January 25, 2016

Left-hand Tarot #6: That's not Tarot!

Download the MP3 file for this week's episode
Daily Tarot Discussions on Google+
Order a Tarot reading

Scroll down to read the notes for this week's episode.


January 16, 2016

Left-hand Tarot #5: Taking Care of Business

... in which I discuss the attention spans of monkeys; people who can't read without using a little white book;  how to stalk your competition; being on social media; basics of selling online; the importance of being good at what you do; the value of customer service; completing work in a timely manner; the grave necessity of positive reviews; having the last word; dealing with negative reviews; giving refunds; how to write good ad copy; how to write search ads; the role of grammar and punctuation in communicating your services; taking your work seriously; promoting yourself on social media; using the lesser magic of good manners to attract clients; knowing when to change your strategy; setting and enforcing professional boundaries; firing your clients; managing your expectations; respecting your limits; and an unscripted discussion about selling Tarot in person.
Download the MP3 file for this week's episode
Daily Tarot Discussions on Google+
Order a Tarot reading

Scroll down to read the notes for this week's episode.

If you've got the attention span of a monkey,
then chances are Tarot is a the wrong hobby for you.
Photo by Frederic de Courcy.
Let's start this week's episode of Left-hand Tarot with an article I picked up from Fiona at Modern Fortune Teller intended to help Tarot readers with short attention spans. This little rant doesn't have a whole lot to do with this week's theme about taking care of business (and working overtime), but me being who I am, I just can't resist a satisfying rant.

Now, shame on me for being a grump, but if you've got a short attention span, then reading Tarot probably isn't a good hobby for you to take up. What'd I'd also add in my grumpiness about this article is that the tips offered by the author don't really have anything to do with having a short attention span, so much as they discuss how to do Tarot when you're strapped for time, in a hurry to get started learning the cards, or feeling like the learning strategy at your disposal isn't accessible. Again, nothing to do with having a short attention span, just advice on how to make the learning process more approachable.

One of the tips she offers is to use the little white book that came with your deck. And while this is certainly one way to do it, and gets you in the game very quickly, it's a crutch that I've seen Tarot readers keep long after they should have discarded it. No, this doesn't mean that I've met Tarot readers who are still using their little white books four years after getting their first deck, but it does mean that their crutch went from being a little white book that fits in the palm to being a big black book that sits on a shelf.

One memorable experience I had was with another man who told me that he reads Tarot cards. Out of good will, and to get some feedback on my reading style, I gave him two readings. Before giving the second reading, I said we should do a trade to keep things even. He agreed wholeheartedly, and when I asked him to give me a Celtic cross reading - since he said that's the only arrangement he uses because "it just works" - he shuffled the deck, laid down the cards, and said, "There you go." You can imagine my surprise when I asked him to actually read the cards for me - like I actually read his cards for him - and he said that he didn't read cards without the use of a reference book that he keeps at home. Well, fooled me there: I didn't realize that when he said he reads Tarot cards he actually meant that he reads books. 

Listen, folks: Satan demands study, not worship. If you think the Tarot is cool and interesting but you can't read the cards without repeating lines out of a book, then you're not studying the Tarot: you're worshiping the Tarot. There's a time and place for little white books (and even big black books), but the actual performance of a Tarot reading in front of paying clients is neither the time nor the place. Yes, use all available resources to learn and improve your Tarot practice, but at some point you have to separate yourself from the materials, internalize what you've learned, and become capable of using that knowledge to produce a unique, spontaneous message. If you can't do that, then you're not reading Tarot - you're just reading a book - and you'll never take care of business until you discard that crutch.

Whether you're a fat cat in a fine waistcoat, or a skinny kitty done up for show, you need to market yourself. Whether this marketing is active or passive is up to you, but you have to market yourself.
Photo by .J.J. Grandville.
In the theme of taking care of business, there was an article in my newsfeed this week from Theresa at The Tarot Lady in which she tackles four myths about what it takes to succeed as an online Tarot reader. Kudos to her for sparking a conversation on this week's episode, but if you believe everything she says then I've got a bridge to sell you. Let's talk about the things she says point by point.

Stalk your competition!

Theresa says this is a bad idea because it's wasting your time worrying about other people. In principle, I agree with her - the time you spend on somebody else is time you're not spending on yourself - but looking at the strategies they're using and trying to see how you can use them for yourself is an absolutely solid strategy.

Now, the important thing to remember is this: don't copy, okay? I'm not talking about copying content or cloning their websites - that's theft and if you get caught, the price you pay will be steep. No, what I'm talking about taking their strategies and applying them to your own practice. Just like novices study the techniques of the masters, so too can you study what works for other professionals in your industry and apply it to your own business.

Don't think of it as making a copy, but taking inspiration! Take what other people are doing and innovate to your heart's content until you've made their strategy your own, in a way that meshes with who you are as a business person, and syncs with your clients. After all: you probably learned Tarot from studying what others were doing, so why not also learn how to run your business the same way?

You need to be on social media or you won't have a business!

Now, this is an interesting example she provides and the reason why is the proof she cited. Her proof? A friend who says that she isn't present on any social media networks yet continues to thrive. Yeah, that's not an accurate picture that most of us can apply to ourselves.

If you click through to the link to learn about the lady in question, you'll find somebody who's had several books published by major publishing houses. You'll find a lady who's had her writing published on Time, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Newsweek and Lifehacker. You'll also find a lady whose website in question does not offer Tarot readings, which is awfully strange since she's used as an example of why Tarot readers can succeed without using social media.

The most important thing to recognize here is this lady's level of stratification and diversification. Speaking of diversity, she's not a professional Tarot reader in the sense that such a job is her only profession: she's also got revenue coming from non-Tarot books. And as for stratification? Well, it's important to remember that for most of us Tarot professionals, we don't use social media for hanging out with our friends: it's actually a method of advertising. This woman doesn't have to use social media to advertise because all her advertising is being done for her in other spheres of her life.

And, don't forget about her mailing list and other classes she teaches. She may not be on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, or Twitter, but she's definitely using the power of the Internet to connect with her audience. She is most certainly advertising, she's just not using social media platforms to do it.

Chances are, you're not a multi-published author with exposure on major online media outlets, and you're going to have to do  your own advertising. Chances are, social media is the cheapest way for you to do that. So if you thought you didn't need social media, chances are, you're wrong.

But for all the gripe I'm making, I agree with Theresa on at least two counts: you don't need a team of virtual assistants, and you don't need to give any free work or mini-readings to prove your worth.

If you fall for the trap of thinking that you need a team of virtual assistants, then I promise you'll only surround yourself with a team of people who have a different vision than yours. I promise you this will lead to conflict later down the road, as well as more than a few miscommunications. If you've got so many readings to do that you can't keep up with the rest of your work, then guess what? It's time to raise your prices.

