BARRY LEIGHTON discovers the hidden mysteries in a little pack of cards.

“Are you nervous?” asks Joy Hanley, emptying an artfully crafted pack of Rider-Waite cards onto the table. “People can be. I make them a nice pot of tea to help put them at ease.”

Crammed with intriguing imagery and rampant symbolism – swords, hearts, wands, knights, heroes, villains, beasts – the vividly illustrated cards, designed more than a century ago, are mini works-of-art.

I am instructed to give them a good shuffle while Joy pours the tea. Then, from 78 cards, she draws ten from the top of the pack, lays them down and begins to reveal what fate has in store for me. Or at least, what it could have!

This is the world of Tarot, the art of prophesying the future, or divining answers and enlightenment from a set of intricately-patterned playing cards.

Its advocates range from Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, to the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley. It has been espoused for the best part of 500 years by mystics, philosophers, psychics, therapists and those who have dabbled in the dark stuff.

Mother-of-two Joy is none of the above but a senior advisor at the Nationwide Building Society in Swindon who has been using Tarot cards for more than 15 years.

She gives regular readings to friends and as a result of their enthusiastic feedback has now launched a Facebook site, The Joy of Tarot, offering 30-minute readings for £10.

“The response has been really encouraging,” she says. “I did quite a few readings during the first week after the Facebook page appeared. I really enjoyed meeting new people who I hope will come back again.”

An air of black magic and the occult, of the Dennis Wheatley/Edgar Allan Poe variety, has for decades pervaded Tarot – at least in the public mind… and was mirrored by young Joy McNally’s first experience with the cards.

“I was about 13 or 14 and my older brother Andrew, who was into art and design, was drawing some Tarot cards. Mum went absolutely mad when she saw and said she wouldn’t have them in the house.

“She had the idea of someone picking up the Death card and all of us being consigned to hellfire. She must have thought that the cards were the tools of the anti-Christ.”

However, it was the sheer quality of the artwork which years later drew Joy to Tarot. “I thought they were beautiful – I still do. I loved the imagery. I was relieved when I didn’t spontaneously combust when I actually got a pack.”

Immersing herself in their intricate, powerful and enigmatic images Joy became increasingly fascinated and embarked on a correspondent’s course on how to use them.

“I found it all very compelling. I wanted to learn as much as possible about the cards.”

When she mentioned her interest to a friend the response was: “Ooh, do a reading for me.” She has been doing them ever since.

Meredith Martin, the heroine of Kate Mosse’s evocative 2007 best seller Sepulchre stumbled upon a mysterious Tarot reader on the site of a long demolished esoteric book-store in the backstreets of Paris.

Joy’s semi-detached house in Wroughton is easier to find. Readings are given in the downstairs children’s playroom.

With her chalky-white hair fiercely bunched into a red head scarf, Joy certainly looks the part as she lays the cards in a Celtic Cross spread for a comprehensive reading.

“The first thing I always tell people is that nothing is written in stone. We are in charge of our own fate. The cards are an indication of the direction you could be taken or of things that could happen. You have it in your power to change things.

“The cards can be taken as thumbs-up as to where your life is going or a warning or a caution as to what could be in store. They could also be saying ‘be prepared.’”

Joy says that many people seek answers or guidance through Tarot in relation to The Big Three: romance, money and work, although other subjects such as family and travel are also of keen interest.

The order in which she lays them relates to different aspects or issues of the person’s life, such as what’s happening at the moment, what’s crossing their mind and directions they are likely to be steered.

“Nice,” says Joy encouragingly as she places the Ace of Cups before me; and then, “another nice card” – the Two of Cups. They do not, happily, indicate that I am drinking too much.

“Everything is going nicely,” declares Joy – which is a relief to me – as she lays the final cards.

Among other things, I am told that I am soon likely to sign some important documents, that I have been involved in some self-deception of late and that celebrations are on the horizon.

Something interesting is about to happen work-wise too, and also at home.

Oh yes – and I have to be careful with the car or something less than delightful might happen. “It might just mean you have to top up the oil,” says Joy.

Everyone fears the infamous Death card, but this often refers to a conclusion in an aspect of one’s life rather than a dire warning about an imminent shuffle off the old mortal coil.

However, the cards Joy doesn’t particularly enjoy dealing are the Three and Ten of Swords which indicate conflict or betrayal, or The Tower, which suggests a potentially explosive “bolt from the blue.”

“I always try and put across a positive stance on these things though,” she says.

Joy adds:”I want people to be sceptical.

“By seeking a reading you are questioning everything. It does amaze me, though, how accurate the cards can be.”

 Joy can be contacted on 07909 834374 or at As well as individual readings she offers group readings where the host/hostess has a free reading and gift vouchers for a “a present with a difference.”

A whole new outlook could rest on a shuffle


  • Tarot is a set of 78 cards each featuring different symbolic pictures.



  • A standard deck comprises 22 cards called the major arcana or trumps, and four suits of 14 cards called the minor arcana or pip cards.



  • They can be used for divination and fortune-telling, meditation, self-improvement, as a tool for understanding… and even card games.



  • Theories abound on their origins – from ancient Egypt to mythical Atlantis.



  • Historical evidence, however, points to the courts of Northern Italy in the mid 15th Century.



  • There are numerous types of Tarot decks with different artists interpreting their symbols in differing ways.