This week in tarot: smart, provocative blog posts
In most any professional field, blogging is a way to share ideas with colleagues and clients. Blogging adds to the body of knowledge in a dynamic way that couldn’t have been accomplished before the age of social media.
I’m sure every field has its share of bloggers who need grammar lessons, or who don’t bring anything new to the table. Consistent posting can equal internet cred, whether or not the posts are original or informative.
Nowadays, it is de rigueur that serious tarot enthusiasts, whether professional or hobbyist, blog about tarot. I expect that, within the course of any week, there will be some new stories, techniques or commentary to read about my favorite topic.
With so much tarot talk flying around, and with more than two decades of my own full-time professional tarot journey under my belt, very few tarot posts stand out to me as remarkable or significant. That is, until this week when two unrelated tarot bloggers published really provocative, important pieces.
I saw Benebell Wen’s piece first. I immediately wanted to write a post to promote her piece, share my angle, and to continue the conversation she had begun.
Then, I saw Ste McCabe’s piece on Biddytarot.com. What is going on astrologically that has inspired all this tarot brilliance in just a few days? At a time when I bemoan the dumbing down of modern society almost daily, these genius tarot posts are a breath of fresh air, earth, fire and water!
I feel like I want to write a book about both of the topics these tarotists treated in their recent blog posts. What I have time to do is a few short paragraphs about each, with the hope that you will follow the links and read these important contributions to the body of knowledge that is tarot.
One might think that Benebell Wen and The Tarot Cat, Ste McCabe, don’t have much in common beyond tarot. One is a corporate attorney, the other a punk musician. One has published a groundbreaking book on tarot, the other has dedicated their tarot practice to helping members of the LBGTQ community. To me, this a testament of the diversity of talented people who count tarot amongst their tools. You will see that they both honor tarot as a sacred tool, and that they both have a high standard of tarot ethics.
Please take the time to follow the links and read their posts, and to read my thoughts on each. Most importantly, please spend some time deciding what your thoughts are on both important topics.
I’ll address the posts in the order I saw them, so first up is Benebell Wen’s post, “Tarot and Social Inductive Reasoning”.
In this post, Benebell Wen discusses “cold reading”. Often, we readers are accused of using “cold-reading” tricks to make ourselves appear more psychic. Wen’s concern is that perhaps even the most ethical readers might do this accidently, without the intent to mislead.
She compares “cold reading” with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a technique that is often heralded by New Age practitioners, including tarotists.
Benebell Wen’s understandable concern is this. To her, tarot, divination and the intuitive process are sacred things. In her own tarot practice, she wants not even a hint of the flimflammery of which we are so often accused.
One of my favorite aspects of this post is the way she describes her feeling about the possibility that she and other well-intentioned tarotists might be fooling people as we try to enlighten them. It makes her feel “icky”. That icky feeling is something I’ll bet most ethical tarotists know well, but few dare to speak about. The word I use to describe that feeling is “smarmy”.
In typical Wen style, she researched NLP extensively, and created a free download comparing social inductive reasoning to tarot reading. Her hope is that we will come to understand social inductive reasoning, and learn to use this tool properly without fooling people into thinking we are more psychic than we are.
This is the first time I have ever known a tarotist to publically discuss this topic in this candid way. Brava, brave Benebell!
Wen frames her concern this way. She feels that, in truth, “cold reading” or “social inductive reasoning” is somewhat akin to the intuitive process. That kinship is what makes her ethical concern so pressing.
Is it possible that none of us is actually “psychic”, that, in fact, we are all just really good at reading people in this mundane fashion? That is what our critics would like you to believe.
Wen is clear to point out that, even when certain personality traits are communicated through mundane observation versus sacred intuition, those same traits will be revealed in the cards, and through astrology. I concur.
Her concern is that we not fool people into thinking we are being psychic, when really we are just being smart and observant.
One of her suggestions to avoid this is something I always do in readings, and had never before heard another reader discuss. If we receive information from some mundane source, she advises us to be quick about confirming why we are saying what we are saying. That is, revealing where the information came from.
I will often say, “This isn’t psychically derived, it’s just an observation” as a way of separating information derived through reason versus information derived through pure intuition. It pleased me that Wen was able to quantify this technique, and teach it.
