Magic, Occult, Tarot, Witchcraft

Is It Ethical To Read Someone’s Tarot Cards Without Their Knowledge or Permission?

Alone at the table, you shuffle your cards and focus your intention. You sat down intending to lay a spread for yourself, but can’t get your mind off of the person you’re romantically interested in, or the annoying neighbor who you wish would move, or the rival coworker who’s up for the same job. You think how easy it would be to just pull a card or two for a little insight into that person and they’d never be the wiser.

Every reader must define their own ethical boundaries, and there are a lot of nuances and layers to this question.

So, is it wrong to perform a reading on someone without that person’s knowledge or permission (also known as a third-party reading)? Well, every reader must define their own ethical boundaries, and there are a lot of nuances and layers to this question.

What is a Third-Party Tarot Reading?

First, let’s clarify the difference between a third-party reading and a third-party who is indirectly part of someone else’s reading (let’s call that an Indirect Reading).

A Third-Party Reading is one that takes place without the subject’s knowledge or permission.

An Indirect Reading is when someone is indirectly included in someone else’s reading because of their relationship with the querant (the person being read for). For example, if someone asks, “What do I need to know about my relationship with my partner?” the ‘partner’ in question will inevitably become a part of that reading – it can’t be avoided. However, the reading should be focused exclusively on the querant and how the querant reacts to the relationship – not on the partner’s perspectives or actions.

Are Third-Party Readings Unethical?

It depends on who you ask, but for me and my personal code of ethics, the answer is yes — it is wrong to intentionally lay a spread about a specific person without their knowledge or permission. And, in all likelihood, reading someone’s cards without their knowledge (and therefore without their input) will result in wildly inaccurate conclusions.

Ask Yourself Why You Want to Secretly Read Another Person

I believe that in many cases, at the heart of the temptation to lay a spread for someone without their knowledge is a desire for control over, or a leg up on, that other person. Not cool, in my opinion.

Tarot is neither an exact science, nor does it predict the future. It’s a tool to illuminate possible paths based on the actions the querant takes. Laying a spread for someone without their knowledge is all about you and what you want, not about providing insight or guidance for the benefit of the person you’re reading for.

Laying a spread for someone without their knowledge is all about you and what you want, not about providing insight or guidance for the benefit of the person you’re reading for.

Ask yourself, how accurate could it possibly be to read for someone who isn’t participating in — or even aware of — the reading? In that case you would be reading in a vacuum — relying 100% on your own perception (right or wrong) of that person, with no input from them. Any bias you have for or against that person will bleed into your interpretation of the cards.

The Fortune Teller, engraving circa 1718

Let’s take a look at some reasons a reader might have for poking around in someone else’s private inner life.

Reading New People In Your Life

I once read in a tarot forum that a reader wanted to lay a spread for a person they had just met as a way of “getting to know them.” To my mind, this is cutting corners in one-on-one communication — trying to get a sneak peek at another’s inner self without doing the work of building trust and friendship.

Human relationships are delicate and fragile things. We reveal ourselves and our experiences to others as we gain trust in them. If we wanted everyone to know everything about us upon first meeting, we’d all carry around copies of our life histories, like a resume for potential friendship. Even those of us who claim to be open books, still hold dear some mysteries about ourselves.

Reading Celebrities or Other Famous People

Before the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, celebrities were called “stars.” Stars are things that are beautiful, shiny, and well out of reach. We can admire their glow from afar. If we got up close and personal with a astronomical star, we’d probably be disappointed to learn that it was just a luminous ball of gasses, without much real substance.

Celebrities (including actors and musicians) are just people whose job it is to sell tickets or products by entertaining us. Just because they post pictures of their lunch on Instagram, it doesn’t mean we have an open invitation into their whole lives. They’re human beings who have the same right to their own private inner world as the rest of us do. So, while it might be tempting to know what makes your fan-crush tick, ask yourself this: even if you could do an accurate reading on someone you’ve never met, would you really want to know? And, why do you believe you have a right to that information?

Reading Your Love Interest

If you’re doing a reading about love and relationships, a third party will inevitably be part of that equation. But, your exploration should be limited to the part that relates directly to you. It’s okay to ask, “What do I need to know about my relationship with…?” But, you should probably refrain from asking, “What is that other person’s deepest secret?”

Reading the Crystal, 1910 from the NYPL digital collection

It’s okay to ask, “What do I need to know about my relationship with…?” But, you should probably refrain from asking, “What is that other person’s deepest secret?”

