Take no offense at the title of this post. The “You” in question here is, in fact, me. Over time, I’ve learned that I really need to be reading Tarot for other people—that doing it just on my own is never enough to scratch my divinatory itch. This is going to be a bit of a ramble, as I’m trying to hash out my own thoughts and experiences here; chalk it up to the “Tarot Journal” part of this blog’s function.
For someone who’s as deep into Tarot as I am, I’ve spent relatively little time reading for other people. I started reading Tarot when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I didn’t really have anyone around to read for. My father thought Tarot was bullshit, and aside from one memorable occasion when he rolled his eyes and asked me “Will my shit tomorrow be light brown or dark brown?” he had no interest in indulging my new habit. My friends were, eh, not really into it; I had the opportunity read Tarot as a gag at a couple of events in high school, but that was about it.
So I was left with reading for myself. And the thing about reading for yourself is, eventually you run out of questions to ask. For many years, my Tarot practice was largely, well, theoretical. I was an armchair Tarot reader, someone who read a lot of books and had some very hot takes on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, but who rarely ever picked up the cards and actually read.
My reading suffered immensely for it. I was great at the theoretical side of Tarot: various sorts of correspondences, specific techniques, spread design, and the like. But I rarely used any of that theory. In the famous words of Yogi Bera, “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” I fancied myself a master Tarot reader, but Tarot—like any other skill—requires experience and practice. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a decent reader and able to put my theoretical knowledge to good use on the occasions when I did read, but I wasn’t nearly the reader I could have been. I simply didn’t have the experience, and I didn’t really understand why experience was necessary.
Sometime in college, I started to realize that I needed more experience. I joined the American Tarot Association, and I spent a couple of years reading for the Free Tarot Network and Free Reading Network. I also participated heavily in online reading exchanges at Aeclectic, looking to get more experience. Even so, I noticed myself balking at a lot of the questions I was asked. Anything predictive, anything divinatory, anything that genuinely required skill as a Tarot reader, I avoided or rephrased. I only wanted introspective, metaphorical, psychological sorts of questions, things like “What is the attitude I need to take toward this situation?” or “What can I do to resolve this conflict?” In short, I stuck to the sorts of questions that you can always bullshit your way through, no matter what cards come up.
Part of the reason for this was that, at the time, I was a staunch atheist (oh, how times have changed), and I simply wanted nothing to do with the parts of Tarot that were full of hoobedy-hoobedy and mysticism. I thought magic and woo were all bullshit, and I wanted my Tarot reading style to reflect my values.
However, there was a bigger, deeper reason. I was terrified of being wrong. When you take a real divinatory question, something like “Will I get the job?” or “What does my love life look like in the coming months?”, you have to give a definitive answer. Yes or no, this or that, “You will meet a tall, dark stranger” or “You’re not going to meet anyone anytime soon.” And as soon as you take a stance, as soon as you make a definitive prediction or tell someone that one course of action is more fortuitous than another, you have to reckon with the possibility that you might be wrong.
For someone like me, who grew up with a primarily theoretical knowledge of Tarot, this was—and is—a terrifying prospect. The possibility that I might be wrong, the idea that I could make a prediction and have it come out totally false, means that I might not be as good at Tarot as I think I am. All my theoretical knowledge might be useless. And that is a simply bone-chilling fear, one that I spent years and years of my life trying to avoid.
And yet, there’s a flipside. As soon as you make a prediction, you accept the possibility that you might be wrong, but you also accept the possibility that you might be right. That you might actually be quite good at Tarot, that you might be able to make clear, specific, and consistently accurate predictions. That’s a frightening prospect in its own right (especially for someone who grew up as resolutely anti-hoobedy as me), but it’s also thrilling and empowering. And it’s a door that I was only able to open for myself once I started reading for other people, really reading, in earnest, and making the sorts of predictions I’d been avoiding for so long.
With any skill, including Tarot, you have to be bad before you can be good. You have to make a lot of shitty tables before you become an expert carpenter. You have to write a lot of bad poetry before you win a Nobel Prize. You have to give a lot of mediocre Tarot readings before you become a skilled diviner. This is something I’ve always struggled with, in all areas of my life, and not just in Tarot. I don’t like being bad at things. I don’t like needing to learn. I just want to be immediately perfect at all the things. (I’ll give you three guesses as to what my Sun sign is.) Sadly, that’s not the way the world works, but the fear of being wrong, of being bad at something, of ever needing to improve, has held me back in a lot of ways. In Tarot specifically, it has often made me hesitant to read for other people, because somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s that niggling doubt: What if you’re not as good as you think you are?
Here’s the thing, though. I am a damn good Tarot reader. Not a humble one by any stretch of the imagination, but a good one. I know my shit, and by this point, I have the experience—and the track record of success—to prove it. Back in January of this year, I gave a Tarot reading to a friend who was starting a new job in retail. I told him that things would be great for a while, but that everything would go to shit after seven weeks. And golly gee, would ya look at what happened in mid-March?*
I still find myself generally reluctant to read for others, or at least more reluctant than I should be. And that’s dumb. I’m a good reader. Scratch that, I’m a fucking great reader. And I like reading Tarot. I like the feeling of everything falling into place, when I lay out the cards, start to see the connections, and open my mouth to start talking.
I don’t really have a wrap-up for this post. I’m just… Reflecting. Mulling. Percolating. I’ve only given one professional reading this summer, but it was a great experience. My client got what they needed out of it, and I got that indescribable feeling of satisfaction that comes with having read the cards well. I love that feeling, and I really should read more for other people, because that’s the only way to get it.
*Note: I’m not claiming to have seen COVID coming. I didn’t see it coming. I’m not that good. But in this specific case, someone asked me what the upcoming year in work looked like, and I was able to tell him that shit would hit the fan and when shit would hit the fan.