Tarot, A Questionable Proposition, Part II, The Psychic Psywindle

Part II, the Psychic Psywindle

“The folly of the psychic reads in the folly of the querent.”—A. E. Waite

Let us start with a simple question. Perhaps you will want to pull out your decks and read along to answer it.

How did an otherwise obscure actress (Youree Dell Harris) rise to enormous infamy portraying a Jamaican Tarot reader named Miss Cleo? Why, amongst all the other peddlers of Tarotic offerings, was Miss Cleo the one who resonated so perfectly with the public?

Well, let's face it, for the late-night losers of the world, and isn't that just about everybody at some point in their lives, Miss Cleo offered salvation through the one thing she clearly had that they didn't. And it wasn't just her Tarot cards. Nope, lots of people have those. It wasn't just her kindly but teasing manner as she unraveled one Gen-X dilemma after another with her fake-Jamaican guffaws. It was the fact, which is to say the lie, that she was a psychic, and was clearly reading people's fortunes with great vision and happy client outcomes (so far as we could tell at the end of the ads). Miss Cleo had the power!

Miss Cleo: “You give a lot of money to this man. You laugh, but you know I’m telling you the truth, don’t you?” Yep, she knew the truth that her real name wasn’t Miss Cleo, and that she wasn’t a Jamaican Tarot psychic or any kind of psychic—and that a lot of people were giving a lot of money to her company. But hey, for a few years there Miss Cleo was the public face of Tarot—which is not solely the fault or shortcoming of the scam artists who ran that operation. Nope, it develops naturally out of the assumptions and the outrageous gullibility of the regular crew of perps and twerps (i.e. clients) peddling and and getting scammed by psychic Tarot.

Except of course it wasn't psychic power, but the power of scripted television informercials that carried Miss Cleo and her company (the infamous PRN—"Psychic Readers Network"), to such enormous success. At one point, PRN was so absurdly rich from its multi-faceted scam, that Nancy Garen, the not-nearly-as-famous-as-Miss-Cleo tarotbook writer of the SPOC (standard piece of crap) book "Tarot Made Easy", sued PRN for half a BILLION dollars!!, claiming copyright infringement because PRN used her silly book to do their crappy fake Tarot readings. Keyword in the whole horrible homily—CRAP—oh yeah and psychic. And, you know, swindle.

Crap-psychic-swindle. Or maybe psychic-swindler-crap.

But the point is that the 2002 despoiling of the Tarot world, which saw Miss Cleo fall and the ghastly opportunity of Sniperfest played out in all its bloody glory, served to fix in the public's mind in a way that it hadn't before, that Tarot cards and psychics were joined at the hip in a kind of Siamese synergy of charlatanism.

Is this view of things Tarotic, especially as Tarot is peddled by the Tarot industry, unfair? Or extremely old news?

Now, I have always tried to keep an open mind about the psychic question. In other words, the premise that one might be able to get psychic suggestions—or we might call them backwards vibrations, like ripples in time, of the future—is not wholly ridiculous to me. I myself have the usual narratives of amazing or at least unlikely occurrences one discovers in the exploits of occultists, and which usually get attributed to something like psychic powers.

Of course, for that matter, I've also been abducted by aliens, seen heaven and hell, talked to God and the Devil, also various angels and demons, and am now engaged in a magickal working with a demonic spirit called Hadit with the goal of furthering the Thelemic Apocalypse—and by the way it's going quite well thank you (from both of us).

Which is to say, that the credibility of any occultist reporter on his experiences is naturally and I would say necessarily shelvable in the sci-fi/fantasy portion of the perceptions of any reasonable person.

On the other hand, a residence on those shelves, whether or not justified, is validation of the diamond-hard truth to millions of people of whatever is being claimed. Those people are not very bendable by and to the facts. They live their lives in the constant search for new pastures from which to graze faith.

And of course the very notion of psychic powers is that there is some kind of communicating going on that is not explainable by the facts. That is fine if your main object is to faith-graze. But so many of the modern promoters of Tarot want their wares to have a respectability to them that one is not likely to find in an evangelical revival.

The Bible tells us psychics or those possessed by the power of the python, are associated with evil, and need cleansing or, if you are Old Testament, then the remedy would be killing. Of course, the Bible does not deny that this demonic-psychic power is real.

On the other hand, we have many examples of the Miss Cleo brand of psychism, which while seemingly obvious frauds are nevertheless relied upon religiously by countless wretches.

Is there a happy or true medium, so to speak? Some psychic quality or connection to Tarot that is neither evil nor fraught with fraud?

And how did Tarot cards end up in the psychic boat in the first place? Or is psychism in the Tarot boat?

The answer to the first question will depend upon the interests and worldviews of the people we ask. The answer to the second question invites historical surveys and more unhappy facts that the current High Priestesses of Tarot have declared verboten—and also very boring. Where does the truth lie, and is that a trick question?

Scientists have actually looked pretty hard and long into the question of the existence of psychic powers and have only recently nailed a pretty convincing coffin-lid in place, saying a big "no" to the probability of there being any psychic powers.

As we have said, that fact will only be interesting to those still susceptible to the suggestions of facts. And of course, the mind is awfully complex, isn't it? Perhaps scientists will someday discover the place, i.e., outside of fantasy, where psychic ability exists. But, as with the famous Face on Mars, the evidence so far has been disfiguring to the faith-based position—at least from a scientific standpoint.

