Here’s an inside look at how one tarot reader in Utah works

Will Millar doesn’t dress the part, as he works to have ‘conversations,’ not just predictions.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Will Millar, Tarot card reader, holding one of his favorite cards, the "Temperance" card, at Crone's Hollow, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

Will Millar is the first to admit that he doesn’t fit the image of a tarot card reader.

“When I go to psychic fairs, with other readers there, there’s definitely a stylistic difference,” Millar said.

While others go for the image of a mystic — a purple turban, or a scarf tied around the head (like Esmerelda from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) — Millar, an ex-military man, wears jeans and a black t-shirt, exposing the tattoos that circle his upper arms. Sitting for his first reading recently at Crone’s Hollow, a “metaphysical supply store” in South Salt Lake, he was wearing socks and no shoes.

The room where Millar conducts readings, set apart from the rest of the shop, is accessed through a beaded curtain emblazoned with a large eye. It’s cozy inside: cushy armchairs, a long couch, warm yellow lamps, framed card prints on the wall. The table in the middle holds a box of tissues, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a plate with a stick of sage.

As the first client of the day entered — one of between 10 or 20 he sees in a week — Millar shuffled the deck a few times. He set the deck down, looked at the client, and leaned back in his chair.

“How would you like to start?” he asked.

Millar is a mythbuster, breaking down the misconceptions around tarot card reading itself. His readings are more conversational than prophetic, even when he closes his eyes and presses either of his hands to his temples.

On this day, his client said she was looking for guidance, to tie up loose ends while she moves into the next chapter of her life. Millar last saw her earlier in the summer, and this reading builds off the last one. She cut the deck in half — this process will repeat twice more later during the hourlong reading.

The “Death” card may not necessarily mean tragedy on the horizon, and “The Lovers” may not signify future romance. Context, Miller told his client, is everything. Any card pulled from the deck should be considered in relation to the others.

Neither seemed disturbed by the passing street noise as Millar asked questions, almost like a therapist would, listening and using the cards as guidance to give her advice. At the end, money was exchanged via Venmo, breaking the serenity that’s been built over the last hour. He encouraged her to eat and drink something after, to help her wind down.

Millar said he doesn’t know why he got drawn to tarot, but it’s always felt very natural to him, along with his interest in magic, yoga and witchcraft.

He got his first reading around when he was 19 and in the military: “There was nothing very special about the kid who was giving the readings — he was kind of a dope in a lot of ways — but he supposedly had this ability to read cards. He pulled out three cards and just called me on all my stuff in five minutes.”

Millar has been reading cards for others for 10 years. It started every once in a while, he said, followed by an “interesting” six-month period where he lost someone close to him.

“Whenever that happens, you kind of start asking those questions about who you are, and stuff like that,” he said. “I was working creatively as a writer, but I was getting more and more into this.”

Millar said he also remembers the first important reading he ever did. “It was for somebody who was in a personal crisis,” he said. “They were experiencing a very dark moment and asked ‘What do I do?’” They talked for an hour, and in that time, Millar said, it seemed to him like things got better for her.

“When I’m sitting with somebody,” he said, “we can talk about what that card makes them feel like more than me just saying ‘This is what it means’ and ‘This is what’s going to happen to you.’”

Tarot advice can seem vague enough to be able to mold to everyone’s experiences — but that’s part of the appeal. It’s a guide, not a prediction, and Millar said he aims to exemplify that. One of the biggest misconceptions around tarot, he said, is the idea that the cards dictate an inescapable fate.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) A deck of Rider-Waite tarot cards spread on a table at Crone's Hollow metaphysical shop on Sept. 19, 2022.

Conversations rather than predictions

When people dismiss tarot as pulling out some cards and talking about them, Miller said, “That’s the same way of saying you get to finish a painting by sitting in front of a piece of canvas” — he gestured to mimic swiping paint — “and doing this with different colors, and something comes out.”

“Reading the pictures tells you a story,” Millar said. “The speed at which you can read the many pictures that are laid out, depending on what kind of story you’re trying to tell, the faster you can put all those pieces of information together in varying combinations — the more completely you can tell somebody a given story in a certain amount of time.”

In a way, he said, the cards are playing him: He has to see the images and talk, but what he’s saying comes without thinking about it. “The more I stare at it, especially if someone is asking me a question, the more I can play off of that image.”

