been received? If you have done most of your work overseas, how is Singapore different from other places in terms of the reach and impact of your work? 

There’s more familiarity and acceptance for “New Age” and spiritual art in places like the US and Australia, definitely. Singapore, with its wealth of ghosts stories and different cultures, generally has fewer skeptics around the supernatural. But, there is also a lot of fear. I’ve learned to present myself differently depending on my audience.

I think Singaporeans usually need more “warming up”, and explanation about my art and the work of reading cards and energy.

I can’t really compare my impact in different places because I feel I’m still at the start of my spiritual career! But I have enjoyed the reception I get here in Singapore. While Singapore isn’t a place that really nurtures or appreciates its artists and rebels, there’s something about this adverse and pressurizing environment that wakes up the artist or healer who is determined to do this work, and I think we recognise each other this way.

Maybe because the suffering here usually brings a breakthrough. I know that may sound horrible but it’s made sense to me!

How did your friends and family react to your chosen path? How do strangers usually react when you tell them what you do? 

My social circles evolve regularly, I think it’s just a fact of life as one changes. I used to hide my art and my spiritual beliefs but now I don’t feel the need, and I just let the chips fall where they may. My friends now all tend to be very open-minded and open-hearted. As for strangers, most of them are intrigued. If I’m not careful, I can spend hours conversing with people I’m meeting for the first time. I prefer to do that on the clock, while I’m reading their cards!

What do your clients usually come to you with? What sort of impact have you made on them with what you do?

Love and career questions are the most common. Of course, I think I’ve made more impact with those who come with career questions. Usually by the time someone comes to me for this, it’s really a question about their life purpose.

They may have come to a point they realise how broken and disillusioned they are from their past choices, and they are teetering on the brink of something new. I find this a universal theme whether I’m reading for someone in Singapore or overseas. I don’t want to give away too much about individual cases, and really, many of them share a lot in common.

In the end, I think I provide a safe space for my clients to air their anxieties and struggles. It’s always reflected on the cards, along with possible new directions and solutions. Sometimes I find they have a passed-on loved one with advice, or there truly is divine guidance, and it becomes clear after the reading how accurate the information was. I really just want to give my clients courage and validation for the better choices they want to make but are afraid to. They just need a gentle push towards the new career, usually!

What else do you intend to add to your repertoire, and why? 

It’s not really an addition, but because I studied Journalism and have a lot of publishing experience, I’m really trying to use these skills to help my fellow spiritualists and healers reach the people who could benefit from their work. More people are looking for some sort of spiritual understanding or dimension in their lives and I really don’t mind helping this search. I see myself as a bridge between the mundane world and the spiritual one. Any work that will open eyes, minds, and hearts sounds good to me.

Tell us more about your sessions and what you hope to achieve from them. What can participants expect from a session with you? 

I offer both card readings and clarity sessions that help an individual see their creative potential. This may seem unrelated to the occult or spirituality, but I do believe that we become more creative the more we are connected to our spiritual selves. I feel I’m just here to validate other people’s feelings and dreams, and to help them see the possibilities.

Lastly, what advice would you give a person who has newly started their path of awakening? 

Trust yourself! Love yourself no matter the mistakes and stumbles you make. You’re going to be fine and you’re not alone.

Izzy Liyana Harris

about Izzy Liyana Harris

Izzy enjoys leaving home to live in other places for long stretches of time. But she misses her cats.

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