Tarot, photo by Ricardo RosadoIt’s nearing the end of the year and I get a familiar message in my inbox, “Will you be joining me for New Year’s this year?” I reply with a yes, and mark the day on my calendar as booked. As much as it sounds like it, it is not a date. It’s actually a large party where I will be reading tarot professionally.

Tarot readers often attend parties and festivals in order to earn income from their craft. Although festivals tend to be large and well attended, private parties can be much smaller and more intimate. The type of parties I read at, however, are quite large, often with hundreds of people in attendance.

For this particular event, I am one of three readers hired. We will all be together in the room, and may read up to 150 people each over the course of one evening, depending how busy it is. If this sounds impossible, believe me, it isn’t — it’s just exhausting.

Large events can be very lucrative for readers. Organizers, who may be from corporations throwing holiday parties, private party planners, or neighbourhood committees, and so on, like to have unique performers at their events, and everyone is at least a little interested in divination. The key to handling these draining events is thoughtful planning.

Work out your contract first

This isn’t about reading so much as business, but it bears mentioning, especially if you’re new to reading professionally.  When reading for large parties everything needs to be preapproved. Before you begin, you should know what time you should show up and what time you will be leaving. Your payment — how much you will be paid and when you can expect to receive it — should be worked out in advance so there are no surprises. Be prepared to wait a few weeks for your cheque.

This might seem strange as tarot reading tends to be a “cash only” business. Receiving a cheque weeks later for most reading situations seems absurd. However, it is important to remember that for these larger events, your payment may not be not coming from a private individual, but from a company and your payments may have to come payroll as with any other provider. Depending on your contract, you may ask for a deposit to hold the date, but your full fee will likely not come until afterwards.

Also to be discussed is where you will be seated and what you will be expected to provide. The event planners will usually have tables and chairs set up for you, but I always like to bring my own table coverings, though incense and candles generally will not be allowed. You should have an understanding of what sort of setting the readings will take place in. Usually, it is a larger room and, if you’re lucky, away from music and other loud noises. Unless you’re the only reader for the night, it is unlikely that it will be private. Expect to share the space with at least one other person.

Whoever you work with in the company (whether it be a private organizer they hire to set the event up or someone from the company itself) will likely have their own contract for you to sign. If they do not, it’s good practice to have a general template that you can alter with the specific details of the event. Whichever way you go, it is important to get it in writing so both parties are protected.

What to charge

There is no set rate for this type of reading. What you charge will depend on a variety of factors. The best way to figure it out is to start with your general hourly rate. If you have never charged by the hour, use your per reading rate and multiple it by the number of clients you are expected to have that evening. That is your base rate. For example, if you charge $5 for a simple spread and expect to read for 100 clients, then your rate for the evening is $500.

Once you have that rate in mind, you also have to consider things like travel and lodging. Is this party out of town? Will you need to stay overnight? Are they providing a room for you? These are all things you need to consider when working out the price for your services. You will likely need to negotiate so set a rock bottom price you are willing to work for in your head before going in.

In addition, some readers bring kits with tissues, bottled water, etc. I have been lucky not to need such things as the venue provides much of what I need (outside of my personal decorations and the like). However, some venues may not be as well stocked or take place outdoors. Get to know where you are reading and ask if some of your more common items will be provided so you know what you will need and won’t be burdened with extra stuff.

What to wear

When you do a festival or a private reading you can wear whatever you want. For larger parties, this is not necessarily true. Although you may normally read in jeans and a t-shirt, the company that hires you will likely expect you to show up in something more like a costume. They’re hiring you to put on a show for the people who come to your table.

This doesn’t mean that you have to put on some strange gypsy garb with a turban. (In fact, you shouldn’t do that because it’s culturally insensitive!) You can wear a nice Victorian dress or suit, stylish hats or fascinators, flowing gowns, etc. The key is to look mysterious and ethereal for the crowd. You don’t have to go overboard, but have fun with your look! Not all clients require this, but it is more likely they will want to see something more theatrical at the higher price points.

Although you can wear whatever colours you want, I do suggest a lot of black. Black helps to repel energy, which will help you last longer at the table. Wearing a grounding pendent of some kind under your clothes also helps with the flow of energy. Tiger-eye, hematite, and obsidian are good stones to wear or carry. Your instinct may be to wear something that will enhance your abilities, but due to the sheer volume of readings you’ll be doing, this is a terrible idea, and you may find you burn out quickly.

