You will find a reworked version of the following text in my new book, Marseille Tarot, were I look at such things as the practice and pedagogics of reading, cold readings, and the implications of reading cards.
I read cards for two types of people: the ones who don’t have a clue about divination with cards, and the ones who do it themselves, or are engaged in what is commonly known as ‘the magical arts’.
The first group is easy. People come in, pop the question, say thank you, and leave. When the first group gets difficult is when the people decide that because of the one reading that you performed for them once upon a time, they own you. When it gets potentially disruptive is when this ‘ownership’ extends beyond your own good self, with people translating your services into the demand that you accept them and incorporate them into your own family and blood relations. All very good, if you, as the reader, actually do extend your services to acknowledging the other in the name of the other’s invoking ‘connection’, ‘familiarity’, ‘heroism,’ and ‘role modeling.’ As it happens, however, I don’t know of many professional readers who are so ready to pay with their privacy for having been elevated to the sky. I don’t know of many professional readers who say to their clients, ‘yes, you’re right to demand ALL of me, since you hold me in such high esteem’. Insofar as not all of us see ourselves as saviors or heroes – and even if we did – we are not bound to letting ourselves being manipulated into what the psychoanalysts have nicely framed as ‘vampirism’.
The second group is more demanding from the outset. And yet it is not always that this group’s demands are always reasonable. As this group is more familiar with forms of divination or the interpretative arts of symbolic language, they are often prone to adding to your reading what they think. This is all fine, for indeed, the act that has the making of the soul in focus is a kind of highly individualized poetry that ultimately decrees that what you see and create for your own soul is and should be of your own making. So, if they insist, ‘this is what I think,’ they are probably right. That is, they are right in having that experience, but it’s not sure that they also right in calling the shots on their own blind spots. Why come to you in the first place, if they already know everything?
Consequently, here is where I draw the line. While, ideally, a reading with cards should enable the subject to see what stares the subject in her face, it is often that the reason why people come to you is because they need more than ‘what I think it means is probably also what I think it means’. I often say that I’m not an ‘intuitive reader’ – whatever that means – but rather a reader who has trained herself in the art of distilling the primary meanings of the cards and according to a specific system, essentializing these meanings to a core understanding, and ultimately, synthesizing these primary meanings into one relevant shot. I always say, ‘please, let us now stick to your question’, whenever I see the subject going astray, well, often because the subject does’t like what she sees in the cards. But is this why people want a reading? To LIKE what they see? That’s not how I see my role, namely, to give them what they want to see. ‘Go to a museum, if you’re in need of an aesthetic appreciation of the cards, rather than assessing the extent to which what you see can help you with your issue.’ That’s what I say.
I often say that reading cards is not difficult, but it requires immense self-discipline and powerful discernment. Say, when experienced readers themselves come to you with their questions, supposedly because they like your style of reading, you don’t give in when they enter a negotiating process. You don’t say things like: ‘Yes, you’re right, this can also mean that. It looks like we’ve been reading the same books on the meaning of cards. How wonderful.’ This happens mostly when the subject is in a state of confusion and delusion, and is desperately looking for the answer that she desires to hear.
But I’m not in the business of saying: ‘Everything is awesome, go ahead with the hopeless plan’, if I have no incentive to do so judging by what the cards themselves say beyond any settled negotiation. I often say: ‘No, the Hermit and the Hanged Man in conjunction do not – and I repeat, they do not – indicate that you are going to make money on this job. Quite the contrary, if you linger on, it will be more and more baffling to you, and ultimately it will constitute not only a waste to time, but also a waste of money.’ It is not for nothing that the Hanged Man is sometimes depicted hanging on his head and with his empty pockets hanging out. So I never agree to nod and say to the sitter, just to be reassuring and empathizing: ‘Yes, you’re right. You’re on such a spiritual path, and how delightful that you’re not like many others. You are a pattern breaker, and you have the ability to see things from another perspective.’ Err, right. The line of such clichés can get very long, and the more I’d continue the more I’d find myself departing from the very focus of the question. Deep spiritual seeking and insight, along with a sense of sacrifice can be all very good, but how is this going to help the person increase her finances? Yet some querents who are in deep denial of what IS will do anything to dodge what IS. They will even trash you. They will even think that you’re some piece of work. The work of the Devil himself – poor devil.
But here’s where you come in. Here’s precisely where you can shine. You stick to your guns, and stay brutally honest. That’s all it takes. You won’t make friends, but then, who said that reading cards is about making friends? Last I’ve checked, in the more academically consecrated circles, such as psychoanalysis, the analyst hardly ever makes friends with the ones she’s offering her services to help. So, why should the card-reading business be any different, when in effect we render the same service – and are even faster in fixing it, if you ask me (and I have a history of going between skills). Well, a quick answer to that would be by following the money. The more the psychoanalyst charges – he has a PhD in it after all – the more serious his advise is. It’s a shame that the card-reading business doesn’t enjoy the same privilege, but let me save that discussion for another time.
