Unless you’ve kept your interest and practice with tarot a total secret, you are going to be asked by someone for a reading at some point. It’s completely up to you how you answer this request, but at some point, if you want to grow and expand your skills with this tool, you’ll want to give it a try.
Reading for others is engaging, entertaining, fun, exciting, and will greatly improve your own knowledge of the tarot with each experience. You can also make a helpful bit of income from it, whether you’re doing it just to buy something you’ve been saving up for or if you plan to make it a full-time job. But recognizing the difficulties and preparing for them as best you can is the way to avert, or at least manage it if it happens.
I’m going to begin with some advice and suggestions in general for reading for other people, and then go more into the things specifically relating to being paid for this.
1. Knowledge and familiarity.
Practically speaking, you must have a solid understanding of the deck you’re using and at least one layout spread you can rely on to use and fully understand the interpretation of the cards’ positions. I always recommend a version of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck as a first deck for new readers. This is because the artwork that Pamela Coleman Smith combined with the occult meanings provided by A.E. Waite formed the basis of the elemental, magical, and esoteric meanings of the cards. This deck is the foundation for practically all tarot decks that have been produced in the 100+ years since its creation. The Rider portion of the name is for the publishing company that produced the deck — William Rider & Son of London.
The reason for these requirements — solid understanding and comfortable confidence in a layout — is so that you can free up your intuition to take the lead in the reading. You don’t need to have every single meaning of every single card committed to memory, but you do need to understand the way the illustration on the card is intended to come across and what motifs and concepts it expresses. Familiarity with the deck means that you recognize the type of message or meaning the card has when you view it.
2. Know your layout.
You need to know the meaning of the layout so that you can tell how to put it together to your querent (the person you are reading for). Think of it as if the cards are the words in a story. Each card is a page in the book. The layout is the order of the pages so that you can tell the story in a coherent way. “Cinderella” wouldn’t make any sense and wouldn’t impart any theme if it started out with her dancing at the ball with the prince, then the next page had her mother dying and father marrying the stepmother, then next she received her gifts from Fairy Godmother — including the glass slippers.
3. Honesty about your experience.
When you’re new, let your querent know that you’re new and still learning how to do this. Encourage them to take this journey with you as you deal out the cards. Ask them, “Does this seem to make sense? Do you relate to this? What do you think of this?” You should work to trust your own gut reaction to the images and the associations that come to mind, but you’re also learning how to connect the cards with your intuition and with your querent. It’s a triangular partnership. You’re interpreting the images, but you’re also asking for their verification that you’re on the correct path with what you’re picking up. As your skill and confidence builds, you will begin to read with more authority and your querent will let you know without any prompting that what you’re saying is resonating with their situation.
Speaking from experience here as I had a stubborn guy get a reading at a party who had this type of confrontational, skeptical attitude ask, “Why do you need me to tell you if it relates? You’re the one who’s reading the cards. Can’t you see what they mean?”
I responded with, “The best reading I can provide for you is when I know the interpretation I’m providing is on track. If you want me to just read the cards for what they say, without interpreting it to fit your personal situation, I can do that. But you’ll get more from this if you let me know if the context I’m interpreting in this situation…” I indicated the layout between us, “is correct.”
Here’s an example: A physician studies for years, puts in hundreds of hours under supervised practice, and has to go through rigorous testing to be licensed and certified. So, you can safely assume that they know what they’re doing when you go to see them. But they still can make mistakes. They’re still human. Knowing this, how far would you get at being cured of an illness if you go into their office and just say, “I’m sick.”?
They ask, “What’s wrong?”
“My head hurts.”
“In what way? Do you see flashes of light? Is it a piercing pain? Where do you feel the pain? Have you tried taking anything for it?”
Would you respond with, “You’re the doctor. Aren’t you supposed to tell me?”
As a tarot reader, I’m not even asking you for those details. I just want to know if the track I’m picking up on is the one we should follow.
To put it another way, each card has multiple meanings — looking through the little booklet that comes with the deck, you can see this. My understanding of The Moon can mean secrets, the unconscious, the shadow self, deep mysteries, feminine energy at work in the background, cycles of change, and sometimes it relates to a pet dog! In order to know if I have intuitively picked up on which meaning The Moon has in this reading for this querent, I should ask.
If you thought it was talking about the querent keeping a secret, and suffering with the strain of keeping it to themselves and bearing it all alone, but they think they have no situation this would apply to, they can tell you the ‘secret’ bit feels off. So, you go with the ‘shadow self’ and ‘cycles of change’, because those are other messages you’re picking up on from the card. Now, thinking about a deeper psychological meaning in their situation, they might connect the fact that they haven’t told anyone about their Depression diagnosis and have been struggling with it on their own. So, there’s the secret! You can now read the rest of the cards to see what is being suggested for their best course of action from this.
