Partly Dark with a Chance of Rain

Even as a naive young novice I was leery of making glib predictions with the tarot; my early work in astrology had taught me that there are few metaphysical absolutes and the Prime Directive was to offer the seeker an intricate synthesis of possibilities. There are a number of good reasons to avoid the practice of unchecked assertion, but a couple stand out. Not only are such ironclad pronouncements just as likely to be incorrect as not, they are also morally suspect because they could instill powerful hopes or fears in a querent when nothing so vehement is warranted. Very few of us are anxious about whether we’re going to die tomorrow, we only want to know if it might rain on our picnic next Saturday (in that sense, we as diviners could take a page from the weatherman’s notebook regarding the art of prognostication).

People have said to me (not in so many words) “Why are you so concerned with accuracy? Just be more general and give your sitters a loose, impressionistic version of what the cards are saying. Tell them a tale about themselves.” My answer is usually “That’s not why most people come for a tarot reading. They already know who they are, they want something more definite that they can act on, or at least help them decide how to act.” This is where the idea of “empowerment” comes in; it’s not just to make them feel good about themselves, it can mean a real difference in their response to a situation (just as long as we don’t make them feel like they’re invincible, that is). If they want a character analysis, they should see a natal astrologer, and if they’re after a psychological profile of someone else, they’re also barking up the wrong tree. Tarot isn’t much good at reading minds.

The classic “bad answer” is the categorical “Yes, you will” or “No, you wont” for whatever opportunity is being explored. Conventional wisdom on this is two-fold: there are no “good” or “bad” cards, so we can’t assume they will be crystal-clear regarding any “yes-or-no” question, and tarot is for story-telling, not for answering questions of the “wishful thinking” type. (A third reason that no earnest seeker wants to hear from a tarot reader is “You have free will, you decide;” after all, they don’t have to be told that!) I take none of these at face value, although I can see the point in them. I also read in the Lenormand method, and it has a much more definitive stance on positive, negative and neutral cards.

I see no reasons why something roughly analogous can’t be applied to the tarot, which is why I created my table of “Yes-leaning,” “Maybe” and “No-leaning” cards. It’s undeniable that some cards offer more encouragement than others, even when the context of the question isn’t about finding a way out of a dilemma. They can aid in setting the overall “tone” for a reading although they are seldom absolute in their influence for “good or ill.” Even with a 50/50 chance of being right or wrong, it isn’t unreasonable to make like the “tap-dancing” weatherman and say “On next Saturday there could possibly be more sun than clouds” or “Things might change but better prepare for rain.” One of my favorite stories is about a gullible newswoman in my old hometown who was set up by her sly husband, the news-and-weather anchor at the same radio station; she was reading the weather forecast (obviously written by him) and blurted out “It will be partly-dark out tonight.” I believe they were divorced shortly after.

At all costs, I try to avoid giving my clients actionable advice that might be used against me if a prediction goes sour, particularly if they suffer some kind of irreversible damage due to a decision they make with my input. We can have all the “hold harmless” and “for entertainment only” clauses we want in our professional terms, but it’s far better to dodge the risk entirely. So how do we give a sitter something to work with without hanging our asses out in the wind? First off, I have a “Cartomancer’s Creed” that lays out my reading approach for them and places their personal responsibility for the outcome squarely in the spotlight. (I have it pinned to my home page, but I’ll link it here for those new to this blog.) I bring this single page to reading sessions and have them look it over before we start since it’s a quick read and will get them thinking in the right direction.

Although I don’t show it to them, some other protocols from my written “statement of purpose” are that I won’t offer medical, financial or legal commentary that might be misconstrued as recommendations, and that I’m not a trained or licensed mental-health professional, so what I read in the cards shouldn’t be considered diagnostic or prescriptive “therapy.” I also advise them that “I read the cards, not minds,” so trying to determine what someone else is thinking or feeling is off-limits. If they want to know what the general “climate” is in any of these areas, I might be able to help them as long as they fully understand and accept my disclaimers. The bottom line is that they must be willing to serve as an active participant, remaining open to having a dialogue about the subject of the reading while also giving their constructive input and validation when appropriate. I have them shuffle and cut the deck to make it clear that they have ownership of the results (even if at first only at the subconscious level) and my job is to help them to consciously grab the reins and steer a course forward in an informed manner.

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