There is an oft-repeated drumbeat in the tarot community that goes like this: “You shouldn’t charge for your gifts.” The reasoning behind this statement varies but it usually boils down to two arguments:
The first is spiritual in nature. The idea is that if you have been given the spiritual gift of reading tarot, then you should not monetize it. Your tarot reading should be freely given because your spiritual ability has been freely given to you.
The second argument usually has to do with accessibility. Many readers find it a hard square being caring healer with a pay wall.
I am going to respond to both.
The Spiritual Argument
No one really knows where this whole ‘you shouldn’t charge for your gifts’ thing comes from. But I suspect that it has Judeo-Christian origins. Jesus walked into church one day and cast out the money changers. He made it clear that commerce and spiritual activity are kept separate.
Most churches are free to attend and there is typically a legacy of charitable works for the poor.
That being said, I don’t know any full time religious figure that doesn’t get paid. While nuns take a vow of poverty, they are also fed, clothed, have generous health insurance plans, and are taken care of in their retirement years. Same goes for Rabbis, Priests, Imans, and Buddist monks. By tithe, charity, food in a begging bowl, or by contributions all of these people who do spiritual work are paid. They should be paid. They should be taken care of as they care for others. To expect that a spiritual worker just labor for free seems like we don’t really want them to be taken care of in. The days of Manna falling from Heaven ended a long time ago.
Lets talk about the “gifts” aspect of the argument. Say that you are an incredible psychic. You are able to find buried treasure and speak the name of future kings. But what makes you different than having the gift of mathematical ability, or the gift of a great literary mind? What if your gift is that you kick a ball really well? Do we not as a society pay people who have these varied talents? Then why would those who have an ephemeral ability be any different?
Why do we shroud intuitive abilities behind a wall of superstition and rules that actually binds our hands from serving more people?
Here is the fear: that if you do monetize your intuitive talents, then some force (you know the Force out there, somewhere) will take it away from you.
Where does this superstition come from? I am not sure, but it is old. And it isn’t true. It is just another random old superstition that isn’t based on anything real, or even helpful. It is operating from a (usually) uninformed and un-examined belief that the Universe has some kind of score card wherein some abilities are ok to charge for, but not these.
I ask you, why?
The Economic Argument
The second argument usually comes from people who feel squeamish about charging money for their services. Often, they have a background in education or nursing where they were not experiencing the direct transaction of money for their efforts.
They taught (or took blood pressure or whatever) people and those people were helped but almost mystically they saw a deposit in their bank account every two weeks. They often have a disconnect with the economic machine underpinning all of that to make it happen.
Let me just add that I know that person well, because I was once that person.
This lovely person who decides to build a tarot business feels at odds with charging people directly. The guilt is usually tied to underlying and often un-examined feelings around money, access and privilege. They assuage that guilt by creating systems such as sliding scale payments, or charging so low that they cannot support themselves with the work. They don’t want to “read for rich people.” They want to be a friend and helper to all.
This sentiment does not square well, however, if you are trying to become a full time reader so it boils down to this essential question: Do you want your readings to financially support you, or do you want your readings to be charitable contributions? Of course there are shades of nuance here but this is essentially a philosophical reflection. It is challenging to hold both arguments and make them work. Here is why:
As a self-employed person I have to ensure that each reading is priced so that I am able to pay my bills, my health insurance and my retirement contributions in addition to the business expenses that go into running a business. Oh, also I pay twice the amount of taxes, yay self-employment!
While I may only be paid for the actual hour I am reading, it has to be enough to cover all the other things that I am doing to keep the business afloat (writing this article, bookkeeping, emails, newsletters, class creation and so on). This is a different economic standpoint and often one not understood by people in muggle (your standard wage earning) jobs. The economics of direct service self-employment looks nothing like a salary or even an hourly wage earners.
So every month I need a minimum amount to keep my business and my life afloat. But also, (caveat here-every reader is different) I have a finite number of reading sessions in me each week. Once I cross over that number my accuracy, compassion, and insightfulness begin to tank. I do not want to give bad readings because I am exhausted so I have to throttle the amount of readings I can do.
Therefore, it is a dance between what I am physically capable of, what I need to live, and business costs. These calculations directly inform what I charge in an hour and also how many hours I will schedule in a week.
If I add sliding scale payments that essentially means that I will make wealthier people pay a higher amount to cover the lower cost of the person who cannot. Or, I have to read for more hours to make up for discounted sessions.
Honestly, I do not feel comfortable being the person who makes that economic determination for others. I do not want to politicize my work in this way.
Because I only have a finite amount of readings in a week I need all of them to pay my bills. But charitable contributions I do give. I give financially monthly to nonprofits that do work that I believe in. I volunteer for a local wildlife rehabilitation center and I also volunteer weekly for Meals of Wheels. I volunteer in ways that allow me to give back, don’t contribute to reader burn-out, and as a bonus, I gain new perspectives because I am giving in different ways. I am only able to give like this because of the career I have. Just like anyone else who has a muggle job and volunteers in their spare time.
