Tarot Card Reading Guide

Chapter 7 Getting and Giving Readings

In This Chapter

  • How can you find a reputable tarot reader?
  • What should you expect from a professional tarot reading?
  • How can you distinguish ethical tarot readers from con artists?
  • What are the challenges and rewards associated with reading your own cards?
  • Where can you get the practice you need to improve your skills as a tarot reader?

These days, tarot readers seem to be on almost every corner: in major cities and small towns, in tourist districts and carnivals, and at psychic fairs and metaphysical bookstores.

Who are these readers? What distinguishes the professional from the amateur? When you visit a professional reader, what should you expect?

If you prefer to read your own cards (or if you’re interested in reading the cards for others), in this chapter you’ll also find practical advice from experienced readers—everything you need to read the cards with objectivity and confidence.

Getting a Professional Tarot Reading

With tarot books, classes, and software widely available, it’s easier than ever to learn to read your own cards. Still, for a variety of reasons, many people who want a tarot reading prefer to seek out a professional tarot reader.

Why Go to a Professional Tarot Reader?

A professional tarot card reader may offer exactly the services you need, if you are:

  • unfamiliar with tarot,
  • concerned with your ability to read your own cards objectively,
  • too busy or distracted to attempt a reading on your own behalf, or
  • upset or confused by a reading you’ve done for yourself, and in need of a second opinion.

Fortune Teller or Tarot Reader?

Generally speaking, many fortunetellers assert that the future is fixed. Instead of exploring what might happen, these fortunetellers believe the cards reveal what must happen.

Tarot readers may also believe in fate, but as a general rule, they emphasize the power of choice over the dominance of destiny. Instead of regaling you with tales of dark strangers and past-life curses, tarot readers are more likely to concern themselves with themes of empowerment and personal responsibility.

What Makes Someone a Professional Tarot Reader?

Many professional tarot readers have invested hundreds or thousands of hours in reading, research, and practice. Some have sought out mentors, taken teleclasses, enrolled in correspondence courses, or attended seminars. Others have taken classes like those taught by Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone’s Tarot School in New York City.

A number of groups offer certifications and bestow titles such as “Certified Professional Reader” or “Grand Master.” Many honest and talented individuals take pride in having invested significant effort, money, and time in meeting the requirements of these programs.

Unfortunately, as of this printing, no tarot certification program has ever been endorsed by a legitimate, independent agency. As a result, anyone with a tarot deck and some spare time can claim to be a “professional tarot reader.”

With this in mind, it’s important to ask questions, get recommendations, and use common sense when seeking out a tarot professional.

Where to Find Tarot Readers

  • Bookstores and gift shops

    Many large new age bookstores have tarot readers on-staff; even small shops maintain a list of local readers or a bulletin board where readers can advertise. Because their income depends on repeat business and positive word-of-mouth, these readers are often (but not always!) professional and reliable. Ask to speak with satisfied clients.

  • Psychic fairs

    Many new age retailers hold psychic fairs. At these events, many different readers with a range of skills, styles, and approaches offer five- or ten-minute readings for discounted prices—often no more than five or ten dollars per reading. While these quick sessions are not the place to explore your in-depth issues, they will give you a sample of each reader’s personality and talent.

  • Street readers

    Street readers can be found in tourist districts, fairs, and festivals across the country. Some street readers offer remarkably accurate readings at reasonable prices. Others, frankly, are scam artists using any number of tricks to separate fools from their money.

    Instead of reading cards, many street readers are actually reading you! The trick is called cold reading—a con employing quick visual assessments of a victim’s social status, pithy general statements that could apply to anyone, and a rapid-fire series of questions used to fish for personal details.

    A good cold reading begins with a quick visual assessment. How fashionably styled is the victim’s hair? What might make-up, skin quality, and teeth reveal about health and income? Is the victim wearing expensive jewelry? A wedding band? High-priced shoes? What might the victim’s posture suggest about personality or mood? With a single glance, a cold reader with a practiced eye can know a lot about you.

    Next, the cold reader will probably follow up with a series of general statements that could apply to almost anyone, such as, “You’re outgoing some of the time, but you also have a quiet side,” “I see you’re struggling with a sexual issue,” or even “I see you’re on the verge of making an important decision.” It’s amazing (and a bit disappointing) how many people mistake these broad generalizations for deeply personal insights that only a psychic could know.

