IT HAPPENED TO ME: I am a Professional Tarot Reader (And Not a Con Artist)

I was electing to be in a profession that many think is unethical, delusional, and predatory. It takes tremendous chutzpah to be a full-time tarot reader, so why the hell would I do such a crazy thing?
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Jenna Matlin
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I was electing to be in a profession that many think is unethical, delusional, and predatory. It takes tremendous chutzpah to be a full-time tarot reader, so why the hell would I do such a crazy thing?

It all boils down to the question, “So, what do you do?” The response is either: the whole truth, a half-truth like mentioning the coaching but not the tarot part, or a complete deflection of the question like, “I need to refill my drink!” If I engage in fully answering the question it invariably becomes, “So how did you fall into that?” 

From there I have to quickly decide whether to continue down the path of questioning which usually ends by pulling out my tarot deck, or, letting that person know I am off the clock, no hard feelings, right? 

No matter what the reaction, I am a conversation starter. Even when I don’t want attention, the mere mention that I am a professional tarot reader will gain an audience. So pour yourself a glass a wine, get comfortable and pull out your decks if you got’em!

For me, it started innocently enough: I was one of those precociously intuitive kids. I remember offering a friend’s Dad marriage advice at 11. I picked up palm reading at 12, gazing into the grubby hands of friends on the playground; I could see information between the lines, information I should not have had access to.

“How do you know that?” People would frequently ask me. I got used to trusting my intuition and people were quick to verify. I was too young to be self-conscious about it and I think that was the key, I told people what I saw without too much self-analysis.

Flash forward to my junior high school years, gazing lovingly and longingly at a local bookstore’s tarot display (of course right under the watchful gaze of the superior college kid cashier) but at $40 for a kit, it was far beyond my means. All of that changed when my neighbor, a lovely man who made teddy bears and hosted rocking Victor Victoria parties, gifted me with a wad of birthday cash for a deck, and within 6 weeks I had the cards memorized. I was on a mission!

Definitely not popular, but I was aiming for school Shaman early.

Definitely not popular, but I was aiming for school Shaman early.

In those early years, I would read for anybody. I learned that people loved to hear about themselves. Since I was (face it, still am) socially nervous, I realized that this was a great way to get to know people. By 19, I was reading at a local New Age bookstore, and doing very well, even though professionally my age worked against me. 

It was during this time that I decided to put tarot away for a while, pursuing a degree and doing much less controversial things with my life. Honestly, I could not handle the social stigma about what I did; I was too immature and my skin just wasn’t thick enough.

I still read for others but quietly and at my whim. My twenties were a decade of traveling the world. I took my deck with me wherever I wandered: people in China, South Korea, Mongolia, and Turkey all enjoyed and were fairly open-minded about tarot, and I in turn learned about their divinatory cultures. 

In Istanbul I was reading tarot for a pal at a café and a woman approached me for a reading. I gave her one and promptly forgot about it until months later when my friend (who was a doctor) was found by this very same woman. All she had was my first name, his first name and that he was a surgeon. She searched every hospital in Istanbul until she found him, and via him to me. That nonplussed me more than thrilled me, and again I went underground.

In the Tarot Box, but fully representing at the Faire, it was only a matter of time.

In the Tarot Box, but fully representing at the Faire, it was only a matter of time.

Of course I ignored all the signs that I should follow my calling as I was too busy chasing the golden calf. By my mid-30s I was ensconced back in the U.S. with a career, a mortgage, a car payment, a cat, and a student loan. I had checked off almost every box society handed me and I was unhappy. The feeling of meaninglessness culminated into a midlife crisis in my early 30s. 

In this dark night of my soul, I walked away from my career, ditched my office gear, and took the long and terrifying social tumble from “important status-conscious job title” to “tarot card reader.” My fall down the ladder of what society deems important was a bitter nut to eat, adding to the already terrifying process of starting one’s own business. 

I was electing to be in a profession that many think is unethical, delusional, ridiculous, and predatory. It takes tremendous chutzpah to be a full-time tarot reader, so why the hell would I do such a crazy thing? Why does anybody elect to take on difficult things? Usually the answer is desperation, or inspiration, and I certainly was not desperate.

