In the cards pt. 4

This is a series of blog posts about my life in tarot and my experiences as a tarot reader. The characters in the series are based on people I actually read for — sometimes I’ve combined traits and readings from more than one client into one character for the purpose of storytelling (just in case you’re a regular of mine and see a bit of yourself in here). I love all my clients and respect their privacy, so key names and details have been changed. I’d love to hear your feedback about this series and whether you’d like to hear more! Previous installments of the series can be found here.

I do have standards. Who I will read for, who I won’t. What I will read about, what I won’t. I’ve never read for men who were romantically interested in me. I don’t read for children or teenagers – only adults who are capable of taking personal responsibility for their choices and actions. I don’t read about medical conditions. I don’t like to read about legal matters, and to cover my bases now, I have to explain in plain English, that my readings are for entertainment only (imagine me spitting those words out). In the state of Ohio, I became an ordained minister of the Church of Universal Life (online) in order to provide “spiritual counseling”. I still have my certificate, that I printed out from the webpage (it even has the URL at the top), in a binder – just in case I’m ever hassled. In some states and counties, fortune telling, as they put it in the books, is completely illegal.

I read for myself all the time. This is probably the greatest benefit of reading cards – how you can use them for yourself. I don’t read compulsively on every decision I’m faced with. Instead I typically draw one to three cards a day, make some notes in my journal, and let myself be surprised by how Universe finds a way to place those cards in my path. Certain cards resonate with me so deeply. The Empress is the third card in the Major Arcana. She represents a feminine receptive energy, sensuality, sexuality, motherhood. She’s typically depicted as voluptuous or pregnant or surrounded by animals. Over the years I’ve connected with her raw sexual energy, her fertility and now, her store of womanly wisdom. I’m constantly amazed by the new lessons that the Empress teaches me. She’s a good friend of mine. I’ve even made photo-copies of that card from my favorite decks to tape to my bathroom mirror. She reminds me of the things I want to be and I’m grateful for her influence in my life.

I even read for other tarot readers. Thanks to the internet I’ve gotten to know many tarot readers all over the world and even form close friendships with a few. I read cards for them – partially out of professional courtesy, but also because I have a lot of guts. It can be intimidating to read for someone who is reading the cards in a completely different fashion as you’re throwing them on the table. And that’s part of the charm of tarot. Everyone has their own reading voice and style. Some readers claim to channel spirits. Some say they are psychic – in the very day-time television sense of the word. Others, like me, say that we’re just readers. That we’re energy consultants – and we open dialogues with the self that you might have otherwise shied away from.

Jan is another tarot reader. She works full-time in a dreadful retail position and does tarot consulting in her precious free time. She is one of my regular querents – often asking me for spiritual advice. She senses this great void in her life and longs for something to fill it up. Over the years I’ve been reading for her, we’ve worked on big questions she’s had – meaning of life kind of stuff. Her readings are typically intense, but incredibly satisfying for me – only because her attitude toward the cards is so open and she just loves to talk her way through one of my readings. It’s more fun when the sitter is engaged in the reading, asking questions and pointing out things in the cards I might have missed on my own. There’s no happier feeling for me than sitting over a spread of cards with a cup of coffee and a good friend with a soft, open heart.

Remember the girl from the beginning? The grad school question? There were five cards on the table, and I was pointing to each, in-between each and trying my best to figure out the cardinal directions from where I was sitting, as I explained to her what she might encounter if she chose one certain grad program over another. After I would finish up each one, she would smile and nod, her eyes bright and focused on the table. She didn’t say much while I was reading, just asking a few questions about the particulars of the cards. When I finished the reading, I let it sink in a few minutes while she continued her careful examination of the spread.

“Well, was it good?”

“Yes!” she smiled widely, “It was so good. It was so fun. It was… different than what I was expecting.”

Yes. The Universe usually is.

In the cards pt. 3

This is a series of blog posts about my life in tarot and my experiences as a tarot reader. The characters in the series are based on people I actually read for — sometimes I’ve combined traits and readings from more than one client into one character for the purpose of storytelling (just in case you’re a regular of mine and see a bit of yourself in here). I love all my clients and respect their privacy, so key names and details have been changed. I’d love to hear your feedback about this series and whether you’d like to hear more! Previous installments of the series can be found here.