    Finally, cold readers often ask, as rapidly as possible, a series of yes-or-no questions. Do you have a male relative? With the initials J or R? With those letters somewhere in his name? Someone close to you? Do you know who I’m talking about?

    The cold reader will make a big deal out of “hits” (questions answered yes) and brush aside or revise “misses” (questions answered no). By the end of the reading, dazzled victims remember the hits, forget the misses, and leave amazed by the cold reader’s “psychic abilities.”

    Use common sense: before handing over your cash to a street reader, chat with recent customers or listen in on a reading or two.

  • Telephone services

    A number of telephone-based services make it easy for clients to contact independent tarot readers. Charges vary, with calls costing anywhere from one to eleven dollars per minute.

    When possible, choose a telephone reader who charges a flat fee per hour or half-hour. When working with per-minute readers, beware the unscrupulous few who pad their checks by using techniques designed to do nothing more than prolong your call. (See Common Cons and Deceptions, later in this chapter.)

  • Readings via email

    Many independent readers and online services offer email readings for a flat fee. (As with telephone readings, rates vary.) Before paying for an email reading, try reading for yourself, or join an online group of tarot readers, many of whom are gaining experience by reading for each other.

  • Individual websites

    A number of tarot authors and professional readers offer telephone readings, email-based readings, live chats, and other services through their personal websites. Google the name of your favorite tarot author or deck designer.

  • eBay

    Search for “tarot” on eBay, and you’ll find hundreds of tarot readers offering their services at bargain-basement prices. The quality of these readings will vary wildly, so look for readers who offer short, inexpensive sample readings or who offer to put you in touch with satisfied clients.

  • Local independent readers

    In major cities, palmistry and tarot parlors pop up like mushrooms near tourist attractions. On the outskirts of small towns, psychics or spiritual advisors with names like “Sister Helen” or “Madame Claire” often operate out of their own homes.

    While some of these people are honest and sincere, a significant number resort to unethical tricks as a means of bilking money from clients. If the reader in a stand-alone shop employs any of the methods listed in the section of this chapter called Common Cons and Deceptions, leave immediately.

  • Tarot software

    Tarot software randomizes a set of card images, deals them into one of several spread templates, then supplies a pre-defined interpretation for each card. Some programs offer advanced features, including meanings that change based on a card’s position in the spread and the option to choose from one of several built-in decks.

    While no software can duplicate the insights of a skilled reader, tarot software has its uses, especially when using an actual deck would be inconvenient (when at work, for example, or when traveling). A Google search for tarot software will produce links to dozens of programs, most of which allow you to “try before you buy.”

    Web-based tarot readings are also popular. Tarot.com offers three-card readings with extended commentary, with more detailed readings available for a price.

    If you’re interested in tarot software, some of the very best programs are recommended in later chapters.

Choosing a Reader

Because tarot readings can cover deeply personal material, it’s important to find a tarot reader with whom you feel comfortable. When interviewing potential readers, keep the following points in mind:

  • Personality

    Do you like the person? Will you enjoy spending time with him or her? Do you feel empowered when talking with this reader? If you feel intimidated or frightened, or if the reader seems more focused on himself or herself than you, shop elsewhere.

  • Professionalism

    Did the reader return your call or answer your email in a timely fashion? Are questions about the reading process or pricing answered to your satisfaction? Does the reader show up promptly for appointments? Do the reader’s clothes and overall demeanor project an image you find appropriate?

    Psychics or Intuitives? Some tarot readers claim to be psychics. Psychics claim that special powers or spiritual contacts enhance their ability to read the cards. Since psychic ability is impossible to quantify, you must decide for yourself how much value to place in such claims.

    Other tarot readers prefer the term intuitive. Generally, intuitives downplay psychic abilities. Instead, they claim brainstorming skills, quick thinking, imagination, their study of the cards, and their life experiences help them relate the cards to your question.

  • Reading styles

    Different readers possess different reading styles. Some readers are directive: they deal the cards, tell you what they mean, and do most of the talking. Other readers take a more psychological or reflective approach: raising questions, suggesting options, and helping you find your own best answers.

