February 27, 2016

Book Review: How to Read Tarot under Any Circumstance

learn to read tarot book review
Image property of Theresa Reed / The Tarot Lady
Say what you will, but reading Tarot professionally is flaky. I wish I had a camera every time I explained to a loan officer or bank representative that I read Tarot cards for a living. "Oh! That's, uh... interesting." I don't need psychic abilities to know that the next question is going to be, "And before I give you any money, can you prove that you're not living in a painted wagon?" Among the other challenges that professional Tarot readers encounter is the difficulty of continuing education. My wife, for example, is an E-RYT 200 with the Yoga Alliance and she has a wide variety of accredited courses and seminars to choose from. Likewise, chiropractors, massage therapists, mechanics, and people from all places on the spectrum of professions have tremendous resources for continuing education.

But Tarot readers? Well, this is something that's largely self-guided. There are organizations like the Tarosophy Tarot Association, American Tarot Association, and others who offer courses for Tarot readers, but speaking from personal experience these courses have more to do with teaching the meaning of the cards, improving intuition, and placing an emphasis on Jewish mysticism. Which is cool - if you follow a Rider-Waite-Smith interpretation of the cards, believe in intuition, and you find meaning in kabbalah, then this is right up your alley. But for the rest of us, it's completely irrelevant. 

Blazing your own trail in Tarot is liberating, but it's also isolating. So in my search to become the best beast I can be, I keep my eyes open for what passes for continuing education courses: books, courses, seminars, and pretty much anything else I can use to improve my performance of the Tarot and how I relate to my clients. One of the things that caught my eyes recently was Theresa Reed's latest release, "How to Read Tarot under Any Circumstance," that she's offering as a digital download for $20. I'm a massive cheapskate, and I deeply resent spending money on a product or service that doesn't live up to my expectations. Am I broke? No. I'm just really cheap.

But I was willing to take a risk on this purchase because this book isn't advertised as yet another entry in the flood of 101-level Tarot resources. "How to Read" is advertised as a 115-page book that includes advice on how to build your reputation; avoid burn-out; set business policies; identify and deal with problematic clients; use techniques from yoga to enhance your calm and manipulate energy; and handle problematic situations outside of your control. It's also advertised as providing additional resources for Tarot professionals, recommended books, mentors to know, and suggested music for chilling out or pumping up.

So even though I don't consider myself psychic and I have no interest in energy work since I approach Tarot as performance art and not as a mystical practice, I was willing to put my money on the table because of the pro content that Theresa regularly publishes on her blog. For this review, I'm going to talk about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. But before I start into this review, I want to make some qualifications:

First, Theresa is a fabulously successful Tarot professional and she didn't get to where she is today by accident. I have deep respect for her accomplishments, and no matter what you read in this review it's not meant to diminish anything about her as a Tarot reader. 

Second, I don't think I'm a member of the intended audience for this book. I purchased the book for myself, but I think it was intended for somebody else because the discussions about intuition, sexually intrusive clients, and hormone fluctuations are outside anything I've ever encountered because I don't consider myself psychic, I've never had to deal with disgusting men the likes she describes in the book, and as a man I don't have to deal with hot flashes.

So with that out of the way, let's break it down.

Theresa's got a wicked sense of humor and this is evident in her writing. I found "How to Read" to be very funny and absolutely entertaining. Her story about reading for a gang leader, or her description of how to identify The Hysteric nightmare client got good belly laughs out of me. 

And although I personally didn't find any value in the section detailing yogic practices for managing your breath and breathing or grounding your energy, I did find value in her discussions about maintaining good posture and remembering the very real dangers of sitting still for prolonged periods. Get up! Stretch! Believe it or not, sitting still for long periods is terrifically bad for your health and Theresa is very correct to remind Tarot readers of the importance of physical exercise. Speaking from experience, sciatica is nothing you want to deal with, and the best way to avoid is - duh - spending more time standing up, stretching, and doing physical exercise. So kudos to Theresa for including a message about the physical.

I also enjoyed Theresa's discussion about saying "no" to the money when either the client you're with or the environment you're in are problematic or dangerous. It's so tempting to compromise your mental or physical safety in the name of a paycheck, but speaking from my own experience I absolutely agree with Theresa: you must learn to be discerning about the clients you accept, and you must learn to say "no" and refuse service because if you spend any amount of time reading professionally you will encounter the dangers she describes in this book, and no matter how much you're getting paid for your time, you'll only thank yourself in the end for walking away.

