Tarot Fortune-Telling, Divination, and Life Coaching (Part II)

This is a continuation from Part I.

So what do we mean when we make the distinctions between tarot as fortune-telling, or as divination, or psychology-based tarot, or even the popular notion now– tarot as a form of life coaching?

I have a free 30-minute audio presentation plus 12-page handout, “A Comparative Analysis of Fortune-Telling and Divination,” which you can check out here. The 12-page pdf handout includes a compilation of quotes from various renowned Western occultists and cartomancers on the issue of fortune-telling and divination, some who don’t seem to make a distinction between the two and others who make a very clear distinction.

In other words, I don’t think we can say in any absolute terms what constitutes fortune-telling and divination, and whether there should be any distinction made between the two.

It boils down to a matter of subjective opinion and perspective. Maybe your perspective is that the two are totally different, and maybe your perspective is that fortune-telling and divination are one and the same, with no distinction of note. Either way, it’s just a personal opinion.

We each have to discern for ourselves what the implications of fortune-telling and divination are for us, and with all the chatter about psychology-based approaches to the cards and life coaching, we need to figure out what those terms mean as applied to the tarot.

Whether you bask proudly in the appellation of “fortune-teller” or you shirk from it and go out of your way to disown that label says more about you than it does anything about the tarot, and that’s okay.

Here are my own approaches to these terms and the distinctions I make for myself. What are yours?


“I will tell you something you don’t know.”

Or as it’s more often phrased, from the querent’s point of view: Tell me something I don’t know. If you’re a fortune-teller, I would say you must be prepared to take up that challenge.

Fortune-telling is premised on the notion that some among us possess an ability for precognition and therefore can see beyond our ordinary constraints of space-time. Psychic ability and the four clairs– clairvoyance, claircognizance, clairaudience, and clairsentience– will be presumed. There is the potential for omniscience, but more realistically, the accuracy and the scope of information that can be provided is based entirely on the skill of the fortune-teller.


“I am communicating a message from Spirit to you.”

I think of divination as picking up on the signs of the universe, and inherent in the process of divination is communication with Divinity. How that Divinity presents itself, whether it’s a facet of Divinity, whether you’re working within a defined pantheon, whether Divinity manifests itself to you in monotheistic or polytheistic form, etc. will of course vary, but the fundamental purpose is communication with Divinity.

So this is less four-clairs-prediction and more priest-and-priestess-y where the tarot reader is in effect little more than a messenger or interpreter. Divination is premised on the notion that the card reader can read the signs and omens of Spirit. In that sense, there is a potential for omniscience, but more realistically, the diviner can only convey to the extent Spirit is willing to convey at a given point in time.

Just to reiterate, does everyone make a clear-cut distinction between fortune-telling and divination? No. But I do.

Life Coaching

“Let’s probe deeper and together, get to the heart of what’s really going on.”

I think of tarot life coaching as utilizing a psychology-based approach to the cards. This is about using a spread of tarot cards as a starting point for self-reflection and counseling. The tarot reader helps guide the seeker through the necessary thought process for arriving at important realizations or conclusions, and therefore becoming more empowered to make an informed decision.

A tarot life coach uses the cues from the tarot to help the seeker achieve goals. If luck has been bad, a tarot life coach looks to the tarot for insight on how to change and shift that luck for the better.

One popular method under the umbrella of psychology-based tarot or tarot life coaching is Q&A, Socratic style. Ask what the querent seeks in the card image and work with the querent’s subjective impressions to discern what’s going on. Whether a querent reads something positive out of a particular card image or reads something negative will tell you a lot about character, personality, and what’s lurking at the subconscious level.

This is about using the cards to see a seeker’s full potential, and being able to interpret signs from the cards to map out a strategy for achieving that potential. Life coaching is premised on the notion that the seeker already possesses an intrinsic knowledge of how to solve the problem, but may need the guidance and expertise of a life coach to help realize that solution.

