The Nasties

When I returned to professional reading at a local New Age shop a couple of years ago, the proprietress gave me a piece of good advice: the tarot contains a few trump cards that really throw sitters for a loop if they pop up unheralded as the “outcome” in a reading, especially if those clients have never seen them before, so it’s sound practice to give novices a brief introduction on what to expect before starting. Even experienced sitters have some trouble with these cards; I once had a woman grimace wryly and reach over to turn the Devil face-down when it appeared as her husband in the spread. In order of shock value, they are Death, the Devil, the Tower and the Hanged Man. I created a one-page “show-and-tell” sheet and a short spiel to help blunt the impact of their visual nastiness.

Negative Trump Cards.JPG

Death, I tell them, can show an important change in the future, even warranting that four-syllable mouthful “transformation,” but it rarely means physical death. The Devil may indicate temptation coming their way, which may or may not be a bad thing depending on what they’re up for at the time, but it can also supply abundant creative energy if they have a project in the works or on the drawing board. If some kind of obstacle is blocking progress in their life, the Tower can provide the cure, but it won’t be comfortable while it’s happening; I call it “having a Tower moment,” and the medicine can seem worse than the disease until the fever breaks. With the Hanged Man I downplay the “sacrifice” angle and suggest that it can mean a period of retirement and reflection in preparation for renewed effort; the old Coca-Cola slogan “the pause that refreshes” comes to mind. The important thing, I note in my most persuasive Eden Gray manner, is that all of the trump cards represent external forces entering the matter than can be neither avoided nor fully deflected, so the best “coping” strategy is to adapt or adjust to their emergence. The gist of my message is “forewarned is forearmed.”

Because my reading sessions are usually only 15 or 20 minutes in length, I keep the warm-up very short and to-the-point. I’ve honed the presentation such that I seldom get questions (although the “furrowed brow” look is not entirely unknown while I’m delivering it). Fortunately, these are the cards that sensationalists often trot out to show the “evil incarnate” lurking in the tarot, so there may be some prior awareness of them, just not of the right kind. Correcting entrenched misapprehensions about the tarot in general and these cards in particular is a good way to start.



2 thoughts on “The Nasties

    • I know that some readers take them out when reading for younger sitters, and a few deck creators change the names to something more innocuous like “Transformation” and “Materialism.” I have no real problem with name changes if the images remain largely intact, but taking them out entirely would seem to hobble the conceptual validity of the system.


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