Warning: I’m going to be politically obtuse here and talk about gender, as in demographics, because at the purely biological level (barring surgical intervention), it is what it is. For the record, I’m an Old White Male (but not quite the “Bernie Sanders of the Tarot” yet), married to the same woman for 40 years with a couple of grown kids and a granddaughter, and I’ve been observing and taking part in esoteric study and practice for almost half a century. My main area of interest over that period has been Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck and its association with the Hermetic Qabalah.
When I first started with astrology and tarot in 1972, the majority of people in southern New England gravitated toward astrology; I don’t believe I encountered anyone else in the Greater Hartford (CT) area with a serious interest in the tarot, either for study or divination, although I knew it had some traction among hippie mystics. The average astrological practitioner was a middle-aged woman, and there was a smattering of older, more scholarly men in the mix as well (who were almost certainly after the women, and vice versa). The established “rock stars” in the world of astrology were mostly in California and New York, while the younger, rising talents in tarot (Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, etc.) were just beginning to get their legs under them. It was a case of a few big fish in a very small pond and most of the “lunkers” schooled up in the urban areas, leaving the rest of us small-fry to find our own way locally, in the shallows so to speak.
Fast-forward to 2011, when I ended my 30-year self-imposed spiritual exile in rural New Hampshire, where I was a solitary proponent of the Western Mystery Tradition (with occasional forays into Boston) intent on raising a family and pursuing a career, and at that time I joined the on-line tarot community at Aeclectic Tarot. It’s tempting to say “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” but I discovered a few interesting new wrinkles. For one, the landscape was awash in neophytes seeking guidance; the internet had opened up a vast field of opportunity for those quick on the uptake, and self-styled gurus (some only marginally more experienced than their students) abounded in forums and later in blogs. The demographic was overwhelmingly female and on the young side, with almost no males of my own age and orientation; I considered myself part of the “1%.” I liked to joke that I’m the only “beer-drinkin’, pickup-drivin’, ball-cap-wearin’, fly-fishin’, alpine-skiin’, kayakin,’ blues-and-jazz-music-listenin’, poetry-lovin’, tarot-card-readin’, horoscope-castin’, half-Canadian geomancer you’re ever likely to meet.”
Beginner and intermediate tarot books that had been few and far between in the early ’70s were suddenly everywhere, and some of them were halfway-decent or better. Nothing to make me want to toss out my Book of Thoth, but good enough to provide a credible springboard for the novice. The current flood of new tarot decks had not yet begun, but self-publishing soon changed that. Lenormand was just beginning to gain in popularity in the US, as were other oracle decks. One downside I saw in all of this activity was the danger of trivializing the historical roots of divination through over-exposure to the alluring come-on of fast-buck “learn tarot in a day” opportunists. Another was the “depersonalizing” of the art of cartomancy through insertion of an electronic partition between the reader and the querent. Suddenly anyone could become a budding on-line tarot master without the intimidating experience of having to look someone in the eye and actually talk to them. Pardon me, but I’m never going to accept that this is a better way to go than sitting across the table from a client and having a dialogue about the cards. It may be infinitely more convenient to work remotely, but I would argue that the lack of immediate feedback risks devaluing the experience by turning it into a subjective monologue by the reader. On the other hand, I suppose that as long as we get paid for our putative expertise, who cares; the wheels of internet commerce will keep on rollin’ with or without us.