Four years after that dark night of the soul, I am currently enjoying a full time tarot reading practice In a typical day, I see around five to eight clients, either on the phone or in my reading office, which is situated in a holistic health center. Like any counselor, massage therapist, or one-to-one service, it is intense, deep work for both my clients and I. 

The idea that I “just get to” sit on a couch and pull out some cards for a chit chat is dead wrong. Reading tarot full-time is incredibly demanding work. In fact it is the most draining job I’ve ever had. But while it is demanding, I get to engage in deeply helpful work, I participate from the truest part of myself, and I get to create my own work schedule--for me, I have hit occupational heaven.

Fun Fact: I accept tips!

Fun Fact: I accept tips!

While things are almost perfect, there is always a shadow side. The irony is that I am now regarded with suspicion because of one little word—tarot. As a small business owner, I’ve learned to be careful about the use of that word. Employing that word has meant that banks have dropped me, insurance agencies have dumped me, organizations have treated me with disrespect, fear, bias and ridicule

The word, tarot, is a heavy noun in the world. If I said I was a life coach—utilizing exactly the same principles that I use as a tarot reader—everything would be different. If I said that I used archetypical artwork that helps people understand personal narratives and consequences, most people would be intrigued. “Tell me more! What is this cool technique you use to help people?” 

The moment I mention tarot, the energy shifts to either, “Awesome! I have a deck!” (Cheers to you my tribe, you keep me going!) to something with the effect of, “Con-artist riding on the back of a demon, bottom feeding, flakey delusional New Ager…” Pick your cosmological poison.

The thing is, most people would agree that they believe in intuition. We’ve all had those gut feelings we cannot explain. Some people, like myself, are naturally proficient and have increased our ability with practice. It’s a very organic thing, this intuition, no mystical music plays and no tunnel vision happens. I don’t fall to the floor in a fit of a major cosmic download (but cool if it works that way for you). Science is just getting around to understanding the human mind; the things we question now will be clarified, of that I have absolutely no doubt. 

Personally, I do not know exactly how intuition or tarot works, I have theories but nothing conclusive and that is okay, for now I am focused on results. Like any good rational observer, I keep my attention in the place of questions, and wonder. 

In fact, I love when skeptics see me. True skeptics keep asking questions, and their energy comes from a place of wonder. Other “skeptics” believe they know the answer and seek to shut down anything that does not fit their understanding of the universe. These people I have no time for; you cannot reason with a closed mind.

Skeptics have a right to be careful because there are “readers” out there who are con artists—they use fear, lies and manipulation to part people from their money. It is a terrible thing, but so, too, exist plastic surgeons who happily take money from the insecure; real estate agents who know it is a bad house; corrupt government officials and corporate leaders with investors to please—there are unethical people in every segment of society. 

The world is full of good and bad people, why would tarot readers be different? Why paint all readers with the same brush while everyone else gets a pass on merit?

A tarot reading can be so helpful: calming, elucidating, igniting oneself and one’s life choices. Tarot fills a unique niche that is as old as human civilization—that desire to know if we are making the right choices, if everything is going to be ok, and if not, what we can do about it.

I can only speak about what I do from my experience. I am in no way the spokesperson for all tarot readers. Tarot practitioners have diverse backgrounds, approaches, styles, and services, so if you are interested in getting a reading, don’t pop up at your local storefront with a neon sign who promises to reveal all for $10.

Do your research. Ask around. See if a reader has a style that feels right to you just as you would for any service professional. In general, the cheapest option is cheap for a reason.

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I am Jenna Matlin, and I am full-time tarot reader. I am quite unabashedly out of the tarot box! If you are reader, too, I also encourage you to be loud and proud. The more of us that are out there claiming our truths, the faster we can shift social awareness about what we do and what tarot is. If you would like a reader, do your homework and enjoy the experience. I bet you will be glad that you did, and closed minds can check themselves at the door.