Have you ever encountered something that just makes your eye start twitching and your fingers start drumming? The kind of thing where no matter how much you try to practice non-judgmental bliss, it can sometimes just get to you? Here are a few things I've seen in Tarot that get under my skin.
1. "Gypsy" fortune teller acts. First of all, "Gypsy" is actually a really insensitive word. A lot of people don't know this, so don't feel horrible if you used it up to now or anything. But it's a big-time slur in Europe, and it isn't even accurate, considering it was used to refer to the Romani people because they "looked Egyptian" and no one could be bothered to ask them for the facts. Kind of like "Indians" referring to Native peoples in North America.
The actual semantics aside, if you're reading Tarot more for the entertainment than the counseling angle - and that is totally fine, seriously, as long as you make it clear that's what it is - then you can probably find a sparkly costume to do it in without an accent and the words "cross my palm with silver." Come on, guys. There are like six stereotypes that plays on, and not enough people know what they really refer to.
2. "Bad" cards. People who are reading for themselves tend to do this. A reversal is "bad". The high Swords cards or the Tower are "scary". The Star in the "what to watch out for" position means "you are heretofore advised to throw yourself into a pit of despair and never be optimistic again."
You can read everything super-literally if you want, and I get it if you want the cards to just serve up a slice of truth: "No, the job probably isn't on the way. And also you should probably look out for the bolt of lightning that's going to shake your world up. Just warning you." But I feel like I'm watching a mime box himself in. The problem isn't how you're reading, when you do it this way, it's how you're responding to what it says. I honestly can't, in my heart of hearts, believe your inner guidance and a hand from the Universe is simply saying "Your life will suck right now."
Why is there going to be a bolt from the blue, or a feeling of total despair? You're never helpless in your life, and rarely does anything just happen to you, so determine what's going to show up in your world and decide how you want to feel about that. Adjust circumstances accordingly. Maybe you're not supposed to get the job because there's a better one on the way. Or the sudden, painful revelation will lead to you reinventing your world in a way you'd never have been able to before. Tarot is never just about things happening to you. It's about looking at the road you're on, where it's leading, and if you want to change direction.
3. "They're doing it wrong!" Yes, before you ask, I see the irony here. But seriously, I can't stress this enough. Yes, there are close-minded ways of catering your reading to exactly what you want to hear, or responding to your reading from a place of fear. And that's not good for your learning, or what you get out of reading Tarot. But I'm talking about the methods you pick up and the teachers you choose. There is no end-all-and-be-all as far as that's concerned. The only way you could possibly be "doing it wrong" is if you learn one way, stop there, and refuse to learn anything else. The more information you gather, the more you can decide for yourself what's worth doing and how.
But, here's the real reason for this one: even if you work for years and decide the best way to learn or teach or read the cards or whatever else, please don't be a jerk about it. I have seen a few Tarot experts and instructors call each other out, often by name. I've seen them get judge-y for having a different opinion, teachinga certain way, charging a certain amount of money. I can't think of anything that turned me off faster than watching a seminar from an instructor, and listening to them smugly outline how their teaching was superior to someone else's book.
Everyone learns differently. Everyone responds to the cards differently. Don't limit yourself by stereotypes, by fear, or by inaction. But most of all, don't ever limit someone else by telling them there's only one way to tap into the cards. Tarot is far too elaborate, magical, and full of potential for that.
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
"The power of man has grown in every sphere, except over himself."
"If you want to test the mettle of a man, give him power."
When you're trying to grow anything of your own - confidence, creativity, self-love or self-discipline - power eventually comes up. What has power over you? What do you have power over, and what should you be able to control?
We're taught, probably for a good reason, to be afraid of having too much power over the world around us. After all, will we really know how to use it wisely? Will we wind up becoming one more person in a long line of bullies, acting only in our self-interests? Or are there institutions that have had power over us for too long, and is this the only way to make a stand?
The Tarot has a lot of cards about power, and in writing my upcoming course, I was surprised at how much crossover there was in just the first six. There's the Magician, who is a magical student, adept, or a stage magician and a shyster depending on who you ask. There's the Emperor, a ruler of men, and the Heirophant, a ruler of our traditions and institutions.
That's to say nothing of the cards that come later, such as the Chariot and Strength, who in many decks come right after each other. To me that's the story of "hard control" vs "soft control", of the times you have to take life by the reins and steer, the times you have to gently tame your inner beasts and demons. It's the Chariot I decided to put up as an illustration for just that reason. And wouldn't you know, my randomizer selected the Lunatic Tarot by Evan Yi Feng. It's one of the first decks I've ever seen where the charioteer isn't pulling horses, or a dark and light Sphinx, but instead is in command of human beings. That's scary - but the beauty of it is when you take a look at that illustration, if it's drawn in your reading, and say "am I exercising control or abuse of a situation?"
There are so many ways to use power, so many ways to define what it even is or where it belongs. That's why to me, power itself isn't a dirty word. We're afraid to call ourselves powerful, to say we have any kind of control. We think it'll make us scary, selfish, or egotistical. But if you don't have power over anything, ultimately it has power over you. You lose any kind of hold you might have over your own life, or the life you want to make for yourself.
"With great power comes great responsibility." And if you don't acknowledge your potential for power, you don't take responsibility for what's happening around you. The beauty of the Major Arcana is that we've been all its figures at one point, or will be someday. We've taken charge or been stuck in tradition, we've fought our problems with gentle grace or by reigning them in. If you don't like the role you see yourself playing, you can understand the part it's playing in your life, and make the choice to transform into another.
