On Tarot Reading Ethics, Part II: Third Party Readings and Onerous Clients

Deck Pictured: Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg (US Games)

I started a post series on tarot reading ethics last week and if you missed it, here is Part I on health, legal, and financial readings. I’ll be subdividing the discussion of tarot reading ethics into three parts. These posts will explore some of my personal thoughts and also professional opinions on certain oft-adopted ethical rules.

This is Part II of III, in which I’ll be tackling third party readings and reading for an onerous client.

7/11/17 Update: This is Part II of II only. I’ve decided against publishing Part III. Explanation at the end of the post.

7/18/17 Update: I’ve decided to proceed with sharing Part III, but it is a password-protected post. Please do not ping me with requests for the password. It is made available in closed circuits to those who have access to those circuits.

Third Party Readings

A third party reading is when you use divinatory tools or abilities to look into the life of someone who is not present for that reading and who has not consented to such a reading. Examples of third party reading questions are, “Is my ex-boyfriend John dating anyone right now and if yes, who?” or “What is Beth thinking about?”, assuming neither John nor Beth are the ones asking for the reading or even physically present in the room.

When I first started out as a professional tarot reader, I was trained by those more experienced than me to never do third party readings and I simply adopted that ethical rule for myself by extension, almost without question. When talking about tarot readings in a professional capacity, I also regurgitate the rule, and state that it is generally accepted by tarot professionals that you should not be doing third party readings on ethical grounds. To be a member in good standing of any of the major national or international tarot organizations, you also need to comply with that ethical code of conduct, which includes no third party readings. [Update: See edit below.]

In astrology, you’ll find embedded into many ethical standards or codes similar restraints on third party readings on the grounds of a right to privacy. For example, if a client requests a chart interpretation of someone who is not present or part of the transaction, an astrologer can proceed by giving general information about that third party only and focused more on the relationship chemistry with the client (e.g., synastry readings don’t necessarily need both parties present). Otherwise, if it’s to be a comprehensive in-depth birth chart interpretation or a horary chart divination on a third party question, then the astrologer needs consent from that third party. Again, these are not legally mandated standards, but rather they are privately established standards of certain long-standing professional associations in the field.

If I’m to keep it 100 now, I’m kind of on the fence about third party readings. Morally, it’s to be discouraged the way gossiping is to be discouraged. Buddhists believe there is negative karma accrued from gossiping. A third party divinatory reading in any form is a kind of gossiping.

Correlating the concept of third party readings with real life equivalents, such as wire-tapping someone’s phone or using a form of spy device to peek into someone’s life without that person’s consent, a third party reading is an invasion of someone’s privacy when they have not consented to such an invasion.

On religious grounds, third party readings can have an adverse impact on the tarot reader who is doing that reading. Unlike the querent seated before you asking for the reading, that third party you’re peeking in on has not consented to you peeking in. Again, on religious principle, fortune-telling is the creation of new energy at the behest of the querent, by the power of the tarot reader, which can have a physical impact on someone’s fate and the creation of such new energy over the fate of someone who has not consented to it is considered immoral. So if you are religious, then I understand the prohibition against third party readings. It’s to safeguard the tarot reader’s own karma.

But what if you don’t subscribe to that religious belief? Separating tarot practice from religion, is there anything illegal or unethical about third party readings? As far as I know, in the democratic countries I’m familiar with, third party divinatory readings aren’t illegal. So basically, it’s a whole bunch of elders at some point in time who got together and decided third party divinatory readings was not okay and that set the course of the history of divinatory ethics. Hey, look here, I’m a totally traditional Asian, so I’m all for respecting my elders. Just FYI, it’s not illegal.

Speaking of being a totally traditional Asian, as far as I know, there are no similar ethical prohibitions in the East Asian fortune-telling cultures. Religiously, you could say Buddhism is against third party readings, but Buddhism discourages fortune-telling altogether. So in terms of the ethical rule against third party readings, it’s a Western conception, and isn’t necessarily shared in the mindset of the Eastern divinatory traditions.

For me these days, I approach third party reading requests on a case by case basis. First of all, what is the querent’s intention? I don’t have any moral or ethical hang-ups around helping a loving parent better understand his or her child, especially when that child is not communicating with the parent, or vice versa, i.e., an adult child seeking the best care possible for an aging parent.

