Which one of these statements do you agree with?
Women are bad drivers.
Teenagers are lazy.
Tarot card readers are con artists.
Wide sweeping statements feel so definitive that it is easy to believe them. Black and white thinking feels so much more comfortable than grey. It feels good to pronounce a belief about a whole group of people believing that our judgement is right. Stereotyping is based out of a need to categorize, condemn, and ultimately feel better than the people we may be talking about.
Have I personally watched every single woman drive, and do I have the certifications necessary to make that kind of judgement call? While some teens might be slow in the motivation department, there are many examples of the opposite. However, I hear the third statement regularly and without question that it is indeed, true: “Tarot readers are all con artists.”
Rational, objective, science-minded folks eat up the social consensus regarding tarot. Logical and fair-minded people regularly denounce a whole field without ever having visited a reader. What is the first premise in scientific inquiry? Observation. Have these people suddenly forgotten the very foundation of their beliefs in the rush to denounce what they might not know anything about?
How can this be? How is it that while we are quick to denounce stereotypes we are able to make the exception with tarot readers? It is, I suspect, due to tarot’s public image coupled with an incorrect assumption promulgated by popular culture and the co-opting of tarot by people with questionable ethics. Tarot is not the problem. Shitty people using tarot are the problem.
Google up any image of a tarot reader in the movies or TV shows and more often than not we are treated to a mysterious, dark-haired woman. This woman is of indeterminate background (an inelegent nod to the idea that ‘they are foreign’) is sitting in a darkly lit room, ready to receive a questioner. She pronounces the fate of said character for good or ill. This fate is unalterable and our tarot reader has the ability to see into that future that is already written out for us.
A search for the words ‘tarot reader’ also reveals con artists who use tarot to prey upon the innocent. One need not look far to read stories about a certain actress in a fake Jamaican accent imploring you to call now. Not far behind her are so-called tarot readers who were jailed after husting tens of thousands of dollars from the wealthy or the desperate.
Finally, the bias towards tarot are often from people who question the very nature of tarot and what it does. They believe that tarot does not work, and anyone who believes in it is either gullible or a con artist (see that “all, never, or always” thinking here)?
But the thing is is that the underlying assumptions about how tarot works are inaccurate. That assumption was unquestionably formed by some real bad actors (pun intended). So how can we form a truly informed opinion if we are working off of assumptions that are patently false or misunderstood?
We can’t. It is easy to assume that our underlying beliefs that form the basis of our opinions are accurate. But that it is not scientific inquiry. Rather, that is bias. Bias is often the byproduct of a closed mind who frankly stopped thinking the moment their irrational criticism began to rear it’s head. It is this bias that hounds professional, honest, and earnest readers. In short, we are a field green-lighted for condemnation. This condemnation is largely based on a complete fantasy regarding what we do and how we do it.
Have people completely given up on the banking system because of the Great Recession? Are lawyers ran out of town with crowds of people holding pitchforks? Of course not. Because we know that while there are some unscrupulous bankers and lawyers, we also know that not all of them are. And while someone might not understand how tarot works, that lack of understanding does not mean that tarot readers are selling snake oil.
Tarot is having a moment. Tarot is being normalised by a generation of people who are willing to dive into the mystery of personal truths. More than ever, there are professionals in this field who take the work of reading very seriously and treat their craft with the professionalism it deserves.
Tarot is not going anywhere, and just like massage and acupuncture and herbalism, it is moving towards a stable norm. While tarot has a PR problem now, I see the shift on the horizon. I look forward to the day where I can say I am a professional reader without cringing or avoiding the question because I don’t want to deal with some people’s bias. I cannot wait to be open and comfortable with this passion of mine and my work in the way it deserves.
Imagine that you live in a little town in Maine, and in that town there is a town common setup for the delight of the community every summer. This town common includes vendors, musicians, artists and other vibrant, colorful folk from around town. Perhaps you are a tarot reader and you think to yourself, “What a wonderful way to spend the summer, festival reading for those who want explore tarot!” Like the ethical, professional reader you are, you apply for a business license through the town to grant you sanctioned access just like all the other business owners who also live and enjoy the community.
What happens next is that the city ordinance review committee decides to attempt to reword the city ordinance to ban you from the opportunity to read tarot professionally at an open air situation that is open to so many others. Most likely, that review committee did not ask you about your work, did not ask to see your statement on ethics, and certainly did not get a reading with you. Treated as if you are almost a nonperson, or at the very least a person with no social backing, you are shut out because of one very misunderstood word: tarot.
This very situation is happening in Wiscasset, Maine, as their ordinance committee is seeking to ban out a local reader there from reading in the town common.
Ordinances like these are not uncommon, but they are on the wane. It is unfortunate that mainstream society has determined that con artists, who have co-opted the use of tarot for their heists; have become the defining voice of what tarot is in America. All this, despite thousands of ethical, knowledgeable, moral readers who have a true desire to serve others.
In fact, situations like Wiscasset happens all the time to professional readers who are denied every opportunity to actually professionalize their businesses: denied business licenses, bank accounts, merchant accounts, and insurance. Tarot readers face an extraordinary amount of discrimination that would be unheard of in almost any other service profession.
The sad irony is that in these bureaucratic attempts to control and silence tarot professionals only hastens to reinforce the very thing these communities are attempting to stave off. Con men who use tarot prefer to work in the shadows and below tables, they do not want governing agencies to notice them because that usually reveals their shell game. These unethical agencies usually go as minimally legal as possible to work without notice and once the heat turns up, they leave town. These type of “readers” would not be asking for a business license to busk at a local outdoor summer event, these readers look for and desire controlled environments to better influence their prey.
A reader who is true in her practice though, would apply for a business license, would want to use a town common to meet and greet her community, would be willing to read for others in an open and transparent way, and this committee, these communities, these businesses shut her out. And in the shutting out inadvertently contribute to the false notion that tarot readers are all snake oil salesmen. Because those are the only ones still operating and praying on your communities, they work in the shadows.
Personally, as a reader, I have had doors slam shut in my face the moment they heard the word “tarot”. That heavy noun in the world, that word that creates deep reactions and response. Some of the doors were so incredibly ridiculous; “Oh, well, we had a reader here 10 years ago and it did not go well so we will not have a reader again.” So, if we replace “reader” with “jewelry maker”, or “food vendor” we can easily see what a silly sentiment this is. What silly things professional readers have to deal with as we endeavour to the full time job of public education in addition to actually performing our jobs.
Dear Wiscasset, Maine: your community is not in danger; a professional tarot reader will not be “detrimental to the public health, safety or general welfare of the residents in the community.” Con Artists are detrimental to your residents, tarot is not. Please take 5 minutes to apprise yourself of the difference and rest easy that with your wise counsel that you are not perpetuating yet more discrimination. Discrimination that creates more problems than it seeks to alleviate.
If a thief uses a crowbar to enter homes and steal, will you then prohibit the use of crowbars in your town? That sounds silly, doesn’t it? But this is exactly what you are doing regarding tarot and tarot’s responsible professional readers.
Dear professional tarot readers: push back, ask questions, refute, fight, advocate for yourselves. No one else will suddenly accept us until we demand the same treatment as any other service professional and business owner. The time of meekly hiding when someone shouts, “no!”, those days are numbered. The louder (yet kind) and firm we are to assert that we be treated like everyone else, the quicker we can hasten the cultural shift around what tarot is and who gets to read it, who gets to enjoy it and to be able to do so without stigma.
Let us all move tarot out of the box.
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