Sarah Evan reading with Jane Goebel. Taken at A-Camp 2014, photo credit Robin Roemer
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.
Chelsea Steiner reading cards at A-Camp 2014, photo credit Robin Roemer
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 fortel 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 querent 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?
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.