What if it’s a third party reading for someone who is no longer part of the physical world and has passed on to the spirit realms? I’m okay with that, too. (Or is that not considered a third party reading? Doh.) What if it’s to get a better sense of what a romantic partner is thinking so that you can work toward repairing that relationship? Or to check romantic compatibility? Or a reading for an animal friend (some people call them pets)? Personally, I’m okay with all that.

On the other hand, if there’s any undertone or subtext of spite, malice, or schadenfreude, then definitely no. Not my personal karma at the expense of your insipid curiosity. I tend to decline inquiries about whether someone is cheating, or what an ex-lover is up to, or when I feel like my work is being used to spy in on someone else’s life, or when, in my professional opinion, I believe the nature of the third party question is not productive toward the querent’s own higher purpose. A mother’s genuine worry about her child and using divination to better understand that child is almost always productive toward the mother’s higher purpose, because as any (loving) mother will tell you, her soul mission in life is the protection of that child. So I’m game for helping out in those circumstances.

In summary, third party readings for me, on ethical grounds, isn’t an unconditional “no.” It’s an “it depends.”

Plus, if I’m being confessional, my sisters, close relatives, and BFFs are constantly badgering me to do quick “third party readings” for them. “So, like, I just started dating Bob, who I met on Tinder, and I just don’t know what to make of this possible relationship. Got any psychic spidey hits for me? Here’s Bob’s date of birth…” *cue sighs and private eye roll*

Although I tend to decline such reading requests professionally, in my personal relationships, I often cave in to such requests and will do them because Love. And because it doesn’t seem to be my place to get all holier-than-thou on my loved ones, wag my finger, and go “no-no, no third party readings, unethical, your karma, yada yada…” and also because I’m still red-blooded and all for pulling up a chair, mug of coffee, leaning in with giggly smiles, and gossiping about love interests.

By the way, with a third party reading request, you can always negotiate a rephrasing of the inquiry. A classic example is the seeker who wants to know whether an ex-boyfriend is still thinking about her or whether that ex-boyfriend has any new romantic interests. You can always propose that the seeker rephrase the question to something like, “What do I need to know about my ex-boyfriend that will best inform the life decisions I am about to make?” or “What do I need to know about the karma between my ex-boyfriend and me?”

To rephrase a third party reading request so that it aligns with ethical guidelines against such readings, cast the intention to look at the intersection between the seeker’s life path and that third party’s life path. You can examine the intersecting point between the two life paths as it most affects the seeker.

The Onerous Client: Readings for Seekers You Disagree Morally, Politically, or Religiously With

Here’s an equivalent in another professional code of ethics to ponder. Lawyers are generally free to decline representation of a client they find reprehensible or repugnant on moral, political, or religious grounds where accepting such representation would likely impair the lawyer’s competency for that client.

However, if you’ve already established a lawyer-client relationship with a client and mid-stream of representation, you as the lawyer realize something you didn’t realize before that now renders such a client onerous to you, then it’s not so clear whether or not you can bow out of representation. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. See, that’s when things get complicated and there are specific scenarios where, even if you find your client onerous, you must still proceed with client representation. In certain, fact-specific scenarios, a lawyer is bound to still represent a client she or he finds onerous and you still better do the best damn job you can for that onerous client. Also, as any pipsqueak newbie young lawyer will tell you, it’s almost a rite of passage that you have to take on representation of an onerous client because Big Law Firm Said So.

Considering that, how should readers and professionals in the sacred arts respond to seekers they find reprehensible or repugnant? Since that equivalent is my personal background, how does that personal background inform the way I approach the ethics of reading for an onerous client?

In terms of ethical codes, a reader should be free to decline reading for someone the reader finds so repugnant on moral, political, or religious grounds that you wouldn’t be able to do a competent reading for that client.

However, my inevitable question is, why can’t you do a competent reading for such a client? If you’re a professional tarot reader, your clients are the ones who need safe space, not you. If you’re a professional reader, you shouldn’t be the one who requires the safe space.

Also, what if the reason you find a client onerous is because of your personal prejudices? What if you find all Asians morally repugnant and because of that bias, you refuse to do any readings for Asians? Okay I went down the slippery slope there. Let’s pull back. What if you find all ex-convicts to be morally repugnant? Or anyone who cheats on their partners to be morally repugnant? Or all sex workers?