I think there is no real direct correlation between your special aptitudes and those being the aptitudes you need to give away. In fact, the time you spend volunteering by using skill sets in other areas will only enhance what you have monetized. I am a better reader when I spend some time outside of the tarot booth doing other things that feed my heart and help others.
There is more than one way to give.
In conclusion, I think it is such a beautiful sentiment in the tarot and intuitive communities that so many struggle with the idea of monetizing their time and capabilities. We are labeled as flim-flam con artists and people of the worse repute when in actuality, most of us want to give and be of service.
I think this is the right problem to have because it speaks to an underlying ethical and moral code that is needed in this world. But, I also think there are ways to examine how we want to read, who we want to read for, and whether we actually want to make a living doing it
It is hard to strike the right balance between what a client wants a reading to be about and what you know is helpful, good, and kind. So, it ushers a question: What is your philosophy of reading for others?
Do you feel that if the customer is paying then it is your job to supply them with whatever information they want? Do you feel that you have no right to determine what should be read for and what shouldn’t be? This is a fair stance. I mean, who the hell do we think we are, anyway?
But, do you ever feel icky when you have read for someone and their question?
And whoo boy, don’t even get me started if it is a reading they don’t want to hear. It is so easy to ignore what comes through, or to even blame the reader. Only time will tell but often these people will rarely come back to let you know how spot-on the information was.
As a reader you have to hold to your ‘divinatory guns’ even while the person is shaking their head and telling you how absolutely wrong you are. This takes a tremendous amount of confidence and a very thick skin. As a business person, this can have real impact on your work especially so in this day and age of insta-rage reviews.
You are front row and center of whatever reactions they will have if they are not getting what they want from you. No wonder readers have a high burn out rate. The emotional labor of our work (not even counting the act of reading but rather the interpersonal stuff) is daunting to say the least
One of the problems is that the larger cultural zeitgeist has reduced tarot to its most shallow constituent parts. This has a huge role to play in why there is a disconnect between what some people want readings to be and what readings actually are. The cultural shift is changing and I am so hopeful for that, but we have a long way to go.
But because of the disconnect, many people don’t know that tarot largely IS like a therapy session wherein there is the premise of healing, of breaking one’s delusions, and a realistic divinatory message that is based in real-time actions. You know, actions-consequences, even tarot cannot escape that.
Perhaps these dismayed clients have avoided therapy because they don’t want to do the kind of introspective work it requires and just want to be told what to do and how everything will be ok. And some readers prey upon this.
Bad readers like anxious clients because they are vulnerable and hurt people ripe for exploitation. These readers feel good to some clients because they are feeding the ego of the client while absolutely ignoring their spiritual and personal growth. Their false and crappy readings are junk food- they feel good in the moment but they offer nothing of sustenance and will actively harm the person over time.
My personal experience has introduced me to countless clients who see those kinds of readers. These readers tell them that that abusive narcissist is their “soul mate” or “twin flame”. Invariably, these victimized people continue to open themselves to abuse because they have been led to believe that the Universe has preordained this terrible union. Blech. In my opinion, these kinds of predatory practices should see some jail time.
Sure, we are in control of the question-but how that is (or isn’t) answered is not up to us. Just because we demand to know in what month will Mr.Wrong will propose to us doesn’t mean that the Universe will answer back exactly in the way we expect. Huff! The hubris!
While we are attempting a connection with Spirit these messages are relayed via frail mortal people. These people have their own philosophies, emotions, and backgrounds. Some will read for any question without any issues. Some will say whatever it is that will make more money. And some want to use divination as a tool for self-improvement and spiritual growth.
Trust me when I say that the third option is by far the hardest.
I am not “Zoltan” don’t give me a coin while I spit out an inane fortune. I am a perceptive and intuitive reader who does this work because I truly believe in helping people get to their best selves. This is my mission. But I am also human-first and foremost I am that.
So if a client wants me to read about the guy who left a year ago, was physically abusive and a compulsive liar, I won’t do it. I will not contribute to the reinforcement of the drama triangle. I refuse to be a co-conspirator to self-destruction. I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning if I did.
Within the intuitive industry I find that there are not enough conversations about how to navigate interpersonal quandaries. So often we are siloed alone in our homes or offices trying to navigate these things on our own. It is a very isolating career choice and there isn’t yet an international professional body that exists to support intuitive workers.
When up against difficult readings that sometimes have bad consequences for you as the reader, where do you go to normalize yourself? Where are you fed, bolstered, empowered and mentored? What kind of conversations are you having with yourself and others about the kind of reader you want to be?