Speaking of situations that you should just walk away from? The mentally ill. I don't just mean people who are sad and depressed, I mean people who live in group homes. I mean people who hear voices telling them to not refill their prescription because the pharmacist is working for the Illuminati. I mean people who are bipolar, don't sleep for days on end and go on week-long benders during which they spend all the money they don't have. As Theresa very correctly discusses: Tarot readers are not healthcare professionals. In these kinds of delicate situations, you should not only refuse service, but you should also consider yourself a mandated reporter and either call emergency services for this person's own well being, or find a friend or family member who can come get your client. Don't even think about playing doctor, because it will end badly for everybody involved.

So as you can see, a large portion of Theresa's book focuses on setting boundaries, making your clients respect them, and remembering not to compromise your boundaries (or exaggerate your responsibilities) the sake of a paycheck. That's a good message, and as long as I've been reading cards, it's a good message to hear again, again, and again.

But the one thing that I enjoyed most about the entire book is the template she provides for creating a business policy that clearly outlines what you do, what you don't, the clients you want to see, the clients you don't want see, and more. This template is so concise yet direct that I'd say it's almost worth the $20 price of "How to Read" all on its own. If you don't understand the value of a clear business policy, let me explain it to you with two questions:
  1. If you're a Tarot reader, do you ever find yourself dreading your Tarot work-day? Do you ever say to yourself, "Fuck me, what did I do to deserve the shitty clients I've got?" I'll tell you what you didn't do: you didn't write a business policy that tells your clients who you and what to expect. Those nightmare clients that make you resent your job will usually not hire you for a reading if they understand that you're not going to play their idiot games.
  2. If you're a client who gets Tarot readings, do you ever find yourself regretting the money you spent? Do you ever say to yourself, "Fuck me, I just wasted (Insert Dollar Value Here) on a useless message that didn't tell me anything or help me in any way." I'll tell you what you didn't do: Either you didn't read the business policies of the Tarot reader you hired, or you hired a reader who didn't specify his or her business policies. Don't assume that the reader is going to just "find whatever you need to hear." For the same reason that you'd shop around for the best doctor and research his or her clinic's history, you should also shop around for the best reader and research his or her business policies.
That's the importance of having a clear business policy. If you choose to not have business policies, then you're choosing to invite trouble into your business. Theresa didn't ask me to write this review, and as you can see, there aren't any affiliate links on this page. So when I say that the template Theresa provides is almost worth the $20 price of the entire book, I'm telling you what I honestly think.

As I said in the introduction to this review, I purchased this book for myself because I thought that it would be a useful resource for me; however, after reading through the entire book I came away with the impression that this book is written primarily for women, and even then, primarily for women who are either about to begin reading cards professionally, or have been reading cards professionally for less than two years.

This doesn't mean that the book is worthless, simply that I was disappointed. My impression is that it was somewhere between the 300 and 400 level, but I felt like the material was intended for a sub-200 level audience. And you know, if I were at the sub-200 level, I think I'd have found it tremendously useful. But me being who I am, I felt that it didn't speak to my interests. And that's okay - Theresa isn't required to write books exclusively for my benefit! - so I think this is a matter of me misunderstanding the pitch page.

The book is filled with stories and examples of people and situations from the span of Theresa's career, and while they're always entertaining and often quite funny, they're also quite limited. Again, maybe this is my fault because I imposed my expectations on her work? All the same, I feel that the book could have benefitted from more detailed story-telling if only because Theresa is an entertaining story-teller and I enjoy her writing.

I felt that for the $20 price, the book could have also been more detailed in other areas. My wife is an E-RYT 200 with the Yoga Alliance, and she says that the yogic principles taught in the book are solid, so I'm not criticizing the accuracy of the material Theresa presents. But my wife and I both felt that the instructions provided would make sense for people with a background in yoga, but wouldn't be enough for people who didn't have any yoga experience.

I like that Theresa tells you about the nightmare clients you're going to meet, but I find that her suggestions for how to handle them fell a little flat for me. For example, she recommends that when dealing with a skeptic that you should just ignore their criticism, continue with the reading, and blow them away with your intuitive abilities. 

Theresa, if you're reading this: I really admire the work you do, but that's patently terrible advice. Saying that the way to deal with skeptics is to prove them wrong with intuitive abilities sounds like an application for the James Randi Educational Foundation's $1,000,000 challenge. As always, speaking for myself: I don't think I'm psychic. I think that the Tarot is a tremendously powerful tool - not just for the performance of lesser magic, but even as an occult equivalent of a Christian church's prayer labyrinth, for example - but if dealing with skeptics were as simple as proving your psychic abilities, then at least one of the thousands of applicants who hoped to win James Randi's $1,000,000 should have taken it by now. 

I encounter skeptics frequently, and they're easily disarmed when I tell them I'm not psychic, I'm an entertainer. I embrace the mystery of the Tarot, but I accept all the limitations that come with it. Telling a skeptic that you can prove him or her wrong is simply a recipe for personal failure. This isn't really a criticism of Theresa - she says she has the gift, so who am I to disagree with her lived experience? - but I feel like her advice for dealing with skeptics is a poor strategy.

