The Difference Between Predictive Tarot and Humanistic Tarot

I don't wear fancy headgear or use a glowing crystal ball when I do my readings.
I don’t wear fancy headgear or use a glowing crystal ball when I do my readings.

One of the reasons it took me so long before going professional with my tarot readings (I practiced and studied the Tarot for 12 years prior to offering paid readings) is that I didn’t want to be seen as a scam artist. In our highly rational culture where science is often viewed as the ultimate source of knowledge, giving a tarot reading is relegated to a parlor game where shady characters in dimly-lit rooms with lacy shawls and crystal balls randomly flip over cards while prognosticating the future of the querent.

I found a perfect example of what I’m talking about in this video from a Science Channel show called “Ten Ways,” in the episode “Ten Ways To See Into the Future: Tarot.” Oh God. Here we go.

All done? Good times, right?

Now, while I’m not here to criticize or discount this method of using the cards, I do feel compelled to differentiate that use of the cards from what I like to call a “humanistic” approach to readings.

People, I am not the type of tarot reader who would willingly sit in a candlelit bath surrounded by rose petals and my Rider-Waite deck. Let us just be clear about that right off the bat.

Also, if you watched the clip, you see the “psychic lady” tactics that I referred to. I’m not saying Juliet is or isn’t psychic. But what I am saying is that the way she reads the cards isn’t the ONLY way.

My readings are not of the predictive type, but rather the humanistic type. A quote from Rachel Pollack cited in the book Tarot and the Tree of Life summarizes this concept quite well:

The humanistic Tarot, as opposed to the esoteric Tarot, concerns “who we are, how we act, what forces shape and direct us.”

In addition, author Isabel Radow Kliegman goes on to say that in this type of Tarot reading:

…[in humanistic tarot] the entire purpose of the reading is to empower the querent. The reader, like the cards themselves, is an instrument of insight and growth.

In my readings, I don’t use the cards to answer “yes/no” questions. However I do realize the client’s need to gain insight and clarity, which is at the root of a yes or no question. The underlying assumption that motivates a question like that is the idea that “If I could only have the answer, either yes or no, as to whether [he/she still loves me/I’ll have children/my business will be successful/I’ll meet my soul mate/etc.] I can know how to feel about the situation. A lot of the questions that start out as simple “yes or no” questions are excellent jumping off points for going deeper.

I like to take those questions further than simple yes or no answers, to expand the client’s thinking about the situation into a larger context, one which gives more information about the situation and highlights possible behaviors, beliefs, and choices that surround the situation. This generally leads the client to do some inner reflection about how they’ve gotten to where they’re at, how their choices have created their reality, and what steps they can now take to make proactive decisions about how to move forward.

In short, my readings differ from predictive tarot in that they empower the client to take responsibility for their own lives and they encourage clients to make proactive choices that will help them achieve what they feel is best for them.

In a humanistic tarot card reading, the client is an active participant, not a passive receptor for predictive guesswork. I firmly believe that the Universe operates on a law that makes free will an inviolable principle of human life, and my readings reflect this belief. I would never tell a client “yes” or “no” to a particular situation, because the way I read the tarot assumes that the client can use their free will to make active choices after a reading that could very likely alter the possible outcome of a situation.

Also, it seems common sense to me that if a client believes that a reader can predict the future based on what he or she mysteriously “sees” in the cards, then the client is, in a sense, giving up any right to participating in their reading, and in effect, in the unfolding of their own life. The client has to subscribe to a belief system that holds that the hand of destiny or fate predetermines life happenings, and a chosen few who can read cards are able to alert the client to what will inevitably happen to them in the future.

In my opinion, it’s disrespectful of a client’s autonomy, free will, and intelligence to simply tell them in no uncertain terms how their future is going to unfold, as if the client has no hand in it whatsoever. It also gets into risky ethical territory, because the trust that a client places in the reader, especially a client who is emotionally vulnerable, can then translate the readers predictions into forms of self-fulfilling prophecies. “The reader said I won’t be able to have kids, so I might as well get used to the idea.” Granted, that’s an extreme application, but readings of this type have done quite a bit of damage to the reputation of tarot as a tool for healing, personal growth, and insight.

More than one of my friends and acquaintances, upon hearing that I read the cards, has said, “I’d never get a reading. I’d be too scared.”

This is the unfortunate result of, in my opinion, irresponsible card readers who claim to have supernatural powers that somehow magically appear through shuffling the ominous deck. Not to mention that the pictures on the individual cards aren’t ever explained or broken down into understandable and approachable terminology to the client. In this way, the reader keeps the client believing they possess unique psychic superpowers, thereby increasing the power differential between themselves and the client, which then allows the reader to feed the querent’s belief that the reader can somehow see or know things that the querent would be unable to know by themselves.

Obviously a card marked “Death” with a grim reaper on it has a much better dramatic effect if it’s simply laid on the table without any explanation and the client is left wondering why on Earth such a scary-looking card came up. It helps to feed the idea that the reader is the only one endowed with the special knowledge to proclaim the client’s future. In my view, however, a tarot reading is an opportunity to share the meaningful allegorical context surrounding each card and then to provide possible practical applications in their everyday life and their overall life journey, based on the issue at hand. Clearly, that requires a healthy dose of humility as well as a strong foundation in a wide variety of readings, life experiences, and approaches to life situations. Not just anyone can set up a card table and provide that kind of interpretation, which is why readers who provide these types of readings are few and far between. It takes practice, dedication, pure intention, and developed intuitive skills.

In my humanistic approach to tarot, I believe that everyone has the natural intuitive capacity to read the cards–it’s not a special talent only bestowed on a chosen few. Like any skill, however, it requires practice and dedication.

The fundamental difference between myself and most of my clients is that I have over a decade’s worth of experience in dedicated study and interpretation of the cards, during which time I have actively developed my intuitive skills. Just as you wouldn’t trust a friend without any experience to cut your hair or to open up your computer and try to figure out how to repair it, as those are both services best left to professionals who have studied the techniques for properly doing so, when you are looking for a bit of guidance and perspective on an issue that is causing concern or confusion, allowing a humanistic tarot card reader to pose the concern to the cards and interpret the results is best left to someone who knows how to do so in a way that can provide you sensitive, intuitive, and ultimately worthwhile results.

No harm in predictive readings. The important thing is that when you opt to pay for a professional reading, you go in aware of what type of reader you’ve chosen for the task, and what you hope to gain. My style of reading engages the client in active self-reflection and encourages stretching and enlarging the boundaries of the self.

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7 comments

  1. I always loved your reading because you explain everything about the cards! It makes me really understand and trust the process.
    And your sensitivity and experience are able to make me see what I “should” already know through the cards.
    By the way, if you remember I actually asked you to cut my hair and you really sensibly declined 😉

  2. My sweet girl! So right you are! Love you. And you remember that you were the first one to tell me many years ago that I should pursue this path…when I read your birth chart. Not going to become a professional astrologer but tarot is more than enough to keep me busy and fascinated…
    Thank you for your comment my dear artist soul…

  3. Thank you Shelley… tis good to read a description of the how that I read… I’ve only just really got my head around the language you are using, but I have been reading the Haindl Tarot for over 20 years like this, not predicatively, and wondered at why I never felt like I was delivering to people what they wanted, but perhaps more of what they needed… I always prefaced the read with, “this is an opinion, no greater nor lesser than your own” and deeply reluctant to allow recordings, too many times I had heard of people playing them over and over again…The study I have had of the Tarot where of the cards themselves, the space of the read, the shapes of the spreads I found or created, thus this distinction is new-ish.

    I look forward to staying in touch. Thanks again!

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