This is a series of blog posts about my life in tarot and my experiences as a tarot reader. The characters in the series are based on people I actually read for — sometimes I’ve combined traits and readings from more than one client into one character for the purpose of storytelling (just in case you’re a regular of mine and see a bit of yourself in here). I love all my clients and respect their privacy, so key names and details have been changed. I’d love to hear your feedback about this series and whether you’d like to hear more! Previous installments of the series can be found here.
In 1909 Sir Alfred Edward Waite released a deck he designed, commissioned by an artist named Pamela Coleman Smith. He designed the cards in the metaphysical tradition of the Golden Dawn Society (an esoteric club that was en vogue with the upper-middle classes of England and America) and Pixie illustrated them. The Rider publishing house printed the cards and the resulting deck, the Rider-Waite Tarot (now the Rider-Waite-Smith or Pamela Coleman Smith deck), has become the most popular and arguably the most accessible system of divination that the western world has known.
The first known use of tarrochi cards (a popular card game in Italy and France) for divination dates roughly back to 16th century France. The cards included twenty-two themed cards that became what is known as the Major Arcana and fifty-six pip cards that roughly correspond to a standard pack of playing cards (included was an extra court card for each suite – the page). Historically, the pips were plain – numbered with the suite – like playing card pips. That’s why Waite’s contribution to tarot was so revolutionary – he envisioned fully illustrated scenic pips that conveyed the card meaning using symbols that were relevant to the tradition of the Golden Dawn Society. Today there are thousands upon thousands of tarot decks that build on that tradition and apply wholly different symbols to mean more or less the same thing. The point being, if you can read a RWS deck, you can read 90% of the tarot packs you’ll find at any given metashop. Like vampires? There’s a tarot for you. Like fairies? The Renaissance? Romantic period? The novels of Jane Austen? Hello Kitty? There’s a tarot pack for you.
The Major cards are numbered zero through twenty-one. The Fool is zero. The World is twenty-one. The cards in-between represent sweeping themes and archetypes that make up human existence. The Minor Arcana cards in the suits of Cups, Wands, Pentacles and Swords (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, respectively), Ace through King, represent situations, events, actions and people that one might encounter in daily life.
Danielle sat on the floor in my living room, hand clutching a tissue, bent over a chest I used as a coffee-table. I was opposite her, pulling cards and passing them over the steady stream of curling incense smoke before they found their place on the woven scarf I used as a spread cloth. The cards weren’t good and her eyes were spilling over with tears. Turbulent court cards, Kings and Knights. She was in a troubled marriage. She had two small children at home and while she worked hard as a Realtor, she had little success in the downtrodden rural economy. She wanted desperately to leave her husband – had even considered an affair at one point, but feared his temper and the repercussions for her children. It wouldn’t matter, I told her, turning over the Page of Cups and then Eight of Swords. The Eight is illustrated with a bound and blindfolded woman, surrounded by eight swords. The cold wind whips her hair across her pallid face and the landscape is harsh and barren. He would be arrested, in jail soon enough. She exhaled loudly and burst into awkward laughter. I pursed my lips while she described his violent outbursts. He’d never hit her, she insisted. He’d never hurt the kids, but still… something fierce was building up inside him.
She called me the next morning to let me know that he’d been picked up by the cops overnight during a bar fight. She had packed her children up and moved them back in with her parents. She thanked me over and over again for the reading – for the insight it provided her and promised that she would be calling again, that she would tell all her friends about the amazing wonderful psychic she had met. I haven’t heard from her since.
I am not psychic. Not in the way it’s portrayed on television. A friend of mine once accused me of defrauding people – letting them believe I was seeing into their minds. It’s not like that though and I never represent myself in that way. My card says my name – followed by the words “Tarot Consultant.”
Anyone can read cards. Some of the best readings I’ve ever gotten were from people who had never seen a tarot pack before. I would put the cards in front of them and ask them to shuffle. Ask them to pull. Close your eyes. Tell me what you see in the cards. Tell me how it relates to me. Say the first thing that pops into your mind. Make it up if you have to.
I think that part of what I do is just opening a dialogue. The images in the cards immediately bring to mind specific situations that nearly everyone has gone through. Seeing those trigger memories that we connect with our current situations. Sometimes just being reminded of lessons we’ve learned in the past is enough to help us solve the problems ahead of us. It’s also helpful, when we’ve exhausted all rational means of problem-solving, to look at something from a completely irrational angle. Try something crazy to break out of the rut we’ve found ourselves in. Get a tarot reading. How irrational is that? Once we begin to see our small problems as part of a larger human experience, they feel more manageable. That’s all I do. I facilitate the irrational.
And then there’s the part where I’m just really good at reading people’s intentions. It’s not hard, when you’ve spent enough time talking to someone, to guess how their current actions are going to influence future decisions. Perhaps that is the talent I actually possess. I don’t like to call it cold reading – because that makes it sound like something deceitful. I don’t look for personal queues and predict that a tall, dark stranger whose first name begins with T will come into your life the second week of February. Maybe I’m just not that good. Instead, I see a Knight of Swords and I suggest that the energy is ripe for an intense encounter with someone who will impress you with sharp opinions, quick wit and high energy. Does it happen? I don’t know. It has happened for me though – when I know what to look for, I see it. I guess that’s part of the trick too, right? But what does it say about our human minds – that we’re susceptible to this kind of suggestion? Maybe we were meant to be suggested to, that’s all I’m saying.