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What happens if you see something bad?

“What do you do if you see something bad in the cards?”

I get asked this question a lot. My answer is that I always begin each reading with the intention that 1) I only receive the information that is needed at the time and 1) I only receive messages that will serve for the client’s highest good. I try to deliver all my readings with compassion and the reminder that nothing is set in stone. The cards only serve as guidance and are to be used as a tool for making the best choices possible.

Last week, I led a tarot exchange. Ten tarot students gathered to practice reading with each other, and it was a fantastic time. To wrap up the evening, I had everyone pull cards on what their weekend would look like. I thought this would be a fun question.

Most people were pleased with their cards– they could expect getting together with friends, cleaning their homes, taking their dogs for a walk.

And then I pulled my cards …

I got arguably two of the darkest cards in the deck– the Five of Pentacles and The Tower– along with the Hermit.

“Oh boy, I’d better not leave the house!” I joked. And yet … those cards were sticking with me.

The Five of Pentacles pictures two people out shivering in the cold. They are a bit worse for the wear, wrapped up in rags and one uses a crutch. This is the card of sickness, depression, helplessness. The

Tower is a bleak card– people leap from a tower that sits on a crumbling ledge while a lightning bolt strikes. It symbolizes chaos, destruction, catastrophe. And The Hermit stands alone atop a mountain, holding out his lantern in the dark night. This is a more neutral card, but with the other two, it felt isolated and lonely.

After the class, my friend Sue pulled me aside. “Those cards!” she said. I nodded. “Does your son have your car this weekend?” she asked. Interestingly, I had the same exact thought. My son is a new driver and the weather that night was wintery. Sue and I both zeroed in on the two figures in the Five of Pentacles, which brought out the idea of comforting someone after a dramatic situation (the Tower). Before I left the shop, I texted my son to be very mindful when he was driving… just in case.

Those cards kept swirling around in my head all night. What could they possibly mean? I neurotically kept checking on my son’s whereabouts until he was safely in for the evening. Finally I could sleep.

The next day, though, the cards still haunted me. What would I have said if I pulled those cards for someone else? As a reader, I never want to project fear onto my clients, so I’m always careful about how I relay any messages in the cards. It would’ve been challenging had those cards appeared for a stranger. “This is a lesson,” I thought. Even though I know the cards can have very subtle meanings and they often aren’t as “obvious” as they appear, they were still nagging at me.

This is what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a not-so-sunshiney reading. I saw this as a powerful lesson in the weight that a card reading can have for a person. While I may wrap up doing a reading and not think twice about it, someone could be going home and ruminating and worrying about their cards and the messages they received.

Suddenly the Hermit card made sense. My tarot mentor Melanie passed away in September. She knew she was dying and said to her students that she would come though our readings to us as the Hermit– the teacher. Here she was! Melanie was teaching me a lesson on how to navigate tricky cards. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing “bad” was going to happen. I just needed to gain some perspective on what it’s like to be on the other side of a reading.

Sue texted me on Sunday to ask how the cards played out. “I think I know,” I responded. “But let’s get through today before I tell you.”

And then an hour later I got a call from my son.

“Mom,” he said, “Chris was in an accident.” I had just seen his good friend Chris that morning driving his new-to-him car in the church parking lot. He was so proud to have gotten his license a few weeks prior. I was so happy for him, this boy that is like a second son to me.

“He’s okay, but his car is wrecked,” my son said. Fortunately no one was hurt. My son, who was driving in front of Chris, saw the accident happen in the rear view mirror and he was naturally quite shaken up.

“There’s the cards,” I thought. Something dramatic happens, I have to comfort my son and the idea of solitude comes into play– Chris is now without a car and must work through that situation.

I wish I could say the cards stopped there, but when my son returned home a few hours later, he said he didn’t feel so good. He went to his room to lay down and that’s when the stomach bug hit full force, like the lightning bolt in the Tower. Five of pentacles– I needed to take care of him and the Hermit– quarantine him in his room. And then the virus hit me– five of pentacles: the two of us, both needing comfort. The Tower– the moment we both were ill at the same time. The Hermit– the only way through this is to climb that mountain one step at a time.

I always say the cards never lie and in this case, they were true on a few different levels. Metaphorically, they served as a teaching moment. Literally, they depicted several “explosive” situations. When I first saw those cards, did they stress me out? Yes, they did. Did pulling those cards help me out? Also yes. Those cards kept me on my toes the whole weekend. They served as a reminder to me to always check in with my client at the end of a reading to ensure that they understand their ownership of whatever situations arise. And that Hermit card gave me hope that whatever chaos ensued, there would be an end to it.

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