Thoughts on Face-to-Face Reading

In this age of instantaneous electronic communication, there are tarot readers who may never experience the stimulation (and, yes, the trepidation) of reading the cards for other people in a face-to-face setting. Usually it’s a lack of confidence rather than limited opportunity that keeps them chained to remote situations where they never get to test their visceral grasp of the cards in extemporaneous circumstances. With all the time in the world to contemplate the subtle interaction of the cards in a spread, some of the immediacy of the moment can be lost in the transition away from what has historically been an interactive art-form. There is a definite thrill to having a “live one” sitting across the table, looking at you expectantly for wisdom, not to mention the advantage of having a dialogue to shape your observations around.

Those who are interested in taking the plunge into public reading have numerous questions about how to proceed. How do you open a session? What do you do if the sitter doesn’t accept your view of things? How do you convey negative information? What do you do if you “choke” and can think of nothing to say? How long should a reading session be? How do you wrap things up? If you think of it as having a lively conversation, some of these questions will answer themselves. My experience has been that most people love to talk about themselves and their perceived problems, and this can pull you into the reading with no time to agonize over your own assumed inadequacies.

I like to think of face-to-face reading as a kind of “performance art,” with the goal of engaging the sitter in the presentation. I tell my clients it’s their reading not mine, I’m just the guide and narrator of the personal story that they coax from the cards via the shuffle. I expect them to interject any time they have a question rather than waiting until I’m done. As far as the logistics of the process, here is a synopsis of my approach:

I usually bring several randomized decks to a reading and offer the sitter the option of choosing one.

I like the client to sit next to me if possible so we can view the cards from the same angle. This is particularly important when using reversals in the reading.

I ask whether they have had a tarot reading before, which helps me tailor my introductory remarks to their level of knowledge and saves me time. I give a short overview of what to expect from the reading. Some clients ask at the start of the session whether they can record the narration, and I have no problem with this.

I don’t want to know the client’s specific question, at most just the general topic area of interest (such as relationships, work or business, finances, home and family, general well-being). There are two reasons for this: I don’t want my own experiential bias and preconceptions coloring the outlook to the point that the cards can’t “speak for themselves,” and I want to offer strict privacy. Most of my readings are focused on situational awareness and developmental insight, and details of the client’s situation almost always emerge as necessary during the discussion.

I have the sitter shuffle and cut the deck, then I lay out the cards in the chosen pattern. I turn all of the cards face up as I lay them, although I often leave the last – or “outcome” – card face-down to retain a bit of mystery and drama in the emerging story. (I tell them it’s part of the “theater of tarot.”) This enables a broad overview of the entire spread that lets me immediately identify any “big-picture” factors meriting special attention.

I scan the layout and may make preliminary observations about the thrust of the reading. Then I go into a card-by-card analysis, seeking input and verification from the client as I proceed. Although I might use them in my internal synthesis, I normally leave any mention of esoteric correspondences out of my commentary unless brought up by a knowledgeable client.

If the sitter doesn’t warm up to the presentation and relates to me that the details don’t make sense, I will “shift gears,” typically away from a literal interpretation of the cards in mundane terms and into a more psychological mode by describing character traits, behaviors and attitudes that the person might encounter or may want to either adopt or avoid in dealing with the situation. As a last resort, I will talk about impersonal forces at work in the matter that the querent should consider.

The goal of the reading should be to empower the individual to take action that either bolsters a positive projection or derails a negative one. Conveying unfavorable tidings comes down to a matter of finesse in delivery, with an eye toward pointing out possible vulnerabilities and ways to proactively confront them. I try to stop short of giving advice, letting clients figure out for themselves what the best solution would be in any given scenario. On that point, I also never give “actionable” medical, legal or financial recommendations that might make me professionally liable. I’m not a certified counselor or therapist and stay well clear of that territory.

I’m very seldom at a loss for words, but if I need a moment for reflection I keep it as brief as possible and may “think out loud” as I unravel a particularly puzzling bit of information, inviting the client’s insights. Protracted silences can undermine the sitter’s confidence in our abilities.

When doing professional readings “on the clock” with a set time limit, I use a digital timer to remind me to wrap up the session. I don’t adhere rigidly to its warning in that I don’t “clam up” as soon as it goes off, but I shift into “summary mode” at that point.

Finally, I ask for any last questions before closing, and offer the sitter the opportunity to take a photo of the spread. I hand them one of my business cards as they depart.


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