A good relationship reading should help you decide what action you need to take to reach your relationship goals. The “getting to know them” part is both the hard work, and the joy, of relationships. Don’t try to cut corners to gain the advantage or control over your love interest. And, if that is your goal, then that should tell you a lot about why your relationships aren’t playing out the way you want them to.

Reading Family Members

I once did readings for an animal rescue charity. It was a very long night, and reading for multiple people in one stretch is very draining. As the night wore on, I sometimes forgot the part of my introduction where I tell people (especially those who’ve never had a reading) that I don’t answer legal or medical questions. See my Code of Ethics.

That night, I got so many questions about health. Most were about the querant’s own health, but one person asked about a loved one. It was clear that they had concerns about their loved one, and they were very disappointed when I declined. In this case, I believe that the querant had only love, concern, and best intentions behind their question, but I just could not (and would not) do it. I simply stated my policy about answering medical questions and answered a different question. But it’s really a bigger, philosophical issue: another person’s secrets are theirs to reveal — or not — when and if they are ready. And yes, that includes your children, parents, and siblings.

… another person’s secrets are theirs to reveal — or not — when and if they are ready.

When my father got cancer, he knew his diagnosis long before he told the family. He was still looking physically well when he organized a family get-together. There were no outward signs of what was going on in his body. We ate, and laughed, and had cocktails — and still I knew something was very wrong. It took a full year for him to reveal his illness. In the meantime, I stayed out of his head and away from the cards when it came to what I felt in my gut was a problem. It was his story to tell — and he told it when he was ready.

But, What about the “Bad Guys”?

Debates on this topic often come around to people who claim they want to do covert third-party tarot readings because: “I want to know if my partner is cheating on me!” or “I think this person is hurting someone else!” or “I’m pretty sure they’re talking shit about me behind my back.” and so on.

My answer to these arguments is, “check in with yourself first.”

  1. The spread you lay for each of the example dilemmas above should be about you and the action you take.
  2. Ask yourself, how would the outcome of the reading influence whether or not you take action? Should it? Are you using the reading to get the courage to do something you already know you should do, or as an excuse not to do it?
  3. You probably already have an inkling that something is wrong and requires action. Check out our post How to Get the Best Tarot Reading Ever! to learn more about the motivation behind the questions we ask in a tarot reading.

Intuition Vs. Psychic Spying

Most intuitive or empathetic people have a knack for reading people. We pick up on subtle cues like body language, voice inflection, and word choice. But, there are times when an intuitive’s abilities go far beyond simply being observant. I can’t count the number of times someone close to me has said, “Stay out of my head!” A common scenario is that I’m sitting quietly with a loved one and a random thought pops into my head — seemingly out of the blue. And, when I voice that thought the person says, “I was just thinking that!” That’s intuition.

Psychic spying, on the other hand, is when you intentionally concentrate your energy on poking around in another person’s thoughts. And, for me, that’s not okay. I think of it as a Golden Rule situation — I don’t want anyone invading my thoughts, so I don’t go around doing it to others.

I think of it as a Golden Rule situation — I don’t want anyone invading my thoughts, so I don’t go around doing it to others.

Is It Ever Okay?

Yes. Well, kind of. I believe it’s okay to include an absent third party in a reading only as they relate to the person being read for (whether that’s a client, a friend who’s sitting across from you, or yourself). In fact, most spreads include references to other people in the querant’s life. For example, if you’re doing a love or relationship reading, there can’t help but be a third party involved – absent or present. But, to be clear, that third-party is not the focus of the reading. They’re just a supporting character.

Ethical Third-Party Readings

In the example above, a person (the querant) has explicitly, and with their knowledge, asked you to do a love or relationship reading for them. In the course of the reading, there will be references to the other party. But the reading should be focused on the relationship as it relates to the querant.

As a tarot card reader, you must always keep your focus on the person being read for — whether they’re physically sitting across from you in person, meeting with you over video chat, or being read for through email or other distance means.

So, what if the cards indicate that the absent third party (i.e. the querant’s love interest) has some issues? You must focus on how those issues might affect the querant, rather than using it as a window into the other person. For example, instead of saying, “The cards indicate that the person you’re interested in has suffered great loss and trauma and has trust issues,” you might say, “The cards indicate that you will probably have to put some extra effort into earning that person’s trust.”

What do You Want to Learn?

Have questions about witchcraft, divination, or other metaphysical topics? Let us know in the comments, tag us on social media, or shoot us an email.


5 thoughts on “Is It Ethical To Read Someone’s Tarot Cards Without Their Knowledge or Permission?”

