Tarot Reading—A Questionable Proposition

Let's face it, if people are stupid enough and crazy enough to believe this maniac, why wouldn't they listen to something a Tarot reader told them? And the answer to that is that of course lots of people believe things their Tarot readers tell them. The thing is, unlike Dick Cheney, sometimes (a lot of times really) what the Tarot readers say is true. Why?
Part I—Readers and Receivers

For a long time now, I have been reviewing how I felt and particularly thought about reading Tarot cards. In one, large sense, I have concluded that most of what passes in the world for reading Tarot cards, or doing divination, or using or working Tarot cards, is baseless nonsense.

Yes, I know, that's pretty harsh and judgmental and so by the way is the conclusion that George Bush II is a monstrous jackass. But in both cases the wealth of evidence supporting the conclusions is considerable. On the other hand, I still do card readings; I still sell card readings; and I still believe reading cards is a real and to some extent reliably useful (and interesting) activity.

Do I believe Tarot cards, or their readers, can accurately predict the future?

Yeah, I do. Although I cannot tell you definitively how they do it, or if their doing of it is connected to the cards, as opposed to the correct predicting being some insightful talent (e.g., of symbolic interpretation) which could be worked or expressed through any number of divinatory media.

Also, I would address here another question, which is do I believe that computer-generated readings can accurately predict the future?

And again, based on my experience, I would say yes, as I would say computer-generated I-Ching readings and rune readings can provide relevant and insightful comments.

That suggests there is something in the process itself that is working, but since it is still the reader (in this case the reader of the computer reading, the comments of which might be quite rigidly fixed per card) who is making a connection between the general meanings of cards and positions and the specific questions being asked, we are led in the direction of blaming the human being, and not the cards or the algorithms, for apparent predictive facilities.

Where I am headed with this argument or suggestion is that I think in people of gifted interpretive ability, who find making interesting and insightful correspondences and connections quite easy, the tool of choice may not be nearly so important as the native abilities and developed skills of the worker.

Explicitly, what I think is going on in card (or symbol) reading is that the reader, upon being given a context of a question, can apply pretty much any tool and any symbol, to construct an interesting interpretive narrative. Depending upon the receptiveness of the listener, or querent (or receiver), almost any answer will further be adapted by the receiver into a relevant or at least a plausible suggestion of a connection or future.

So, what I am saying is that it doesn't matter what cards come up in a reading—it only matters what question, and context, is established in which to manipulate the tools and interpretations. Further, what matters considerably in the process of perceiving an "accurate" reading are the expectations of the receivers, and whether or not they accept or view the reading skeptically or affirmationally.

I shall note here that I am going for right now (until part III I think) to forego a discussion of simple, dichotomously predictive, readings (i.e., yes and no questions). Certainly, in those it would seem one could crash into mattering, especially if one of the dichotomy turns out to be dead wrong. I would just say in advance of a more detailed explanation of this apparent problem, that Tarot readers and their clients are naturally predisposed to breathe life into dead possibilities. Thus we get a lot of what I have called "rear-view reading", making a reading match what eventually happens, no matter what was originally predicted.

Now, most people who practice Tarot reading, or who purchase Tarot readings, are inclined to affirm the legitimacy of the process (even if they do not understand the process). So, they are also predisposed to seek a "good" or "accurate" reading, even if the reader says things which strike the receiver as odd or unexpected.

In fact, the affirmational receiver is affirmed in his faith pretty much no matter what the reader says. Because either he will be affirmed that what he is hearing confirms what he already believes to be the case, or the possibility (regarding futures) anyway, or he will be comforted that some unforeseen suggestion has been rendered, thus validating the ability of the Tarot to provide insights into the unknown.

Even if the reading provides a troubling or negative outcome, the neurotic receiver will view this as superior to knowing nothing whatsoever of the future, and will validate the process as helpful and useful.

Of course, generally, professional readers, regardless of their skills in interpretation, consciously seek out (through cold reading), and affirm, the desires and expectations of their clients. Their professional livelihood depends upon having clients feel that at the very least the world was not cartomantically pulled out from under their feet (that they were not Towerized by the reader), and better that their hopes and dreams are validated. The latter makes for happy, and returning, customers. Or we might say "unhappy and returning" because it seems the best clients are those whose self-esteem and self-love is so lacking that no amount of affirmation and validation can ever satisfy their neurotic neediness.

Even bad readers know that clients who return to ask the same question over and over again are not being served by having the reader enable the client's neurosis. But, especially in bad times of course, the lure of reliable money may be too much for the working stiffs—and most Tarot readers are that—to turn down.

Those motives of course lead us down the road to accepting a pure cold reading of the client as a legitimate exercise, and it is worth noting that many professional readers and tarotbook writers recommend employing what are clearly cold-reading techniques to ascertain not the meaning of the cards, but the nature of what the client wants to hear.

For example, Teresa Michelson in The Complete Tarot Reader recommends this technique for solving what she calls "reader's block", or the inability of a reader to do his job:


"If the client is sitting there with you and you are really stuck, try this approach. You can tell the client, if you choose, that one of the cards is unclear to you, and because she knows her question and situation the best, she may be able to help you what it represents."

Given that reasoning, one might suggest that letting the client do the whole reading would be advisable and actually that is recommended by a number of well-known tarotbook writers, who seem not to think it odd that the reader should then expect to get paid for doing nothing. Of course the something the reader is allegedly doing in that kind of do-nothing reading is "facilitating". Right.

Interestingly, many books that recommend cold reading do so under the guise of promoting "intuitive" or "psychic" methods of reading, where allegedly paranormal or archetypal (of the Jungian sort) methods are employed to read—well, something, including maybe the cards, but allegedly the components of the unconscious of the clients. As we shall see, assessing the components of the unconscious mind often involves interrogating the conscious mind, or (as noted above) simply employing the client to do the reading.

We'll look more into that brand of Tarot reading tomorrow.

End of Part I, tomorrow—Part II, the Psychic Psywindle


Shannon said…
This is pretty much where I've ended up in my thinking on the subject. I think also there's the element where the act of interpreting symbols can "trick" the subconscious into passing information up to the conscious mind. So any suggestive pattern (tarot spreads, I Ching hexagrams, rorschach blots) would work for that purpose--but some are better than others.
Anonymous said…
If what you are saying is true it seems there could be a way of testing for the presence of that kind of useful trickery or function.

It does seem to me that people who are good at reading symbols, find it easy to read just about anything. Whether or not they do it usefully goes back to the dynamic of how beliefs, particularly on the part of the clients, shape perceptions of accuracy or truth.