Energy is the other factor in what I do. I’m not a religious person and I find that my religious ideas are really irrelevant anyway. Tarot may be viewed as a spiritual practice – and indeed it is helpful to connect to ones high sense of self. But I do believe that any energy I use up, give off, is used up and given off by someone or something else. The energy is all connected. I call this the Universe. It’s sort of the force that compels me. And maybe that’s how the cards work. By tapping into that realm or dimension where we sense things on the elemental Universal energy level. I like to feel like I’m in touch with the Universe. Capital U.

I’ve never done the phone lines, but I’ve thought about it. After my kids were born, I was no longer comfortable having strangers come into my house for readings and getting out of the house became more and more impractical. Regular clients know my phone number and if I wasn’t able to arrange a meeting or phone call, I would read for them on chat or through email. The internet has changed everything (even psychic counseling!) and I regularly get referrals for my email readings. It’s a steady source of income, but I miss the cash I could bring in with face-to-face readings. Not to mention the energy exchange – it’s a bit of a rush when you’re right on.

I sat next to the chair by the front door for a good ten minutes. Waffling. I really wanted to go to the bar and hand the tender my card and say, Hey, hire me! But I didn’t want to go either. I was afraid I’d sit there most of the night by myself, feeling silly and out of place, afraid I’d lose the courage to talk to anyone — and yet I also felt the Universe nudging me out, gently. Here’s your purse, Universe said. Make sure you have some cash to buy a beer and leave a tip. Now put your boots on and go!

It was fortunate that a few old friends who I hadn’t seen in a long while happened to be there. It was doubly fortunate that the bar owner himself showed up. I worked up the courage to introduce myself when I noticed he was taking a break, drinking a beer at the bar.

He was really open to the idea of having me read there. He took my card and asked me all kinds of questions. He said he always thought it was interesting and his sister gets her cards read frequently. He said that he would think about it and put some feelers out to see if his customers would be interested in it.

When I got back to my table, a woman — friend of a friend, asked what I was doing. I told her how I read cards and wanted to start reading at the bar. She pursed her lips and said, “Uh, want to… practice… on me?”

I just shrugged and said, sure. Universe was in my bag, practically pulling my cards out before I even got my hands in. I put down five cards, met her eyes, and opened my mouth to speak.

Ten minutes later, she sat there quiet, lips parted — like the words wouldn’t materialize. Finally, she cried out, “It’s like you’ve known me my whole life!” grabbed her purse and started rifling through it. She pulled out a tiny wallet and shoved a wad of cash in my face. “Here! Take it! Please!! It’s all the cash I have.”

I never ended up reading in the bar. It was too draining to be super-mom all day and super-tarot reader all night. But when you’re open to the gentle nudges of Universe, you find yourself in situations that are surprising, exciting and new.

In the cards pt. 2

This is a series of blog posts about my life in tarot and my experiences as a tarot reader. The characters in the series are based on people I actually read for — sometimes I’ve combined traits and readings from more than one client into one character for the purpose of storytelling (just in case you’re a regular of mine and see a bit of yourself in here). I love all my clients and respect their privacy, so key names and details have been changed. I’d love to hear your feedback about this series and whether you’d like to hear more! Previous installments of the series can be found here.

In 1909 Sir Alfred Edward Waite released a deck he designed, commissioned by an artist named Pamela Coleman Smith. He designed the cards in the metaphysical tradition of the Golden Dawn Society (an esoteric club that was en vogue with the upper-middle classes of England and America) and Pixie illustrated them. The Rider publishing house printed the cards and the resulting deck, the Rider-Waite Tarot (now the Rider-Waite-Smith or Pamela Coleman Smith deck), has become the most popular and arguably the most accessible system of divination that the western world has known.

