UPDATED August 6, 2015
Let us start with a Mary K. Greer report from 2008 about how a class of hers failed to protect one of its students from a bank robbery:
"[Heidi] wondered (as did we all) why no one had been able to warn her so she could have avoided it."Greer, whose stance about Tarot reading and its potential is most definitely anti-predictive, concludes:
"So, is tarot best at prediction (since it is too often a hit-or-miss proposition), or is it more ideal for reliably exploring the deeper significance of whatever does happen?"Skeptics might suggest a simpler conclusion to the narrative Greer relates. Maybe whatever it is Greer teaches in her Tarot classes simply does not enable students to read Tarot cards—except from the rear-view mirror.
On the other hand, it could be that the whole question of making predictions, actually a key utility of reading an oracle concerning the future, is more complicated than Greer allows.
The following was originally written in 2010. It is a reflection on whether one can ever reliably say a Tarot reading "works" predictively or not, at least in terms that would satisfy a scientific examination. Yet, on the other hand, what value is there in an instrument which only ever works backwards, never in time to save us from our mistakes, or to enable us to take advantage of our opportunities?
Greer and her followers argue Tarot reading mainly supplies an interpretation of what has happened so that we obtain a better understanding of our unfolded life. Then, with that obtained, perhaps we will make better future decisions. But the problem with that idea is the interpretation is made already knowing the ending (not by prediction, but because that ending has already happened). And the latter has got to color the interpretation, indeed drench it in the biases (desires and fears) of the interpreter.
That is neither historically valid as a method of reading Tarot—especially not to predict the future—but it blends all too conveniently with Greer's publicly stated support for cold reading, where the reader's main job is to find out what the querent wants to hear, and then say it to her.
Predictive Reading—Not Exactly "Fate"
"Predictive" reading is not dictation from the Cosmos, nor is it unavoidable fate. It has no compelling or inductive power. It has no power at all—unless or until the cards are interpreted according to some scheme or narrative, which creates in the mind of the querent a new realm of possibility.
But if a prediction is made in accord with the placement of certain cards, what this certainly does not mean is that a person is bound to experience the predicted outcome, no matter what he does. If you think otherwise, imagine for a moment a test where you tell a person, as a prediction from your card reading: "You will not leave your house for the next week." Then, intending to break that dictatorial spell, the person promptly exits his house and walks down the street.
How easy it was to destroy the alleged predictive power of Tarot.
Still, there are a number of ways of looking at things. What, for example, would a skeptic say if the person did not actually leave his house for a week? He would reject the notion any prediction affirming some prophetic power of Tarot had been demonstrated, because of course the person chose not to leave, just as he could have chosen to do the opposite, as in the first example. So, when choice is involved, the quality of a Tarot reading prediction seems compromised, no matter the outcome.
What about when the human choice is removed, or depends upon agents who know and care nothing whatsoever about the prediction? For example, a querent asks you "will I receive the money I am expecting by the end of this week?"
A simple, straightforward, question. Just the sort so many readers avoid like the plague, because the answer is likely to be a simple "yes" or "no", and there is a very good chance the reader will be wrong---unless of course there really is a predictive power in Tarot or the reader using Tarot. So few people like those kinds of readings. I have been impressed by how often I read with the allegedly "blunt" Thoth deck on such questions, and get not just accurate cards, but very specific cards, such as "Success" and "Failure" relative to such questions.
What again does it prove however if I get several readings where I have correctly predicted such an outcome using Tarot cards? It could after all be chance or luck or whatever you wish to call whatever it is we call the random factor. So, it seems the ability to correctly predict things, using Tarot or claiming this has some role in the process, doesn't easily or obviously demonstrate much of anything, except the willingness of some players to act out a small divinational drama.
Just as we can learn some very deep things by watching the ritual of performance fiction (or theater), so the ritual of performance narrativizing with Tarot cards can open our eyes or broaden our understanding of all kinds of things. And like the old question challenging whether or not marijuana actually makes sex feel better, or it just makes you think it does—what difference does it make, if the point is that it seems better?
Many kinds of readings can of course make people feel something, and especially better than they did when they consulted the reader. The antipathy most modern readers have for making predictions, or doing traditional fortunetelling with Tarot, has increased the focus on doing a kind of psychodrama with the cards, where the reader takes advantage of whatever mysterious authority the client ascribes to the cards or to readers of them, to tell a story that will be met with little skepticism, especially if it has a happy ending.
So, is there any predictive power in Tarot cards?
Personally, I rather doubt it, but I remain open to the possibility, based on some very strange things I have seen. Generally, as time has gone on, I have become a much more intuitive reader than I used to be in the beginning. And I say this, meaning something very different than what many in the community mean by "intuitive", because I think the brand of intuition I practice and promote can only come about through a long and studied Work with the cards, over a long period of time. It is a hard road to arrive at the point where one can use this approach to reading, but I think it is the most powerful, and certainly the most liberating in terms of actually reading and seeing things, as opposed to laboring to make interpretations "make sense".
A true reader is an oracle. His or her readings don't have to make sense. Life seldom makes sense. But the readings do have to convey the truth, and to be told honestly and coherently, as a narrative meant to do the one thing most clients value above anything else—give them relevant data that can help them understand what to do (or not).
A truly compassionate reader thus seeks not to affirm his client, but to inform him. And sometimes that will involve making predictions. And sometimes those predictions will seem and inspire as a destiny. Thus the responsibility of the reader can be paramount, and readers should act in accord with this fact of the practice.