Wen also brings up my first line of defense when someone suggests my career is based on “cold reading”. That is, cold reading can’t be any kind of factor when performing distance reading.
Wen does lots of email readings these days. I do much of my work over the phone, reading for people I have never met in person, nor seen in a photo.
Clearly, if we can do accurate, comprehensive, insightful readings for people we have literally never seen, the cold reading argument becomes null and void, doesn’t it?
Wen relates that social inductive reasoning involves noticing things about people, and interpreting those things. In her download, she includes accepted interpretations for body postures and clothing choices.
These, I am sure, are valid and accepted techniques, and helpful in many life situations. Wen suggests that using these techniques in our in-person readings could be helpful, as long as we do not use these techniques to make people think we are super-psychic, or to trick people to buy in to what we are saying.
I can agree to this in theory, but I have another angle to share, in the form of three specific points.
First, I agree that cold reading and intuition are often very similar. We need to be clear about separating the two when appropriate. However, I suspect that sometimes those mentalists who insist they are cold reading are actually truly using their intuition. Yes, the problem could exist in reverse.
Both cold reading and intuitive reading are things we all may do innately. So our very detractors could be, themselves, a lot more intuitive than they realize.
Second, in my book “Fortune Stellar” I share techniques that I developed through trial and error in my own practice. One thing I learned early on is this. In an in-person reading, I try never make observations based on a person’s physical appearance.
That’s right. Although cold reading suggests that a person’s appearance is the whole of where we get our information from, I have learned to disregard what I see with my eyes, for two reasons.
First, many people like to try to fool the psychic. They take off their wedding rings, they wear clothes to the reading that they wouldn’t normally wear, to see if that influences what I say. It doesn’t, I promise you, because I make certain not to notice the physical when I am working with the intuitive.
Secondly, sometimes it’s inadvertent. The construction worker may be dressed in a suit because he’s on his way to a funeral. If I looked at his attire, I might not visualize his career correctly. If I look at him instead of his attire, I will know more true things about his life.
Finally, there is basic practicality. In some professional tarot settings, people need showmanship. There can be an appropriate theatrical, performance aspect to what we do. At a party, we are hired to entertain. That I can perform real psychic work and give real insight in that entertaining environment makes me feel like an under-cover agent for real personal change. Sometimes we need to appear a little larger than life to get our message heard.
Here, the difference between performance and fraud is exactly as Wen advised earlier. I think it is fine to use a few techniques to help people invest in the process, relax and have fun, as long as we are not using those techniques to actually fool or defraud people.
For example, when the Christopher Reeve Superman movies came out, their trailer tagline was “You’ll really believe a man can fly!” We all knew that Christopher Reeve couldn’t fly, but that didn’t make us think he was less of an actor. (I realize this example just dated me big-time.)
As long as we are honest in our intent, and make sure that we do not mislead people about our actual process and abilities, using select techniques to increase the value of a performance isn’t a problem, in my opinion.
Of course, not every reader does “performance tarot” or “tarot entertainment”, so this won’t apply to everyone. We also must remember that sometimes needy people will put too much faith in us, and not enough faith in themselves. We need to be careful not to engender that, nor capitalize on it if it happens.
Psychic fraud is a real and dangerous thing. I would not want to conflate the showmanship of a dynamic presentation with convincing a bereaved parent to trade family heirloom jewelry to keep their son from doing drugs in heaven. (Yes, this really happens in 2015 in the western world.)
I applaud Wen for starting a deeper conversation on one of my favorite topics, tarot ethics. I hope this reminds each of us to tune in to our inner smarm meter and make sure that we are taking steps to be truly within our integrity.
There’s a payoff for that, too. The clearer we feel, the clearer our intuition will be.
The fact is, tarot reading and fortune telling have always existed in the shadows. I often call psychic work the “second profession,” that is, second after the first profession, which is prostitution.
A new generation of tarotists is working to bring tarot out of the shadows. I believe I am a part of this movement. However, not every tarotist is thrilled with the idea of shining that bright a light on tarot.
