On Tarot Certification – Redux

Italian Playing Cards (circa 15th century). From the Rosenwald Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

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Three years ago I wrote about my experience with tarot certification through the Tarot Certification Board of America, which is now defunct and any piece of paper you received from them is in effect defunct. Fortunately, the experience for me was all about the experience and that was a lot of fun for me. Going through the exercises, motions, and prompts was quite the enrichment, so I have nothing whatsoever to gripe about. I went through the process for the fun of it. Had I gone through the process for the sake of tarot certification, well then, I would probably be quite pissed right about now, considering my grandiose title of Certified Tarot Master is meaningless. (Not that I’m claiming it was ever at some point meaningful, but.. arrgh.. you know what I mean.)

Today, there are dozens of privately-held tarot certification programs out there and lately I’ve been experiencing a trend of inquiries in my inbox asking me for my opinion on tarot certification.

Then, recently…as in last week…there was a bit of a public misunderstanding where some folks thought I commercially endorsed a particular tarot certification program since my name, face, and my words endorsing a totally different thing was attached to that certification program and, well, let’s just say there was some misunderstanding that ensued and my right of publicity was put into question. Fortunately, the misunderstanding was quickly and amicably resolved and all is right with the world again. As a result, I’d like to just memorialize my take on the whole tarot certification issue.

What the Tarot Certification Board of America Was

I don’t know firsthand, so bear that in mind when you read this. I was never affiliated with the TCBA, never operated within it, and have no insider knowledge of the TCBA. So I’m speaking as just another observing member of the community, though I did go through the certification process.

To the best of my knowledge, the TCBA was a non-profit organization, and therefore filed tax status as a 501(c)(3). It was comprised of a board and not one single person but a team of tarot professionals came together to design the certification program and to also guide applicants through the certification process.

What gave TCBA the authority to certify people in tarot? Good question. The short answer is the community of tarot professionals. No matter what people’s opinions were of certification–and the opinions were both colorful and divisive–TCBA was still recognized as the primary and most legitimate certifying organization. Were there grumblings about how TCBA was operated? Sure. That’s not the point. There are always grumblings about how a major established institution is being operated. But if you said you wanted to obtain certification, then you were most likely going to seek certification through the TCBA and not through any other channel.

Present Day Certification Status

Putting myself in the role of one who is seeking tarot certification right now, in 2017, I hopped onto the search engines to see what I could pull up. Oh boy is it confusing. There are at least a dozen programs presented as tarot certification and each trumpeting a different million dollar trigger word, whether it’s “College,” “Institute,” or “Internationally Accredited.” Without needing to scratch below the surface too deep, one can quickly come to the realization that all of these certification programs are for-profit, privately held, and more often than not, operated by a sole proprietor.

In the same way there is nothing legally wrong with for-profit colleges or privatized for-profit business models that offer certification based on a curriculum the proprietors make up, there is nothing legally wrong with any of these tarot certification programs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the biggest ones I know of are legitimate. A lot of good faith, hard work, and substantive educational content goes into the production of these certification programs.

I’m going to comment on the two biggest certification programs currently in operation and best known in the tarot community. And that’s the Biddy Tarot certification program run by Brigit and the tarot certification program through the Tarot Readers Academy, run by Ethony. Granted, the two command totally different points of view and give off distinctly different vibes. I’ll comment on that as well.

From the bottom of my heart, I believe both programs are really fantastic programs in terms of tarot education, mentorship, social support, and motivating you to up your tarot game. The proprietors behind both are superb tarot readers, extremely knowledgeable, generous with their knowledge, and both Brigit and Ethony, these two proprietors behind the certification programs, command some of the biggest platforms in the professional tarot market.

So I take issue with members of the tarot community who have come out of the woodwork with accusations of being a scam. Fraud is a serious charge and if you don’t have clear proof that someone is being fraudulent, then an accusation of fraud could rise legally to the charge of defamation against you. So let’s all just be cautious of our language and not call anyone a scam or a fraud unless you have met that burden of proof.

Personally I think the Biddy Tarot certification program is astronomically expensive but I also believe in a free market system and if that’s what the marketplace is willing to pay for her program, then it’s a perfectly justified fee. You can’t complain about the prices in a free market capitalist system if that’s exactly what people are willing to pay.

Speaking of capitalism, the Biddy Tarot brand and platform is a by-the-books corporate model. That’s not a bad thing, so I’m not entirely sure why so many members of the tarot community make it out to be. It’s just very business, branding, marketing, and commercial oriented, very sell-sell-sell and it’s brilliant. It’s what works. You can’t shit on someone for being good at business.

