My Thoughts on Tarot Certification

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So, the Tarot certification question has come up again, as it periodically does, and since some people have asked me directly (some others indirectly, and some not at all), here’s what I think:

I’m not much for Tarot certification as a general idea.  There are deck-specific certifications offered by their creators – for example, through Tarot Media Company,  I have the pleasure of sponsoring James Wanless’ Voyager Certification Intensive series each year in San Francisco. If you want a complete immersion in the Voyager Tarot and James’ approach to reading, there is no better way to learn it.  Other authors offer intensives in their decks or systems, and what better way to learn than from the person who created it? Realistically, how often are you going to have that kind of opportunity?

However, before you seek general certification as a Tarot reader, or Tarot professional, or whatever you’re being offered, it’s important to decide what benefit you want to receive from the certification process.  Tarot knowledge? self confidence? the ability to put impressive-looking initials after your name?  a professional image?  Be honest with yourself about your goal, and then decide whether certification is the best way to achieve it – or if it’s truly something you want to achieve.

Is a Tarot reader with a certificate and no real experience actually a better reader than someone with years of experience and no certificate?

Would a business license (likely required anyway) give you more professional credibility than a Tarot certification?  Tarot-To-Go receives more bookings than many other service providers in the area because we’re a registered California corporation and a licensed San Francisco business.  Those two pieces of paper provide more reassurance to clients who are new to Tarot than would a whole series of Tarot certifications. They may not be able to appreciate a credential from a Tarot association or school, but they appreciate the professional solidity and accountability conveyed by our corporate identity.

If you decide to pursue certification, choose the certifiying person or institution carefully.  Is this someone whose work you respect? Is it someone who is known – and has a positive reputation – with other people you respect?  Can you talk with others who’ve done the certification course to find out their experience with it?

What is their basis for offering certification?  What makes them qualified to judge whether someone is a good Tarot reader? Too many certification course providers remind me of the line in  “The Garden of Allah”, Don Henley’s song: “I am an expert witness because I say I am”.  While Henley included this in his satire of the American legal process, there are far too many Tarot authorities out there who are authorities because they say they are, rather than having established credibility through their own work.

There are a number of credible teachers and institutions, but you will need to do thorough research before deciding which ones, if any, with whom to pursue your studies.

Consider the financial impact. What are the fees? Can you pay them without creating undue hardship in other areas of your life?  Is there a finite term to the course, or is at ever-upward spiral of advanced courses – with an ever-upward spiral of advanced fees?

What is the time commitment?  What are you going to cut out of your schedule to make the time? Each day has only 24 hours, and you still have to eat, sleep, commute, work, walk the dog, do the laundry, and have a life.

Or, if you just want to do it because it makes you feel good, or gives you access to a teacher whose work you admire, or it gives you the confidence to start or develop your professional reading practice – great! Go for it!  Make the most of it!

However, if you decide to pursue certification, and can make it work financially and temporally, you need to be realistic about that Tarot certification will and won’t do for you.

It will give you a structured approach to learning Tarot.

It won’t give you the life experience to make sense of the knowledge.

It will give you the specific perspective of the person or persons who designed the certification course on what Tarot is, how it works, and how they think you should work with it.

Someone else can tell you what a card, symbol, or archetype means to *them*, but they can’t dictate to you what it means for you.

Only you know what it means for you.

Certification won’t give you The One Truth About Tarot.

If they insist that theirs is the Only One True Right Way To Read Tarot, leave.

Tarot contains infinite Truths.

The only thing that is True in Tarot is what is True for you.

If certification helps you find what is True for you, then do it.

Just don’t expect certification to take the place of experience.

Do not mistake theoretical knowledge for living wisdom.

Certification can give you the knowledge.

Only your courage in living your life can give you the wisdom.

12 Responses to “My Thoughts on Tarot Certification”

  1. Excellent article here, because you present a number of different things to consider before pursuing certification. I think the most important part of your article is clarifying your purpose for doing so. I think, at least for me, the biggest issue I have with doing tarot on my own is knowing where you’re at, at least in comparison with peers. At some point I’m sure it will occur to people that they may want to open a shop and charge for their readings. Within the tarot realm, there’s really no way to know when that time is right, it’s kind of ambiguous. I guess I’m so used to having a structured layout of learning, cause there you know how far you’ve come, how close you are to reaching a certain stage.

    I guess the main thing I’m trying to say is that I am looking for some sort of way to find out what’s the bare minimum. Not so I can stop there, but as a guideline, to know where I am in relation to it. 🙂

  2. Hi, Dan – Awareness is the first step in the right direction. My frustration with some people who pursue certification is that they want it to substitute for actually reading. The first time a client comes unglued at your table with grief or anger, no certificate in the world is going to help. (Most of them are too stiff to be a good tissue, although they probably rip to shreds quite nicely.)

