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Some tarot readers advertise themselves as psychic. Psychics often use tarot cards in their readings. There are a number of books and decks that use both psychic and tarot in their titles. They are seen together often enough that many people think you need to be psychic to read tarot. Yet few, if any, books give specific instructions for reading tarot psychically, nor do they describe how it differs from reading intuitively or by using fixed meanings. The vague discussion of psychic techniques in tarot reading has led to the comment, based on advice found in some books (but used pejoratively by detractors) that this is the “look at the card and just say anything that comes to mind” school. If it were this easy, why wouldn’t all our “unthinking” pronouncements yield lottery wins and ideal decisions? And why any need for psychic development classes?

Earlier, I talked about the difference between psychic and intuitive abilities. Here, I want to present a few thoughts on what is actually involved in the psychic aspect of reading the cards. Primarily it involves putting yourself in a state or framework conducive to psychic insights as well as using techniques that help you recognize and capture accurate insights (ones not tangled up with personal projections). In essence, it involves getting all your own stuff—everything that colors and distorts—out of the way of the raw information that is available to “other” levels of awareness. These techniques also aid in intuition.

I previously defined psychic as a paranormal, extrasensory perception or sixth sense. Psi involves accessing information beyond the reach of our normal input, though it may be associated with any sense. For instance, clairvoyant means “clear seeing,” clairaudient is “clear hearing,” clairsentient is “clear feeling.” There’s even a “clear smelling.” The field of ESP or psi also includes telepathy, mediumship and precognition.

Everyone is psychic. Some (as with artists and musicians) are more talented then others. Almost everyone can be taught to recognize and use psychic abilities to some extent. Basically it involves turning off or sidestepping the logical, analytical mind and the flow of negative and critical thoughts about being wrong. Instead you learn to open yourself to other modes of awareness. Stress and anxiety, though they can sometimes increase psychic sensitivity as part of a survival mechanism, more often inhibit psi. A positive attitude and belief certainly helps to increase psychic awareness.

The first instruction is usually to learn to meditate. By meditate, I mean to relax the body, breathe deeply and evenly (oxygenating the blood), and quiet the mind’s incessant chatter so as to quickly and easily reach an alpha and, eventually, a theta state (brain-wave frequencies similar to that found during dreaming and hypnotic trances). As the Buddhist meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn observes, a meditation practice is precisely that—practice to enable you to quickly access these states when you need to. Such practice sessions are used, for instance, by Christian mystics who find that meditating on a spiritual text clears away irrelevant details and allows an image or idea to arise, as if out of a still pool, that captures the essential nature of the text. Other explanations are then recognized as superfluous ornamentation to this core message.

Meditation can result in a sensation of floating around in the ozone and coming back “spaced,” so along with it comes a whole variety of ways of centering the attention:—staring at something, concentrating on a word, or using a visualization whose intent is “grounding”. There is also a sense of being able to move through different “layers” of reality or consciousness and to widen or narrow one’s focus. These have been defined in each culture or group to fit in with their particular stories about what is happening—whether it’s Theosophy, shamanism, spiritualism, mysticism, or ceremonial magic. For instance, imaginative routines have been developed that help you choose and identify a layer or plane of consciousness that is most ideal for a specific task and to move energy from one plane to another, and even to effect physical world changes (known as “magic”). Some systems make use of an interior movie screen or crystal or library or a guide or ally to help bring the information through more clearly.

The fact is, if you’re psychically talented you probably don’t need to go through all these processes to get psychic impressions, but you may not be able to turn the impressions off when you want, or you may be unable to tell when information is for you or someone else. Additionally, if you are not especially talented or are walled off from your psychic self, then these techniques are the basis of an effective training program. The meditation and visualization techniques are designed to enable you to control when and how the psychic information presents itself to you.

On its own, psychic sensitivity often operates in cycles through your life. Certain circumstances, which you probably won’t be able to identify, will trigger a phase of being more or less psychic. “Psi tech” can even these fluctuations out. Fluctuations in ability are one reason why many psychics and mediums have resorted to fraudulent practices. It’s bad for business when you aren’t always psychically “on.”

