Every year more than 250,000 people travel to Salem, Massachusetts during October to experience its magick. The visitors range from respected Pagan Elders, to witches who make a yearly pilgrimage, to the mundane tourist looking for a fun time. All varying in levels of belief in magick as well as sanity. To say that reading in Salem during October is interesting is an understatement. For the last couple years I’ve had the honor of reading at Enchanted on Pickering Wharf.
Despite my many years of reading tarot and while the vast majority of readings are smooth, during this time I think I’ve come across every type of difficult client and problem that one can come across while reading tarot professionally to the public. I present the following as case-studies of some of the worst readings for the purposes of teaching. Each reading mentioned is over two years old and personal details have been stripped. It is my hope that this will be helpful for anyone who reads professionally and comes across these circumstances.
Avoiding Burn Out
There are days where you’re reading 10 to 11 hours straight, pretty much non-stop. One querent, who happens to also read tarot, came in for a reading after waiting a few hours came in and made the comment “Geeze, is this some kind of psychic sweatshop? I have no idea how you are still functioning”. I began laughing hysterically, because sometimes it feels like that – and it definitely did that night. When you read about 30 people in a row, you will get burned out. There’s really no way around this. But there are definitely things you can do to lessen the damage.
I remember the first weekend of October, after a day of reading my third eye was literally throbbing, but I told myself that it might be unrelated. After work I went out with Penny Cabot for some late dinner. I jokingly complained that my third eye felt like it needed an ice-pack. She placed her hand on my forehead for about 30 seconds and removed it, it was like the pain was never there to begin with. This was a clear flag to me that I needed to definitely take care of my psychic hygiene and cleanse my energy more often. I think sometimes we take for granted how important the basics are when working with energy, even when it’s reading tarot.
It’s extremely important to stay hydrated. Not only will drinking water keep your physical and mental energies up and your mind from feeling foggy, but water also helps your body to be more conductive and receptive to energy and allows you to ground that energy easier, instead of absorbing it into your body. It’s important to ground and center yourself before AND after every reading, allowing all excess energy to drain out of your system.
A technique that I learned from the Temple of Witchcraft is a method adapted from Laurie Cabot. After every tarot reading I give myself “clearance and balance”. To do this take both hands and place them over your crown chakra with your palms facing the top of your head and slowly bringing them down over each of your chakras until you reach your root chakra in a sweeping motion, then push your hands out facing away from your body. While doing this physical motion, energetically intend to push out all the energy that you’ve absorbed into your own energy system. While stating outloud, “I give myself clearance and balance. I am in balance with myself. I am in balance with the universe. I release all that does not serve.” I personally finalize this by checking my field for any energetic cords between me and the querent and visualizing iron scissors snipping away any connection between us.
Messy Environmental Energy
The very first day I read in Salem, I was shocked. I was used to reading in my own environment and with way less querents. But I found that while trying to give readings it felt like I was energetically trying to hear what my friend is saying during a live concert. The energy of so many readers and countless querents seemed to be in the room, no matter how much I smudged or did banishing pentagrams – which I highly recommend as well.
Frustrated, I called Christopher Penczak to get his advice on what to do. He recommended for me to begin placing selenite in the four corners of the room that I was reading in and to have some on my table. This works like a charm! Selenite is a natural equivalent of an air freshener for energy. This brought a chaotic energetic environment into balance, it was like turning down the volume during a reading so that I could focus on the cards’ messages and the querent.
The Tarot-Dabbling Expert
These clients rather read the tarot cards than have you interpret it, or at worse correct your interpretations of the cards. They usually come from a more methodical and dogmatic view of what tarot cards are, although kind of a flimsy understanding of tarot. It feels like they’ve read and memorized the Rider-Waite little white booklet and treat it like their Bible. The Tower is ALWAYS catastrophe for them. While, it definitely can be, but everyone has a different style of reading and different interpretations of the cards. I have a mixture of the methodical meanings and a style of scrying the cards and seeing things that pop out which may give the card a totally different meaning. There was a lady who sat down in front of me one day and every card I laid down she would tell me it’s meaning before I even spoke.
Her interpretation of the cards were way different than what I was receiving, she might as well have done her own reading and saw what she wanted to see instead of buying a reading from another perspective. She rambled on for about 12 minute during a 15 minute reading. When I finally was able to get a word in, I had to quickly explain what I felt the whole reading was talking about, which brought her confusion and amazement. Unfortunately, we had no more time to dive deeper into what the cards were showing me as there was already a long queue of people behind her waiting for readings.
