In all the years I’ve been reading tarot, I’ve noticed a distinct theme throughout the past several months that hasn’t come up quite so overtly before:
A lot of people have told me, during our private sessions, that they were relieved to “feel safe” with me. Why? Because they’d had other tarot readings in the past with individuals who made them feel otherwise.
Some of the words they’ve used included judged, shamed, scared, and scammed.
So many of these clients have been different ages, and were dealing with very different types of questions and circumstances.
When people seek out readings, they are often looking for assurance, clarity, or guidance. There is a lot of vulnerability and sensitivity involved, which of course means there has to be a huge amount of trust and respect happening during a session.
Tarot readers are the ones who are responsible for providing a supportive, nurturing environment that can meet their clients where they are at. It bothers me to know that this isn’t always how things go, however.
And I know just how it feels when a reading goes wrong, because I have been in the position where a tarot reader – one who had high praise from others – made me feel completely judged by a situation I had found myself in. I just wanted to know what she saw in the cards.
Instead, she told me about her opinions on my decisions and what she believed was right and wrong. I like working with tarot readers who are objective but compassionate, and who understand that life is complicated. We are all just trying to make sense of what’s in front of us, right?
All of this got me thinking about what more I can do to create a safe space for the people who come to me for tarot readings, and I wanted to know what other tarot readers do in their own practices.
So how can tarot readers create safe spaces for clients? And what can we do to ensure tarot feels accessible and inclusive for everyone?
I opened up the questions to a handful of amazing individuals from the tarot world to find out. I kept it totally open to each individual to define what these terms mean for them. Here’s what they had to say:
Rizz, from Qveen of Swords Tarot:
“This is such an important question. I really feel strongly about this subject. Safe spaces are so necessary and valuable. One of the ways I have managed to do so is by promoting my tarot business as a queer person and a queer business.
“I do this to create a safer space for myself but also to get the knowledge out there to my demographic that I am a safe person, especially if you are a member or an ally of the LGBTQ community.
“I know it’s not always that simple, but I feel like it’s a good place to start. I think other ways to create safe spaces for folks is being mindful around the language you use. I think being genuine, having conversations before someone comes into your space and promoting yourself and your business in a way that is inclusive, transparent and inviting is also valid and creates safety.
“You are entering into a really intimate space with someone when reading cards, being genuine, honest and clear is always a way to allow anxieties to fall and to build a trust within the relationship. I really take time with each person before we start to talk around any fears or questions they may have, I want people to feel valued and heard before we start the process.
“Being transparent and clear around the way you do your business can right off the bat create that sense of inclusiveness. We need to be promoting ourselves in a way that is well rounded, non- judgemental, and accessible.
“By using different outlets, price points, and avenues to do business we can create creative and unique ways of delivering services. It’s our responsibility to conduct ourselves in our business that ultimately lines up with our politics and serves people in a safe and accepting way.”
Rash, from Stay Woke Tarot:
“Just a thought as I type: Even the word ‘inclusiveness’ gives me the willies as it has the connotation that the person isn’t included from the jump. In addition, it signals that my world is the center and I’m trying to include them in it instead of their world being the center and I’m entering it, with their permission, as an aide.
“I truly believe there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer for this type of question, so I’ll just share what works for me. I think one issue readers have is that we put ourselves – and only ourselves – in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating a safe space. This may work when both the reader and the querent have the same experiences and background. But if they don’t, this approach could possibly backfire and create a sense of non-inclusiveness.
“What I try to do during my readings is to ‘follow the client,’ something I learned from Katrina Wynne when I took her Professional Tarot Consulting course. This involves making the client an active participant in a reading by, for example, asking what the cards in the spread mean to them and not immediately spouting off a rote explanation of the cards. This could mean simply pointing to a card in the spread and asking, ‘What do you see?’ then giving them space to respond.
“For me, inclusiveness means being heard. If we readers work in partnership with our clients in creating a safe space, then the clients will be heard. And not just feel included, but be included.”
J. Ryan of Queer Street Tarot:
“Readers first and foremost should avoid pre-judging their clients. What this means is that when someone sits at the table with them, they need to push back at any misconceptions or negative energy they are encountering.
“A lot of times in online groups you see people talk a lot about ‘negative energy, they just had so much negative energy that it made me sick. I got weird vibes from them and my stomach cramped up.’ To me, that’s placing a lot of anxiety, namely performance anxiety, on the part of the reader and not a darn thing to do with the client.
“I think if we as readers start excluding clients based on something so insubstantial, it’s time to retire from reading. I feel that readers should be open to all walks of life. No one is asking to convert. They are coming to you for help, guidance, and hell, maybe just for some fun. Who are we to knock anything they bring us?
“…I don’t pretend to be anything but human and if they’re embarrassed by something, say kink, for example, I have happily let them know my experiences and that it’s nothing to worry about or feel shame about. Don’t be afraid to be real, to be human, to truly connect.
