The mystical elephant in the room

I was sit­ting on the arm of a sofa at a neigh­bor­hood din­ner party. We were all new — to each other, though I had already spent a few hours with the host­ess and she knew at least who I was and what I did. I don’t hide out. Usu­ally. I’m pretty up front about the fact that I’m a card reader when some­one asks. Though in the mid­west, in poten­tially mixed com­pany I might say some­thing like, “Oh, I’m a free­lance writer,” which is true enough for me. I’m writ­ing this blog post right now, right?

But Mid­west­ern­ers aren’t nosey. They keep their busi­ness to them­selves. My expe­ri­ence of New York has been strange. There are assump­tions made when I intro­duce myself that I never con­sid­ered in Indi­ana. In the rural mid­west, women who have chil­dren as small as mine don’t work. Or if they do work, they work some­place mis­er­able. You don’t ask a woman what she does for a liv­ing. It’s unlikely she has a career any­way. In Ithaca, New York, every­one has a career. Every­one has a Mas­ters degree. Every­one is liv­ing here because of some attach­ment to a cer­tain Ivy-league col­lege. If they don’t, they have dread­locks1.

I’ve never been asked so fre­quently, “So what do you do for a liv­ing?” as though liv­ing here isn’t just enough. One of the upsides to folks here ask­ing me that though, is I’ve found the prob­a­bil­ity of being lec­tured on my propul­sion to Hell unlikely.

I’m a tarot reader.”

I’m a card reader.”

I read cards.”

or if I’m feel­ing espe­cially sassy, “For­tune teller.” And then I nod my head like, What?

And still, in a town where no one would bat an eye­lash if I said, “Acupunc­tur­ist,” this does not fit into their world­view. There’s a side­ways kind of look I’ve become accus­tomed to see­ing. This is a place that wants me to being a kinder­garten aide at a Wal­dorf school or research­ing micro­bi­ol­ogy at the uni­ver­sity or at the very least cre­at­ing arti­san what­sits from reclaimed whosits.

Oh! Melissa is psy­chic. She reads tarot cards!” The host­ess declared glee­fully. A room­ful of heads swung on their necks toward me. It was a slow, quiet moment as they col­lec­tively strug­gled to imag­ine me sit­ting in front of a crys­tal ball in a room full of ani­mal skulls and pur­ple silk scarves2.

Crick­ets chirped. The only man in the room chal­lenged, “I don’t believe in that.”

Quiet again.

I shrugged, “Lots of peo­ple don’t.” Lots of peo­ple don’t believe in acupunc­ture or Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion or hell, global warm­ing either!

One of the women asked, in hushed tones, “Well, could you read my cards?”

Uhhh… Well, yes, I mean, I could.”

But could you tell me,” she con­tin­ued, “You know, if there will be a man com­ing into my life?”

Three other women shot their hands up into the air as if it were sud­denly a fifth grade class­room. And there it was. Con­tact made with the other side. I had polite excuses on hand. Unfor­tu­nately I almost always leave my deck at home. Busi­ness cards with con­tact info though, I always keep in my purse.


I was speak­ing with a client last week who wanted to become a pro­fes­sional card reader. I was a lit­tle sur­prised then, when she told me over the phone, that she had been giv­ing paid read­ings for the past three years. Because that makes you a pro­fes­sional reader. The miss­ing ingre­di­ent was that sim­ple acknowledgement.

I am order­ing busi­ness cards this week, so I’m think­ing about my busi­ness. I am imag­in­ing a vari­ant that is sim­ply my name and the words Tarot Reader or Card Reader (Lenor­mand Reader is per­haps a lit­tle too eso­teric for pub­lic con­sump­tion), my email and phone num­ber. This would be dif­fer­ent than the card I use in net­work­ing with other meta­phys­i­cal or New Age types at con­fer­ences and events, which might have more infor­ma­tion and a fancy logo (because I like fancy logos. Look at that one up there, it SPINS!).

So I have a few ques­tions I’m work­ing through for you.

If you’re an empath, intu­itive or psy­chic: Do you hide out? Is is safe for you to say what you do? What do you say when some­one asks what you do? What are the assump­tions that you’ve found to go along with what you say you are? How do you deal with those assumptions?

If you’re not. I mean, if you’re read­ing because you’re a client, a friend, or a devoted ama­teur, and work on a dif­fer­ent planet alto­gether, what are your assump­tions about my work? How do you imag­ine the work of a tarot reader? I’m very curi­ous, espe­cially if it involves coin scarves and rune­stones and tea cups (I some­times wish it did).


  1. I am aware I am mak­ing pretty big gen­er­al­iza­tions here as well.
  2. For the record, I totally would do that. If I had a crys­tal ball, a bunch of ani­mal skulls and a big ass lot of scarves.