Clients like this have taught me to have stronger boundaries. I think the best advice I was given was by Laurie Cabot, who teaches that during readings she simply stops the client and reminds them that they are paying her for psychic insight and that there’s not much time. But in the end, sometimes people just want to hear themselves speak or simply have someone to talk to about what they’re going through. That may be what they are in need of for healing and clarity. As such sometimes that is the service you need to provide, but those boundaries must be enforced when their time is up. As long as you have informed them about the time limit, then how they choose to spend their time with you is really up to them.
The Child Querent
Sometimes people like to buy their whole family readings, including their children. They see tarot as a type of entertainment, like a cheap parlor trick where I, as the reader is expected to ramble on about riches and fame and true love in their near future. They don’t realize that sometimes when they sit Timmy down in front of me, the cards might tell me that their parents are about to get a divorce but are just hanging in there for the children. Another problem is that children are not always able to handle emotions or bad news the way that adults are.
What are you supposed to tell a child who feels lonely when the cards are saying that it’s about to get worse emotionally in the next year before it gets better? This was one of the hardest obstacles I came across while reading. The way I handled this was by giving them encouragement on how to handle what life was throwing at them, without telling them what bad news was around the corner. I focused on hope, telling them that things may feel hard and may feel hard in the future but reminded them that after this period passes life will be much happier. This way you’re giving them tools to cope and be strong instead of depressing them further with bad news.
Sometimes the readings are deep and it totally flies over their heads, while at other times the reading seems to be about something unimportant, however it’s the whole world to them. One example is a child I read who was about 14. The whole reading was about nothing but football at his school, which I saw as unimportant compared to the countless possibilities of what a reading could entail, but for the kid it was clarifying and healing as football is his whole life. Either way, it’s important to never talk condescendingly to children or teenagers. This is something most adults do but don’t realize. Talk to them from the heart and with respect as you would any other querent.
Other times the child is scared of you as a psychic and what you’re about to say about their future. The best way to dispel this is with humor. Try to joke and lighten the vibe of the reading. Poke fun at yourself so that they realize that you aren’t as frightening as the idea of a psychic reader that they have in their heads. I highly recommend having a light-hearted, positive and fun oracle deck to use in the case of a child querent.
The Querent Who Refuses To Listen
Sometimes a querent does not want to hear what you have to say, no matter how strong the cards scream. Often when a client would say they didn’t resonate with what I was reading, I would reshuffle the deck and lay out the cards again only to have them say the same message and often with the same exact cards. This happened so much that I ended up realizing it had nothing to do with me and stopped re-drawing cards. I would instead insist that the querent just listen to what I have to say and remember it, as it may not make sense now but may in the near future. A large portion of my regular clientele are people whose readings didn’t make sense to them at the time but later found that the cards were right and they knew how to handle those situations when they occured.
However, there are those who absolutely do not want to hear what the cards have to say. One example is this woman who sat down for a reading. She informed me that she had a reading at another place long a go and wasn’t impressed but was hoping to try it again. I laughed and told her that hopefully this experience will be a bit better. After tuning inwards and connecting with my Higher Self and Her Higher Self, I began shuffling the cards and laid them out. I pulled over three cards. The cards were “The Emperor”, “Judgement” and “Temperance”.I began the reading by stating that “The Emperor is the energy of Patriarch and the Patriarchy – It’s the father and/or husband and his household, the king and his kingdom. Judgement can be the energy of absolution, forgiveness or even passing over in some cases. Temperance is the energy of bringing a situation to balance, moderation and healing. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“No. Not at all.” she replied
“Oh. Okay, I’m not asking if you understand how it applies to you yet, just that you understand what I’m saying about each card.” I stated.
Looking frustrated she began raising her voice as she spoke, “No. I don’t understand what you mean by this ‘ENERGY’ stuff.”
There was an angry emphasis on the word energy when she said it. I was actually taken aback a bit. The word energy is used a lot by psychics when doing any kind of reading, because they’re reading energy. But I patiently responded, “Okay, no problem. Let’s explore it a bit more and I’ll try not to say ‘energy’ to be a bit more clear.” By this point I’ve been connected long enough to her energy to hone in even more on what the cards are saying, “The Emperor I feel is speaking about a person in your life – either a husband or ex-husband or your father. Judgement I feel is talking about a passing over as my eyes keep going back to the souls rising up in the image here. Temperance I feel is about healing a situation and being paired with Judgement I feel it’s speaking of a healing regarding absolution, forgiveness and coming to terms with something regarding this.”
