Tarot Fortune Telling Fraud in Chinatown

Image source: Oakland Chinatown, www.oakland-chinatown.info
Image source: Oakland Chinatown, http://www.oakland-chinatown.info

I recount this as calmly as possible. That is said more for my frame of mind than yours.

I had stumbled upon a fortune teller in Chinatown sitting at a makeshift tabletop. The chairs were miniature and when sitting, your knees would be up next to your ears. What had intrigued me to stop and listen in was her method of fortune telling: the tarot. You don’t see tarot divination that often among the Chinese, so of course I had to observe. A young woman about 20-ish years of age and her friend sat across from the fortuneteller. From what I overheard, the question was about love.

The fortune teller used what appeared to be a Marseille-based deck. I couldn’t figure out a discrete way to take photographs, so let’s assume my memory is good and go with the below reenactment, using the CBD Tarot de Marseille.

Tarot spread reenactment. Card images credit: CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov, www.cbdtarot.com
Tarot spread reenactment. Card images credit: CBD Tarot de Marseille by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov, http://www.cbdtarot.com

I’d say that’s a pretty good recall of what the table looked like, though she wasn’t using the CBD Tarot. It was a different Marseille deck, one yellowed and worn from use. Her spread kind of resembled the Celtic Cross, but not really. As far as I could tell, she didn’t use a signifier/significator.

“This is the Two of Staves and this is the Nine of Staves, so here there is a lot of Fire,” I overheard.

Okay, so far so good.

“That means there are many demons, demons that have escaped from the gates of Hell. That is why your love life is a mess. You’re cursed by demons from Hell.”

Oh boy. An interesting take on the suit of Wands and elemental dignities, I’ll give her that.

She then pointed at The Chariot. “This is you trying to run away from your problems, but you can’t outrun the demons. You feel trapped, you feel like no matter what you try to do, you’re never good enough, you cannot find the right man. The demons block your way. So much Fire…”

Is this what they mean by intuitive tarot reading? Meanwhile I’m pretending to be engrossed in my phone and trying my best not to look like I’m eavesdropping. I feign texting when really I’m jotting down notes about what I’m observing.

“Yes, yes, I do feel like I am blocked, no matter what I try to do,” said the young woman. “That’s true. It all makes sense.”

Gurl, no it doesn’t! I wanted to scream at her.

The reading continued, but I could only hear/understand snippets. The whole thing took place in Chinese. There was talk about how the fortune teller could help the young woman exorcise the demons and send them back to hell… for an additional fee.

Now in retrospect, I wish I had jumped in and said something, but then that probably would have been awkward. I ended up doing nothing. I stood by stupidly, pretending to be engrossed with my phone, eavesdropping. I’m such a moron.

The young woman’s friend then asked the fortune teller, “So after you get rid of the demons for her, when can she meet her true love?”

“February or March of next year.”

I looked down quizzically at the spread. How did the fortune teller arrive at that? What, 2 means February and 3 means March? I… guess… that makes… sense…

“Next year!?” cried the woman. “Can you make it happen sooner? What do the cards say?”

The fortune teller seemed a bit frazzled, scanned the cards, moving her hands over them, back and forth, like she was working a Ouija board. Then she nodded and said yes, she could. “May or August this year. You will meet him May or August of this year.”

“May! That’s right now, isn’t it? So soon?”

“August then,” said the fortune teller.

“You can really make it happen in August?” asked the friend.

“Yes. You get rid of the demons with my power, and everything will end well. You will see. I guarantee it. I am just that powerful. I know what I am doing. I have done this for many, many women just like yourself, always effective. Guaranteed.”

“You can guarantee that I meet a good man this August?”


 * * *

Should I have interfered? A part of me will always say yes, I should have. In my mind I re-imagine scenes where I act all tarot-heroic, push aside the fortune teller, and then proceed to read the cards for the two young women. But in real life, I walked away. I bet none of them even noticed me there.

Days like that I do wish for standards that will legitimize tarot and elevate it to a more mainstream accepted practice. If people were more informed, if those two young women themselves understood a bit more about tarot, then they wouldn’t have been so quick to believe that fortune teller’s quack demons from hell routine.

4 thoughts on “Tarot Fortune Telling Fraud in Chinatown

  1. So difficult to say, there could possibly have been danger to you had you interrupted the reading as the tarot reader in this instance wasn’t motivated “by good.” And I don’t mean the reader, I mean some associates no doubt lurking in the shadows keeping an eye on their operation. This may be the dynamic that kept you from super-woman-ing this scam. (Maybe the bigger question is why you were enabled to witness this transaction) I’ve heard this additional “quackery” applied to Reiki practitioners as well. One of my dear friends went for Reiki and the practitioner asked for an additional sum of money to quell the demons that were sucking her life energy. My friend paid the additional sum. More education and understanding by the public is needed. When magical clearing involving only money is offered, the public needs to recognize it for what it is and walk away.


    1. Agree, and very good points! So sorry that happened to your friend.

      I also found the lack of privacy peculiar. It took place right on the side of the street, out in the open, and I suspect without the proper business licenses and permits! =) I’m pretty sure I “passed” and blended into the cultural context seamlessly, even if it’s superficial, and so they didn’t pay much attention to my presence.


  2. Ahh hahaha I am sorry but I am dying of laughter over here. I have had my own fair share of really terrible tarot readings, too. On the east coast we have the “gypsy” style you have a curse omg here I can get rid of it for $500 garden variety and a while lot of, “I did not bother to actually LEARN the traditional meanings I just go with my flow and it may or may not make sense to you!”


    1. Hahaha, oh man. Love it. There’s intuitive reading, and then there’s pulling shit out of your ass. I don’t know whether to be amused or saddened that the readers that seem to make the best living out of tarot divination are the shady ones. =/ I suppose that’s the case in any profession. Sigh.


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