First things first, look look look at that Fool’s Journey header! It was made *especially for you* by the one and only Rory Midhani! Honestly, guys, this has made my year, and it’s still only January. Please take a moment or two to bask in the glory of those beautiful blue mountains of self-discovery, the silvery moon of your intuition, the stars of your hopes and dreams and the sunshine of your Highest Self before delving in to the next Fool’s Journey post.
Reading your friends’ cards can be a complex thing.
On the one hand, you have this awesome skill you really want to offer/share/show off. The people around you think it’s cool, they think you can help them, and they want to open up to you. It’s such a privilege! You get kudos in your social circles and it’s fun to be the community mystic, the person who understands those weird and mysterious cards.
But it’s not always that simple. What if someone shares something you don’t want to hear? Or divulges information about another friend, putting you in a really difficult position? What about dependency — the friend who always wants you to dig your cards out, when what you crave is a two way conversation about how you’re both doing? And what about impartiality (not to mention ‘professional distance’)?
Me? I rarely read for my friends these days. Partly because it’s something I do for a living, and a girl only has so much card-slinging energy… but mainly because I’ve learned the hard way that this is an important way for me to protect my boundaries.
It’s not a hard and fast rule — from time to time, pulling out the tarot cards is just the right thing to do, and tarot has been at the heart of some of the most amazing (life-changing, even) conversations I’ve ever had with people close to me.
If you’re learning tarot, reading for friends is a rite of passage. There are only so many Celtic crosses you can do for yourself before it all gets a bit existential (that, or it simply stops ‘working’). Reading your friends’ cards is an important part of growing your confidence with your cards and learning to read ‘on the spot’, and it is absolutely not my intention to discourage friend-readings in this article!
But still. Reading tarot for your friends is not always straightforward and as you do more and more of it, it can help to set yourself a few personal rules to protect yourself, your friends, and the relationship between you.
Here are some issues you might run into, plus my tips for dealing with them. Add your own tips in the comments so we can all learn from each other!
Acknowledge your own agenda
If your BFF wants to know whether to stay with her girlfriend, and you think said girlfriend is a borderline-abusive no-gooder, then you probably have your own agenda: you already think your mate should end the relationship.
When she asks you for a tarot reading, before you even pick up your cards, have a frank discussion about your own feelings. If you get this stuff out of the way first, then a) it’s less likely that you’ll twist the cards to put across your thoughts as though it’s a ‘message for the universe’ (which is totally manipulative) and b) there’s a distinction between what you say and what the cards say (even if the cards agree with you, which they very likely will).
It’s about trust, really, and about making sure your friend (and you) know where advice is coming from.
Be clear about what you are offering
People have different ideas about what tarot is or does. If you’re a non-predictive reader (i.e. you don’t use your cards to foretell the future), don’t pretend to do this just because your mate thinks you can. Be up-front about how you use the cards and what you’ll be doing before you start the reading.
So friend X wants a tarot reading. And during the reading she spills the beans about how friend Y is totally cheating on their partner… who is also in your circle of friends. Now what do you do? You don’t want to break the promise of confidentiality to your querent, but you also don’t want to keep this secret from the partner in question.
This happened to me a couple of years ago and you know what? It really, really screwed up my relationship with tarot for a long time. I stopped reading for friends and stopped reading in my local community. It got super-claustrophobic and was really stressful, and to this day I don’t really know if my friendship is alright.
Now, when I’m reading for friends, I make it very clear that I won’t be a gatekeeper for other people’s secrets. Querents can talk about themselves, their feelings, aspirations, desires and so on, but they mustn’t pass me information which could harm somebody else if they want me to keep it secret.
This isn’t about having the freedom to blab about everything that comes up in a reading — it’s likely you’ll never want or need to share what comes up in your readings. It’s about self-protection and not being used. When you put your tarot reader hat on, you don’t suddenly disassociate from your community or stop having relationships with your mutual friends. You need to make sure that your querents have respect for this when they confide in you.
Protecting your time and energy
I’m not trying to take the fun out of tarot reading here — for sure, sometimes you’ll crack open a bottle of wine/brew a big pot of tea with a good friend, the cards will come out and you’ll be at it all night, untangling the deepest mysteries of your friendship/lovelife/etc. This is of course completely awesome. But as you do more and more tarot readings for your friends, you won’t always want or be able to give this much of your time or energy.
Don’t be afraid of seeming crass by stating how long you’ll give the reading — it’s totally okay to set a time (or even a timer), and your friend should respect you for this. Readings can go on and on, especially when your friend keeps asking for ‘just one more card’ or even a whole new reading. Practice being assertive in these situations (I often find that as ‘just another card’ is repeatedly drawn, the key message of the reading gets lost — knowing this makes it easier for me to say ‘we’ve answered the question — let’s not confuse it’).
Another way I find helpful to round up a reading and draw it to a close is to draw from an oracle deck for a ‘final word’ — I wrote about that here.
You know those friends who are always calling you up for advice, so you give them your ears, your shoulders, your time and your energy? You offer your most heartfelt advice… and they don’t take a word of it. But they do call you again the following week for the exact same thing? And the week after, and the week after…? Watch out for those friends if you’re offering tarot readings. They’ll ask for a reading, you’ll give it. A few days later, they ask for another one. Soon it feels like every time you hang out, all you do is read their cards. And the most frustrating thing of all? They don’t do anything with the cards’ advice.
As a professional reader, I have a policy of refusing readings for clients who request more than two readings in a short period. I don’t feel bad about this — repeatedly requesting readings is a form of procrastination. You don’t have to actually deal with your problem, or do anything at all about your situation, because getting a tarot reading feels like you’re taking action. This is annoying for tarot readers, but it’s harmful to the querent, too.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your friends, it’s 100% okay to state your personal policy.
