How to read tarot cards

"Well I can see that your sister is about to be married and it looks as if you've got to move house" is Michele's opening gambit. I try to nod nonchalantly, but my astonishment that a complete stranger can know these things about me shines throug h. "Good aren't I" she quips. From her tiny office in London's Covent Garden Michele Knight has built up a formidable reputation as a top notch Tarot card reader. She continues to reel off fact after fact, most of which, with the benefit of hindsight I can say have come true Both Michele and Ernie James, tarot reader to the stars, agree that "it's all in the cards". The cards on which they both rely are a 72 card deck , the origins of which are unclear. The deck roughly resembles an ordinary pack of playing cards, numbere d cards in four suits called the minor arcana, and 22 picture cards, called the major arcana. It is within these 22 that the "magic" lies. These picture cards, often beautifully illustrated, apparently represent the circle of life. They have names like T he Lovers, the Tower, The Star, Death or the Hanged Man and are central to any interpretation. " Each card can have many different meanings, on many different levels" James explains, "I tell everyone I'm training, 'Look at the card and tell me what you see', but it's no bloody good if they don't know what they're looking at." James stresses that under no circumstances must the cards be taken at face value. "They operate on many levels," he explains. "There's the material, what the figure is actually doing in the picture; the spiritual, what the picture brings to mind andthe numerology. Even the colours used in the card can be important." Once the client has made a selection, Knight reveals that all is not necessarily what it seems. "People are often frightened when the they pick the Death card," she explains, " but it can be really good, signalling the end of something and the beginning of something new." "Each card will have a different meaning depending on where it appears in the spread" James insists. The spread is the other essential tool of the Tarot reader. The client is asked to shuffle the pack and then lays them out in a specific pattern. James has pioneered his own spread called the Astro and according to him, it's the only one which can some up the whole of a person's life. In the Astro spread twelve cards are picked and each represents a different part o fthat individuals life: for ex ample the sixth card concerns work, the seventh partnership, the 10th career, the 11th friendships and so on. Knight uses a more traditional spread called the Celtic Cross. But for more in-depth readings, especially concerning a specific question from the client, both James and Knight will employ more sophisticated spreads. " Reading the tarot is an instinctive thing," Knight says. "You open yourself up to it and try not to let your intellect get in the way." Both James and Knight run courses to train aspiring tarot readers and while recognising that some people are naturals, they admit that anyone can be trained to do it. But while James reckons he can train someone up in a weekend, Knight advocates a long er apprenticeship. "When someone comes to you wanting their tarot read, they're putting a lot of trust in you," she says. "Unqualified readers can do a lot of harm." James, whose client list is said to include royalty, is about to publish his own Tarot manual (including a CD-rom version, complete with built-in predictor) and he's just designed three new decks. Meanwhile, Knight has just finished the pilot for a late-night chat-show. Perhaps James and his cards can reveal its fate.

Michele Knight, 60 Neal St, London, WC2 0171-497 2423 Ernie James can be contacted on 0171-284 0022