“Stepping away from the client for a moment, what does your environment look like? For me, a clean and neat space is crucial, and I try to have adequate lighting. A fan or window nearby is good in case the room is stuffy. I avoid scents and smoke in case of sinus issues as I don’t want to make anyone sneeze themselves into the hereafter while at my table.
“I will have lists of places they can call or go to if they need help, and I tell everyone that I treat my clientele as if they have signed a HIPPA contract and I don’t disclose anything, unless it’s something life threatening like a mandated reporter…
“We can also make sure that we have multiple decks on hand. Some clients want more diversity, some want more ambiguity, but everyone wants a deck they can see themselves in, in some way. If we limit our selection we limit the reception.”
Ashley Oppon, Dreadlock Tarot:
“Hollywood has done tarot readers such a disservice. If I’m doing an outside fair, the number of people who come up to me saying, ‘I’m scared’ is amazing. So to calm their fears, I tell my clients to look at tarot as a tool to help you live your life better, with a better understanding of the issues you may be facing. I ask them to look at me as a counselor, not just some super spiritual mystic who is above them.
“As a counselor, it is never my position to judge them, only to look at the facts, and explain what cards have to say about the matter. Also, I make it a point to always leave the clients on a positive note. Not every reading is positive, but I believe in leaving all my clients empowered to go and handle things the way that works best for them.”
Mary Grisey, House of Intuition:
“I always start the reading off with letting the client know that whatever they say is completely confidential and make sure to not push them if they don’t feel like talking first. I like to create a beautiful atmosphere that aesthetically looks pleasing (candles, stones, lighting, incense for smell….) and a box of tissues in case the client gets emotional. If they get emotional I hold space for them in a way where they are free to express whatever is going on without judgment or bias.” (Photo of Mary by Arden Wray.)
Maranda Elizabeth, marandaelizabeth.com:
“It’s important for tarot readers to be open and vulnerable about their backgrounds and politics, and not pretend to have a perfectly polished life and practice. And I think it’s important for tarot readers to ask themselves why they are attempting to create safer, more accessible spaces.
“For example, is your motivation genuine and sincere, or are you feeling pressured or obligated? Have you had personal experiences with inaccessibility, with oppression, with trauma? Who do you really want to read for? Why do you want to read? Do you want to help people, or do you want to get rich?
“What are your own feelings around safety, vulnerability, money / poverty, and accessibility? What is your class background and job/career history, especially compared to those who you’re reading (or hoping to read) for? Do you have a pay-what-you-can sliding-scale, and do you know what it’s like not to be able to pay the lowest suggestion?
“I don’t believe in any truly safe space – I believe in trying to make spaces as safe as possible, and as accessible as possible, but I don’t think 100% accessibility or safety exists. But it’s our political and emotional responsibility to continue trying to create those spaces and moments when and where we can anyway.
“I don’t use the word ‘client.’ It sounds too formal to me, and my practice isn’t a business and will never pay rent or bills. Most of the people I’m reading for – cripple queers, misfits, mad folks, people on social assistance, etc. – are not likely to have the kind of cash that most tarot readers charge their clients, and although I can’t often read for free because I need to stay alive and access food and health care, too, I try to keep my readings as affordable as possible because I know what it’s like to get left out and left behind again and again due to not being able to afford Fun Things.
“I think a lot about how best to have an anti-capitalist practice while still needing money to stay alive, and I think a lot about how to live and make magic against the more profit-driven, commodification, and uncomfy-trendiness of witchcraft, spirituality, and tarot. There is a cynical side of me who doesn’t keep up with all the witchy stuff happening around me anymore because images of the moon or of tarot cards have been used too many times to market products at me, which left me feeling quite disconnected for some time. When witchcraft feels too branded, that is an accessibility issue to me, and I keep my distance, keep my critical-thinking glasses on.
“Basically, accessibility and safety are not always things we can ‘do’ but moreso things we need to continually be asking ourselves and our pals questions about, including complicated questions around the language and words we use to describe both accessibility and spirituality. To work (and dream) toward becoming accessible physically, financially, and emotionally, one of the most basic requirements is honesty. If you’re not fully invested in becoming accessible, just say so. If there are ways in which you cannot meet disabled, queer, mad weirdos where we’re at, just say so.
“I often talk about making spaces and information accessible in three key ways: physically, financially, and emotionally.
“Physically, I’m addressing basic accessibility (to reiterate: just basic accessibility, not even disability justice) in the form of ramps into buildings and homes, comfortable seats for those who need to sit, scent-free spaces for those of us with multiple chemical sensitivities and allergies, etc. How big is your space, how well-lit, are you a good listener, etc? If I take out a bottle of meds, are you gonna invalidate me by suggesting chamomile instead? Can a wheelchair-user enter your space and reach everything on the shelves? Will you be burning incense, herbs, or candles?
