Cheap Shots #26: The Slippery Slope

One thing that can be said with certainty about divination  is that predicting the future in a “yes-or-no” fashion using any of the currently popular methods of inquiry is at best a 50-50 proposition: one percentage point either way spells the difference between success and failure. In short, despite our fascination with the details of the process, the results may be no more accurate than a coin-toss. Querents come to us seeking enlightenment about where their lives are headed and we give them an educated guess (what I slyly call a “SWAG,” or “Scientific Wild-Ass Guess”). Although centuries of accumulated anecdotal testimony (I hesitate to call it “evidence”) suggest that certain tendencies and probabilities will emerge in the wake of our earnest attempts at prognostication, life at its most predictable is still a crap-shoot subject to the vagaries of chance.

Diviners who haven’t objectively examined their work under an empirical microscope and claim to have substantially better than a 50% success rate based solely on casual feedback are either credulous optimists or crafty self-promoters. In my own case, I like to say that I don’t gamble because, whenever I have a 50% chance of winning, I lose 80% of the time. The one example I can think of that runs counter to that experience is the use of horary astrology to locate lost items, where I’ve had slightly better than a 70% “find” ratio; there is little intuitive guess-work involved – in the words of astrologer John Frawley, either the item is where the chart says it should be or it isn’t. Unlike more “open” techniques of interpretation, there is no “gray area” of near-success, and no fudging is allowed: “almost” finding the item isn’t likely to impress our clients.

The riskiest opportunities occur when clients act on the outcome of any reading in ways that may be detrimental to their well-being. It’s one thing to say “you will meet a tall, dark stranger” and quite another to suggest, however obliquely, “plow your life savings into this can’t-lose investment.” This exposure lies at the root of our self-imposed proscription against tackling questions with serious medical, financial and legal implications, and gives rise to the use of “weasel-words” in our predictions: “suggests, implies, seems like, makes me think,” etc. The vulnerability of impressionable seekers to fast-talking scammers also drives laws aimed at suppressing fortune-telling charlatans: the infamous “for entertainment only” clause. Unfortunately, many (if not most) clients are paying for constructive insights, not comic relief, and we are challenged to give them fair value while staying clear of legal entanglements. It does little to bolster a querent’s confidence in our skills if we’re constantly hedging; there has to be a better way that doesn’t involve offering advice that may come back to haunt us..

Some tarot experts suggest presenting clients with a legalistic set of “ground rules” for conduct of the reading that draws on the bases of contract law: the “no expressed or implied warranty of suitability for any particular purpose” angle. Lawyer and tarot expert Benebell Wen has a downloadable “Code of Ethical Conduct” on her blog that covers much of the necessary ground, although it is more about guidelines for the practitioner than conceptual boundaries to be explained to the querent.

On Tarot Reading Ethics, Part I: Health, Legal, and Financial Readings

As a former Purchasing Manager for a large corporation, I’m well-versed in the legal ramifications of buying any kind of service. I created my own written cartomantic “rules of engagement” that included all of the protective bells-and-whistles necessary to limit my responsibility and liability for any inadvisable actions my clients might entertain as a result of my observations. To be honest, it came across like a “punch in the gut” driving all of the air and most of the joy out of the occasion of a reading. I decided to come up with a softer approach that tells the querent what to expect, while keeping the stricter provisions  firmly in mind for my own conduct:

Any method of divination “taps into the idea that we create our own future through the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the attitudes or behaviors we adopt in response to the insights received. It speaks of portents and possibilities, not fate. To unfold as shown, a prediction often requires deliberate action or inaction by the seeker: conscious effort to pursue an agreeable outcome, or willing neglect to permit an unpleasant one. Wishful thinking in the first case and good intentions in the second aren’t enough to make a difference.”

In contrast, here is my previous take on the formal “legalese.”

“Questions seeking actionable medical, financial or legal guidance should be brought to a qualified professional. I have no formal credentials in these areas.

I’m not a mind-reader, I ‘just read the cards.’ Tarot isn’t a psychic pass-key for uninvited access to another person’s mind. If your situation involves someone who hasn’t consented to being a subject of the reading, I can help you rephrase the question to stay within ethical bounds.

I’m also not a trained counselor. My observations are offered ‘for entertainment only,’ with no expressed or implied claim of suitability for any particular purpose. Their use is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the recipient.”

Rather than pile-driving my sitters with all of this at the start of a reading, I hold it in reserve and only go there if the dialogue takes us in that direction.

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