I had never seen Tarot cards until I arrived in Canada. I knew what they were, but wasn’t much interested in fortune telling, which in my opinion was right down there with snake oil, charms and tea-leaf reading – they were all fakery, quackery and con artist tools.
But when I got here, I found that Mark owned a deck, which set me back a bit. He seemed like a perfectly normal person, except for this eccentricity (plus one or two others, including the need to dress in lycra and beat the crap out of similarly clad men in a regular basis). So I went along with the oddity, telling myself that no one is perfect.
Every few months or so, we’d do a reading for each other, painstakingly flipping through the book that gives a list of meanings for each card. We like the Six Month Special layout, which gives you a glimpse into the next six months of your life.
That same original Tarot deck now generally travels with me, wrapped in silk as the Tarot is supposed to be (it is supposed to be protected by natural materials). I’ve always considered myself to be a skeptic, firmly grounded in the philosophy of the Scientific Method, so a Tarot reading is a complete 180 degree turn for me. We’ve been using the cards for eighteen years now, on and (mostly) off. We’re dabblers – the readings are a form of play and relaxation and personal curiosity.
Except they’re not all that playful, really.
The First Dark Spread
Some years ago, I took the deck to my day job one day and was instantly inundated with requests for readings. I hadn’t learned all the meanings then, was still trying to get a grip on the whole Tarot universe, which is incredibly complex. But I did a couple of readings, painstakingly flipping pages in the book to read the descriptions and meanings there.
I did three readings over the course of the week, then after the third one, I refused all requests. That’s because the third one scared the crap out of me.
I laid out the cards for – well, let’s call her Jenny. I got the ten of swords, The Tower and a whole host of other major arcana cards that weren’t particularly pleasant, including Death.
Now, Death doesn’t always mean literal death. In fact, most Tarot experts give dire warnings about translating the Death card in any sort of literal way. Death is a symbol for endings, closure, the finish of things. On the positive side, endings signals new beginnings somewhere else.
I knew all this when I laid out the spread, but it still made my heart sink. I dutifully read out all the meanings to Jenny, and when I got to the Death card, I made sure she fully understood what it could mean. But it was a bad spread. It wasn’t in the least bit happy, or positive. I felt awful, giving that reading.
But Tarot’s just for fun. Play stuff. Besides, as I had reasoned out to myself, even if the cards actually do tell the future, anything the cards might predict wasn’t likely to happen because once the subject knew what lay in store for them, they would take steps to ensure it didn’t. Reading the future changes that very future.
So even though the reading had been an uncomfortable experience, I didn’t pay too much mind to it.
Two weeks later, Jenny’s daughter died.
Once everyone in the office got over the shock of it, about a dozen people came to me privately and reminded me of that horrible reading. And at least half of them asked in blunt or roundabout ways: Please do my reading.
This awful, heartbreaking event would have happened with the reading or without it. There’s nothing Jenny could have done to prevent it. But with horror, I realized that everyone who had any capacity to believe in divination, even the slightest, now believed without question that I had a gift for the cards.
I continued to refuse to do readings for anyone, until I finally left that job and moved on to where no one knew my history with Tarot and swore I’d never tell anyone ever again.