It’s interesting to me how so many professional tarot readers get ants in their pants when the public decries tarot readers for charging money, because certain opinionated members of Joe Public believe that charging for a tarot reading goes against spirituality. Or whatever. “We’re a business and there’s nothing wrong with us conducting ourselves as a business,” we pro tarot readers argue. Totally true. And yet when a professional tarot reader gets too good at business, suddenly we take issue? That’s not spiritual? That’s selling out? Running a business with your tarot skills is okay. But running an extraordinarily successful business is not okay? Where’s the logic in that?

The second major tarot certification body I know of is the one with the Tarot Readers Academy, run by Ethony. So full disclosure, and it’s an obvious, public one already, so I don’t think I even really need it, but here we go anyway. I’ve been part of the faculty at Tarot Readers Academy and I count Ethony as one of my tarot friends. If the tarot community has like little cliques or whatever, Ethony and I are kinda sorta part of the same clique. Ethony? I can say that, right? She’s someone I trust with secrets, gossip, and personal stuff, which means we’re tight, which means I’m biased.

If you’re willing to hear a biased point of view anyway, Ethony’s program is less corporate-oriented and to me, is more Hogwarts for tarot peoples. I reckon studying tarot under Ethony is a bit like learning from the Minerva McGonagall of tarot. Plus, what she charges for tarot certification through her one-on-one mentored program is reasonable, budget-friendly, and if you do a head to head comparison, cheaper than what I paid for certification through the TCBA.

Sure, maybe I’m friend-biased, but it’s also because I know Ethony that I know she possesses some magical mystical je ne sais quoi to produce powerful protégés. Ethony’s work through the Tarot Readers Academy is a privately organized business, sure, but only to the limited extent that it’s her livelihood. She’s not bankrolling Maui vacations and designer homes with her work. The Tarot Readers Academy and her students mean everything to her and teaching tarot in a way that’s infused with magic and tradition is her passion.

The two certification programs I’ve discussed in this post are not the only tarot certification programs out there (and also, are notably different from one another). I just don’t know about the others. These two are the ones I’m aware of and the ones that are by leaps and bounds the most popularly known.

Here’s how I view today’s certification programs. It’s more about tarot education and paying to support a Tarot Great that you admire. It’s about receiving personalized mentorship and tutelage under one of these Tarot Greats.

“Tarot certification” as it is carried out today in the 21st century is a bit like traditional lineage. Back in the day, who you studied under mattered, and it mattered a lot. If you claimed to be any sort of skilled practitioner, the first question asked of you would be who did you study your craft under. When you were accepted under the mentorship of a master, you’d clean house for the master, cook for the master teacher, do all sorts of menial laborious tasks for the master in exchange for that master’s teachings and, ultimately, to get to say you studied under said master.

Replace “do menial laborious tasks” with money and that’s pretty much in effect what most of these privatized tarot certification programs are today. It’s a mentorship program and the certification status you earn is on par with getting to say to others, “I studied under so-and-so.”

So, for instance, from what I know about Ethony’s certification program, it’s modeled after that traditional lineage system, in a sense. Her certification program isn’t per se about certification, but is more about studying the craft of tarot under her, one to one, so you learn the craft through her specifically.

The Certification Controversy

I worry sometimes that the very debate and controversy surrounding tarot certification is revealing of many facets of our innate fears. Also, the certification debate is getting too personal. People on both sides of the debate are coming forth with arguments that are all but passive-aggressive attacks, much of it ad hominem.

Why do we pursue tarot certification? Because we’re afraid without it, we’re not valid and can’t convince people that we’re legit. So certification is our document evidence that we’re legit. The problem with that is with no real, tangible, consequential accountability, the current private for-profit organizations, or commercial businesses offering tarot certification can’t actually validate or legitimize your tarot skills. Tarot certification is very Seven of Cups, in a certain way, because it lures you into wanting something that isn’t actually going to fulfill you the way you’re hoping it will.

Why are so many non-certified tarot readers so hostile to the idea of certification? I would speculate it’s because subconsciously they’re afraid if tarot certification actually becomes a thing, then their years of experience, hard work, and knowledge will become meaningless in the face of a tarot certification requirement. So they feel it’s best to squash that certification idea in its nascent stages before the idea gets too popular. I can’t help but speculate that non-certified professional tarot readers feel threatened by the idea of a popular tarot certification program gaining traction among tarot professionals or, scarier yet, the mainstream.

