No Fortune Telling Here . . . Well, Not Much

It’s fashionable these days for people who write about the tarot to say “The cards don’t predict the future.” My response to that is “Well, of course they don’t, they never did.” They are nothing but tools, evocative visual aids that serve as pointers for the diviner in helping the seeker explore the potential consequences of their action or inaction in the situation under review. (This time I won’t call their use “psychism-with-props,” but I’ve been known to do so in remote-reading situations.) The cards themselves are impartial and don’t say much of anything pertinent until they’re shaped into a relevant pattern of meaning through the shuffler’s subconscious intervention (and then accurately interpreted). There are those who say proudly “I am a diviner,” implying a personal pipeline to Divine inspiration through which they channel their insights, while admittedly fewer others just as staunchly say “I am a fortune-teller,” making clear what they think of the “grand” purpose of divination. One has epiphanies of exalted “intuition” while the other “just reads the cards.”

Personally, my sympathies lie with the fortune-tellers, although I don’t practice the art anywhere near as resolutely or systematically as the most dedicated among them. My focus is on the situational implications of any actions and events hinted at by the cards; the “actions” are generally those that the querent might choose to take in response to the stimulus, and the “events” are those that either arise from the actions taken (or, as the case may be, not taken) or those that are independent of the querent and occur on their own initiative and timetable (so-called “external events”). How these considerations are likely to unfold is the focus of most of my readings, and the field of operation is unavoidably the “future” since every moment following the delivery of the reading is an unwritten page. Certainly, some aspects of the narrative can touch on past and present actions and events that influence the diviner’s outlook on how the scenario will play out, but that is instructive background material and not what seekers come to hear. They want to know how they can gain an edge on upcoming circumstances, to either profit from them or successfully dodge any identifiable hazards (the “forewarned is forearmed” assumption).

As I see it, if a client wants a non-clinical psychological profile of themselves or someone else, they’re better off consulting an astrologer. I don’t have much faith in the tarot as an instrument for psychological “navel-gazing” because it is too vulnerable to subjective bias. I’m not a certified coach, counselor or therapist (I doubt many tarot readers are); about as far as I’m willing to go down that path is to style myself as a “consultant” and point my clients at prudent attitudes and behaviors as intimated by the cards. If they don’t trust the legitimacy of that advice, the potential risks become entirely their problem; I don’t hire myself out as a “fixer” for anyone’s headaches, self-inflicted or otherwise. That work is internal and the only objective of my readings is to shine a spotlight on the inner stage. If they wander away from the self-penned script and fail to follow their own cues, they could flounder and the curtain may come down on the outcome well before they hit their stride.

There is a strong sentiment among experienced diviners that “fortune-telling” of the flatly predictive variety — while it is not exactly denounced — is an impractical and unreliable pursuit, for a couple of reasons: 1) the future is a moving target and can change regularly based on intervening circumstances not always of our own making since they may intersect with someone else’s future; and 2) predicting something can turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy that, in the mind of the querent, may inhibit more appealing eventualities. I recently came across a better idea in my studies: use the tarot to comment on what kind of future we envision for ourselves. This puts the querent in the driver’s seat rather than becoming a mere pawn of fate. Pulling cards based on such an assumption, whether conscious or subconscious, can align the reading with the known territory of the querent’s environment and, more importantly, unroll the horizon that the individual perceives as his or her mission to expand. It’s not so much “What’s going to happen to me?” as “Who am I and what can I make of myself or my situation?”

I believe that we all hold the keys to our own future through the attitudes we adopt and the actions we undertake in the present. The cards can help to show which of those should be actively pursued and which dismissed as unproductive so we arrive at our destination mentally and physically whole. While it has an undeniable “future orientation” to it, there is nothing automatic about this projection; it shows latent opportunities or inner potentials that the querent must actualize through either specific action or astute positioning (being “in the right place at the right time”). The cards may be either salutary or cautionary, and they can be blunt or nuanced, but they are only mirrors of what we’re already subconsciously aware of in the way of developmental options. We may not consciously know it yet, but we’re already plotting our course and the cards can tap into our intentions by offering signposts by which to navigate.

I like to consider a tarot reading a kind of “roadmap” similar to an astrological horoscope. The road is symbolically laid out before us, we just have to trust and follow the signs and signals to the best of our ability, including those for both the “highways” and the “byways.” Negative or reversed cards can signify “detours” or “roadblocks” that bar the way, but more often than not they just suggest “speed-bumps” that will rattle our teeth but not prevent progress if we have a clear mental picture of the end of the journey. That journey is ideally depicted in the narrative of the reading, which acts as a metaphysical GPS telling us where to turn, although not always according to the shortest route! As many travelers learn to their chagrin, following pre-programmed directions too literally can land us in a backwater of dirt roads and dead ends. Anticipating and avoiding these errors of judgment is part of the interactive art of divination, a mutual “voyage of discovery” in which the reader and the sitter must cooperate to get the best results.

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at .

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