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 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.
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.”