The first known use of tarrochi cards (a popular card game in Italy and France) for divination dates roughly back to 16th century France. The cards included twenty-two themed cards that became what is known as the Major Arcana and fifty-six pip cards that roughly correspond to a standard pack of playing cards (included was an extra court card for each suite – the page). Historically, the pips were plain – numbered with the suite – like playing card pips. That’s why Waite’s contribution to tarot was so revolutionary – he envisioned fully illustrated scenic pips that conveyed the card meaning using symbols that were relevant to the tradition of the Golden Dawn Society. Today there are thousands upon thousands of tarot decks that build on that tradition and apply wholly different symbols to mean more or less the same thing. The point being, if you can read a RWS deck, you can read 90% of the tarot packs you’ll find at any given metashop. Like vampires? There’s a tarot for you. Like fairies? The Renaissance? Romantic period? The novels of Jane Austen? Hello Kitty? There’s a tarot pack for you.

The Major cards are numbered zero through twenty-one. The Fool is zero. The World is twenty-one. The cards in-between represent sweeping themes and archetypes that make up human existence. The Minor Arcana cards in the suits of Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Swords (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, respectively), Ace through King, represent situations, events, actions and people that one might encounter in daily life.

Danielle sat on the floor in my living room, hand clutching a tissue, bent over a chest I used as a coffee-table. I was opposite her, pulling cards and passing them over the steady stream of curling incense smoke before they found their place on the woven scarf I used as a spread cloth. The cards weren’t good and her eyes were spilling over with tears. Turbulent court cards, Kings and Knights. She was in a troubled marriage. She had two small children at home and while she worked hard as a Realtor, she had little success in the downtrodden rural economy. She wanted desperately to leave her husband – had even considered an affair at one point, but feared his temper and the repercussions for her children. It wouldn’t matter, I told her, turning over the Page of Cups and then Eight of Swords. The Eight is illustrated with a bound and blindfolded woman, surrounded by eight swords. The cold wind whips her hair across her pallid face and the landscape is harsh and barren. He would be arrested, in jail soon enough. She exhaled loudly and burst into awkward laughter. I pursed my lips while she described his violent outbursts. He’d never hit her, she insisted. He’d never hurt the kids, but still… something fierce was building up inside him.

She called me the next morning to let me know that he’d been picked up by the cops overnight during a bar fight. She had packed her children up and moved them back in with her parents. She thanked me over and over again for the reading – for the insight it provided her and promised that she would be calling again, that she would tell all her friends about the amazing wonderful psychic she had met. I haven’t heard from her since.

I am not psychic. Not in the way it’s portrayed on television. A friend of mine once accused me of defrauding people – letting them believe I was seeing into their minds. It’s not like that though and I never represent myself in that way. My card says my name – followed by the words “Tarot Consultant.”

Anyone can read cards. Some of the best readings I’ve ever gotten were from people who had never seen a tarot pack before. I would put the cards in front of them and ask them to shuffle. Ask them to pull. Close your eyes. Tell me what you see in the cards. Tell me how it relates to me. Say the first thing that pops into your mind. Make it up if you have to.

I think that part of what I do is just opening a dialogue. The images in the cards immediately bring to mind specific situations that nearly everyone has gone through. Seeing those trigger memories that we connect with our current situations. Sometimes just being reminded of lessons we’ve learned in the past is enough to help us solve the problems ahead of us. It’s also helpful, when we’ve exhausted all rational means of problem-solving, to look at something from a completely irrational angle. Try something crazy to break out of the rut we’ve found ourselves in. Get a tarot reading. How irrational is that? Once we begin to see our small problems as part of a larger human experience, they feel more manageable. That’s all I do. I facilitate the irrational.

And then there’s the part where I’m just really good at reading people’s intentions. It’s not hard, when you’ve spent enough time talking to someone, to guess how their current actions are going to influence future decisions. Perhaps that is the talent I actually possess. I don’t like to call it cold reading – because that makes it sound like something deceitful. I don’t look for personal queues and predict that a tall, dark stranger whose first name begins with T will come into your life the second week of February. Maybe I’m just not that good. Instead, I see a Knight of Swords and I suggest that the energy is ripe for an intense encounter with someone who will impress you with sharp opinions, quick wit and high energy. Does it happen? I don’t know. It has happened for me though – when I know what to look for, I see it. I guess that’s part of the trick too, right? But what does it say about our human minds – that we’re susceptible to this kind of suggestion? Maybe we were meant to be suggested to, that’s all I’m saying.

