A few years ago, I was reading the latest book in my tarot library and ran into this:
Based on a fear of encountering the Devil, Death, or other upsetting card, some people hesitate to have a tarot reading. You may be unsure of how to read these cards yourself, or how to assure your querent that the cards’ meanings are usually not literal. There is an easy solution to this dilemma: remove any cards that you feel would cast a negative or upsetting tone to your readings. Removing certain key cards from your tarot deck will not limit or alter the effectiveness of your readings. In fact, when you don’t have to worry about these cards appearing and frightening querents, you’ll be able to advise them with greater confidence. (Susyn Blair-Hunt, Tarot Prediction & Divination: Unveiling 3 Layers of Meaning, pp.16-17)
Wow. There are readings that use only part of the deck, usually just the Major Arcana. And there are readings that use the whole deck broken into its parts: draw these cards from the Major Arcana, these from the Court Cards, and these from the Minor Arcana. Both kinds, though, are likely to involve those “upsetting” cards: the ones like Death, the Tower, the Ten of Swords, and so on. It had never occurred to me to remove those cards altogether.
I don’t agree with Blair-Hunt, but this was a useful reminder that some of the cards look scary. I remember unwrapping my first tarot deck and being leery of those cards, but after working with the tarot for years, I’ve gotten used to them. I’m not thrilled when I see one of them in a position like Outcome, but I’m not freaked out by it. So it’s easy to forget that someone who isn’t familiar with the tarot might not be so calm about that.
Generally, though, Blair-Hunt’s recommendation seems unworkable to me. How do you know the querent is nervous? If they tell you, sure. But should you ask? I think that no matter how neutrally you put the question, you’re suggesting that there’s something they should be scared of and creating a fear that wasn’t there before. Not good.
Also, I’m not sure how effective it would be to “remove any cards that you feel would cast a negative or upsetting tone to your readings.” The querent may have a question with a negative or upsetting answer. I agree, reluctantly, that removing the scary cards will not keep the tarot from delivering an answer, but it may be harder to interpret that answer if you have to read it from almost-right cards instead of the right cards. And you’re still faced with delivering the bad news to your querent.
Earlier this year, reading another tarot book, I came upon an opinion after my own heart:
Most important of all, you, the practitioner, cannot dread the Death card, The Tower, The Devil, Ten of Swords, or any card in the tarot deck.
Everyone is intuitive. The Seeker will pick up on your feelings immediately, and that will only intensify his or her own sense of dread. Do not perform readings for others until you are in full control of the deck and no single card intimidates you. If any card intimidates you when drawn, then you are not ready to read tarot for others. (Benebell Wen, Holistic Tarot, p.503)
Are you “unsure of how to read these cards yourself”? Then “you are not ready to read tarot for others.” That’s probably not what the eager would-be reader wants to hear, but it’s good advice. Your querent may ask a question with a hard truth as its answer; if you can’t handle even the appearance of certain cards in a reading, how will you handle giving this person that answer?
If someone is uneasy about having a tarot reading, I’d rather not give them one. I’d feel like I was under pressure to prove that tarot readings are safe, which isn’t the point. I’m not saying I’d turn them away with no reading whatsoever, but I’d suggest we use another form of divination, probably one that isn’t visual. A horary chart, an I Ching reading, or rune divination can address an issue without the distraction of intense images. The rune Hagalaz can mean disruption and crisis (eek!), but it looks like the letter H, nice and innocuous. (This wouldn’t be a good time for a Lenormand reading, which has the same issues with ominous-looking cards. Really, can you see a card called the Coffin and not think of death?)
A final word from Benebell Wen:
The only way to overcome our obstacles and eradicate our flaws is to face these cards head-on, accept them into our lives, and commit to them as a part of who we are. (p. 504)
Not easy, not fun. But probably true.