Cold Reading Then and Now

“Cold-reading” is an interesting subject; it seems to mean something entirely different now than in the past. In my own experience, it used to describe reading with zero prior knowledge or information, simply drawing insight from the cards or other tools of divination with no preliminary “warm-up” clues from the sitter. But it now implies trying to extract revealing hints from the individual’s behavior or demeanor independent of what the cards show, to make it look like the reader is prescient. Personally, it has never been a problem for me in face-to-face reading. I focus on the cards and don’t pay very much attention to the sitter’s mannerisms or appearance, and I don’t ask leading questions unrelated to what I see in the cards. I’m not a fortune-teller with a reputation to bolster, just a simple narrator who aims to turn randomly-chosen images into compelling language. A story-teller with a shaman’s sensibilities.

For me, reading in person is what tarot was historically all about, and I still feel that way. There is no “buffer,” nothing to hide behind, and no need to overuse intuition when the client is right there to provide corrective input. I see this kind of reading as a shared responsibility, a “win-win” dialogue in which we both learn something, and in which the rules of engagement seldom need extensive clarification.

Of course, even minimal ground rules have more immediacy in a “live” setting where the reader might get caught flat-footed with something unexpected or out-of-bounds, and they can be challenging to enforce when a needy seeker is sitting there with an expectant look. Unless the boundaries are stated bluntly right up front (which might take some of the “magic” out of the occasion), one must learn to hedge with delicacy. I limit my introductory caveats to clarifying that I’m not a psychic nor a certified counselor, health-care professional, lawyer or financial analyst, just an interpreter to assist with self-understanding and empowerment via the cards. The “just for fun” disclaimer is legally workable, but to my mind it can make sitters question the reader’s capabilities or self-confidence. Unfortunately, the only other way to make that point is even more legalistic: the stuffy “no expressed or implied claim of suitability for any particular purpose” stuff. Luckily, I don’t live in a State that gets into a statutory frenzy over the business of divination.

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