When I started reading Tarot professionally several years ago (for strangers, for money) I had already been studying and working with the cards for 20 years. But I was afraid to have my name associated with this largely misunderstood practice. So I chose Moth & Candle to put on my business card instead. Kept myself removed, never put my face on my website, and kept it quiet from most people who knew me. Then as my life changed and I needed to support myself on my own financially, Tarot was the one avenue of my work that was consistently there for me. As I started to be more public about my career path I got some push back, some raised eyebrows, even some “poor fallen woman” shakes of the head. Cartomancy is a living and evolving art form that has deep roots… as long as there have been playing cards there have been people assigning significance to them. I’m honored to carry on the tradition, to protect the lineage, to help push it forward and watch it transform to meet the needs of people now in this time. I still get mixed reactions when I tell people what I do for a living. But I no longer hesitate before I tell them. I am a card reader.
Every once in a while I “fall in love” (not romantically) with a client. Today it happened FIVE times. One man in his thirties, three young men in their twenties who came as a group (two fresh off of heartbreak who refreshingly carried no bitterness, just eagerness to avoid the same pitfalls again), and the woman who took this photo. She is facing major life changes beyond her control as well as significant heartbreaking grief. Their individual cards and readings fade from my memory. They normally do. I read cards in the moment and try not to make a habit of hanging onto personal info that comes up once the client has left my table. It’s their information, not mine. But the memory of having had deeply personal conversations with people that are so genuinely interested in bettering themselves and consciously finding their way through life lingers. When their eyes widen or their posture changes and the recognition arises… that’s what stays with me. So here is a photo of me, dehydrated and bedraggled, but absolutely smitten with the beautiful soul I just read for who asked if she could include me and Sadie in the photo of her cards.
In the Moth & Candle studio is a shelf dedicated to decks without a home. These decks are up for adoption! “Take a deck, leave a deck.” Adopt a deck from The Moth & Candle Deck Orphanage by exchanging it for a deck of yours or leaving a $5 donation. All decks in “good and complete” condition are welcome: Tarot, oracle, playing cards, Lenormand, etc.
I believe instruction for contemplative practices and tools should be as accessible as possible to anyone who wishes to use them. I also believe basic civil liberties should be accessible to all… all monetary contributions to the Deck Orphanage are donated to the ACLU.
Check the “Deck Orphanage” highlights section of the Moth & Candle Instagram page for current decks available for adoption.
Tarot can be an inspirational and motivating tool. Some of the most beautiful and moving conversations I’ve ever had were over the cards. Tarot sessions have the potential to help clarify goals, identify blockages, tackle difficult decisions, process emotions and navigate complex interpersonal relationships. The simple act of contemplating cards you have chosen at random can be profoundly empowering. Have a cup of tea with me in my studio as we discuss your path and your cards.
Private sessions are 45 minutes. Individual $60 / Two-People $90. Full payment due at time of booking.
To schedule a consultation contact Laura.
Booking a reading with me implies consent and agreement with all terms noted on the Ethics and Conditions page. For tips on what to expect and how to get the most out of your Tarot session, read this post.
Given the recent news of the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade by suicide, I wanted to address how we as readers should care for people in distress who seek our assistance.
Tarot card readers are not licensed healthcare providers (*although some licensed health care professionals may in fact be card readers). I do not provide that kind of mental health care. However, I am a compassionate human being and by the nature of my job, I am often discussing these issues with my clients. And I take it very seriously. I’d like to share how I personally handle “crisis” issues when they surface during a reading and my tips for being prepared.
First, a little background.
To be honest, I am not unused to being the “safe ear” for people. Throughout my life I have had people I don’t know turn to me and start telling me their inner feelings, worries, and struggles. This would happen in lobbies and waiting rooms, in bathrooms at the sink washing our hands next to each other, and numerous other places where strangers find themselves spending brief amounts of quiet time together. These impromptu confessionals would generally surprise both of us and frequently the other person would say, “I really don’t know why I’m telling you all of this.” It used to confuse and worry me, especially in my teens. I felt like I was unknowingly running around with Wonder Woman’s golden lasso of truth. I couldn’t understand why they would turn to ME or what I was supposed to DO about it.
As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that sometimes the safest outlet for our deepest fears is precisely someone who doesn’t know us and who at least appears outwardly gentle. I’ve learned to value just how important my reaction to their pain and vulnerability is as well. Their trust may not have been a gift I asked for, but it is one they have offered to me and I must be kind.