In the cards

This is a series of blog posts about my life in tarot and my experiences as a tarot reader. The characters in the series are based on people I actually read for — sometimes I’ve combined traits and readings from more than one client into one character for the purpose of storytelling (just in case you’re a regular of mine and see a bit of yourself in here). I love all my clients and respect their privacy, so key names and details have been changed. I’d love to hear your feedback about this series and whether you’d like to hear more!

She was chewing on her lip, which was distracting. “I don’t even know what to ask,”” she said, her thick Southern accent rolling in her blushed cheeks.  “I’m so nervous! Can you tell?”

“Just a little,” I winked. “You don’t have to be nervous though. I’ll be gentle.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about.” She pointed to the small brown pouch next to my beer, “It’s those.”

I shrugged, “Just paper. Ink. Pretty pictures.”

“Not exactly!” She laughed, then drummed her fingers together. “What kinds of things can they tell me?”

I pulled the deck from the bag and waved it around while I spoke, “They can tell you anything. Big things. Small things. Universal truths. Potty jokes.

“It’s like this, you can ask anything you want – or nothing at all. Most people ask for nothing in particular, but actually want to know something specific. I guess they assume the Universe is as invested in their personal desires as they are. It’s kind of annoying.”

“I see.”

I went on, “Ninety-nine percent of the people I read for want to know about love. It’s something base inside us. No one wants to be alone. If you want to know about your love life, I’m happy to tell you. But don’t try to trick me. The Universe doesn’t like that.” I picked up my cards and started to shuffle, hand over hand at first. Fan and then bridge. “And neither do I.”

She watched me shuffle for a moment, lost in the sound of the rifling cards, “No, I thought about it. I want to know where I should go to grad school.”

“That’s a good question,” I agreed. I gathered the cards in my left hand and took a deep breath.

I don’t remember how I felt — probably a thrill of danger, of mystery — when I found my first tarot pack at a garage sale when I was thirteen. I hid them under my bed from my mother. She found them of course. She urged me not to touch them anymore – that they were tools of the devil and that it would only bring me bad luck. I remember her trying to rationally explain her irrational fears – broaching the subject matter-of-factly, holding the cards out in her hand at arms length. And yet, she never made me get rid of them, never demanded I throw them out or burn them. She simply dropped them on my bed and backed out of my room. I’m not sure she ever looked under my bed again.

So I kept them. At first it was out of the wonder of disobedience. I have always been fascinated by metaphysical things – ouija boards, crystals, psychic readings. I loved watching the television psychic shows, partly because the possibility of people possessing those kinds of talents excited me, but also because I wanted to see them trip up. The history of American spiritualism is fascinating and full of bizarre fraudulence and I was and am smart enough to realize this. I always secretly hoped I’d get hit in the head one day though and wake up with some kind of gift to see into the dark corners of someone else’s life.

That never happened. Instead I read a book on how to read the cards, learned the symbols and what they meant. Did a few readings for myself, for my friends. It was surprising, very much so, how they worked. It surprised me. It made me feel awake and connected to the Universe. And when I was in my mid-twenties, the barrage of sitters I had forced me to put a dollar value on what I was doing. I went “pro” – if you want to call it that. But I still don’t hear people’s thoughts. I still don’t see into the dark corners of anyone’s life – unless they let me. And usually, when I’m shuffling and pulling cards, talking, pointing, explaining and yes, even guessing, they do.

I dream of Hello Kitty Tarot

Last night I had a dream that my son was a teenager – like, seventeen or eighteen maybe. He looked a lot like Ben Barnes or that kid who’s playing Gambit in that new Wolverine movie. See, even in my dreams my kid is totally gorgeous! I was very proud of him. He was confident and poised.

Anyway, we were standing in line to look at tables at a craft fair/flea market type place. At one point, I overheard someone say “That’s his mother! She looks so young!” See, even in my dreams my vanity knows no bounds.

We were looking at items at a cool new age table and I was picking out jewelry and pouches and perfumes and oils, etc. Sullivan was also picking up things and then he paid and I paid for our stuff and we convened on a bench nearby.

