I was hanging out recently with a cute 30-ish couple who had just adopted a dog. The puppy was still at the vet getting neutered, so they had been busy getting their apartment ready for his arrival—buying a crate, toys, food.
Natalie, the young woman, had recently acquired a tarot deck (not sure which deck, but it was a typical Smith-Waite clone). Since she knew about my love of the cards and my online course, she asked if I would do a reading.
“Sure,” I said. “Do you have question?”
“Give me a reading for my dog,” she said. “What I should know about my dog?”
I smiled and she handed me the deck. I shuffled, then asked her to cut the deck into three piles. “Put the three piles back together any way you like.” She reassembled the deck and I took it back.
I laid out three cards. From left to right they were The Magician, the Ten of Wands, and the Two of Cups.
I scanned the cards, then smiled.
“Teach him some tricks, he’ll like that. But he’s going to be a lot of work. And it will bring the two of you—you and your boyfriend—together. Taking care of him will make you closer than ever and bring a lot of love to your relationship.”
She stared, waiting for more, but I just smiled. “That’s it?” she asked.
She seemed confused. She picked up the small booklet that came with her deck and started flipping through the pages. Then she looked at me again. “I thought a reading had to be longer.” She started reading the entry in the booklet for the Magician—energy, manifestation, the spiritual and material, as above so below yada yada. “Like that.”
“Did the reading make sense to you?” I asked.
“Then that’s all that matters.”
There’s nothing wrong with a quick three-card reading or a short, succinct message. In fact, when I’m reading at parties, with a long line of people waiting their turn, a quick three cards is ideal. Nor does that mean the reading is inconsequential, meaningless, or trivial—I’ve had people become deeply moved, and even cry, from these brief readings.
There’s a strange myth that tarot readings have to be lengthy and complex, with fancy layouts. It probably goes back to the decades-long dominance of the Celtic Cross spread, which I never use and don’t teach. There’s nothing wrong with lengthy readings or complex spreads with a bunch of cards on the table, especially for paying clients. But the prejudice against short, snappy readings—like the reading for the dog above—harms new readers and students in particular.
Sometimes the message is clear. “Teach your dog some tricks, it will be a lot of work, and it will bring the both of you closer.” Bang. No need to pore over esoteric details in the cards. No need to add layer upon layer of interpretation. No need to get “deep.”
Sometimes the tarot just gives it to you straight, no chaser, no fluff. Resist the desire to want more and overcomplicate a clear message. Ask and ye shall receive—boom, boom, boom.
I can’t wait to meet the little furry guy to see what he thinks.
Michael M. Hughes is a writer, speaker, and magical thinker. He is the author of Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction, and he speaks and teaches classes on magic, tarot, psychedelics, and more.
Michael’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe,CNN, The L.A. Times, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, Wired, Elle, Vox, Cosmopolitan,and even the ultraconservative The American Spectator, which wrote: “He may play footsie with the devil, but at least the man has a sense of humor.”