I have a hard time understanding card readers who have never been to an unknown card reader (that is, someone who knows nothing whatsoever about us) in order to sate their curiosity. I sometimes read for people but don’t charge – so I’m off the hook as far as value for money goes. But those who charge and have never experienced a real live reading, where – I feel compelled to ask – is your curiosity? It’s like being a butcher and never having watched a butcher at work. It’s like being an actor and never having watched a film or been to the theatre. As I write this, I ask myself, I may well have got it all completely wrong; surely all card readers must at some stage have done this – gone along, paid, sat silently, listened, analysed and picked up tips? Watching YouTube videos doesn’t count (too generic). Nor does having a friend read for you (too much vested interest or hidden agenda; your best friend may well want that relationship to flounder. They often do.) I am referring to silver crossing the palm of the reader who knows nothing whatsoever about you.
I love having anonymous readings. For all kinds of reasons – and least of all is the plan to catch someone out. It’s not about that. I first got interested in tarot at the age of 13. By 15, I had had my first reading from a psychic who read with playing cards. This was the early 1980s when life was still fun and nobody had anxiety attacks over a 15 year old going to a stranger’s house for a tarot card reading, least of all my parents. The psychic in question also used to do palmistry at school fetes and saw murder and suicide and (understandably) didn’t utter a word. For my first reading, she dealt a cheap pack of poker cards onto a teak coffee table (no spread cloths, no amethysts), gaze into the mid-distance and words just tumbled out. I’m not sure she even looked at the cards. There was an element of the superb about her; she seemed to go into a sort of trance. There was certainly no numerology or elemental associations. Stuff just came out. I shall never be able to read like that, I concluded listlessly, back home, contemplating my Grimaud Etteilla and its elaborate pairings and keywords (“Tartar Horseman”, “Cup of Balthazar”) which meant nothing in my 16th year. Perhaps only card number 1, “Chaos” in the “hormone” position might have made some sense to me.
Then, years later, after I had got back into tarot with a vengeance, I had another reading. I was on my way home and stumbled across a small metaphysical fair with a few tents that had readers in them plying their wares. I went into a tent to ask the price – general reading, 10 euros – and with time to spare and curiosity getting the better of me, I sat down. Mostly it’s other readers’ tools that fascinate me; he used a Majors only plaid-backed Rider Waite Smith deck with French titles (though he wasn’t French). He got me to shuffle, then he fanned the deck out, I had to choose seven cards which he arranged in a horse shoe, some reversed. There were some very non-specific observations; nothing that made any sense to me particularly. Or rather, it could have been a reading for anyone. I nodded politely, because I’m like that. Then he got out a pendulum, dangled it over each and every card and came out with some very concise home truths. After three or four minutes, the reading was over and it was enough. No endless reiterating, rewording or needless verbosity.
During all this time, of course I would read for myself but I valued others’ objectivity. I’m also curious as to how they fill the time. How long is a reading? How long is a piece of string? Will they venture into gentle, soothing platitudes and ask me to draw an Angel card at the end thus render everything risible that came before? And I love looking at the tools and accessories; the deck (do I recognise it? Do I yearn for it?), the bag, reading cloth and how cumbersome their rituals are. I have had to clutch at someone’s wrist while they drag a pendulum over fanned cards. Another reading which I experienced had the cards laid out upon a brown doormat on the table. In another more memorable reading I was asked to think of a question to which I promptly replied “yes, where did you get your spreadcloth from?” I love the fact they have no idea that I have three decades of experience with tarot. In a more recent reading, I was shuffling the Majors and the reader scrutinised my shuffling and asked me if I was experienced at this. I said no – just years of playing cards. Then later, after the reading, I admitted I knew a little. Because one can never resist doing one’s own synopsis of the cards. And I have found that it is this which we invariably take away from the reading. We may sit patiently through another reader’s interpretation, but later, back home, the dust having settled, the cards are seen (for me anyway), with hindsight as what we ourselves think of them. Therefore, I suppose ultimately I have to question the value of someone else reading for us. I drew the 10 of Swords as a clarification card at the end of a reading recently; don’t even try to give it a positive spin for me. I know what it means in the context of my life. I know why the High Priestess has come up twice in the same Celtic Cross position in the last two readings. But it’s all fascinating and helps us learn. If I ever decided to read for other people and charge (don’t see that happening, I’m fine with the day job) I think I would have a pretty good idea of what not to do, what not to say. I have seen baroque card-drawing rituals kill a substantial amount of valuable reading time. I have also had a reading with all the cards face up and me having to choose cards to represent my past, present and future and verbalise why. If it had been tarot, it would have been a hopeless exercise as the cards are so engrained in my thinking, but it was an unfamiliar oracle deck and a fascinating exercise. This wasn’t a reading as such (I had a Celtic Cross afterwards), just a fun psychological exercise.There will be more occasions when I willing offer myself up as querent and there is always so much to get us thinking. Anyone who hasn’t played at being the shuffling, ill-at-ease client (who really knows nothing) in front of strangers, doesn’t know what they are missing.