According to James Randi, a skeptic who has debunked many claims of psychic ability and uncovered fraudulent practices, mediums who do cold readings "fish, suggest possibilities, make educated guesses and give options." Randi has a standing offer of $1 million US dollars for anyone who can demonstrate psychic ability under controlled conditions. Most prominent psychics and mediums have not taken up his offer.
Graphic designer and artist Bill Wolf, whose interest in tarot illustration dates to his art-school days at Cooper Union in New York, has his own theories about the tarot’s beginning. Wolf, who doesn’t use cards for divination, believes that originally, “the meaning of the imagery was parallel to the mechanics of the play of the game. The random draw of the cards created a new, unique narrative each and every time the game was played, and the decisions players made influenced the unfolding of that narrative.” Imagine a choose-your-own-adventure style card game.
The game’s original instructions said it could be used for divining because the illustration on each card included both a symbolic image, like the anchor, and a specific playing card, like the nine of spades. “Hechtel must have seen that there were overlaps between divining with playing cards, which, of course, everyone did, and his game,” says Matthews. “Many other oracle decks appeared around the same time at the end of the 18th century and into the early 19th century. They became really popular after the Napoleonic Wars when everyone settled down and became terribly bourgeois.