But Wait, Who is Who?

Straight talk here. Something I’ve been giggling to myself about over the years and find quite amusing is how many self-proclaimed proud fortune-tellers are by and large adopting a psychology-based or life-coaching approach to the tarot, while those who feel more comfortable with non-woo expressions of what they do, such as calling the tarot psychology-based, are in effect fortune-telling or divining.

That’s all. I don’t have anything more to say about this beyond the observation that what labels we prefer don’t always align with how we’re actually approaching the tarot.

Other Styles of Tarot Reading

Fortune-telling vs. a psychology-based approach to the tarot are the two primary styles of tarot reading oft talked about. I added divination because I observe a distinction between fortune-telling and divination. I also added life coaching because in recent years, that style of tarot reader has risen in popularity.

However I would consider a few other specifically-defined styles or approaches to the cards as well. So here are a few more. This isn’t a complete list of every possible approach in existence; this is just what I can think up off the top of my head this instant. =) Also, I’ve intentionally omitted uses of tarot beyond reading. For example, ceremonial magic, pathworking, meditation, crafting tarot talismans, etc.

Akashic Records Reading

“I read the coding of the universe.”

This is when a deck of cards (or the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, or any comprehensive divination system) is used as an effigy for the Akashic Records and therefore can be used almost as acupuncture points for tapping in to the Records. In a sense, this is like being able to read the 0s and 1s of the programming that has created our universe and all possibilities of universes.

An Akashic Records reading is premised on the notion that the card reader can access the Records through the tarot system. In that sense, there is a potential for omniscience, but subject to what information guardians of the Records that the reader is in communication with are allowing to pass through.


“I contact the dead for you and they communicate to me through the cards.”

This is the whole “I see dead people” shtick, or more precisely, “I talk to dead people.” I can probably write a whole dissertation on my perspective of mediumship and what I think mediumship entails. Here, I’ll try to be concise with my perspective on tarot and mediumship: this type of reader is able to connect with an aspect of soul of one who is deceased and use a deck of cards as the common language between the dead and the living.

But wait. Does mediumship through the cards fall into the label of tarot fortune-telling or tarot divination? In my opinion, no, it doesn’t. I think psychic approaches to the tarot fall within those labels, but not mediumship. Mediumship is a rather specific operation with specifically defined intentions.

That said, I do believe that mediumship through the cards can happen involuntarily or in an unplanned, unexpected way. If a tarot reader isn’t methodical and strict about boundary and space setting, then you can inadvertently create a gateway allowing spirits to pass and therefore communicate with you.

Remember Part 1?

Most of the people reading this are going to get all huffy-puffy about how they don’t fit neatly into any one category, how these categories are bogus and a “good” tarot reader will be a little bit of all of the above.

Remember what I talked about in Part 1? What I’ve come to realize is these categories are less about you and more about making it easier for other people to pigeon-hole you, and as counter-intuitive as that may seem– after all, why on earth would you want to make it easier for other people to typecast you?– as a professional tarot reader, this is going to help with your marketing, branding, and get you connected with exactly the right type of clientele.

Yes, on some spiritual-theoretical level, I absolutely believe the most competent tarot reader will be one who stitches all of these styles together seamlessly, and moves between the lines with such grace that you can’t even pinpoint exactly what the reader is doing– all you can say for sure is it’s working.

So like I pointed out in Part 1, these labels are less about what we actually do as readers, and all about the ways we permit others to label us.

Predictions vs. Forecasts

I make an unambiguous distinction between predictions and forecasts. You don’t have to, but I do. It’s not so much about dictionary definitions for these words, but it’s about cultural and social implications.

To me, a prediction is a declaration, and it has to come in the form of a declaration. It is an explicit and detail-specific statement of future events. A prediction is disconnected from any known variables. It’s psychic. It’s not intuitive.

