So You’re a Professional Tarot Reader?


In a local “commerce-and-culture” magazine, I came across an interview with a professional “Certified Life Coach” and began pondering how I would respond to such questions if they are ever presented to me as a tarot reader. Here is my version of a hypothetical interview that aligns more closely with the practice of divination.

What is a tarot reader?

A tarot reader is an intuitive – and at best an inspired, imaginative and ingenious – story-teller who creates narrative vignettes from randomly drawn cards that ideally: a) foretell future circumstances and events with precision, or b) accurately describe the psychological dimensions of a subject’s situation.  At one time it merely identified a type of fortune-teller, a “cartomancer” who deciphered the signs and symbols ascribed to the cards as a form of divining, or predicting, the future. Playing cards were used initially, and tarot and oracle decks came into vogue later. In these post-Jungian times they are often used to promote self-awareness and facilitate coping with life’s “curve-balls,” in addition to serving as a tool for divination. The modern reader has become more than just an objective “seer,” and is now often treated as a personal advisor. While usually not certified (and, more importantly, not insured) as such, an unwary reader (and as a result, the reader/client relationship) can sometimes stray into the territory of the licensed therapist or counselor, which can raise questions of legal liability. This has led some jurisdictions to require readers to offer their services “for entertainment only.”

How is it different from being a psychic?

A psychic generally draws intelligence directly from a “channel” of subtle knowledge through purely mental means. The layman’s view is that it is a form of mind-reading, but some practitioners consider the true source to be Divine; others point to Jung’s Collective Unconscious; Plato named it the “Soul of the World,” which can be accessed through the intuition; mystics assume that a spiritual plane lies just outside our physical domain that holds the record of all things past, present and future. In all cases, it seems to rely (optimistically, it might be said) on a form of cognitive physics that we don’t yet have the ability to precisely measure or quantify, despite numerous past experiments to that end.

A tarot reader, on the other hand, uses the cards to open an inferential window between the subconscious and conscious realms, either those of the diviner or of the person seeking the reading, through the acts of shuffling and cutting the deck. This tactile manipulation can be considered a form of “subconscious induction” that arranges the cards in a sensible order for the reading. Those who read intuitively insist that the process is not that literal or intellectual, and that one of the more exalted forms of communication must be responsible; my opinion is that these diviners operate more as “psychics with props” than card-readers. The key difference is that there is an intervening step which fortuitously singles out the correct cards to form the narrative, and translating the traditional definitions and visual images of those cards into meaningful insights about the subject of the reading constitutes the tarot reader’s art. It can be analytical as much as it is intuitive.

Are there professional credentials and, if so, what are the qualifications?

Although there are professional membership organizations that offer training courses and certificates of completion, and there may be related college curricula buried under the department heading of “Psychology” at some progressive schools, to my knowledge there are no widely recognized professional credentials and academic standards of excellence for tarot readers. The professional tarot community is skeptical of those that do exist, thinking them not worth the paper they’re printed on. At present, despite the historical database of traditional wisdom about the cards to be found in numerous textbooks, tarot reading is an anecdotal rather than an empirical discipline (one might call it a “pseudo-science”) for which little hard data has been compiled to demonstrate its effectiveness. Tarot readers are almost universally self-taught from books or privately mentored, although recurring symposia  presented across the United States and around the world are starting to introduce some needed cohesion for those who can afford to attend. Internet forums are another crucible in which consensus is forged, while books, magazines, newsletters and blogs also spread the emerging “gospel.”  However, given the stylistic diversity among practitioners of the art, “caveat emptor” is something to keep in mind when lining up a reading.

What do you offer your clients?

I believe that each of us possesses foreknowledge of what our future holds.  Some of it is pure “body-memory;” we take the same route to work every day and don’t remember a single moment of the journey there and back because we’re on “auto-pilot” and respond unthinkingly to all the right cues: stop-lights, sign-posts, traffic patterns, etc. Barring any unforeseen occurrences, our safe arrival becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” But at a deeper level, compelling premonitions can arise from a variety of sources that should be given their due. Our past encounters with similar situations are obviously major drivers of these auguries, but they don’t tell the whole story. While the conscious mind goes about its daily business of managing our objective reality, the subconscious gets right to work on “what-iffing” potential developments almost as soon as they show up on the radar screen, and its attitude is not always one of nervous apprehension.  Preloading a conditional response to any conceivable eventuality is a big part of it; call it dusting off and previewing one’s “fight-or-flight” options. So a reading that taps into this subliminal legwork can put the subject in touch with something that they may already suspect about upcoming events, but that hasn’t yet surfaced consciously.  In more mundane terms, it helps them put words to their hunches and turn them into “educated guesses,”  thus getting a leg up on future challenges. The chief advantage of this recognition is a “forewarned is forearmed” state of alertness that places them in a good position to deal with any eventual consequences, anticipated or otherwise. Consider it an intuitive “Early Warning System.”

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