And, for the most part, there's very little you can do to impress your clients more, and very lot you can do to impress your clients less. If they're browsing your website, or have sent you a message to ask about your services in more detail, that means only one thing: They're ready to buy. If you can't close the sale, then it's because you presented other objections to the close and you only have yourself to blame.
The 7 Secrets of Selling Online
It's time you learned how to swim.
Come on in, the water's fine.
Image by Jules Trousset.
  1. BE AWESOME: Deliver a great product. Your clients want pure awesome-sauce when they get a reading, and if you're not giving that, they'll go somewhere else. There's plenty of room for mediocre sellers on the Internet, but if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to be really good at what you do. If you're not really good at what you do, then you really need to get better.
  2. BE VERY NICE: Customer service. It sounds silly, but you have to make your customers believe that they're the most important people in the entire world. Communicate quickly and be charming - you have to make them feel special and important, because the truth is, they are: your livelihood depends on positive reviews and repeat customers. And while those of us with a Satanic perspective may have a darker view on how to handle customers with bad manners, it's important to understand that the bulk of your business will come from repeat clients. It's easier to make a repeat sale to an existing client than it is to make a new sale to a new client. If you don't use your lesser magic to charm your clients into coming back again and again, you're wasting your time. 
  3. FAST DELIVERY: All your customers will want to be priority #1. Obviously, you can't do that, so you need to have a system in place to provide some wiggle room for when you're sick or just having a really bad day. I deliver my readings as MP3 audio recordings and deliver them within a window of 24 hours. It's not the best delivery method - I would rather be doing live telephone or web chat readings - but with a 3-y/o daughter who's not yet in full-day school, it's not possible for me to make this time for live work. Because of that, I chose this method of delivery because it allows me to do my work, on my terms, on my schedule, in a way that works for me. You should evaluate who you are and how you work so that you can maintain a fast delivery time for your clients.
  4. POSITIVE REVIEWS ARE GOLD: Good reviews build confidence and make customers more likely to buy. Do everything possible to take care of your customers and earn their 100% positive reviews, and don't start buying or creating fake reviews. If your work's not outstanding, customers will see through the fake reviews and figure out that you're padding your own gigs.
  5. LAST WORD: Assuming that you're selling via a second party platform such as Etsy, Fiverr, Oranum, Kasamba, Bitwine, or Keen, then you're going to be collecting reviews from your clients. You won't have a choice in the matter: the customer's ability to rate your services is a built-in feature. And, depending on the service you use, you'll be able to leave unique feedback to every review. If so, don't neglect this part of your seller profile because your buyers will always read your reviews before they buy anything from you. This is your first chance to show them how you interact with your customers, and more importantly, how you'll interact with them.
  6. EVEN NEGATIVE REVIEWS ARE GOOD: Okay, well, negative reviews aren't good. You should do everything your ability to provide a totally awesome product and earn every gold star you can. But even if you get a review of less than five stars, you can make that work for you. Now, I'm not telling you to lie - telling fibs is bad, m'kay? - so this doesn't mean offer crap service and you'll come out looking fine. Because you won't: more than a few bad reviews, no matter how you handle them, and you'll find your sales dwindling. But, assuming that you've done everything in your power to be an awesome seller and your client just wasn't willing to give you a chance to make it right and left you a bad review, here's how to handle it: be nice, and be honest, but don't be a jerk. Bad reviews can work for you because although every client who visits your gigs will read the reviews, every client will specifically look for the bad reviews. This means that you're given an opportunity in your bad reviews to leave a message that EVERY new client will see. For example, a client recently left me a three-star review that took me down from 5.0 to 4.9. Not a big deal, but still - I'd rather have a perfect record. But that review was an opportunity for me to say, "Naturally I'm disappointed that I couldn't earn your five-star review. You ordered 5 minutes but I actually gave you 8 minutes to provide all the details I found in your short reading. Again, I'm sorry the answer wasn't what you were hoping for but I did my very best to work with the cards I pulled." See what I did there? I didn't attack the seller, I just explained how I over-delivered (more time than was ordered) and I showed my dedication to my client, regardless of how small a purchase she made. If you handle bad reviews correctly, you can make them work for you. But don't lie about things you didn't do, and don't be a jerk even if the customer deserves it: other customers will see this review and will be immediately put off by your aggressive attitude.
  7. MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE: It's easy to think that your clients are impulsive people with money to burn, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that your customers can be taken for granted. They don't want to risk money on a bad experience, and that's the challenge you have to overcome with every new customer you meet. I promise my customers that I'll respect their money and if I can't make their order right, then I'll give them a refund. If you're making your sales directly without a second party, then you can choose if you'll offer a refund. If not, I encourage you to have some kind of satisfaction-guarantee because maintaining your existing clients is the key to long-term success. Also, depending on your selling platform, a mutual cancellation is a lot better than a negative review. If a money-back guarantee makes you nervous, just remember that in any commercial setting there's always going to some amount of shrink from shoplifting, returns, damaged products, and so on. As it happens, I lose less than 1% of my sales to refunds, but I think that as long as you're not losing more than 5% of your business in refunds, then that's still quite good.
The 6 Secrets to Writing Ad Copy
So you say you can read Tarot cards; but you can write ad copy?
You'd better learn how.
Image by Lewis Carroll.
  1. WRITE A GREAT TITLE: One of the best tools you can use to improve your chances of getting noticed and making sales is meta-analysis, and what this means is doing an analysis of multiple analyses. For example, look at other sellers in the industry or on the same website where you list your services to see who has a lot of success. How are those sellers' titles written? Look at the keywords in the title and think about why they're there. Then, do the same for another successful seller in your industry or on your website. And another, and so on, until you start to see patterns emerge. If you want to do this the easy way, you can use an online word-cloud generator to aggregate all the titles of big sellers in your category. You will see patterns emerge. There is a reason certain words are chosen.
  2. WRITE A GREAT DESCRIPTION: Now do the same for the description of your services that you did for the title. What words appear most frequently among a dozen or more successful sellers? These sellers aren't working together, but a meta-analysis will show that they all have some things in common. There's a reason for this. And don't just steal another seller's ad copy, because that's theft. A DMCA take-down notice will not only get your listing taken down, but can potentially also get it removed from Google's search index, and you really don't want that to happen.
  3. PARAGRAPHS & BULLETS: This is simple: People like lists, and there's a reason good writers and successful sellers create small blocks of text that focus on one thing at a time.
  4. GRAMMAR, SPELLING & PUNCTUATION: Remember the importance of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all those other goodies that create a professional appearance. Your buyers may not be grammar nerds, but they know poorly written ad copy when they see it. 
  5. START ON THE RIGHT FOOT: When you decide to take the leap and start promoting and selling your services to strangers in the greater Tarot marketplace, you need to make a good first impression. It's really tempting to put out the proverbial shingle and see who knocks on your door, but speaking from my own experience I can tell you that this does nothing except instantly inform potential clients that you're an amatuer. Like it or not, developing confidence in your clients is a really big part of what you do, and half-way measures to promote yourself utterly scream a lack of confidence and professionalism. When you decide to start selling as a professional, you need to get your entire package of branded media and promotional content ready for launch all at the same time. If you're using a second party platform to process your sales, make sure you write all your ad copy, select all the preview photos, create your display banner, record an introductory video on YouTube, write a couple PDF files to display samples of your work, pick your key-words and meta-tags, and settle on your extra up-sell items ahead of time so that you'll hit the ground running. You only get one chance to make a first impression: don't waste it because you chose to not be prepared.
  6. CHANGE IS GOOD. To coin a phrase, "the work will teach you how to do it." If you're not getting any orders, chances are good the reason is because there's something to do with your ad copy and other promotional material. Play around with the title of your listings, change your video previews, re-write the description. Whatever you do, just pay attention to what works and do more of the same. My experience has been that when I fix something that's not working, I'll see a difference within a day or two - and that's quite fast. If you're not getting strong results, don't sit around and wait for it to get better on its own: change it today and you'll get the reward tomorrow.
The 5 Secrets of Self Promotion
Get good at navigating online social interactions,
and people will buy anything you want to sell including your shadow.
Photo by Edouard Charton.
  1. PROMOTE YOURSELF: If you're a writer, start a blog and use it to promote yourself. If you don't like to write and enjoy speaking, start a podcast. Or if you enjoy video, do regular Google Hangouts and make use of your YouTube channel. Focus on having fun, being personable, and creating or sharing fun content. If you're only using these platforms to sell, you'll get ignored really fast. The key is to understand who you are from your customer's perspective.
  2. SOCIAL MEDIA: The customers that come to me from outside my sales platform are the result of social interactions on my platform of choice: Google+. This doesn't mean it's better or worse than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., it's just my preference. But the point is, the customers I met there never actually saw an ad or heard a sales pitch because I used social networking for just that: to be social and friendly. Trust me: people will want to know who you are, and they will troll your profile to learn more. If you fill out your profile information with links to your pitch page, traffic will follow.
  3. IT'S STILL THE INTERNET: On the subject of social marketing, it's worth saying that you need to grow a thick skin. People will say stuff that you don't like and don't agree with. Deal with it.
  4. MISOGYNY DOESN'T SELL. Listen up, men: objectifying women is an expensive mistake. This is especially important for Tarot readers because - like it or not - the bulk of your clients will be women. Be aware that female customers are voting with their dollars and taking their business to sellers who respect a woman for more than her physical appearance.
  5. NO FREE WORK. I refuse to do free work. It's really easy in an online, social setting to think that giving out five minutes of your time here and there is a good way to build a client base, but I promise you you're not building anything: you're just volunteering your time to people who probably had no intention of paying anything for your services in the first place. I don't care if my customer wants a one-card pull as some sort of psychic test, I'm not doing it because I'm the seller and I set the terms of engagement. If this customer is going to bully me for free content without a purchase, I can be sure the customer is going to bully me for free content after the purchase, and that's a relationship I don't want. When somebody asks for free work, I refer them to my listing that has PDF files demonstrating the work I do. If they can't make a decision based on that information, then there's nothing else I can do to help them.
The 4 Secrets Behind the Scenes
Your audience may think you've done a good show on the stage,
but it counts for nothing if you're a mess behind the curtain.
Photo by J. Godwin.
  1. RETURN TO SENDER. Buyers won't think twice about sending you follow-up questions and asking for more work than was originally offered. So it follows that you shouldn't think twice about asking your buyer as many times as needed to clarify what he or she wants. I deliver a better reading based on the more information the buyer provides. When clients buy a reading from me, I've set up my sales platform to require customers to submit specific requests. Most do, but some don't, and in these situations I send the instructions back to my customers for more information. Practically speaking, this results in a better product and a happier customer, and those are both good for me.
  2. TAKE BACK. Once upon a time in my life, I sold cars in Jacksonville, North Carolina. One of the tools I learned as a salesperson is the "take back," and that's when you tell the customer you don't want to sell to him or her anymore. The reason to use the take-back is when the customer is beating you up on price or keeps asking for extras and additional services that aren't included in the original sale. Same thing online, when you get a client who wants to haggle you down to bottom dollar and then keeps asking for immediate delivery and extra services outside of what they're willing to pay, you use the take-back: request a mutual cancellation and send a message along the lines of, "It breaks my heart, Mr. Smith, but I'm refunding your order. You don't seem certain about what you want, and twice you've asked for work beyond what we agreed. For these reasons I think it would be best if you found another seller to complete your order." At this point, one of two things will happen: Either your buyer will accept the cancellation and go away, or the buyer will give up being problematic and get with the program. Nothing hurts a buyer more than saying "I don't want your money," so if you're going to use the take-back, be sure it's for a good reason.
  3. BIG PAYCHECKS? How much do you want to earn doing online work? How much will you earn doing online work? These things aren't the same. If you're frustrated, remember that the competition is probably pushing prices down and customer expectations up, so adjust accordingly. Most Tarot readers do online work as a part-time, freelance lifestyle, not a full-time job. Even though reading Tarot online (and in person at my store) is my full-time job, it wasn't always this way, and it's taken a lot of effort to develop my client base. Remember, too, that customers are willing to pay higher prices for sellers with higher reviews. Build a strong portfolio of positive reviews and your ability to charge higher prices will rise accordingly.
  4. GO TO BED, SLEEPY HEAD. Customers love getting their readings really fast, and I know I've been in the position where I check my email one last time before I go to bed just to find a couple orders in my mailbox. Which is great - I love getting orders - but I learned from personal experience that the only thing customers love more than getting their readings fast is getting a good reading, period. If you're tired and up past your bedtime, the quality of your work is going to suffer. Unless your customer is a jerk (and there's nothing you can do to fix that except fire the customer), he or she will understand that you had to go to sleep so you could finish their work while you're alert and refreshed. If you deliver bad work in the name of fast delivery, you're going to lose a potential return customer and might even get a bad review on the order. Respect your limits and remember that there's a time to work, and then, there's a time to sleep.