“No. This doesn’t apply to me.”
“It’s okay if you don’t understand how it applies yet. Right now I’m laying out the bones or structure of the reading, but we’ll flesh it out and fine tune into what the cards are saying as we continue reading —”
She cuts me off and says, “But how can we continue if the bones are wrong?!”
“What do you mean?”
By this point she was screaming, “Well, it’s obviously wrong! I have no patriarch in my life! MY HUSBAND IS DEAD AND MY FATHER IS DEAD!”
Can you feel me pulling my hair in frustration at her willful blindness of the situation? At this point I realize she is unwilling to hear what I had just told her and will be unwilling to hear anything else I have to say and just want her out of my space to smudge my area of her unbalanced anger. So I just apologized and told her that she could get a refund at the counter. Sometimes, there really isn’t anything else you can do. Tarot can’t fix what only therapy can. I am not a liscensed therapist and would never fraudulently pose myself as one to a querent.
The Querent Who Won’t Cooperate
This is always extremely bizarre to me. While extremely rare, there are those that seem like they want you to prove yourself to them as a fraud. These people will often say things like “Well, you’re the psychic, you should know” when asking what they would like a reading on. I usually solve this by giving them a general reading and seeing what comes up.
I once read a man who crossed his arms immediately and smirked while scoffingly remarking that he doesn’t believe in “any of this” and kept shaking his head. For some reason, I not only took this as offensive but almost as a challenge to my ego, I was determined to not allow this man to leave without gaining something out of it. I decided to keep reading and to dig deep, he had just bit off more than he could chew. Unfortunately, when you dig deep to get past all of their barriers you can begin dragging out the deepest demons out of their closets. I believe that everyone who sits down for a reading is in need of healing and clarity, whether they realize it or their subconscious and guides have led them to it.
I only needed to lay three cards down and I immediately knew what the cards were saying. I calmly looked up to the man who was still rolling his eyes and stated “There was an incident that happened during your childhood that made you feel dead inside, because of this you struggle to find your own sense of personal power as an adult man. This is the heart of the reading, let’s turn over some more cards to dig a bit deeper and gain more clarity on this subject.” He quickly hid the expression of shock and horror as the words slid out of my mouth. “No, I’m sorry. Don’t understand it, doesn’t relate.” I realized that the reading would go no further. I decided for his benefit to play stupid and replied, “I’m sorry. Unfortunately we aren’t connecting energetically for an accurate reading. It’s rare but it happens. Just take this card to the counter and they can give you a full refund.”
The reaction I got, wasn’t what I expected. With watery eyes, he played cool and shook my hand and thanked me for “trying anyways”. He left me a $20 tip and never asked for a refund. He got what he needed out of the reading, though he wasn’t at the stage of his life to fully address it, but it needed to be dragged out of the shadows for him to acknowledge and heal. I was determined from this point forward to never give up on a reading. But you will hear the messages, whether you take them to heart now or later. This is the service you are buying – clarity and healing. All I can do is hope that it had brought some clarity and impacted you. I am not going to just flatter you with unverifiable information and predictions of fame, riches and true love. I’m not here to scam you out of your money. I’m here to help. I also realized that all disrespect during a reading comes from a place of needing healing, which has helped me to be more compassionate and patient with these types of clients.
Initially I found my place of trying so hard to dig out that psychic information to change their minds was coming from a place of ego. If I’m feeling offended, threatened or challenged, I’m operating from a place of ego, which will not only shut down psychic information but can be a bit damaging on yourself if you’re forcing it from this place. Now, if they don’t want to take a reading seriously, there’s absolutely no reason why I should waste my time and energy. Sometimes digging too deeply when they’re not ready isn’t healing, it’s damaging for them too. What I do now is I draw a card for myself without letting them see it to indicate to me if they should have the reading or not.
I also learned to ask all of my clients not to cross anything on their bodies, as this is a form of energetically blocking themselves. I ask them to relax and take deep breaths before the session begins and to open up for me. I used to have my clients think about their name while I shuffled the card. However, I now have them speak it out-loud while placing their hands flat on the table. The reason for this, is not just to just help me tap into their energy, but also to see their level of willingness to interact with me. From this simple request, I can gauge how closed off or open they are to hear what I have to say.