Of the different types of tarot decks, Millar said he uses the most recognizable one, the Rider-Waite deck. It’s made of 78 cards: 22 “major arcana” and 56 “minor arcana,” or “court” cards.

“The major arcana are the more interesting because they point to this esoteric meaning of the archetypal journey,” he said. “When somebody asks you questions, you can just see stuff. How? I don’t think I’ll ever know how it works. It just works, you know?”

For Millar, he said, the best readings are conversations.

“Every time somebody sits down with me, I want them to walk away a little bit better than they were when they started,” Millar said. “You can create a positive or negative impact on somebody with those ideas, so I think it’s important to be very careful about that when you’ve giving a reading.”

Observing Millar at work, there’s a therapeutic quality to his sessions, though he rebuts that idea. “I would never credit myself with being any sort of therapist, but I do try to create some sort of healing,” he said.

His busiest time of year, he said, is around Christmas — because a lot of people want to end the year knowing whether things will be OK, or know what people around them think about them.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Will Millar spreads a deck of Rider-Waite tarot cards on a table at Crone's Hollow metaphysical shop on Sept. 19, 2022.

True tarot vs. TikTok

On TikTok — particularly the subcultures of that platform known as TarotTok or WitchTok — the clips are abundant: “Your angels want you to hear this message, there are no hashtags no captions — it was meant to find you.” (The messages don’t mention how much TikTok’s algorithm, which takes into account viewer preferences, determines whether a message is meant to find you.)

How are those readings any different from the ones Millar gives?

Durriken Homewood, a store manager at Crone’s Hollow, wrote a book on how to read tarot cards. He said those TikTok tarot readings remind him of commercials for pharmaceuticals. “It’s a really quick overview that doesn’t teach you a whole lot,” he said.

True tarot, Homewood said, taps into psychiatrist Carl Jung’s idea of the “collective unconscious.” “You can pull out a deck of cards and tell yourself a story with pictures,” Homewood said, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re reading tarot.”

(For some readers, like Millar, it also comes down to which tarot scholars people study.)

Homewood said he thinks tarot continues to be intriguing — and has seen an exuberant resurgence on social media because “we have a fundamental need for story as a species.”

“Tarot helps us build those stories, either by taking a deeper look at our inner story or by expanding outward to learn a greater story about ourselves and the world in which we live,” he said.

And, instead of a sense of confirmation bias at play when it comes to tarot, Millar said the effectiveness of a reading ultimately relies on the health of the person receiving it.

Utah’s tarot culture

Tarot thrives in Utah, even with the dominance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a history of decrying witchcraft and stoking “Satanic panic” fears.

Tracey, of Tarot by Tracey, who is a Latter-day Saint, practiced all matters of mystic arts in Utah for 44 years, before moving to Tennessee.

When she first started reading tarot in Utah, she said, “people were kind of weird about it. They ran with magazines over their face and parked down the street before running up to the building, acting incognito because they were curious and wanted help, but didn’t want anybody to see them.”

But, moving into the ‘90s and early 2000s, she said, the art of tarot became accepted.

“You just have to figure out how to speak to people, instead of getting in their faces and combating people,” she said. “I always went at it like, ‘I get what you believe’ and ‘Why is it there has to be a big difference [between what you and I believe]?’”

In 2015, when he lived in Logan, Millar said he faced backlash — but never once he moved to Salt Lake City. Part of tarot’s appeal in such a religious driven community, he said, is a certain degree and need for “spiritual nourishment” fostered by people growing up with a belief in religion.

“A lot of people I sit down with are people who have been in the church for many years,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, they wake up to something fundamentally wrong with their own belief systems and how that relates to the church.”

For him, the best part of tarot is seeing how people light up during readings. Millar’s favorite card is the “Temperance” card. When you pair it with the “Tower” card, the two represent a “devastating act.”

The best way Millar can describe it is if someone is about to fail an important college class and is handed last-minute extra credit. “You get the lesson, but you also don’t get destroyed by the lesson, so it’s balanced,” he said. “It’s the card of miracle escapes.”

“There are certain readings where it’s very accurate,” Millar said. “It’s like if you ever play any kind of sport where you’re just sinking every shot. There’s something about being on point that feels electrifying.”

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