This is an extract from a free online book on magick I did, reproduced here in response to some a chat was about Tarot in the old web-orama.com forums. The entire section on divination is reproduced here, as it flows together nicely and is relevant.
"…..While looking skywards; I should deal briefly with astrology. Do you believe in it? It is quite likely that you have only encountered astrology in the brief horoscopes published in newspapers and magazines. By definition, these daily articles are extremely general; maybe fifty words for each of the twelve signs. This is therefore about 600 words to give total daily life-guidance to the approximately 5 billion (and still rising) people on the planet!
It is asking rather a lot of astrology isn't it?
However, a properly constructed individual astrological chart, based on your exact time, place and date of birth done by someone with ability and perception can be very useful to you; not so much for the "you will meet a tall dark stranger and your lucky bingo number is 7.."-type predictions, but for a more psychological profile based on your astrological make-up.
Try to find an astrologer who will do this type of reading; you may discover some very useful things. Again the personal recommendations of trusted friends are much more useful than trying to choose from competing glossy magazine advertisements. Astrology is not always right. It may seem naive to say that, but (as with any such thing) those that believe in it sometimes have a fanatical blind faith in the 100% efficacy of the procedure in every situation for everyone.
Very few things are totally certain and accurate every time; the best marksman in the world misses the bullseye sometimes, even the most brilliant and gifted surgeon has lost the occasional patient, the "unsinkable" ship The Titanic did not remain afloat.
Keep a sense of perspective, and if something in your reading does not ring even close to being true then examine why quite closely. It may be that there is a slant put on something by the astrologer that, if slanted differently may be much more relevant; or possibly they are just exploring all possible interpretations of a particular aspect of your chart. Astrology is in a way rather like the process of identifying vintage wines; in much the same manner that a wine of a particular year, vineyard and fermentation technique will have a TENDENCY to show particular taste, smell and alcoholic content properties, so a person born under certain star configurations will also have a tendency to show particular psychological, personality and sometimes even physical properties.
These are only tendencies ; there is always room for individuality as there is room for uncharacteristic wine in an otherwise similar vintage; and free will to be different from any stellar-influenced predisposition. A good psychological reading will be a useful addendum to the self-profile that you made (in chapter 1 of the entire book). I am not an astrologer, but as a magician you will need to know a little about the stars above you; in various pieces of future work you will perhaps at least need to know the horoscope sign that is currently occupied by the Sun, how full the moon is etc. (fortunately this basic information is to be found in many daily newspapers; and a reasonable calendar will also have the same details; and often more)
Be aware of the changes in the skies and see if you are able to relate different heavenly events to changes in your own life. Notice that I use the word RELATE, and not blame; often there are indeed major potential influences in the skies, but you are always a free being. Work hard to remain so. If your total destiny IS written in the sky then you have no free will. "It" (whatever "it" is) will happen regardless of your acts or omissions, so you don't even need to get out of bed in the morning, if this is true.
As an example of astrological events possibly affecting life, here is a text that I have used to help people experiencing odd things and life-crises/wonders at the approximate age of 28 or 29; one explanation in astrological terms is known as the Saturn Return, and this piece, called 'Shit Happens….' appears elsewhere.
Astrology is just one of many techniques under the loose heading of divination, which literally means "the foretelling of future events, or the discovery of things secret or obscure by alleged converse with supernatural powers, the skill of interpreting omens" The "Div-" root of the word divination here implies that these supernatural powers are divine, i.e. God(s).
The principle of divination is (briefly) that by whatever the means used, be it cards, sticks, tea leaves etc. there is a physical random process which can be affected by something external in a way that can be interpreted by the conscious mind of the diviner.
Regular practice and the correct application of mind can start to unfold psychic or deeply intuitive abilities in anyone who has the will to succeed. Divination can be a very interesting way of adding to the psychological profiling exercise started earlier in my book and also dealt with under astrology; many of the methods which produce a reading also suggest personality types and other such analyses.