  • Experience

    Many readers advertise their years of experience or imply they possess long lists of celebrity clients. While some of these claims will be legitimate, many should be taken with a grain of salt. To distinguish authentic claims from marketing ploys, ask to speak with satisfied customers.

  • Certification

    Ask “certified” readers exactly what requirements they’ve met. You may also want to visit the website of the certifying organization to verify the reader’s membership and see if the group’s presentation strikes you as professional and legitimate.

  • Ethics

    The American Tarot Association (ATA) encourages readers to author and adopt a personal Code of Ethics. If a reader claims membership in the ATA, you should ask to see a copy of this code. (Beware readers who claim to be “certified by the ATA.” The ATA is not a certifying body and does not allow members to make such claims.)

  • Prices

    Some tarot readers charge fixed fees. Others charge by the minute. Still others charge different amounts based on the complexity of your question and the number of cards used in the reading.

    As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay around a dollar a minute for in-person, one-on-one readings. Clearly, readers with more experience—including published authors and those with a legitimate claim to a nationwide reputation—can (and often do) charge more for their services.

What to Expect from a Professional Tarot Reading

Readings are an art form, so no two readers will use exactly the same approach. That said, there are certain things you can expect when working with a professional tarot reader.

A professional reader puts you at ease. Professional tarot readers help apprehensive or nervous clients settle in by making some small talk, offering you a drink or snack, or chatting with you about your expectations.

A professional reader explains his or her approach. To avoid misunderstandings later on, a professional reader will be up front about his or her reading style, approach, philosophy, and limits.

A professional reader offers a variety of readings. While most clients have questions involving prediction or glimpsing the future, a professional reader can offer a wide variety of readings and spreads, including:

  • Psychological and reflective readings

    Because of the dreamlike nature of tarot symbols, the stories we see there are reveal deeply personal insights. Reflective readings provide dramatic insights into why you do what you do.

  • Magical or intentional readings

    A reader can help you deliberately select cards to represent your goals and intentions. Placed where you’ll see them often, these can remind you of what you want and why you want it.

  • Astrological readings

    Astrological attributions can enhance the accuracy of predictive readings, or a twelve-card spread (one card for each astrological house) can help you see a familiar natal chart in a new light.

  • Inspirational readings

    Want insights into where you are and why? Need to recover a sense of stability and comfort? A reader can help you find the thread of meaning concealed in the apparently random events of daily life.

  • Focusing readings

    A simple focusing reading—drawing a card, silencing the mind, and asking, “What should I concentrate on right this minute?”—can clear away mental clutter, remind you of important tasks, and help you get things done.

  • Problem-solving readings

    Facing a challenge? A double column of cards can enhance your objectivity by representing a list of pros and cons. A stair-step spread can represent a four-step process for getting from Point A to Point B.

  • Wisdom readings

    Why are you here? What are you supposed to achieve in this life? For that matter—what is life? Popularized by author Rachel Pollack, wisdom readings use the tarot to answer the Big Questions.

  • Free-form readings

    No question? No problem! Pick a card—any card—and allow the tarot itself to guide the discussion. A free-form reading embodies the “anything goes” approach to tarot.

A professional reader can help you frame your question. Some clients arrive with a question in mind, but many are uncertain about what, exactly, they want to know.

Generally, readers take one of three approaches to client questions:

  • The hands-off approach

    Some readers believe clients will be led to ask whatever question they need to ask at the time. As a result, they prefer not to suggest questions or revise a client’s question in any way. Whatever you ask, they’ll pursue.

  • The collaborative approach

    Some readers enjoy helping clients frame their questions. Many clients, for example, start off with a simple “Yes or No” question (“Will I get married this year?”); collaborative readers may suggest more empowering alternatives (“What can I do to increase my chances of getting married this year?”).

  • The mystical approach

    Some readers believe the cards will deliver exactly the message a client needs to hear, whether the reader knows the client’s question or not. While these readers may ask the client to concentrate on a question, they often won’t ask the client to repeat the question aloud. Instead, they deal the cards and move immediately to the process of interpretation.

