Heal & Harm | What to do when you can’t read tarot for yourself

Heal & Harm is a no-bullshit column by Sabrina Scott. Released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, the column affirms the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal,” and oscillates between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.

The past few weeks have been pretty rough for me.

I lost an old friend to a sudden accidental death – one of the first friends I made in my current home city of Toronto, no less – and I woke up not long thereafter to the painful unraveling of seven months of deep lies and premeditated deception from someone I loved deeply, shattering my image of the world I thought I lived in. In a lot of ways this has wrecked me, and I’ve been sitting here in the beautiful glistening sunshine of summertime Toronto unable to write, unable to read cards for myself, unable to crack open a book, unable to eat or sleep or do much of anything other than just repeat everything in my head again and again, distracting me from myself.

How can someone so young and so vibrant be dead so quickly and for no reason? How did I live through so many months of bullshit? What comes next?

There will be some times in your life when you can’t read cards for yourself.

Maybe it’s because you’re too upset about something to connect with your intuition and with your spirits, too upset to get a good and accurate reading where you actually follow your intuition and vibes and can feel out which parts of a card’s many meanings are relevant to your situation rather than just the similarly harmful wishful or catastrophic forms of thinking.

The past few weeks, I’ve been too afraid to draw cards. Truth be told, I am scared. I am scared to face them. I am scared to see which ones will come up. I am scared of interpreting them accurately. I am scared of interpreting them inaccurately.

I am scared of interpreting the cards in a way that supports only what I want to hear. I am scared of interpreting the cards in a way that suggests the apocalypse is nigh. I’ve been scared of doing the wrong thing based on potentially misinterpreted advice. I can’t read on this topic right now because my heart is too close to it. I am still too hurt and I can’t hear my intuition. Can I read for others? It took me a week to be able to do so, but yes, I can! Whew.

What can we do in times like these?

We can hire someone else to read for us.

(Or maybe even ask to do a trade with a friend who reads! I don’t do trades myself, but I’m sure many others do, if financial accessibility is an issue for you.) Many of my tarot clients have never had a tarot reading before, but some of them are very familiar with the cards and do have a regular tarot practice themselves! And yet they still sometimes hire me to read for them. Why?

Sometimes, they feel – just like I do now – that they are in a quagmire with their emotions all over the place and need another set of eyes, heart, intuition, and spirit to assess the vibes. Fresh perspective. A new lens.

As a professional tarot reader, I know tarot inside out. Obviously there is always so so much to be learned by taking a step back and opening myself to another reader’s interpretation of the cards! I love learning from other readers’ unique knowledges, wisdoms and experiences that they bring to their reading of the cards, but when I’m in an emotional situation this is the absolute last thing I want to do. If I’m in a bad place and I have someone else read tarot for me, I’ve noticed that I always fall into making snap judgments about the cards that come up. I think about how I’d interpret it, how the card has so many meanings, what the card means to me. I can’t focus on the messages I’m receiving. My brain goes into overdrive.

One solution to this problem is to find a reader who uses a tarot deck you are unfamiliar with. Every deck has its own distinct personality and its own unique take on symbolisms within the major arcana, within each suit, and within the numerology of the cards, and their (often gendered) archetypes around relationship, independence, and family.

I find that it’s so much harder for me to come to snap judgments about card meanings if all of the images are completely new, or at least very unfamiliar! Try hiring a reader who primarily uses a deck whose imagery you find a bit ugly or unappealing. It may be uniquely equipped to break through all of your hard-earned tarot knowledge and deliver some deep truths that you can’t really hear any other way.

Alternatively – and this is my preferred option these days – I would recommend hiring a reader who is trained in a different tradition than you are, and/or a different divination system than you are.

Lately, when I’ve been in need and don’t trust myself to do my own spiritual readings or spiritual work, I have connected with workers who don’t do what I do. I have found that in doing this, I have absolutely no preconceived ideas of what I will hear, I have no desired outcome, I have no judgment, and am completely open to receiving whatever messages the worker and the spirits decide I need to hear at that moment. I’ve only hired folks to do this when I absolutely knew I had to have a reality check and couldn’t put it off anymore, no matter how hard it might be to take the risk of hearing something incredibly unpleasant.

I don’t question their interpretations. I choose my readers carefully and move into acceptance, into active receptivity. Despite myself, I can admit that they have never been wrong. They pushed some information and realness in front of me that I truly didn’t want to deal with. Some of the time, stuff that was true that I only found out was true later. But these workers knew, crystal clear. By engaging with workers proficient in divination systems other than our ‘home’ system, we can open up enough to really listen to messages from the spirits and the universe. We can put our own brains and panic systems and anxiety on hold. When someone else has the distance, intuition, connection, and strength of presence to be very direct with us and unwavering about what they see, we shouldn’t deny it. It is a good form of self-awareness to know when we are in too deep to do this for ourselves.

