Interview With Elizabeth Palladino,
Tarot Card Reader
By D.W. Jones
When people first think of tarot card readers,
they think strange older women in dark rooms or
carnivals, predicting your future. But that is not
the case, especially after I first met Elizabeth
when she attended our Institute of Horror,
Fantasy and Science Fiction. I admit that I was
skeptical at first but that all changed after seeing her in action, especially
after she did a reading on me. I invited her to give our readers at BMR a
true look at tarot card reading.
D.W. Jones: Tell our readers how you got into tarot card reading. Is it a gift
or did you learn it?
Elizabeth Palladino: Frankly, there's no one single way to become a Tarot card
reader and most professional readers have their own unique paths to discovering
their abilities. First off, I believe every person has psychic and intuitive abilities. It
may be stronger in some people than in others, but we all have it. Often, a strongly
psychic Tarot card reader is getting the information from some place else and using
the Tarot cards as a filter for these psychic impressions rather than obtaining the
information from reading the cards. Tarot card readers who are more intuitive than
psychic gain most of the information by reading what they see in the cards and using
their gut reactions (intuition) to what they see in the cards to obtain information.
Both styles of reading are valid.
I, myself, am more of an intuitive Tarot reader than a psychic one. It's not so much,
in my opinion, a special gift that only a few of us have, as it is that people who
practice using their psychic and intuitive abilities can become adept at systems of
divination, whether you're speaking of astrology, I Ching, runes, Tarot or any other
divination practice. Some people who are highly psychic and/or intuitive can just
start reading Tarot cards with little or no study. I'm not one of these. I picked up my
first Tarot deck, the Morgan Greer deck, and a few books on Tarot almost thirty
years ago; but it wasn't until I started studying in 2002 with Wald and Ruth Ann
Amberstone at The Tarot School in NYC that I discovered my true abilities for
I would also like to point out that my style of divination with the cards is more a
psychotherapeutic, spiritual, or life-coaching style rather than a strictly predictive
DWJ: How long have you been doing readings?
EP: I was certified in June of 2003 as a professional Tarot card reader by The
American Board for Tarot Certification, which organization ended with the death of its
founder -- although my certification will always be valid. If people are interested, I still
have my certification documents as proof of certification. As I used to have a regular
full-time job, I only occasionally did readings for money -- mainly at large, elite events
in Manhattan or such affairs as fashion shows at Macy's, and at private parties. I
only rarely had private consultations. When I was working toward my certification in
2003, I also used to work at a psychic fair in Long Island in order to gain proof of my
skills for the certification board. When I got laid off in October of 2009, after almost
30 years with the same company, I started building up my Tarot business as I was
having difficulty finding other work.
DWJ: Is there a standard set of cards for all tarot card readers?
EP: No, not really, although you can find commonly used Tarot decks. Tarot, which
is a term derived from the French, has been around since its development in
mid-15th century Italy where it is called Tarocchi, and you can find many different
historical styles of decks in Europe. Until more recently, the two decks most
commonly in use were the older-style French Marseilles deck and the early 20th
century English Rider Waite deck. In most European countries, outside of England,
the Marseilles deck is still the most prevalent. In England and in the U.S. the most
commonly used deck is the Rider Waite deck or variations of the Rider Waite deck,
such as the Radiant Rider Waite or The Universal Waite, which is my favorite deck.
Modern Tarot, especially since the advent of the New Age in the 1970's, has seen an
ever-increasing proliferation of available Tarot decks and other types of oracle
decks. In fact, with the current advent of online sources of inexpensive
self-publishing, you can find even more Tarot decks than ever before. I, myself,
personally know many professional. readers who have developed their own Tarot
decks, either self-published or published by Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, or U.S. Games.
These decks will all have common characteristics in the number and types of cards,
and many of these decks will have imagery similar to Rider Waite, such as Johanna
Gargiulo-Sherman's Sacred Rose Tarot from U.S. Games . Yet, you can find popular
modern Tarot decks, such as James Wanless's Voyager Tarot that do not closely
follow the Rider Waite imagery.