Unpacking the messages of fat bodies as depicted by Slow Tarot
First, I want to start off with the following:
A few months ago I greedily unwrapped the Slow Tarot by Lacey Bryant and was astounded by the lusciousness of the art, the sweetness and depth of the deck, the kind rendering and interesting interpretations of each card.
But one card stopped me short. In fact, it made my blood ran cold and turned what was otherwise a joy into sorrow. The artist had decided to rename the Devil card as ‘Temptation’ and in it you see a tableau of (thin) people making love but mostly in the middle of the frame you see a naked fat woman squaring you directly, but her face is also square with the viewer but she is looking away. She is an object to be viewed by the audience’s gaze. It is a vulnerable, sullen shot.
She holds an almost empty wine glass while around her lie plates of half eaten food and empty platters. The foods include cakes, cheese and grapes. Forbidden foods, indolent foods, foods of pleasure, “naughty” foods. The colors used to paint her are in a green cast.
So what? You might say. What’s the big deal?
But what if I told you that the deck contains no other image of a fat person? How would you feel knowing that the artist herself is not a fat woman (but I do not know what her journey has been. I only know she passes as a straight size now and that confers its own level of privilege).
Here is the image:
As a fat woman staring at this image, what am I to think? What am I to feel?
Is it true that I have just handed myself over to Temptation, the Devil, and the underlying message: the sin of gluttony? Is my body really the bad guy, here?
As a person who identifies as fat I have grown accustomed to living in a body that is often another woman’s greatest fear. The years of bullying and abuse from children and adults alike is nothing new. In fact, as a tarot reader I had long resigned myself to the fact that most tarot imagery will never look like me (though thankfully that has changed as artists are being mindful in creating tarot populations with diversity).
But what is the emotion that someone who looks like me-whether that be me as a reader or a client who comes to see me, what do they feel when they see that image?
I took it public and I asked others. I posted it on my facebook feed and it was clear:
Women, but especially women who negotiate a fat body (or just struggle with weight) felt shame when viewing the image. That increased when they were told that there were no other images of fat women in the deck.
And why would we feel shame? Because society has told us that we are moral failures. We fail as people, but especially, we fail as women when we cannot maintain a straight size and oh boy, shame sells, it really does
Again, so what? Maybe these people need to be shamed, am I right? Since obviously, they are fat because they have been led astray by the Devil. They are fat because they have no willpower. This is the long held view of fatness in the western world.
But these stereotypes have actual consequences for larger people in the real world.
When fatness is viewed through the lens of personal and moral failing, it has huge social, financial and lifestyle impacts on people of size. “ Some 62% of people surveyed by the World Obesity Federation said they had been discriminated against because of their weight.” (BBC)
The discrimination runs deep: fat people do not get access to medical care on par with straight sized patients. Many fat people are told that their problems are due to their weight and as a result their very serious medical conditions such as a crushed back or endometriosis or even breast cancer go undiagnosed and untreated. “The general public, in most Western cultures, is conditioned to condemn overweight individuals.” (Healthline)
Fatness is condemned because it is a physical reminder that gluttony, temptation, sin, and depravity are the user’s fault. We live in a meritocracy- we believe that people deserve what they get in life. So fat people understandably deserve contempt, derision, bullying, fear, and even loathing. Don’t believe me? People surveyed would rather lose a limb or a year of their life than be fat.
In our culture to be fat is feared more than almost anything else. Doesn’t that just sound crazy? I mean, think about it! People would rather lose an arm than carry weight on them. Now, what kind of cultural pressure is there that these people are responding to?
It makes total sense that a meritocratic society condemns fat people so vociferously. You can’t help it if you are disabled, a woman, or mentally ill but (according to research that’s being rapidly debunked) you can help it if you are fat. And since fat is the one thing you can control then it is open season on the fatties! Our culture exonerates or villifies based on content of character
But if 60% of all Americans are now overweight and obese can we therefore posit that all of the sudden a huge swath of the population just suddenly lost their will power and are guzzling down bags of cheetos at 3am? Are we really ready to condemn the majority of the population when we look at this situation with a critical eye?
Because the research is beginning to show something very different. That, in fact, will power has not much to do about losing weight and keeping it off.
The research has been very clear: in most cases dieting simply does not work long term for most people. How is it that the diet industry (which makes billions every year) can even stay in business if fat people are such gluttonous and lazy slobs if dieting actually worked? Or, if they just didn’t diet at all?
With a 95% failure rate you can guess it is not the people who are already thin keeping these guys afloat. You guessed it, it is fat people who fail over and over again, who keep trying even when the research clearly shows that restrictive eating often harms their metabolisms and over time will make them regain the weight and add more on.
