Tarot and Social Inductive Reasoning

"The Fortune Teller" by Georges de La Tour (circa 1630s).
“The Fortune Teller” by Georges de La Tour (circa 1630s).

I would say this is the dark or shadow side of professional tarot practice. To not face it, to intentionally withhold it from public scrutiny is to practice tarot with your head buried in the sand or worse yet, to intentionally misrepresent what happens or could happen in professional tarot. Everything here makes me uncomfortable. It makes me squirm. It makes me feel icky. I loathe that any little part of my personal tarot practice– always unintentionally– mirrors anything I’m about to address in this post (or in the downloadable PDF I’m providing).

The classic term used is cold reading. Cold reading is using learned techniques to obtain personal information about an individual, and use that information in a way that implies you have psychic or heightened intuitive abilities.

A recent phenomenon among the New Age or New Thought practitioners is to learn NLP. NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It does not quite have the same negative connotations as cold reading. NLP is used in social psychology and psychotherapy, though generally thought of as a form of pseudo-science. NLP is about learning to spot behavioral and linguistic patterns that reveal an individual’s personality, thought process, and psychology. The core of NLP is learning how to establish rapport with another individual. That skill would be indispensable to a mentalist, psychic, or professional tarot reader.

Yet the more I read, the more that NLP sounded a lot like cold reading, though of course I acknowledge there are distinct differences. I categorize both sets of techniques under the term “social inductive reasoning.” And that’s what this post is about.

Social inductive reasoning is not inherently bad. In fact, it’s good. I strongly recommend that you download the document below and learn social inductive reasoning. It’s helpful to know how to read people in any professional setting. I’ve found social inductive reasoning to be helpful in the practice of law. In fact, it has never failed to read people accurately in professional work or business settings. The most successful salespeople are masters of social inductive reasoning. Social inductive reasoning helps you close a deal faster, or reach a more expedient settlement. Really.

Where the practice becomes troublesome is when it gets mixed in with something (I consider) sacred like tarot. When tarot readers use social inductive reasoning and then purport to be psychic or clairvoyant, that’s when things get troublesome. That’s when the “ick” factor makes me squirm.

What’s even ickier is how much of “social inductive reasoning” is similar to sincere intuitive reading. I’m sure I’m not alone in the camp of tarot practitioners who stand by their statements to clients about how intuitive their clients are, how their clients are on a very particular spiritual path, a client’s character strengths, character weaknesses, many of the points addressed in “social inductive reasoning.” These show up– independent of social inductive reasoning– in the imagery on the cards, in astrology, in the aspects of sacred divination that we know to be sacred divination.

Yet to not confront the uncomfortable overlap between sincere sacred divination and social inductive reasoning would be willful ignorance. I believe it’s important to gain knowledge and be self-aware. For those reasons, the tarot practitioner should read up on social inductive reasoning, not avoid it. Also, once you read this document, you’ll see just how much overlap there is between genuine intuitive information and social inductive reasoning. To be frank, the astounding overlap scares me. However, it makes me more self-aware. It makes me all the more vigilant about my own readings, to ensure they are sacred divinations, and when I do use social inductive reasoning– always inadvertently– I will be quick to point it out to my client. E.g., “You’re more extroverted, aren’t you! I can see it in the way you dress.” (Note Point #9 in the downloadable reference doc.)

By knowing these common social inductive reasoning techniques, rather than use them unethically, I use them ethically. If I happen to note a trait or induce something about the client based on any of these techniques, I’ll point it out and (the most important part) disclose that I came up with that assumption from her clothing / his face shape / generalities about people from that age group, etc.

To the seeker or prospective client who reads this and now wonders about tarot reading as a whole: this is where your own due diligence comes into play. Find a tarot reader you trust. That’s how you know the reading you’re receiving is from the reader’s heart, from the reader’s intuition, and is a genuine exercise of sacred divination.

Also know that I’m telling you that there are eerie, unintentional similarities between social inductive reasoning and how even the most sincere tarot practitioner will operate. For example, many tarot readers will close a sentence with, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you know what I’m talking about?” That’s not always a fishing technique. It’s just a natural thing to roll out of our mouths during a session.

So it’s not the act itself that differentiates something like cold reading from sincere psychic ability. Oftentimes, I find, the act looks and feels the same. It’s the intent that differs. The cold reader asks “Does that make sense” with careful, deliberate intent, and will then observe your response and base his next sentence on your response. The genuine tarot reader, to be honest, is just rambling. I ramble a lot during reading sessions and then break up my ramblings with, “You know what I mean?” or “Does that make any sense to you?”

To save you time and expense, I’ve compiled the most common techniques addressed by the various books out there on cold reading and NLP. I did quite a bit of reading, consulting multiple texts, and the works cited is provided in the downloadable reference below. None of the info in the downloadable text are my original ideas. They’re all derived and compiled from the books I researched so that you get the nutshell summary of what’s out there.

I hesitated over whether to share this text, so what did I do– I consulted the tarot. I used the Goddess Tarot and drew the Ten of Pentacles. Kris Waldherr, the creator of the deck, describes her Ten of Pentacles as depicting the innate goodness of the world. It is about celebrating and sharing in plenitude. It’s also related to family, commerce, and achieving abundance on the material plane. I took the card as a sign to share the document. So here it is.