DWJ: How long is a typical session
EP: It depends on the type of reading. The average for party readings is five to ten
minutes as you are usually reading for a large group of people. If I'm doing a private
consultation, I have a 30-minute minimum to make it financially worth my while.
However, a reading can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours depending on
what my client needs and/or wants. I sometimes do phone readings on Keen.com,
where the average is around fifteen minutes as people are charged by the minute.
However, Keen is not a psychic hotline, which means that I have complete control
over the style of my phone readings and can keep the per-minute charge to
DWJ: I know that each card has a specific meaning. How does the position
of the card and what card is next to it affect the meaning of it?
EP: Actually, each card has a large range of interrelated issues rather than a single,
specific meaning. One problem that many people have in learning Tarot is that
merely trying to memorize card meanings doesn't get you very far unless you actually
start doing readings in order to get a specific context to give you a framework for
card interpretation. Every reader has their own style of reading. Some readers use
the traditional ten-card Celtic Cross spread where each card's meaning is affected
by what position it falls into, and each position has a specific meaning. I've never
particularly liked the Celtic Cross. I have my own style that uses five cards laid in a
horizontal row. The center card gets the most weight, and can be considered the
outcome or primary answer, and the other four cards act as commentary on the
Sometimes, I will see, reading from left to right, the first two cards as the past, the
center card as the present, and the last two cards as the future. Regardless of what
kind of spread or layout I use, what other cards are next to a specific card affects the
interpretation of that card. For example, if the Fool card stands in between the Sun
and Star cards, this is going to give the Fool a totally different interpretation than if
this card stands between the dark and dramatic Tower and Devil cards. Each card
has many possible interpretations. Which specific interpretation I give it depends
primarily on the context of the question, whether that card is the center card of the
five, and how the other four cards in the reading affect that center card and each
DWJ: Besides the tarot cards, is there anything else you use to help you
with a reading?
EP: I find that a basic knowledge of Hermetic Qabalah is very useful in helping me to
increase my intuitive connection to the Rider Waite deck. One reason for this is that
A. E. Waite and illustrator Pamela Colman Smith intended the imagery of the cards to
reflect an underlying esoteric system from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
that includes Qabalah, alchemy, Free Masonry, astrology, numerology, and
Rosicrucianism among others. You don't have to know this information to read with
the cards, but I find it does help -- especially as the numerology and astrology of
Tarot are not today's standards but instead derive from Qabalah. If there's one
system that I would like to know better, it's astrology. I know some of the astrological
attributions of Tarot as they derive from Qabalah, but it's really difficult, especially for
me, to recall all of this extra information. And just to know, for example, that the
astrological attribution of The Chariot is Cancer doesn't help much if I don't know
what information I can get from that attribution.
One of the reasons why the Rider Waite deck and its variations are so popular is that
Waite and Smith did such a great job in using the deck's imagery to reflect the
esoteric systems behind the deck. Most people, even those totally new to Tarot, can
do a decent intuitive reading with the Rider Waite deck just from the pictures alone.
Learning Qabalah or astrology only adds an extra layer that you can use to make a
decent reading even better. A basic grasp of numerology also helps, especially
Qabalistic numerology. Some of the numerology of Tarot is similar to standard
numerology, but as the meanings of the numbers one through ten in Tarot
essentially derive from the ten positions on the Qabalistic tree of life, you will find
major differences from standard numerology.
I've also studied with Elinor Greenberg, a clinical psychologist who also reads Tarot.
A good grasp of psychology and human behavior also helps to make you a better
reader. I also work with Tarot birth cards -- which is part of the connection between
psychology and Tarot. Every person has a pair of Major Arcana cards that
corresponds to their date of birth. You derive this from a numerological reduction of
their month, day, and year of birth. When I'm doing longer private consultations, I
always calculate a person's birth cards. It's amazing the information you can derive
from this technique.
