Tag Archives: divination

Can you say too much during a reading?

“Should I ask you my question or just keep it to myself?”

First-time clients often wonder whether they should be direct and say exactly what’s on their mind or wait and see if it comes up on its own. It’s not uncommon for folks to think that speaking too much will “taint” the reading by swaying the reader. Sometimes we worry about “bias” in readings, brought on by knowing too much.*

IMG_6154The issue, once again, is how you think tarot works and what you think it can do:

If tarot is a magical device that communicates messages from an external source (like a god, a spirit, an angel, or a guide of some kind), then it can make sense to hold your question and commentary and expect relevant insight to come forth. If the response comes from an outside, mystical force, then the tarot reader becomes a vehicle for communication rather than the source itself. Theoretically she wouldn’t need much (if any) information in order to tell you exactly what you needed to hear, depending on how powerful those external forces were.

If tarot is a spooky, mysterious device with powers inherent in the cards themselves (or unspecified powers controlling the cards), then you also wouldn’t want to give information away, because the results (if they were accurate) would simply be less titillating, much in the way that a Ouija board is less scary if you know your asshole friend Rachel is always moving the damn planchette. It stops being impressive if you can chock things up to a wily reader asking leading questions or sourcing information beforehand.

If tarot is a therapeutic tool rooted in contemporary understandings of psychology (whether well-informed or not), then one of two things might be feasible: (1) Keep silent or vague and attribute accurate, meaningful responses to a collective unconscious, the universality of a human experience, or empathy or (2) be forthright with information under the pretense that a reading functions like a counseling session and the more direct we both are, the better.

The thing is, tarot is all of these things (and more) depending on who you’re talking to. The cards have been used for gambling games, New Age counseling, party tricks, talking to spirits, and scaring the shit out of kids at sleepovers since there have been tarot cards readily available to the public (and some things, quite a bit longer).

It’s hubris (and just historically inaccurate) to insist that the cards are one thing to the exclusion of others.

So when you’re going for a reading (or performing them), what is it that you want to achieve? Do you want to be spooked? Do you want a pragmatic answer to an ongoing question? Do you want evidence that the spirit world is real?

What you want will determine what sort of reader you need to seek out and how (or if) you should ask your question.

I don’t give much credence to angel guides or any inherent power in the cards themselves, for example. My cards are special (because I love them) and imbued with whatever witchiness I might choose to put I them (which I don’t, so none), but ultimately they’re just cardboard. I don’t believe that they store energy beyond the psychological associations I ascribe to them (“I hate that guy who touched my cards, and now I think of him every time I shuffle them.”) and I don’t use them to talk to any mystical beings. So I may not be the best choice for someone who wants to receive a message from their spirit guides. It’s cool if that’s what you want, but I don’t have the fluency to support you in the way that you probably need. Fortunately, there are a million other readers who would be excellent choices (and I’m always happy to point you to a more appropriate reader!).

I know enough about people, reading body language, and making assumptions based on visual cues that I’m pretty confident that I could mystify someone at a carnival. I also know a couple of basic card tricks, so pulling off the spooky sleepover or Halloween party would be relatively easy. Some other readers find this sort of thing offensive. Again, it’s a matter of desired outcome and choosing the right person for the job (again, there are choices better than me). This is almost never the sort of reading you should expect if you visit a shop that offers tarot readings or if you book something with a reader online. Most of the folks who describe themselves as “professional” readers (“professional” as a descriptor of decorum, not only in the sense that they earn money reading) won’t give you the magic-trick-spooky-scare-yourself type of experience.

My own approach to tarot is varied, and it tends toward something of a combination of the things above, more or less depending on the setting. I don’t consider my cards to be a magical tool, though I am both a witch and a magician. That’s a personal choice. I believe in gods and spirit communication, but I have other preferred devices for that sort of thing. If something has ever come through the cards, it’s never been in a client setting. I don’t subscribe to a collective unconscious or a universal human experience, so I tend to avoid that sort of language. I do, however, experience patterns in human demographics and am comfortable asserting that people tend to have similar problems, similar ways to deal with them, and similar sources for comfort. Put simple, people aren’t snowflakes. There’s definitely psychology at work, though I don’t have any formal training as a counselor. When I have intuitive responses to cards, these are rooted in empathy (a basic human quality and not a magical power), subconscious impressions (which is still empathy), and educated guesswork (i.e. a keen sense of observation). It’s not particularly mystical, but it is very effective. Ultimately, my goal is pragmatism. I look for concrete tasks in a reading and work to end sessions with tangible advice based on the spread and the cards.

And at any given point, some of the above may be in conflict, more or less true, and always in flux (because I’m human).

My experience has been that tarot is accurate and useful regardless of how much the client speaks or how direct the question because people have a knack for bringing up the things they want to think and talk about. It’s just what we do naturally. If you are mentally set on your love life and that’s all you care about in the moment, then it doesn’t matter if I draw a bunch of pentacles and The Hierophant next to The Hermit (or whatever). We’ll end up talking about your love life, or you’ll make the connections in your head on your own. If we end up talking about something else entirely, it’s likely because your love life isn’t as central as you think it is (I’ve been in enough therapy to know that when we’re worried and focused on one thing, that thing can often be a mask for something else more pressing). In this setting (which is mostly where I operate), a good reading depends on a reader being able to engage conversationally and communicate clearly. The client has to be comfortable and there needs to be some trust in place. Having some life experience helps, too.

