People read Tarot for a variety of reasons. Some people use it predictively, some people use it introspectively, and so on. The uses range from the purely psychological, to decision-making, to bona fide divination. However, a common thread among all Tarot readers is that we read Tarot because it works. Whatever we’re trying to use Tarot for, we get consistent results—otherwise, we wouldn’t keep doing it.
I’m not out here trying to convince skeptics—frankly, I don’t give a damn whether other people think Tarot works or not—but I’ve seen enough uncannily accurate Tarot readings that I am satisfied as to the efficacy of the medium. Tarot gives me information that is specific, detailed, and that I wouldn’t have been able to come up with on my own. Just as an off-hand example: In a reading last month, someone asked me about a career change, and I told them “There are two people in positions of power in your workplace. One of them has your back, but the other is undermining you, and you won’t be able to take your career anywhere until that relationship is dealt with.” They confirmed that they have two supervisors and that the dynamic with those supervisors is exactly what I’d described.
Now, that’s not exactly predicting the winning lotto numbers, but it’s the kind of thing that has, over time, led me to put a great deal of confidence in Tarot. I made a specific description based on the cards—something that would not just apply to anyone in any situation—and my interpretation of the cards was validated by real-life events. I’ve had this sort of thing happen over and over again.
But at the same time, sometimes I get a reading unequivocally wrong.
Many months ago, a friend had gone on a few dates with a girl in New York and wanted to know if anything was going to come of it. I pulled some cards, using the Thoth deck, and the outcome card was the Seven of Swords. In the Thoth system, the title of the Seven of Swords is “Futility,” and I felt like this was a pretty clear answer. I told him as much: “It looks like things are probably not going anywhere serious with this girl.”
Fast forward to now, and they’re in a committed relationship. He’s never been happier, and he can see himself spending the rest of his life with this girl (or at least an indefinite period of time)—something he’s never been able to say about a partner before. In short, my reading was flat wrong.
It can be tempting to gloss over incidents like this, to pretend that they don’t happen and to overemphasize our record of success as diviners. We want to remember the times we got it right with Tarot; why dwell on the times our readings didn’t pan out? But I think it’s important to be honest about failures, because failure is something that happens to every Tarot reader, even the best of the best. Every now and then, you’ll pull the cards, see a clear answer to a question, and then find out you couldn’t have been more wrong.
But that’s okay. Really, truly, it is okay to get readings wrong sometimes. Tarot is an interpretive discipline. It’s a human discipline. It is, therefore, an unavoidably subjective and imperfect one. Humans, in the process of interpreting the world around us, make mistakes and get things wrong sometimes. As diviners, we have to make room for ourselves to do the same.
Importantly, that does not mean we avoid accountability, write off every mistake, and make no effort to build a more consistent and reliable divinatory practice. If you’re getting it wrong more often than you’re getting it right, you have a problem, and you need to refine your skills as a diviner. You want to reliably get things right. You want results. But if you’re getting good results nine times out of ten, and then one time out of ten you get a reading wrong? That’s still a damn good record. A 90% hit rate is impressive and valuable, and is in no way diminished by being honest about a 10% miss rate.
I think that (in large part because of the pseudo-scientific reputation of divination) diviners feel a great deal of pressure to prove themselves by being flawless. It’s as if divination is only respectable, is only good, if a reader gets everything right 100% of the time and never makes a single wrong prediction. But out in the world, that’s really not how expertise or prediction work. If someone (say, a financial or political analyst) is knowledgeable about a subject and their predictions are right most of the time, we take them as a reliable source, even with the understanding that they’ll be wrong some of the time. The same thing is true in Tarot. If your readings are reliable—if your querents consistently walk away from your table better-informed than when they arrived—you are doing your job and doing it well. If you’re getting things right noticeably more often than you’re getting them wrong, you’re doing a good job.
Does it suck to get a reading wrong? Absolutely. Do querents get upset? Undoubtedly. But the fact of the matter is, it happens. It happens to everyone. It just happens less often for skilled readers. I think we do ourselves a disservice by not publicly copping to those flubs, because we feed into unrealistic expectations that if a Tarot reader is real and knows their shit, they should never get anything wrong. Just like your financial adviser will occasionally steer you toward a bad investment, your Tarot reader might occasionally be totally off-base in reading the cards. The real question is not whether that happens at all, but how often it happens. If your financial adviser makes one bad investment after another, it’s time to trust somebody else with your money, but if he makes an occasional mistake amid lots of sound decisions, that’s another matter entirely. The same thing is true of a Tarot reader.
Anyway. I’m rambling. This post is probably coming across a bit whiny and defensive, and I really don’t mean it to. The friend who got the Seven of Swords reading is not angry or displeased with me; we both laugh about how wrong that reading was, and I’m glad I was wrong, because the relationship has turned out well for him. Mostly, I’m thinking about other readers, and the way that Tarot readers tend to market ourselves as omniscient beings who cannot possibly be wrong. There’s sometimes a tendency among Tarot readers to get defensive in the face of an incorrect reading, and I’ve even seen readers tell clients, “The reading wasn’t wrong. You must be lying to me.” And frankly, that’s just dumb. We’re all wrong sometimes. We benefit from the humility of admitting that, and nonetheless holding ourselves accountable to establishing a consistent record of success.
tl;dr: Being a successful Tarot reader is not about never making mistakes. It’s about consistency, which may include some mistakes, and I think we can establish a greater level of trust and confidence with our clients if we are clear about what that really means. Telling a client you’re always right (and then letting them down) is, in my opinion, worse than showing a client that you’re human and limited, and that even very skilled humans are never perfect at what they do. The latter is a more honest, sincere, and trustworthy way to talk about what it means to get results in divination, or to be a good diviner.