4. Read for them in private.
Your readings should always be one-on-one. Even if the querent says that it’s okay if others are present, insist on this. They can wait nearby, out of earshot. The querent can tell them all about the reading afterward, if they choose. But the querent needs as much freedom as can be provided for them to open and allow themselves to share their inner thoughts and feelings. This is in order to get the most out of the reading. While you’re learning, this is also important so that you can accurately determine how the cards are coming through to you. You’re training yourself how to intuitively hone in on one other person. It’s not fair to expect a beginner to know how to handle multiple people and their influence. If they insist, you can decide if you will read or not. But advise that if others are present you’ll try your best, but the reading may lack accuracy and integrity on some level.
5. Have a personal code of ethics and know your limits/boundaries.
Assuming that if you’re reading for friends and family that you know and who know you, you won’t need to really mention that you’re not a professional psychologist or therapist (unless you are) but if this isn’t the case, it’s the first thing you should mention. Don’t overstep this line. Don’t offer medical advice such as ceasing a prescription. Don’t offer legal advice unless you’re a lawyer — and even then, no lawyer I know would give advice without charging for it. If something health/medical related comes up, you can suggest they speak to their physician or go to another medical provider for a second opinion. If something legal/dealing with the law comes up, suggestions they speak to a lawyer or look into the matter to take precautions is fine, and helpful. Your code of ethics should also include assurances of privacy. You will not speak about what comes up in the reading to another, unless it involves something you are compelled to say by law. If a person admits to committing a crime like abusing their child, or indicates that they plan to commit a serious crime, I consider that something I am morally, ethically, and legally bound to report to the authorities.
DO NOT PREDICT DEATH — even if you believe you see it to the deepest part of your soul. Remember that life is about choices and change. If this comes up, and you see the death of a loved one, judge if it’s worth suggesting that the querent seek to soothe any hurts or regrets that they may have so that they can heal. Remind them gently that it’s not ideal to hold onto unfinished or unresolved issues, for the sake of their own growth. If it is the querent’s death you see, tell them to be wary of their health and well-being, “If you have had any symptoms or issues, perhaps you should seek out a doctor’s advice.” If they have been burying themselves in work, advise them shift focus to their loved ones and things they are passionate about. Stress that they focus on what they believe their life’s purpose to be. What goals do they have that are still unfulfilled that they could gain a powerful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from achieving them? Tell them they should refocus their attention to the things that really matter.
6. Have compassion, empathy, and humor.
You will need to learn how to pass along the message or answer questions clearly and honestly. You can phrase things with kindness, but it does no good to withhold information just because it is unpleasant. If you see infidelity/divorce/strife in a relationship, advise the querent to assure themselves of their own strength and capabilities. Make sure they know they should be prepared for a sudden, unexpected change — I say this, because often the sign for this in readings I have seen include the Tower, two of cups reversed, eight of cups in a ‘danger’ spot in the layout, ten of cups reversed in a bad spot… etc.
I include a package of tissues in my tarot “go-bag” for things like this. Sometimes, emotions run high and it’s nice to have them handy.
7. Have a go-bag if you’re going to travel for readings.
I keep my decks, runes, and other items I use for divination sessions and readings in a small tote bag so that I don’t have to gather my things if I’m scheduling readings. This probably isn’t really as helpful or necessary until you’re doing readings for other people on a more regular schedule, but I still like to offer it as a suggestion. My current go-bag is a small purple tote with pockets. Contents are as follows:
Decks – individually wrapped in their own square of fabric.
Pouch with my runes.
Pouch with stones and crystals.
Pouch with my pendulum.
Cloths for covering a surface for a spread to be laid out.
Incense of choice – typically frankincense, sandalwood, or nag champa.
Small box of wooden matches/lighter.
Business cards with my name and contact email.
Small votive candle in a sturdy holder.
Small vial of my divination oil blend.
Small bottle of rose water.
Small package of tissues.
Small package of wet wipes.
Blank summary sheets for me to fill out and for the querent to keep after the reading.
A couple of pens.
My water bottle — it’s thirsty work.
A small notepad for my own notes/records of a reading — to write it down if I get a new insight for a card or the idea for making a new layout.
A booklet of tear-off receipts
At this point, let’s talk about some things that will really begin to apply more as you do multiple readings for strangers and decide to request payment for your services as a card reader, after you’ve really gotten good at this. You may certainly use these techniques as I’ve given them, or adapt them to your own preferences.
1. Clearing yourself and your deck between/after readings.
You should practice intentionally forgetting the last reading you did and separating yourself and your deck from it. If I have the querent’s name written on a list or calendar for the appointment, I put a check mark next to it, indicating visually to myself that it is completed. With group events/parties, I have a sign-up sheet just outside of where I am reading. I ask the querent to mark their name off of the list when we’re finished (this is so they will also separate themselves from the energy of the reading, because I’ve previously set the list with that intention). After the querent leaves and I’m alone, I use an adapted formula of Laurie Cabot’s Total Health Clearance practice by taking my hand, with my palm facing my face, raised just above my forehead in front of me. I pass my hand downward over my face, throat, heart center, and abdomen. At abdominal level, I turn my wrist and push outward, intentionally separating myself from the energy of the last reading. I state: “The connection is broken. I give myself total clearance from our reading. Go in peace, (querent’s name), and walk in wisdom.”
