My experience with the paranormal was broadened last week when I was privileged enough to have a tarot card reading performed for myself. The tarot reader knows some of my friends quite well and they have all been rather impressed with their results. I am a vocal sceptic, but I also try to maintain an open mind (but not open enough for my brain to fall out).
Up until now the tarot reader has argued that my sceptical energy would block her powers and she would get a dead reading. The alert sceptic will recognise this as a special pleading, whereby the paranormal believer tries to provide a convincing sounding reason for why his / her own particular brand of woo is not working right now.
Tarot cards are used a a divination tool, practitioners believe that the tarot deck has the ability to provide answers to specific questions, as well as having the ability to pinpoint future events with “remarkable accuracy”. Unfortunately, I did not have a specific question to ask the tarot reader on this occasion, as a result she chose to use a arrangement called the “soaring eagle spread” as this is supposedly a good layout for general fortunetelling and such.
The tarot reader, let us call her Michelle, shuffled the cards, then handed them to me to shuffle. I was told that this is what imparts my energy into the deck and allows the magic of the cards to see into my particular future. I dutifully shuffled the cards a few times and handed them back to Michelle. She shuffled them again and started to lay them out in the wide “V” of the soaring eagle spread.
I will spare you all of the details and just give you the result of my reading. Michelle inferred from the cards which she drew for me that I have a good relationship with my family, that I feel as though I give a lot of myself and receive very little in return, that I may also feel as though my life is not heading in the right direction, but that I have guides (who I cannot see) which are leading me in the right direction (literally “your boat is being guided towards the stars”). One card told Michelle that I am a very strong person, another that I will have to make a decision which may seem selfish but which is for my own good. Michelle also felt that my father is very important to me.
At this point I think it is important for me to reveal my trickery. I have known since I met Michelle (about a year ago) that she reads tarot cards and as a result I have been very careful NOT to divulge any personal information to her. Devious, I know, but I wanted to make sure that she would not have background info for when she did a reading. It would have to be a cold reading. I noticed that all of the people I know who were impressed by Michelle’s readings had been quite liberal with their personal details on many occasions, independent of her readings. They were impressed by her when she was doing HOT readings.
From Wikipedia (oh infinite source of knowledge);
Cold reading is a technique used by mentalists and fortune tellers, psychics, and mediums to determine details about another person in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than he or she actually does. Even without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by carefully analyzing the person’s body language, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readers commonly employ high probability guesses about the subject, quickly picking up on signals from their subjects as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, and then emphasizing and reinforcing any chance connections the subjects acknowledge while quickly moving on from missed guesses.
Hot reading is the use of foreknowledge when giving a “psychic” reading in stage magic performances. The reader can gain information about the sitter (person getting the reading) through a variety of means, such as research or overhearing a conversation. Hot reading is commonly used in conjunction with cold reading (where no foreknowledge is available) and can explain how a psychic reader can get a specific claimed “hit” of accurate information.
I was not impressed by Michelle’s attempted tarot reading. Her supposed interpretation of the cards she dealt for me was so hideously non-specific that I had a hard time preventing myself from calling her out on the spot. I can see how easy it would be for someone a little more gullible then me to subconsciously apply their personal experiences to the cards, to search their memories for instances which ring true with the reading.
I also think a large part of Michelle’s success comes from the fact that people are reticent to tell her outright that she is wrong. I myself felt a pang of disappointment and did not want to insult her by telling her that she had missed the mark. I quickly got over it though and I told her that the reading she had done was not accurate. She did not invoke a special pleading to try and justify her poor performance, from this I think it is reasonable to infer that my sceptical energy did not “block her spirit guides” and that she felt confident about her reading.
This is the part of the post where I am going to get serious. if you are sympathetic towards tarot cards and other forms of divination, you might be sitting there scratching your head and asking yourself “What is so wrong with a little introspection? Tarot is harmless, it doesn’t hurt anybody.”
I disagree with you. I have seen someone get hurt very badly by a well-meaning tarot reading. She was told something she was desperate to believe and when it did not come to pass she was devastated. I saw the reading, I watched her over the following few weeks as she got her hopes up and I tried to instill a little rationality in the situation. Her response was “I know it’s all interpretive, but I want to believe“. It made me very angry to see someone I care for get hurt so badly, I can only hope that she is more cautious the next time.
I will end off with a quote from The Amazing, James Randi;
For use as a divinatory device, the Tarot deck is dealt out in various patterns and interpreted by a gifted “reader.” The fact that the deck is not dealt out into the same pattern fifteen minutes later is rationalized by the occultists by claiming that in that short span of time, a person’s fortune can change, too. That would seem to call for rather frequent readings if the system is to be of any use whatsoever.