Question: Isn’t it unethical to take money for something like this? You’re not really GIVING the other person anything. If the whole reasoning behind it is the spread of joy and compassion, why charge at all?

Answer: I’ve been confronted by Tarot card readers in the past using this thread of logic; it’s happened maybe twice in the time since I’ve been reading in public. My hipshot reaction is to spout something about how the church takes plenty of money from people who need it, so take it up with them. While I do believe that, I think my gut reaction is a little bit of a copout.

The truth is that I have offered Tarot readings to people for free. Almost any time I host a party at my apartment, someone will ask me to read their cards when they hear me talking about divination as my current vocation. So I try it. I take out my deck and start asking the initial questions and going through my whole schtick. But the querent is always flitting their attention between myself and another conversation they overhear their friend having. Or they’ll hear their first three cards of a ten card spread and wave to their boyfriend and say “OOOH! Look! This card always comes up for me! I told you about that, remember?” Or something equally distracted and disengaged.

Central to a good reading, like any good psychedelic trip, is the concept of set and setting. If someone is getting a free reading, they have no stake in the game. They treat the reader as though this is something the reader does for himself, and the querent can barely understand why they are expected to concentrate on the interplay of energy between themselves and the reader.

To put it simply, when a Tarot card reading stops being a close, intimate, engaged interaction that is given at least some amount of gravity by the querent, the cards lose all their power. Maybe more accurately, when these elements conspire, the Tarologist loses interest. But any time the querent puts something of themselves up as a form of sacrifice for a reading(even if it’s something symbolic, or a knickknack or a $20 bill), they somehow remain engaged the entire time.

And also, by the way, we gotta pay rent. Actors and musicians don’t technically “give” anything but their time and energy, but we don’t complain that concerts, plays, and movies aren’t free.