Responsibility for other people’s actions
Reading tarot carries a lot of responsibility, for sure. But ultimately, you can’t be responsible for other people’s actions, or what they might do or say as a result of their reading. But what if your friend ends a relationship or quits a job on the strength of their reading, then later regrets it and worse, blames you?
Don’t underestimate the power of your words when you’re interpreting cards for your friends. Make your responsibilities and not-responsibilities clear before you begin, to (hopefully) avoid harming your friendship, and to reiterate that your querent is 100% in charge of their own destiny.
I could go on and on. The simplest advice I can offer you is to have a code of ethics, and to share this with your friends. (You can read mine here.) This gives you space to think through your feelings, work out your boundaries and to be clear with your friends about how and why you intend to protect both them and you.
How about you? Any dodgy friend-tarot moments or top tips to share? How do you protect yourself and your friends when you’re slinging tarot cards?
The category, though.
The header is totally awesome! Thanks for all the great advice. I’m not quite to the reading for other people stage, yet, but when I get there, it’ll be good to come back to this post.
Great article, as usual! Curious to see how many people have friends who want readings. Pretty much everyone I know would never want a reading/thinks tarot is some silly superstition. Do I need to find new friends? Yes. I. Do.
P.S. the pics from A-Camp make me super sad that I can’t afford to be there this year!
My partner and I are learning to read tarot. We’ve learned from two family friends, who give readings together. Now it’s something we practice and what can be great is that it creates a more equal level of power. The cards become conversation starters and the two of us with the querent end up going around discussing the cards and issues at hand. Very fun and you learn faster.
Random tangent, but we recently talked about taking the querent as priority over the card. As in, if a card is laid that could be triggering (10 of Swords is lovely but may appear too similar to assault for someone who has been hurt) then forget it. Ditch the card. It’s not worth it.
Love the article and love your blog :)
Hey thanks :)
I love your idea about chucking out triggering cards – for me the whole point is about having that amazing conversation and helping the querent to get to a good place with xyz-dilemma, not to freak them out or trigger awful feelings.
I could definitely relate to this article- I have a group of friends that would ask me to bring my cards to virtually every gathering we have- and then i ended up being asked to read cards for every single person, which usually took several hours of my time away from the party. Nowadays I find myself more practiced at saying no.
I also had an experience where I read cards for my ex-partner on the eve of my move across the country. She was contemplating whether or not to join me on the east coast- and awkwardly, uncomfortably, the cards did not give either of us the answers we were hoping for… that is/was the last time i will read for a romantic partner!
I’ll also be at A-camp this year and hope to practice tarot with some of ya’ll!
Holy cats! I would love to do a Fool’s breakfast or lunch at camp!
Omg. Or we could have Deckfast instead of breakfast one day. Let’s make it happen!
Eeegh, yeah there’s a fine line between feeling that your skills are appreciated/needed, and feeling used/used up…but it’s so easy to go from one to the next without noticing! I definitely had to learn the hard way and then reel my ‘availability’ back in. Cool you’re getting better at saying no :)
ALSO: A-CAMP! Whoop!
I’m really glad that you said those things! I love tarot and I love slumber parties, but combining the two stresses me out to no end- I’m really bad at reading for groups bigger than a couple of friends at a time. Reading that really validated my feelings and made feel okay about using my energy.
Also, my face would be on the head of an article about tarot and boundaries, haha. Well played, Autostraddle.
I think we were just looking at the cards – it doesn’t look like a spread! Do you remember?
I’m pretty sure we were just going through the images in your Aquarius deck. I think you were sticking to 3 card spreads for the day.
This was great and so applicable. I read auras and often find it difficult to say no when people ask me for a reading. But because these things are so dependent on an exchange of energy & trust, it’s incredibly important to set up those boundaries.
Beth, I’m really tempted to sign up for your Tarot course, even though I have *zero* experience with cards (don’t even have my own deck) other than having a few readings done for myself. Is experience necessary?
I’ve been reading on and off for about 6 years and I think this course would be well suited for beginners. Beth does a great job of breaking things down while still helping you develop your own feelings and flavor. You’ll get out of the course what you put in, but she gives you a really rich garden to plant your tarot feelings seeds in!
Hey Rones, you don’t need any experience for the Alternative Tarot Course as it starts of super gentle (but you will need a deck of cards!) It is totally focused on helping you to have a great relationship with your cards and making them feel personal and relevant, in order to build your confidence with reading them. Shoot me an email if you have questions! x
Once upon a time, a girl I was dating and on the verge of breaking up with gave me a reading, and it was basically The Tower, Death, The World, all but spelling out I was about to hit the road.
Now I don’t read or have readings done by people I am not 100% okay with.
Yeah that’s a good personal rule – it is SO much about trust and you don’t always think about that when you do a reading with someone where there are dodgy dynamics. My worst tarot experience was with someone i should *definitely* not have reading my cards* but I looked past the risks because, you know, feelings and intensity. The advice was painful and haunted me for years. I spent a long time regretting that decision!!
Great article and series – a lot of it resonates. I also love your title of the series, and now Rory’s header!
Oh man, this was excellent. Thank you, Beth!
Great article, totally applicable to other intimate practices such as astrology. I once did an astrological reading for a friend in new year, and she freaked out. It was not at all negative (I am always very careful/sensitive with these things) but apparently not what she had wanted to hear. She locked herself up in a room with another friend and refused to come out even when the clock stroke twelve… So much for the nice new year’s celebration…
Since then I have been very picky who I read to in loaded times like the New Year, and generally do not do “let’s read for everybody!” public readings, only one on one.
Still love it, though!