Speaking of problem clients, I disagree with one of the strategies she offers for keeping trouble clients away: only servicing existing clients and referrals from existing clients. If you've been in business for decades and have a huge client base, then this is solid advice, but for the majority of us this kind of solution would cut our legs out from under us. As much of the book addresses 100-level concerns for new professionals, I thought this piece of advice was bad because it creates a super-exclusive business model that depends on the reader not just having a large client base, but also depends on the client base doing all your advertising for you. I'm willing to be shown why I'm wrong, but speaking as somebody with my own brick-and-mortar business where I do readings in person, such a policy would ruin me and it would push my potential new clients to any of the five other readers in town.

The last criticism I'll add to this category is that I didn't understand the work-book elements in each section. It wasn't clear to me from the book's pitch page that this is a work-book, so I was a little bit surprised that a few sections have portions where I'm supposed to write about my experiences, how I felt about them, and so on. But after I got over the surprise that, "Oh, I was supposed to print a paper copy?," I was confused because I didn't understand what these portions were supposed to do. They don't integrate with anything presented later in the book, and unless I missed it, there aren't any follow-up activities about how to relate these experiences to anything else. To me, these work-book elements felt like diary pages where I'm suppose to discuss my feelings solely for the sake of writing it down for the "feels." If these work-book elements had been integrated into anything else in the book, or action steps had been provided to show me how these memories and feelings are used for some other activity, it would have made sense, but I'm a bit confused about what role they were supposed to play.

Like I said earlier in this review, I'm an incredible cheapskate. I'm not broke, I just resent spending money on anything that won't live up to my impossibly high expectations. It's true - I'm frequently disappointed in life - but I try to be Epicurean in my tastes, and for that reason I try to be discerning in any purchase I make. When I was evaluating the pitch page to decide if I wanted to purchase "How to Read," the first thing I looked for was the page count. Granted, a page count is no guarantee that I'm going to love the book, but it does help me quantify what I'm going to get for my money. 

In this case, I was really disappointed because although the book is formatted to 115 pages, I didn't feel like I was reading a book. Instead, I felt like I was reading a slide-show presentation that would be used as part of an in-person workshop. Assuming an A5 page size, most books have about 250 words per page, so I was anticipating about 28,000 words that I could digest over the course of a few days. In the case of "How to Read," a quick word count shows 13,476 words (and that's including all the page markings, fine print, table of contents, etc.) After reading through the entire book in 15 minutes, I have to be honest: I felt a little bit cheated.

I also felt a little bit cheated when I got to the end of the book where she provides the additional resources, Tarot mentors, books to read, and so on, because in my mind I thought that this was going to be more content written in the actual book, but what I found was a list of links to posts listed on other Tarot readers' public blogs and her own public blog; what appeared to be affiliate links to books and Tarot decks for sale on Amazon; recommended beauty products; and an entire page advertising her services as a Tarot reader and business coach. Now, me being who I am, I'm not opposed to self promotion, but like I said before: I feel a little bit cheated. Why should I have paid $20 for what - at the very end of the book - is a list of free, publicly available blog posts and a pitch page for the next level of business coaching?


So, here we are at the end. If you've reached this point of the review, then you might be thinking that I feel like I wasted my money, but you'd be wrong. Like I said in the beginning, there are a lot of good things about this book. Considering that Theresa offers business coaching at $30 per question, and the template for creating a business policy is in my opinion nearly worth the $20 price of the book, it feels like a bargain. When I get done with my work today, I'm absolutely going to use that template to write my own business policy because it's that damn good. And despite my other criticism, I genuinely enjoyed reading "How to Read." If I sound strongly negative in my criticism, it's because I purchased "How to Read" for myself. I thought it was a 300 to 400 level book, but it turned out to be sub-200 level. That was disappointing for me, but if I remember back to when I was a new professional, then I think I'd have had much higher praise for it. I lament that several portions of the book were shorter than I wanted them to be, but that's not to say that these portions were useless. I'm also disappointed that so much of the book felt like it was intended for women - I felt left out of the discussion! - but this may be less to do with me and more to do with the fact that I'm just not a member of the audience for whom this book was intended. At any rate, if you're a new professional, I think you'll enjoy this book. You can purchase a copy at Theresa's website, but don't forget you can also read her blog and follow her on Twitter.
  • Good: Thoroughly entertaining. Awesome template for creating a business policy. Practical advice. Drills the importance of creating and enforcing personal and professional boundaries.
  • Bad: Not enough detail. Feels like it's written for women - as a man, I felt like I couldn't relate to some portions. Feels like it's written for new professionals, but some advice doesn't work for new professionals. The work-book elements are confusing.
  • Ugly: Very short. Feels like I paid money for things that I could have read for free. Feels like an advertisement for additional services.