I’ll end here with a little cautionary tale, in hopes that readers who are both expert diviners themselves and also folks who are going through some kinda whack shit right now might be able to learn some kinda thing – both about how and when we share our divinatory gifts, and also about how to behave when we feel the world is ending and we are, despite ourselves, resisting The Tower.

I’ve observed some people who used to be in my life try to read for themselves during these tough transitory moments – or, worse, have me read for them and then spend our entire reading disagreeing with my interpretations and micromanaging the messages I give. Many years ago, one person in particular wanted some insight on her relationship with a new flame. Despite my better judgment, I agreed to do the reading.

When I asked her to shuffle, the Five of Pentacles jumped out of the Rider Waite Smith deck. The Five of Pentacles shows two sick and tired people out in the snow, clothed in rags. I was not optimistic about the relationship, to say the least – and I communicated this kindly and bluntly and without hesitation. I knew that she would not feel grounded with their new love interest, that she might feel impoverished and in perpetual lack. There would be conflict and no feelings of groundedness. The new flame would not be able to be giving and sweet, and my friend would end up out in the cold and alone.

She fiercely disagreed with me, and somehow tried to impose a joyful, romantic, and optimistic reading on the Rider Waite Smith Five of Pentacles – such as being out in the cold together forever through thick and thin.


Based on the other cards, this seemed to me a creative and fanciful interpretation rooted in fantasy and denial. That was the last reading I ever gifted her, and one of the last readings I ever gifted anyone. I don’t want to insult another reader by doing this to them about my situation, however well intentioned (and in a desperate panic) I might be.

If you’re in such a state that you can’t read for yourself, give yourself and others the gift of being truly receptive and accepting of the wisdom they share with you. See these as the generous offering of truth that they really are. There is no other way to support and welcome our continual birth, death, and rebirth. You can’t run from The Tower.

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  1. I sympathize with the suggestion to consult readers who work outside my skill-set. One of the biggest challenges I find that I’ve created for myself is that when I go for a Tarot reading with somebody else, I expect to hear the reading delivered the same way that I read for myself (which of course is impossible.) Going to somebody who uses a completely different method and offers a completely different presentation is the only thing I’ve found that really helps me step outside of myself. Good tips, thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Angharad says:

    I’ve definitely been in that position of struggling to read for myself – scared I will only read what I want to read into the cards, or (usually simultaneously!) scared of what apocalyptic messages might come up. This is a really good reminder that I can reach out to my community, something I am terrible at doing.

    • Yes, exactly!! I think it is so important to realize our own limitations and when we are too close or too attached to a situation to be able to perceive it clearly. Best to detach a bit and take the risk of letting another give us those deep teachings.

  3. Sara Diane says:

    You can’t run from the Tower!!!! I feel this so much right now. I recently pulled the Tower in a relationship spread (for myself and a partner, concerning the third person in our triad). Yikes! We were definitely guilty of trying to twist the message into something “subversive” to fit what we want to happen. This is such good advice, and a timely reminder that community is there for a reason, and sometimes that reason is to be leaned on/sought out for help. I’ve never tried to ask for a reading from someone who doesn’t read like I do, someone unknown to me, but you’ve inspired me to give it a try! As always, thanks for all your wisdom.

    • Yay! Good luck in getting that insight elsewhere – I truly believe that despite our skills sometimes we are too ‘in it’ to see/feel clearly, and that outside intervention and insight is crucial. LOL @ y’all trying to reinvent the tower, I have definitely done this in a relationship reading before for myself LMAO. Silly me. 😛 Live and learn right!! I’d be curious to know the outcome you receive when asking about that topic via another reader.

  4. Avory says:

    I love these ideas, because I’ve been a little afraid to receive readings in general for some of the reasons you describe. I’m afraid I’ll jump into analytical brain or be disappointed rather than being able to accept someone’s interpretations (even though I know I’m relatively new and others have tons of wisdom!) Another way I try to get around this problem is by focusing on readers whose style is particularly intuitive or “coachy.” If a session is going to involve talking through what comes up, or the reader expanding on the reading beyond the simple meanings of the cards, I feel like I’m more likely to feel like “wow, I got something unique from their perspective.” But this may not work in a Tower moment, since talking through things may be the last thing you want! Sending supportive energy in your direction.

    • I think the fear of disappointment is real. I don’t want to be a spoilsport but there are a LOT of lackluster “professional” readers out there (cough cough) and so the pressure to make a “good choice” and find someone actually quality is definitely a thing. I have overheard so many boring awful generic readings at psychic/tarot fairs LOL so I FEEL YOU!!! That’s actually a fair thing to do a reading about – if deciding between diff readers you can even draw a card for each one and see what comes up.

      I think the other fear (like, actual deep insight) is scarier but also better, and it’s the kind of fear that comes into play when you encounter a legit reader who knows their shit. Like, in that case you know you’re gonna get your ass handed to you and that can be scary even if it’s what we signed up for. 🙂

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