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.

If you’d like to learn how to read tarot cards for yourself and others, our Learn to Read Tarot video course is a great place to start. You’ll get hours of instruction and loads of free, downloadable resources that will bring you from complete beginner to confidently laying and reading your first spreads in less time than you probably ever thought possible. It’s self-paced and the complete course is just $9.99!

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