Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Myths About That Nasty "F" Word

I want to talk about “fortune telling,” a polemic that by nature has both supporters and detractors in the divination community. Some feel it is entirely disempowering, and liken it to the mysterious ladies in flowing skirts brandishing crystal balls at the traveling circus – a bit doomy, and altogether distasteful, even unethical. Others find it simply a term, like any other, that represents a manner of divination that looks into the unfolding future of a client. Just when I start to think that this topic has died and become a non-issue, it rears its head again, begging a real discussion rather than brief (and at times heavily opinionated and biased) monologues throughout social media platforms.

Photo Credit: Mike Licht

I decided to offer up some of my own views regarding popular myths on the matter. This is hardly exhaustive of even my own thoughts, as one question tends to lead to another, and another, and so on. Nevertheless, I have to start somewhere, don’t I!  So here goes:

1) Fortune telling is disempowering.

There seems to be a school of thought that suggests that explaining the most likely turn of events in a client’s situation removes any ability to influence their own circumstances. Hell, if that were true, I would certainly not be a fortune teller – I’m all about empowerment! When done well, fortune telling identifies what will probably take place in the client’s future, and also aids the client in determining an appropriate responsive action, or at the very least, helps the client by allowing them to mentally/emotionally/materially prepare for what’s coming. There is nothing disempowering about that.  A very simplistic and practical illustration: I read my daily cards and if I see rain, I bring an umbrella. If I see a check bouncing, I move funds over. If I see an X-factor that could throw a wrench in my fabulous plans that surely could never go wrong, I make sure I have a Plan B. You learn how to read the future by doing it regularly, by being a dedicated student to the art, by seeing how things play out over time; by being painfully correct, and on occasion by being "off" and having to recalibrate. When you understand what you’re seeing, you can respond to it. Thus fortune telling can be extremely invaluable.

2) Fortune telling exists in a vacuum.

Most readers who read “fortunes” also read using other styles. Just because someone engages in fortune telling doesn’t mean that it’s the only approach they use, or even that it’s a preferred method.

3) Good/ethical/caring readers distance themselves from anything related to telling fortunes.

What I have to say to this: Bah humbug, semantics. It’s all semantics, and don’t let them try to convince you otherwise. What do you mean by “fortune telling?” What do I mean by “fortune telling?” I would venture to say that most readers, regardless of their discipline, and regardless of their self-perceptions and/or preference of labels, tell fortunes. Long ago I wrote a post about fortune telling and mentioned that any reader that pulls an “outcome” card in a spread is engaging in fortune telling. Many readers attempt to brush off the act by saying that they are simply looking at “what could be” – but also assuring the client that he or she is entirely able to alter the outcome by changing their decisions. I don’t buy into that 100%: #1, I think that in some cases it’s simply a matter of a reader being uncomfortable with attempting to discern the future, in which case saying that the future is "set in sand" relieves the pressure of feeling responsible for being correct (or incorrect!), #2, in some instances readers adhere to the false idea that by reading the future you are robbing the client of agency (in which case, see #1 in this post), and #3, I think that life is simply more complicated than that. Sure, I agree that we can and do influence our future every day. But I also believe that some things are beyond our influence. Perhaps that thought is frightening to some, but I find that by being aware of that, I’m more able to influence what is in my power to alter, or if nothing else, I’m able to alter my mental or emotional approach. As they say, “forewarned is forearmed.”

Another interesting thing to note here is that most readers I know, even those that eschew the notion of fortune telling, talk quite openly about how accurate their future-oriented readings are (“I told her this would probably happen, and she didn’t believe me, but hey - it did!”). I think that’s great, who doesn’t want to be highly accurate? But I do find it a bit hypocritical.

4) Fortunetellers identify themselves as fortunetellers.

