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As card-read­ing moves inot the maintsream, nov­el­ist y Daauis­ghWx­plaines its at­trac­tion in ot­day’s un­cer­tain world

Iwas at a party last week and a man I had known but not seen for many years – an opera singer – came bound­ing up to me. ‘I hear you’re a pro­fes­sional tarot reader these days,’ he cried. ‘How much do you charge? Or maybe I could sing you a song in­stead? Would you read my cards for free?’

Ah, the beauty of the shar­ing econ­omy! Peo­ple have of­fered me all sorts of things in ex­change for a tarot read­ing: babysit­ting, chauf­feur­ing, DIY… On the whole, to be frank with you, I pre­fer PayPal. But he was right: I read cards pro­fes­sion­ally, as well as write nov­els. And I’m lucky – I seem, by happy chance, to have caught the front end of a wave.

It’s ex­traor­di­nary how pub­lic at­ti­tudes to the tarot have changed – even in the few short years since I first stum­bled upon it. Where, four years ago, I was slightly em­bar­rassed – even fear­ful, in the face of so many curled lips – to dis­cuss my new pas­sion, now I have peo­ple beg­ging me for read­ings. The tarot, for all its oc­cult con­nec­tions, its mag­i­cal pow­ers and scary-look­ing Death cards, has gone main­stream. Bet­ter yet, it’s fash­ion­able.

Last year, New York’s The Week mag­a­zine ran a piece won­der­ing: ‘Why is tarot crazy pop­u­lar all of a sud­den?’ US Vogue on­line of­fered a begin­ner’s guide to read­ing the cards, and The New York Times mag­a­zine The Cut went with: ‘How tarot be­came the trendi­est party game’. When New York sneezes (so the say­ing goes), London catches a cold. In the UK, Jan­uary’s Econ­o­mist lined up eight tarot cards on its New Year cover to de­scribe the out­look for the year ahead.

Why is tarot so ‘crazy pop­u­lar’ now? Maybe, in the cur­rent angry cli­mate, it’s not that sur­pris­ing. The world is in up­heaval, un­cer­tainty abounds. Our 24-hour news flow con­stantly rams home the mes­sage that life as we know it is tee­ter­ing on a cliff edge of an­ar­chy and/or ex­tinc­tion. On Twit­ter, we hen­peck and bully one an­other over our petty po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences. Mean­while, In­sta­gram en­cour­ages us to present a perk­ily un­trou­bled im­age to the world, to com­pete for each other’s ap­proval. And in the midst of it all, I think many of us feel pretty lost.

Where once we might have turned to or­gan­ised re­li­gion for an­swers, to­day we are left with a void: no ob­vi­ous frame­work from which to try to make sense of a big­ger picture. The tarot of­fers a gate­way to a broader, gen­tler and more spir­i­tual perspective. Like re­li­gion, it in­sists upon the ex­is­tence of a wis­dom be­yond our lim­ited hu­man com­pre­hen­sion – and by do­ing that, it of­fers us hope. What I know for sure is that the tarot is hugely pop­u­lar these days, and my skills are much in de­mand. I rarely walk into a so­cial gath­er­ing with­out some­one ask­ing ea­gerly if I have brought my cards.

The an­swer to which, by the way, is al­ways no. New York jour­nal­ists may write it up as just a party game but, in my opin­ion, laugh-a-minute drinkathons and tarot cards don’t mix. A de­cent read­ing is an in­ti­mate and fairly in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence. Even if a per­son is only ask­ing the cards whether they’re in line for pro­mo­tion, other mat­ters are more than likely to come up: fi­nance, health, sex and re­la­tion­ships – the cards don’t leave much out of bounds (although a reader can try to be del­i­cate). Of­ten clients ask sim­ply for an ‘over­view’ – a sort of spir­i­tual/psy­cho­log­i­cal MOT. At which point al­most any­thing can arise. Is your sis­ter steal­ing your in­her­i­tance? Is your hus­band gay? Is your boss in love with you? All these ques­tions can be sug­gested in the cards.