January 10, 2016

Left-hand Tarot #4: Questions & Answers

... in which I discuss: the best questions to get the best results in a Tarot reading; the difference between closed- and open-ended questions; blind spots; New Year's predictions (and the lack thereof); which cards can describe New Year; why I celebrate New Year in March; the problems with the Celtic cross arrangement and why I don't use it; the myth that you can't become a Tarot reader unless somebody gave you your first Tarot deck as a gift; my friend Kit who did in fact give me my first Tarot deck as a gift; lines of authority and lineaged Tarot readers; white-light Tarot readers; and a discussion about why I decided that I needed to start a left-hand Tarot blog.
Download the MP3 file for this week's episode.
Daily Tarot Discussions on Google+
Order a Tarot reading

Scroll down to read the full notes for this week's episode.

To start our episode, let's talk about questions, and about asking the right questions. I ran across an image on my Google+ stream that originated with a website that's not operating anymore - I guess the owner didn't predict that happening, eh? - but it was still worth resharing and talking about because it directs the reader's attention to the question of, well, questions. Some of the questions on the list are just stupid, such as "How is fortune smiling on me?" The question is asked in such a way that only a positive answer should be provided in return, but as big as the world is, chances are excellent that Fortune - if such a thing even exists - doesn't do a lot of smiling. 

Or the question, "How can I know that there is meaning in my life?"  Listen here, boys and girls: if you want your life to have meaning, then you have to create that meaning yourself. Plenty of people will disagree with me, but I don't think that life has any grand meaning at all. It's a beautiful, frightening, dangerous, and merciless world in which we live, and meaning is an artificial construct that we give ourselves to make our limited amount of time on this planet more engaging. I don't think my life has any particular meaning. My life has direction, and there are goals that I pursue to further mine and my family's happiness and security, but meaning? No. If you want to discover the meaning of life, then I recommend you watch The Life of Brian. Or go read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So I hear it, the ultimate answer to everything is 42. But what's the ultimate question?

Where was I? Right, questions. In my job as a Tarot reader, one of the things that I have to teach my clients is the value of asking questions. And not just any question, but the right question. Granted, people will ask their own questions for their own reasons, but different questions will produce different kinds of answers. Low quality answers are typically produced by answers that begin with "Should I...," "Will he...," "Yes or no...," and so on. I do my best to answer these questions as I see fit and expand on them where I can, but when clients contact me before an order to ask, well, what to ask? 

I remind them of the importance of asking open ended questions. For example, there's a big difference between, "What did you eat for lunch?," and "Tell me about a memorable dining experience?" Likewise, there's a difference between, "Will he marry me?," and "What do I need to know about my relationship with John Doe in 2016?" I think you'll agree with me that one of the two questions will produce answers that are far more interesting and relevant than the other.

It's also worth remembering to ask about what you're not seeing. We all have blind spots, but not as many people as you'd think are aware not just that they have a blind spot, but of what's in that blind spot. The challenge, of course, is that when you learn about your blind spot you don't discard the message. Isn't that the point of fortune telling? To hear things you didn't know and, thus, didn't expect? Time will tell if the prediction was accurate, but then, as long as the message got you moving and prompted you to become more aware and responsible for your own actions, then wasn't it still worthwhile? 

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon?
The answer is no. If somebody wronged you, don't let them do it again.
Over at Biddy Tarot, the host shared an article related to expanding your Tarot vocabulary, and in this case, identifying cards that would indicate a New Year. This sort of thing has come up before, and I think it's a good exercise for looking outside our individual boxes. I also think it's a good exercise because it shows you the relative strengths and weaknesses of your reading style. 

For example, in this post where readers are asked to identify cards which go along with a New Year message, I think it's largely a matter of interpretation and perspective. Which is fine if that's how you read your cards, but me being who I am, I get irritated when somebody tells me that the exact same card can mean two things that are opposites. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for mental gymnastics, but when your method of reading the cards is to just look at the pictures and let your imagination run wild, you may as well be swimming naked in a pool of Jello salad.

If you want your Tarot to answer questions in a way that goes beyond your personal knowledge and experience, then you need a framework that forces you out of your comfort zone. And again, don't get me wrong: if Tarot is just a creative thought process for you, then that's fine. Run wild with your bad self. But if you're an "intuitive," then why do you need a deck of Tarot cards at all? If you're really so "intuitive" or "sensitive" then you ought to be able to use your innate skills without the use of a deck of Tarot cards. I'm just saying, people: ask yourself the tough questions, and you'll find some very revealing answers. 

In fact, here's a challenge for you: if you consider yourself an intuitive, and you make use of a deck of Tarot cards, do a reading for yourself to answer the question, "Why do I need the Tarot to use natural abilities?" If you take up the challenge, record your reading as an MP3 and send it to me so I can feature you on the next show - inquiring minds want to know the answer!

Where was I again? New Year's related cards. There are plenty of cards in my deck that can talk about beginnings - for example, I read all 7's as being cards of risk and adventure, so in that sense any of them would be useful for starting new goals. Or, if the primary focus is looking back over the previous year, then any of the 3's would talk about knowledge, wisdom, and experience, as well as the caution gained from learned dangers.

Seeing as how the change of the calendar year is a time for people to commit themselves to new beginnings, I would also select any of the face cards from the suit of Spades paired with nearly any trump card. In my method of reading the cards, any such configuration would discuss the subject's goals and objectives. The nuance would be very different in any of the 88 combinations that could be produced, but there you go: New Year's goals.

