An Hour in the Life of Tarot Reader Karen Bentley


Who: Karen Bentley
What: Owner, Karen Bentley Tarot
When: 6pm, Wednesday August 22
Where: Cactus Grille, 800 Allens Ave., Providence
Why: I’m a sucker for all things mystical

Karen Bentley Tarot is a one-woman show. The self-proclaimed “tarotpreneur” makes a living by reading tarot cards. Similar to the standard 52-card deck, a tarot deck features four suits; in place of a spade or a club, however, you might find a cup or a sword. Magicians, emperors and fools run rampant. Oh, and you should probably watch out for that pesky devil card.

I spot Karen in the back room of Cactus Grille. She’s draping a table with a swatch of wispy leopard fabric in preparation for her monthly Manicures and Margaritas event, featuring $10 tarot card readings, $6 express manis and $5 drink specials. As my late grandmother practiced tarot, my interest in the esoteric runs deep. I park it beside Karen in the circular red booth.

She’s a beautiful lady, with eyes that smile even when her lips stay unmoving. “I’m an ethical reader,” Karen explains after I recite a few of the past tarot-based predictions that never quite materialized. I was supposed to meet my future husband last September! “I don’t ‘cast the mark,’ she says. “That’s usually bad news for people that approach the tarot with misguided expectations.”

I shuffle the deck, concentrating – as instructed – on the topic I craved insight on: romance. “At these events I do a seven-card horseshoe spread,” she explains. Satisfied after a minute of shifting the cards back and forth, I randomly choose seven and hand them over. She arranges them neatly. “The cards tell a story,” she says, “and they must be read in conjunction with the others.”

The 78-card tarot deck can be broken up into two parts: major arcana (22 cards without suits) and minor arcana (56 cards containing the tarot suits of swords, wands, pentacles and cups). Karen’s eyebrows raise up when she notices the abundance of cups. “The suit of cups pertains to your emotional life,” she explains. “It confirms the nature of your question.” We were off to a good start.

My first card (past) is a four of cups; a young man sits under a tree looking bored. “This indicates apathy and indifference in your former romantic relationships, or in terms of the one person you’re thinking about specifically.” True… on both counts. In the second spot (present) sat a five of pentacles. “This card represents feeling rejection, losing love, being on the outside looking in.” Ding, ding, ding!

Before proceeding to card three (future), Karen made sure to clarify her non-predictive reading style. “I view the tarot as a catalyst for introspection and creative problem solving,” she says, explaining that she’s not about to reveal my future but rather give me some factors to be mindful of. The third card, Ace of Swords, indicates my ability to make decisions and cut through confusion.

The card in fourth position (what to do) was The Tower; it was in flames, with shadowy people jumping to their deaths. Gulp. “The Tower represents crisis, a bad omen.” Sensing my worry – I have a terrible poker face – she continues: “Spiritually, you could just need to get rid of baggage.” The cards couldn’t be any more clear — I needed to make the decision to move on, and then do it.

We then discuss external influences: card five, the nine of cups, indicated that I was satisfied with all other aspects of my life. Very true. Then onto my hopes and fears: card six, the three of swords, illustrates sorrow of the mind. “Perhaps the best course of action is to cut your losses,” she says. Sometimes you have to make choices you don’t want to; through sadness comes closure.

Finally, we move onto card seven, the outcome. “Ah, The World.” This card represents the ending to a cycle, or a pause before the next one begins. Karen looks up and straight at me. Her eyes are smiling again. “This is a card of actualization.” It embodies completeness, consciousness, cognizance and content. She wasn’t predicting my future, but allowing me to envision my success.

The room is beginning to buzz, the list of people waiting for their own tarot readings growing longer by the minute. As I stand, I realize I’m relieved that she hasn’t predicted my date of death, or of meeting “the one,” or of anything I’d be waiting for complacently to happen. My time with Karen reminded me of what I knew in my heart — dreams don’t come true through passivity.

Karen created Tarot On Your Feet, a tarot reading workshop. Check out the November issue of Providence Monthly to see how I fare at the craft in our monthly PM Experiment column.


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