Seeing the future: divination is not about discovering "your fate" (or that of others) and meekly waiting for it to drop on you like a falling piano. By discovering future possibilities you have the choice to metaphorically "go with the flow", or if you don't like the direction of the current, you have forewarning and the chance to start paddling in another direction. If divination of any kind told you perhaps of perils when actually, not metaphorically, travelling by water in the near future it would be entirely your choice whether to cancel an already-arranged boat trip, take extra precautions or just ignore the prediction. If you cancelled the boat trip and nothing happened you may well feel foolish.
Less so if the boat sank.
Slightly less so if you did sail, but your precautions included travelling on deck and those below decks all drowned.
There are some interesting statistics that seem to show that most passenger aeroplanes that crash are less full than at other times on their regular schedule when they have not crashed; it seems that bookings are lower than usual, and last minute cancellations higher than normal on aircraft that end up crashing; almost as if a number of passengers have tangible enough (psychic?) uncertainty to not fly at that particular time.
They all changed their future. The future is not set; it is plastic, flexible and can be remoulded any number of times UNDER CONTROL OF WILL.
You make your own fate; even if you don't think you do. By blind or meek acceptance of the "it is all fated anyway" school of thought you are still making your own fate; simply by freely giving it up for somebody/something else to control.
Be an individual.
Be a magician.
There is no fate but that which you choose to make for yourself.
Choose well, change it when you need it to.
That is what divination is about. You may not meet a tall dark stranger, but you will meet yourself and get to know yourself a lot better; and as far as lucky numbers go; why not have today's date as your lucky number? Tomorrow also has "today's date" when you arrive there. Get the message?
All methods of Divination will only give you the results that you deserve; those perhaps using Tarot cards for spooky entertainment and to scare their friends with some of the symbolism will not gain much of importance from the experience. Taking the process seriously, with due respect for the process (which does not mean worshipping the Divinatory items themselves) will have far better results. An attitude of respect, seriousness and calmness will be required. Silence or subtle calming background music is best; definitely no Television!
Don't rush things, have all that you need to make notes ready beforehand; if you have a tape recorder it can be easier to talk into that as the divination progresses rather than distracting attention to write notes; give it a try. Note that everyone's voice sounds silly on tape, don't be embarrassed. As in most things, the more effort put into asking the right questions in the best way; the better the answer.
Ask simple unambiguous questions
I give people the option to keep their query for the Tarot silent if they wish and so I often do the reading from "cold", i.e. not even knowing the question. This can be very hard work, but it gives a good unbiased position from which to divine. I often work this way, but one thing I do insist on NOW from experience is that the unspoken questions are kept simple and basic; with several supplementary questions being asked later if required.
This was a lesson learned from once doing a "blind" reading for a young woman that I vaguely knew. After what seemed like hours of spoken interpretation of the cards it eventually gave highly relevant helpful comments to a lot of personal problems and queries that she had. The reading took so long, and was so hard because she had asked about virtually her entire life story at the time! To preserve her anonymity I have concocted the following question, but it is along roughly the same lines (and complexity) as that which she had silently asked. "If I don't go out with A, what will B think of me, and can I still see C, even though he's involved with D.. will D get involved with A, and if so what will happen between E and F?" (who was B's brother and engaged to a relative of C) .
To say the least it was a trifle too complex! I did eventually manage to drag some relevant predictions and advice (plus a monstrous headache!) out of a truly mortifying question. The moral of the story is, any method of divination will answer any question; but only within the limits of ability of the person doing the interpretation.
Keep it simple and clear; you can then give clear and simple answers back, and be of much more use than talking for an hour or more to give so much information that the underlying basic message is obscured. Questions fall into a few basic types; the "yes/no" to a particular choice; the "what if?" for a proposed choice; the general overview without a specific question; the "give two or three alternatives" for a future route.
Depending upon the type of question the cards (or any other method which involves symbols on card, stone etc.) can be set out in a variety of patterns to assist with a concise reading for the type of question.