Cards and spreads

When it comes to cards, bring whatever deck you feel most comfortable with. However, you should bring more than one. I have found that different clients react to the images in different ways. I had a gentleman that I could not get a reading on no matter how hard I tried. I was about to give up entirely when he mentioned that he thought the images on my cards (a fantasy deck) seemed “scary” and a bit “demonic.” I switched to a more traditional deck and easily was able to read for him.

Remember, reading is a two way street, and even if you’re really feeling a deck, that doesn’t mean the client is. Be prepared to switch it up. I usually carry three or four decks with me to these events, each with a different theme. I may only need to switch once or twice, but I like to have spares just in case. I carry the Steampunk Tarot, Morgan Greer, Universal Fantasy Tarot, and Tarot of the Sweet Twilight.

As you can see, I have two that are more traditional and two that are more whimsical. Try to avoid darker decks as there is a greater chance it may put off the client. That is, unless you happen to be reading at an event that speaks to that aesthetic, such as a Hallowe’en party or a more Gothic gathering.

It doesn’t really matter which spreads you use, but I generally stick to two. I have one that is for people who come to my table and just “want to know the future,” and a second one for people with specific question. For the future question, I just use the past-present-future three card spread. For people interested in a specific issue, I use a four card spread.

The reason for using these spreads instead of relying on something like the Celtic Cross (a spread that many other event readers use constantly) is that, even though a large spread like that looks very impressive, it also takes a great deal of time to do it justice. With a smaller spread, you’re able give a comprehensive reading and then move on to the next client. Which is what the organizers hired you for in the first place.

You never know who’s coming

Unlike private readings and even festivals, you never know who is going to sit at your table. With festivals and private readings, your client has paid you to do your job so it’s a safe bet that they actually believe in what you do and they probably aren’t drunk. With parties, that’s not always the case. Because it’s free for them, many people who had no interest in tarot or even think it’s outright nonsense will sit at your table just to say they did it.

Due to their own bias, you may not be able do a solid reading for these people, and that’s not necessarily your fault. They may not be open to the idea or may be intentionally misleading you. Either way, there’s little you can do about it. Don’t pressure yourself over a few bad readings; with the massive amount of readings you’ll do in a night, you’re bound to get a couple of duds — no matter how good you are.

Depending on the event, you may also get people who have had a bit too much. Try to stay polite and move them along as quickly as possible. They’re there for the experience and it will do you no good to take any negative comments personally.

If you are faced with someone who is belligerent or you just do not feel safe, signal to the staff to have them removed. It’s a safe bet that the organizers of the party don’t want someone there who will ruin the night either.

Make sure clients leave with a smile

No matter what you do, however, never give a negative reading at a party! These people are not your private clients, and even if you see something that is less than bright, try to spin it so it turns out all right to the best of your ability. Ultimately, they are here for a good time, and it will reflect negatively on you if they walk away from your table with a frown.

One of the people I worked with at one of these events had the policy of telling the clients exactly what the cards said. Many people walked away from his table upset. These clients then told their friends at the event not to let him read them. The organizer noticed the lack of party-goers at his table, found out why, and that reader was not asked back the following year.

This may seem incredibly disingenuous. After all, a tarot reading is not a parlour trick. What we do is a very serious practice that takes time to learn and perfect. However, there’s a balance that needs to be maintained between the performer and your spirituality. It is hard to get used to the idea but you will have clients who are just going through bad times. You want to give them hope. Don’t lie, but try to be positive.1

You will be tired

The one thing I didn’t realize when I started doing these types of parties is how tired I would get. You spend the evening basically sitting at a table, but the next day you feel like you ran a marathon. If you want to see the real effect that being a reader has on you, I suggest doing at least one of these parties. You’ll really feel the energy drain the next day. Sometimes for up to a week afterwards.

There’s nothing to really do about it, but to realize that it will happen, and plan ahead to spend the following few days resting. Avoid other taxing spiritual activities for at least a week if you can help it. Meditate, spend time recharging. Sit in parks or woods if you find that helps you ground.

Do what you love

There’s a certain energy at large parties that doesn’t happen at smaller gatherings or single readings. A different feel to things, so to speak. Reading at these events can be invigorating. There is also a bit pride in being able to rapidly read for clients, and it is also a great way to train. There isn’t time to chit chat and really get to know the person, so it really helps you focus your energy quickly, which is a skill that will help you in all kinds of readings.

Large parties can be very exciting. They’re not right for every reader, as they have particular demands that aren’t seen in smaller sessions, however, for certain readers, they can be a stable way to earn income while doing something that they love.

Image credit: Ricardo Rosado

  1. Ed. note: See also: “Tarot and sharing bad news” and “Tarot and the myth of bad cards.” []