Respecting the Tarot

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!

An international group of tarotists 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. Morgan Drake Eckstein of Gleamings from the Golden Dawn proposed the thought-provoking question, “How do you show respect to the Tarot?”


How Do You Respect the Tarot?

1. Not Asking Questions Repeatedly

Most clients, when they get an answer they don’t like, suddenly perceive the cards as being vague or shifty. They want to pull a clarifier, they want to ask again, they want anything but to hear and accept what the cards are saying. The problem is that every divination system has its version of the I Ching’s “Youthful Folly.” “If he asks two or three times, it is importunity. If he importunes, I give him no information.” Phrasing questions clearly and accepting the answer received, or working carefully through the cards you get until you understand them without pulling clarifiers, is a great way to respect the cards.

2. Understanding What the Tarot Does

I work in a metaphysical store with psychics, mediums, card readers, healers, astrologers, angel card readers, priestesses, hypnotherapists, animal communicators–just about any modality you can imagine. Clients frequently only know about psychic mediums (because they get more TV time?) and despite the shop’s best efforts to train their staff in knowing all our different modalities, prominently posting in several locations signs with the readers’ bios and list of modalities, bios on the websites, and links to the readers’ own websites, I still frequently get people who sit down and have no clue what I do.

Typical client question: “I’ve had several people pass recently and I want a general message.” Wow, you went a lot of directions with that question! I explain to people that I’m not a psychic medium and don’t talk with those who have passed, although we can ask the cards to bring any messages from departed loved ones. It does work. But I believe people can make direct contact with their dearly departed through ancestor altars, visiting gravesites, lighting a candle at church or at home, or just communing with their memory. No operator assistance needed. So I tell them that and try to steer them towards a tarot-appropriate question.

Tarot can perform the functions of many of these other modalities, but to me the question comes down not to what it can do, but what it can do best. Time after time I hear how much more specific and accurate my readings are–but that’s only if you let tarot be tarot and ask well-phrased questions. Tip: If you are new to getting a tarot reading, all tarot readers are trained in how to phrase a good question. Tell your reader the topic you would like info on, and the reader will work with you to compose your question.

3. Taking Care of Your Cards

My Morgan Greer deck and the drawstring bag I made out of gold raw silk lined with red china silk with cutwork applique design. (Yes, that’s candle wax spilled on the bag. I’ll clean it up. Soon.)

Every reader out there seems to get all out of sorts when they hear the words “silk” and “tarot” in the same sentence. I for one was trained in energy work as well as card reading, and anyone sensitive to energy can verify that silk affects the flow of psychic energy differently than other fibers. Now, what color your silk is, I don’t care about that.

My teacher instructed me to do a reading to learn what color to make my tarot bag. I drew–if I remember correctly, this was twenty-five years ago–the Five of Cups from the Morgan-Greer deck (the deck that was looking for a bag). The cups were gold with red wine spilling out of them, so I determined to use a gold colored bag with a red lining. I ended up finding an embroidered gold silk drawstring bag at an import store, and I had a remnant of red china silk (I worked at a fabric store at the time and was generally despised for my ability to sense when the new silk remnants went on sale and grab them all up). I wrapped the cards in the red silk, then put them in the gold bag. I used this combo for many years, drawstrings breaking, embroidery fraying, and eventually the bag just wearing out. The silk I kept the cards in was still fine, though, and so I used that to create the lining for a new bag, this one of my own design (my teacher had encouraged me to design and sew my own bags, but it took a number of years before I ended up learning the techniques that eventually became my trademark bag style).

Of course, I don’t keep all my decks in silk. Some are in wool, some in cotton, some in linen, some in wooden boxes, some in their original packaging, etc. I have a RWS that’s been stored in a wooden box for as long as my MG has been in a silk bag. I occasionally will bring both to a meetup or class and pass them around to let people feel the difference energetically between a deck that’s been wrapped in silk between uses for twenty-five years versus one that’s been stored in wood.

However, bottom line really has nothing to do with the material you use to store your cards. I think taking care of them, keeping them together, putting them away after use, always knowing where they are, these are things that show respect for your deck.

4. Demand Respect

I completely understand that not everyone understands the underlying spiritual work that creates a good tarot reader. I get that many people view tarot as entertainment. I don’t mind reading simple questions or fun questions. But although you can probably find the phrase “for entertainment purposes only” buried on my website somewhere for legal purposes, I take this seriously and I expect the querent to approach it with at least curiosity, an honest intention to get an answer or figure out what this tarot reading stuff is all about. When people don’t approach it that way, I will ask them to leave my table.

I was reading at a street fair once. I tend to like street fairs because people have less experience with the cards and usually are more open and have fewer preconceived expectations. They are more curious and willing to let me guide them. But a mother with her adult daughter sat down and asked for a general reading, which I foolishly allowed. The first card was Death. I also understand that, just as cats can pick out the allergic person in the room and beeline straight for them, the cards can spot a hesitant newbie and will pull out all the stops. You’re most likely to get Death and the Devil for people who have never had a reading before. Like the cats, the tarot is convinced that if these hesitant querents get to know them, they will develop a hearty immunity.