A common first occult experience for some. They are used often as "spur of the moment" games at parties etc.; with young, overly daring and foolish young people...again a matter of not taking the thing seriously. The standard cautionary tale is that of a hastily constructed "board" chalked on a table top, a wine glass with everyone touching it and the usual opening question "is there anybody there?" Generally nothing happens for a moment or two, there is some nervous giggling, and the experiment is abandoned. If the party-goers persevere, then sometimes the glass moves smoothly to "no". Everyone protests that they are not pushing the glass, it must be someone else doing it, etc.
A more serious second attempt is then tried, and the glass again answers "no". Assuming that this is indeed a contact with a non-human entity, it does not bode well that the entity has either the strange sense of humour to answer in this way, is perhaps not intelligent enough to understand the question, or is deliberately being awkward. The usual line of further questions involve the spelling (often incorrectly again, implying an illiterate or mischievous entity at best) of names and places relevant to the observers.
Then somebody thoughtlessly asks a stupid question about death, i.e. "when will I die?" Bearing in mind the previously shown tendency of the assumed entities usually involved to be either stupid, illiterate, awkward or downright malign this is not a sensible question to ask (it seldom is in any circumstances) At the current state of advancement of medical science I do not need a ouija board (or anything else) to state that everyone will die at some point; the pronouncement of a date will not be of much use to the person concerned; and tends to upset them, and the others present.
Especially if the "date of death" is within a few days of the ouija session; as often seems to be the case. Exit at speed several really scared teenagers, scattering the furniture on their way to immediate psychiatric or religious help.
This is rather a dramatised reconstruction of a ouija session gone wrong, but I have heard so many similar stories of foolish experiments turning unpleasant that I feel it necessary to point out the problems with this form of Divination. If you absolutely must try the board, then a few hints:
Obtain a proper board, called a planchette. Sobriety is a must with any divination method; many of the cases I mentioned were events at parties where people had been drinking, and decided to "have a laugh" with the board late at night when the party had died down. Not surprising that the board had a laugh at their expense.
Establish the ground rules with the other participants before you begin; as a guideline, there must be a sincere and serious mood from everyone; draw up a list of questions beforehand; deleting anything frivolous or potentially upsetting...include a few queries that have answers known only to one of the participants; and at least one answer to a future uncertain event.. this as a quality control check on the accuracy and validity of whatever you may contact; if the answers to the unknown questions turn out to be correct it becomes less likely that any one or more of the participants were playing a trick.
Tape-record or videotape the session, and replay the tape later...this is a lot easier than trying to concentrate on keeping a finger on the moving glass and take written notes with the other hand at the same time. Treat the whole thing as a magical ritual; in that you need to clear a space, banish, call the entity (by asking if it is there) and banish it again. Half the problem with ouija is that this is seldom done in the cases where nasty things happen. The absence of preliminary precautions makes the participants extremely vulnerable.
Another part of the problem is the nature of the calling of the entity; it is non-specific.. in a formal magical ritual of evo- or invocation (discussed later in the whole book) one calls upon a particular entity, generally by name. The ouija invites ANYTHING to visit. As has been discussed it can be a particularly bloody-minded, stupid, lying, silly or downright terrifying "guest". There are some very sensible and effective methods for the use of ouija boards in the published works of the Society For Psychical Research; a respected organisation of long-standing, you may well have found some of their books in your library. If you must try the board, then at least follow the sensible precautions used by the SPR.
Tarot Cards have an image of belonging to the realms of fake "Gypsy" clairvoyants on seaside piers, or colourful but mysterious tents at village fetes and county shows. The true gypsy connection may be the more relevant. It is theorised that the designs on the cards originated in ancient Egypt, which is also reputedly the original home of the real Gypsy-Romany races (Gypsy being a corrupted pronunciation of 'gyptian) the history or origin of the cards is not entirely relevant, one does not need to research the origins and design evolutions of the screwdriver in order to be able to use the tool; one merely needs a little awareness of the function and some practice. The function of the cards (and any other symbolic/pictorial method of Divination) is to tap a rich vein of symbolism in order to awaken the subconscious part of self, and the two hemispheres of the brain, as has been mentioned earlier (in the main book).