The thing to remember is that it’s not a dichotomy between spilling your whole life story and sitting masked in stony silence. Either is fine, but there’s plenty of middle ground. I’ve had some clients who will ask very general, vague questions (“There’s some stuff going on with my kids and I’m not sure how I feel,” or “Where do I go next?”). I’ve had others give me topical information (“I want to talk about career stuff,” or “It’s about my love life.”). Sometimes, clients sit back and see what comes up in the first card or two and then interject with information that narrows things down and guides the conversation.

Whatever you choose is okay, but it pays to seek out the most appropriate reader for the job.

*This is related to the dilemma of whether or not you can read for yourself or read for close friends. I’ve already addressed the former, and will write about the latter another time, as it deserves its own post.

Spring-o-ween

I know we just hit the spring equinox. There’s rabbits and eggs and budding flowers everywhere and everyone’s all anxious to go outside and roll in the grass or whatever. I know.

But I really just want it to be Halloween.

Spring is nice, and I like warm weather well enough, but I’m a fall/winter person. Here in North Carolina, we don’t get many crisp mornings and gentle snowfalls. The weather is erratic enough that we can’t count on beautiful color-changing leaves or toasty sweaters by October. Halloween is more likely to entail mosquitoes and sticky rain. Spring is sticky and buggy, too, but with less witchcraft and awesome spooky shit.

I always want it to be Halloween, and I’m absolutely okay with living up to some witch stereotypes here. For those of you who feel the same, here are a couple of decks for your consideration:

photo 2The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West has been around for several years now, but we just got a miniature version in at Laughingbrook and I’m obsessed with it all over again. It comes in a little tin (there are several other versions, in various boxes and sizes), and it’s the perfect size for casual shuffling. The Halloween Tarot is an uncomplicated copy of the Rider-Waite, but with Imps, Pumpkins, Bats, and Ghosts in place of Wands, Pentacles, Swords, and Cups. Many of the cards are directly transposed from the familiar images and will translate right away for those of you who work from a Colman-Smith platform. This deck is just straight-up charming. A must-have for Halloween-loving tarot people. This makes me want to give Halloween-themed readings in the Etsy shop just for the hell of it.  Don’t be surprised if that becomes a thing.

photo 3The All Hallows Tarot, by Robin Tisch Hollister, came out first as a majors-only set.
Now you can buy a full 78-card deck plus a Happy Squirrel. The drawings are quirky and with the sort of imprecise line-work that I really dig. Like my Halloween Tarot, the cards are miniature (2.65 in. x 3.65 in), which makes shuffling a breeze. At $40, this isn’t a cheap deck, but it is nice to have something so unique. My deck came with a more-ornate-than-usual nylon pouch, wrapped in a plastic Halloween goodie bag of the sort distributed at parties.  A good choice for a Halloween lover who wants something more unique.  Buy it here.

On Reading Runes

photo 2Those of you who follow me on YouTube or elsewhere on the Interwebs probably know that I also read runes. This site has focused on tarot exclusively, and lately I’ve been thinking I should take the time to introduce this part of my magical repertoire to Tarot Skeptic readers who may be curious.

My approach to runes is quite a bit different from my approach to tarot. The lines aren’t always clear, but I have some very distinct tendencies that are worth noting.

Tarot to me is very much an intellectual exercise rather than a religious one. I don’t practice any sort of purification ritual, before or after readings. I don’t think gods or spirits are speaking to me through the cards. Tarot is not directly connected to my practice of witchcraft. I even tend to avoid religious language, insofar as that’s ever really possible. My tarot study is rooted very strongly in a particular understanding of history (and a belief in the relevance of that history) and within the context of particular esoteric traditions (e.g. the Golden Dawn, BOTA, etc). There’s a level of objectivity (again, if that’s ever a thing at all) present in my understanding of tarot that I find is often missing in other approaches to the cards. When I want to understand the meaning of a particular card, I turn to a scholarly text on either the card itself or the tradition from which it arises, as opposed to meditating on it, consulting some kind of spirit guide, or engaging in a flow-of-consciousness type intuitive exploration. That’s all fine for other people, but it’s just not how I like to roll when I can help it. It feels too nebulous to me, and I’ve never been the sort of person who likes to openly emote.

With runes, all that goes out the window. Reading runes is absolutely a religious activity for me. The runes belong to the gods (a particular group of gods, and, still further, specific gods within that framework) and I’m turning to Them (at least in part) when I use them, whether it’s to perform a reading or if I’m using runes in magical work. I get emotional, I get woo-woo, and I’m quicker to discount all of my usual empiricism. Dana Scully checks out and my Mulder-brain—wantonly, gleefully—takes over.

I’m constantly wrestling with the question of whether or not a commitment to the gods is required in order to work effectively with the runes. For me, this is a constant back and forth, and increasingly I lean toward yes (at least, for myself). When I first was learning about the runes, it was casual and from the place of a non-practitioner. I was simply a witch curiously exploring systems outside of my own. But since I began using them seriously, I’ve built unanticipated religious and social connections within Heathen spaces. I talk to gods that I previously didn’t have relationships with. My attitudes about divination are different now. Runes exist in a completely different headspace from tarot. They’re magical and sacred in and of themselves, unlike tarot, whose power is consciously constructed.

I realize that’s magical thinking all on its own, but there it is.

It’s challenging moving between the two over the course of a day’s work, like stepping back and forth into different social roles. I love both, but differently.  Tarot stimulates my intellect and fuels my love for history.  Runes are about my connection to the gods.

For those of you who practice other forms of divination, do you find that your approaches are markedly different?