Well friends, this is where the dream gets crazy. He was showing me this tarot deck he picked up — and it was a Hello Tarot! See, I’m mildly obsessed with Hello Kitty, and some of you may know that there was an underground, unauthorized tarot deck published featuring Hello Kitty. These decks sell now for hundreds of dollars though, and the most I’ve ever paid for a deck is $55 (that Touchstone Tarot — and man, was it a splurge!). So basically there’s no way I’ll ever get my hands on one of those Hello Tarots. But the deck that Sullivan had in my dreams was full color and boxed with a companion book. It was beautiful! Hello Kitty in all her glory! Even better was the price sticker on the imaginary deck in my dream — $18! Score! See, even in my dreams I am very thrifty!

So I ran back to the booth to try and obtain a copy for myself — and that’s when I woke up. Drat.

I honestly can’t figure out, with all the other kind of weird stuff that Sanrio licenses, why they won’t put out an actual tarot deck. Argh. Just to vex  me every time I see one of those damn unauthorized decks on eBay. I want one so bad, alas, alas… only in my dreams.

Tarot and ethics

I have a few moments so I thought I’d share a thought I have been turning around.

Earlier today someone posted in a forum a reading they conducted. The title of the post was “Am I pregnant?” and the person listed the cards she threw. My response to this was that there is a test available at the drugstore that can settle that question once and for all in under five minutes.

Another poster gently chastised me for my comment. However, I was not being snarky! If someone came to me asking for advice on some cards they threw when their question was “Is the lump in my breast cancerous?” I would suggest that they see a doctor ASAP to allay their fears. This is the same sort of question in my mind.

It says in my code of ethics that I do not give medical or legal advice and I stand by that firmly. I think that not only is it unethical to attempt to dispense advice via tarot (or any other divinatory means) on these matters, but it’s ultimately a waste of everyone’s time. Tarot is a very useful tool for gaining insight on situational matters, but all the insight in the world won’t compare to the peace of mind a positive (or negative) pregnancy test can provide. I can understand that people may be hesitant to take the steps required to actually know — especially in these kinds of life-changing circumstances, however this is a situation that falls 100% outside of my scope of practice.

A more helpful question to ask the tarot would be “Why am I afraid of being pregnant?” or “What would I gain if I were to become pregnant?” or “How would my life change if I got pregnant?” Do you see the difference?

I’m curious as to what others think about this? If a friend or stranger wanted you to read for her because she thought she was pregnant, what would you say? What if it was some other medical condition? What if it was a legal problem? Where do you draw the line and say to a person — go get the help you really need.

How often to get your cards read?

Lucy commented on my previous post that the visitors to her site seem to want to know how often they should have their cards read. This is a great question and one I have addressed to my clients from time to time myself.

I rarely throw cards for myself. Honestly. And if I do, it’s one to three cards at most. I know that sounds pretty weird considering I’m a card reader. I like to look through my cards and let my thoughts wander though. For myself, tarot is largely meditative and I use it to focus my energy where I want it to go. Divination is usually only helpful if I’m really stuck on something. Sometimes I will throw a spread for myself, sometimes I go to another professional.

For my clients, I don’t like to see them more than once a month. Again, I know that sounds kooky considering this is how I make my money. I don’t like the idea that the people I read for are becoming dependent on my services. It’s probably just a personal comfort issue with me — but I’d prefer to know that my clients are actively taking control of their lives and actively focusing their energy where they want it to go — rather than spending all their time (and money) on readers.

That said, I have had clients in the past who I have worked with intensely and frequently to help them navigate particularly complex situations. And in those special circumstances, each reading has been empowering and necessary for the client.

I think that where I draw the line is when it becomes clear to me that a client is desperate for me to give him or her the answer they most want to hear — and keep coming back hoping that enough has changed that I can do that. Let me make this very clear: neither the tarot nor myself will tell you what you want to hear. I will only tell you — and I believe that the cards will only tell you — what you need to hear.

So how do you know whether your situation is complex enough or whether your being blinded by your most passionate desires? How do you — as one of my potential clients, for example — really know how often to get your cards read?

Having readings done over and over on the same situation can be draining and frustrating for both the client and the reader. I usually recommend one reading per “situation” unless your circumstances have dramatically changed.