11 Responses to "The mystical elephant in the room"

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  1. Stella Waldvogel

    August 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    I tell peo­ple what I do. I have a sign on the porch, too. No prob­lem, even though I’m in a con­ser­v­a­tive lit­tle town in cen­tral Texas. We’ve got a long-standing tra­di­tion of cuaran­derismo here and peo­ple are used to such things. When you read cards for the locals, they might ask you to burn a can­dle for them, too. It’s just assumed to be part of the job description.

    Of course, being a small town, it’s all about rumors and when I started read­ing full time and peo­ple didn’t see me going to a job any­more, one lady tried to say I was, to put it del­i­cately, “in the busi­ness” — the world’s sup­posed OLDEST busi­ness. This got nipped in the bud though, partly because peo­ple SEE me get the cards out when the cell rings, often in pub­lic places, and partly because my daugh­ter got in her face about it. :D

    Austin is accept­ing, too. Lots of musi­cians and artists there, they all under­stand that work­ing for The Man sucks and they love any­thing weird. (That’s a BIG slo­gan there, “Keep Austin Weird”) I’ve always been treated well in Austin. And in a way, I’m a kind of enter­tainer, too — though I wouldn’t go as far as the legal dis­claimer “for enter­tain­ment pur­poses ONLY”. :P Austin is egal­i­tar­ian. You can sit down with a lawyer and a rock star and a wait­ress, and every­body treats each other “regular”. :)

    San Anto­nio is weird, it’s a big mix. You have the cuaran­derismo thing, but a lot of other stuff, too, and it’s pretty con­ser­v­a­tive for the most part. When I told one guy I was a for­tune teller, he asked me how I could “lie to peo­ple like that”. I said I don’t. They pay me to read cards, and I read them. Success!

    I like the busi­ness cards idea…and the free­lance writer thing. I’m going to wait until I sell a few words before I use that one, though. Email read­ings seem like they don’t quite count, haha.

    Great post, Melissa, made my day!

    • Melissa

      August 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      Great response! I would have a shin­gle if I owned my home (and didn’t live in the boonies).

      I was asked point blank once if I actu­ally believe this stuff or if I’m know­ingly defraud­ing peo­ple. I just explained, as you did, that peo­ple pay me to read cards and I do. Makes me won­der if peo­ple ask Wall Street investors the same thing! I’ve also been in heated sit­u­a­tions with reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists — which can be scary. For the sake and safety of my chil­dren and myself, I’ve learned to be dis­creet in cer­tain circles.


  2. Leelahel

    August 14, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Melissa,

    I became a fan of your work a lit­tle over a year ago. I found you through Youtube and have been get­ting to know you lit­tle by lit­tle through all the social net­works. (I’m Mon­ica Laura.) It fas­ci­nates me! Your life is very inspir­ing to me, and so is the fact that you’re cre­ative. The Post­mark Lenor­mand was the first ever Lenor­mand that I stud­ied. I found that the images were very clear (Although I like the Let­ter card from the ear­lier ver­sion much bet­ter!) I’ve been too shy to book a card read­ing with you yet, but I def­i­nitely will at some point in the future if you are still tak­ing appointments.

    You made the Lenor­mand prac­ti­cal in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. In a way you have con­tributed to that won­der­ful Lenor­mand rev­o­lu­tion storm­ing up the world of cards. I would like to see your lit­tle black book in progress again, the descrip­tions are great!

    It was your blog that got me into the Lenor­mand in the first place! I read some­where that to become a mas­ter, one must first be a teacher. : )

    As far as my per­sonal devel­op­ment as a for­tune reader, it has been intense. I live in Puerto Rico, a lot of peo­ple are con­ser­v­a­tive with their Catholic/Christian tra­di­tions. I am faced with ques­tions such as, “is that evil?” Some peo­ple still find meta­physics taboo. How­ever, the other half absolutely loves it. They get really crazy for a read­ing at activ­i­ties (comic cons). It depends on how open the peo­ple are. I have faced a lot of ridicule by skep­ti­cal men, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing my work.

    I am a cer­ti­fied clairvoyant/clairsentient tarot reader and I love what I do. :) The peo­ple that sup­port me are cher­ished, and those that ridicule me can just show them­selves to the door.

    Whoo, mouth­ful!

    Take care,

  3. Bri Saussy

    August 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I think this is a crit­i­cal issue to look at right now because I am hear­ing from more and more “woo woo” types that accept­ing what they do, nam­ing it, being, GASP, even Proud of it, is some­thing that folks are work­ing on. I live in Texas. The Deep South. The Bible belt. I also was a state cham­pi­onship debater, cheer­leader, and I expected to go to law school and be a lawyer by this point. My life path veered off in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion and for awhile there it was tough to accept-I had asked the uni­verse to allow me to be of ser­vice, to make my pur­pose clear to me, but a card reader? A rit­u­al­ist? Really? Now I wear the names proudly. I don’t boast about what I do because I’m not that kind of gal-but when peo­ple ask I tell them-making eye con­tact all the while. It can still some­times feel scary-but then most worth­while things do-and it feels very honest.