As for spe­cific ques­tions, they are, of course, 100 per cent con­fi­den­tial but they tend to run along fa­mil­iar themes – sex, money, love, ca­reer… Some­times it’s very hard. Some­one asks: is my mar­riage over? And the cards that come up are, for ex­am­ple, the Hiero­phant, which represents (among other things) mar­riage; and the Three and the Ten of Swords, which can rep­re­sent emo­tional pain and painful end­ings. So the an­swer in the cards seems loud and clear. The ques­tion is, how to present that an­swer in a way that the client might be able to draw some strength from. Above all, I try to stress that noth­ing is ever set in stone; that even if, as things stand, the mar­riage looks headed to­wards the fin­ish line, it doesn’t have to be that way. A client can lis­ten to the cards and take ac­tion if they don’t like the way things are go­ing.

The ear­li­est known tarot decks can be traced back to 14th-cen­tury North­ern Italy and were orig­i­nally – os­ten­si­bly – de­signed purely for use as a card game (all forms of mys­ti­cism be­ing frowned upon by the Catholic church). To­day there are hun­dreds – maybe thou­sands – of dif­fer­ent decks. The Rider-Waite, which I learned on, is the most recog­nis­able. It’s only 100- odd years old, but its sym­bol­ism is drawn from a mix of an­cient be­lief sys­tems: Kab­balah, an­cient Egyp­tian and Chris­tian­ity chief among them.

The pack con­sists of 78 cards. The client shuf­fles and pulls a cer­tain number (de­pend­ing on their ques­tion), which the reader ar­ranges in a pat­tern on the ta­ble. Each card has a spe­cific, root mean­ing, but that mean­ing will al­ter de­pend­ing on where the card lands and which cards are sur­round­ing it. The mean­ings are al­ways nu­anced and I try to stress this.

Even so, when clients pull the Death card they tend to for­get all my words of warn­ing. They get jumpy. (And it’s true that the im­age of a grin­ning skele­ton on horse­back, rid­ing through fallen corpses, does look rather alarm­ing.) To be clear: the Death card does not nec­es­sar­ily sig­nify death. It sig­ni­fies the end of some­thing im­por­tant – a cher­ished project per­haps, or a re­la­tion­ship. And,

A read­ing isn’t about telling the fu­ture, it’s about con­nect­ing with the present

yes, it can also – some­times – mean phys­i­cal death. But the point of a read­ing isn’t re­ally about telling the fu­ture, it’s about con­nect­ing with the present and of­fer­ing an in­sight into the in­flu­ences sur­round­ing you, so that you can work to­wards an out­come you might pre­fer. So the pres­ence of the Death card can sim­ply rep­re­sent an end­ing in some im­por­tant area of your life and sug­gest that you might need to pre­pare for that – maybe even to cel­e­brate. As I say to my clients, you can look on a read­ing as 45 min­utes of speed ther­apy or you can em­brace the mag­i­cal idea of our ex­is­tence as one uni­ver­sal knowl­edge.

That a tarot read­ing is of­ten ac­cu­rate and al­most al­ways com­fort­ing is some­thing most peo­ple who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it would find hard to re­fute. How that comes about is still open to ques­tion. But if a client leaves a read­ing feel­ing bolder, wiser, stronger and more in­spired than they came in – and that is the aim – does it even mat­ter? I think not. So you don’t know how the cards work. Do you know how your iPhone works? Just roll with it.