The Querent Who Isn’t Getting It
I remember that during a reading, I told a woman that, “If you don’t take care of letting go of these other people’s burdens that they’re piling onto you and don’t place strong boundaries down then I have a strong fear that this energy will begin manifesting in your health within one year and feel that it has already started to manifested. My concern is that it will affect part of your body that isn’t quite the bones, isn’t quite muscles but something kind of in between and effecting both but may end up being very serious though it may seem minor at first, something that involves swelling and makes movement difficult and would spread to parts of the body that wouldn’t be expected – but this isn’t Cancer or anything.”
“I keep seeing the image of a door hinge when trying to tune into what it is. With the Ace of Cups over here I feel that this manifestation has started within your body last Summer. I’m not a doctor so it’s hard for me to put the exact labels on what I’m receiving and am not trying to diagnose you, and let me be clear that I cannot, but I would advise resting and letting go of all these burdens that aren’t yours by establishing stronger boundaries and just making sure you go to the doctor when there’s any signs of pain. A check-up would definitely be good.”
She responded by saying, “Hmmm. No. I don’t know what you’re talking about in regards to that.” Ten minutes later at the end of the reading client vents about past year, almost to correct me on my reading, “…and then last July I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis after all of this drama started occurring.”
I decide to Google Rheumatoid Arthritis after she left. According to the internet, “Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in your hands and feet. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis sometimes can affect other organs of the body — such as the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels.”
The best you can do in these situations is hope that they’re listening to your advice and that it’s sinking in and will be helpful later on. Sometimes clients get what I refer to as “psychic amnesia”. For some reason while getting a reading they may not be connecting the dots or thinking about what you’re saying but then after the reading it suddenly becomes perfectly clear.
The Querent Who Won’t Let The Session End
At times a querent won’t let the session end, even though you’ve gone over everything and time is up. They tend to have endless questions, sometimes asking what you’ve already gone over. Sometimes these people will start telling stories that are seemingly irrelevant to the reading at all. Normally, I wouldn’t mind letting a session go over the time limit to ensure that they have gotten all that they can out of the session. But when you have a queue of readings and the manager is flagging you down, it’s hard to bring it to an end with certain individuals.
One of my mentors, Devin Hunter, gave me some great advice for ending a session by signifying the end of the reading at the beginning of the reading. When you lay out the cards in a spread you explain every card’s position before you flip them over, bringing special attention to the final card and stating that the outcome card will signify the end of the reading. When done with the reading quickly recap the reading card-by-card before picking them all up along with your deck in your hands. This is a clear signal that the reading is over. I always finish by making a statement such as, “Well, this concludes our reading” and giving a friendly smile. Asking the client if they have any questions throughout the reading itself can help avoid a ton of questions at the very end when you’ve ran out of time.
As I talk about in Ethics of The Psychic Witch, I refuse to read for couples during the same session. In fact, I refuse to read for anyone while someone else is in the room. Often times a querent will come in and ask if their spouse can sit in, I always respond with a “no”. Partly because the information is personal. One of the two could be cheating on their partner or be planning to leave. That information is best one-on-one with a querent to avoid any confrontation and a possible dangerous situation.
This is especially crucial when the relationship is abusive and needs to be addressed along with guidance and advice. In most situations where the relationship is controlling or abusive, the spouse will try to be in close proximity of the reading while you’re conducting it. If you’re reading tarot, I’m sure you have a bit of psychic ability – and you can often feel their energy begin entering your reading – very similar to feeling like someone is watching you or listening to you.
But this is true for any pair of people – be it lovers, friends or family. Tarot readings tend to be very personal in nature and I do not want to be the one to spill the beans about something to an audience or have to censor or filter my information. When someone insists that someone sits down for a reading, I always draw a sharp boundary and state “no”. If they want a reading like that, they can find another reader.
Another problem that seems to come up occasionally is the querent who is drunk or high. I’m not talking about a glass of wine or two, but full blown drunk. There are several reasons this is problematic. One is because the reading will be a total blur for most. Doing a reading for someone who won’t remember it is not beneficial for anyone. The other reason is because they’re prone to outbursts. We all know alcohol can intensify emotions and something as intimate and personal as tarot can easily escalate to problematic. It’s best to just avoid reading intoxicated people at all.