Unlike some other Tarot card readers, I do not utilize other systems of divination
such as astrological charts or palm reading. Some readers also use candles,
incense, special meditations, crystals, etc. during readings. Sometimes I use a
special reading cloth and crystals when I'm reading in a place where I have room to
set this up. Other than this, when I practice divination with Tarot, it's just me and my
deck of cards.
When I first started reading thirty years ago, I also depended on certain books on
Tarot to help me interpret the cards. One of the reasons why I wanted to study more
about Tarot was to be able to read without relying on books. Within about six months
of studying with The Tarot School, I accomplished this goal and I've never again
used a book to help me in my readings. However, I always love reading a good book
DWJ: In movies and TV, the death card always seems to come up. Is it a
literal meaning of doom or is there a deeper meaning?
EP: I'm not that familiar with TV programs that use Tarot, as I watch little TV. Most
movies and other performing arts mediums use Tarot in a very standard,
fortune-telling manner. In these depictions, the Death card almost always spells
gloom and doom. The deeper meaning of the Death card is transformation or
inevitable movement forward, but you seldom see that appear in the movies and,
even when you do, something occurs to swing Death back to being a doomsayer.
One of my favorite French films is Agnes Varda's "Cleo from 9 to 5." In that film,
Cleo, a French singer, is concerned about learning the results of some medical tests.
She goes to a Tarot card reader at the beginning of the film and, of course, the
Death card turns up. The old woman reading the cards says, "This card isn't
necessarily death. It means a complete transformation of your whole being." (English
translation of the French). However, after Cleo leaves the woman turns to her
husband and says something like "Poor girl." And, of course, you get the picture that
Cleo's soon to find out that she's terminally ill. I do have to say, though, that the
whole Tarot-card reading scene is very artistically filmed. It's the only part of the
black-and-white film that is in color, and you see beautiful shots of hands with Tarot
cards (some sort of French-style deck, but not the Marseilles Tarot). It's too bad that
this beauty is undermined, in my opinion, by the Death card as doom trope.
In Bizet's opera "Carmen," you see Carmen reading Tarot cards. The Death card
turns up, and it's curtains for poor Carmen. All very dramatic, but very cliched.
I'm a huge fan of the movie "Hellboy." In general, this film, based on a comic book of
the same name, takes tropes of Hell and the paranormal, and turns them on their
heads by making the diabolical-looking main character just an everyday Joe whose
primary job is saving humanity from the powers of evil. In the movie, Trevor
Bruttenholm, the man who raised Hellboy, finds out he has cancer and is soon to die.
(This is a different death than the character has in the original comics.) In the
theatrical-release version of the movie, this is a short scene and you see the
character leave the doctor's office and are just left to assume that he got bad news.
In the director's-cut edition of that scene in the movie, director Guillermo del Toro
has John Hurt as Professor "Broom" trot out a deck of Tarot cards, turn up the Death
card, and then tell the doctors that he doesn't need a second opinion. I've always
liked del Toro as a director of fantasy/horror, and I'm a bit surprised at his cliched
use of the Death card. (Personal aside: The few tarot cards that turn up in this scene
were specially designed by the art department of the movie studio in order to avoid
using copyrighted images. The cards that John Hurt shuffles are a few different
Tarot cards interspersed with a whole lot of Death cards so that its easy for the actor
to turn up the Death card. I purchased three of these many Death cards from
Revolution studios when they were selling props from "Hellboy" on eBay.)
DWJ: Is there a movie or TV show that shows an accurate portrayal of tarot
EP: I can't say, personally, that I've seen Tarot adequately portrayed in any movies
or TV. I see a lot of movies, but I don't watch a lot of TV. However, I have friends
who are professional Tarot card readers who loved the 2003 to 2005 TV program
"Carnivàle" and think that the program accurately depicts Tarot card readers.
However, I'm not at all familiar with that show. I'm just going by the impression I
received from my friends who did like that show.
DWJ: Do you comes across a lot of disbelievers?