I’ll try not to judge the judgmental here, so instead, I’ll say this. If there is one thing divinatory work has taught me, it is to detach from my biases. When you simply read energy and you truly do learn how to let go of physical-conscious attachments, I am convinced that all readers will realize at the heart of it, people are the same. All people have, as they say, angels whispering into their ears and also demons whispering into their ears. The different moral weights we give to killing a spider and killing a human child, butchering a cow for dinner or cheating on a wife, abortion versus euthanasia or capital punishment, to the superiority or inferiority we subscribe to whole classes of people are artificial constructs–sure, some of those artificial constructs are instrumental to keeping the order of society–but artificial constructs nonetheless. When you truly start to read people just through energy work, it’s pretty easy to see past the artificial constructs. In other words, nobody is really all that onerous.

That being said, what if your tarot reading is being used to enable someone to do something you disagree morally, politically, or religiously with? What if there is a serious, egregious conflict of interest and you just wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you proceeded with such a reading for an onerous client? Now that’s another issue. And the answer is not only complicated, but will be different for each reader.

Deck Pictured: Tarot of Ceremonial Magick by Lon Milo Duquette

As a reader, you’ll have to figure out exactly where you draw that line in the sand. Is that line merely in accordance with the letter of the law? Does religion matter and do your religious or spiritual principles need to be accounted for as well? What’s legal might not be moral to you and what you find moral might not be legal. Acknowledging that distinction and organizing your ethical code around that distinction is important for a professional reader.

In Part III of this series on ethics, I’ll address hexes and curses.

7/11/2017, 1:46 pm PT Update: Per commentary provided from a member of the American Tarot Association, the ATA does not prohibit its members from doing third party readings. Apologies for any confusion the original statements in the post may have caused.

7/11/2017, 2:58 pm PT Update: Due to unforeseen controversy over the foregoing views I shared, I’ve decided against sharing more views, especially since the ones to follow in Part III on hexes and curses would have been even more contentious. The previously scheduled but now cancelled Part III was going to address the commodification of cursing and hexing, a practitioner’s role when a seeker requests such work, a reader’s role in detecting that such work has been done on a seeker, fraud versus free speech, and the ethics and also the legal implications of cursing and hexing. Again, Part III of the series has been cancelled.

7/18/2017, 2:38 pm pm PT Update: I’ve decided to go ahead and proceed with sharing Part III, but as a password-protected post. Link here. Please do not ping me individually to request the password. It is being provided in closed circuits so if you have access to one such closed circuit, then you will have been given the password.

10 thoughts on “On Tarot Reading Ethics, Part II: Third Party Readings and Onerous Clients

  1. I am just starting to better myself with the Tarot and the Oracle cards. Love your blog and what you say. Also I like your title Independent Metaphysician. Also I subscribed to your news letter. Love, Rosalyn Marie, aka marierosa😘

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  2. Thank you for your perspective on these issues. Appropriate ethical standards and behavior are not always easily defined, and should be discussed regularly within any profession, including tarot. I wish you didn’t feel you have to censor yourself re: Part III, but understand and respect why you choose to do so. Personally, I have learned a great deal from your work, both online and in print, and I want to thank you for providing quality content that clearly has a great deal of thought and effort behind it. It is much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Since tarot readings operate in the metaphysical realm; there are ‘technically’ no rules, only personal views and opinions. So I don’t understand why there would be controversy over your article… I for one think that these articles are fantastic and the topics should be brought out for discussion – it is when we do not discuss topics that people remain ignorant and potentially harm themselves or some one else. I say go for it! Ignore the naysayers! Dealing constructively with prickly subjects only promotes growth (even if the objectors cannot see it) and this benefits everybody!
    Lovely articles & Blessings!
    All Natural Spirit

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, the first two were great, Benebell. I’m not sure why the contention, unless perhaps buttons were pushed, and in which case perhaps that needed to happen. Maybe you’ll add the bit on hexes and curses down the line. (fingers crossed) They’re topics that have been coming up recently, so it feels like there’s a hot spot around them. Interesting.

    Thanks so much for your perspective, and for all you do. Peace.

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  5. Peanut gallery be damned, you have a need to express yourself and should do so freely without fear of censure. Both freethinkers and scientists relate to minds like yours; we should never silence those who, like you, can move freely through both of those worlds, their voices are few and far between.

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  6. Ah damn I think my comment on part 3 disappeared into cyber space… Oh well haha… I just want to thank you for bringing these subjects up, Benebell. It’s very refreshing and important in a community that has been stagnant regarding these “ethical” matters for maaany years. It’s so nice to see someone well-respected, intelligent, and “big” in the community and tarot world step up and make people think a bit more for themselves. I think your views will create lots of healthy discussion and debate!

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