    Structured learning is helpful – it’s a model we’re all familiar with, and it’s helpful to have a progressive approach to examining the layers of interpretation in Tarot. Like any theoretical training, however, practice is required. If the certification course doesn’t emphasize reading practice, go out and find people to practice with. Absolutely no one completes the classroom training in Driver’s Education and expects to get their license without actually driving a car first, so it’s not realistic to expect that a theory class alone will be sufficient for developing reading skills.

    As for knowing when you’re ready to do readings – you just do them. If having an objective third party (and how objective is someone you’re paying for an opinion?) declare you fit to do so will help, then I’d suggest asking a Tarot person whose opinion you respect (and who you aren’t paying) if you can give them a reading, with the understanding that they will give you honest feedback about whether – and how much – they would have paid for it. That will give you more information than you may want, but it can help you feel more confident about charging.

    Bare minimum: don’t use the book during a reading. See, wasn’t that easy? 🙂

  3. Well said! I wholeheartedly agree with what you say here 😉

    While I have the utmost respect for the majority of Tarot organisations, ANYONE who wanted to become, for example, a Free Reader for TABI would need to undergo the 25 mentored readings….regardless of their qualifications elsewhere.

    By the same token, if I wanted to gain certification in another Tarot organisation, I would expect to have to undergo their standard procedures/training/test.

    TABI members – trained/untrained are expected to work within our Code of Ethics. This Code is a minimum standard. Being a member of a recognised and respected group WILL give your sitter confidence.

    as it gives some assurance that there is an overseeing body to contact if a member’s reading is unethical 🙂

    Good post!


  4. Anastasia –

    You have some very good points here. I am in favor of certification for many reasons. However, I would like to see the certification process defined and standardized.

    I do not believe that state licensing equates with Tarot certification. I worked in the lab field for over 25 years, and we had a national certification, as well as state licensing.

    A certification organization provides a network for readers to reach out to, and it provides a platform for dealing with existing or proposed state laws regulating the Tarot reading industry.

  5. Hi Anastasia,
    Well said I totally agree with you. Good that you were brave enough to speak up considering you just got back from RS10 where certification is promoted heavily. It took me a long time to feel qualified to read for people and i’ve been making decks for nearly 25 years. Even with my own cards it’s only been in the past 10 years that I’ve felt really comfortable reading for others. Experience IS the best teacher.

  6. Hi, Bonnie – Thanks for the kind words. My biggest issue with certification is who sets the standards? What makes them more qualified than anyone else to determine what knowledge makes someone a good reader? Someone working with the Thoth deck isn’t using RWS associations, so how do you certify that person?

    Knowledge alone will not make someone a good reader. I’ve had some terrific readings from people who have had little formal instruction in Tarot. The least useful and least interesting reading I’ve ever had was from someone who had years of formal study and could recite all the numerological, astrological, and Kabbalistic associations for each card. However, they were not able to interpret that information in any way that applied to me or to my situation, it was just a recitation of generic information. Their certification had given them knowledge, but no skills at applying that knowledge.

    Certification may confer the acquisition of a body of knowledge, but knowledge alone does not a reader make. If certification focused solely on ability to recite associations, history, and technical knowledge, that would be one thing. But almost all certifications vouch for the person’s ability as a reader, and I think that’s far too subjective to fit neatly into a grading system.

  7. Thanks, Julie! Again, if people have clearly defined goals that certification can help them reach, terrific. If they simply want confidence in developing their reading techniques, I think it’s more useful to do readings. As you know, someone doesn’t learn to paint by reading about painting; they learn to paint by picking up a brush and seeing what happens when it touches canvas. It’s sometimes messy, and doesn’t always go exactly as planned – but nothing in life does. Pick up the cards from the table, clean up the spilled paint from the floor, and try again.

  8. Thanks, Ali! Certification as part of membership in an organization is another matter. If you agree with an organization’s philosophy and aims sufficiently to become a member, then it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that the certification would have value for you individually. Whether it has value for a client is beyond your control; again, I find our clients are more interested in whether we’re a legitimate business. That may be a US/UK cultural difference, which I think reflects interesting possible interpretations on each culture (placing faith in government accreditation vs. private accreditation – recourse in a court of law vs. sorting things out professionally).

  9. Everyone makes some excellent, excellent comments here. I guess the problem with certification lies in that tarot is so subjective, and so multi-faceted, it is nearly impossible to actually standardize any of it.

