“Transformation Bias”

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “confirmation bias” as it applies to tarot reading. It strikes me as a fancy psychological term for “projection:” we see only what we expect (or want) to see in a reading and ignore anything that doesn’t agree with our preconceptions. This observation brought me to the subject of this essay. We as readers tend to believe that every reading contains the “seed” of some fortunate development as long as we dig deeply enough to find it; this assumption is part of the “empowerment” mode of tarot reading. The outcome depends, of course, on the querent’s acknowledgement that the condition identified by the cards demands attention to correct a deficiency or imbalance. I’ve seen enough denial and push-back against the need to reconsider the status quo to recognize that this is not a universal reaction to every life-changing recommendation in the narrative.

I come down somewhere in the middle on this. Sometimes a reading just states the “situation as it stands” and, try as we might, we can’t find a clear path to resolution, “for good or ill.” This can lead to the dubious practice of pulling more cards (“clarifiers”) until we come up with something that makes sense. I would suggest “contemplation” as a better remedy than “clarification.” It’s as if most diviners can’t let their sitters go without giving them an inspiring glimmer of hope to latch onto, whereas my personal goal is to offer them constructive insights with which to fashion their own response. Ideally, they will ponder my words and not just take them to heart as the “gospel truth.”

There are two premises at work in this mindset: one I call the “magic bullet” scenario, in which the querent wants the Universe to hand over a ready-made solution to the problem, and the other is the “instant gratification” mentality in which no amount of inner work is acceptable in arriving at a satisfying conclusion. These notions call into question the purpose of a tarot reading in the first place. Are sitters merely looking for affirmation of what they think they already know (for example, “Is my spouse cheating on me?”), or are they sincerely at a loss over where to turn next? I’ve had both types at the table over the years. To be fair (when it’s been possible to tell them apart from the idly curious), most have demonstrated at least a hint of the latter.

I’ve always found the concept of giving advice with the tarot to be a dicey proposition. If seekers can’t see their own way clear to an unbiased perspective, how can any cards they unearth through the shuffle and my subsequent interpretation be any more instructive? If my belief that the tarot operates through “subconscious induction” holds any water, the cards will only spit back at them what they should already know intuitively. In that sense, the reading is “preaching to the choir.” (I realize I don’t sound much like a “cheerleader” for the tarot, but a healthy skepticism should be a part of any reader’s self-checking routine.) Rather than giving them a detailed report on their state of consciousness and what they should do about it, I try to nudge them toward finding out for themselves, with the archetypal symbolism in the cards as a prompt. As I’ve mentioned before, this often involves “changing gears” from an entirely pragmatic focus to a more psychological one that helps them unravel the mystery through self-reflection. I consider myself more a “self-help consultant” than a soothsayer.


One thought on ““Transformation Bias”

  1. Your observations here make complete sense to me and reflect my own views on how we need to be cautious in our readings. I see the cards as mirroring something that the querent is bringing with them energetically, that they either are not acknowledging or unaware of. Hence, as you say, it is a window into self and an empowering tool for inner resolution.

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