On Tarot

Each year, Salem, Massachusetts, puts on “Haunted Happenings” to celebrate Halloween all October. More than 500,000 people visit the tourist town. Given that this year is the 40th anniversary, the numbers are expected to increase. As a tarot reader, I dole out readings from 35 to 48 people on any given Sunday. 

Most people do it for the thrill of having someone “divine” their future by telling them that money or love is on the way. For many of those people, though, their tarot readings wind up being about health. Physical and mental health are a 50/50 split. Physical health runs the gambit between reproductive health to degenerative diseases, while mental health readings sit squarely in the anxiety camp.

The girl with the witch hat and smudged eyeliner whispers when she talks. She wants to know, “Can you predict my death?” Of course, I can’t. She sighs, shrugs, and gives an ironic smile. “Oh well.” 

Despite paying $50 for a fifteen-minute tarot reading, she has no questions or curiosity about her future. “When in Salem, right?” she says, shrugging again. As I pull her cards in search of the answers to questions she should ask, the classic signifiers for anxiety and depression show up: 9 of Swords, 8 of Swords, the Tower, 2 of Swords, 8 of Cups.

I ask her, “So, what are you doing for self-care?”

She shrugs, so we turn to the cards. No, she’s not doing much, but she should. I pull more cards. The advice is clear, but the path isn’t.

For the remainder of our time together, we talk about mental health practices and therapy. She nods, tells me I’m right, tips me, and then disappears into the evening crowd. My next client sits down, and I do it all again.

When my anxious clients sit at my table, there’s no real point in pulling out the cards (though I do). We both pretend that everything is fine for a few minutes, that the only real concerns are about jobs or school or friends. Eventually, though, those same tarot cards show up, and we are left unpacking family trauma, assault, abandonment, chaos, and disorder. I do a lot of validating, taking time to point out strengths that can be built on so that I can send those souls into the night knowing that somebody sees them. 

Having been a professional tarot reader for a couple of years at this point, I can safely say that there is an uptick in the number of people in active mental health crises without support. What tarot does for a client in 15 minutes is underline their mental health and gives concrete next steps on what they can do. For those without access to health insurance, tarot cards and an educated tarot reader can do a lot for a client in crisis. 

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