Using words clearly, avoiding vague phrases, and understanding nuances are of utmost importance to me in my profession. I work full-time as a tarot reader, astrologer, and metaphysical teacher. The generic umbrella term that is used to describe what I do is “psychic reader.” I have always readily accepted that terminology, but when given the opportunity, I clarify that “psychic is my job title, not my modality.”
When I managed the theatre at a community college my job title was “Theatre Lab Assistant.” When I worked at a youth activity center doing programming, writing the newsletter, selling concessions, and talking with kids I was called a “Receptionist.” When I did the work of an Executive Assistant, my job title was only “Secretary.” I don’t think twice about job titles not matching job descriptions. But when I’m an Executive Assistant and someone repeatedly insists that I’m a Receptionist, and tells me to stop doing what I’m doing and stick to the phones, the whole thing falls apart. I don’t care what you call me, as long as I can do what I’m good at. In addition to having been a top-notch Executive Assistant, I’m also a classically trained and highly skilled tarot reader. What difference does it make what you call me? Let me tell you.
“Tarot” Tops “Psychic” in Google Trends
Online discussions that I have eavesdropped on invariably focus on the marketing potential of each of the terms commonly used to describe intuitive and spiritual readers: Tarot Reader, Psychic, Intuitive, Medium, Empath, Clairvoyant. The typical argument is that the average person seeking a reading will most likely Google the term “psychic reading.” However, with the exception of one week in December in 2012, the term “tarot” is searched more than “psychic,” with “intuitive” far below (even more interesting in that “intuitive” has a variety of mundane connotations that “tarot” and “psychic” don’t). “Psychic Medium” (for obvious reasons “medium” alone would not produce accurate results), “empath,” and “clairvoyant” are all far below “intuitive.” The following graphs from Google Trends indicate in real time the comparison between the search terms “tarot,” “psychic,” and “intuitive” in the United States over the last five years.
When you add the word “reading” to each of the above terms, the psychic version drops even lower and “intuitive reading” bottoms out.
So a smart marketer will use both “tarot” and “psychic” in their searchable content and for keywords and other meta elements of their website. As in my skewed job titles, it doesn’t matter what they call you so much as the fact that I get the job done.
What’s the Difference Between Tarot Reader, Psychic, Intuitive, Medium, Empath, and Clairvoyant?
But do all these words mean the same thing? No, not at all. Let’s define our terms to start off. Following is a list of some of the most popular forms of intuitive reading.
Tarot Reader. A tarot reader uses tarot cards, not as props (beware of readers who describe their cards as such!), but as the tool or instrument for connecting with the information they convey to their querent. This information is obtained from the cards themselves, utilizing one or more of the following: the image, memorized titles or keywords, the esoteric correspondences, external symbolism (standard symbols that are universally understood), internal symbolism (personal or unique meanings the reader has layered onto specific cards and uses consistently), and patterns that link together the cards laid out in the spread. Although this list is not exhaustive, if a self-identified tarot reader claims not to be pulling from the methods listed, it is possible they are instead using non-tarot techniques, including cold reading, psychology, or the psychic clairs. Anyone can learn to read the tarot–no gifts needed. As a bonus, developing your skills with it usually increases your intuition.
Psychic. A psychic does not use external tools, such as tarot cards, an astrological chart, I Ching hexagrams, etc. Rather, they use finely honed mental techniques to connect with the information. A psychic reading is conducted using the clairs: clairvoyance (clear seeing), clairaudience (clear hearing), claircognizance (clear knowing), clairsentience (clear feeling), clairalience (clear smelling), and clairgustance (clear tasting). These clairs are considered to be innate gifts, but a professional psychic has worked to develop, understand, and refine their gifts to consistently work accurately. Psychics are known for connecting to their guides or the client’s guides to relay messages or information. I have never taken a class or read a book on psychic development, so I know the least about it.
Intuitive. Intuition means inner knowing. Everyone has intuition, although some people have a deeper well, some are more innately tuned into it, some understand it more accurately, and some are more open to working with it. In my experience, intuition resonates within me whereas claircognizance (clear knowing) has a foreign feel to it (intuition is like something I have direct experience of and claircognizance would be like something I’ve heard about or studied but not experienced). Intuition can also be called a gut feeling or instinct, although the latter I think is more primal and often tends to be more wary than true intuition, which is inspired, clear, engaged, and present. Intuition is often very personal. I place it at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to doing readings. I think intuition guides our process, giving us, the reader, information, but not providing information for or about the client. My main complaint against intuition is that it is often used as a junk drawer word that is applied injudiciously to anything that takes too long to explain or that we don’t have the pattern recognition skills to understand.
Medium. A medium communicates with the dead. They relay messages from those who have passed over. A medium usually uses the psychic clairs to make these connections. As in the psychic category, this is one I have not studied.
Empath. An empath is someone who feels what another person feels, emotionally and/or physically. There are three types of empathy, according to psychologists: cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and somatic empathy. Cognitive empathy is to be able to mentally understand something about another–if you tell me your dog just died, I would think, I’ll bet she’s feeling sad about that. To me cognitive empathy is the same as sympathy and has a distinct separateness between myself and the other. Affective empathy occurs when I emotionally experience what you experience–I feel sadness myself and might feel my eyes well with tears. Somatic empathy is when I experience in my body your physical condition, perhaps lower back pain from carrying the dog to the vet. Untrained empaths frequently do not realize that they are experiencing other people’s emotional or physical condition and conceive of themselves as moody, emotional, sensitive, or hypochondriacs. I distinguish between sympathy, or having a mental understanding of another’s emotional or physical state and what I call true empathy, in which we fully experience and process the other person’s state of being. True empathy is a sign of a healer. True empathy leads to compassion, which in my vocabulary travels through sympathy and empathy to rise above to a spiritual experience of unity. Compassion as a healing process starts with connecting with another’s pain, then rising above it to a place of spiritual awareness, then using the empathic connection to reflect back to the other the experience of wholeness and healing.