HOW TO DO IT
Meanwhile, here’s some advice to readers who have to deal with both, group 1 and group 2, when these groups enter in the ‘being difficult’ mode.
1. It is never about the people themselves. It is about the way in which you are called to the task of answering a question, and how well you can address the question from a completely disinterested angle. It’s about staying close to the question and the cards, not the people who come to you. After all, you can’t befriend them all in that rare and genuine way. It’s about making the distinction between you as the reader and the other who has a question for you. You offer advice, not your life. The other offers her trust on a specific matter, not her entire laundry. Hence, you don’t invent things on their behalf because you can see that they are having a hard time – not even when they entice you to take their side, by often suggesting: ‘Can’t you see I’m having a hard time? Say something encouraging’ – and by encouraging they often mean, ‘don’t tell me the truth’. Your task is to say: ‘Yes, I can see that you’re having a hard time, but this is not about me, and how I can sympathize with you. This is about how I can help you from a neutral, rather than involved position. You get the best of me if I don’t take sides, for how useful is it to say to you, yes dear, your husband is a moron. How sad for you’? For me, telling the truth is the highest form of respect and love that I can offer the other.
2. It is never about falling for praise – only so that you can then be ready to hand over your soul on a plate to whoever will claim it. It is about staying honest in the face of dealing with self-deprecating subjects for whom it is often all about control. If they can’t control their lives or the ones close to them, they will find a way to control you, because, hey, that’ll make them feel better about themselves. Some subjects are also very good at projecting all sorts of fantasy scenarios that often include establishing a ‘cosmic’ connection with you only so that they can take power over you. Or else they are very good at projecting all that is wrong with them unto their ex-lovers, ex-readers, ex-children, etc. (As a psychoanalyst of Lacanian bending I could launch here into a very nice lecture on transference, but I’ll save it for another context.)
3. It’s never about other people’s anger and their acts towards you or others. You are not called to be impressed with their swinging moods – now they love you, now they hate you. If subjects decide that you have done them a disservice by not siding with them, by not being ‘supportive’, it is best for all parties to part ways. The greatest wisdom is in knowing one’s place. Being in the business of reading cards should not be about losing your own sense of balance, or about participating in what irritates the other. It’s not about channeling their anger. That’s not what empathy is.
4. It’s never about saying: ‘Yes, it can also mean that,’ when it’s clear to everyone involved – if honesty is present – that that’s just not it, but hey, let us serve ourselves the ‘staying positive’ attitude as that will solve all our problems on earth. It’s not about being positive. It’s about being truthful. And how can we be truthful? Look at the cards. What do they say? Don’t look at what they ‘mean’. Look at what they say. Look at embodiment. You got the Papesse, the High Priestess? Well, good. Take a seat. Take a book and start reading. Leave it be. It’s all right to know more than the others and not always have to say so. Take a breath and stare into the void. You got the Emperor? Excellent. See that scepter? That’s power. Grab it woman – or man. Make a plan and realize it. Don’t ‘think’.
5. It’s never about negotiating ‘meaning’. Everything means something. And everything that means something already can also mean something else at the same time. All experiences of one thing can mean something else than what the general public takes that thing to mean. Don’t negotiate and don’t bend the ‘meaning’ of what stares you in the face. Tell your sitters: ‘See that Hermit taking steps back from the world, work, and all public engagement? Well, how about you do the same? How useful is it to be spiritual about a plan that doesn’t pay for your bills? Take a step back, and get a sense of what you really need. Don’t insult your own soul by pretending that you’re not good at surviving unless you get to sell crystals, the only thing you’re good at, but which unfortunately interests no one.’
6. It’s never about second-guessing the other. The role of the reader is to constantly assess where her position is vis-à-vis her task, namely that of reading the cards. Not the future. Not the other. Not the other’s troubled issues. It’s never about sympathizing and doing nothing about it. It’s about offering real help. Sympathizing is also an act of ‘doing’, but as far as I can tell, empathy has gone inflated these days. A lot of people ‘mean’ a lot of things, while only a few are ready to ‘do’ something. What’s an opinion good for, if you can’t back it up with evidence from the cards?
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LIE
Now, get out there. Stay honest. Demand honesty. And read some cards. And if hell breaks loose, just say the following: ‘I did my best. I did not get involved where it’s not my place to get involved. I resisted being manipulated and drained of energy. I resisted losing my balance simply because others have a problem with their own mental balance. I know exactly what my job is, and I perform it exquisitely. I’m good at reading the goddamned cards.’
P.S. If you want to know about my take on love and truth – some people may be under the impression that these are mutually exclusive for me – see my follow-up post, Truth in Cards, or scroll to the comments. Some questions made me clarify some points, which I did in a rather poetic way that even sounds like a manifesto. I may upgrade some of that stuff into a post of its own.
Note on the cards:
Visconti Sforza, Il Meneghello, Large-cards limited edition, No. 689, 1996.
Jacques Vieville (1650), reconstructed by Roxanne Flornoy.
Jean Noblet (1650), Tarot de Marseille, reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy.