Dealing the Distasteful

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
An international group of tarotists (check out the master list) are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers. Today’s topic, from Morgan Drake Eckstein of Gleamings from the Golden Dawn, is “the ‘distasteful’ cards—the cards that evoke a strong negative reaction.”


Dealing the Distasteful

“20 Judgement” from the Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood, published by Llewellyn.
“20 Judgement” from the Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood,
published by Llewellyn.

A friend and colleague yesterday was telling me how frustrated she was because lately her psychic abilities were off.
I took a quick look at her chart, and sure enough, with Mars in her sixth house opposite her Neptune in Scorpio, I told her yes, it will affect your work and it will last for a few more weeks. “What can I do about it?” she implored. My response to this kind of problem is always to integrate the problem planet instead of trying to repress it—I told her to take a more active rather than receptive approach to her readings; my initial thought was to use the cards more rather than just trying to be open to receiving the info. “I have had to rely more on the cards the past few weeks,” she confirmed.
She said she normally started off a reading with straight psychic info—this unfortunate transit and its temporary closing down of her psychic center was negatively impacting her usual format for her readings. I suggested she start with pulling a card instead—I teased that she could become an Angel card reader. Then we started joking around and I mimicked: “Today you have the Unicorn card. It is followed by the Rainbow Unicorn card. Next is the Frolicking Unicorn card! And now you have the Sleeping Unicorn card.”
There is a contingent of readers out there who appeal to the client who does not want answers or an in-depth problem-solution exploration, but who just wants some hand-holding and hugs. Not to bash hugs! And certainly there are times for each of us when we know what the problems are and simply want a good friend to give us an atta-girl and send us on our way.
“XV – The Devil” from the Morgan-Greer Tarot by Bill Greer, Lloyd Morgan, published by U.S. Games.
“XV – The Devil” from the Morgan-Greer Tarot by Bill Greer, Lloyd Morgan,
published by U.S. Games.

But most tarot readers have found that having a full selection of representative images of life’s ups and downs is the most honest and forthright way to approach life. By getting a clear sense of roadblocks and set-backs, we discover the most effective way to easily overcome them.
So what do you do when you deal the distasteful?
One of the things I have discovered for myself is that as long as I know all the permutations of the card, the image the client sees does not necessarily have to be strongly affective. I stopped using my beloved Morgan Greer deck with in-person clients when too often the unusual Devil card, with its stark image, angry red circling a shaggy black goat’s face and that eerie black housefly in an inverted pentagram, caused people to visibly jump or close down energetically. We can help people best when they are open to the reading and trust that we will help them find solutions.
“VI – The Lovers” from the DruidCraft Tarot by Stephanie Carr-Gomm, Philip Carr-Gomm, Will Worthington, published by St. Martin’s Press.
“VI – The Lovers” from the DruidCraft Tarot by Stephanie Carr-Gomm, Philip Carr-Gomm, Will Worthington, published by St. Martin’s Press.

Likewise, I found that too much nudity can derail a reading. One reader I knew took all the naked cards out of his deck to work with his psychotherapy clients. I thought this was extreme—there are certainly plenty of decks available with no nudity. Once a friend, a college age man, was over at my apartment visiting. He reached down and grabbed one of the decks off the bookcase next to the chair he was sitting in and began thumbing through it. He suddenly said, “Oh my. These are graphic.” He had grabbed the Robin Wood deck. If my cards can embarrass a young man, they probably don’t need to be on my client table. (I continued to use that deck for phone readings.)
That said, I was working as a reader in a metaphysical store and a woman started asking questions about decks. She was old (to me), gray hair, maybe in her 60s, maybe older. I brought out the store’s box of sample decks and we started looking through it. She liked the Robin Wood so I intentionally (but without saying anything) dug through and pulled out a number of cards, including some with the more graphic nudity. “Oh!” She exclaimed. “This one’s a little naughty!” She looked over several other decks, and in the end finally concluded, “I like that deck with the lovely art, and I like that it’s a little naughty.” She ended up buying it.
“Strength VIII” from the Tarot of the Old Path, by Howard Rodway, Sylvia Gainsford, published by U.S. Games.
“Strength VIII” from the Tarot of the Old Path, by Howard Rodway, Sylvia Gainsford, published by U.S. Games.

