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.
Social Inductive Reasoning and Tarot
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