  1. I did a blind reading last night… initially meant to do one for myself but decided to just follow the deck instead of choosing my signifier card (which is something I typically like to do.. have a card that I can focus on who and what the reading is about). My first card was Justice Major and it just so happens that the guy I’m talking to is a Libra. Naturally, him being on my mind so often lately, I thought this reading could be his. I did not purposefully do the reading for him… I just went through the cards and wrote down the reading (to be interpreted by him if he wants it). Do you think this crosses ethical boundaries- I honestly did not purposefully do his reading but it was a very intense and interesting reading do I just went with it (and figured he could interpret it himself). Is there something wrong or unethical about blind readings?

  2. I know it’s unethical… but man have I had the urge to do a reading on a specific celebrity that I’ve looked up to for about 5-6 years since I was a teenager. I won’t do it… but that temptation is there. There was a conspiracy where a couple (a handful. It couldn’t have been more than five) of this celebrity’s haters were accusing him of being a creep to young girls (I think there were only two who accused him- and both were 18+. Still young in comparison to his age though- which is a couple decades older), (I’ve never been sure how accurate their accusations are, because they’re specifically part of a hate group dedicated to him. This hate group exists largely because these people involved in the hate group are fans of a show that he’s known for being a part of, and they are part of a small minority of people that HATE him for joining the show- like they accuse him and his character of ruining the show because said character was added to the show, and the show “went downhill” after he joined. The show definitely didn’t go downhill after he joined, but everyone is entitled to their own opinions. The point is that they hate him because he joined the show that they are diehard fans for, and I personally think their accusation was made because they wanted him kicked off the show). Because I really looking up to this person, I’m constantly tempted to do a reading and see if I should be a fan of this person anymore- or see if the person that I’m looking up to is really worth looking up to. It drives me crazy if I take the time to think about it- but I know that it’s wrong. I’m also not really all that sure if I want to know the answer. I think it would crush me. Legitimately so. I know I shouldn’t care that much about a celebrity- especially someone that I’ve never and probably will never meet- but I can’t help it in this case. I had a crush on him in high school, and he got me through a lot of dark times (whether he knew it or not). So yeah… But I know that it doesn’t matter my reasoning or why I want to do it. I know that it would be wrong of me to do it, and therefore, I refrain. Still sucks not knowing though. It really sucks. ):

    1. Also, my name isn’t actually Alan, and I’m a 22 year old woman. I just realized how strange it would be to comment as “Alan” and have people thinking a grown man wrote this- lol. Alan is just a name I think sounds nice, I’m kind of attached to it, and I want to stay largely anonymous when I leave replies online- lol.

  3. Oh- and my name isn’t actually Alan. I’m a 22 year old woman. I just like the name Alan, and I want to maintain a certain level of anonymity when I post replies online. I just realized it might be strange if I commented as “Alan” and people thought I was a grown man commenting about a topic like that… or maybe it wouldn’t be- I don’t know!

  4. I found your article on the ethics of third-party tarot readings to be thought-provoking and engaging. The ethical considerations you raised regarding the practice of reading tarot cards for others outside of personal or professional relationships are crucial in maintaining integrity and respect within the tarot community.

    Your exploration of the potential challenges and ethical dilemmas that arise when conducting third-party tarot readings demonstrates a deep understanding of the responsibilities and boundaries that tarot readers must navigate. The emphasis on consent, confidentiality, and the importance of empowering the individual seeking the reading resonated strongly with me.

    To further enhance the article, it would be valuable to provide practical guidelines or a code of ethics that tarot readers can adhere to when engaging in third-party readings. Offering clear recommendations on maintaining client confidentiality, ensuring informed consent, and providing ongoing support or resources for clients could serve as a valuable resource for both new and experienced tarot readers.

    Additionally, incorporating real-life examples or case studies that illustrate the ethical considerations you discussed would help readers understand how these principles can be applied in practice. Sharing stories of how ethical dilemmas were approached and resolved by tarot readers would provide a relatable and insightful perspective on navigating the complexities of third-party readings.

    Furthermore, addressing the potential power dynamics between the tarot reader and the client and discussing strategies for maintaining a balanced and respectful relationship would deepen the conversation. Exploring topics such as establishing clear boundaries, actively seeking client feedback, and ensuring ongoing consent throughout the reading process would provide practical tools for ethical tarot practice.

    In conclusion, your article on the ethics of third-party tarot readings brings awareness to an important and often overlooked aspect of tarot reading. By expanding on the practical guidelines, sharing case studies, and addressing power dynamics, you can provide readers with a comprehensive guide to conducting ethical and responsible tarot readings for clients.

    Thank you for shedding light on this important topic, and I look forward to reading more of your insightful articles in the future.

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