And seeing as how so many people commit to personal change at this time of year, there are two cards in particular that I would include: the Magician and Strength, both of which talk about chaos and destruction, but both of which also permit the destruction of the established order so that new life may take hold. The difference between these two cards is that the Magician disrupts others' lives and disorders existing circumstances to achieve the subject's desires, whereas Strength directs the same influence upon the self and is the card of the subject destroying itself in order to make itself new again.

And who can ignore the Tarot tradition of drawing cards to make a New Year's prediction? Well... shame on me for being a bad Tarot reader, but I don't like to make New Year predictions, draw a card for the year, and so on. Celebrating New Year in January is so fucking depressing in northern Ontario. I mean, maybe in southern climates New Year in January is perfectly tolerable, but in northern Ontario, the dead of winter is just starting. We're usually buried in snow - and the day that I wrote this particular segment, I had to clear a layer of thick, wet snow off my parking lot. And while Sault Ste. Marie isn't Attawapiskat in the far north of Ontario by the Hudson Bay, we're still shoveling snow in March and it's not even until April that we can put our snow-shovels back in the basement and safely assume that we won't need them for another eight months.

Celebrating New Year and setting new goals when it's bitterly cold outside and the big snow is just getting started is terribly depressing. March still gets some snow and ice, but I much prefer the spring equinox for celebrating the New Year. Historically speaking, the ancient Babylonians celebrated New Year relative to the spring equinox, and this habit is the same for contemporary Iranians. And no, I don't claim any connection to Babylon or Iran, but I give them a hat tip for celebrating the New Year when it isn't the depressingly cold and dark. Blech... cold and dark are two things that do not in any way encourage my initiative.

I think the change of the calendar is a good time to evaluate where I stand and what I'm doing, but me being who I am, I don't think I need Tarot to do that. Tarot serves many purposes, and while it can absolutely provide New Year's predictions (and I've done a lot of those over the past month), my personal Tarot practice involves very little prediction and very lot contemplation.

Well, true enough, I also use the Tarot to purge my mind of worries that keep me up at night, but for me the predictive aspect is the least valuable take-away. Instead, I use the Tarot to help me connect the dots that are hidden in my blind spot. And the whole point of this is to say, you have to ask questions. Ask yourself these questions. Ask yourself how you'd describe something new and different with your Tarot cards. Ask yourself how your cards could predict something that seems impossible. Ask yourself how your cards could predict something slightly out of the ordinary. Ask yourself how your cards could predict the every-day. And then ask again, and again, and again. These questions and the answers that result will do more for you than any New Year's resolutions.

I think the Celtic cross arrangement is stupid,
and I dare you to change my mind.
A great Tarot blogger that I've added to my news feed is this guy Matthew Phillip Harris. Now, when I say that I like a particular blogger, it's not necessarily because I agree with his or her view on Tarot - because quite often I don't - but it is because I've found a blogger that I think is well-spoken, articulate, and just plain interesting. So check out the link to his website - maybe you'll enjoy his style, too? At any rate, the reason I'm talking  about him is because I empathize with a confession he shares in one of his blog posts: He doesn't like the Celtic cross arrangement. 

Now, for some of you who've known me for a while, you already know that I have absolutely zero love for the Celtic cross arrangement. I wonder sometimes that the only reason that the Celtic cross even has the standing that it does is because it was formulated and presented at a moment in time critical to the development of Tarot? After all, Mr. Waite's decision to fully illustrate the entire 78 cards of the Tarot wasn't his only accomplishment: his pictorial key to the Tarot continues to be referenced today, and even though I think pretty much everybody understands that the Celtic cross is not some deep occult secret recovered from the ancient past, it continues to get much use and attention because of who formulated it and the time in which it was born. If the Celtic cross was formulated today, I rather doubt it'd get much attention at all.

Like a lot of Tarot readers, I was taught to do the Celtic cross, and like a lot of Tarot readers, I didn't like it. My complaint with the Celtic cross is that it's duplicitous. For example, the top arm of the central cross is what's "above" the subject and is used to discuss goals and aspirations. But then, this is nearly the same as the second card from the top on the side staff, "hopes and fears." In theory, these are two very different things, but in practice I've yet to met a Tarot reader who adequately distinguishes between the two.

Or consider the crossing card on the central cross which is intended to add detail about what the seeker if facing right now, and then compare that to the bottom arm of the central cross - what's "below" the subject, which is intended to show the foundation. Like my previous example, these are two very different things in theory, but in practice I've yet to meet a Tarot reader who makes sufficient separation between the two. In practice, these two things are read together as a pair and used to say the same thing.

Perhaps the most glaring example of duplicity in the Celtic cross is the position of what's ahead of the client - or the future - and the top card on the side staff is "final outcome." Again, these two aren't the same thing, and while you could in practice read this pair as "near future" and "distant future," what I've found in my own practice and when receiving this arrangement from other readers is that the position "final outcome" is frequently used as a one-card summary of the entire arrangement.

And as a matter of personal preference, I think the bottom position on the side staff is just stupid: Advice. I mean, seriously people: if you can't infer advice for the client based on all the other cards on the table, then you need to invest some serious effort in becoming a stronger reader.

Now, this isn't to say that the Celtic cross has always been, is now, and will always be a monumental waste of time. What I mean by this is that the way the cards are arranged is innately connected to the way the cards are read and understood. Because I am who I am, I rarely read any card in isolation: every card is read in combination to at least one other card, and for that reason there are positions in some arrangements (such as the Celtic cross) that are already provided by the cards themselves, or can be inferred from the greater message.

But that's how I myself read the cards, and it's not how everybody else reads the cards. Because many people who read with a RWS-based deck with fully-illustrated pips are using a different language - the language of the symbols and archetypes embedded in the images - each card is, in a way, better read in isolation. In that way, the Celtic cross - as an arrangement - is better suited to a reading style that examines individual cards in isolation without being modified by other cards in the reading. So for that method, these extra positions become necessary to provide the nuance that can't be achieved through a careful evaluation of the dignity of the cards in relation to one another.

And that's the benefit of asking questions. Don't accept sacred wisdom simply because somebody who came before you said it was sacred. Question it. Grill it like a police sergeant giving a 10-hour interrogation to a child molester who abducted a little girl and won't tell you where he's hidden her. Be relentless in your questioning, because in the end the person who wins will be you. Ask questions, and don't stop until you get answers.

So, having said all of that... If you don't understand why these things I've discussed are problematic, then I welcome you to provide a reading for me using the Celtic cross arrangement. I dare you to prove me wrong, and I'll feature you on my blog and podcast for everybody to see and hear. If you do it well, I'll have great feedback for you and will always remember this as the day That Great Tarot Reader Named Such And Such Proved Me Wrong. But if you fall into the traps that I've pointed out here, well... it's probably better that you don't waste your time.

The concept of apostolic succession and lines of authority in the Christian over-culture has absolutely nothing to do with having a mentor who welcomed you into the practice with the gift of a deck in the Tarot under-culture.
I don't usually highlight an author twice in an episode, but I have to give credit where credit is due to Matthew Phillip Harris and his post where he discusses what's not Tarot. There's a potpourri of stuff in the blog entry - and you can get the link it below - but what I'm really drawn to is his take-down of the myth that in order for you to be a Tarot reader, somebody else (preferably another Tarot reader) must give your first deck to you as a gift. Or said simply, You can't buy your first deck for yourself.

I wonder where this rule came from? I've never heard any good explanations for its origin, but I imagine that its roots took place in one of two places:

First, this is part of a broader development to create a Tarot culture. While it's true to say that Tarot itself isn't a religion, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference based on what you see and hear from the most vocal and devoted Tarot readers. And, as you know, every good religion needs traditions and rites of passage, including rites of initiation which could take the shape of being gifted a deck of Tarot cards. This is really charming when you think about it, because it fits right into a delightful sense of child-like wonder in which you find yourself thinking that someday, somewhere, somebody will walk into your life and give you the gift of knowing that you have untapped abilities hidden within you, something that makes you special and unique and different. Which, again, is a lovely fairytale, but it's also a fun way to provide a rite of initiation in a community of Tarot readers looking to create their culture.

And second, you have to ask yourself that same question that Anton LaVey always came back to: Cui bono? Who profits? A look at other occult traditions will reveal that the people who push the value of rites of initiation are trying to protect something. Perhaps they're trying to keep secret knowledge secret, but odds are excellent that they're really just trying to protect their own standing and are looking for ways to de-legitimize the competition. Oh yes, they'll allow enough people to participate in order to keep their tradition alive, but they'll do everything they can to prune upstart weeds that threaten to undermine the authority and standing of those in power.

