Bat For Lashes on the Motherwitch oracle deck

Ahead of its release this month, Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, talks us through her gorgeous Motherwitch oracle deck

Feature by Anahit Behrooz | 10 Nov 2023
  • Bat for Lashes

“Finally, a safe space to tell it like it is.”

“Can you put out your hand, just like this?” Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, asks, and I press the flat of my palm against the green light of the laptop camera, touching the cards through whatever ether connects us. She splits the deck, murmuring under her breath, and pulls a card, expression enigmatic. It is Around The Fire, strangely the first card of the Motherwitch oracle, a card of storytellers, ancestors and rebels; witches and angels are gathered around a fire, encircled by two mother snakes. “It's about women who have gone before, who have been trailblazers and heretics and on the fringes of society,” Khan tells me, tracing a finger along the snakes. “The most recent person I can think of is Sinéad O'Connor. It means there's a slightly disruptive, rebellious aspect to what you might want to make.”

The card makes sense for me, but it also makes sense for her. There has always been a disruptive element to how Khan has practised her creativity; for years, she frustrated her first label Parlophone with her doggedly uncommercial output, weaving delicate dreamworlds from grief-drenched concept albums and tingeing her love songs with a bruised ethereality, only to make her most pop-heavy album Lost Girls once her contract with Parlophone was up. In between albums, she has refused the potential churn of a music industry that demands constant production, instead taking creative writing courses and teaching meditation to formerly incarcerated people, resetting both her internal energy and her relationship with the world beyond.

“...a lightning rod for transmissions from outer space, and the circuits that map our own nervous systems.”

It was out of one of these gaps that Motherwitch, an oracle deck entirely designed and written by Khan, emerged. Having finished the Lost Girls tour midway through a pregnancy and just as the pandemic hit, Khan was confronted by a strange period of stillness that felt eerily dissonant with the unfolding crisis outdoors. “It was such a quiet, intense moment of reflection and solitude,” she explains, “this world of anxiety outside and then inside, I was incubating this new life. And obviously, I couldn't go out into the world and do anything. But I had an empty Moleskine book and this desire to use black ink and draw, and it developed its own momentum. It was this new style of drawing, just letting my pen move – it was quite unconscious, really.”

A still life photograph with playing cards, plants, a fig, and a pomegranate.

For Khan, oracle decks – be they Tarot or otherwise – have a revelatory power that offers not so much a portent of the future but a mirror to the present, allowing us to reckon with our desires and choices with wide-open, inquisitive eyes. “I don't think it's fortune telling,” she says. “It's about where you've come from and what you might manifest. It's really helpful knowledge, to be like, ‘Is this what I want to be creating in my life? Is this where I want to be going?’ I think all of those questions are part of a process rather than, ‘Am I going to meet, like, the man of my dreams tomorrow?’” She laughs. “Everyone’s always looking for the Two of Cups.”

“...all that is taboo.”

Yet for all their splitting open of new vistas and possibilities, there remained something rigid about the traditional Tarot that Khan wanted to resist and reimagine, assembling her lockdown illustrations into a deck saturated with feminine language and symbolism. “It’s ancient and mystical but it’s a patriarchal deck, you know,” she says of the original Tarot. “With the kings and queens and male and female lovers. For me, it was quite liberating not to have to follow someone else’s storyline.” Instead, her Motherwitch deck is filled with witches and sirens, celestial bodies and trees, markers not only of a profoundly feminine mythos, but of oracle-reading as a form of extending care rather than seeking control.

“Every little creature vibrates...”

In this way, reading the Motherwitch – as intimate and interior a process as it is – demands the reader position themselves as much in relation to the mechanisms of the world beyond as the world inside, bringing about a collapse in boundaries between the natural and metaphysical realms. “It unlocks an interesting question about our relationship to the Great Mother, like Mother Nature,” Khan says. “Rulership and hierarchies have pushed us out of the feminine, and we’ve lost contact with our relationship to nature and the seasons. Everybody needs to reclaim that. The masculine needs to see its place in relationship to a healthy feminine, so there’s abundance and security and safety for everybody.” 

Mothering, in this way, comes to encompass forms of care that extend far beyond the traditional family unit and our limited biological and social imaginations of motherhood. “It's almost like by becoming a mother I created a blown-up archetype of what I was learning about motherhood,” she adds, “this feeling that I want to carry everyone in my arms and give them the tools to feel loved and safe.”

“A heart drips into it from her throat.”

Care has always, often disparagingly, been associated with the feminine; with the Motherwitch deck, Khan reclaims these feminine ways of responding to the world rather than forcing herself within entrenched masculine ideals. The very concept of an oracle deck, after all – rooted as it is in practices of intuition, intentionality, and defiantly articulated desire – rejects rationalist philosophies of objectivity and science and looking at the world through hardened, blinkered eyes. Heartfelt and contemplative, the Motherwitch deck is a reflection of the ways that Khan has always determinedly clung onto her own inner worlds, feeling rather than thinking her way through life.

A still life photograph with flowers, playing cards and pieces of fruit.

“I have always been really fortunate to retain absolute trust and faith in my intuition,” she says. “I’ve held onto and championed that as one of my strengths – it's like an inner resolve. Through hardships and traumas, I’ve held very steadfast to this feminine reliance: my inner voice, my intuition, my secret worlds. I never succumbed to the bullshit idea that those things weren't important.”

“...a Rolodex of rhyming words...”

The Motherwitch might seem like a departure from Khan’s usual output, but nestled within its cards are the same motifs and values that have scaffolded her entire career – the opaque, devastating lyricism of songs like Daniel and Laura, the dense, cinematic storytelling of her albums The Bride and Lost Girls, the quiet intimacy of selfhood and self-expression that threads through it all. Each card comes with a description, interpretation, and rituals and artistic touchstones that continue to spin out a narrative beyond the card. This cross-genre entanglement – mysticism as myth-weaving – taps into Khan’s practice as both songwriter and storyteller, locating truth and meaning in the stories we tell each other and ourselves. The Motherwitch deck will be followed by The Dream of Delphi, Khan’s upcoming (and as of now, release date still unknown) album that explores motherhood through a more personal gaze. Both, however, Khan tells me, tap into this idea of intimate, impressionistic narrative-telling as a form of psychic discovery.

“I've done a lot of research on myths and archetypes and for me, both oracles and music feed so well into the subconscious mind and dream worlds. To me, using storytelling is a really great form of healing.” She shrugs, smiling. “I think humans understand stories better than they do logistics.” We are all, as she sees it, as Around The Fire envisages us to be – witches, storytellers, serpents, “dancing around a fire of freedom.” A safe space, at last, to tell it – and imagine it – like it is.

The Motherwitch oracle deck is available to pre-order now via She's Lost Control with shipping expected at the end of November

Motherwitch photos by Nocera & Ferri (@noceraferri)