A professional reader empowers you. Instead of frightening you with dire predictions, professional readers help clients achieve a sense of direction and control. You should leave with a better understanding of your situation and your options.

A professional reader abides by an ethical code. A professional reader treats you and your questions with respect and confidentiality. Expect a professional reader to refer medical or legal questions to appropriate professionals in those fields. Ethical readers will also decline to use the cards to invade the privacy of third parties.

A professional reader charges for his or her services. Having invested significant time and study in their training, professional readers deserve compensation for their work. They will be honest about their fees and will expect prompt payment for services rendered.

Common Cons and Deceptions

Unfortunately, not everyone offering tarot readings is a professional tarot reader. To protect yourself (and your wallet) from con artists posing as tarot readers, you should keep your eyes open for these popular scams:

  • Cursed money or “bujo” scams

    Upon examining the cards, the con artist claims the victim’s success in life is limited because his or her money is cursed. In order to remove the curse, the con artist instructs the victim to place money in an envelope. After praying or casting a spell over the envelope, the con artist returns it to the victim, instructing him or her not to open it for an extended period of time.

    Later, when the victim opens the envelope, he or she finds nothing more than worthless paper. During the “prayer,” the con artist switches envelopes; by the time the victim opens the envelope days or weeks later, the con artist is long gone.

  • Graveyard scams

    The con artist directs clients to bury a specific amount of cash in a nearby graveyard (often at midnight). If the client balks, the con artist offers to perform the burial on the client’s behalf, then merely pockets the money. If the client complies, the con artist goes to the graveyard and retrieves the cash.

  • Cheap readings / expensive cures

    Unscrupulous con artists will advertise inexpensive tarot readings, often for as little as $5.00 or $10.00 per half-hour. (Some may even offer readings for free.) During the course of the reading, the con artist will “discover” a curse, a pending health problem, a psychic attack, a karmic debt from a past life, or some other issue in need of urgent attention.

    The con artist then recommends the victim purchase expensive beads, candles, charms, herbs, oils, prayers or spells for an additional fee—often $100.00 or more per item. (Alternatively, he or she may pressure the victim to sign up for five to ten additional readings—at much higher prices—in order to resolve the issue.)

  • Delaying for dollars

    Con artists charging by the minute frequently ask victims to engage in any number of time-consuming tasks with no real bearing on the reading: reciting the alphabet, pausing for lengthy prayers, completing complicated rituals, or counting cards into a number of small piles.

  • Ninth-hour insights

    Just as a timed session is drawing to a close, the con artist pretends to achieve a previously overlooked, very urgent insight. He or she will happily disclose it … if the victim is willing to pay to extend the session, of course.

Reading for Yourself

Reading tarot for yourself is convenient, educational, and fun. When you read your own cards, you can have a reading any time you want to have one; you don’t have to wait for an appointment with a professional reader.

When you first begin reading for yourself, you may feel compelled to look up the meaning of every single card in a reference book. With time and practice, though, you’ll gain the confidence needed to read the cards without referring to notes or manuals.

When you’re ready to consult the cards on your own behalf, the instructions in Chapter Five will guide you through the process step-by-step. While reading for yourself will quickly become second nature, many absolute beginners find themselves frustrated by obstacles like these:

  • Superstition

    Some self-appointed tarot authorities cling to the superstitious belief that no one should read his or her own cards. Some will strongly discourage the practice, issuing dire warnings or hinting as serious metaphysical consequences for those who dare to deal the cards on their own behalf.

    Claims such as these are rooted in superstition (or in greed, since many of the people who make such claims make a living selling readings!). Every day, thousands of tarot authors, experts, scholars, and students enjoy the benefits of reading for themselves.

  • Lack of familiarity with the cards

    To beginners, a line of cards may appear as mysterious and unreadable as a line of encrypted hexadecimal computer code. Usually driven by a desire to “get it right,” beginners discount their own intuition and resort to looking up printed meanings for each card.

    Relax! The most important meaning for any card is the meaning it has for you. Instead of making each reading into a research project, begin by exploring your own ideas. Later, if you like, you can compare your conclusions to those drawn by an author, reader, or teacher.

  • Objectivity issues

    Absolute beginners are especially prone to see their own best or worst futures in the cards. As a result, remaining level-headed and objective becomes a real struggle.