I have learned to be a compassionate ear in the moment and offer what little advice I may have for them; always aiming to leave them feeling more empowered to live their lives than when they first approached me. Mostly they need to feel heard without judgement and, occasionally, pointed in the direction of the help they need. I even trained and worked briefly as a volunteer for the crisis hotline at MOCSA (Missouri Organization to Counter Sexual Assault). This training included ways to offer support and guidance without crossing the boundary of “prescriptive mental-health care.” If you are at a place in your life where you can volunteer with an organization in this type of capacity, I highly recommend it. It will serve you well the rest of your life.
(I’ve also learned more coping strategies for protecting myself and my own emotions through this process. Taking in the trauma of others can be difficult and if not handled carefully, even harmful. But I will go into that more at another time.)
The first year I worked at the local Renaissance Festival as a Tarot reader, I worked a shift in which four of my clients that day were in extreme emotional duress: The first sat at my table, when I looked up at them and into their eyes, before either of us had said a word, they began to cry. The second, it became evident, was in an abusive situation and her abuser was sitting at the table with us. And two more clients confided that they felt suicidal. I helped each as best I could and strongly encouraged them to reach out to counseling and hotlines that could help them. I went home that evening feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Particularly about the client who sought my help despite their abuser watching and listening to our every word. I just remember the horrifying 30 seconds when the abuser had gone to get a chair and my client looked me in the eye with such desperation and told me they didn’t want to be controlled anymore. I analyzed every last detail of our interaction and tried to figure out what more I could’ve done to help them. I just kept thinking, if only there’d been some way I could’ve slipped them a note tucked under my business card with the domestic-abuse hotline scrawled on it. But hindsight is 20/20 and I didn’t have that number memorized. I carry this experience with me as a reminder of the importance of the trust my clients have in me and how absolutely important it is that I help them in the most appropriate way.
So here are my top tips for creating that safe space for my clients:
I have typed up a list of hotlines and printed them on small slips of paper that may be discretely handed to clients I suspect may benefit from any or all of these services.
My current list (and the numbers included are mostly based for the Kansas City area as that’s where a majority of my clients are.)
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
KC Domestic Violence Hotline (connects to all 6 local shelters): 816-468-5463
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
KCAVP (LGBTQ Domestic Violence / Hate Crimes Hotline): 816-561-0550
LGBTQ Youth Hotline: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
Make your list specific to the area/city where a majority of your clients are based. If there’s a topic that comes up for your clients frequently that is not addressed in the organizations above, look it up and add it! Sometimes different people attract the trust of those going through particular issues. For example, if you have clients struggling with gambling addiction on more than one occasion… find the hotline for that and put it on your list!
2. PROVIDE TISSUES
It really is that simple. I have a small fabric case with a travel packet of tissues that I keep on my table. The moment I recognize the tell-tale signs of tears rising… I quietly move the tissues next to my client. This not only gives them the tissues to use, but it sends a silent signal that it’s ok to cry (or sneeze) and that they are obviously not the only ones to have done so at my table. Sometimes even I need the tissues.
It is common in our culture to shame others for crying. So many people are automatically ashamed or even afraid to cry in front of others. On the other hand, I feel it is equally important to not go to the other extreme and demand that they “let it all out.” Tears are a physical symptom of emotional distress. Just as I wouldn’t look at someone’s paper cut and say, “Yes, that’s it, bleed!” I’m not about to make any sort of demands on someone’s tears. I generally don’t say anything at all, offering them tissues is my gentle acknowledgement. Inevitably they will apologize. I simply say, “No, it’s fine. It’s totally normal.” and then continue on with our conversation.
3. RESPECT THEIR BOUNDARIES
I am respectful of my client’s boundaries. If we are getting into topics that are difficult for them or I notice a rising discomfort, I am sure to say, “Feel free to stop me. This is all up to you. If you don’t want me to say anything more about this, you just let me know.” And then I STAND BY THAT. I do not push my clients. Ever. They have hired me. It’s their reading.
4. EMPOWER THEM
The biggest damage that the “fortune-teller” style of reading can do is to disempower the client. I do not predict the future. I do not tell anyone what they or someone else is absolutely going to do. That is not my job; that is not what my cards and years of expertise and life experience are for. Fortune-telling and purely-predictive readings are useless in my opinion anyway.