I was reading at a local restaurant and bar once with my Druidcraft deck. A male client in his 50s sat down and in the spread we pulled the Lovers card. That card shows a man and women engaged in coitus out in the woods with a deer looking on. When I turned that card over the man seemed to get uncomfortable and energetically and physically turned away—he wouldn’t look at the card. I said he needed to find a relationship/sex partner, but he consistently denied it. Again, I decided that the card image was not helping my work as a reader and the deck became relegated to a personal deck (and one of my favorites!).
To be clear, it is the level of detail that determines if a card is too graphic for a client’s comfort. Some of my favorite client decks, including the Legacy of the Divine and the Tarot of the Old Path, have plenty of nudity, but it is implied, suggested, veiled, or simply lacking the level of detail that the naughty decks have.
Sometimes in client readings we deal the distasteful. But if a card image is violent, scary, or discomforting enough that the client closes down energetically, they are less open to change, possibility, or healing, they fail to trust the process, and our job is made more difficult. If a card is too distasteful it will be repressed. But if we use images that the the client can be open to and trust, then the difficult card can be integrated and overcome.


Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit
© 2015 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five 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 grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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  1. Hello Joy, years ago I got a deck on Ebay it was the Renaissance tarot deck and when I open the box I was stunned by the naked people because that is not what I want to see on a tarot spread. I used this deck to post an horoscope but had to take out all the nude pictures 🙁

    • The Brian Williams one? Yes, I think I have that too. I don’t use it much, but primarily because the pips aren’t really scenic. Too often we can’t see enough pictures of the cards before we buy!

  2. LOL now you’ve forced a confession out of me… The only deck I have ever bought based on making a decision from reading a review… is the Druidcraft… I read something somewhere with some mutterings about oh my! The Hanged Man… tut tut no need for all that! I thought… OH! this I gotta see… when it arrived, I flipped straight to XII… meh… what’s all the fuss about? I was expecting him to be much better hung… lol just goes to show… you shouldn’t listen to hype!

    • Haha! Sorry you were disappointed! I do hope you gave the deck a chance anyway. Despite some cards with nudity, it’s really much better for readings than it is for titillation! 🙂

      • I find it more of a meditative deck than a reading deck. I don’t use it very often but I have a friend who uses it as her go to deck, so I often find that if I’ve been shooting the breeze with her and she’s said something that’s loitered in my mind to ponder then I will go and get the Druidcraft out to muse further on our conversations…

  3. Great post! I like that you included the Morgan Greer Devil here, because when I first acquired this deck I remember being so annoyed with how “evil” the energy was portrayed. You’re very right about the detail and rendering contributing so much to what we find (or our clients find) distasteful. And in that sense it certainly isn’t relegated to the typical “difficult” cards, as you’ve pointed out with this version of the Lovers (and the Hanged Man, dangling!) 😉

  4. Although I have lots of decks, I mostly read for clients with RWS. The imagery is easy to understand and not too challenging 🙂

  5. There are certain decks (Decameron to name one) that I won’t pull out unless I already know that the client can “take” the imagery. That said, one went against Cilla Conway’s “Intuitive Tarot” for the amount of breasts on show. So glad there are a few Tarot decks out there to choose from and thank you for sharing your choice of distasteful cards 🙂

  6. I agree that the clients reactions to the imagery is important, which is why I like to give people two options (usually RWS and some other deck that I’m in love with at the moment) for a reading. I read for many LGBTQ people and for some it is important to have sam sex images on the “love” cards, or no gender at all. It’s just hard to relate to the heteronormative cards images. Lately, the Wild Unknown has been everyone’s favorite for nongendered readings.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It helps me keep in mind that I never know who is going to sit at the other end of the table and what images can cause triggers for them. I find it so much harder to read if the other person builds up a wall or shuts you down. you can get something but not as many specifics.

  8. Very interesting, and lots to think about. I usually give clients a choice if I’m reading face-to-face, but not sure if anyone’s ever chosen based on the nudity – or lack of! Thanks for sharing this.

  9. I love that the little old lady wanted the “slightly naughty” deck. For me that points out one of the problems with “retiring” a deck that some have issues with – for someone else it may be perfect, and we can’t necessarily tell just by looking at them. It’s a tough call because, as you say, you don’t want to find out when the client has already shut down. Fascinating post, Joy, thank you!

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