Consumer Protection

Consumer protection is a tough issue. We want regulations and we should get regulations that ensure all businesses comply with honest representations of their goods and services, unambiguous disclosures of what those goods and services can and cannot do for you, and we want to make sure that the public doesn’t get swindled. But you can’t prevent stupid. I don’t think consumer protection should overreach and try to prevent stupid.

In other words, so long as the proprietors of tarot certification programs are honest about their representations, then there really isn’t a consumer protection issue. What proprietors can or even should and should not charge for certification programs is determined by the free market system. Not by what you or I personally opine to be expensive or not expensive. Also, what someone wants to pay another for the personal satisfaction of feeling legitimate is not a consumer protection issue.

Use of puffery in advertising and marketing statements is also not unlawful. There is no consumer protection issue if a tarot certification proprietor brags a little. Bragging through the giving of opinions is not in the same ballpark as deceptive business practices or fraudulent statements. If you get duped in by a little bragging, well then that’s on you. That’s not a public interest issue and therefore doesn’t arise to the level of consumer protection concerns.

“Benebell, are you certified?”

That’s a good question. I have no idea.

I could tell you I’m a Certified Tarot Master. But what does that mean? It really means nothing because there is no universally recognized and understood baseline of metrics. There is also no means for verification and no accountability.

Perhaps I could be more specific and say I’m a Certified Tarot Master through the Tarot Certification Board of America. Except you can’t verify that. I could be blowing hot air at you out of my ass and you can’t be the wiser. Because there is no public way for you to check my claim.

Most established certification boards have a searchable database. If I want to look up my accountant’s license number, my lawyer’s license number, doctor’s, real estate agent’s, any number of professional vocations, there is some measure of accountability. Certification has to mean there is accountability attached. With my so called certification status, there is no accountability. I could do whatever the hell I wanted right now with tarot and my tarot business practices and it doesn’t change and can’t change my status as a purported Certified Tarot Master. Why? Because there’s no such thing as the TCBA anymore.

So. Am I certified? Who the hell knows.

The Ethics of Certification Status

In the United States, it’s commonly held that if you hold yourself out as being certified, then immediately following that claim, you need to identify the certifying body. So in tarot speak, I can’t just say I’m a certified tarot master and then leave it at that. Ethically, I need to go the extra step of saying I’m a certified tarot master through the Tarot Certification Board of America. If I’m a certified feng shui master, I can’t just say that. I need to identify the organization that certified and designated me as a feng shui master. This is a note I’m placing here because I haven’t seen wide adherence to that ethical standard. It’s one that really should be observed more diligently, to inform and safeguard the consumer public.

My Opinion on Metaphysical Certification in General

This goes beyond tarot certification and applies to certification for any metaphysical practice or modality. Get it because you want to study under a very particular teacher or master that you consider extraordinary. Get it because you have that dollar amount of disposable income and it’s what you’d spend on entertainment, or a jolly good time anyway. Do it for the jolly good time. Don’t do it because you believe tarot certification is for professional legitimacy.

At this time, I personally reach a verdict against certification for the sake of certification. Yeah. I just don’t think it’s something I can support at this time. I don’t support metaphysical certification programs based on the way the vast majority of them are operated today and in a cost-benefit analysis, if I’m chiming in here with just my opinion, I would not recommend tarot certification unless you’re doing it entirely to support the superstar tarot reader who is operating the tarot certification program.

Taking comprehensive coursework with a tarot superstar that happens to lead to an end goal of certification because that’s how that tarot superstar has structured the program is totally cool and that I support.

Go for certification because you want to be associated with the public figure or spiritual superstar that’s operating the program. Don’t do it because you think it’s going to give you superpowers.

I am not a fan of for-profit colleges that answer first to shareholders and misrepresent statistics and figures to lure would-be students to enroll, thinking they will be guaranteed a job after they graduate. The unfortunate reality is that a degree from a for-profit college can hardly be said to help guarantee gainful employment.

So I feel the same way about all metaphysical certification programs, especially the expensive variety. Ultimately, somebody is doing it for the money because if it weren’t for the money, the certification program wouldn’t exist. That’s okay and I think that’s just called business. There was a need, a demand for something, and then someone stepped up to supply that demand and does so profitably. And what? That’s called Economics 101.

What we can do is make sure these for-profit colleges and likewise, these for-profit tarot or metaphysical certification programs are honest with their representations and factual statements. We can be the good Samaritans and call one out when they aren’t being honest or factual. We can contribute as much information as we can to the marketplace of ideas so that the consumer public can intelligently reach their own decisions.

