words and art by taylor brown
The Eight of Cups depicts a hooded figure turning their back on a wall of meticulously placed cups. There’s a clear gap in the collection, implying the absence of one. Its absence is jarring, as it becomes clear to the individual seeking answers from the cards, the querent, that something essential is missing. The card illuminates the abandonment of emotional endeavours that have proved to be unfruitful, foregrounding the querent’s avoidance, escapism, and detachment. This card requires the abandonment of something beloved.
I have this recurring nightmare where my tarot cards are destroyed. Some nights I see a stranger, their face cloaked in fog, tearing them in half. Some nights, rips appear on the cards without explanation. Some nights I dream that I’m the one ripping at the corners of each card – absent mindedly, like I’m in a daze.
Before the dreams began, one of my co-workers begged me for a reading. We moved into the stockroom, distancing ourselves from the soundscape of the party. She closed the door behind her. I didn’t know this woman very well. Aside from a courtesy conversation here and there, we hadn’t spoken much. Despite that, she began to tell me about her intense, unrequited love for a man that’s almost a decade in the making. Her eyes watered as she spoke, which I didn’t know how to handle because again, I didn’t really know her.
As I read her cards, her physicality changed. Her shoulders slumped and she became visibly irritated. I finished the reading and she asked for another one. As I read her cards, her expressions and gestures became even more irate. When I finished, she asked for another reading.
It was getting late, and the party was winding down. But she hadn’t gotten the answer she wanted. She asked if the cards could predict if he had a girlfriend. I lied and said no, the cards don’t do that.
After four readings, I was drained. I was stuttering with every word and I couldn’t focus. My manager came in to let us know that she was leaving, an indication that the doors were about to be locked behind her. A nightmarish vision of being locked in the stockroom with my co-worker’s demands flashed before my eyes. Eventually, she gave up and wished me a pleasant evening, promising to call me if she needed anything else.
I left feeling exhausted.
My psychic once sat across from me and said, “It’s not all boyfriends and jobs, you know. I’ve had to tell people they’re going to die.” I think about that moment a lot. And every time one of my friends drunkenly asks for a reading, I hear her voice reverberating in my head. It’s a sober reminder of what comes with the craft; reading tarot isn’t all smoky rooms and Stevie Nicks attire. Darkness underpins the practice – it’s precisely what I reach into as I flip over every card.
The querent is emotionally invested in the messages of the cards. The reader becomes positioned as a mediator, a counselor of sorts. As I expand my practice, I begin to understand the importance and the intensity of my role. That being said, my intuition isn’t a replacement for therapeutic training. I’m vulnerable when I read. I bring as much emotional investment into the reading as the querent does. I have to. I’m attached to these cards, I’m attached to this practice, and I’m handing it over to others. I watch people (literally and spiritually) bend these cards to their whim. And maybe, that’s something I also need to work on.
I don’t have it in me to deliver the prophecies that my psychic does on the daily. I also never want to find myself at a party, sick with anxiety, stuck reading for someone who won’t accept what the cards have offered. Because my co-worker, even after multiple reshufflings, kept pulling the Eight of Cups, explicitly instructing her to walk away. The cards have a funny way of speaking to the reader, too.
Emotional labour comes with reading tarot. The cards offer hope, but they can just as flippantly offer devastation. The reader’s role is to translate the messages of the cards, resulting in charged emotions for both the reader and the receiver of the reading. If you respect the reader, if you respect their art and their intuition, you’ll respect their boundaries and like the hooded figure on the Eight of Cups, you’ll understand when it’s best to walk away, and so will the reader.