    To compensate for your own biases, try this simple exercise. First, ask, “What’s the worst possible meaning for these cards?” Then, ask, “What’s the best possible meaning for these cards?” Finally, ask, “What interpretation would lie right in the middle of these two extremes?”

    Your “middle of the road” interpretation will be more accurate—and much more objective.

  • Confidence

    Ultimately, confidence comes with time and experience. Every time you roll up your sleeves, shuffle the deck, and deal a spread, your faith in your personal ability to read the cards will grow.

    Want to be as confident as possible as quickly as possible? Read the cards for yourself and others as often as you possibly can.

Reading for Others

Not all tarot readers read for others. Eventually, though, most tarot enthusiasts do read for other people—even if only for family and friends.

Once word gets out about your interest in tarot, though, total strangers may approach you for readings. You may get a desperate call from a friend of a friend. Someone planning a party may invite you to read tarot for their guests.

Especially at first, reading for people you don’t know anything about can feel like walking a tightrope without a net. Just remember: as a tarot card reader, all you have to do is read the cards. Instead of trying to impress someone with what you know, what you can guess, or what your psychic powers or intuition can reveal, concentrate on helping your clients discover the messages the tarot has for them.

Tips from the Pros

Professional tarot readers have a level of skill and a degree of insight that can only be achieved after years and years of reading for the public. But by keeping the following tips in mind, you can enjoy the benefit of their experience … even as an absolute beginner!

  • Protect yourself.

    When reading for the public, some readers prefer to insulate themselves from the negative, pessimistic, or unhealthy energy some clients project. Most resort to simple rituals, including saying prayers, meditating, or burning incense before and after each reading session. Some will also place a talisman—a treasured personal or sacred object—on the table as a shield against unwanted energy.

  • Set expectations up front.

    Do you prefer to speak for the cards, voicing the truths you see there? Do you see yourself as a guide, helping clients find their own truths in the cards? Are there types of questions you prefer? Are there types of questions you won’t answer? Being honest about who you are, what you do, and how you do it greatly reduces the potential for confusion or misunderstanding.

  • Keep a timer on the table.

    A timer in full view of both the reader and the client helps keep the session moving forward. Rather then end a session abruptly when the timer goes off, set the timer for one to five minutes less than the actual length of the session, then use the remaining minutes to draw the reading to a close.

  • A little sign goes a long way.

    A colorful, clearly-lettered sign can save you a lot of time by keeping you from having to answer the same inquiries over and over again. Effective signs can define session length, list prices, or even suggest types of questions clients should consider.

  • Dress for the occasion.

    A tarot reader in a t-shirt and jeans will be perceived very differently from a tarot reader in a business suit! Without going overboard (you don’t want to be mistaken for a “tarot clown”), choose clothes that communicate your image, personality, and reading style. If you aren’t sure what to wear, you can’t go wrong with basic black, a color associated with both mystery and power.

  • Place a tray of mints on the table.

    In addition to their pleasant fragrance, a tray of mints provides you with an opportunity to offer your client a small “welcome gift.” Also: face-to-face readings bring people close together in an intimate space; you don’t want to be distracted by halitosis!

  • Keep a little spread going.

    Between readings, avoid sitting stiffly behind your table. People are drawn to activity, and they’re far more likely to approach you if you’re shuffling, cutting, and dealing the cards—even if you’re only reading them for yourself.

  • Keep tissues handy.

    Not all tarot readings are intense or upsetting, but some do touch on sensitive subjects, and a significant number of clients may be moved to tears. To avoid awkwardness and help people feel more comfortable, keep a box of tissue nearby.

  • People like a takeaway.

    At the end of a reading, jot a few notes or recommendations down on a pad. Pass the paper along to your client, and it becomes a great reminder of the insights gained during the reading. (If your pad features your name and contact info, this can be a subtle way to encourage repeat business, too!) Alternatively, allow clients to draw a card from a fishbowl of older or incomplete decks.

  • Trust the cards.

    Don’t give in to the urge to shock people with your sudden insights or dazzle them with cold readings. You’re a card reader; read the cards. The message on those cards has appeared for a reason. If you avoid it, you cheat your client and yourself.