February 21, 2016

Just look at the picture!

tarot satanism satanic

I understand that this argument is probably going to fall on deaf ears since I'm in an extreme minority of readers who are completely non-intuitive, but for the image-based intuitive readers out there, I don't know how to put into words the way I feel when you tell me that even though I read with a Marseille-style deck (non-illustrated pips) that I'm still an image-based reader because "Pip symbols are still images!"

I suppose yes, they're still images, but you're going to have a difficult time convincing me that I'm an image-based reader just like you when you turn around and talk about the importance of wrapping yourself in the image of the card and letting your intuition flow from the imagery on the card.

No. Just... no.

I'll talk about this later, but it's enough to say right now that I understand perfectly well what these readers are talking about. Believe it or not, I didn't learn to read Tarot in a vacuum. My earliest teachers prescribed to the same reading style that so many people follow: the insistence that the images on the cards are universal archetypes that are known to all humans, and all that's required to read them is to look at the images, open yourself to your intuition, and permit the answer to reveal itself.

This kind of reading style is deeply problematic for a variety of reasons.

First, What if you're not an intuitive? And I don't mean that you don't have "the gift." I mean, what if you don't care or don't believe in psychic intuition? Believe it or not, faith in intuition is not necessary for reading Tarot.

Second, Who says the images are universal? The images conceived by A.E. Waite are steeped in European culture and Gnostic Christianity and Jewish kabbalah. What if you're from, say... almost anywhere in Africa? Or from almost anywhere in the Middle East? These are countries whose interaction with Europe is in many ways marked by colonialism and war. Chances are, if you're from one of these countries, then the European conventions in the RWS Tarot aren't going to tickle your fancy. Or, talking about the Jewish kabbalah, What happens if Jewish mysticism has no place in your philosophical or religious world view? Then all of a sudden, all of those kabbalic references that Waite snuck into the Tarot mean absolutely squat.

Third, if looking at pictures and just letting it flow is all it takes to read Tarot, then why do you need a deck of Tarot cards? Why can't you just, you know... look at a copy of National Geographic? Answer me that.

Fourth, getting back to the Tarot... my biggest irritation with image-based readers is that they frequently say there's no need to do any real research into the philosophy that informed the images on the cards. Waite had a very particular idea of what each of the Tarot cards meant, and he didn't just dream it up. He was working from a vast reservoir of knowledge and philosophy, and when he commissioned Pamela Coleman Smith to paint his deck, he chose the images that he did based on the underlying philosophy. So, when Waite read Tarot, he looked at the cards and he knew exactly what he was looking at. In other words, the cards were a short-hand reference back to his original notes.

But where it gets tricky is when readers come along who aren't familiar with the source material that Waite used to inform his conception of the Tarot. When Waite looked at the 9 of Pentacles, he saw an image that matched up precisely with his own beliefs and philosophy. But when these other Tarot readers come along - who aren't in any way familiar with Waite's beliefs and philosophy - they'll look at the 9 of Pentacles and interpret it completely differently. Instead of seeing what Waite intended, they'll impose their own views on the card at hand with no regard for the originally intended meaning.

This is a lot like those church groups who hold their weekly Bible meetings at the public bookstore. They have zero conception about the context in which the Bible was written and are completely ignorant of the time and place in which it was formed - or the needs of the day which it was addressing - but they read out of it all the same and impose their own present-day concerns and limited views. Do you see the disconnect? These people are entirely missing the point...

... and that's the same way I feel when I see a Tarot reader tell me that the Tarot images are simply universal and known to all people the world over. Because they're not universal. They're not known to all people the world over. Yeah, I read with a Marseille-style deck, it's not the Marseille Tarot. In fact, it's the Tarot of the Loka, which was made specifically to be used for playing cards.

The pips are entirely non-illustrated and are only numbers and colored patterns.

The face cards are completely lacking any occultic references, and when I read them I'm not looking for snails in the corner, the presence of sunflowers, or the pattern on somebody's robe. There is no association with the image on the card and the underlying philosophy it represents.

The trump cards are illustrated, but again, outside of the most overt similarity since it was patterned on the appearance of the RWS Tarot, the cards lack any occultic reference. This is doubly distant because I don't follow a standard interpretation of the trumps.

There's nothing to do with me meditating on the images of the cards and allowing their universal archetypes to evoke an intuitive message from deep within my psychic depths. If that's your reading style, cool.  You keep doing it. But that's not who I am, that's not how I read the cards, and I challenge you to realize that when I say, "I don't read images," I mean it.