Reading Skills: Black & White or Technicolor?

Parsifal the Scribe
3 min readMay 26


AUTHOR’S NOTE: These are entirely my own opinions about what it takes to become an effective tarot reader in a face-to-face setting, based on over five decades of practice. (Online reading doesn’t count since it is not an interactive art requiring presentation skills; it falls under the “black & white” category of the title.) This list is probably not comprehensive and I will add to it as more thoughts occur to me.

First and foremost, a competent reader must be a compelling communicator and an accomplished storyteller. There is nothing more damaging than becoming tongue-tied in the middle of a session when inspiration, imagination and ingenuity fail us. Sitters as a group are generally receptive to a little rambling as we zero in on the story-line, so I might paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt and recommend “Say something, and if that doesn’t work, say something else. But above all say something.” Even a slight hitch in the flow can cast doubts on our credibility, “breaking the spell” so to speak, and being able to recover with finesse is a vital skill that should be honed.

Projecting a relaxed and confident air of professionalism comes with the territory. Excessive vagueness or “hemming-and-hawing” are almost always fatal to promoting an atmosphere of comfortable rapport. Some authorities suggest recording ourselves in private and going over the videos for hints on how we might improve. I’ve never done it but this is not a bad idea.

To be truly effective, a reader must be able to inject what sportscasters call “color commentary” into the narrative. This demands a light touch, often with just a hint of humor and liberal use of storytelling “tropes” such as shared cultural, social, historical or literary metaphors and analogies. Such creative “filler” can be a saving grace when things begin to stall.

A reader must remain nimble and flexible, exhibiting an ability to change gears between modes as the scope and thrust of the interpretation change, from practical, to psychological to universal or spiritual. The focus should remain on eliciting the “Aha!” moment of enlightenment as full awareness of what we’re revealing dawns in the seeker’s comprehension.

Being perfectly adaptable assumes having multiple tools in one’s interpretive toolbox and being able to bring them to bear as the situation requires. This can involve links to systems of metaphysical thought and practice outside of the tarot tradition (brought together under the heading of “correspondences”). The best advice is to become widely read in (and ideally conversant with) various divinatory disciplines.

It certainly helps to be of intelligent and subtle mind, but a sympathetic ear is usually more critical to success. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean being an “enabler” for attitudes and behaviors that aren’t supported by the cards simply because it is what the querent wants to hear.

A blend of honesty and empathy is usually the best approach to take with anxious sitters. It is cynical to “sugar-coat” less favorable predictions, while being too blunt is similarly counterproductive. In this regard, experience in general psychological principles can be invaluable even if it is only of the “pop-psychology” kind with which most people are familiar. The idea is to build a conceptual “bridge” to a clear mental grasp of the difficulty and then help the client cross it via carefully-chosen phrases and motivating insights that avoid pushing any emotional “buttons.” These scenarios represent the true test of one’s ability to “empower” without frightening.

It goes without saying that mastery of the traditional knowledge base underlying tarot-card interpretation is essential for the most convincing results. Even when it seems to be the only way to move the reading forward, freestyle intuitive conjecture should be an adjunct to this foundation, not a replacement for it. (One exception would be when working with non-scenic “pip” decks that convey no narrative import, and for which a personal vocabulary of card meanings must be developed through experience.) The core wisdom thus becomes a “touchstone” or “safety net” on which to rely when intuition comes up short and the “show must go on.”

Originally published at on May 26, 2023.



Parsifal the Scribe

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