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¶ I will be interviewed this Wednesday, Nov. 9th on Blogtalk Radio – Pagan Perspectives by Rev Sylvanus Treewalker – 6pm CST or 4pm PST. We’ll be talking about my latest book, Who Are You in the Tarot? Follow the link to chat and listen to the radio interview live or after the show. Read the latest review of my book here.
¶ Artist Hugo Baur recently painted this watercolor portrait of Waite and Smith that he calls “The High Priestess and the Magician.”
As the Waite-Smith tarot was the result of a collaboration I only thought it natural to make a double portrait. Nevertheless I don’t hold much sympathy for Waite as he didn’t pay Pamela the money and respect she deserved. Still, without him this deck would never have existed, and his influence on the major arcana was considerable. But no explanation is needed for the fact that I placed Pamela in the centre and on the foreground, as it is her artwork and unbelievable spiritual insight that made the Waite Smith deck so special. I hope that fellow admirers of Pamela will consider this painting to be a truthfull homage to an artist that never got the respect she deserved.
¶ Just read a novel from 1987 with a good sprinkling of tarot in it: Second Sight by Mary Tannen. It recounts the intertwined lives of at least four families in a small, New Jersey industrial town. The plot revolves around a single working mother (a tarot and palm reader) finding “The One” she is destined to be with, and a young historian uncovering the complex interrelationships that lie at the base of the continually evolving town. While an essentially light and easy read, this book explores deeper themes and more complex literary symbolism than one would expect from the simple story line:—mysticism versus greed, old families versus new immigrants, nature versus industry. It deserves a good read and is readily available second-hand.
¶ I have a limited number of DVDs available from the two webinars I did for Global Spiritual Studies (include PowerPt presentations):
- “An Analysis of the Role of Cartomancers through Western Art” – 2 DVDs – $32 (includes mailing in the US)
- “Who Are You in the Tarot?” – 1 DVD – $20 (includes mailing in the US)
Payable through PayPal – contact me here if you are interested.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: If we were to meet for the first time ever, without me knowing anything about who you are, how would you describe what you do, and how would you describe this new book? [This interview was originally posted at tarology (beta).]
MARY K. GREER: Hi, I’m Mary Greer, I am a teacher, writer and tarot reader. I use tarot cards as a tool for personal insight and creativity, and I do tarot readings with others to assist them in accessing their own wisdom around their personal issues. My latest book is Who Are You in the Tarot? It is a revised and expanded version of my earlier book, Tarot Constellations that teaches you how to find Tarot cards that are personal to you, your family, friends and clients based on birth date, name and the current year, along with court card significators. It also includes descriptions of each of these and methods for working with your cards to learn more about them, yourself and others.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: There is a moment before we know, and then there is The Moment we know. There may be a fraction of a second apart, and even so, they define two completely different realities. When did you know this was the book you needed to write and why?
MARY K. GREER: I have to remember back to the mid-1980s when I wrote my first book on this topic. I learned the Birth Card technique from Angeles Arrien in 1977 and have been using it ever since. When it didn’t look like her own tarot book would be coming out soon, I asked permission to write my work using her technique, for which Angie graciously gave me permission. Firstly, it was a great technique about which I was excited and wanted to share with as many people as possible. And, secondly, I found myself saying the same basic things over and over in classes and readings about the card combinations. I thought it would be much more expeditious to just write down what I found worked best for people. I always create class handouts, so the materials kept evolving and my students wanted more. Unfortunately, my first publisher died and Tarot Constellations went out-of-print. I thought about revising it for years, so, when an editor at RedWheel/Weiser contacted me about doing a new book on the subject, I just said, “Yes, now’s the time.”
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: What can you tell me about your process? How do you write your books?
MARY K. GREER: Each book is different. After writing my first three books I taught a lot of classes on how to write a non-fiction New Age book (which seemed to fit the broadest category I could speak to). Now I realize how different each book can be. Essentially I find that if I write about whatever excites me most, eventually everything becomes exciting at some point, even if only because, once I finish that piece, the section will be done. Mostly I write at the computer and, if I feel stuck, I tell myself to start anywhere—even in mid-thought. I also allow myself to use crutch words or phrases, like “it’s very, very important to remember that,” because, if I try to censor them, I’ll freeze up. They are so easy to take out later. I rewrite a lot.
My ex-husband, travel-writer, Ed Buryn, edited all my earlier books and essentially taught me how to write, which my M.A. in English hadn’t succeeded in doing. I use all kinds of tricks, like writing a difficult passage as a letter to someone or bitching about my pet peeves so that I can eventually discover what I really do like and believe in—often handwriting these and then just incorporating the good parts.
I’ve found the book proposal process that most publishers demand to be a great help in the early stages of figuring out what I need to know (who my audience is, how my book is similar and different to others, etc.), organizing and outlining the book, and much more. I suggest downloading publisher book proposal instructions and filling them out in the early stages of your book writing process.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: You have been writing and publishing, for a couple of decades now. Perhaps you started at a time when the boundaries between authors and reader was more clear. Now everybody’s thoughts can be read. Everybody has a workshop to teach, a ‘method’ to share and some ‘expertise’ to cash on. We are all Facebook experts. Do you feel in any particular way about that? Does this makes your work easier, more difficult, or different in any way?