Now, when it comes to tarot, a psychic will usually approach the cards differently then someone who reads them primarily through symbolic meanings. When using symbolic meanings we learn that “ones,” for instance, indicate new beginnings, a focused will and individuality, and that flowers mean a “flowering” or cultivating something beautiful, and that red is about energy and passion. We put these things together to come up with an interpretation of their melded meanings. It’s in the “melding” that intuitive and psychic insights often make their way in.

By contrast, when working psychically (and there is much variation in the way this can be done), you don’t focus on the details at first. Rather you use what I call “diffuse awareness.” Let me give you an example and a practice technique.

Ideally, you would have someone you don’t know well sitting across from you who thinks of their question while shuffling but doesn’t say it aloud. If practicing by yourself, try to not think of anything. Use breath and relaxation to center and ground yourself.

Instead of using a spread, take the shuffled deck and throw the top five cards face up onto the reading surface so that they overlap each other slightly and at random angles. Keep your awareness open and diffuse—as if trying to be aware of what’s at the edges of your visual range without actually looking there. It may help to keep your eyes only half open. Glance at your “pile” and catch a sense of the color emphasis. Look away keeping your eyes unfocused. Was one area more red then another? Did blue peep through on the right side? Was a predominantly yellow card separated from the others? Look again quickly if you need to. Then, let your mind be filled with these different areas of color. How do they feel? What do they want of you? Notice any sensations that arise in your body. Speak these feelings and impressions out loud without censoring anything. In fact, try to reel in anything that flickers at the edge of your awareness or that you find yourself resisting or negating. Be a little silly. Say the ridiculous.

Now glance at the cards again and notice what images catch your attention. Look away and do the same thing with the symbols and images that jumped out at you from the cards. Occasionally, as you speak, look back at the cards to catch another impression from them. Don’t get caught up in reading an individual card but rather try to keep a sense of them as a field.

Close your eyes, deepen your breath. Let yourself sink into the center of yourself. If there were a message in everything you’ve seen, said and felt, what is its essence? What do all these impressions want you to know? Finally, tell yourself you will remember everything that has occurred.

Take a deep breath and on the exhale deliberately come back to normal, waking consciousness. Stretch back into your usual self. If alone, write it all down. If with another person, now is the time to become analytical. Ask her what you said that seemed to work and was most accurate. Note what was going on when you said those things. Then ask her what seemed most inaccurate. Note if there was any difference in where that came from. Ask the person for any other impressions she had or things she noticed. If possible, write down what the person says and get an update in a couple of weeks and/or months. This is a way to discover and refine from where and how the most accurate information comes.

What I’ve noticed most about truly psychic, rather than intuitive, information is that it appears as well-known facts and so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning. In fact, it’s so blatant and obvious that it would seem manipulative or embarrassing to state it and yet the thought doesn’t go away. For instance, once at a lecture just before the break, the speaker offered to give a book to anyone who knew the four-digit number she was thinking. I thought it was silly since the number was too obvious for words, but I wrote it down on my piece of paper and handed it in. After the break, but before the number was announced, she asked if anyone knew what the number referred to. Again, it seemed totally obvious it was her birth year. It mean, what else could it be? It was so silly I didn’t even bother to speak up. Well, I won the book and it was her birth year. It was only when I realized that none of the other 80-odd people had gotten it right that I realized anything out of the ordinary had happened—but it still felt absurdly obvious.

For me, psychic information comes without any emotion—it just is. I’m more strongly empathic (which is related but different), but even the “emotions” I sense have a certain charge-less quality to them. One other example happened at work in an office with several other people and one phone. The phone rang and I said, without thinking, “I’ll get it. It’s Terry (my then-husband), and he’s been in a car accident.” It was simply a fact, plus I knew he was all right. The problem was, he never forgave me, because the first words out of my mouth after he told me was, “How’s the car?” It was totaled, but he took my question as my caring more about the car then him, rather than my already knowing absolutely that he was unharmed.

Here are a couple of things to watch for. The points may seem to contradict each other, but part of the psychic character can be a certain paradoxical quality like perceiving something as both a wave and a particle.

• Watch for images, thoughts, impressions, smells at the edge of awareness.

• It may seem too obvious and ordinary a fact to be significant. Doesn’t everyone know it?

• The impression keeps slipping in, getting in the way of other things, though a part of you insists on ignoring it or telling you that you’ve made it up or that it’s irrelevant.

