Bad News

Psyche at Spiral Nature and Donald Michael Kraig at Llywellyn have offered some advice and considerations for relating potentially bad news during tarot readings. Both advise that the information be given in a manner that is useful to the querent, which may or may not involve avoiding framing the information in direct terms. In both cases, a tarot reading that foretell death had to be given in a constructive and positive manner, so that the querent could go on in their remaining time and not worry about their impending demise. In short, both advised not to tell the querent outright “you’re going to die.”

Both bring up that comparison and distinction that is often made between divination and fortune-telling, that of whether the future is set and can simply be told as if it will happen, or whether the future is not set and the diviner only sees the most probable event. There is a difference of approach here to advising the querent: a fortune teller might say “in three months you will die in a plan crash,” as distinct from advising the querent “celebrate your life in the next three months. An upcoming opportunity to travel may bring a great transition in your life that will make your other problems seem unimportant.” Or something to that effect. The problem here is that when you are dealing with a close and high-probability event, there isn’t much difference between the two views of the future and how to handle it. And it simply depends on how the reader wants to share the information.

Psyche refers to a case from Ottoman Austin Spare:

Consider the following case, reported by Austin Osman Spare in a brief essay, “Mind to Mind and How” (reprinted by Fulgur in Two Tracts on Cartomancy):

I was telling a friend’s fortune, and could ‘see’ that he would die within a few months. Naturally, I did not tell him so, but what I did advise him was to at once put his affairs in order and that in a few months there would be a very great change in his affairs, of which not much could be said. Meantime, there was great happiness for him, though he was to guard against accident. He was happy for the few months that he lived.

This is a drastic case, and it matters little whether or not it is objectively “true” – it is instructive nonetheless; the cards don’t always describe “nice” things.

Naturally, had Spare plainly stated what “seen” it would have greatly alarmed and upset his client, and likely make him miserable for the time that remained. There are some things that tact can’t solve and where no amount of delicacy in describing what has been seen is possible.

In this case, withholding the information obviously had a lot to do with maintaining a positive outlook and experience for the querent.

Kraig offers a similar experience:

The first card was the Death card. Normally, this means positive evolutionary change. But reading the Tarot is more than memorizing a bunch of meanings and repeating them. In my experience it requires the use of intuition, attunement to the person you’re reading for, and attunement to the spiritual energies. I did not like what I was sensing.

Instead of reading the card as I normally do, I turned over the next one. And the next. And the next. They were all cards of endings, terminations, completions, sudden change. Although rare, this reading was predicting her physical death. It might be delayed, but it was coming; and it was coming soon.

This was not fate. There was no prediction of a specific method, date, or time of her demise, only that if she followed the path she was on the result was clear. The challenge before me was how to share this information in a way that would be positive and provide hope for a better future.


I smiled as benevolently as I could. I told her, “In the next few months your life is going to go through a remarkable change. Everything about your life will alter. You will no longer have to worry about your financial situation and all of your aches and pains will fade away and become unimportant. Spiritually, you will find yourself moving faster and faster on your path, more than you ever dreamed you could, and you’ll feel closer to God. You won’t have to worry about roommates, and you’ll find that you have more time than ever to relax and enjoy being with old friends, especially spiritual friends who can lead you on your path.”

I went on in this direction for several minutes. Every time I looked up from the cards at her she had that same look of hope and wanting more information in her eyes. I think my shirt was almost drenched from the sweat.

After I had finished telling her the complete truth according to the cards in a way I felt she could understand, I asked if she had any questions. “No,” she said, with a look of contentment, “that’s exactly what I thought. I just wanted to make sure. Of all the readers here I was drawn to you. I thought you’d tell me the truth and I believe you have. Thank you so much.”

The woman arose. Now standing a bit taller, she slowly walked out. I believe she had felt she was going to pass over soon, but the lack of confirming information had made her fearful. Now, believing she was moving toward a change that was going to be positive, she was able to face her remaining time on the physical plane with strength and hope for a better, more spiritual future.

Kraig believes that his querent successfully interpreted his reading as predicting her death, and that she was content with that. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know. In Spare’s case, the querent was sent off unaware of what was coming.

And here’s the real question: would it have made a difference in either case to tell them outright? Would sharing news of their death have allowed them to make changes to avoid it?

In Kraig’s case, the woman was elderly and nearing the end of her life. Death may have been inevitable, and she must have been aware that it was nearing. In such a case, Kraig’s actions seem to have been most appropriate. We’re not given the details of Spare’s case, so don’t know the cause of death. If age or some types of illness, such as cancer, it may not have been avoidable. But what if it was due to accidental causes? Could a reading indicating a death by such means warn the querent so that the event could be avoided? Now we’re back into fortune-telling ground, and the trap of predestination. And chasing around an infinite paradox of what-if’s isn’t how I like to operate.

I’ve given readings before where a querent asked about a loved one and their illness, and I’ve told them honestly “It doesn’t look very promising for them to make it. Enjoy the time you have with them and trust that things will work out for the best.” I’ve also had people ask me if they will recover from terminal illnesses, and I’ve had to advise them to get their affairs in order and hope for the best. (And some of them had better outlooks, and some of them made it.)

But that’s a different scenario than an upcoming accidental death.

My mentor once got kicked out of a local psychic fair. He was doing readings, and had a querent ask him inquire about love prospects. The following exchange took place:

Querent: “I want to know about my love life.”

Mentor: “If you don’t change your diet, start exercising, and lose weight right now, you will be dead in six months.”

Querent: *pause* “But what about my love life?”

Mentor: “If you’re dead, you won’t have a love life.”

The fair organizers quoted a policy against “doom and gloom readings” as a reason to kick my mentor out. But he had given the reading as he knew how: direct, straightforward, and giving the querent the opportunity to change the negative event he saw coming up. The querent was disappointed with his reading, but would have likely been just as disappointed with a reading advising him to “Put your affairs in order and don’t worry about love for now, for soon you will be reunited with old friends and family you haven’t seen in a while and will find spiritual peace.” And he was given a chance to avoid a premature death.


He didn’t take advantage of that chance, and missed out on any chance he might have had to live long enough to find success in love. He was dead in six months.


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