That brings me to Ste McCabe’s article on Biddytarot.com, “Tarot in the Mainstream? Thanks, but No Thanks”.
In this post, McCabe imagines a world where the mainstream embraces tarot to the point that tarot becomes a dishwater-dull dumbed-down version of itself. He cites a few of the many examples of what happens when the (m)asses discover something cool.
McCabe is a musician. Like him, many of the examples I can think of to back up his point are musical. We all know what can happen when the general public discovers your favorite previously-obscure band.
I have always been an advocate of making tarot more accessible and acceptable. In fact, at TarotCon (Florida) 2015, Jenna Matlin and I led a Trance Dance Tarot magickal spell for exactly that purpose. Our stated magickal intent was to make tarot more accessible and acceptable.
McCabe’s article caught my attention specifically because of this. The day after our Tarot Trance Dance, a colleague suggested we had done magick to make tarot “more mainstream”, and that she didn’t think it was a good idea. Clearly, she would appreciate McCabe’s point here.
I was kind of shocked that she conflated being “more mainstream” with being “accessible and acceptable”. To me, those are two entirely different things.
As a full-time professional tarot reader for more than two decades, I have dealt with my share of harassment and discrimination. I would like my career to be as acceptable as my friends’, the yoga teacher and the massage therapist.
I know that there are people who are hungry for the wisdom that tarot brings, but have no access. For example, I was a popular teacher in adult education programs for many years. My tarot classes always filled. One year, my classes had no sign-ups at all! What had happened, I wondered? It turns out, a new employee at the adult ed program had a personal prejudice against tarot, and refused to let anyone register for the class.
Because of this person’s prejudice, people in our small town who wanted access to tarot were denied it. In the days before the World Wide Web, that was kind of a big deal.
While the web gives us access we did not have before, access to tarot is still limited to those who know to look for it.
McCabe’s concern is that if tarot were to be mainstream, it would be essentially changed, and not for the better. We’ve all seen that happen to many beloved cultural icons.
One of the examples he gives of a potential change is that Major Arcana Thirteen, Death, would be removed. Honestly, that’s already happened. Doreen Virtue’s Angel Tarot Cards are to me the grossest example of this, but there are plenty.
The lovely Chrysalis Tarot made me sad because they demoted the Hierophant to “Divine Child”.
The thing is, while I find these sorts of decks silly and disrespectful, and, like McCabe, I would hate to see a world full of them, I know two things to be true.
First, these dumbed-down decks bring wisdom to people, and bring people to divination who wouldn’t otherwise be there. When people develop an appreciation for tarot through these channels, they become more accepting and open in general. To me, that’s helpful.
Second, that these hairy-fairy decks exist does not cause deeper, more traditional decks to cease to exist.
I am not sure that tarot could ever become mainstream in the popular culture as McCabe fears. It’s very nature may prohibit that. However, there are certainly “psychic fads” that I’ve observed and, frankly, profited from. When psychics are popular because of a movie or TV show, I work more. That’s not a problem for me.
When the fad is over, my work continues. The shallow interest falls away, but a few people who were brought in by the fad stick around and become lifers like me.
In truth, I was brought in to tarot by the New Age fad of the 1980s. I don’t regret that.
One of the things I appreciated most about McCabe’s post is this. He tapped into a significant question about tarot; one that has been debated in prior centuries.
Long before we had social media or used words like “mainstream”, early tarotists debated whether tarot was “esoteric” or “exoteric”. Was tarot a tool to be used in secret, only by adept masters, or was tarot a tool for everyone?
Tarot is certainly about everyone. But truly, the very word “arcana” means “secrets”. Clearly, there are points to be made on both sides.
The assumption that anyone can find value in tarot is a modern one, credited to tarot author Eden Gray. We’ve embraced that idea firmly as a community over the past thirty years. It may be time for some young voices in our community to cry out to protect tarot’s esoteric nature.
Although many tarot enthusiasts are tarot businesspeople, we must resist the urge to monetize tarot to the point that it become meaningless. This, I think, is McCabe’s essential point.
So there you have it. Two smart posts from two modern tarot bloggers. Our tarot world is in good hands, I think.
If you have tarot thoughts to share, you may share them here, on my Tarot Community Blog.