At any rate, where was I? Yes, the rule that says you have to be given a Tarot deck to be a Tarot reader. I happen to think that this rule is just plain silly, but as it happens, I'm also lucky enough to be able to say that my first Tarot deck was given to me as a gift. A birthday gift, no less. I'm pretty sure it was given to me on my 12th birthday, and it came from a friend that was in my class. At the time, I had zero interest in Tarot, so his gift was quite a surprise to me. The deck he gave me was the Egyptian Tarot created by Comte Saint-Germain. If you're listening to the podcast, then I apologize for the pronunciation - the only French I really know how to pronounce is the name of the city in which I live, Sault Sainte Marie, and even then I know I'm butchering it.

I'm not certain why my friend picked out that particular deck. Maybe it just looked cool? Whatever the case, if his goal was to get me started in Tarot, I might have been better served at the time with a Rider-Waite-Smith deck that was more accessible to my teenaged self because - if you didn't know - Saint-Germain's Egyptian Tarot is a Marseilles-style Tarot deck with only the trumps fully illustrated. The pips are standard occult fare - swords, staves, pentacles, and cups arranged in geometric patterns - and the entire deck is drawn in black ink on a tan background.

Incidentally, this whole story is deeply funny to me because - even though I learned to read with the fully illustrated RWS-style deck - these days I only read with Marseilles-style decks which only include illustrations for the trump cards.

At any rate, even if the Egyptian Tarot didn't become my go-to deck, it was the gateway drug that opened the door to the occult. Even though later in life I had a brief eight-year relationship with the LDS Church, I never could deny the love affair I had with Tarot. I did eventually formally renounce my membership in the LDS Church in 2007 and have my name stricken from the rolls, which is really something since I held both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and to gain those I had to have a testimony of Christ. I guess it turned out that my testimony wasn't much at all.

I wish I had video-taped the meeting when the missionaries came to persuade me to come back to church and I pulled out a copy of the Kybalion and told them to read it. Which, in hindsight, is also quite funny since - although the Kybalion is generally pantheistic in theology - it's also positively steeped in the language of the right-hand path.

If only I had been into Satanism then and pulled out the Satanic Bible instead? Oh, the hand-wringing would have been deliciously entertaining. My local bishop assured me that I was destined for Hell if I didn't repent, and even then I couldn't become a full member of the LDS Church again, but at least I could escape the "endless wails and gnashing of teeth."

Anyway, where was I? Yeah, the Egyptian Tarot. So, even though I didn't read with the Egyptian Tarot at the time that it was given to me, it did get me started. As for the fate of that deck, I wish I knew. It sent missing within a couple years, and one of my parents probably threw it out. Who knows? Who cares? At any rate, that deck is long gone and probably still relatively preserved in a landfill somewhere in Indiana. I did eventually buy another copy of that same deck out of nostalgia, but like so many things from childhood revisited as an adult, it wasn't the same.

I had progressed enough in my Tarot studies by the time I purchased a second copy that I appreciated the freedom that comes with the Marseilles style's lack of illustrated pips, but after having read with regular playing cards for several years, I found that I had become dependent on color coding and an ability to instantly see suit and number. You'd think this is very easy to do with a regular deck of Tarot cards, but I can tell you that's not so.

Maybe you don't notice this because you've never had the same experience, but having to look at the entire picture on the card to get the suit and number isn't nearly as easy as just looking at the top left or bottom right corner. That and the black-or-red dichotomy of playing cards makes for immediate distinction of the broad currents running through an spread of cards.

But the other thing I noticed about the Egyptian Tarot on my adult return to an old childhood acquaintance is that with every card being black ink on a beige background, every card looks exactly alike. Maybe the intent was supposed to be that when you look at a spread of cards from this deck you'd get the feeling that you're looking at a sheet of papyrus? Or maybe it was just poorly conceived.

At any rate, the Egyptian Tarot by Saint-Germain sits on my shelf, completely unused, but completely loved. And even though I don't have the exact deck that was given to me on my birthday so long ago, I'll still be grateful to my friend Kit who opened a door to magic and mystery, and gave me the ability to say that my very first Tarot deck ever was given to me as a gift, and if not for that, I probably wouldn't have become a Tarot reader.

And what makes this whole story hilariously funny to me is that my friend Kit didn't then, and doesn't now, read cards or have any interest in them. So if you ever asked the question, "Does it matter if I'm a lineaged Tarot reader?," the answer is no. Lineage counts for nothing. Effort counts for everything.

On the subject of questions, here's one that presented itself to me this week: Why did I start the Left-hand Tarot blog and podcast? A big part of it absolutely is self-promotion. You'd have to be pretty daft if you thought I wasn't using this place to promote myself. But truth told is that I was promoting myself very effectively even before I started this blog, and again - truth told - I'm spending a lot more time on this blog and podcast than I am on anything else in my life. Did I strictly need to launch this venture? No. But I wanted to, and here's why: nobody else that I can find is already doing it.

I like to read. I like to learn. I like to see what my professional peers are doing in their own Tarot businesses. And what I've found in the past, and continue to find today, is the new Christianity of which Anton LaVey spoke, or as Magistra Ygraine has put it, "Jesus with tits." A lot you reading this blog are going to take offense at this, and if that's the case, maybe you'll see my point. And maybe you'll just think I'm a Satanist crank and you'll bugger off to complain about me elsewhere on the Internet. Whatever.

At any rate, this new Christianity that I keep finding in the Tarot community is pretty hard to miss. If you don't know what to look for, it's easy: Imagine a Christian minister carrying a Bible and who has a holy connection to God and angels. This minister's Bible is his Good Book from which he dispenses sacred, noble knowledge. This minister's holy connection gives him the right to speak for angels and God, and to impart the healing spirit of the holy ghost.

Now, replace Christianity with Wicca, or any other neo-Pagan religion. Self-appointed Pagan priests and priestesses are a dime a dozen, so you can just assume you're still dealing with a minister. Replace the Bible with a deck of Tarot cards, and seeing as the Tarot is already steeped in Christian symbolism and metaphor combined with the white-light leanings of the right-hand path, and you're still not any different. And, for what it's worth, consider the relative rise in the popularity of that most detestable method of cartomancy, "angel cards," and associated rise in the people who say they talk to angels. Again, nothing different - especially if you're reading angel cards. Finally, replace the Christian minister's friendship with the holy ghost with the new Christian's use of Reiki, lightworking, or any other hands-on, meditative, or prayerful healing practice and voila: you've got what is essentially a mirror image of a Christian minister complete with a guilt-ridden philosophy that he or she can use to beat you over the head and push you away from all the really good things in life.

If you're one of these new Christians, and you genuinely like the life you're living, then you go right ahead and keep doing it. But I'm still going to think it's silly. I abandoned Christianity and theism in general because I got tired of that shit. I'm a Satanist, which means I not only accept, but embrace the carnal, animal qualities in myself. This means that I alone choose the rules that I will follow. Life is too fucking short to worry about scoring points in the afterlife.

It's also way too fucking short to worry about getting a good-guy badge. In the words of Anton LaVey, quoted from The Devil's Notebook, 
Man is a selfish creature. Everything in life is a selfish act. Man is not concerned with helping others, yet he wants others to believe he is! [...] The first rule of the prideful is to make an exhibition of piety and charity, with a Goodguy Badge to pin to his lapel. Man cannot progress one step further towards his own godhood until he removes that Goodguy Badge.”
Make no mistake: in the game of life, I'm not a team player. I'm in this game for myself, and I'll run up the score as high as I can so long as it suits my purposes. You may not believe it from reading the things I write, but I really am very kind and generous. The only thing is, my kindness and generosity extend only to those people, organizations, and issues that are important to me personally. Contrary to what some people say, kindness is not free, and I'm not going to sprinkle that shit everywhere, because my time is precious and, frankly, not everybody and everything is deserving of my kindness.

But, getting back to the subject of a good-guy badge... I have no need for a glowing white aura that shines so bright people have to shield their eyes when they look at me. Perhaps you're a Satanist and this speech is one that you've heard before. And perhaps you're among those new Christians that I've described? If you're the latter and not the former, then you probably don't realize how sickeningly sweet you are. You probably don't realize that your white light isn't revealing, but blinding, and it's this blindness that hides the carnal, bestial reality in which we find ourselves. 