  • Avoid becoming Dear Abby.

    Many people come to tarot readers hoping to be told what to do. While you can help clients explore options and consider possibilities, you must allow your clients to retain responsibility for their own choices. You can offer support and guidance without taking control.

  • Be frank about money.

    Most professional tarot readers feel they deserve some compensation for their investment of time, energy, and expertise. As you build your skills, you may prefer to volunteer your time or read for tips. Whatever fee structure you choose, communicate it with clarity and confidence.

Remember: you’re in charge. As the reader, you should feel empowered and confident at all times. Never feel obligated to do anything you cannot do with enthusiasm or integrity.

Places to Build Your Skills

Today, especially with the explosion of interest in email and the Internet, there are more opportunities to read for others than ever before! Each venue has its pros and cons.

As you build your skills in the venues listed below, think carefully what you’ll charge (if anything) for your services. Many beginners waive fees entirely. After you gain some experience, you might try placing a tip jar on your reading table, allowing clients to make a contribution without the formality of a per-reading charge.

One-on-One Readings

One-on-one readings have the advantage of offering personal interaction with a client and immediate feedback on how a reading is received. Some ideas for getting one-one-one reading experience include:

  • Set up a table at a local coffee house and offer readings to other guests (with the manager’s permission, of course).

  • Ask a local bookstore owner if you can offer readings to customers one or two hours a week.

  • Contact organizers of school or community carnivals or fund raisers; by volunteering your reading services, you can gain experience, add to the fun, and help a worthy cause all at the same time!

  • In a park or other public venue, give readings to a few friends. Eventually, curiosity will get the better of passers-by, who will likely stop, ask questions, and ask for readings of their own.

Be aware that, especially in chain stores, corporate policy may forbid asking customers to pay for in-store events—including tarot readings.

Online and Email Readings

Online readings, usually in the form of chat sessions, are very much like face-to-face readings—without the visual feedback, of course. You can easily experiment with these; just sign on to or create a chat room and read for whoever drops by.

If you’re interested in learning to offer effective email-based readings, you’ll probably need a website. You’ll also benefit from maintaining a presence in online communities where people seeking and giving readings hang out together.

Parties

While building your skills, you may enjoy volunteering your services at parties given by your friends and family.

When word gets out that a tarot reader is available, almost everyone at the party will want a reading. As a result, most readers keep party readings short, quick, and light, using one or two cards at most. (If readings go longer or become more complicated, you’ll be there all night!)

And don’t forget: it’s a party, so keep readings light. Consider using a deck with friendly, non-threatening images, or be prepared to help guests put a positive spin on challenging cards.

Becoming a Professional Reader

With time, you may come to enjoy working with tarot so much that you consider becoming a professional tarot reader. Along with good business sense, a marketing plan, and a dedication to ethical behavior, anyone considering reading as a profession must also be very confident in his or her knowledge of tarot.

The details of going into business as a professional reader lie outside the scope of this guide. For an in-depth look into the pleasures and pitfalls of setting up shop as a tarot reader, see Christine Jette’s Professional Tarot: The Business of Reading, Consulting and Teaching (Llewellyn, July 2003). In addition, the books, decks, websites, software, and organizations listed in Chapter 9 can provide you with an excellent foundation for further study.

In a Nutshell

  • If you’re unfamiliar with tarot, uncertain of your own reading skills, or too emotionally involved in a situation to be objective, a professional tarot reader may offer exactly the services you need.
  • Due to the rising popularity of tarot, readers are easier to find than ever. When shopping for a reader, keep your wits about you and ask to speak with satisfied clients. Remember: a professional reading leaves you feeling empowered and in control.
  • Con artists posing as tarot readers use a number of unethical tricks to bilk money from unsuspecting customers. If a reader uses these techniques, walk away.
  • Ignore superstitious warnings against reading your own cards. With time and practice, you’ll master the objectivity needed to avoid the pitfalls associated with reading on your own behalf.
  • Reading for others is a huge responsibility. Before setting up shop as a reader (or charging for your services), be sure you have the knowledge and confidence needed to offer an effective reading. Ready to go pro? The resources in Chapter 9 can help you.