If you find tarot readings empowering (and you should! If you ever find them disempowering, you’re talking to the wrong reader) — consider discussing smaller spreads with your reader. Lots of cards offer lots of information, but in my experience, a Celtic Cross (15 card spread in my book) once a week or even once a month is just too much to digest in time for it to have any quality impact on your life. I honestly would have no problem with a client who wanted me to do a one-card reading for them once a week!

Finally, I think it’s important to say that I won’t take advantage of my clients suffering by advising additional readings or even allowing a client to become dependent on my advice. I will — and I have — refused to reading for clients who were walking that fine line. I think that sometimes the most compassionate advice I can give someone is to just breathe deeply and allow the universe some time to work itself out for once.

After all, both the universe and I need to take a vacation from time to time. 😉

How to make the most of a tarot reading

I’ve been reading for people for awhile now — a good four-ish years as a “professional” (meaning strictly on a paid-basis). Reading professionally has taught me a lot about people. Who people are, what they want, what they need… they all come to me looking for answers and I throw down some cards and try to make some sense out of the chaos of their lives.

Ninety-nine percent of my clients want to know about love/romance/partnership. They frequently word this as “soul mate”. Everyone wants a soul mate. Everyone wants to be a little less alone in the world. I’m fine with this (though the frequency of this type of reading is something of chagrin to professionals at the psychic water-cooler). What I’m less fine with is when someone asks for a “general” reading from me and I throw cards, interpret, intuit, etc., and then after the reading they say, “Well, um, is there anything in there about a romance (or a relationship/possible relationship/soul mate/boyfriend/wife/etc.)?”

This bothers me because it breaks some very simple rules for getting a great reading. The first rule is Be upfront about your expectations of the reading. If you’re going to a psychic for advice about love, say so! If you were going to a lawyer for advice on a traffic violation, you wouldn’t ask for some “general legal advice”, would you? No, why is a psychic any different?

Lots of people expect a psychic to know exactly what it is they want, and part of the test is to see if the psychic will figure it out. Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t work that way. I don’t work that way. I can’t read your mind (thank GODS), so if your burning desire is find out whether your partner is in it for the long haul, ask me! Don’t sit there purse-lipped and expect that the cosmos is just as emotionally invested in your love-life as you are! I’ve got a little tip for you, it isn’t. What is most frustrating and most fruitful about the tarot is that it is a tool that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

That said, careful wording of your question and expectations of a reading can help focus your reader so that you can get the kind of counsel you want. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Let your reader know first thing what area of your life you’re interested in exploring.
  2. If you want to know about a specific situation, let your reader in on the specifics of the situation. The more information your reader has to work with, the better they will be able to synthesize the reading to answer your questions. He or she should be able to adjust the spread used to maximize your reading potential.
  3. Engage your reader with questions during and after the reading. It’s been my experience that my clients get more out of their readings if they are active participants in them. Some psychics hate this. I love it. If you are looking at the cards and have a sudden insight to offer to your reader do so! It’s your reading, after all!
  4. Don’t try to “trick” or “test” your reader. I’m always very confused when someone pays for a reading from me and then proceeds to try and test my psychic-ness. I dislike the word “psychic” anyway, since I’m of the opinion that we’re all psychic to some degree. My role is to interpret the cards, that’s it. In my mind it’s akin to going to a doctor but making the doctor guess what’s ailing you. I often want to ask these people what is motivating them to throw away their money if they don’t believe there is any intrinsic value in a card-reading? Alas, I bite my tongue since I’m the one the money’s being thrown at.
  5. If you’re on the fence about whether you believe in the value of a tarot consultation, share those feelings with the reader. He or she should be able to explain to you their exact process. Some people are uncomfortable with the method used (by channeling, for example. I’m personally uncomfortable with angel readings and readings involving dead relatives). In that case, you should seek out a reader with whom you share similar philosophies.

Buying a tarot reading (or any other kind of psychic reading) is a luxury for many people. Don’t waste your money on a reading you’re going to walk away from feeling empty. By following the simple tips outlined above you’re assured to receive at least some of the guidance that you seek.

Of course keep in mind that the tarot, as will all tools of self-discovery, does not always tell you what you want to hear. In that case, be open to the message offered in the cards. Give the reading some time to germinate and give yourself the quiet reflection time needed to fully digest what the cards have enlightened.