Divination Vs. Prediction in Tarot Readings

John William Waterhouse, The Crystal Ball, 1902

Are we clear on the difference? Have you, like me, usually lumped the term “divination” into general notions of fortune-telling?


I just finished in less than 24 hours reading Katrina Wynne’s Transformative Tarot Counseling, and it was full of a-ha moments and lightbulbs going off for me. This approach is more or less exactly where I’d like to take my practice eventually. For now, given that my practice isn’t self-sustaining and that I still work a day job, I’m unable to take the full-time leap into tarot counseling face-to-face. However, ultimately a practice such as described by Katrina in her book, and similar to an experience I had with a reading by James Wells (who, incidentally, is mentioned as one of Katrina’s favorite tarot authors, so it’s no coincidence), is where I feel that my talents and passion for tarot and self-empowerment will eventually lead.

Reading Katrina’s book served to strengthen my conviction that the more truly professional tarot counselors who decide to come forth into the mainstream to serve as guides for their clients on the journey to meaningful opportunities for growth and self-empowerment, the better chance we have for the culture at large to begin to see tarot in a new and more profound light.

One of the biggest take-aways I got from this book is actually quite simple: this was the first time I ever really connected the root of the word “divination” to its true meaning. In her book, Wynne states:

Simply put, by developing our intuitive capacity, we decrease the gap between the limitations of our human ego and our divine nature, or God-like awareness. I think of divination as communication with the Divine, whatever Divine might mean to you, be it an outer deity, deep inner nature, or more.


Why is it that sometimes the simplest things seem to escape us for so long? Perhaps it goes back to the idea that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. I truly believe that certain moments of simple “aha” knowing like this have happened upon me in such profound ways only when I was finally ready to comprehend their meaning and put it to use. But honestly folks—divine and divination. It makes so much sense.

In developing my growing tarot practice, I have avoided predictive readings. I received reassuring support for the fact that I was doing this without having even consciously set out to, in Wynne’s book, as she speaks of setting client and reader boundaries, and feeling comfortable by stating to the client what types of readings you will and will not offer. Many people expect that tarot will tell their future or tell them what to do, or what will happen to them.

As I was evaluating whether or not to take my practice to a professional level, I spent some months doing an intensive number of free readings on Brigit Esselmont’s Biddy Tarot site, and in that context I was approached for many predictive readings or readings to give specific directions. Each time I’d receive a question like “Will my relationship work?” or “Should I quit my job?” I found myself instinctively telling the clients that I don’t use tarot to answer “yes/no” questions but would be happy to work with them to develop a different, open-ended questions spread that could provide them with a wider range of information to then make their own choices about where to direct their energies and hopefully help them clarify what the best choice would be for them. Most clients not only agreed to this after I explained my approach, but many were incredibly intrigued and quite surprised to know that tarot can work this way. Most clients approached the tarot from a “crystal ball” perspective, which I talk about more in this post called The Difference Between Predictive Tarot and Humanistic Tarot. Humanistic tarot was a term I’d come across in a book that until now has best described my approach.

In addition, I have no doubt whatsoever that the reason I come to the tarot with such a perspective of self-determination has much to do with my background and training in social work. I almost completed my Master of Social Work prior to moving back to Rome two years ago. I have yet to finish the degree as I can’t finish my practicum and clinical supervision abroad and so in a sense, the training was “left hanging” and I continually asked myself how I could put it to use. Slowly as I evolve and discover more about how I’m able to help my clients through the tarot, I can see how my skills in social work, which has at its very heart the goal of empowering people, is of great benefit to my clients and my practice.

So again I’m pleased to know that there is a solid base of ethical, caring professionals with decades of valuable experience to guide newer professionals such as myself into practicing what Wynne calls “The High Art of Reading.” Yes. I get that.

Before I end this post I’d like to share a quote from Wynne’s book that for me sums up my whole philosophy on this way of practicing tarot, this way of divination rather than prediction. Let me know what you think!

Relegating the tarot cards to the role of fortune-telling is like using a samurai sword to make a sandwich. —Diane Tolan, Inner Pathways to the Divine



  1. Great and so well written like usual. This week has been frantic for me which is why I could not comment more. Hope things will calm down soon….sending you my best wishes to a probably very hot Rome!!

  2. Such great book recommendations! They’re on the top of my wish list.

    I’m so glad that I’m not alone in my approach to Tarot reading – I don’t ‘predict’ the future, either. I’ve only had one client be supremely disappointed with this, the rest have really enjoyed the process of self-development through Tarot reading.

    Thanks for such a great article!

    • Absolutely! You’re not alone at all. Nothing against predictive reading. It’s just not the type of clientele I want to work with. I want to co-create a vision and choices with my clients, not be viewed as somehow in charge of their destiny.

  3. Buongiorno Shelley,

    Thank you for your kind and enthusiastic reflection on my book, “An Introduction to Transformative Tarot Counseling”. It was a labor of love to write this book for I knew this work would support people like you to be your most wonderful self in serving others.

    Although it is available in paperback or Kindle, you those who are not ready to read the full book I have several pertinent articles on my website and my weblog: http://TarotCounseling.org / http://MySacredJourney.org

    Keep up the great work as you continue to develop your counseling style of reading. I hope our paths cross soon.

    Ciao bella,

    • Thank you Katrina! How apt to describe it as a “labor of love.” The more involved I get in this work as a professional “out of the closet” and able to share the tarot with others, the more convinced I become that this type of work needs more ethical and caring professionals to help bring its power and spiritual dignity to the world. I know our paths will cross!

  4. What a delight to read this article. I, too, make a distinction between divination and fortune-telling. Divination, for me, is a conversation with our Divine Self. Your enthusiasm for this way of being with the tarot is gorgeously infectious. Thank you.

    • And for me, a true delight to read your comment. As synchronicity would have it James, I was going to drop you a line today because just yesterday evening I received the two volumes of EE’s “Conversations Around the Tarot” and the metaphor you shared in your interview about those of us living on the fringes that was so emotionally powerful for you, held the same impact for me. So thank you to you for sharing that. Isn’t the Universe beautiful in how it weaves us all together!! Thank you James for your light and support and for being such a powerful mentor and example in our tarot community.

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