The common thing when discussing the Tarot is that people are very afraid of the cards "Death" and "The Devil"; there is a common misconception that if "Death" comes up in a reading then it means precisely that.
FACT: EVERYBODY WHO DABBLES WITH TAROT CARDS WILL DIE!
FACT: EVERYBODY WHO NEVER TOUCHES A TAROT CARD WILL DIE TOO!
It comes to us all eventually; and is nothing to do with a mass-produced printed design on a bit of cardboard. There are (depending on the particular design of deck) around 78 cards in a tarot deck. This is shuffled and a reading is done from a layout of cards that may commonly involve using 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 or any other number from 4 to 21 cards. By PURE STATISTICS alone, then Death is going to crop up once in each 78 cards turned over, if someone has a reading involving 3 separate questions, and hence 3 spreads, should they each use 13 or more cards then there is a 50% chance that Death will appear.
I have done readings for people where they have asked 7 consecutive questions, each taking 11 cards; i.e. there is only a 1 in 78 chance that Death WILL NOT show up in that circumstance.
There is also a highly involved spread which ends with the entire deck INCLUDING DEATH turned face up in a complex inter-relationship. I have done this spread several times over 15 years, for myself and others. I am still alive, so are they. If any card was that powerful then it would be unnecessary to fight wars; it would only be needed to "bomb" the enemy from the air with selected tarot cards! Assassins would go out of business, one would only need to slip the death card into an envelope and post it to the target. The cards themselves have no power as such. It is the symbols thereon that have the potential to be used to great effect. Similarly, "The Devil" coming out face up doesn't meant that you will definitely be visited by an entity with a goatee beard, foul breath, a forked tail and a "special introductory offer".
The cards are SYMBOLS; merely that.
When doing readings for anyone who has never had a reading before you are obliged to explain this to them beforehand. If you are trying to help them with a divination, it is at very least counterproductive to scare them rigid in the first two minutes. It is your duty to put their minds at rest before the reading starts. The power of suggestion is so strong in some people that they may be unrecoverably lost to their emotive reaction to the idea of the death card being literal, and all the reassurance in the world AFTER the event may not be of any use.
Prevention is better than cure.
Your deck should come with a small booklet giving basic interpretations of each card. There are a myriad of weightier tomes which go into much greater depth about the cards; often too much depth. Once you get to know your cards and the conventional meanings you will notice that certain cards keep cropping up in your spreads, and intuit them to have a certain meaning for you that is not necessarily the one that "the book" gives. It is important that you note down your readings; as hindsight can be a very useful teacher in this instance; especially for spotting things that you missed, or noticing alternative interpretations that should have been more closely investigated at the time. This is not to say that the cards are merely a way of being wise after the event; the whole point of this learning from hindsight is that you eventually become better at spotting the crux of the matter while doing the reading , and thus have a chance to act on the information.
Cards which appear upside down ("reversed") in spreads: there is much debate amongst Tarot readers about whether to read upside down cards in spreads as having a reversed, alternative or negative meaning to their upright state. On a purely practical level, starting from a pack of cards all upright; depending upon how the cards are shuffled it can be seen that some may automatically be reversed by the physical process of cutting and shuffling; depending upon how the wrists are turned. The counter argument is that precisely which cards are reversed by the shuffling becomes relevant to the divination. This is still a matter of discussion; and largely dependent upon personal preference. My own preference is to read all cards as upright; any averse interpretation is solely to do with the inter-relation of the cards to eachother; and not the possible accident of some being reversed by shuffling dexterity. The choice of deck is very much up to the individual; there are lots to choose from; varying from entirely traditional to cartoon characters; it really is a matter of what you are most comfortable with.
Cards vary in size from minute "travel decks" to very large decks indeed. You are the one using them, if they are so small as to obscure detail in the illustrations, or so large that you simply cannot physically shuffle them properly then change the deck. Treat your cards as a respected piece of magical apparatus; when not in use keep them wrapped in a cloth bag or a square of silk; do not allow anyone to "play" with them. Have a reading from another reader from time to time; preferably someone that doesn't know you at all; i.e. a reader at one of the commercial "Psychics Fairs" that have become commonplace in recent years. Do not initially let on that you read cards yourself; learn from their presentation skills and how they do their readings; if possible choose a reader that uses the same deck as you, or one similar in design. Enjoy the reading. If the reader is any good they will spot that you are "in the know" and ask you...do not lie to them in such a situation.
