Visconti-Sforza tarot deck, 15th Century
If you’re looking to part a fool and their money, psychic readings are a great business*. Through the art of cold reading,by making statements that seem personal, but are true for most people, the psychic creates the illusion of having supernatural intuition about their client. For instance, they may say “I sense that you are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well.” Who isn’t? Or, if the client is older, they may say, “Your father passed on due to problems in his chest or abdomen,” which would be true for the majority of causes of death. Psychics also use the rainbow ruse strategy of making a statement that is vague and contradictory about the client, such as “Most of the time you are positive and cheerful, but there has been a time in the past when you were very upset.” It’s probably not hard to find experiences in your life that match this statement to yourself, and if you can’t, the psychic can claim you need to look deeper or that you are suppressing something.
A favorite tool of psychics in performing their readings are tarot cards. These cards come in a wide variety of themes, with fantastic artwork, and generalized symbolism that takes on different meanings depending on where the card appears in a spread. They work because they exploit both the cold reading technique and generate rainbow statements in their symbolism.
Tarot Universal de Dali
I occasionally do Tarot readings for myself. Over the years, when confronted with a challenging life issue, I would turn to The Mythic Tarot set for help figuring out what to do. This set portrays four different Greek Myths in the four different suits, and I always have to keep the book open when doing a reading because I find it impossible to remember what the cards mean.
I expect many scientists out there would say that my playing with the tarot harms my credibility as a skeptic, but I am completely aware of what makes the tarot work, and have no delusions that the meanings I appear to find in the cards are self-generated. The cards are like the old Principia Discordia quote about books, “…a mirror, when a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out.”
That doesn’t mean the cards are useless. The tarot meme has survived five centuries, in part for the solace it provides, but also because it serves a useful function. A tarot reading provides an exercise in deep, sustained thought on a subject, each new card challenging the practitioner to look at the subject of inquiry from a different angle. The tarot spread doesn’t answer any questions, but like a Rogerian Psychologist it prompts us to find the correct answers within ourselves.