• There’s no emotional impact; it simply is (even when part of the impression is of an emotion). Occasionally psychic information can only reach you by making you sick but, usually, if you are anxious and afraid that something will happen (like your child getting hurt) it’s not a psychic insight but your own fears. I’ve used this last point as a test for years.

Finally, for most tarot readers, psychic insights are only a small part of what we do during a reading, and they can occur in ways I haven’t even begun to mention. Almost everyone who reads tarot reports an increase in psychic experiences. However, not all psychic predictions come to pass nor are all insights true in the way you think they are. Reading tarot is both an art and a responsibility so it pays to improve your inner tools and skills in every way that you can so that each ability can become a check-and-balance for the others.

It is assumed that tarot readers use either psychic or intuitive abilities. In fact, these are, almost always, among their skills. Querents usually come for a reading because they are looking for information outside the normal, rational processes for obtaining it. They want that “something extra,” even if it’s just entertainment.

What I want to query today is:

• Why are ‘psychic’ and ‘intuitive’ so often conflated into a single thing? (A web search on psychic + intuitive should convince you that the words often appear together to express the same thing.)
• As tarot readers do we know when we are using psychic rather than intuitive faculties and vice versa?

The terms psychic and intuitive actually describe two different processes that could be seen as opposite ends of a spectrum. One can even trigger another. By using both words together or interchangeably we attempt to cover all bases. Can we improve our skill in using these abilities? Yes. But it helps to differentiate between them— at least while developing them as skills.

Psychic is usually described as “extra sensory perception.” It accesses information beyond the reach of our normal senses. Thus, it is deemed paranormal; a sixth sense. The term psychic was first used by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion in the 1860s and, soon after, by the chemist William Crookes to describe the spiritualist medium Daniel Douglas Home. Originally it implied seership, prophecy or mediumship. Now it refers to a broad range of abilities including telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and precognition.

Psi research (parapsychology) has amassed enough evidence to convince all but a few of the most skeptical scientists, who have examined this evidence, of its existence. Even the CIA and then the military had what they called a “remote viewing” program from the early 1970s until 1995.

Intuition, on the other hand, is the completely normal functioning of human cognition. It is part of a bodily survival mechanism. It has been called gut feeling, a hunch, instinct or insight. It involves intelligence at work without conscious thought. Essentially it is the act or process of coming to direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring. With intuition we sense truth without explanations. Using unconscious forms of analogy and induction we instantly perceive connections and patterns. This sometimes results in a clear direction for action.

Both psychic awareness and intuition communicate to us through symbols, sensory feelings and emotions, which is one reason why they may be so hard to separate. With intuition, however, we can sometimes justify our hunches by backtracking and discerning sensory input and mental connections that only make sense after the fact. By contrast, with a true psychic impression a direct connection simply doesn’t exist, except, perhaps, when interpreting feelings and symbols in which the psychic impression can be cloaked.

I highly recommend two books for understanding and developing your intuition:

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker.

Gerd Gigerenzer is a director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. His research was a major source for Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. In Gut Feelings, he describes intuition as a judgment that appears quickly, whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of, yet is strong enough to act upon. “It ignores information, violates the laws of logic, and is the source of many human disasters.” On the other hand, as Gigerenzer shows, it can outwit the most sophisticated reasoning and computational strategies.

Intuitional skills can be learned. Gigerenzer explains how it often works through simple rules of thumb that take advantage of cognitive abilities, recognition memory, social instincts, and visual tracking.

Gavin de Becker, in The Gift of Fear, says, “Intuition is the journey form A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.” True, this book focuses on high-stakes predictions: how to spot subtle signs of danger to avoid violence. Yet, it is one of the best and most compassionate books I know that tells you how to recognize and when to trust intuition.

How do you tell the difference between fear that is true and fear that is unwarranted? “Intuition is always learning,” de Becker tells us, “and though it may occasionally send a signal that turns out to be less than urgent, everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Unlike worry, it will not waste your time.”

Intuition comes to us through emotions, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, anxiety and humor. De Becker’s “elements of prediction,” along with Gigerenzer’s “rules of thumb,” can help you make better decisions than just relying on reason alone.


Intuition can arise during a tarot reading in countless ways. One of these is when symbols in several cards suddenly seem to come forward and link together to reveal a repeating or developing theme. Everything else can appear to recede in the face of the insistence and aliveness of these symbols. In face-to-face readings, subtle clues from the querent—including things picked up from so-called “cold reading”—will echo meanings in the cards, creating a kind of resonance. Words said by the querent can ring with truth, especially when they match keywords for cards in the spread.