If you're the one shining that glaring light in my eyes, remember that light is a key element in any magician's act. Light certainly illuminates, but it also spotlights what you want to show and directs attention away from the other things you leave buried in the outer darkness. Ask yourself: Why are you highlighting these particular things? What are you leaving in the darkness? Extinguish the light of the right-hand path and follow the darkness of the left-hand path. You may think you're going to find death and depravity, but in the words of Dark Helmet, "No, it's not what you think: it's much, much worse!"

January 04, 2016

Left-hand Tarot #3: Hunter and Prey

... in which I discuss: being jealous of other Tarot readers' apparent success; Isaac Bonewits and the Cult Danger Evaluation Frame; learning new tricks from other readers; looking outside the box; the utter hypocrisy of angel cards; fake psychics; how to conjure free beer; the repetitive dullness of being a professional Tarot reader; desperate and disconnected clients; the value in not telling clients what they want to hear; hunting in the jungle; learning to read face cards; the problem with intuitive reading; maintaining a daily Tarot practice; going on vacation; the law of scarcity; my latest writing project; and some really pretty Tarot art.
Download the MP3 file for this week's episode.
Daily Tarot Discussions on Google+
Order a Tarot reading

Scroll down to read the full notes for this week's episode.

Don't let the green monster distract you from meaningful work.
Let's get today's show started with a discussion about Jealousy. Over at The Tarot Lady blog, Theresa Reed addresses jealousy with that greenest-of-green questions to be had: What's she got that I don't? Granted, she wrote from a business perspective, but this question also applies to relationships and, well, anything else you can imagine. It's easy to compare yourself to others, and while I think it's perfectly acceptable to be envious of what others have, I also think it's only acceptable if you use said envy as motivation to improve your own life. There's nothing wrong with wanting what others have: if they've done well for themselves, why shouldn't you want the same thing?

But wanting isn't doing, and all the wanting in the world won't get you a damn thing (although wrapping it in the white-light consumerist hedonism of "The Secret" will earn you a ton of money plus guest appearances on Oprah.) And, as host Theresa points out in this article, you really have no way of knowing what's actually happening in somebody else's life. Sure enough, some people are open books and they broadcast everything to the world. 

And then, sure enough, lots of people - especially in an age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, and so on - are their own personal spin-doctors and they only show you what they want you to see. To quote the sage, "Just because somebody says it - especially on the Internet - doesn't make it true." Internet-wise, sure - maybe somebody you think you know has a large following of people who seem to be really engaged - but what's your goal? Do you want to have an adoring fan-base who spends a lot of time talking with you? Or - assuming you're in business to make money - do you want to have a large pool of customers who are actually paying money for your services? Think about it. People who love to talk with you aren't the same as people who love to do business with you. 

But to get back to my original point - and one also made by Theresa - the time you spend envying somebody else's success is time spent not building your own success. If the other person is good, copy their techniques and make them work for you; however, don't copy their content: that's just stealing, and a DMCA take-down notice will vanish it from the Internet really fast and possibly also get your website removed from Google's search index. Learn from the people you envy. Identify what it is about them that works and apply it to yourself. If you invest your time and effort in yourself and your own ventures, you should notice substantial improvements.

Tarot card reader Arthur Lipp-Bonewits
The website Buzzfeed recently ran an article about how they asked a psychic to predict what their Christmas presents will be. Whenever I see these kinds of articles, I'm never sure if I'm seeing a genuine interest piece, or if it's a paid advertisement disguised as an interest piece. Whatever the case, the article is full of fun gifs of the Tarot reader and his clients' reactions. And who was the psychic in question? None other than Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, son of the late occultist Isaac Bonewits - author of the ABCDEF, or Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (which has reportedly been used by therapists, counselors, and even local and federal law enforcement agencies,) and who was targeted in the Christian rap music video, "A Witch's Invitation." The video is really hokey by today's standards, but the cultural environment when it came out was quite different. You and I will have a good laugh seeing Dungeons & Dragons featured alongside a Ouija board and mention of "druid worship" (whatever that means), but an historical perspective will remind you that the Satanic Panic was very real and although there was no evidence to support the claims of Satanic ritual abuse, many people believed the link between D&D and Satanism all the same.


Anyway, Arthur is apparently busy in New York giving Tarot readings. I don't travel a lot, but when I do I always try to meet other cartomancers and either buy a reading from them or trade a reading with them. If I'm ever in New York, I'll try to meet him. It's helpful to compare experiences and see how other people are working. And yes, it's interesting to hear how they present their readings, but I think it's even more interesting to see how they do their readings.

Each reader is a magician with his or her own tricks that he or she has accumulated over years of practice. One of the things that I've gotten very good at in my style of reading the cards is identifying patterns and how different elements of the reading interact with each other. And while I don't like using Tarot decks with illustrated pips because it disagrees with my interpretation of the cards, one of the advantages to using illustrated cards is that it connects with imagination in a way that a fixed system can't.

For example, Arthur giving specific descriptions of people, or seeming to pull identities out of thin air. Maybe he's got a fine sense of intuition and psychic foresight? And maybe he's got a great imagination and is a skilled story-teller. Whatever the case, I appreciate his ability to produce these things - they're not the sort of things I always find in my readings - and it'd be fun to swap readings with him and see what else he's good at (and then, what else he's bad at.)

For readers like myself who tend to stick to a cartomantic system of divination, it can be difficult to remember to look outside the box, but the information is always there if you know how to look at it. And that's why it's useful to expand your Tarot vocabulary the way I talked about last week: what else can be there that you didn't see the first time?

The only thing I'll add is that - not so much about Arthur, but in context to him - I throw up in my mouth a little bit every time I hear about somebody who reads angel cards and channels messages from the arch-angels. Listen, folks: God has a very clear policy on mediums and people who work with familiar spirits, and it usually ends in death. Don't play the Devil's game and think for a moment that God is on your side.

And you know, I acknowledge that it's a complicated topic. Going back a few hundred years, you'll find people like Henry Cornelius Agrippa, who is considered the father of western occultism, but he was also an ardent Catholic. For him, there was no conflict between God and divination because he was still working within the realm of Christianity: as long as the woo-woo happened in Jesus' name, then it was okay.

And this position wasn't isolated to him alone - there are numerous stories of similar cultural attitudes - but the underlying conflict is that people like you and me (Tarot readers) aren't supposed to able to gain knowledge for ourselves, but instead we're supposed to depend on God, Jesus, or the Holy Ghost to provide the information in prayer and at a time not of our choosing. Divination gives the reader a power reserved for god, and even when revelation is pronounced by priests, they're still making the revelation in God's name and as his appointed spokesperson.

Anyway, if people who read angel cards really believe in angels, then they probably also really believe in devils, and the Bible has a very long history of devils taking the form of familiar spirits. Where's the gift of discernment? How many of these angel card readers ever stopped to wonder if it's really angels they're talking to? For the record, I don't believe in angels or devils, so the argument is moot for me, but I think it's a good discussion for the people who do read angel cards to ask themselves how they know that they're not channeling the devil.

And for people who do talk to angels and read angel cards, Why do you personally collect the fee? Why aren't you giving this money back to the church from whom you learned about the angels? And so on. All the money leads away from the church and into the readers' pockets - which is fine - but I find it remarkable how seldom they channel a message from an arch-angel telling them to go to church and tithe generously.

You always know you're working with a fake psychic
when they make a duck-face while talking with the spirits
Let's talk about what is arguably either a contradiction of terms or saying the same thing twice: fake psychics. I picked up an essay from The Atlantic in which the writer, Joey Fening, describes his time on eBay where he pretended to be psychic and churned out 99-cent Tarot readings with the use of an online Tarot reading generator, and for $12 would even cast a spell to help you talk with angels. The essay is quite long, very revealing in ways you might not expect, and worth reading start to finish for a look at something you might not have seen before.

Long story short: Mr. Fening wanted beer money, so he made up a story about how he was actually a young woman with skills in the dark arts learned from her dead uncle. Add a tablespoon of white light and self-effacement, and voila - Mr. Fening had everything he needed to start selling. For the Tarot readings, Mr. Fening visited websites that generated scripted Tarot readings based on pre-written content and sent that to his clients with the barest amount of editing to make it personal. For the spells he sold, there was nothing: only a note from him assuring the client that the spell had been cast.

Mr. Fening did well for himself and was making the roughly $150 a month he needed to pay for his beer every weekend, but his success came to an end when eBay removed this category, and Mr. Fening felt guilty about fleecing his marks 99 cents at a time to pay for his drinks on Friday night, so he did some interviews and wrote an essay like the one on The Atlantic to describe his experience.

