There is a reasonable assumption that, due to its layered symbolism, any card in a tarot deck can mean almost anything within its broadly-construed conceptual range when encountered in a reading. This elasticity of context is limited only by the diviner’s resourcefulness in “connecting the dots,” and it could be argued that, in the interest of “empowering” our sitters to make the most of their circumstances, wielding this level of fluency is the reader’s sacred duty. Unfortunately, as we grope for relevance, we sometimes resort to what I think of as disingenuous “weasel-words:” oblique remarks that coyly dance around any negative connotations, skirting the edge of dishonesty but not quite crossing the line. Often this comes down to “denaturing” a card by stripping it of its essential character: “Of course Death never means physical death, it just signifies a major transformation.” In an online forum conversation, a noted author of my acquaintance once suggested tartly that rotting in the ground is most definitely a transformation.
This marginal duplicity is the unstated principle behind the oft-mentioned aphorism “There are no bad cards!” With enough creative “spin” we can force just about any placatory meaning we want upon the cards and gracefully float (aka “soft-peddle”) an unfavorable forecast by giving the seeker a comforting haze of affirmation. Aleister Crowley was fond of using the word “appeasement” in his definitions, and that’s what it can degenerate into; another expression for it is “enabling.” Rather than a resounding “yes” or “no,” the answer often comes out a “definite maybe,” and we can wind up feeding the sitter’s regressive tendencies rather than promoting personal growth. But in reality, challenging cards will inevitably come up and we have to do our best to present them in as constructive a light as possible even when we don’t consider them even remotely hopeful.
Well-chosen “weasel-words” are a fact of life when reading for others if we don’t want to traumatize them unnecessarily. After all, a tarot reading is an impressionistic take on probability, it doesn’t convey a carved-in-stone certainty from which there is no escape. There is another popular aphorism: “The cards never lie!” but as readers we must sometimes help them find a more congenial way to “package” the cold, hard truth. For me it never reaches the level of Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar” because I have both the experience and the vocabulary to “finesse” almost any idea without backing down too far from an unflinching appraisal of the situation. (Or, in W.C. Field’s consummate witticism, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!”) But it took me a lifetime of study and practice to get to that point, and I still sometimes trip myself up!
The thought of having to confront and overcome such intimidating reading scenarios can be a major obstacle for neophytes who are contemplating the start of a public-reading adventure. We want to “do good” and be of help to those who seek our advice, and having the Devil smirk at us from the table-top in full view of an already-anxious client doesn’t do much for our self-confidence or their peace-of-mind. Short of caving in and using a more innocuous deck like the Connolly Tarot (no Death or Devil as such), we all have to make our peace with the “Weasel Lord” sooner or later. I have mixed feelings about how much and in what way we should “spin” the card meanings to accommodate the sensitivities of our clients. The line between being merciless and being complaisant (or complicit) can be a fine one, and it can come down to a matter of delivery. After all, we don’t want to be accused of being a living embodiment of this paraphrase of Ronald Reagan’s “nine most terrifying words in the English language:”
“I’m your tarot reader and I’m here to help.”