Once I’ve separated myself, I pick up my deck and hold it while taking a deep breath and exhaling. I then do a “sliding shuffle”. This is what I call the technique of holding the cards in one hand and drop-sliding them into my other hand to mix them up, while holding the intention of breaking up the querent’s energy from our reading. I do this at least three times, maybe more if it was a particularly intense reading. I then put the deck back on the table and knock on it three times to clear out and reset the deck’s energy in preparation for the next reading.
2. Provide a record to your querent of the reading.
Tarot Reading Summary – (Link to PDF of my record sheet if you would like to use it for yourself)
Allow the querent the chance to take a picture of the layout so they have a visual reference to keep of their reading. If doing a reading online, send them a screenshot or picture attached to the reading summary sheet you’ve completed for them in and email.
Allow them to take notes, if they wish, during the reading. Just inform them that you’ll provide a short summary of the reading, and if there is a time limit to the reading, they’ll need to be brief with their pause to take notes so that you can get through everything. Note-taking isn’t practical in a party setting, as readings are usually limited to 20 minutes.
3. Try your best to let go of a bad reading.
Some readings won’t go smoothly. It’s just the way it goes, but don’t let those experiences weigh on you or bring you down. Sometimes, you will just be ‘off’ and the cards will plunk and drag and not really tell you anything. You can try to just ‘cold read’ them when this happens by falling back on the basic interpretations of the cards to see if something sparks.
Sometimes, you’ll get a challenging or stubborn querent. You can try to help them relax. People have a need to be heard and validated for their vulnerability. You may fall into being more of a listener or counselor than a talker when providing a reading to these types of people. If someone challenges a reading by being resistant or argumentative, or if cold card reading isn’t helping, you can offer/ask if there is another question or direction they would like to take. If there is no improvement, it’s okay to decline/refund payment and end the session. In a party session, refunding isn’t needed since it’s usually the host/hostess who paid you. If you accepted payment from the querent themselves, it’s up to you if you decide to refund whole or part of the payment.
4. If you’re doing back-to-back readings at an event or a party, schedule breaks for yourself.
When I schedule for reading at a party, I will take a 10 minute break after every 6 readings (20 minutes per reading – 15 for the reading and 5 for follow up). Usually, this means one break since I don’t really do parties for more than 3-4 hours. For something like a psychic fair or all-day event, I schedule the same short break at 90-minute intervals and take 45 minutes off for a meal break. These are non-negotiable. Get up, walk around, leave the area. If you remain at your station, you might not actually get your break because people will want to talk to you. Establish boundaries and politely (but firmly) maintain them.
Along with this, if you’re reading at a party, make sure you read for the host/hostess early. They will likely want to wait until the end of the party to allow their guests to have a turn. Advise them that after everyone has had a turn, they probably will be too tired to enjoy theirs. You will possibly be too worn out by this point too, and I know I feel bad if I don’t give the hostess my best work.
5. Keep records of your earnings and expenses for tax purposes.
As of the time of this article, if you make over $600 a year for your tarot services, you technically will owe federal taxes. The good side of this is that you can also claim any supplies or items used for your business as a write-off. Speak with a certified public accountant or tax expert for information. I am neither of these and cannot help beyond letting you know that this is a real thing.
Potential business expenses for a professional tarot reader:
- Bags to keep decks, crystals, etc.
- Music – if you use it during sessions/readings
- Gasoline to/from appointments – you will need receipts to match that you gave readings for these dates
- Books about tarot and related topics (divination, spirituality, business management)
- Any conventions for tarot or related business
- Camera, microphone, and any related computer equipment or software if you do online readings
- Your phone bill if you use your phone for readings — you may need to establish a separate phone number for this
6. Have a payment/refund policy.
Tarot Reading Policy (Link to a PDF of my policy)
It’s fair to ask for payment for your time in a reading, but it’s also important that you give your clientele value for what they’re spending money on. This is why I do little extras for my querents. It’s not a requirement to provide a written summary, or a picture of their reading. But I do this so that they have something to look at and remember what they were told during our session because I believe it can be helpful and meaningful to them. I’ve studied and read tarot for over 25 years, and professionally for over 10 years. Tarot isn’t something you can master in a month, and I put a lot of time and energy into becoming proficient with it. I charge by the time spent, not by the number of cards drawn.
My policy form also includes my code of ethics and a place for the client to sign in acknowledgement.
These things aren’t everything that can be done or talked about, but it should be enough to give you an idea of how to get started reading for others, and help with ideas for going professional. I wish you the best going forward!