Choosing a reader or practitioner

Sometimes, you may want to seek out someone to do a divinatory, astrology, or other kind of reading for you.

Learning: quill on a green background

As witches, we can do them ourselves, but sometimes we want an external perspective. Or we may want to use a method that we don’t know or haven’t mastered ourselves. (There’s a myth you might see out there that you shouldn’t read for yourself. Some people prefer not to, but go ahead and do so if it works for you!)

But how do you find a reader you can trust? There are scammy and unethical readers out there, and you do want to avoid them. There are also people out there who may not have as much experience (or the kind of experience) as you’d like, and you want to make thoughtful decisions about that.

Understand differences

Different readers have different approaches – so knowing what you’re hoping for will make a difference in your experience. Benebell Wen (a Tarot reader, astrologer, and author of books on both topics) has a great blog post about different types

As Benebell notes, true psychic readers are very few and far between (for a variety of reasons), and it’s a lot more likely you’ll find capable readers who rely on intuition, empathy, or learned skills related to counseling, life coaching, or interpretation of Tarot. Obviously, these can be very different experiences.

In addition, different people will have their own flavours. For example, I love Benebell’s work because of her thoroughness, her attention to small details, and her willingness to dig into how something came to be associated a certain way. Someone with a more emotional focus or who was already feeling overwhelmed by too much information might find that approach frustrating.

How do you find out about what a given reader does? Online, many of them will have an explanation of how they approach readings. Here are a few examples from readers I’ve gotten readings from in the past

(I had great readings or consultations with all of them, but they may not be the right people for you, so they’re here as examples of what an “about this reading” and “about the reader” page might look like.)

In person, you can guess some things from where they are and how they present themselves. A reader at a Renaissance festival or other public event (like an arts fair, a haunted house or maze, a general party) is probably there to do a series of brief readings for a lot of different people.

You’re best treating it as briefly informative or a thing to think about, but not assuming it’s going to be in depth or thorough. Compare how they dress and talk about what they do with the culture of the event – if it’s out of sync, then there’s something a little weird going on.

Some people read from esoteric or New Age stores (or something similar). In this case, the store owner has usually vetted them in advance, by having them do a couple of readings. They may be required to follow certain policies of the store. The store will usually host a biography of them, and information about the kinds of readings they offer. 

It’s good to be cautious of people who read from a private storefront – check out more information about them in advance. Someone who is supporting a whole storefront (even a tiny one) from their readings is, in most busy locations, making a fair amount of money from it.

That suggests you may want to be cautious about a reading. If you want to spend an affordable amount of money (say the amount you’d spend for an average meal out) on it for amusement, that’s one thing, but be cautious you don’t end up in a situation where you are getting scammed. 

You may want to check out my cautions about connecting with others for some additional tips.

Be clear about what you hope for from a reading

Once you know there are different kinds of readers, it’s easy to realise they do different kinds of readings. Some Tarot readers prefer specific spreads or methods of laying out cards for a reading. Some use particular decks. For astrologers, they often have strong opinions about how they lay out a chart (there . are a number of commonly used possibilities.) 

People may also have some questions they won’t read for. Doing readings about health or legal issues can open a reader up to complex legal issues, so some readers don’t do that. Others simply choose not to deal in those kinds of questions.

A number of readers won’t do third party readings (“Tell me what my ex thinks about our relationship and me” or “Will my ex come back to me?”) though they may help you come up with a question they’re willing to read for (“What lessons should I learn from my relationship with my ex to be able to have a happy, healthy, great romantic relationship in the future?”)

Knowing what you’re looking for in a reading will help you as you learn about different readers or options (or ask them a few questions before you get a reading), and help you avoid frustration. 

Evaluating a possible reader

You should come up with your own list of questions to consider when evaluating a reader, but here are some of the things I think about when I’m considering getting a reading or consultation or other divination or related service. 

1) What am I looking for?

The first place I start (as someone who reads Tarot for myself regularly and for friends periodically) is “What can this person offer that I can’t do for myself?”

Usually when I’m personally looking for a reading, it’s because I want an outside perspective, or because I am curious about a tool that I am not experienced in. (I know a little about astrology, but I don’t have a lot of practice in it.)

Knowing what I’m looking for helps me figure out what kind of reader or practitioner would be a good fit. 

2) What’s their experience?

Someone without a lot of extensive experience can still do good readings, but someone who wants to give good readings will likely share a general idea of their experience.