Without a question, I had no context for this Death card. Giggle from the girl. I suggested that something had come to or would soon come to an end. I asked it someone had died. I broke out all the various interpretations. No. Nope. Not really. They were both laughing and then the mother said–“I know! It’s because you became a vegetarian!” Both of them were in hysterics. I asked them to leave. They were shocked. The mother offered to pay and I refused. She finally put some money on the table and walked away.

I have other stories of asking people to leave, but I’ll stop with this one. I don’t care if you have a deep respect for the cards–how could you if you are unfamiliar. But I do demand that you respect the work that I do and approach it with a sincere desire to gain knowledge, insight, guidance, and answers.

5. Afford Respect

Just as I require that my clients respect the service offered, I demand of myself that I take my clients seriously. You’ve all heard my story about the nine-year-old girl who asked what wolves and dogs meant to her. I take any honestly proposed question seriously.

Many readers say that they won’t read someone who blocks themselves by crossing arms or legs. Back when I read at the Mercury Cafe, I had a client ask a question, shuffle and cut as I directed, then turn to the side, cross his arms and legs, and gaze off into space. Luckily I don’t read the people, I’m trained to read the cards and the energy, and so this was not a problem. I read the cards as they lay without a single word from him. Afterwards he thanked me and said it was right on.

Other readers say they won’t read for someone who has been drinking. I used to read annually at a big corporate party where free booze flowed as a reward for a year of good sales. One year, at the end of the night, a young man sat at my table. He was too drunk to speak straight. He didn’t shuffle the cards so much as wash them, face up, and start pulling out various cards that caught his eye. I followed along with this rudimentary reading style. “What’s this?” he demanded. “How about this one?” As he pulled cards and I explained, a story unfolded of the challenges he had with his father. At one point, as the story became more detailed, he jumped up from the table and walked away. I think there are many readers who never would have read him. But rude as he was, he had a sincere curiosity about the cards. And I know that tarot does not need to be remembered to work. It works deep in the subconscious. And a reading doesn’t have to be accepted by the querent. That is their right. But I believe this reading was honestly asked for and honestly received. It was exhausting for me and luckily was the last reading of the night. I was able to pack up and go home. I wonder what he did.


Click on the image to find out more about my upcoming class, Mythology of the Tarot.


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. I have my cards all 100+ decks stored differently but each one has been given its home out of respect. I find most clients that I have worked with know what they are looking for, or else I just ask them to have a private conversation with the cards and then ask aloud what it is that has come to mind. It seems to work for them and me.

  2. Joy, thank you for sharing the personal stories (especially the cat allergy one!). I just did a festival for a few days and it really was nice to have so many people without preconceived notions. It was also funny how some of them got the ‘read’ by their card choices right away. “I don’t care if you have a deep respect for the cards–how could you if you are unfamiliar. But I do demand that you respect the work that I do and approach it with a sincere desire to gain knowledge, insight, guidance, and answers.” Really love this way sentiment as well.

  3. I get that there are a lot of good reasons to go with the first message that’s given to you, but one of my favorite Tarot strategies is to ask the same question anywhere from two to four times and then track the similarities among all the readings. It’s a, uh… meta-analysis? Triangulation? There’s a word for it but I can’t think what it is right now, but I’ll use these multiple readings to create a sort of scatter plot which shows the firmest direction among all the readings and reveals the essential element that one reading on its own might not have latched onto.

  4. There are certainly a lot of rude and disrespectful people out there, but I have only once encountered one I couldn’t read for and refunded. He kept interrupting my narrative and demanding to know what this or that card meant and dismissing every insight I offered with “Isn’t/Doesn’t everyone?” I got fed up with him quite quickly, particularly since it was the end of a 3 day event where I hadn’t had a lot of sleep.

  5. Great post Joy 🙂 and off at a tangent… years ago I read a book which I forgot the title but it was a book on body language written by a former FBI agent who used to interview suspects… There are some interesting observations… looking at the feet as they are harder to control and will leak tells… But the one thing that really made me laugh at the time and which I’ve always remembered was a passage about crossed arms… There was a caution there that this is not always what it seems… people will assume that is defensive or something is being hidden but very often it can just be that the room is too cold for comfort…

  6. Thank you for sharing your story of reading for the drunk chap at the sales-party.
    I probably wouldn’t have read for him too, and I like how you approached it and let it unfold.
    I also like how you said …
    “And I know that tarot does not need to be remembered to work. It works deep in the subconscious. And a reading doesn’t have to be accepted by the querent. That is their right. But I believe this reading was honestly asked for and honestly received. It was exhausting for me and luckily was the last reading of the night. I was able to pack up and go home. I wonder what he did.”

    That is showing the cards respect, that what is behind them, the ‘powers of the universe’ or whatever will just let it flow.

    I think as readers we try to control so much about it – but Tarot is and Tarot does what it wants to do.

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