And that's the ultimate power over, and responsibility for, your own life. So who will you decide to be today?
It's nearly a year ago to date. Attending a Lammas celebration, I go to a Tarot reader participating in the festival. She gives me a lot of wonderful advice about the new direction my life is moving towards, and the evolution I'm about to go through. She rightly tells me that in just six months, my entire outlook on life will be different.
She then speaks in extensive warnings about the man who will enter my life that I shouldn't trust with my heart, as he's just looking for a handout. She explains that I'll then meet a man I slowly grow closer to, and enter a more serious relationship with him.
I don't remember the exact details because at that point I had zoned out - when I wasn't exchanging glances with my long-time girlfriend of eight years, who was sitting on the chair right next to me.
As it happens, we did experience a period of growing much closer right around the timestamp this reader gave me. And some male friends were involved, but not in the way the reader said. It's not that this person was completely inaccurate in terms of my reading. She wasn't dead-on, but if you thought outside the box some of her advice was invaluable. But right away she'd made some assumptions about who I was and what I wanted out of life. And that was where she'd lost me.
It's not that this person was homophobic, or a bad person in any way. Really, any time we fail to be inclusive, we're a product of our environment. Ignoring the way our whole society focuses on one kind of person: how many decks that aren't made specifically for gay men feature a heterosexual Lovers card? How many genderqueer or trans people can you find in any Tarot deck? People over a certain weight? People who aren't white, which is thankfully becoming less of a problem, but I still see decks where there's not a single brown, black, or Asian face to be found.
Hell, you could even argue that the very construction of a Tarot deck - the quiet, intuitive High Priestess and the motherly Empress, the power-wielding Emperor and forceful Magician - is rooted in a certain set of gender roles. And Tarot came from the 15th century, so that's to be expected. But when do we challenge that, and what does it do to our preconceived ideas?
When you read for strangers, even if you're divining their lives, it's important to not assume the way those lives work. Even if we're not licensed therapists, a lot of us consider ourselves to be in service positions. That means we're meant to illuminate and empower the lives of our clients - and we can hardly do that when we don't realize a client is in a poly relationship, or asexual, or only feels female some of the time. It's not really our business to ask, but it's our job to know that these are possibilities - and that if we're operating in the web of life, sometimes there are strands we never even imagined we'd land on.
I was all set to give you the third part in my 'Five Things You're Not Supposed To Do' series, but I just had to rant a bit! One thing you'll learn about me very quickly is that I have some pretty strong gut reactions, and I also like to think (and think, and overthink...)! If I stay balanced between both of these things, it helps me be a great reader; it means I trust my intuition, but I can ground it in the "real world". But it also means that if something just doesn't sit right with me, I have to sit around and figure out WHY.
More than once in the last few of days, I've stumbled upon some people playing up the "mysterious Tarot reader" image. I've read about how to dress up at a party and theme your outfit, to play up a "character" in order to provide an entertaining atmosphere. I've seen people advised to deliver their readings via cryptic messages to leave everyone wanting more - messages that, from what I could gather, have no actual value or use! And these are people who clearly know how to use the cards, and to set up more "legitimate" sessions.
Now, don't go off and leave in a hurry. I've had a reading or two at parties myself, and I love Renaissance Faires. I know the Tarot can go in a hundred different directions, and I'm a huge Soapbox Sadie about no "right" way to work with the cards. So why was my first reaction to bristle and frown at the idea of Tarot for entertainment's sake? Is it the idea of turning something I love, something I use for counseling and empowerment, into a gimmick? Is it the lack of respect Tarot already gets? (I got my fair share of 'Madame Zelda' jokes from my family when I started.) Is it that the typical 'Gypsy fortune teller' image is actually kind of racist against Romani people? Or do most people know the difference between fun at a party and the "deeper" uses of Tarot, and I should just lighten up?
I think it's more than fine to add a little magick into the Tarot, whether you're particularly witchy or not. All the magickal lodges and mystery schools have their secrets: the crown you wear when you're at a certain level, the slightly spooky initiation on a dark night of symbolic rebirth. That's because we're drawn to theatricality, to mystery. We like being the heroes of our own stories. Putting on a show for ourselves makes everything a little more meaningful, and the Tarot is no different. But (and there's always a "but")...
I'll never forget how during one of my first readings, all I had to say was 'you've had a loss' and the sitter burst into tears. She could have lost a job, an argument, a toothbrush. But she'd lost her husband, and those fifteen minutes she'd purchased turned into a session about grief, support systems, and her new normal. The cards have an uncanny knack for hitting the truth, bringing up what a person needs to think about, and making us take a good hard look at ourselves even when we don't mean to. Scary? Sometimes. Necessary? Absolutely. And only dangerous if you don't want to be a happier, more secure and self-aware person - which is what it's a good reader's job to help you do.
Have fun with the cards, and maybe costumes have their place if they're not messing with someone's culture. At Halloween and Camelot Days, I'll be right there with you in the ironic witch's hat. Not every reading is a huge soul-baring session, and a party isn't really the place for it anyway. But the Tarot deserves respect, and so do the people you're reading for. If someone is frightened or upset when you're throwing out mystic-sounding nonsense, or disrespects counselors and lightworkers because you're putting on too much of a show, that's doing a disservice, no matter how small. I'm not an authority to be throwing out edicts and rules, no one is, but I know what pings my radar and my gut, and all I can think is: being the "life of the party" will probably make you more mainstream, but it pays to be careful.
Another thing you'll learn pretty quickly: I'm always game to talk (and talk and talk) about it, even if you totally disagree - respectfully, of course. Leave a comment and tell me what you think!