Pick up whatever tips you can just by observing and listening; then pay your money and give honest thanks. Imagine whether you could give twenty or more readings in a day to total strangers in a room full of the distractions of other readers, ephemera sellers and muttering milling crowds. It is hard work but very good training for the concentration! Practice regularly with your cards. In time you may wish to give readings for others, but do not feel that it is compulsory. These "others" will initially probably be friends or relatives; which poses the awkward question of how much the cards are telling you as opposed to how much you already know (or can surmise) about them from previous acquaintance. You may already know details of their various life situations and problems. In these circumstances you must not make any assumptions as to the nature of their questions; if they choose not to say them aloud.
Trying to impose definite "name and address"-type meanings on a spread that you assume is relating to one matter can be very damaging if the question is about something else entirely. Oddly enough, doing readings for complete strangers is often easier. One cannot have any presumptions; but it does mean a lot of initial hard work to establish a rapport. I would advise that you never do a reading for anyone while there is someone else in the room; especially their spouse, partner or parent. It can be very awkward for the reader when the cards tell something that you believe that either person will not want the other to hear.
I have been in this position, and chose to give a rather mystical and wishy-washy interpretation in front of both parties. Very shortly afterwards I cornered each individual on their own and told them the highly personal part of the reading relevant to them which I (correctly) surmised that they would not have wanted their partner to have been told. When performing any divination for someone behave in the same professional manner as a Doctor performing an intimate medical examination; privacy, courtesy, discretion and total commitment to the process.
Never discuss details of individual readings with anyone other than the person involved. If they then wish to circulate details of their own reading then that is their decision.
Taking payment for readings is another contentious subject. My magical tradition (and that of plenty of others) in general states that no money is to change hands for any magical works.
This work is beyond price. There is also the practical consideration of refunds for spells which do not have exactly the desired result! I do not charge any fee for readings for the above reasons and also for some very real practical sentiments. These are that if you charge for readings there will be times when, like all of us, you are suddenly as intuitive and psychic as a brick. We all have off days. If you were charging for a reading on such a day you would probably feel obliged to come up with something, and have to resort to fudging the issue. This is manifestly unfair (and taking money under false pretences) and could lead to your client making important decisions based on your "predictions". If someone is paying you to do something you become "theirs" for the duration of the service being performed; and as such you have an obligation to perform to the height of your abilities.
Personally I object to this issue of "ownership"; so I do not charge for any readings, which allows me to do readings when and for whom I wish, and to refuse to do readings when and for whom I do not wish. I think that my reading standards benefit from this selectivity. By not forcing anything for financial reasons I seem to work better. Those that do take money for readings have obviously come to different conclusions individually, which I respect. I am not in a position where I have to earn a living from doing readings. There are some people who have divination as their only source of income; so they must charge for it. To rely totally on divination for money shows a great deal of determination; and to have made a living from it for any length of time anyone would have to be pretty good at it; or immensely skilled at fudging. It is possible to fill a short reading with such vague generalisations that they could apply to anyone, but make it seem entirely personal.
For example; "you are going through some changes" (who isn't?) "you have got some money worries" (who hasn't?) "there is an important older/younger man/woman in your life at the moment" tailored to the individual this can be a good one; in a reading for a young woman this could be put as an "important older man", i.e. probably a father; and simply by watching and listening to the client's reactions to these few fudges one can, with a little ingenuity construct a decent but entirely generalised reading that will do no harm (or good) and earn a few pounds.
I prefer to use the cards to help people; for free.
Honesty is its own reward".
PS: it should be remarked that very few readers do their readings over the internet or by email. Including me, so please don't ask……. Apart from anything else I don't have the computer technical knowhow.