DOWNLOAD:

Social Inductive Reasoning and Tarot

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19 thoughts on “Tarot and Social Inductive Reasoning

  1. Oh, my, Benebell. You have sparked my intellectual, ethical and spiritual curiosity significantly. I agree with much of what you say, but I think I have an entire other angle on this. This may inspire a post on my site 🙂 .

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    1. I would be most fascinated and the community most enriched by your angle! I don’t have any firm conclusions or opinions on any of this at this point, just a general “dayam!” feeling. =/ Honestly, I just don’t know what to make of it all.

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      1. Perhaps you and I should have a YouTube convo about this. I have often thought about this topic. I know the ick factor, too, and think that is it’s own fascinating topic. We have talked about tarot ethics for years, but, to describe it as you did is really helpful.

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  2. Uh, I feel a bit sick to my stomach. I was okay until about 2/3 of the way through the lengthy, and VERY interesting document. It went from being a helpful/socialogical/psychological look at understanding people to being a guide about how to con them. You DID warn us, but… icky is right!

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    1. Oh man I definitely squirmed and I’m sorry you did! It *IS* fascinating when you read the texts directly. Check out the books I referenced. There’s so much more. I tried to just cover the points that fascinated me the most, the points that made me stop dead in my tracks and go, “um, whut…” But admittedly, I don’t know much about any of those schools of social inductive reasoning. I just read, compiled, and provided. Sorry about the ick!

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  3. Wow Benebell, thank you for this post. And yes, it definitely made me squirm as well. I now have some research to do on this subject. Thank you for the book references and your amazing PDF, it is most appreciated.

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  4. Benebell, amazing post as ever! I have also written a bit on the topic, I have started a monthly series called “Tarot Ethics”, here is a post about cold reading specifically: https://tuitarotblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/tarot-ethics-cold-reads/

    As a student and teacher of NLP, I’m inclined to also note that it can be used in a very positive manner as well, just for establishing a baseline rapport with people around you – in the workplace, in your family etc. I have seen it help a lot of people, who might otherwise struggle with basic social ability.

    I have practised Tarot for 15 years and I am -very- adamant about keeping it clean and tidy, I feel that cold readers make it a lot harder for the rest of us, as the reputation is very hard to re-establish once it has gone bad. I do, however, very much enjoy the trend around where I live – therapists have picked up using Tarot as a tool, and they use the system as an archetypical model of what is going through the subconscious of their patient, kind of “reading how the client reads the cards”. I find that fascinating.

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    1. Thanks, tuitarot! For sure, NLP can be and is used in constructive, positive ways. I’m also fascinated by the psychological and psychoanalytical uses of tarot cards. And thanks for the link! A great read!

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  5. Again, thank you so much for the efforts that go into your insights and your graciousness in sharing them. I am amazed at your productivity and generosity. You’re the best, Benebell!

    Jacqueline
    Guelph, Ont.

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  6. This kind of reading is both helpful and hurtful. It would be helpful in that reading a person closely would put them more at east. But the danger is skewing the reading to what they want to hear, not what is. Tarot is mainly psychological and NLP would muddy the water too much in my opinion. I mean the point is to confront uncomfortable truths and generate change, why turn it all mary sunshine?

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    1. I definitely agree with that point. Any tool or approach used to help us confront uncomfortable truths and bring about positive change is worth exploring. It goes back to intent, transparency, and ethics.

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  7. I’m a little bit loathe to even read the document that has you feeling icky and squirming because I don’t want to have any of it stick in my brain, an illogical reaction I am well aware! I think that we, as people, naturally “read” each other just as ways of processing the people we are interacting with. I try to label this when I’m in a reading like, “it is easy to see that you are really struggling given how you’ve framed your question in your message” or something like that. I like to point to the “tells” so it is clear that I am not saying these things out of any psychic ability but out of a use of common sense. “The Clouds card over the top of your head points to your being quite troubled and weighed down, but sometimes the cards are almost ridiculous as being in the middle of a divorce this is probably a given.” 😉 I don’t think there is anything wrong with using the things we pick up from our interactions with people, so long as we aren’t misrepresenting those as messages from our guides or our psychic ability. Now I have to decide if I’m going to read that document or not 😀

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    1. Haha. Agreed on all fronts. I try hard to provide disclosure of the source of my information. Is it a particular symbol in the card? Is it my conclusion based on traditional astrological or numerological principles? It is based on face reading or what the person has already told me about him or herself? If you do end up reading, hope it’s not too bad of a read. :-p

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  8. Hi Benebell! I understand the concern with cold reading. I’m sure it gets used in many a fortune teller’s spin. I’ll bet we all do a bit of it too. We are always communicating and reading each other at some level of awareness. I do say, “Does that make sense?” in my readings. I’m only making sure I communicate clearly because I tend to go all over the spread, hit points I really want to be heard, and do a lot of joking around. I’m pretty unconventional. I also happen to be a professional hypnotist, and I’m well versed in NLP. The most useless parts of NLP are those that claim persuasion. Modeling is a bump up the ladder for achieving some insight in visualizations. The process of leading a client (not Tarot) through NLP techniques allows the client to make rapid lasting change. I use it with smokers, weight loss, stress and anxiety, and fears. People with phobias can revolutionize their lives with NLP. I just wanted to point all that out before I go dig into the pdf. As always, I love your work! Stay awesome, my friend!

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    1. I am definitely one who says “Does that make sense?” and “Do you know what I mean?” a lot! But I also realized that I end trains of thought with that question in normal, everyday conversation as well. Great to hear of the non-divinatory, constructive, and practical uses for NLP!

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