The client must always feel empowered to be doing positive work in their own lives by the time they stand up from my table. This is what I learned from a lifetime of people-I-don’t-know crying to me in desperation in public bathrooms… we have a brief amount of time together and the only real gift I can give them are words and a demeanor that will encourage them to take steps to help themselves. It’s different in every scenario. But there is always SOMETHING that can be said to another person that will help them take action to better their situation. Sometimes it’s, “Maybe you should go to the park and watch the ducks while you think through what’s going on.” Sometimes it’s, “It sounds like you don’t feel safe, do you know where you can go to be safe?” If you listen, most of the time they have an answer. If they don’t, some gentle nudges in offering possibilities will generally get them going in identifying the options available to them. They know themselves better than we will ever know them. Period. No matter how many subtle clues and signs I pick up on over the course of a conversation, no matter how amazed they are at my ability to have insight into their situation, they are the ones carrying their life story. Respect that.
Those mini-crisis moments with strangers have helped me develop a reading style that offers my clients ideas and encouragement about how they can help themselves. Even if that empowerment is, “You can call this number to get the additional help you may need.”
There is a mental-health crisis in The United States (and many other countries as well.) Depression is a deadly predator. It dresses itself up in our own voices and dances around inside our brains saying the most damaging, hurtful, and awful things to wear us down. Someone dying from depression (suicide) and someone dying from a physical illness are not that different, they both eventually just wear away at our stamina. A friend of mine once said, “The only thing depression wants is to get you alone so it can have its way with you.” The most important thing we can do is to make sure that when anyone expresses fear, loneliness, or depression… let them know in some way that they are not alone and do not ever need to be.
Be a safe recipient of trust. For others and yourself.
“The Armchair Tarot Reader” by Laura Pensar is a quick-start guide for those interested in bringing the Tarot into their lives. The free booklet covers:
- Getting Started. Instructions for a “Daily Focus Draw” practice are included to help you begin gaining the benefits of working with Tarot from the start!
- Brief history of Tarot and explanation of its structure to help you learn the card meanings more quickly.
- Index of card meanings. Quick and simple reference to use as a starting point for your Tarot study.
- Advice for seeking a professional reader.
- Learning to read for yourself.
- Caring for your deck, a brief glossary of common terms, and background information about myself and my shop.
“The Armchair Tarot Reader” is a reference to introduce you to the Tarot and help you start working with your deck in a simple and peaceful way.
My go-to spread is all about the present. No surprise, given that I believe wholeheartedly that the present is “where it’s at.” You can’t look at a map and get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Your present is where your past and your future meet in one fantastic spark of a moment. Your present is where the magic happens.
This past weekend I read cards for patrons of the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Reading at these types of events is always an interesting mix: the querants range from Tarot regulars and enthusiasts to absolute skeptics and people just looking for something fun to do at the festival.
Given the broad range of querants, the opening exchange is really crucial. I need to know what it is they’re expecting, if anything, and their overall comfort level with the process. Inevitably there were many who, when asked, “Is there anything in particular you’d like to focus on today?” answered, “No, just the future. What’s going to happen this year?” These were also the ones who would not divulge any information about themselves, waiting to be convinced of the validity of a Tarot reading. So, I would proceed with the reading, and about halfway to two-thirds of the way through they would be hooked. Sometimes they’d actually say as much, other times it was a subtle uncomfortable shift of weight until the end when they’d shake their heads in disbelief and shake my hand, and a couple times jaws were dropped. Synchronicity can really knock you off balance if you’re not used to it.
There is something far more powerful and awe-inspiring about gaining clarity over your present circumstances than about generalities of a vague and hazy future. In my view, predictions not anchored heavily to an examination of the present are useless. Just as your route on that map depends upon where you are starting, the future depends largely on what is happening now. The past is fixed, the future is just an idea, the present is workable.
I bought my first Smith-Waite deck when I was twelve years old… and I’ve been using Tarot as a meditation and self-exploration tool ever since. To be honest though, I could never reconcile the cultural association with Tarot as a “fortune-telling” method with the rational present-time-loving me. And so my card reading was something I did in private and kept largely quiet from all but a few. Last year, a friend of mine and fellow cartomancer, insisted that I let go of the “hippy dippy shame” and fully embrace what I’m good at… using the cards as a tool to help myself and others dig deep into self-exploration. So I did. And the response has been fantastic.
This summer a local designer and artist handed me a copy of his version of the High Priestess. Mark Allen’s cyanotype image is beautiful, contemporary, and haunting. The High Priestess was a reminder that while I love learning and I have a strong education underpinning my life experiences… I am first and foremost an intuitive creature. I thanked him for the timely message and his beautiful work.
I’m thrilled to be officially launching Moth and Candle.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.