Fortunately, science gets its say and then the anti-scientific and anti-rational forces get theirs. They get that say on school boards where they deny the validity of evolution, and they get that say in tarotbooks where they blather on about the inherent psychic powers of everyone!!—despite the continual inability of Tarot readers or any other brand of psychics to correctly predict even the most glaring of horrible events in the world.

Are Tarot psychics indifferent to the lives they could save by giving us accurate predictions of catastrophes? Or are they merely interested in doing the work of very microcosmic meddling?

If you ask them, you will often hear an excuse to the effect that of course they knew about something like the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai, but they knew nobody would believe them or it wouldn't be safe to say anything, so they kept quiet about it.

Isn't that a good point? What might become of a psychic who accurately predicted the horrible events in the world? She might be scooped up by friend or foe and spirited away into a dark hole from which she would never be heard from again. One might point out that if that is the concern, then even acknowledging one has an undocumented psychic power might be dangerous.

At any rate, in Tarotmania, and the rest of the psychic realm, there is always a surplus of unsupported claiming, and a paucity of any evidence demonstrating any psychic powers exist.

Now, this is not to say there is a paucity of seemingly amazing insights from alleged psychics, unfortunately rooted in the cold-reading of clients, a practice now being promoted as an aide to psychic sensibility, instead of what it would seem to be, a way to fraudulently appear to be psychic. Things have gotten so bad in the Tarot world on that count, that, as we have noted earlier, "psychics" now operate by having their clients conduct the readings themselves, with the cold-reader as facilitator of the pretense.

Now, at the end of this review of the regrettable condition of Tarot psychism, I would point out that maybe it is possible for a person to look at a Tarot card, and psychically obtain information not otherwise available. Maybe that is true.

But the problem is that over and over again when we look into the details of claims that it is true, we find either an unwillingness on the part of the psychic to offer much detail of the alleged feat, or indications that yet another fraud has been worked using Tarot cards.

As a final point, I am not in any way arguing here that psychics should be prevented from doing their work in the world. Without swindlers, where would the gullible look for solace and bitchslaps? And nor am I saying, as might seem a reasonable point of view, that the work of swindlers is obviously of no relevance to the "real" work of Tarot. I have in the past felt that might be the case, and perhaps have even articulated it to be true, but my view these days is that, as with any carny-religio enterprise, including a goodly portion of the work and representations of the Catholic Church, it is absurd to imagine that that the peddlers of the metaphysical should be regulated by the laws of the physical realm.

I have seen enough of fraud at every level and in every nook of Tarot to know that if you take out the fraudulence of it all, if you make it pristine and honest and gods forbid—respectable!—you might as well take it out back and shoot it and be done with it. There is a class of Tarotic denizen, the Tarot-is-just-a-card-game advocates, and by the gods they are a dumpy dour crew, who would gladly kill the occult version. Michael Dummett would have deeply loved to have accomplished that task with his bigoted histories of occult Tarot, but alas he merely bored people with his endless ranting about how Tarot had been stolen from gamblers.

Tarot, as an occult practice anyway, is not a respectable nor a reasonable activity. It is a carnival, full of masks and intentionally misleading signs. It has always been that, even as a game. And one should not be so big a fool as to imagine he should not be played for a fool at a carnival. In fact, isn't that the very point of playing?

Next—Part III of our sordid soliloquy: The Jungian Jank



Shannon said…
Don't have much to say to this installment except "I agree," but I'm really looking forward to the next part.
Anonymous said…
Thanks. Working on it.

Anonymous said…
"If tarot readings are a means of communication for the clients"

Is that what Tarot readings are? Why?

See, one of the problems in talking about this, is that that the Tarot industry doesn't want any discussion about this question, or at least none that suggests certain ideas about the nature of Tarot reading are better than others. The industry, naturally, wants a very wide open door to access, even if that means Miss Cleo becomes the best known Tarot practitioner in the world.

"does it matter if cold reading techniques and 'self-reading' is used?"

That would depend upon what is being claimed by the reader. At the least, if one is reading the querent, but claims he's reading cards, then this would be a dishonest posture on the part of the supposed reader. How can that be right?

Now, you may argue that the client's belief in the Tarot opens the client up; his faith in its power makes him more amenable to suggestions which may aid his awareness and how he feels. But if, fundamentally, what is really meant by this is that the client's false beliefs enable him to feel better, then maybe there is a more fundamental problem at work, that cannot be addressed successfully by dishonestly encouraging good feelings in the querent.

At some point, where is the concern in this arrangement you suggest for telling the truth? Or for even thinking there is any to find?

"If tarot is only to be used in a specific way, time-honoured and approved by yourself"

Since I have not made that argument, your hypothetical is not relevant.

Anonymous said…
First off, I cannot edit your comments, but only select comments to be published or rejected. If you don't want something published, don't write it.

Also, I asked you why Tarot readings are what you claim. You did not answer.

You say you want to "gain ideas".

Do you mean "gain" or "affirm"? And how is it that you gain them?

How do you do that? What is your method?

You admit to reading your clients instead of cards. How do you know how much of your gain is based on one thing or the other?

Can you read cards without someone being physically present to receive the reading? Or without any information about them at all other than their question?

Have you ever done that? And how did it go?

Lastly, you say you want your clients to have a "more positive attitude" and to be helped in dealing with things. But why do you need Tarot cards to do that? Couldn't you just ask them what is bothering them, and give them your opinion?

In fact, won't your opinion about what is "positive" and what might "help" enter in to how you choose to read—whatever it is you read?

If you start out with a mission that is something other than truthfully reading the cards (which may include a negative outcome and effect), that mission takes precedence over the reading, and that means you're likely reading something other than the cards, which you admit is the case.