  4. adrienne

    August 16, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Prompt: If you’re not. I mean, if you’re read­ing because you’re a client, a friend, or a devoted ama­teur, and work on a dif­fer­ent planet alto­gether, what are your assump­tions about my work? How do you imag­ine the work of a tarot reader? I’m very curi­ous, espe­cially if it involves coin scarves and rune­stones and tea cups (I some­times wish it did).

    So, I’m not. I’m a sometimes-client and a friend.

    My assump­tions about your work are tied to my assump­tions about you.

    I assume that you’ve had a bit of livin’, or at least enough basic life expe­ri­ence to relate to a wide range of lives. Not that any of this is manda­tory, but I like that you’ve been mar­ried, you’ve lived in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, you’ve had a wide range of jobs, you have kids. This com­bi­na­tion of life expe­ri­ence makes me view you as “sea­soned” in a way that I am not. I respect your diverse life.

    I assume that you have a flex­i­ble mind and heart, that you’re com­fort­able with ques­tions and inse­cu­rity and quiet in a way that most peo­ple aren’t. I assume that you can sit with dif­fi­cult things per­son­ally, and across or with peo­ple who are going through dif­fi­cult things. I assume that you are gen­er­ally non-judgmental. I assume that you are immi­nently trust­wor­thy and pro­tec­tive of my privacy.

    I assume that you have knowl­edge of Other Things. I assume that you pray, or med­i­tate, or write, or stretch, or oth­er­wise have some kind of cen­ter­ing exer­cise that puts you out­side of your­self, or within it, or what­ever mat­ters at the moment.

    I assume that you want the best for your clients, that you have a good heart, that you truly want to help peo­ple. I don’t ques­tion your motives. I trust you.

    Those are my quick thoughts — hope they help!

    • Melissa

      August 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      Bless­ings Adri­enne!! What a won­der­ful com­ment and com­pli­ment! Thank you for shar­ing your thoughts :)

  5. Aijung Kim

    September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Hi Melissa! read­ing your blog is always so fun. and before i even read it on your post, i dis­cov­ered today that your logo spins, how wonderful!

    okay, so i’m not sure if i’m exactly pro­fes­sional yet, and after our con­ver­sa­tion i real­ized that this is not some­thing i want to do full-time because it requires a lot of cen­tered energy that i use more for other parts of my life. in fact, i can’t imag­ine doing it full time! those who do must be grounded and emo­tion­ally healthy, and be will­ing to give a lot to oth­ers. which i love to do, only i must save a lot of energy for myself to put into my art­work. so i can only imag­ine how hard it is for peo­ple who do it for a liv­ing, though i know it also brings great satisfaction.

    i’m still nav­i­gat­ing this world of pro­fes­sional read­ings, but so far my response has been largely pos­i­tive. i don’t tell peo­ple I’m a “reader,” because when peo­ple ask what i do i say i’m an artist. it did take me some time to even say that in a way that i myself believed, and now i find it com­ing out with­out hes­i­ta­tion. i don’t think there is the same stigma around say­ing you’re an artist as there is in say­ing you’re a reader, but i think they’re sim­i­lar in that they’re non-mainstream lifestyles. any­way, the fact of me being a reader comes up when i tell peo­ple about The Golden Moth Illu­mi­na­tion Deck that i cre­ated, and at the events where i adver­tise that i read. since that has been mostly craft shows and now monthly at a vin­tage bou­tique, the kinds of peo­ple who come are gen­er­ally in an arty or leisurely mood. i look non-threatening and much younger than my 30 years, so peo­ple either express inter­est or don’t say any­thing. i’ve never had any­one try to debunk me. i’m not sure what i would say if they did. i don’t think of what i do as telling the future, any­way. i try to explain that my read­ings help show pat­terns in a person’s life and give some advice. most of the peo­ple who come to me have never or rarely had a tarot read­ing, so they are open and curi­ous about the process. so as it stands, my read­ing pro­fes­sion is largely linked with my artis­tic pro­fes­sion, though the two def­i­nitely have dif­fer­ent pur­poses in a way. but i think of the read­ings as heal­ing and self-discovery tools, and i think of my art as heal­ing in a way, too.

    as a client, i still some­times feel a lit­tle bit ner­vous about enter­ing one of those walk-in store­fronts, which i’ve only done once. see­ing a reader in per­son def­i­nitely influ­ences whether i’d like a read­ing from them. so i sup­pose i still have a bit of a prej­u­dice about read­ers being weird or a bit voodoo-ish, even though i am one! i think i am more drawn to a woman than a male reader because i feel more com­fort­able around my own gen­der. but all the read­ers i’ve known have been very down-to-earth, yet i love that we can talk about meta­phys­i­cal things. some­times just hear­ing the advice is enough to help me shape my path, let­ting it all get absorbed into my sys­tem. i used to think read­ings would tell my future, and part of me still wants to believe that. i find that the per­son­al­ity of a read­ing is shaped by the per­son­al­ity of the reader, so it’s impor­tant to go to some­one you emo­tion­ally con­nect with, oth­er­wise you may not get as much out of the read­ing. my only real assump­tions about read­ers as a whole is that they have a lot of trust in what they do, and they are prob­a­bly pretty con­fi­dent in their work if they’re doing it professionally.