“I’ve been reading professionally as my full-time job for 20 years” is information, but so is “I’ve been doing readings at my local coffee shop for the past year to a wide range of clients, two or three readings a week.” or “I’ve built my experience doing readings for a wide range of friends and connections over the past six months.”

I would go to the second one without worries if I liked the rest of their approach, and I’d consider the third one if they were otherwise clear about their approach and I needed/wanted an external reading that seemed like a good fit for them. But I’d also expect the third person’s prices to be on the lower end of the scale and for them to be focusing on a somewhat smaller range of tools and approaches until they got more experience.

Read more about evaluating the community over here

3) How did they learn their skills?

That doesn’t necessarily mean courses and certifications (and I think in divination tools, that may not be the most relevant thing for a whole host of reasons).

But I do want someone who can articulate where their approach comes from, so “I’ve developed my approach based on BookA and BookB, along with my own exploration and practice.” or “My readings are designed to give intuitive guidance, based on the cards.” gives a sense that a) someone has devoted time and effort to learning and b) what kinds of readings one might expect.

People with less experience can give good readings, but they may not have thought much about how to deal with more challenging situations, or have as much practice in keeping their personal lives and emotions from bleeding over into their readings. (You don’t want to be the reading after a really challenging reading for an inexperienced reader.)

4) Have they thought about possible issues?

Take a look at what policies they have. I’m a lot more likely to consider someone who’s given some thought to the legal and ethical aspects, and what kinds of challenging situations can come up when doing readings. 

Many professional readers with experience have a policy you can only get a reading from them once a month or every three months (or whatever) to avoid dependency.

If someone doesn’t have any policies at all relating to this, two reasons are either that they haven’t thought about this problem (not great) or that they actively want to encourage dependency (really not great). Neither of those are a good reason to get a reading with that person.

Are there questions they won’t take (i.e. doing readings about other people, health issues, legal issues). Different readers have different preferences and lines, but I’d be cautious of someone who didn’t mention any.

Do they mention referrals to information for additional support (i.e. toll-free hotlines, etc. for domestic abuse, mental health needs, etc?) Or you know, otherwise indicate that that’s a thing they’re considering might be relevant?

4) Do they have other relevant experience?

Someone who has significant education and experience as a therapist, social worker, or for that matter, bartender, is going to have some significant experience dealing with some of the above aspects.

Those skills and experiences don’t stop being part of them because someone is doing a divination reading. Having those skills can make up for a lack of direct experience with divination readings, so long as what they’re offering is reasonable.

5) All of that said, time does matter

Writing this, I keep thinking about the difference in experience between a doctor and a divination reader. Obviously, there are some major differences (doctors go through a very long formal education and certification process.) But I think it’s an interesting way to look at what you want out of the interaction.

I’d personally be cautious of relying much or spending much on a reading from someone who hasn’t been doing readings for others regularly (not just personal friends, but through reading swaps, tarot meetups, etc.) regularly (say 5 a month on average) for at least a year in some context.

At least some of those readings should be in the same contexts they’d be doing them for pay – i.e. if someone is selling email readings, a reasonable proportion of their practice should have been with email readings.

Less time would be okay if someone already had experience with some of the things in the next few paragraphs from other sources, as long as there was still non-trivial amounts of practice reading for people who were not already personal friends.

It takes time to integrate knowledge and experience: no matter how good our early hits are, it takes time to ground them.

It takes time to figure out if a particular card shows up a lot because we’re the one doing the reading. It takes time to figure out how to interpret cards when they’re dealing with different questions – many cards may have different implications if we’re asking about romance vs. work vs. issues with our family of origin. It takes experience to help people figure out how to form questions, and how to discuss alternatives if someone wants a question you won’t tackle.

And a lot of people do experience at least some shifts in their own energy, intuition, etc. based on the time of year, events in their life, or other things going on. Doing readings for a year gives you time to figure out some of that, and what’s you vs. the reading. If you’re going to be doing a thing for meaningful amounts of pay, you owe it to your clients to be reasonably confident you can do a good reading at that time. You won’t have that data until you’ve done the work and practice.

A reading is only part of the story

Check what you hear from other sources (common sense, conversation with friends, your own divination or meditation or self-reflection). A good reader will tell you that what they can get from a reading is about choices, or about possibilities, and that what you choose and what you do will change the possible outcomes. It’s up to you to figure out what you do next and how you go about it.

Don’t make big life decisions – things you can’t take back, money you can’t afford to lose, things like that – based solely on a reading. Apply common sense and good advice from people or resources you trust. 

[Posted March 29, 2020]

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