So. Final thoughts from me. Is paying for tarot certification bullshit? The experience and insights you’ll gain? No. The value of studying under a superstar tarot reader? No. The piece of paper certifying you as an awesome tarot reader? Yeah…yes. Yes, it’s bullshit.

Further Reading

Theresa Reed, The Tarot Lady, posted some great articles on tarot certification that every seeker would be well-advised to read. “Tarot certification: do you need it?” and “Tarot Certification: a reality check checklist” come out strongly against tarot certification, but Reed does an excellent job backing up her arguments.

After a recent ruffle of feathers in the online tarot community over the tarot certification issue, Brigit of BiddyTarot came out with a public statement about her program, which is worth a read.

A tarot OG, Diane Brandt Wilkes, also posted a great note on Facebook about tarot certification then and now. “Tarot Certification–Thoughts From an Old-Fashioned Modern Tarot Reader.”

13 thoughts on “On Tarot Certification – Redux

  1. I think this is an excellent article. I feel the same way about certification. I do have various certificates, which I originally got not only to study the course content but as a “credential” for attracting clients. However, I can honestly say I have never had a client ask for my credentials. I don’t think a lot of clients even know one can be certified in Tarot.

    Also, as a former acupuncturist, I saw what over-regulation and certification did in that field. A few pioneering American acupuncturists set themselves up as a certification board, thus limiting “access.” The early acupuncture exams covered only one or two Chinese acupuncture traditions (TCM and 5 Element), of which there are many, so those from different traditions had to cram for it solely out of books, but at least you only had to study for about half the exam that way. Now, the exam has swung in the opposite direction, trying to include basically almost every acupuncture tradition (Japanese, Korean, electro-acupuncture even if you will never use it, etc) as well as biomedicine. Since most schools focus on one or two traditions, again this leads to students having to cram from books. So if, say, my school taught the 5 Element tradition, I would either have to take extra workshops or learn from books to pass the rest of the exam. How well can such an exam possibly guarantee one’s clinical ability? Don’t get me started on all the expensive continuing ed that is required to maintain certification– and all THOSE teachers need to be certified, and by whom?– and on ad infinitum. A practice which was once effectively handed down through the generations from teacher to student in villages with their own traditions, is now a highly regulated, burdensome field.

    Same with Tarot– there are so many styles, almost as many as practitioners, so how could a certificate or exam possibly fairly include them all? I would hate to see tarot go this route. I love its diversity and the freedom to practice one’s own way. If a certificate guaranteed that one is a great practitioner, maybe, but in my experience that’s not realistic.

    Anyway, I think it’s fine for folks to offer certification courses. I would just hate to see a day when certification becomes required and the rich, diverse Tarot world succumbed to the same monolithic regulatory board as Chinese medicine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Benebell

    Thanks for sharing a very balanced and respectful point of view.

    Thankfully I have not personally been privvy to the nasty backlash and personal attacks. Although I have learned to develop a thick skin over time, it still affects me deeply as a human being to be at the end of such attacks and I’m stunned at how far people take it. So, I have made a conscious choice to opt out of those, often, non-constructive discussions.

    One thing that it has highlighted, however, is that our program, the Biddy Tarot Certification Program, is not intended as a general Tarot certification program. There are no impartial governing bodies for Tarot in most countries and states, and in the absence of such a governing body, a privately-held company cannot specifically give out “Tarot Certifications”. That has been made abundantly clear.

    As a result of not having an impartial, governing body, we at Biddy Tarot have dedicated ourselves to filling this gap to some extent by creating an end-to-end comprehensive training program that includes group and individual support, practice opportunities and the opportunity to become a Certified Biddy Tarot Reader.

    Note that we do not promise you will become a “Certified Tarot Reader”. Instead, if you complete the training and meet the requirements, you will become a “Certified Biddy Tarot Reader”, which means you are fully trained in our methodology. It’s a subtle but important difference.

    I appreciate the discussion because it has highlighted an opportunity for us to be even more clear about what this program is really about. And ultimately, as you say, it’s not about the piece of paper at the end. It’s about the full experience of undertaking the training, getting the support, having those practice opportunities, and studying with an organisation you respect and resonate with. The piece of paper is just the icing on the cake.