Clairvoyant. Although clairvoyant has a specific meaning of clear seeing, or receiving visual information not available to the ordinary physical sense of sight, this word is frequently misused as an umbrella term for psychism.
Channel. Although this word can specifically refer to letting a spirit or non-corporeal entity speak through you, it has a more general usage of letting Spirit/the Divine/Source work through you.
Artistry. Although not a commonly employed term when speaking about intuitive readers, I wanted to throw this in the mix to express a high level of skill in any of these modalities. If someone has a high level of artistry, we say that they are inspired, have soul, are deep, are connected, and so on. Any of these techniques can be done perfunctorily, sometimes hitting the right notes and sometimes not. Any can be done musically, with beauty of phrasing and a depth of feeling. And any of these modalities can be done artfully, with mastery and virtuosity. Innate gifts in any of these modalities are more likely to place you on the path to artistry, but achieving artistry is reserved for those who spend years practicing, performing, and honing their craft.
Someone tried to tell me today that if I read tarot well, then I was psychic. That to me is the epitome of psychic colonization–that if I was good, I was using her modality. Not true!
As a tarot reader, I am highly trained and skilled with the use of my instrument. Am I psychic? I have innate but undeveloped and unreliable gifts of claircognizance, clairsentience, and clairalience. And I have an abundance of innate intuition that was so distorted or staticky for the first thirty years of my life I found it preferable to develop my rational abilities than let my strong but untuned intuition lead me astray. I am a natural empath, which led me to have no clear sense of self for for the first several decades of my life. I have since developed my intuition and empathy, but before that happened, I learned tarot.
I first began studying tarot after I graduated from college. My love of symbolism in literature and theatre allowed me to step easily into card reading. I started working on developing this skill while my empathy and intuition were still valveless–gushing or stopped up entirely, but not practically useful. Through ongoing and ever-deepening study and practice, I have become highly proficient in reading the cards. And due to installing a tuner on my intuition through personal and spiritual development (ritual work and meditation were my tools), I have its guidance as well. My innate empathy was finally trained through fourteen years of classes, initiations, and practice with the healing system of Reiki. Now I can empathically connect with my client and shift energies during the reading. But I believe the most significant talent I offer my clients is that I have an artistry–a virtuosity if you will–that not all readers have.
My artistry might be somewhat innate, although if you ever heard me play the piano you would exclaim “NOT!” Perhaps it was the desire for artistry that was innate. The need to create is an overwhelming drive in me. Perhaps this desire called to me the tarot–the practice in which I could excel. From childhood I was a poet, a writer, an actor, and moving into college a theatrical director, designer, and producer. In adulthood I spent my hours in the study and practice of meditation, ritual work, and energetic healing. These are the influences that shaped my abilities with the cards. Not some vague gobbledygook of being psychic. A lifetime of craft.
I had a client who each time she sat with me would say, “Please don’t just read the cards, please use your gifts.” What I hear when someone says something that ignorant is “please don’t use any of the skills you’ve worked so hard over your lifetime to develop, rather employ the most base and rudimentary of your abilities in their raw and untested state.” An innate “gift” is only valuable, accurate, and reliable if it is trained. In retrospect, I might recommend to her that she say, “Please only use the gifts that you have spent the most time and effort to train and develop.” As it was, I told her my gift was that I was a highly skilled and classically trained tarot reader. She scrunched up her face in dissatisfaction. But kept coming to me repeatedly. And one time at a psychic fair she complained to me how little help she got from other readers.
It would be the depth of foolishness for me to call myself a psychic when I have never worked to develop the psychic clairs. But it is the height of professionalism for me to advertise myself, as I do, according to decades’ worth of training: as a tarot reader, astrologer, and Reiki practitioner.
So What Am I?
Do I completely avoid the word psychic? Nah. It’s ubiquitous. My job title at Isis Books is “Psychic.” Most online categorizations, such as my Facebook page, my Google business page, and my Yelp page all list me under psychic. I list myself as a tarot reader when I can, but it’s often not an option. On LinkedIn I list myself as “Tarot Reader, Astrologer, Metaphysics Teacher.” However, I seem to have more endorsements for psychic readings and Reiki than for tarot!
As an empath, I allowed other people’s experiences to define me for decades. Through my diligent work to understand and improve myself, I have learned to be my true self, self defined: “Completely Joyous” as my blog puts it. I have persevered to become completely me so that I can help you become completely you. So I laugh that others consider me psychic and I consistently and optimistically remind them that I’m not a psychic, I’m a damn good tarot reader.
What do I offer as a reader? I am the poet, the priest, the healer, the muse. When the lure and lull of language, the suckerpunch of symbolism, the combustion of inspiration, and the open door of energetic initiation combine in the crucible of the reading, the experience is as exhilarating as a Hollywood blockbuster, as cathartic as Greek tragedy, and as simple as free verse. I am the writer. I am the artist. I am the tarot reader.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.