“Ableism is everywhere, and ableism is especially rampant in spiritual communities where many practitioners, whether or not they are aware or doing it intentionally, often create inaccessible and judgemental spaces, and use positive-thinking rhetoric and the like to invalidate disabled people, mad folks, poor people, and others who are struggling with their so-called health, or whose bodies do not conform to white supremacist, capitalist and ableist norms and expectations. For me, these are some of the things that fall under emotional accessibility.
“I’ve talked to spiritual practitioners who’ve blamed me for my illnesses, and tarot readers who’ve confessed to me that they sometimes pretend to be disabled to get special treatment while, for example, traveling. I also grew up around adults who were into New Age spirituality type stuff but were abusive and neglectful to their children, and use(d) slogans like, ‘everything happens for a reason’ to invalidate us and our pain, or who smudged rooms after fighting with us in a way that made us feel like they wanted us and our energy to disappear.
“Despite / because of my interest in witchcraft, the occult, spirituality, etc., it’s impossible not to be reminded of them, and even to have particular painful associations with abusive and neglectful people through specific practices, books, crystals, mantras, etc. Again, it’s important for practitioners to ask themselves who they’re reading for and why – and to be honest if somebody has questions that they cannot answer, or experiences they cannot relate to.
“And I wish more spiritual practitioners, witches, and tarot readers understood that for many of us, myself included, disability and madness are not something we want to have eradicated or cured. This idea that something is wrong if we are sick is inherently ableist, and all too common. I’m thinking now of a man I encountered at a psychic fair (and I do not talk to men at psychic fairs!) who saw me walking with my cane, and shouted from behind his table, ‘You’re so young! Why are you using a cane? I can heal you!’ It was so upsetting and ableist, but not surprising at all. I need all spiritual practitioners to be able to imagine disability and madness and desirable and magical.
“Although I addressed it with the first question, I’ll elaborate a bit more on financial accessibility. This is a tricky one because unfortunately, in the capitalist culture we’re (barely) surviving, accessibility costs money. Organizers and business-owners often charge more money to hold events in accessible locations, and the cost of an ASL interpreter for a few hours is my entire monthly income after paying rent.
“Ideally, accessibility would be free. Ideally, people with more money than disabled folks would cover accessibility costs and gift crips and mad folks with access to things we cannot afford otherwise (for example, sometimes friends with more money than me will contribute toward access for a writing workshop I want to attend, which is such an excellent way to balance the scales, so to speak). But this is usually not how it is.
“I’ve heard tarot readers (yes, even the queerdos who claim to be accessible) say things like, ‘Yes, my readings cost a lot of money, but if you really want a reading and value my time and wisdom, you’ll save up.’ Save up what? Even if I could save up for them, the very fact of their entitlement and inability to understand what it’s like to live as poor, disabled, and mad has let me know that they have nothing left to share with me. Maybe they’re an excellent reader, but they’re not for me. Maybe they’re worth hundreds of dollars, but not for me.
“Money seems to be difficult for most people to talk about, and I wish this weren’t so. One of the reasons I’m so noisy about being on social assistance (I’ve been on disability for over a decade, was on welfare for a short time before that, and grew up in low-income housing in a family who’s been poor for generations) is because it’s difficult and scary, and I want to create a bit more space for others to talk about it, or even to imagine the possibility.
“I’m all for reclaiming some of the worst aspects of being disabled and crazy (without romanticizing it except for at times when romanticizing becomes a useful coping mechanism), so I’m not gonna quit talking about poverty any time soon. The thing is, because I’m on social assistance, I know that many witches, tarot readers, and other spiritual practitioners are just not the best people for me to talk to, to have a reading with.
“I’ve had readings that maybe had little tidbits of wisdom, but their lack of knowledge of poverty, of mad pride and disability cultures, etc., just got in the way of finding much meaning in their words. It’s disappointing when this happens, but it’s also why I try to offer what I can so others maybe hopefully don’t have to deal with as much ableist shit, and can imagine something almost like belonging.”
Clementine Morrigan, clementinemorrigan.com
“My tarot practice centres experiences of trauma, madness, disability, and queerness.
“Frequently, capitalism comes up when I read cards. It’s really important for me to acknowledge and talk about systemic oppression when reading for people. It’s important to name the way that our own stories are bound up with systems so much bigger than us.
“As we grapple with our personal growth and the changes in our own lives it’s important to name the violences which we come up against in our day to day life. My tarot practice affirms our transformative and healing powers and seeks out our strengths, while simultaneously acknowledging the reality of power.
“I’ve heard from people about things other readers have said to them which invalidate their very real struggles and suggest that positive thinking is the answer to all. This really upsets me and I’m grateful for readers who create space to hold the complexity of people’s lives.”
(Responses have been edited for length. If you are a tarot reader who would like to contribute to this conversation, let me know so that this conversation can keep growing: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Until next time,