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Would you heed life advice from a pack of cards? Many Milwaukeeans do, says this Shorewood tarot reader.

“To read tarot cards, you have to [think like] a therapist and withhold judgment,” says Theresa Reed, a tarot reader in Shorewood. Being tight-lipped also helps. In the 36 years or so she’s been doing this, Reed has heard plenty of confessions about love affairs and petty crimes, but she’s not naming names.

A deck of tarot cards contains four suits and “trump” characters such as The Fool, The Hermit and Wheel of Fortune – that purport to explain life’s mysteries.

People often lay their personal questions at the feet of readers such as Reed because they’re too emotionally invested in the situation to view potential outcomes when analyzing the cards on their own, she argues. And in case you’re envisioning a member of a carnival crew – with crystal balls, wild hair and theatrical flair – you’re not alone. “Back in the day, people were disappointed I wasn’t wearing a costume,” she says.

But how did her livelihood come to depend on a pack of cards? Growing up in a small Wisconsin town, Reed struggled with feeling “different” until she was 15, when she met a friend’s mother who studied tarot cards. While on a family trip, Reed snapped up a pack of her own and, she says, “connected with it right away.” She fled the state for New York City in her early 20s, but returned a year later when her father fell ill. To make ends meet, she picked up bartending in Milwaukee. Terrible at mixing drinks, she was assigned to the dead shifts at the bar. To pass time, she’d pull out her cards and read for patrons, which led to private readings in homes.

In 2011, she hired a website designer and embraced social media. “My business exploded – it turned on its head overnight,” she says. Today most of her readings are by phone ($65 per half hour) or over email ($35 per question), and she especially enjoys offering advice to entrepreneurs, millennials and teens. Some of her clients are from the same family and, she says, pass her advice through generations. When she’s not reading, she teaches at Inner Divinity Yoga, which offers classes with Eminem music between poses.

In November, she published The Tarot Coloring Book after an audience member in a workshop invited her to collaborate. The book illustrates different cards – the Major Arcana (life lessons and the bigger picture), Minor Arcana (day-to-day life themes) and Court cards (symbolizing people in our lives) – and offers tips on reading them. It’s the perfect complement to her online courses, podcasts and mentorship of other readers. In addition, she recently hosted a tarot-themed dinner. Each course at the event was paired with a tarot card (the first pairing was “The Fool” card with a charcuterie board) and Reed provided a conversation prompt (for the “Ace of Wands” card: “What gets you fired up?”). The 22 seats sold out within hours.

Ultimately, she warns, the cards can only foretell so much. She tells clients to use her advice “as a touchstone”; if the cards say you’ll meet a handsome man, don’t sit home watching Netflix.

“The cards tell a story,” she says, “but you write the ending.” ◆

‘Wild Cards’ appears in the April 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 3, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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