Rules of Engagement

I often participate in on-line debates about the legal risks inherent in reading the cards for pay in a public setting. Some localities in the US have anti-fortune-telling statutes that force readers to offer their services “for entertainment only.” But there is a broader set of considerations regarding just how much protocol and structure we should place on the act of reading, both face-to-face and on-line. Obviously, we want a clear disclaimer that any actions taken by clients in response to a reading are at their sole discretion, the point of law being that we provide no “expressed or implied warranty of usefulness or suitability for a particular purpose.” In other words, we aren’t trained consultants and don’t give advice, especially not of a medical, financial or legal nature that might be grounds for a charge of malpractice. On her website, Benebel Wen – herself a lawyer – goes into many different angles that I won’t repeat here. (My personal “Cartomancer’s Creed” follows.)

After some thought, I decided that I should come up with a set of ground-rules for my own conduct as a way to ensure that my clients know exactly what to expect from me (and more importantly, what not to expect). General opinion on the use of such rigidly codified guidance is that it will likely scare clients away if formally disclosed, so it should be kept to oneself and serve only as a private road-map. The shopkeeper where I read asked me not to give a copy to my clients, since it seemed too legalistic and not very “friendly.” (I have since reduced it to what you see here.) But there are things I want every client to know before we start.

I always begin by asking whether my sitters have had readings before. If they have, I dispense with the introductory hand-holding and move right to the main event. If they haven’t, I summarize my own theories about “how tarot works” as a way to evoke their personal ownership of the results, and then briefly cover what I think of as the “rogue’s gallery” of overtly fearsome cards that might come up in the reading (Hanged Man, Death, Devil, Tower), the ones that could make them say “Whoa!” and take two steps back. No point in setting them up for a nasty surprise.

Next I explain that I don’t want to know their specific question or topic in advance, in order to preserve their right to privacy, although I acknowledge that details may emerge during the course of our dialogue. Also, if I don’t know the subject of the inquiry, any preconceptions I may have about it won’t interfere with my observations. Since I see the mechanics of divination with the tarot as involving the interaction between the querent’s subconscious and the cards, a kind of “communion” that results in the informed arrangement of the deck during the shuffle and cut, I try to keep my own perspective – both conscious and subconscious – well out of the way.

Then I move on to describing the three ways that the sitter can impart the unspoken query to the cards while shuffling: by silently posing a single, specific question; by inquiring about a particular area of life (romance, work, finances, family, etc.); or by imagining an open-ended “general life-reading” scenario. Sometimes I’m asked which one I recommend, and I advise that the general reading is often broad enough to touch on many different topics, which will appear on demand during discussion of the individual card positions in the spread. But most of the time I never learn the specifics of the question.

I try to keep any apparently superfluous aspects of the process – those that might be construed as “mystical mumbo-jumbo” by the tarot neophyte – toned down, primarily by explaining them as part of what I call the “theater of tarot:” Why do we shuffle and cut the deck just so? Why do we leave the cards face-down (if that is our practice) and turn them one at a time? Why do we invest the Major Arcana, the court cards, and special conditions like preponderance, reversal or facing with particular significance? Some of these arise during the flow of the narrative, but any of them can cause a torrent of questions that are best nipped in the bud. The KISS principle is almost always the best policy.

The Cartomancer’s Creed

The aim of cartomancy is empowerment. At its best, a card reading promotes self-understanding and provides the stimulus for positive change. It can also offer situational awareness for informed decision-making.

As a method of divination it taps into the idea that we create our own future through the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the attitudes or behaviors we adopt in response to the insights received. It speaks of portents and possibilities, not fate.

To unfold as shown, a prediction often requires deliberate action or inaction by the seeker: conscious effort to pursue an agreeable outcome or willing neglect to permit an unpleasant one. Wishful thinking in the first case and good intentions in the second aren’t enough to make a difference.

Situations seldom develop entirely at the conscious level, they are often shaped by subconscious intent. In most cases, there are subtle precursors that can be identified through the art of cartomancy. Forewarned is forearmed.

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