As it frequently does, the subject of defending oneself against negative influences while reading the cards for other people came up again on one of the Facebook tarot pages. I usually approach this perceived vulnerability as Astral Plane intrusion (think “Ouija board”) but it is even more likely to come from the person across the table. Dion Fortune once wrote a book called Psychic Self-Defense about protecting oneself from what I consider “psychic vampirism.” The sitter might not be deliberately attacking you, but their negativity can suck away your spiritual energy just as surely as if they were, leaving you feeling emotionally drained and perhaps even damaged.
I learned the “white light” method of protective visualization – a kind of “saturation” shield – from my cousin, who was a Spiritualist leader in Connecticut; for years I performed a silent ritual before each reading to invoke it as a “ward” against psychic attack. But I see it differently now. I don’t open myself up to the sitter’s subconscious or try to tap into it; I tell them to concentrate on the cards in a kind of communion and I hold myself aloof until they’re done shuffling, after which I just read the cards they came up with in a pragmatic and sometimes psychological way. Done in this manner, the act of divination is unlikely to expose the reader to subtle forms of violation. The shield may still be a good idea, but I’ve gotten out of the habit and haven’t noticed any adverse consequences.
Many people resort to prayers, incense, crystals and other methods of “clearing” to assure the sanctity of the reading space, but in my opinion this is mainly a type of “feel-good” window dressing, part of the “theater of tarot” that makes up the performance art of cartomancy. It may make the reader feel comfortable and secure (which is where its true value lies) but I can’t see that it makes much difference otherwise. The same goes for “cleansing” the cards: they are merely tools, bits of cardboard and ink that are unable to hold onto psychic energy, negative or not. I realize that this is probably an unpopular opinion in the more mystical circles of the divinatory arts, but I tend to be skeptical of the outer fringes of that demographic as borderline delusional anyway. Personally, I walk a fine line between a literal, analytical “knowledge-based” style of interpretation and a more fluid, intuitive perspective based on free-association from the images. I really don’t think twice about the risk of succumbing to the querent’s malign impingement on my spiritual integrity. If it hasn’t happened by now, after 50 years of reading experience, it’s probably not going to.