    It’s not too different from other stuff really. I spent several years as a personal trainer for fitness, and a lot of the certifications out there are standardized, but knowing all that stuff didn’t mean anything without applying it. Additionally, there were many people with loads of experience that were better trainers and had no classroom experience or certifications. In addition to this, though, I’ve seen many trainers out there who had years of experience, but they weren’t that great or effective. Something to ponder I guess, and I’m glad you made this article. 🙂

  10. Great post, Anastasia!

    For years, I resisted any Group aiming to certify me or even put on some “stamp of approval”.

    For one, I never knew who “these” people were! They were, especially, “no names”–they hadn’t written any Tarot books, weren’t known Tarot teachers, didn’t have personal websites…heck, they didn’t even include their picture!

    Why in the WORLD would I pay $ for some no-names to certify ME? And why would reading, say, the Celtic Cross (a spread I loathe and never use) as a part of certification quantify my experience (just as an example)?

    When Dax first asked me to head up the Tarot Guild’s Certification, I balked. I told him, “Uh, do you realize that 1. I’m against it and 2. I’m not certified by ANY organization?”


    But when Dax explained to me WHY some may want certification, I could see his point. I told him that in order for me to Chair a Certification Board and craft policies and tests, all Board Members will HAVE to be known to Tarot enthusiastsand a bio, as well as a picture of him/her, MUST be placed on the site.

    I believe in transparency and accountability, which is why this was so important for me (and a prerequisite for my agreeement to be the VP of Certification). Here’s a letter I crafted to let individuals know why Certification MAY be desirable by the Tarot Porfessional:

    We offered a lifetime certification at the Tarot Guild (one-time fee), as well as ongoing support by yours truly. We also have a Tarot Certification Group on the Guild and open Forums–it’s all public.

    Here’s our proces to apply for Certified Tarot Reader:

    Here’s our process to apply for Certified Tarot Master:

    As you can see, we require sworn affidavits for both attesting to 2 years (CTR) or 5 years (CTM) of reading experience. CTRs must complete a test I’ve created (multiple choice and essay), as well as a blind Tarot reading for one of my former clients (email, phone or chat–recorded for the Board’s evaluation). The only way the test is waived is if applicants have completed two courses of study: Tarot School (Amberstones) and my Tarot Classroom. Any other group or individuals who teaches a rigorous course on the cards are more than welcome to ask the Tarot Guild for consideration to be included in our approved-schools list.

    CTM must provide 20 References as to their body of work/influence from clients, colleagues or students in addition to the 5 year minimum reading requirement.

    All certified readers swear to uphold our Ethics, as well.

    As I say in my VP letter, lack of Certification in no way indicates a lack of talent, expertise or professionalism among Tarot Readers! However, for those who do desire Certification for whatever reason, we’re here to serve and help in any way possible.


    Janet Boyer
    VP Certification, The Tarot Guild

  11. Hi Anastasia!

    You have started quite a conversation about Certification and I think it is wonderful. I think any discussion about the subject, whether participants are for or against, is a good thing. I, of course, am for certification, and, as Bonnie said, for many reasons. I state most of them on our page, so I won’t repeat them all here.

    One of your concerns was “who sets the standards?” Well, let’s look at other professions: Medical Boards are made up of Physicians, the Bars are made up of Lawyers, Hypnotherapy Boards by Hypnotherapists. So they are bodies made up of your “peers” and highly qualified ones. And, as Janet points out, these people should be highly qualified and well-known to the Tarot Community.

    Your other objection seems to center around “testing” for Certification. Testing for “knowledge”, as you say, does not make a “good reader”. I agree, but that’s not what we are concerned with at the Guild or what we are looking for. We do “test”, because we feel applicants should have a basic knowledge of Tarot, at least for OUR certification. And whether or not someone is using Thoth or RWS or any other deck or any system, someone sitting for a reading will be able to tell if the reading is of professional standard (we use actual clients with actual issues in the process). However, the most important part of certification for the Guild is that applicants agree to uphold the highest in professional standards and our code of ethics, and sign an Affidavit to that effect.

    We are a professional organization, and at least for Guild certification, it’s about professional standards and ethics. We can’t control everything going on in the Tarot world and I would NOT be for universal regulation of the industry, but we can control quality with our own readers network and within the Guild professional membership at least. This is a service our professional members have asked for and just one of many we provide…

    Dax Carlisle, DD, CTM
    ~~President – The Tarot Guild

  12. A gifted intuitive reader can read the cards without having learned from those who’ve come before. Thats how I started… later I developed into a student of the Kabbalah. Similar process to an ear trained musician who later learns to read music.