In the article, Mr. Fening describes his time as a Tarot reader in deeply unflattering language. He describes the questions that he got as numbingly routine; his clients as desperate or disconnected reality; and himself as a snake-oil salesman. Reading his article, you'd think that every person offering readings - online or not - is simply offering either good advice or telling people what they want to hear.

And you know, that's true for some readers.

But then, it's not true for all readers, and I've got a few words in response Mr. Fening's take-down of Tarot.

Let's talk about the routine nature of the questions Mr. Fening fielded from his clients. Yes, the questions are routine, and the things people want to know frequently fall into a very narrow selection: Love and relationships; work and money; health and safety; personal issues and decisions making. But then, this is true for people in any profession. Mechanics who fix broken transmissions will see the same kinds of transmission problems over and over again. Salespeople who sell shoes will have to sell the same inventory over and over again. Taxi drivers will travel the same routes over and over again. Yoga teachers will teach the same yoga classes over and over again.

And Tarot readers will answer the same questions over and over again. That's the nature of the job, and what Mr. Fening fails to recognize in his low appreciation for the repetitious nature of the job is that while he - as the reader - has what can become a dull, repetitious job, for his clients the experience is new and novel. For all his successes in creating ad copy that captured his clients' imagination, he failed to understand the experience from the client's perspective.

Which leads me to the next point, the question of his clients being desperate or disconnected from reality. The short answer is yes, there are people like this. And the long answer, So what? Why is it the job of the Tarot reader to take responsibility for his or her clients' lives and make sure they're living it the way he or she thinks best? What Mr. Fening fails to grasp in this situation is that fortune tellers provide a much needed service which is difficult to attain outside of greater magic: a purge. Indecision, uncertainty, and simply not knowing are all parts of every-day life. For many of us, we spend a little bit of worry and anxiety over them, but we move on.

And then, for many of us, these things can consume our time, energy, and attention to the point that they disrupt our daily lives. In this case, a purge is required. There's no shame in needing a purge - after all, Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible explicitly addresses greater magic as psychodrama and as a tool to purge the psyche. And while I categorize Tarot as lesser magic (and thus outside the realm of greater magic), I believe based on my personal and professional experiences that it very effectively purges the mind of the fear and anxiety that come from the previously mentioned topics.

My critics will say, "But what if you're wrong? What if your clients make decisions based on your predictions that leads them into ruin?" Well, to them I say that I'm an entertainer, and I'm completely honest about that. I'll tell that to anybody who asks, I'll tell that to people who don't ask, and I've written it on my online seller profiles. I don't think there's any mystery about who I am, and I've made it very clear that although I embrace the mystery and magic of Tarot, I also accept the reality that I haven't picked any winning lotto numbers or prevented terrorist attacks. I've made my position clear, and if my clients believe me to be anything else, that's a matter of them imposing their beliefs on me.

I think it's also important to discuss the nature of the readings given. Mr. Fening said in his essay that he started his career as a fake psychic by copy-pasting random, procedurally generated Tarot readings into the emails that he sends his clients, but later gave up the copy-paste routine in favor of simply giving advice based on his own knowledge and experience. In both cases, I think Mr. Fening fell short of the highest potential in the service he pretended to offer, and that's to ask questions and provide perspective. Yes, I make predictions in my readings, but no - I don't tell my clients what they should do. Instead, I show them an alternate reality which may come to pass and I allow them to indulge in the fantasy of said reality includes. But my readings frequently are not flattering, and I don't tell people what I think they want to hear, and that's because...

... of my response to Mr. Fening's self-claimed title of snake-oil salesman and the two-sided name I mentioned at the start of this monologue: fake psychic. How can there be such a thing as a fake psychic? Simple: intention. Mr. Fening had no concern or interest in Tarot or divination. He had no theoretical knowledge of Tarot, nor any interest in the performance of reading Tarot. There was no study inherent in the practice, only worship of the money he wanted so he could buy beer on the weekends. In his own words, he told people what they wanted to hear, and the Tarot had nothing to do with it: the cards were just a prop to enhance his deliberate deception. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a fake psychic.

A "real" psychic, by my definition, is not in fact somebody who has psychic abilities. I think the James Randi Educational Foundation has done a fine job highlighting the fact that not one person with psychic abilities has been able to win their $1,000,000 challenge.

Case in point, consider Sylvia Browne who stated on live television that she would take James Randi's million-dollar challenge. You don't need psychic abilities to have predicted that she'd back out. When asked why she never contacted the JREF as she said she would, her reply is that she didn't know their phone number. In the words of James Randi himself, "Hello! She talks to dead people!" How can she not know the phone number? But to get back to the discussion: No, my definition of a "real" psychic has little to do with psychic abilities, and everything to do with the intent of the psychic in question. Is this person merely a cold reader who uses Tarot and occult paraphernalia to put on a show? Or is this person somebody who has taken a systematic approach to the study and application of Tarot cards, and through the use of the Tarot cards, provides a performance intended to both entertain the client as well as challenge the client's perspective?

That's the difference, and that's what Mr. Fening failed to do: challenge his clients. I've encountered many readers who fear to give unfavorable messages to their clients, but they fear the very thing that is their greatest strength. The performance of a Tarot reading, done with charm and insight, forces recipients to consider their lives, or whatever else is the subject of the reading, from another perspective, and it's from this cognitive consonance or dissonance that the real message of a Tarot reading is produced.

But, to give all of this a third-side Satanic perspective, I want to talk about the most heavily emphasized theme in Mr. Fening's essay: Guilt. Why does Mr. Fening feel guilt for taking his clients' money? Why does he feel shame in what he's done? To answer this question, I want to share a story with you. This story was told to me in high school by an English teacher who was using a passage excerpted from the writings of Carl Gustav Jung in context to the story of the hero and a boy's entry into manhood. Sadly, I don't know where this story came from, because I'd really like to find it again. So I remember the story being told,
A boy lived with his family in a village in the jungle. On the boy's thirteenth birthday, his father said that he was old enough to come along for the hunt. So the boy and his father said goodbye to his mother, took up their spears, and went into the jungle to hunt. The father showed the boy how to track. He showed him how to wait, listen, and watch. The boy followed his father's every step, and they stalked for over an hour until his father found the hole of a small ground rodent. Eventually, the creature emerged from hiding, and the boy's father killed it. The father handed the rodent to the boy, and they carried on. The boy said to himself, "This is such a pitiful catch - I know my father can do better," and when his father wasn't looking the boy discarded the rodent. Hours passed, but the boy's father caught nothing else that day. The father said, "Well, at least we have that rodent." At that moment, the boy had to confess that it was gone. The father was angry, and he said, "Why would you throw away that animal? How do you think I've fed our family?"
This leads into a much larger discussion about the moment when a child learns that his or her parents is no perfect god, but a fallible and mortal person just like the child him or herself - and that's another interesting discussion to be had, though outside of what I want to address here. Instead, I want to use the jungle theme and the message of survival to make a point, and the point is this: No matter the paved streets, electricity, and wi-fi, we still live in a jungle. We may not have to take up spears and hunt animals in the wilderness, but the hunt is real. For some of us, this hunt may look like going to a nine-to-five job and providing tech support at a call center for an employer who doesn't give two shits about our personal security. For some of us this may look like selling hotdogs from a cart on the sidewalk. And for some of us, this may look like telling fortunes and reading Tarot cards.

We never left the jungle. The hunt is still here. The only thing that's really changed is that we're not hunting meat, but money. Mr. Fening feels guilt and shame because although his Child-self joined the hunt, he's failed to grasp that his Father-self is no saintly god, just a human hunter taking whatever he can find in a beautiful, frightening, dangerous, and desperate world. I don't think Mr. Fening's use of lesser magic to conjure free beer was wrong - after all, what good is lesser magic if you can't use it to get what you want? - but I do think that part of the guilt he felt is that he was wasting his potential. I doubt Mr. Fening would feel as guilty about his charade if he was using the money to pay for his groceries, or to provide medical care for a child.

I'm a hunter, Mr. Fening, and so are you. The only difference is that I know I'm hunting.
Let's talk about something that's often poorly understood in Tarot: face cards. Many readers I've met struggle to understand how to read face cards, or they simply gloss over them in readings because can't figure out how to fit them into the message. So having said that, kudos to Kate at Daily Tarot Girl for writing a guide to help other readers get a better grasp on how to read face cards - clearly she's got a method that works and it's brought her success - but I disagree with her method and here's why: Kate's method of learning the face cards has very little to do with anything in the Tarot, and very lot to do with everything in the reader. Her work-sheet which prompts the reader to invent the personality of each person based on reflection and contemplation of the picture on the card as well as anything else the reader connects with it. I think the problem here is that the reader will simply inject parts of his or her own personality into the face cards.

