The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Reader and Client as “Fellow Travelers”


This blog is part of a series inspired by Dr. Irvin D. Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, I am looking at each chapter through the perspective of tarot reading…*



Two of Cups, Rider-Waite-Smith tarot


I feel like the Two of Cups expresses this sentiment of “fellow travelers” very succinctly.


There are tarot readers whose style is to keep a certain distance between themselves and their clients. I get that. Investment in people can be hard. I’ve heard and read blogs in which intuitive readers put up all sorts of “protection barriers” around themselves, and create new rules for their businesses in order to place a degree of distance between themselves and their clients. I’ve also heard and read some intuitive readers who distance themselves after readings, cleansing themselves of all the negative energy that accumulates from the interaction with distressed clients. I get the point. And I’m not saying that there isn’t something to it. Emotions are contagious—that’s a clinical fact, and more and more case studies are proving that there’s more of a symbiosis than we might otherwise have admitted to ourselves. It’s the reason that demographically suicides tend to clump in locations and time periods—the sorrow and hopelessness become contagious. It’s also the reason that a simple smile can completely change the outlook of everyone in a room.


Every tarot reader’s session style is different. Personally, I don’t do many cold readings other than sometimes doing short novelty readings at benefit events. Generally, my client readings involve invested engagement during the session and a lot of preamble and discussion. It’s one of the reasons that I prefer and primarily only do in-person readings. I don’t necessarily feel like other types of readings allow for the intimacy that I think is necessary. Computer screens become just another barrier that intrudes and holds the client and I at a safe distance… The phone doesn’t allow me to see reactions or facial expressions or emotions that the client might be trying to conceal on the other end…


Intimacy entails removing “distance” between a reader and a client. And if it’s uncomfortable for you to remove that “distance” or saftey barrier, to get intimate with a client and their particular set of issues, then tarot reading might not be the profession for you. People aren’t happy all the time. And it’s uncomfortable for most everyone to be around unhappy people. We have that in common as a human species. The thing is…unhappy people come to us for consolation, and empathy, and every human being deserves as much. I’m not saying that you have to become best buddies with your list of clients…only that you have to be invested in the guts of the relationship during your service. You won’t always be able to solve the client’s problem; you won’t always have solutions for them to work on; but what you can always do is be an excellent and compassionate listener. Also realize that perhaps you are the “happiness” contagion that your client is looking for and hoping to catch. In other words, many clients are hoping that you, the tarot reader, might be the antidote for their unhappiness. (So practice smiling during your readings!) Sympathy, in lieu of happiness, is a next best opportunity.


If we tarot readers know anything—after hearing so many stories and realizing that the images of the tarot can address virtually any of it—it’s that we are capable of relating to the most intimate and disastrous of human circumstance…because we’re human, too. Remember, also, that with every new client you read for, you are learning a new facet of human nature and existence—and gaining experience for your mental card-reading arsenal.


So I like the image of the Two of Cups, not in this instance for its romantic insinuations, but for its recommendation that both of us—the client and the reader—can come to one another bearing the overflowing cups of our experienced emotions, and we can toast one another for being brave enough to share them together. The weird caduceus staff in the background is often erroneously associated with the medical profession…the medical profession, rather, uses the Rod of Asclepius which has only one snake spiraling up its pole. It is convenient and nice to think about the relationship we’re describing between card-reading professional and client as somehow “healing,” and we don’t have to abandon that association. But more to the point, the Caduceus of Hermes represents eloquence, negotiation, a balance of ideals, and the negotiation of peace accords.


The Rod of Asclepius -versus- the Rod of Hermes

The Rod of Asclepius (left) -versus- the Rod of Hermes (right)


In mythology a Homeric hymn to Hermes (also known as Mercury) relates how he offered his lyre fashioned from a tortoise shell as compensation for the cattle he stole from his half brother Apollo. Apollo in return gave Hermes/Mercury the caduceus as a gesture of friendship. Another myth suggests that Hermes/Mercury saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. Separating them with his wand he brought about peace between them, and as a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of peace.


Are we the peace-makers? I don’t mean for that to be a loaded question or to be pregnant with Christian association…but even from a secular perspective, it’s not a bad a bad moniker with which to be associated…


Two sculptural interpretations of the god Hermes/Mercury

Two sculptural interpretations of the god Hermes/Mercury


So what’s with the lion embedded in the caduceus? It is possible that—just like on other cards of the deck where the symbols of the Christian Tetramorph and the symbols of the four books of the gospel are represented—that the winged lion refers to the Gospel of Mark. Without going into gospel exegesis, we can interpret this a couple of different ways…one being that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest and probably the most original to the story sources out of the four gospels. Perhaps, then, the two individuals depicted on the card can represent the good fortune and benefit of forthright directness and intimacy during the exchanging of their detailed stories with one another… The other, more totemic interpretation might be that the lion, representing strength and courage, can imbue the two individuals with these traits so that their collaboration and interaction will be as fruitful as possible. It takes strength and courage to open up to another person, after all…to trust them with your story…


Here are some great passages from Dr. Yolam’s Chapter on “Fellow Travelers”:


“It is difficult to deny the inbuilt despair in the life of every self-conscious individual. My wife and I have sometimes amused ourselves by planning imaginary dinner parties for groups of people sharing similar propensities—for example, a party for monopolists, or flaming narcissists, or artful passive-aggressives we have known or, conversely, a ‘happy’ party to which we invite only the truly happy people we have encountered. Though we’ve encountered no problems filling all sorts of other whimsical tables, we’ve never been able to populate a full table for our ‘happy people’ party. Each time we identify them on a waiting list while we continue our search to complete the table, we find that one or another of our happy guests is eventually stricken by some major life adversity—often severe illness or that of a child or spouse.”


…and this:


“We are all in this together and there is no therapist [read: ‘tarot reader’] and no person [read: ‘client’] immune to the inherent tragedies of existence.”





Although I am exploring Yalom’s reflections on the profession of Psychology and Psychiatry, I do not claim or pretend to have any training in either of those professional fields. I am simply interpreting Yalom’s reflections and concepts from the perspective of the art of reading the tarot, which although it is a talent for which I have had certified training and for which I have several years of professional experience, is not a clinical or licensed profession or activity. Readers of this blog are reminded that unless you have training and a license in the psycho-therapeutic arts, that you should NEVER be diagnosing or attempting to diagnose a reading client for clinical symptoms. Rather, you should always refer the client to seek professional help if the concern arises that the client’s issues may be related to or appear to be psychosomatic in nature.






Like this post? Please share it!
Follow by Email
Posted in Discovering Meaning in Imagery, Psychology of Tarot, Tarot Business, Tarot Reading and tagged , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *