Dos and Don’ts for Reading Tarot (or any Divination Practice)
NOTE: My online course, The Art and Magic of the Tarot: Foundations, is available now and is getting rave reviews from students. It includes over 10 hours of video, a detailed workbook, extra PDF material, sample reading videos, and much more.
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Some Dos and Don’ts for Tarot Readers (and other diviners, too)
Unlike many tarot instructors, I spend an entire unit of my course on the ethics of tarot reading, going into great detail about how to give ethical, empowering readings for people that avoid all-too-common and harmful mistakes.
This email can only scratch the surface of this essential but often-ignored topic, but I will share what I consider some of the most important guidelines.
The primary rule — and please take this guidance to heart — is to take every reading seriously.
I’ve been hired to read “for fun” at parties, for example. But even at fun, light-hearted events, you might sit down with a client, put some cards on the table, and hit on very deep and emotionally charged issues in the person’s life.
For example, when I recently read for attendees at an event celebrating an accused witch, Moll Dyer, several women cried openly during their 20-minute readings. In the end, they were very happy and grateful for the empowering messages and insights, but those tears were genuine, unexpected, and cathartic. One said to me, “I didn’t want to talk about my divorce, but I’m glad I did. It really helped.”
The tarot has an uncanny way of finding and zooming in on the troubles or concerns someone is facing — sometimes even bringing up issues they’re trying very hard to ignore. I’ve had this happen many times with strangers who sit for a reading as a lark, or on a dare, without having any belief in divination. A few cards later and they’re visibly shocked. This stuff is real.
So take every reading seriously, even the ones for “fun.”
And now: some quick tips to keep you ethical and helpful, whether you’re reading for friends or paying clients.
Divination Dos and Don’ts
Don’t judge or push your morality or viewpoints.
Do be compassionate, kind, and an attentive, objective listener.
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Don’t give medical, legal, or financial advice — stay in your lane! NEVER do readings about outcomes of pregnancies, to diagnose an illness, or to give financial or legal recommendations.
Do suggest that anyone having difficult psychological, medical, financial, or legal troubles seek appropriate professional help.
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Don’t tell people what to do based on what you see in the cards. This can have seriously bad consequences if they take your advice and something goes wrong!
Do put the power to act and decide in the hands of those you’re reading for. Use language that guides them to making their own decisions. For example, when they ask, “What should I do?” ask them, “What do you think you should do?”
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Don’t do “third-party” readings; i.e., don’t try to get into the heads of anyone other than the person you’re reading for.
Do keep the focus on the person across from you — how they respond to others and situations, and how their actions can affect the situation in question.
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And finally, keep all readings absolutely private! This is a sacred interaction between you and someone who is looking to you for guidance — never gossip or share anything that comes up in a reading.
This only touches on the in-depth discussion you will find in the Ethics module of my Tarot Foundations course. I also have several videos on my YouTube channel that discuss divination and tarot myths, so be sure to subscribe for even more on tarot and the art of magical living.
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, occultism, and more.
His 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.”