Tarot readers can become much more aware of when and how they access intuition in a reading. They can then help a querent recognize when the querent’s own intuitions have been activated and may contain valuable truths.

The picture above is an amalgam of four cards from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. Can you identify them?

I’ll write later about psychic development and another important ability in reading tarot, empathy.

psychictarotreader2.jpgDo a Google search on the words ‘psychic + tarot’ and you’ll come up with 370,000 entries, the majority of which are professional readers advertising their skills. One person offers an “intuitive, psychic tarot reading.” Others list themselves as an “empathic, intuitive, psychic tarot reader,” a “gifted psychic reader,” and a “psychic medium who uses the tarot”. The claims are sometimes outrageous—“99% accurate psychic predictions,” “only the truth,” “world renown,” “specializing in reuniting loved ones,” and “love and money spells” to remove curses—all indicators that you should beware of what you’re getting into. One characteristic of a psychic tarot reading, it seems, is that you won’t find interpretations that come out of a book; instead these are “cosmic insights,” “channeled wisdom,” or clairvoyance. (I bought this statue when Tarot for Your Self first came out—to celebrate the day.)

Search on ‘intuition or intuitive + tarot’ and there are 385,000 entries. There are an additional 216,000 listings for ‘Tarot Reader’ that do not use the terms psychic, intuitive or intuition. And, 225,000 listings for either a ‘tarot consultant or counselor’ with all previous words eliminated. By contrast, a search on Tarot alone results in thirty-two and a half million entries.

Intuitive tarot, when the word ‘psychic’ has been eliminated, emphasizes listings for decks, books, articles and courses, but there are still plenty of ads for readings. These readers are somewhat more likely to advertise themselves as spiritual counselors or consultants (who might also practice Reiki or coaching or “down-to-earth guidance”). But descriptions still feature an aversion to interpretations found in books: “An intuitive approach to tarot reading places the power within,” while a book meaning “denies the power within.” Intuitive tarot involves “that gut feeling or first instinct that comes to you when you look at a card. . . . It is a gut reading more so than regurgitation of memorized definitions.”

Self-styled ‘tarot counselors’ (when eliminating the intuitive and psychic words) seem to have an altogether different vibe. They use tarot “as a therapeutic method and means for self-realization,” “for drawing out information lying deep inside,” and “for helping someone to clearly see a particular present situation.” Sessions are “designed to bring personal fulfillment . . . to assist and guide, to empower and uplift.” Book meanings are sometimes acknowledged as helpful for their depth, wisdom and guidance.

‘Therapeutic tarot’ or ‘tarot therapy’ seems to focus on healing modalities including massage and Reiki in addition to such counseling skills as “assisting you in reaching your goals [and to] gain clarity.” The querent’s projections (ascribing one’s own feelings, thoughts, attitudes or situation to another person or thing) are often described as a major method for determining the significance of the cards.

A search on ‘tarot + projection’ turned up an interesting report from Quirk’s Marketing Research Review called “Heart Maps and Tarot Cards” by Steven Richardson. It describes how tarot cards have been used to help medical doctors talk about the influence of marketing in their disease treatment decision-making processes:

“Tarot cards serve as unique picture-sort stimuli for images and archetypes (but are not used as actual tarot cards for readings, just for the symbolism). In this technique, ask physicians to thumb through the cards quickly and come up with ones that describe or dramatize how they personally feel about being a doctor in the practice of medicine as it relates to a particular disease state. . . . In another study conducted by [Myra] Summers, the tarot card technique was helpful in understanding doctors’ attitudes towards treating terminally ill patients (though Summers also does not use the cards as they are used in tarot readings). The technique revealed meaningful insight into the emotional distress a number of oncologists experience every day.”*

Notice how quick the author is to disassociate this use of cards from tarot readings. Yet, how many tarot readers would claim that such insights are precisely what they turn to the cards for?

I plan on writing much more on this topic, but will leave it for now. I encourage you to write in comments on your own thoughts on this subject.

*You can see a Power Point Presentation (ppt) by Pat Sabena and Nicole Sabena Feagin on their landmark research study using tarot, called “Getting Doctors to Spill their Guts” – here.


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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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