June 03, 2017

How to be an Awesome Tarot Reader

From Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Picked up this essay from Jessi Huntenburg in which she talks about ways to give better Tarot readings, and it sparked a few thoughts. If you're a Tarot reader and your readings are not-good, there are a few reasons for that. Surely, some of the reasons may simply be that you're not listening to the client's question; are steering the client; using a deck or spread that you're not familiar with; are distracted; or are feeling burnt-out, but I think there are other reasons. Here are three of them.

#1) Show vs. Tell

The #1 and most important reason that I see perfectly good Tarot readers giving terrifically bad Tarot readings is because they're telling the cards instead of showing the message. I sincerely believe that many Tarot readers would instantly become better at what they do if they took a few courses on creative writing for the sole reason that reading cards is a lot like writing fiction: the Tarot reader has to use creative prompts to form a powerful narrative with very little time to prepare. A great exercise to help you become a better Tarot reader is learning to write flash fiction. Trust me on this: better writers are better speakers, and vice versa.

We've all had this kind of reading (and if you're a reader, you've given this kind of reading) where the reader tells you the names of the cards, explains the elemental associations, goes to great length to point out important connections, and generally treats you like a student learning to read the Tarot cards instead of a client who's starting to get impatient about hearing a straight-forward answer.

A good way to stop showing the cards and start telling the message is this: at any time you start to say the name of the card, just stop yourself. The names of the cards don't matter. Your client doesn't read Tarot and genuinely doesn't care about the fancy names, suit and pip values, or any of the elaborate connections. Just stop talking. Time is precious, so don't waste it by showing the cards - just tell the message. If you want an idea what a showy reading feels like, watch this scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail and pretend that King Arthur is the client, and Tim is the Tarot reader. That's a perfect illustration of what it's like to work with a reader who can't (or won't) just tell you the message.

#2) Lack of Competence = Lack of Confidence

The second reason highly capable readers give deeply flawed readings is because they lack confidence and competence. But, I repeat myself. This is going to rub some of you the wrong way, but the simple truth is that giving readings for yourself is a different skill from giving readings for other people. When you read for yourself, there's no pressure: you don't have to say anything, there's no time limit, and you don't have to second-guess what you say. 

But when you read for another person, you have to use your extemporaneous public speaking skills, choose your words carefully, think about the impact of the message, consider the client's perspective, and form a cohesive narrative within 60 seconds. There's nothing wrong with pausing to think during a reading, but you should be pausing because you're choosing your words - not because you're still trying to figure out what the cards mean.

If you want to be an awesome Tarot reader who give awesome Tarot readings for other people, then you must practice giving readings for other people. It's a skill that can be learned, and the only way to do it is through practice. If you feel like you lack confidence in giving readings for other people, this is indicative of a lack of competence which can only be remedied through attentive practice. My experience is that live readings (face to face, or voice to voice) and audio recorded readings you can't pause will teach you more in a week than you'll learn in a year doing written readings.

#3) Consistency is Key

The third reason very inspired readers give very uninspired readings is because they're not familier or comfortable with their tools. You're welcome to have as many decks as you like - I've got a few, myself - but you should have one deck that's as familiar to you as your lover's body. You should know what every part of it looks like. You should know your deck's mood and be able to anticipate the kind of themes that it will present in a reading. You should know what your deck is good at, as well as what it's bad at, and strive to magnify its strengths while avoiding its weaknesses. Know your deck inside and out, and be able to say without even looking at the deck exactly what any one card means. 

If you're not willing to give you deck the same kind of devotion as you give to your romantic partner, you'll find that it provides an inconsistent experience during a reading and you've only got yourself blame. Trust me: reading Tarot is a lot like managing a long-term, committed relationship. Pay attention to how you use the deck; make sure you understand the occult philosophy embedded in the cards; don't argue with the deck's message (that's why it's called cartomancy!); and don't bring your own shit into your client's reading.

And to a lesser extent but in the same pattern, you should have some staple arrangements that you've thoroughly memorized and use in nearly every reading. Speaking for myself, there are really only five arrangements that I use and they're all quite small. Like many readers, I enjoy playing with novel or elaborate arrangements, but I only use them when I read for msyelf. When I read for other people, I only use arrangements that I've memorized because if I don't know the dynamics of an arrangement, how it works together, or simply forget the positions during a reading, this distracts me from the message and pushes me into an awkward position where I'm no longer telling the message, but showing the cards and trying to recall how they're arranged on the table.


Parting Shots

The last thing I'll say is something I learned from my days in the Marine Corps: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. You must learn to slow down enough that you can learn each individual step. Giving a Tarot reading for another person has a lot of moving parts, and if you don't take the necessary time to slowly and smoothly master each of these parts, you'll find that when you try to go fast your readings will have a rough, jagged edge to them. Lean to flow slowly and smoothly between all the necessary skills required to read for another person, and you'll find yourself flowing fast and smooth before you know it.