How to Read Tarot Cards, an Experiment.
Introduction: I finally plucked up the
courage to try out a theory of mine concerning Tarot
Cards and other "cold reading accessories". The theory is as follows:
Accessories are very useful in cold reading because they allow
very controversial gambits to be made, increasing the hit rate at no
cost to the reader's credibility.
To give an example of a controversial gambit, saying to someone at a party
"You have an experience with infidelity, don't you?" is likely to earn one no
more than a punch on the nose or a slap to the face. However, put into a
"reading" situation one can, apropos of a message from the
spirits, say "Hmmm, the Queen of Swords card is telling me you've had an
experience with infidelity." And people usually react in a way that is a
goldmine for the cold reader. Likely results from an infidelity type gambit are either
strong denials, or strong associations. Examples:
- Denial: "No I never have, I think people who cheat are filth" Think: moralistic. Bring up "private person" or "right and wrong" later.
- Association: "Well, I've always been very jealous" or "My mother had an affair when I was 12" Think: jackpot! Follow these giveaways up later.
taken because of course it's not "me" that's saying these things, it's the
So how did the experiment go? I can only answer frighteningly well.
Frightening that some people, even after it being explained to them exactly
what I am doing, still maintain to this day that I must have some kind of
"power" that works without my conscious knowledge and certainly without me
wanting it to. Nothing beats wanting to believe I guess.
Experimental Method: I bought a pack of "standard"
Rider-Waite Tarot cards. I made very sure that I wasn't "contaminated" by
any instruction manuals or "how to read Tarot" books. I have never read one. The little booklet that came with the deck describing each card I
never read or even opened until much later. Then, by observing street-corner
fortune tellers, I noticed the way they laid out the cards and had a couple of
"readings" done so I could mimic the "standard phrases" used if I was lost for
words. By the way, according to the readings I had, I am either going to die
young or very old in a state of wealth or poverty, surrounded by my friends and
loved ones at home or alone in a foreign land. So forewarned is forearmed, I
Then, having realized that most people who read Tarot are actually not very
"good" at showmanship, I threw out everything I had seen and developed my own
spiel from scratch. Here's a portion:
Me: "First we place your RIGHT hand above the deck and your LEFT hand below
it to charge the cards with your energy. Close your eyes and whisper to
yourself the object of your questions tonight." (Handy Hint Arbitrary
instructions seem to increase the sense in the subject that you "know what
Subject: "mumble mumble mumble." (Handy Hint Most people when
requested to whisper something to themselves in a theatrical setting like a
Tarot reading will move their lips, and often many intelligible key words
can be gleaned simply by listening closely.)
Me: "Now I lay out the cards in
the ancient Druidic
, insert anachronism
reflecting the WORLD ABOVE
and the WORLD BELOW
Despite the temptation
of an appeal
, I find using a
well-known card configuration
decreases your chance of "success". People regard
you as more of a "visionary
" if you show them something they
And so on.
Results: It was utterly amazing the effect on people of a
simple cold read, coupled with a little showmanship, a dollop of
pop psychology, and my "controversial statements" technique outlined above.
"Best reading ever" "Really felt I got something out of that" "You really have a
gift" All these and more! Not that I want to boast. Of course always at the
end and sometimes at the beginning I made sure to explain what I had done or was
going to do, including explaining how I "knew" what I knew, what they had told
me inadvertently (usually a lot) and what I had told them (usually
Conclusion: As I said in my introduction I was quite
disturbed at the credulity of many folk. And of course once you start doing
these things, even with the explanation, you get a reputation for being a "great
tarot reader" and people approach you offering money. Did I ever
take any? No, of course not. The most disquieting aspect was folk who really
"needed" something, anything, from someone. Turning them down, quite bluntly, by
saying that it had all been an experiment, begging them to go look at James
Randi's website, and telling them I thought Tarot a load of hookum and that
they should probably see a real professional was difficult. People want to believe, they really really do.
Disclosure: I am a well-known
debunker for my friends. If anyone who knows me wants to know how a magic
trick is done or some such, they usually come ask me, which is flattering in
one sense I guess. I have never seen a magic trick I cannot immediately see through. I have (rightly, some would say) been eternally banned from accompanying almost
everyone I know to things like David Copperfield performances. As this writeup contains debunking terms like cold reading and hit, I apologise to any believers for offence caused.
Disclosure Example: I once convinced some friends that their Ouija board (sometimes called a
weegie board) would stop working if I joined the circle, because of my
sceptical aura. That and strong downward pressure, but I didn't explain
that bit. I have strong, long fingers and it's easy for me to appear to be
applying just fingertip pressure whilst actually pressing very hard. Needless
to say, the more credulous in the group were "amazed" that my prediction
proved true. All I had to do was take my hand away and it would start
"working" again! Also, if you are not concentrating on "lightly placing your finger in the indentation" and "allowing the spirit to take control", you can easily feel who is steering the cup. Make that person take their hand off, and it stops working again. It's a kind of magic.