    Thanks, Brigit

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Benebell, thank you for your thoughtful article. I have been reading and studying the cards for 25+ years and have attended dozens of conferences, symposiums and classes, as well as taking online courses. I have received many certifications and certificates of participation, which is nice, but frankly never really meant much and ended up in the trash. What was important was what I learned and the people I met. As you know, anyone can print out a piece of paper saying “You are now a Certified Tarot Person.” That said, I have taken many classes with Brigit of Biddy Tarot over the years and agree that her model is highly corporate, but her content is truly valuable. She is direct, organized, knowledgeable and professional. She is generous with her materials and her time. Her book is excellent. I have met her and Skyped with her — she’s quite a positive nice person. I am always surprised to see her getting called out — as if we all should be in a tent wearing turbans and clanky jewelry. As far as Ethony, I have met her as well. She’s a kick! I have followed her online for years. I backed her Kickstarter deck, and use it often. As long as folks are discerning and do their research I don’t have a problem with certifications. It’s just not for me. ⚘

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  4. Thank you for linking to my posts, Benebell – and for your thoughts on this topic. It’s important that we deeply question this subject as well as the programs that are offering certification. Those who offer it need to be completely transparent so that consumers can make wise decisions that feel right for them. What is right for one is not necessarily right for the other. But looking beyond glossy advertising + social triggering web copy – and asking the right questions can help the consumer determine what works best for their goals/agendas. You’ve done a good job spelling out your thoughts on certification. May the buyer beware and may they find the right path for them!

    PS I am against mandatory certification or any such thing. A certificate to say “I completed this course” is another kettle of fish.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciated your post benebell. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, about for profit colleges. As someone who has been involved extensively in higher education I am as overly cautious and suspicious of for profit institutions of learning as I am about the for profit prison system. Having pointed that out…
    I also believe in learning just to learn and some individuals do better with the guidance of a good teacher’s guidance, and I do understand that time is money. And in our educational systems teachers are paid (yes often inadequately) and if one with extensive tarot knowledge and experience is going to take the time to teach, they should be reimbursed as well. The big difference is that when one attends an institution of higher learning and obtains a degree it is usually for the goal of utilizing said degree or certification to obtain employment of some type. I must admit that I am not very clear on the amount of regular full time employment one could obtain with a certification as a tarot master? Hmm, I am too lazy to edit so I will reiterate that the previous is a question.
    I have been obsessed with tarot, and many other “metaphysical” utensils for a very long time, and while my knowledge has come in handy getting me a part time job at a metaphysical book store in the past, that store was in no way a career path ( although in limited areas I can see a very few career paths.)
    As a writer and artist, among other things, who is about to return to higher learning again to assist with a career path I find tarot knowledge indispensable and would love to find employment utilizing that knowledge ( or good grief all this extra “metaphysical” or occult or whatever one wishes to call it) in my brain.
    So, babbling aside, I found your previous entry quite valid and I hope people read it and pay attention. No one should just spend money with the idea that “I will be certified” in anything… I think it’s quite important to really dwell upon the idea of just what that certification really means… Employment? Bragging rights? And is one even doing it for the right reasons which, in my opinion, is always first to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you. I really wanted to take Brigit’s class but it is too expensive for me and I was looking for alternatives. Thank you for pointing out Ethony. Here more involved program sounds like what I need at this time and what I can afford. I have been reading Tarot for mostly myself and a few friends here and there for over 20 years and I want to start doing it professionally somehow. I think I have a lot to offer as an intuitive and empath.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cat, I recommend Ethony’s certification program. She’s one of the tarot greats for sure and I’ve seen her students go off to be incredibly successful at the craft!

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  7. I also don’t care about certification or document, but the experience and to gain confidence so I can maybe read professionally for others. I need some extra income and I really love helping others and am so into archetypes, symbolism, and transpersonal psychology.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Benebell, I thank you for this writing about this topic. I’m a beginner, only started with reading and studying Tarot for about 1 1/2 months, but I’m collecting books, Tarot decks and informations about every existing Tarot certifications as crazy as hell. Yes, I want to learn about Tarot badly and yes, I want to become a master of Tarot reading as soon as possible, yes, want to know about everything which has to do with Tarot. My passion about it is very high right now. I do not know if I’m a realy psychic, and I also do not know if I want to become a professional Tarot reader, who lay cards to be get money. I am just enjoying myself at learning it and I am happy to see, that I’m getting more and more confident each day. But your writing about certification has stopped me now from running after titles and papers, because I honestly felt that I need them for security (wanted also to design a website sothat I can show it, too). I realized that I need to practice and trust/work on my intuitive ability to connect myself with the cards – even I might not have the “mighty” psyhic ability (I never tried to find it seriously). I just started with the course of Biddy Tarot, but still wants to go on with Ethony and also with you – cause I do enjoy learning – and I’ll keep practising and studying books. Thank you again for the enlightenment.

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        1. Message or reach out to Ethony about her tarot training program. You may find that closer, one-on-one time with a tarot master to be invaluable to your own path! ❤

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