Confessions of an On-Line Skeptic

Written by Wayne Limberger

notebook-1814343 1920

I don't do on-line readings. Not that I can't or that I never will; right now I simply don't. I grew up with tarot at the dawn of the New Age, when computers were scarce and there was no internet, which meant no e-mail, no forums, no chat rooms, no blogs, no smartphones and – perhaps most importantly - no PayPal. Reading the cards was an interactive pursuit, a dialogue rather than a monologue, and it was always done face-to-face. There was no way to avoid the disquieting reality of eye contact, nor the trauma of having to think on your feet in order to answer inconvenient questions. You couldn't even read in your pajamas! Your sitters had you in their sights and, if reading professionally, you were probably "on the clock" as well. There was an element of "performance art" in reading the cards, and also a bit of what I call the "theater of tarot." Not to mention that it was challenging and fun!

It comes down to my long-standing comprehension of the way tarot "works." As a New Age "psychological" astrologer before I got into tarot, I was steeped in the ideas of Carl Jung. I came to the conclusion that its mode of operation is subconscious induction, by which a querent imparts meaningful order to the arrangement of the cards through the acts of concentrating, shuffling and cutting, thus enabling a coherent, personalized narrative to emerge from the chaos. I felt that, if the subconscious mind truly exists, there's no reason why it can't be mined for its insights in creative ways that draw on the archetypal associations and motifs in the cards. The key is that querent and cards must be brought together in a kind of "communion." The querent's active involvement is intended to ensure that it isn't my subconscious that is being tapped. I tell my clients it's their reading, not mine – I'm just the interpreter. The goal is to instill ownership at the source, and having the client present and engaged is an important part of that.

Remote reading largely severs this connection – unless an interactive contact like Anthony Louis describes in Tarot Beyond theBasics is set up, the “I'm going to deal the cards and you tell me when to stop” approach to populating a spread. If I receive a reading request by e-mail and I draw the cards after shuffling, my subconscious awareness is infused in the induction process, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the client's understanding of the situation or foreknowledge of the likely outcome. In his book The Tarot, Joseph Maxwell said it eloquently:

". . . the gift of vaticination (is) the faculty of being able to read the information possessed by the enquirer about his past, present, and future. Coming events cast a shadow before them; each individual has a presentiment of his own destiny, which may remain latent.; the normal processes of consciousness do not include such presentiments."

If I have a client in California and I'm sitting in a room in New Hampshire shuffling the cards, the only access I have to that client's “presentiment of destiny” isn't via the cards in my hand, it's through some other agency: clairvoyance, psychic channeling, divine inspiration, collective unconscious, call it what you will. I call it mind-reading, especially if the client is asking how some third-party subject of the reading “thinks or feels.” Any intuition I might bring to bear on the topic of the reading would very likely have its roots either in my own assumptions – what I call a “SWAG,” or “scientific wild-ass guess”- or in some shadowy repository of “universal truth.” The cards are completely irrelevant in this setting, except as a convenient interface for communication of the results. As I like to say, “I read the cards, not minds.”

I recognize that on-line reading is a way to turn a buck without having to face the trepidation of real-time contact. The downside for me is that the opportunity for validation of the key points in a reading as they emerge doesn't exist, and post-reading feedback from remote clients is almost non-existent. When reading face-to-face, I don't want to know the client's specific question or focus area in advance, trusting the cards to "speak their piece" without my own presumptive "spin" getting in the way. As the reading progresses, bits and pieces of the backstory surface through the dialogue, eventually converging on the conclusion. This is the way I learned from Eden Gray's 1960 book, The Tarot Revealed, and it has served me well since 1972.

I see the goal of divination (not "fortune telling") to be akin to that of behavioral psychology: to get under the skin of objective reality and explore motivations and disincentives in a more imaginative way. I use story-telling tropes because they can convey wisdom without having to aspire to absolute truth. But for me, trying to read "in a vacuum" stretches even that broad definition of accuracy and relevance to a client's situation. Even after all this time, I still learn something new about the interaction between the querent and the cards almost every time I read, which I attribute to the opportunity for free-ranging discussion afforded by a "live" session.

Putting away the soapbox, I have figured out a way to conduct on-line readings without violating my own sense of legitimacy. I've already tested it on the Aeclectic Tarot forum with encouraging results, and when I get around to setting up a website, I'll put it into practice. It requires clients to own or have access to a physical tarot deck and to be willing to participate in drawing the cards. Clients will concentrate, shuffle and cut in the same way they would if sitting across the table from me. Then they will draw a specified number of cards (say 10 for a Celtic Cross) and record them in the order drawn, also indicate reversals if they happened to appear. The list will be e-mailed to me; using it, I will construct the spread, read it and return a write-up by e-mail to the client.

I realize that this will probably limit my clientele to those who already have some exposure to and understanding of tarot, but I would rather deal with a savvy substrate of the buying public than getting immersed in the "Lonely Hearts Club" self-mortification that I see so much of in on-line venues. If the Lovers is someone's idea of a "soulmate"connection, I don't think I can help them. 

All submissions remain the property of their respective authors. All images are used with permission. Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - 2017  Questions? Comments? Contact us at