Saturday, 2 April 2011

Cartomancy, the early years.

(Granny story alert!) When i was knee high to a grasshopper my grandmother used to have a treasure drawer in her kitchen filled with all kinds of objects fascinating to small curious hands, paper clips, cigarette lighters, bits of string, broken watches, keys, sticky tape, magnify glasses and her tarot cards...

I remember at a very young age rooting through her kitchen treasure drawer when I stumbled across the brown cardboard box held together with yellowing tape, the box had the words "mystic fortune telling cards" printed on it in faded blue ink amidst strange occult symbols.

"What are these Nonna?"

"Don't touch those Paolo, they are dangerous, they can show the future but playing with them when you don't know what you are doing can invite evil spirits."

She took the "dangerous" pack out of my hands and spread them across the surface of the kitchen table revealing a fan of vivid colours and strange symbols, depictions of skeletons, dogs, bats, stars, suns, moons, arabs, sphinxes, swords, angels, kings, queens, knights, quick as she did this, skillfully as a poker croupier, she scooped the cards up and slid them back into the little cardboard box. I was captivated, my love affair with cartomancy was sparked.

Still in junior school, I acquired a pack of ordinary playing cards, i would wow my friends with simple card tricks, I would also wow them with my ability to "talk to the devil", ask a question and he will answer, a red card for yes, a black card for no, but careful, if he shows you the ace of spades then you will die...

It was summer and I was out on the school playing fields with my friend Adam, i was flipping the cards for him to see if a girl called Lorna in our class would marry him, the devil seemed to think this young love was promising, according to Old Nick they were to marry, become pop stars and have 12 children.

A girl called Corrine came over; "what are you doing?" she obnoxiously inquired.

"talking to the devil" I said non-chalently

She pulled a face.

So, I explained the divination method.

"Thats stupid, its just the way the cards are laid in the deck" she snorted, "your such a weirdo". A small group of children were starting to gather around us and gawp.

Angry, slightly embarrassed and filled with the spite and cruelty that seems to come so easily to children, I began to shuffle the cards and announced in a dead pan and serious voice:

"is Corrine going to die?"

Tension suddenly filled the air, Corrine went silent and her eyes became wide, as the now fairly large group of children around us murmed to each other.

I flipped the card on top of the deck...a red card.

I looked at her silent and smug, her eyes began to fill up with tears, "that's stupid, you're stupid there's no such thing as the devil..." she began.

Adam cut her off  "if you don't believe in the devil that means you don't believe in God, so you're going to go to hell"

"Yeah Corrine, your going to die and go to hell and theres nothing you can do about it" I chipped in.

"Corrines going to hell, Corrines going to hell..." Adam began to sing in a mocking voice, me and the other kids began to join in "Corrines going to hell, Corrines going to hell..."

Corrine really began to choke up, she quickly turned around and ran off to find the nearest teacher.

An hour later, a much deserved slap on the arse off a teacher with an old gym shoe and confiscation of my magic cards nailed the coffin lid shut on my junior school fortune telling career.....

When I was 14 years old, my mother bought me my first deck of tarot cards. The Rider Waite. The very same deck i still use today.
It didn't take me long to memorise the meanings of the 78 cards, as I laid them out in front of me it was easy to see patterns in between the cards as their basic meanings played out against each other.
Every time I saw a new pattern between the cards, even more complex patterns became evident, patterns made out of patterns, then patterns made out of patterns made out of patterns, and as these layered symbolic meanings became ever more complex and yet ever more clear, they exploded into a matrix tapestry of narratives, instructions and insights.

I started reading professionally in my late teens and early twenties, it was during my period as a professional tarot reader in my twenties, working for the local African and Caribbean communities in my home town I began to become more heavily involved in the secrets of hoodoo, conjure and obeah, but that's a whole other post.

I've had lots of adventures as a tarot reader and hopefully will be able to tell you about some of them at some other point in this blog, I've had djinn doctors, criminals, obeah men, pagans, hookers, gypsies, bored housewives, ladyboys, catholic priests, hippies, witches, drug dealers, businessmen, lawyers, the good, the bad, black, white, brown, rich, poor, old, young, gay, straight, the mad, the sane all coming a story to tell, each one a beautiful mystery in its own right ready to be reflected in the mystical mirror of tarot.

Anyway, enough of my dramatic musings. I want this blog to be focused on the practical so I would like to give some tips for anyone starting out in tarot.


Many people when starting out in tarot and learning the individual meanings of the cards discard the minor arcana and concentrate on learning the major arcana, I advise against this, the symbolism of the major arcana is relatively simplistic compared with much of the minor arcana, start with the hardest cards, the court cards, then once you have got over the hard bit, the rest should be easier.

Don't despair if it takes you a long time to learn tarot, contrary to popular belief tarot is NOT an easy method of divination, in fact it is one of the most complicated methods readily available.

Don't be discouraged if you cant read for yourself as the querent, reading for yourself is the hardest thing to do. If you are starting out in tarot and are too shy to practice on friends and family then try divining for fictional characters in your favourite soap operas and TV series, you might be suprised at the results!

Be ethical. Sometimes the line between intuition and cold reading can become blurred without the reader even realising it, be vigilant that you are not cold reading someone, COLD READING IS DISHONEST and a fast way to ruin your reputation as a reader before you've even built it.
As a reader part of your job is a counsellor, but its important to remember that divination isn't just counselling, don't be swept away  by the new skool tarot fad of psychobabble-lets-talk-about-your-feelings, if someone wants (or needs) therapy then point them in the direction of a professional counsellor, it is your job to provide practical insights as much as to provide emotional support. Id much rather hear this weeks winning lottery numbers or that my partner is sleeping around off a fortune teller than throwaway advice like "youre at a crossroads in your life" or "you need to love yourself more".

Use your intuition, let images wash over you, listen to your spirits, if you're suddenly struck by a strange image don't be afraid to say it, it may be meaningless to you, but may have great meaning for your querent.

If you're charging, don't take the piss, only charge if you can fully read tarot, to do anything else is simply not fair and is fraud, you are being paid to interpret a symbolic language written on randomn cards, that is a skill if you believe in the mystical side of tarot or not, if you don't fully know the symbols and are setting yourself up as a reader then you are a fraud, plain and simple.
Charging someone between £25-£40 for an hour of your time is reasonable. However by the same token don't undercharge, £5 for an hour says an hour of your time isn't really worth much.

Don't offer baths, gris-gris, mojos, rituals etc unless you know what you are doing and you think your client absolutely needs it. Be very careful about the sale of these things as part of a reading, familiarise yourself with your countries laws on the sale of spiritual goods and services. Don't over charge for these goods either, charge for the materials it takes to make them and the time it takes you to make them, anything else is exploitation.

There are many myths and traditions associated with tarot, sleeping with them under your pillow, wrapping them up in silk of your favourite colour, reading by candlelight, not letting other people touch your deck etc. If you find any of these help with your reading in any way, then incorporate them into your practice, it certainly cant hurt.


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