    • Gail H

      December 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      Hello — like you, I’m an artist and a reader, and it took me a very long time to accept being both; and like you, read­ing is a part of my life, while art & tutor­ing will be the rest. I appre­ci­ate the way you thought­fully sifted through what it takes to read full-time because art does take a lot of energy, even if being “in stu­dio” is apply­ing for events or think­ing of noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar but know­ing it’s part of hav­ing that energy for art. Peo­ple want­ing read­ings can be intense.

      It’s been help­ful for me to learn from oth­ers and Melissa in this blog, about ways to keep some things to your­self some of the time, and come out where it’s appre­ci­ated. I’m still not at the point where I can out­right say that I’m a reader & take the reac­tions. I tried to make a life of it a cou­ple of years ago but I strug­gled with the stigma. Read­ing in a shop where a reader is expected gives me some shel­ter & I get to practice.

      A big part of the ful­fill­ment is know­ing who you are & being at home with that, espe­cially if it’s off-beat. Busi­ness cards for both com­ing up.

  6. Lisa

    October 6, 2012 at 1:51 am

    I am from Chicago, lived in NYC and also lived in Los Ange­les. For the most part, I have got­ten strange looks and an air of “dis­missal” or that they think I am not sane. Chicago peeps, NEVER TELL THEM. It’s too con­ser­v­a­tive a city and too blue col­lar. In my expe­ri­ence, the peeps who think it’s cool will find you and you’ll know it’s safe to share.In NYC, I was too young and it was a new hobby. I kept it to myself out of fear. In Los Ange­les (where I lived dur­ing my 30’s) peo­ple want you to read their cards con­stantly and if you tell them you only do it for hire or are a pro­fes­sional, sud­denly they loose inter­est and only go to some­one that a celebrity went to for $!000 a read­ing. Now I live in AZ and it’s truly a mixed bag. Some dig it, and oth­ers think it’s Voo Doo witch­craft. It’s a weird and wacky world out there.

    Hav­ing said all that… I think you are so much more tal­ented and pro­fes­sional than I was when I attempted to read cards for hire. I think your bril­liance, artistry and writ­ing is so evi­dent that when some­one meets you, hears you speak with intel­li­gence and wit and then vis­its your web­site they know you are LEGIT and in a seri­ous BUSINESS. You have cre­ated such a won­der­ful, glo­ri­ous world for your­self and we all have been so lucky to share it with you.

    I think you’re doing a GOOD thing for our “secret soci­ety” and mod­ern­iz­ing it and brin­ing it mainstream.

    Noth­ing but the best for you!

  7. claudia

    December 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I want to say with a glar­ing eye, “I receive mes­sages from the other side.”

    Want to leave a longer mes­sage. My sick child is in car honk­ing on the horn. My usual pithy response about that sticks in my throat after the shoot­ings in CT.

    Instead I think, “I am blessed. My kids are both­er­ing me…that is a bless­ing.” I will weigh in on this later because I love this question.

  8. Diane

    January 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I live in a small, con­ser­v­a­tive town in Okla­homa and I very open about it. I have lived in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try for the last 22 years and moved back to my home town just a cou­ple of years ago in my late 40’s. I am secure in who I am and what I do and just didn’t feel a need to hide it. When asked whether or not I was con­cerned about peo­ple think­ing I was crazy, I always reply that I don’t give a rats ass if peo­ple think I’m crazy or not. The peo­ple who mat­ter to me, know my nature and true char­ac­ter — and those who don’t know me, well, obvi­ously their view of me doesn’t mat­ter since it’s based on a false assump­tion and stereo-type, rather than on “me”.

    Life is too short to worry about what other peo­ple think of you. And I feel that those of us that hold back a part of our­selves because we’re con­cerned with what other peo­ple think are doing our­selves an injus­tice. Words of advice I tell my clients who have a gut feel­ing of how they should han­dle a sit­u­a­tion, but then they run it through the “what will oth­ers think” fil­ter — sigh.

    Trust your gut.

    Be pas­sion­ate about what you do.

    Dis­re­gard small minded peo­ple — they are on their own journey.