Tarot, photo by Chris GladisEarlier we looked at the role of “accuracy” in tarot, particularly in comparison to fortune-telling. A key point to take away from this is that, in tarot reading for a client or even for oneself, the main goal of any divinatory reading is to provide information that is useful to the querent.

Whether or not the future is set can become irrelevant when the cards clearly foretell disaster for the querent. When the cards spell doom, deciding how to relate that to the client can be tricky. Changeable or not, it’s rarely something a querent wants to hear, and depending on who the querent is it can be more detrimental to share this information than not.

Consider the following case, reported by Austin Osman Spare in a brief essay, “Mind to Mind and How” (reprinted by Fulgur in Two Tracts on Cartomancy):

I was telling a friend’s fortune, and could ‘see’ that he would die within a few months. Naturally, I did not tell him so, but what I did advise him was to at once put his affairs in order and that in a few months there would be a very great change in his affairs, of which not much could be said. Meantime, there was great happiness for him, though he was to guard against accident. He was happy for the few months that he lived.

This is a drastic case, and it matters little whether or not it is objectively “true” – it is instructive nonetheless; the cards don’t always describe “nice” things.

Naturally, had Spare plainly stated what he had “seen” it would have greatly alarmed and upset his client, and likely make him miserable or frightened for the time that remained. There are some problems tact can’t solve and which no amount of delicacy in describing what was seen is possible.

There were a few alternative options that Spare might have considered. He could have refused the reading – even after laying out the cards, perhaps claiming a headache or some more mystical malady that would have incapacitated him and prevented him from continuing the reading. Or he could have simply reshuffled the cards, saying the message wasn’t “clear,” rather than describe what was initially drawn.

However, for such a drastic reading, neither of these would have been particularly useful for his client. His may not put his affairs in order, instead he may have simply carried on as usual and not even considered living life with an eye for happiness had Spare not specifically recommending doing so.

Reading for another is quite a responsibility, and – more often than we’d like – the message the cards relay isn’t about a rosy new relationship just around the corner or sacks of money arriving in next week’s post. Sometimes it is about divorce, losing one’s job, discomfort – and, yes, even death.

The story Spare related represents a fair presentation of the reading with an eye to providing useful information, if not strictly an accurate depiction of what the cards described. It is in handling these difficult subjects that a reader really begins to understand the nature of their responsibility to their client.

First published on Plutonica.net 1 January 2008.

Image credit: Chris Gladis