I call myself a card reader, because that’s the clearest and most direct definition for what I do. As I said in #2, I don’t only look into the future. I look into the present. I uncover hidden agendas, inner agonies, the need for healing, frustrations, unrealized strengths, talents on the verge of blooming. I look into the past to see what came before and how it’s impacting the present, and how it may well continue on to impact the future if it’s not addressed. I don’t like labels, really, and as much as I don’t have a problem with the term “fortune teller,” I don’t tend to call myself one any more than I’d call myself a “Tarot counselor.”


I entirely understand the desire to dissociate from a term typically associated with the circus doomsday proclaimer, and I wholly support the fact that as diviners we have a responsibility to help empower our clients. I also recognize that there isn’t really any other term out there at the moment that carries the appropriate definition (except perhaps "predictive reader" or  “divination”??) to describe what fortune telling involves. But I also think that criticizing the practice both insults the art and those who ethically practice it, while at the same time supporting the negative myths associated with the term. I feel that once there is a better understanding of what fortune telling truly is, and how it’s most commonly practiced, there will be a gradual decline in the number of readers that object to its existence in contemporary divination circles.


  1. Great post Olivia! I dislike it when people go into heated arguments about who knows best. It is a never ending Five of Swords discussion and if there is a winner someone else is getting hurt or offended. I always wonder why some people always want everybody else to think like them
    You know I don't like fortunetelling but that doesn't mean you shouldn't too. Everybody has to read the card how they see fit and that is the beauty of reading cards. As long as we readers respect each other. Live and live.

    1. Thanks, Ellen :) It's true, there does tend to be a lot of 5 of Swords energy, especially in social media. And yes! To each his/her own. There is a style of reading that suits everyone, and no one reads, or should be expected to read, in the same way as anyone else. I like that: live and let live :)

  2. Great article Olivia :) Interesting topic.

  3. I think this is a great article and you make a lot of good points. I think the card reading community is unnecessarily polarized by this topic. Its not about whether we peek at the future, or even if we believe that we can, its about whether we do it in an ethical fashion. "Forewarned is forearmed" absolutely. Thanks for sharing.
    -Sarah Dawn

    1. Thanks for stopping through, Sarah! Yeah, exactly… I always sense this sort of disconnect in ideology in the broader divination community, but then time goes by and I start to feel that I was imagining things..until something (or somethings!) pops up again and it's clear that there does seem to be what I really believe is just a misunderstanding, or misidentification of thought and practice. You're right, it is totally unnecessary. Hopefully this topic will fade as we move forward :)

  4. Ah, semantics! As you say, Olivia, that's what many arguments come down to. I don't like the term fortune telling, because to me 'fortune' is not something we have power over, and I hate being 'told' :). Yet, I like the term divination, which to me implies a conversation with the divine, even if it is just that drop of the divine that resides within each of us! And I'll admit I've also been negatively impacted by working on a tarot phone line and experiencing how many people buy into what they are told unquestioningly, or not wanting to hear the part where they have to take some responsibility for their own choices.
    So, while there is definitely a future-oriented aspect to my readings, I'm still not personally comfortable with the term fortune telling... :)

    1. You know, that's a good point - I have never worked on call lines, but I have had clients who have wanted to rely solely on "what will happen" and entirely rejected responsibility for improving their situation. Those are really exasperating, to say the very least. I admit I'm one of those people I listed in my post who prefers other kind of reading styles (as opposed to always looking at what's coming down the line). It's a much richer experience for people when they focus on what they can do to make their lives better. I find that actually the danger in "fortune telling" or prediction is not that the reader is taking the concept of free will away from their clients, rather that the client often relinquishes their own agency in favor of whatever the cards say. And as you say, some people actively want that, which is a bit scary. I love what you say about "divination" being our own private conversation with the divine within us - that's really nice.

    2. Yes, that's it exactly, clients abdicating responsibility, rather than necessarily the reader not helping empower them. And that definition of divination came from Rachel Pollack :D

    3. Ah! Thanks for noting Rachel Pollack, good to know! :)