A forecast is a projection. It’s an extrapolation, or an educated, informed inference of what is to come based on the variables that we do know and can ascertain. It is not psychic. It’s intuitive. But it’s also a calculation. Based on what we know about the querent’s past, about what we’ve detected as energies present, and what we know about the personalities and dispositions at play, here is what will most likely happen.

Words and particular phrasing can manipulate people. Words can empower or they can disempower. That’s why I make the clear distinction between predictions and forecasts for myself as a tarot reader. Predictions run the risk of disempowering the querent. Whether that is your intention or not as a tarot reader, predictions convey the sense that these statements about the future are immutable. Whether you intend to or not, you in effect manipulate the mindset of querents and prime them into believing you know more than they do, and therefore what you say most certainly will come to be.

Forecasts, on the other hand, let the querents know that the statement is calculated from current variables at play, so the future is mutable. It can be changed so long as the current variables are changed. Framing words about the future as forecasts run a lower risk of disempowering the querent.

It’s my philosophy that fortune-telling declares to the querent that the future is immutable, no matter what the fortune-teller’s intentions for fortune-telling might be. Something about human psychology makes us feel like it’s probably immutable.

Forecasts, on the other hand, feel intrinsically mutable, again, irrespective of what our intentions as readers may or may not be. That’s why it’s important to me to make that distinction.

This two-part write-up was prompted by a kerfuffle that arose in the online tarot community a few months back. It started with a tweet, one that all but referred to self-identified fortune-tellers as quacks. I guess I took interest in the kerfuffle because when Holistic Tarot came out, I was criticized heavily for my commentary about fortune-telling.

The impassioned reactions from our community that ensued got me thinking about this whole fortune-telling, divination, psychology-based tarot issue further, and this two-parter is my response to the incident altogether.

Read Part I

14 thoughts on “Tarot Fortune-Telling, Divination, and Life Coaching (Part II)

  1. Yes. You absolutely nailed it. These are my opinions on words and self. I do it because its interesting and I like to see what comes up. I like to involve the querent to see what they think, and draw their own conclusions. I feel weird when people ask “whay will happen…” And I’m put on the spot so I say “I don’t really read that way.” I try to enforce the idea that “anything is possible, but what is likely probable” *shrugs* because I’m mostly talking out of my ass and don’t know crap. Or rather, I don’t know what I don’t know, I can only guess and hope for the best.


    1. The Bibliotherapod.

      Don’t underestimate the power of that ‘don’t know’ mystery to motivate and engage people though.

      One of my favourite readers comes from a psychological counselling background and also serves as a pagan preist in his community, what I love about his reading style is his intense curiosity. He asks a lot of bold questions; gives me a lot of space to think out loud about cards he draws and actually says little in the way of forecasts. That said, I always feel as though I have learned a lot from his readings. I think giving someone the space to process and to he curious about what might happen be can be eeally powerful.


      1. Absolutely. I’ve been told that I have an interesting or whatever reading style as a friend said she digs the way I move the cards around the table like the cards are interacting or conversing with one another. LOL I’m definitely open to whatever can be discerned or sets off those “psychic pings” but I don’t want to disappoint those who ask me if I can tell what will happen if rah rah rah…
        I certainly like experimenting with the cards and tend to do that in private, but since I’m not really sure what I’m looking for, I have no idea what may be spot on or wishy washy in terms of technique, method, and applying it to other people. It’s mostly just something will click later on, after the fact. Maybe. lol


  2. interesting topic! Thank You for pointing it out!:D imo it’s 2 different things,,, but divination is wider term & may include fortune telling as well?;) also like that Socratic style reading approach and Predictions vs. Forecasts is good point!:) I always point out cards are showing just most likely situation/outcome & that can change later as anything is possible!;)


  3. Barghest

    This is a really interesting point, and categorising things is a very helpful approach. I don’t have a personal preference as such but I try to stress the psychological and therapeutic side of tarot. Even though I do have some traditionally ‘irrational’ beliefs, I then feel I’ve then fulfilled my moral duty by providing for any personal delusion I may have about my own abilities. 😉


  4. M3

    I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot since the 1st post, so Thank You Benebell for the brain-fodder.