And you know, this isn't a problem if your goal is to read only for yourself and learn more about yourself (entire philosophies have been founded on "know thyself," after all.) But if you're going to read for others, and you want a system of Tarot that is capable of expressing many things - and not just you - then you can't just make up the meanings of the cards based on how you feel at a given time. A consistent system in which the cards say the same thing every time isn't a rigid trap, but a solid foundation upon which anything can be built.

I'm not an "intuitive" reader (which in practice usually means "making it up as I go along based on how I feel on a particular day"), I'm a systematic reader: I have a system and I use it. I combine this system with knowledge and experience, as well as the question and other input from the client, to build a colorful, vibrant, and relevant message.

So, although I disagree with Kate's method, I can't disagree with her results. As I often say when discussing other Tarot readers: no matter how I feel about their methods or their reading style, my opinion doesn't matter a lot when they're clearly successful at what they do. I wish Kate the best, but you won't see me using her methods because they're not right for who I am and what I want to achieve with the Tarot. Different strokes, and what not.

Daily study is exhausting.
Continuing this discussing about learning the cards, let's talk about an article written by Beth Maiden and published at Autostraddle where she discusses ways to maintain a daily Tarot practice. As I just stated: I don't always agree with other readers' methods of learning the cards, but how I feel about the way other people teach or read the cards doesn't matter one bit if they're getting the results they want to see, or in your case, if you're getting the results you want to see. In that sense, I agree with the author of this article on one thing: daily practice goes a very long way to improving proficiency. My methods aren't her methods and probably aren't your methods, either, but if you're looking for ways to increase your competency, daily practice is a must. It doesn't have to be a lot, but it should be something that you do frequently. 

You may find this difficult to believe, but my daily practice isn't easy for me. Yes, I get a lot of practice with my cards since I'm doing at least an hour of work every damn day, but at the same time, the readings I do for my clients isn't the same as the readings I do for myself, or the study I do to improve my reading style and methods. It's not easy. But then, if it were easy, everybody would do it. It's often said that Satan demands study, not worship, so I'll remind you that Satan is the embodiment of your carnal self. If you want to succeed and become the master of your domain, then you must demand of yourself study, not worship. Don't be content with what's good enough for now: invest yourself in the work it takes to become the person you want to be and watch the magic happen.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I picked up this article from Biddy Tarot which talks about the stress related to taking time off from work during the holidays. The author takes a more, shall we say, "empathic" approach to this situation than I do, but in the end I think she and I are talking about at least some of the same things but in different ways. The article I linked in the notes is worth reading, but I'd add the following:

Regarding your worry about taking time off, and the concern your clients "need you," I promise you're missing nothing. The kind of clients who won't stop blowing up you inbox and just begging for more are the worst kind of clients because even if they keep paying, they'll demand far more time than they purchase and you'll end up resenting them before the end.

These are the worst kind of clients not just because they're parasites who'll bleed you dry without so much as a thank-you, but also because they will fail to follow through on any of the advice you give them, yet continuously complain that the Big Problem hasn't been fixed. These people won't take responsibility for themselves, and as much as they say they want a Tarot reader to show them what they can't see, what they really want is a mommy or daddy to take responsibility for their problems. Fire these clients as fast as you can.

Regarding the concern that you'll lose out on business while you're gone and taking a vacation will cost you money in the long run, well - that's life in self employment. Even if you have a nine-to-five job and work for The Man, odds are excellent that your vacation time is unpaid, or if it's paid, you're probably accruing it at such a shitty pace that you only get to take vacation days once a year. And that's not even getting into the discussion of "black-out periods" when your employer won't even allow you to take any vacation days, which sort of negates the privilege of having them at all. So yeah - vacation is just that: vacation. You can't have your cake and it, too.

And, as it happens, don't even waste your time worrying that you won't get your same level of business when you return. Let me tell you about the law of scarcity. This is a law observed in sales which says that the perceived value of an item increases as its availability decreases. Ever wonder how it is that Nike makes mad money on limited-edition sneakers? Ultimately, because all of their limited edition sneakers are unique, they're all identical. But because they produce unique sneakers in limited quantity, they suddenly become immensely valuable for the sole reason that not everybody can have them.

In the same way, when you as a Tarot reader take time off work and make yourself unavailable, you just increased your perceived value. Speaking from my own experience: Every time I take a vacation and set myself unavailable to take orders, I'm flooded with work within a few hours after I'm available again. There's nothing so alluring as the thing you can't have. Take advantage of this element of lesser magic and apply it to your own business practices - whether you're a Tarot reader or not - and reap the rewards.

Another article from Theresa Reed at The Tarot Lady. This time, she's talking about how to respond to people who call bull-shit on Tarot and, more broadly, other woo-woo. Theresa spends a lot of time in the article focusing on how to respond with levity, but - me being who I am - I've got my own opinions.

First, you need to grow a thick skin. The Internet is basically Monty Python's Argument Clinic sketch on a world-wide scale. If you're going to take every insult personally, then the Internet's not a good place for you to be. Seriously, just grow the fuck up. Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you. Just because somebody says you're full of shit, that doesn't mean you actually have to talk to them. The easiest and most practical response in an online setting is to just block the critic: you're not required to let assholes plug up comment areas on your content or your social media profiles. I've only had this kind of encounter in real life three times, and each time it was with Christians who accused me of working with familiar spirits and wanted me to know I'm going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Those were dead-end conversations, and I told them both to bugger off. It's happened online a few more times than that, but again, I'm liberal with the block button.

And, while it's generally true that you can gain nothing from arguing with hecklers, it's also generally true that your opposition will do some of your best advertising for you. Just as Anton LaVey said that "Satan is the best friend the Church has ever had, as he's kept it in business all these years!," so too will your critics give you attention and traffic that you didn't have to pay for. Everything, and everybody, can be made to serve your purpose, and as long as you don't turn into a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic and start rage-typing your way into an argument that will only serve to make you look unhinged, criticism from skeptics and haters will rarely ever have a negative impact on your business.

Another strategy is to acknowledge the other person's perspective. Nothing is so disarming as telling a critic, "Yeah, you're right: Tarot is a wacko interest. And yet, you're still here talking to me about it. Are you sure you're not interested in getting a reading?" Turn the conversation back onto your critics and ask them what it is they think they're really going to accomplish - and who they're really trying to convince.

And never forget to keep things in perspective. The clients I've worked with range from high school students confused about love all the way through post-graduate engineering students trying to understand why they're pursuing a PhD. I've read for every age, men and women, and people from almost every career you could name including other Tarot readers, soldiers, scientists, government officials (and one memorable official in Saudi Arabia), sex workers, pensioners, nine-to-fivers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and everybody in between - including skeptics who you'd think wouldn't be interested.

I can tell you with no deceit that the number of people who want my services is far higher than the number of people who've ever bothered to tell me I'm full of shit. And that makes it really easy to shrug off the assholes who have nothing better to do with their day than use me for figurative target practice.

Okay... so... My latest project is to write an encyclopedic review of every two-card combination in the Tarot. However, it's worth saying that this review will count A+B the same as B+A, so contrary to my first calculation of there being 6,006 combinations, there are only 3,003. I realized this a little while after I started formatting the template for the massive text file that serves as the rough draft - and kudos to a friend of mine on Google+ that pointed it out to me - but... 

... the problem I'm having now is that I've created the template with place holders for every combination, but I'm not seeing 3,003 lines: I'm seeing 2,947. There are 56 lines missing. What the fuck, people? I did a lot of copy-pasting to create this template, and somewhere along the line something went missing. This is like, somewhere in this document, I'm missing one entire deck of pip cards. Where'd they go? It's irritating and confusing how I could miss 56 entries, but as my wife reminds me, I'm bound to notice the break in the pattern and fix it along the way. At least, I hope I do. I'm going to be really confused if I get to the end of this book and still haven't found what's missing.

Elsewhere on the Internet, artist Hayley Fagan produced some Tarot related artwork. There's not much to say: it's black-and-white line art, but it's done very well and really captures a bit of beauty and haunting elegance. She's quite talented, and you should check it out.