There are hormonal reasons why people regain the weight they lost over time, this is a fairly new area of research, but it thoroughly uncouples the notion that being fat just means that we lack will power-that we have given ourselves over to temptation/devil. “Our study has provided clues as to why obese people who have lost weight often relapse. The relapse has a strong physiological basis and is not simply the result of the voluntary resumption of old habits,” he said. (Nutrition Review
“But, but, but… what about their health?!” is a common response to articles such as mine. But usually, health concern is just more thinly veiled fat disgust and stigma. Because if we really are concerned about someone’s health we would also be concerned about the greater constellation of their lives. The social, political, economic and access to care that affects the size of bodies.
We would be curious about the complex, interwoven pieces that health represents, and we would understand that weight is complicated and sometimes even beneficial to our health. It is called the Obesity Paradox and persists despite rabid attempts of debunking by medical establishments.
It is no accident that weight is tied to economic class. The poor in America-that is another ‘free for all bias’ because in a meritocracy it is your fault if you are poor, too
So if dieting has such miserable success rates, why do fat people keep trying?
Because they know that to live in a fat body means the world can judge you at a glance and find you wanting. That glance means not getting a second interview, a date, the good loan. Being just 15 pounds overweight means a loss of $9,000 a year in wages. Fatness is not a protected class yet people are regularly discriminated against because of it.
And, the saddest thing is that most fat people blame themselves, have internalized the world’s message and absolutely hate themselves despite trying over and over again to become thin, who want it more than anything.
Of course many thin people scoff at the idea of fat stigma just like white people often will scoff when black people share their experiences or men discount the harassment that many women face all of the time. It is easy to discount a lived experience you have never had. If you have been thin your whole life you might have never seen any kind of fat bias, fat bigotry, and fat hate. This is called thin privilege and yes it is a thing.
I would have hoped that the artist had taken just one small minute and imagined herself as a fat woman and asked herself, “How might this choice of fat devil make me feel as a fat body? Is it my role to paint this in this way? What is the message I am trying to convey? (and also) Might I be hurting people?”
This kind of stuff honestly doesn’t take long. Just a minute of putting yourself in someone else’s (wide-sized) shoes.
I hope that I have made a clear case that imagery such as the Slow Tarot’s “Temptation” (i.e. Devil) card is not innocent. It reinforces harmful tropes about fat people and these tropes affect the very quality of life that fat people.
But mostly, it just hurt me.
It is more of the same. Here I am going about my business of living my life and all the sudden it is like getting slapped. Because, honestly? I am pretty happy in this fat body of mine. I like it. I like who I am. But it is society who constantly reminds me that I am not ok. That I am given over to the Devil, that I represent a cardinal sin and for that I get no quarter and certainly no pity. In a meritocratic world I get exactly what I deserve.
As a fat women I feel that there is a constant quiet stream of hatred that only takes a little bit to come out. The woman who screamed, “You just a big fat woman, aren’t you?” when I yelled at her cause she almost hit me at a crosswalk. To the (ex) friend who posted publicly posted on Facebook, “So glad to cut the fat out of my life.” and left that status public so I would see it. To the man who gave me a look of disgust when I sat in his row on a flight. To the well-meaning condescending people who say they are “so proud of me” because I can swim laps in a pool, or out-walk them or out-dance them, shocked that I actually am capable of something that maybe even they are not.
To the woman at the market stall who told me that “The bracelet looks so good on larger women like you.” and another who recently told me that “you look so well put together as a larger woman” as if to look good and also be fat was an equation she could not compute. These veiled compliments are mini quakes of hate.
To the doctor recently who told me she was concerned about my BMI and told me to “just work out more” even though I came in because I thought I had broken my foot
As a professional tarot reader I am conscious about the decks I use when working with others. I am careful to choose decks that mirror the great and wonderful diversity of clients that I serve. I want my clients to see themselves in the cards because tarot is literally talking about the story of their lives.
As a reader, I want a deck that makes me feel grander, see bigger, reach further. Shame doesn’t do that. Shame makes one small.
It would break my heart to use Slow Tarot and have this card come up for a fat person, to feel them still in silent hurt (most fat people have learned to just shut up and put up) to feel them close down. Or, to feel the heat in my face when this card came up between myself and a straight sized client-however am I supposed to be able to navigate that?
You know who I want depicted as a fat woman? Strength. Because to be a fat women in a thin world that barely hides its disgust means to don the heart of a lion, the strength of the desert, and the mental fortitude of taming the internalized shame and self-hate into something usable, even joyful.
To be a fat person is a crucible, a melting point where we negotiate our bodies and the spaces our bodies inhabit, it is a balancing act that actually requires great subtlety, sensitivity and a compassion for suffering-certainly not qualities that the Devil illustrates. The fat women I have known and hope to know are beautiful, strong, disciplined, capable, and credible. Let them be Strength, let them be Star, let them paint the firmament with the qualities I know them (and myself) to actually possess.
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