    As to the point that what we call what we do when we “tarot” for others will always be dependant on the thought process of that Querent. Do they want to talk to the Dead? Do they want to know their future? Do they not give a fuck & are sad about their boyfriend?

    I absolutely do believe that as a Reader, I need to respect the expectations of Querents & be honest with myself if I can deliver.

    BUT what do we tell ourselves? Do we have inner-conflicts going on? Some days I’m totally convinced that the Cards are talking to me and others I’m looking down at a spread & completely confused and embarrassed that I can’t figure them out.

    So I tell myself, and anyone else that asks, that I am a Storyteller. I’m no Aesop but I do tell a good story when I give myself the space to really use the Cards to spark my imagination.


  5. Found this informative and loved that you took this on with your normal honesty and brought clarity.

    When I’m trying to explain the differences my simple definitions are.
    Fortune Telling – The reading is going to tell you something that will be happening in the future.
    It is linear & respects time. Leans toward fate. No faith/belief necessary.

    Divination – The reading is going to tell you what is the energy/spirit behind/surrounding what is happening, and the direction it is heading, with suggestions & possible directions forward.
    Its more circular & time is a concept. Leans toward free will. Needs faith/belief.

    Tarot Coaching – You’ll be asked questions based on the cards that will allow you to work out/through an issue. Card selection isn’t always random.
    It’s a dot and deals with the moment. Leans toward current reality. No faith/belief necessary.

    I totally agree on the psychic label while at the same time acknowledge intuition is a child of psychic ability.

    All of these have value. I’ve done all of them. I started with fortune telling, then did coaching, and now use divination the most. Of course readings can & do include all 3.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The Bibliotherapod.

    Thank you for these blogs, I am working through the final modules of Susan T Changs Living Tarot course and fhat involves an assignment where I clarify where I stand on issues like prediction etc. I was sat with my notes last might trying to unglue all the asoects which were all muddled up in my head, this has helped.


  7. James

    Thank you for the blog post, good writing makes us pause and think!
    I really like Shari Lynn reply.

    For me I have taken tarot, spirit guide, shaman, and mediumship courses.
    The most important thing I have learned from spirit world is they can not interfere with your life’s path because we have free will.

    The Tarot cards are providing a message based on your current free will decisions, is it fortune telling? Divination? Coaching? Or another term? Prediction? Or guidance?

    I believe the current time line can be changed based on free will. Not by spirit! So what message can spirit give when you ask for a tarot reading?

    The future is based on all current knowledge and the timeline can change. then yes spirit is trying to provide guidance based on your free will decisions and original life purpose. Hence the word spirit guides.

    So who provides the intuitive message? A tarot reader is the go between. Never interpret the message but bring forth the message, this is why many people say ignore the book meanings and read intuitively.

    Spirit is always giving messages to the higher self, but the higher self does not always listen because ego has a louder voice. Spirit wants to communicate to you and assist you with your journey. Tarot cards are a way for spirit to communicate to us because we are not listening to the subtle messages already being provided.

    Is that message…..fortune telling, predicting divination, guidance or coaching?
    Remember spirit can not interfere in your free will decisions!

    In conclusion tarot cards depending how the question is worded, is a message about your free will decisions while trying to help you understand the lessons you need to learn on this journey to serve your life’s purpose.

    I like …we are a go between providing a message.

    Cheers James

    My goal is to participate in the discussion with ideas that will facilitate other ideas with the end result of obtaining a better understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Tarot Fortune-Telling, Divination, and Life Coaching (Part I) – benebell wen

  9. Nemia

    I simply call myself a tarot reader. The cards are a language, and up to a certain level, I’m able to read a story in them. Narrative-symbolic interpretation 🙂


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