Reading Dan Buckingham, the Tarot Man

Photo by Xiaotong Zhou

Xiaotong Zhou

I first met Dan Buckingham in spring of 2017 at a time when I was frustrated and desperate for unconventional advice. While I was walking to the library, I saw a guy sitting on his “magical mat” and allegedly reading people’s minds.

I decided to try even though I thought tarot was nothing different from astrology, which is just a trick for the ignorant who naively believe their destiny is in the stars. However, Buckingham proved me wrong from the moment I sat down on his mat.

To start our reading, Buckingham correctly guessed I was born in the summer, and I was shocked since he hadn’t asked much before we started. Intrigued, I began to pay more attention.

I picked three cards, and he explained their meanings. Surprisingly, Buckingham was right about all of my experiences, though I didn’t tell him much about myself.

As the summer passed, I never expected to meet him again. He still remembered my birth season the second time he saw me, even though he didn’t know me. This time, I decided it would be my turn to “read” him. Buckingham is not a student at UCSB, but he traveled a long way to live in Santa Barbara.

Curiosity propelled me to wonder what kind of life he lives, especially with such an amazing ability to read people. As expected, he lives an unconventional life with few expenses, only enough for food and phone bills.

Buckingham started doing tarot readings to help people. He views it “as a tool or a medium for [the] inability to access otherwise difficult information, topics and feelings just through normal conversations people have with each other.”

When I called Buckingham a diviner, he chuckled and said he doesn’t know if he is comfortable with being called that.

“I’ve been working with Tarot cards only for few years, in terms of interpreting the world and science in a way that might be more consistent with being a diviner or an oracle or a seer or any of these terms,” Buckingham said.

Buckingham also doesn’t want to be identified as the tarot reader because tarot only takes up a small portion in his life. He clarified that he is not an expert on Tarot and respects the mechanism of human minds.

Tarot, astrology, numerology, scrying, and other forms of divination are looked at with superstition and skepticism.

“I think that’s good and bad,” Buckingham said. “A lot of people use it to take advantage of people or are just kind of faking it or don’t really know what they are doing, so I think that skepticism is eroded and is a good thing.”

On the other hand, Buckingham thought skepticism is also bad in that it restricts our ways of thinking and limits how we approach situations.

“One misunderstanding about tarot is that lots of people think one has the ability to predict the future, and this is entirely inaccurate,” Buckingham said. He emphasized not everything is completely determined; otherwise there would be no point in making decisions for the things we do.

“Even though it seems contradictory that we do have some degree of choice and also the things are not determined, tarot absolutely taps into that,” he said.

Recalling my first reading, I was confused about how random cards could tell my experience. He addressed this as similar to the ancient question of free will versus determinism.

People chose the cards and the cards chose them, like the same way we order our life. This dichotomy is addressed through tarot.

Many people assume the process starts from looking at the cards. However, Buckingham explained tarot is a way of assessing the world by looking at seemingly random aspects of experience.

Through the knowledge that all things behave in an interdependent way, one gains certain insights about things that might not be interpreted by only using superficial or conventional ways of observing a situation.

Sensing my obsession with the tarot, Buckingham gave me a kind reminder.

“I am not able to think it’s entirely possible in a consistent way to determine, for example, what day and how a person will die, when they are going to fall in love and etc,” Buckingham said. “Sometimes the information is accessible or does come to people perhaps through tarot, but a lot of time just through dreams or other omens or forms of interpreting our experience of the world.”

If you need help navigating the complexities of life, academic advising, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), or the Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (CARE) center are all places where you can seek help.

Still, tarot reading might give you a unique perspective on tricky situations.