I’ve been reading tarot for over ten years now, and I often get booked to read at parties and events. A lot of tarot readers feel the noise, the booze and the heckling at a public event mean you can’t create the sacred space needed to read properly, but I love it. I get dressed up in my Halloween gear and dark purple lipstick. I set up my table with candles and crystal balls and my lucky skull. I have a deck especially for punters, the very first I ever bought – The Cosmic Deck. it’s beautiful and clear, with evocative images. And I invite people to work through a basic Celtic cross spread with me.
Most people at these events aren’t looking for guidance or a spiritual experience. They’re looking to have fun, and tarot has the thrill of mystery and danger to it. People laugh as they sit down, a combination of embarrassed and nervous. Sometimes one of their friends, unsettled by the scene, will loudly declare that it’s all nonsense, mostly to reassure themselves. I have heard the same quips from so many drunken party-goers.
Are you going to tell me when I’m going to die? No.
Am I going to meet a tall, dark stranger? That’s not quite how this works.
Can you tell me next week’s lottery numbers? If I could, I wouldn’t be working here.
Do you believe in all this, then? No.
That one usually surprises them.
But it’s true. I don’t believe that the cards are a means for angels (or demons) to connect with us. I don’t believe that they link to a higher spiritual plane or being in any religious sense. As I say to any nervous participants: “These are just pictures on card. The links you make are in your head.”
That’s magic enough for me – the spectacle of watching a human mind form patterns and find meaning in chaos.
So I’m working this one night and a guy comes and sits down opposite me. Skinny, a muss of dark hair. A couple of piercings, and a tattoo just poking out above his tshirt collar. His friends give him a cheer as they pass on the way into the bar. I’ve seen them all already, and he’s the last of the group. The reluctant skeptic.
He says, “I’m just doing it for a laugh. I don’t believe in any of it.”
“That’s fine,” I say with a smile. “Me neither.” His eyes narrow and he smiles slowly, not sure if I’m taking the piss.
I shuffle the deck and place it on the table between us. “Now the first thing I’m going to need is your hands,” I say, holding mine out. He puts his hands into mine and I cup mine around his, bringing his hands palms down until they’re just above the deck.
“I’m just going to hold them here so that we can get a bit of your energy into the cards,” I say. And for a moment we sit in silence, both of us focusing on the idea of his energy transferring into these cards, that they are becoming stamped with his essence, and personalised to him.
This, I think, is the key. Science has proved it, and I know it instinctively as an actor – ritual has power. It’s the moment when the lights go down in a theatre, or when you light a candle before prayer. It steps your mind from one place to another. It focuses you, it makes you receptive – and crucially, it bypasses your disbelief. With this little moment, we enter a contract where we both agree to believe that these cards might unlock some power within us.
He chooses his cards and I lay them out face down on the table. I turn over the first one. The Prince of Cups in inversion.
“Ok,” I start my spiel, “This card usually represents you, or someone important in your life right now…and a Prince of Cups is often someone dealing with strong, overflowing emotions. They’re at a point in their life where they’re often feeling things very deeply, and if they’re upright, if they’re in a good place, this can lead to great creativity, but this particular Prince is in inversion. They’re feeling overwhelmed, and don’t know how to deal with these strong feelings they’re having, and so these people can withdraw from others, or even lash out emotionally, because they’re hurting.”
I’m looking at this guy, trying to get a read on him, and as I’m describing the Prince of Cups I see this sheen come into his eyes. You can often see when you’re reading for people the moment when the hairs stand up on the back of their neck – where they suddenly grow still and serious as they start connecting what you’re saying to their own life. But this is different. I know this feeling, I’ve had it myself. It’s like you’ve been suddenly slapped in the face by someone’s words. I have just struck a nerve, tapped right into a raw part of this guy’s life, and awoken a whole load of pain that he was totally not ready to deal with at the pub with his mates on a Friday night, and now he’s sitting there reeling, trying to hold those cracked-open floodgates closed.
And I go Okay, we are going to tread really carefully here.
I turn over some more cards. Five of Pentacles – isolation from a social group. Death in inversion – the end of something huge and painful, something that hasn’t had the time and space to be grieved properly. The Ten of Wands – a feeling of having to carry a burden all by yourself.
I’m pretty good at reading people over the cards anyway, but this guy’s face sings his pain. He’s even nodding in some places, shifting between grief and acceptance.
We turn over more cards. There’s good news here. Three of cups, Four of Wands, Ten of Cups. There are people all around him – friends, family, stable communities. They love him, they’re ready to give him time and help – and he knows this, he’s just been isolating himself because he doesn’t want to show that he’s hurting. The final card is the Three of Swords. The conversations might feel hard, but all he needs to do is reach out to the people around him, and let them know about this pain that’s threatening to pull him under, and they’ll be ready to help shoulder his burden. He nods emphatically.
I look up at this poor guy, shaking and vulnerable, tears standing in his eyes. His friends have all gone in and the pub garden is basically empty.
“Do you want a hug?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says weakly.
I get up and come around the table and squeeze this guy so tight. “Hey. It’s ok. You’re not on your own in this.” We stand there for a moment in the pub garden, arms around each other, just breathing.
I let go and look at him. He’s still a bit wobbly, but he’s nodding. He takes a shaky breath and smiles a little, more confident.
“You gonna be ok?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, shaking the stress out of his shoulders and arms.
“It’s all just pictures on cards,” I say.
“It’s all true, though,” he says. “How it feels.”
I nod. “You’re strong. You’ve got this,” I say gently.
“Thank you,” he says, seriously and earnestly, shaking my hand. “Thank you so much.” Then he goes and joins his friends.
And I pack up my candles and my crystal balls and my lucky skull, glowing with the intensity of the spiritual journey that we two non-believers have just shared.
Happy #WritingAdvent! The prompt for Day 7 was ‘Stories from your Own Life’. This really did happen to me, and was without doubt the most profound experience I’ve had reading tarot.
But how about you? What do you think? Have you ever had an experience like this from a tarot reading? Do you think that the power of imagination can transform us even if we don’t believe? Hit me up in the comments, and as always, link me to anything fun you’re writing right now 😀
PS: If you’d like a tarot reading from me, get in touch here. I’m based in West Sussex in the UK and can do house calls for you local lot, and I’m happy to read over Skype for those further afield.