Enough of the sales pitch. If some­one had told my jour­nal­ist self five years ago that I would be writ­ing a piece like this, let alone prac­tis­ing as a pro­fes­sional reader, I would have fallen off my chair with de­ri­sion and mirth. In fact I only re­ally dis­cov­ered the tarot by ac­ci­dent. A friend and I en­rolled on a one- day course for the hell of it. We knew noth­ing about the tarot be­yond what we’d seen in the movies, and we thought it would be in­ter­est­ing – funny – to spend the day with some New Age nut­balls. But in the end her alarm clock didn’t go off and she never turned up. It was a bless­ing in dis­guise. Her ab­sence meant I could im­merse my­self in the whole New Age nut­ball ex­pe­ri­ence with­out fear of be­ing snig­gered at. By the end of the day I re­alised that I had stum­bled on some­thing amaz­ing.

At home I asked the cards a ques­tion just for the hell of it. It was a work-re­lated ques­tion, not very in­ter­est­ing: a project I was con­vinced was bril­liant. But the cards sug­gested the ex­act op­po­site to the an­swer I was ex­pect­ing. Sure enough, a cou­ple of days later, my agent called to tell me (kindly) that it was pos­si­bly the worst idea I’d come up with yet.

I was lucky enough to live within reach of the fa­mous Col­lege of Psy­chic Stud­ies in South Kens­ing­ton (where Arthur Co­nan Doyle was once pres­i­dent) and for a while the place be­gan to feel like my sec­ond home. Fast-for­ward a few years, and the same cyn­i­cal jour­nal­ist who had en­rolled on a one-day course for a laugh – ha ha – was at the lo­cal tube sta­tion hand­ing out fliers of­fer­ing tarot read­ings.

Peo­ple re­sponded to the fliers, and then rec­om­mended my read­ings to their friends. I had to pull back a bit or I would never have had time to write. To­day the tarot is an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part of my life. I don’t just of­fer read­ings, I also write mys­tery nov­els starring a tarot-read­ing de­tec­tive. And just like my de­tec­tive hero­ine, I ru­mi­nate with my cards over al­most ev­ery de­ci­sion I ever make – in­clud­ing, in fact, the one to change my pen name. (Against the pub­lisher’s ad­vice, and some­what to their an­noy­ance, I am writ­ing these nov­els under the pseu­do­nym E V Harte.) I pull cards be­fore work meet­ings and af­ter ar­gu­ments; I pull cards, in their ab­sence, to check on the well­be­ing of fam­ily or friends and, in­deed, for up­dates on the cur­rent state of any en­e­mies. I pulled cards mid elec­tion cam­paign – and got the Five of Swords and the Five of Cups, im­ply­ing to me that we were en­gaged in a vi­cious and point­less fight from which our coun­try would stag­ger on, sick and en­fee­bled.

Some­times, when I think I’m us­ing them too much, I hide the cards some­where I know I’ll be too lazy to fetch them. Card read­ings can be ad­dic­tive – for clients, too, espe­cially if they didn’t like the an­swer the cards gave them first time round. I tell peo­ple they shouldn’t re­turn for read­ings more than three times a year – and cer­tainly not if they’ve come to ask the same ques­tion again. Apart from any­thing, it’s a waste of money. No, the tarot can­not tell the fu­ture – but, yes, it will pick up on the myr­iad in­flu­ences sur­round­ing you at the time of a read­ing and sug­gest to you, with some ac­cu­racy, where things may be headed. So if the guy didn’t want to marry you in mid-April, he prob­a­bly still won’t want to marry you in May. Un­less you’ve won the lot­tery since then. And if you have – guess what? The cards might al­ready have spot­ted it com­ing…

Daisy’s lat­est novel, The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene under the pseu­do­nym E V Harte, will be pub­lished by Constable on 7 Septem­ber, price £8.99. To pre- or­der a copy for £7.19 (a 20 per cent dis­count) un­til 27 Au­gust, visit you-book­shop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640*. If you would like to book a tarot read­ing with Daisy, go to daisy­waugh.com

The Death card can sim­ply rep­re­sent an end­ing in some area of your life

Af­ter en­rolling on a one-day tarot course for a laugh, Daisy was hooked

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