EP: In my own spirituality, I'm a practicing Catholic. It has been my experience that
very conservative Catholics or other conservative religions, such as Protestant
Fundamentalists, look upon Tarot cards as the tool of the devil. It's hard to convince
a disbeliever of this type that Tarot card reading is not some wicked sin no matter
how accurate your readings are, as these people are convinced that you get your
"powers" by consorting with the forces of evil or communing with demons.
However, in general, I encounter more skeptics than out-and-out disbelievers. I have
found that it can be easy to convince a skeptic, especially when you tell them
something about themselves that you can't possibly know -- especially when you're
meeting them for the first time. Another way to convince skeptics is to calculate their
birth cards based on their date of birth, and then tell them all of the
psychological/behavioral information that you derive from these cards. It seldom fails
to be almost as accurate as any of these psychological tests that people can take to
analyze their personalities. This is one reason why little by little Tarot is coming to
the notice of clinical psychologists and psychotherapists. Every generation
reinterprets Tarot for itself. The current generation of professional Tarot readers is
more and more turning away from fortune-telling and turning toward a psychological,
life-coaching approach to Tarot. This also makes Tarot appear less scary to people
who know little about it.
Tarot has also become more acceptable to the general public, especially since the
advent of the New Age movement in the 1970's and the increasing interest in Carl
Jung and his archetypes of the collective unconscious. At one time, it was very
difficult to find a deck of Tarot cards. You had to know someone who knew someone
who knew where you could obtain a deck of cards. Now, anyone can purchase
decks in almost any bookstore or through any online bookseller. You can also find a
lot of Tarot decks on eBay, especially rare or out-of-print decks. There's also
specialty shops online such as The Tarot Garden. All this exposure makes Tarot
seem much more reasonable to skeptics, or even to some disbelievers with religious
convictions against fortune-telling.
DWJ: How would you recommend anyone who is interested in taking up tarot
card reading get started?
EP: Recently, at a conference for professional Tarot card readers another guest at
the hotel asked me, "How does one become a Tarot card reader?" I answered, "One
could always buy a deck of cards and just start reading." And some Tarot card
readers do just that. However, not everyone finds it quite that easy.
For those in NYC, one of the best places to turn is Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone's
The Tarot School (www.tarotschool.com). They have classes in Manhattan most
Monday evenings, as well as a correspondence course, teleclasses that they
conduct over the phone, books they have written, and many recordings of classes.
This is where I learned Tarot, and I highly recommend this school. You can also find
many good books on Tarot card reading. Any Barnes and Noble has recently
published books on Tarot, as well as Tarot decks. You can also find a lot of books
and decks on Amazon.com; good authors are Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, and
Joan Bunning, just to name a few. One of my first Tarot books was "Easy Tarot
Guide" by Marcia Masino. I still love that book and, even though it can be hard to
find in stores, you can find it on Amazon.
I have also started teaching Tarot through the Meetup organization. My group is
called New York Intuitive Tarot Classes. You have to belong to Meetup to join my
group, but it's free to join. I have both free meetups and for-pay classes. My usual
class is two hours long and is $17 in advance and $20 at the door. I also have
reading practice classes that cost $5. In general, all classes are from 7pm to 9pm,
and I'm trying to have most of my classes on the first and third Tuesday of every
month. Most class venues are in mid-town Manhattan. My group is still a work in
progress. However, my first class on Tuesday 6/19/12 was successful. I'm repeating
that class on Friday 6/29/12 and have another class scheduled for Tuesday 7/17/12.
You can find all information on my Meetup page:
DWJ: If people would like to schedule a reading with you, how can they
EP: Anyone who wants a reading with me can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
in order to discuss rates and make an appointment for a reading. These reading
can either be over the phone, or arranged for an in person reading if you live in
NYC. I'm also available for parties and special events for those who live in NYC. You
can also find me on Keen.com under the name of Intuitive Elizabeth. I'm not on Keen
very often, but you can arrange an appointment for a phone reading through Keen.
For interview with
Patrick Devaney of
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artist, click here
For interview with
tarot card reader,