MARY K. GREER: Generally speaking I think it’s great. We all get to share what we know. Hearing from others keeps breaking open my unconscious assumptions and helps me to see things in new and different ways. Perhaps the only thing that is disconcerting is that anyone back in the 1980s who was well-read regarding tarot books knew who had initiated fresh perspectives. Now material gets passed around endlessly and old material gets presented as new proprietary ideas with no regard to what came before. On one hand there is a mad grab for “ownership” and on the other hand there is total disregard for acknowledgement of the hard work done by others. It is true that people will continually re-invent certain classic ideas, or may have heard something briefly from which they spun their own take. On the whole, though, I think we benefit greatly from an international community who are often very generous with their work. I must say, though, that to keep up is becoming more and more difficult and time-consuming. Eeek!
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Do the readers create a (need for) a book, or is it the book the one that creates its readers?
MARY K. GREER: Both. A lot of times I’ve discovered through experiments in classes that there are things that people need that they don’t even know about or may have rejected as a possibility out of misguided assumptions. Before the 1980s almost all books on the tarot said you shouldn’t read the cards for yourself, yet everybody I knew did (guiltly). I was also teaching classes at a college on personal journal techniques and on learning skills (that used step-by-step workbooks). They seemed a perfect fit to me and precipitated one of those “moments” you mentioned earlier. I could see how to use these skills and methods to turn problems with reading for yourself into benefits. In fact, a major theme in all my writing has been how do we safely turn taboos into insights by going deeper into something than we would if we avoided it out of a little understood fear?
I also looked through a lot of books to find a “voice” that seemed natural to me and sounded as if the author were speaking directly to me as a friend. My idea was to share with other people the things that turned me on the most. I wanted to push as many boundaries as I could in myself. I also wanted people to experience these things for themselves—not just read about them. I accepted then, as I do now, that not everyone is going to like this approach.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Are “year cards” and “Birth Cards” similar to a “Significator” card?
MARY K. GREER: Certainly, any card that a person identifies with can be used to signify that person in a reading. In spreads, where the significator is left in the pack and so can turn up anywhere in a spread (or not), then its placement is usually important and may indicate a dividing line between past and present or it can indicate that cards nearest it are most important. I talk a little about significators in my book but it is not a major emphasis. Any time someone sees a card they relate to personally in a spread they tend to pay extra attention to what it’s doing. I make a lot of suggestions in my book for how you can use special cards on their own for contemplation as well as how you can make use of them in readings.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Does a Birth Card show us our destiny, or is it showing us a destination? Is there a difference?
MARY K. GREER: No, I don’t believe a Birth Card shows a particular destination. I describe the Soul Card as pointing to something we need in order to feel a sense of fulfillment. Fate, fortune and destiny are often used interchangeably and each has been defined differently through the ages. As I see it, fate is marked by where we’ve come from. It’s all the habits, personality characteristics, emotional and chemical reactions that are part of our history, body, psychology and DNA. Knowing the past, we can pretty much predict what a person is likely to do, like if I say, “I was fated to end up in California.” Fortune is what we encounter along the way. Destiny is an urge or longing that tends to pull us toward things, but there is no guarantee that we’ll get there (wherever ‘there’ is). In fact, I don’t think there is a single destiny/destination (for most of us, anyway). When fate and destiny collude/collide there’s usually a sense of having found either your purpose or destruction (as in ‘destined’ for a bad end). It’s not so much a destination as a fulfillment, to some degree, of potential. This is something I think about a lot but don’t fully understand—it’s still a mystery to me.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Why do you think so much about it? What is important about this?
MARY K. GREER: I tend to think about tarot philosophically and any deep consideration of tarot is going to lead to an examination of chance and probability and get into questions of fate and free will. In fact, this summer’s Omega Tarot Conference that I organized with Rachel Pollack had the theme of “Fate and Free Will.” I am intrigued by the whole idea of fate, fortune/chance, free will, and destiny and where these ideas can take us. I even created a spread to examine how these four are operating in one’s life. It was inspired by a line from Dante’s Inferno: Se voler fu o destino o fortuna, non so (“if it was will or fate or chance, I do not know”—Canto 32). Well, I want to know. I like words and appreciate definitions; I think that the differences being designated can be important in understanding what we make of our lives. I get pleasure out of an elegant analysis, and sometimes I get pleasure out of letting go and not having to analyze anything.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: I am interested in what you are saying because it seems to me that most of the knowledge produced in the tarot world circulates in the form of ‘recipes’. An idea seems to be of value only if you can go and “do it at home”. The ‘tarot author’ seems forced to channel Martha Stewart! People seem to want to know about methods, spreads, keys and things like that. How important is it to think about tarot philosophically? Is this something that comes down to each reader’s way to come to terms to the big Whys of what he or she is doing? How is that different from ‘belief’?
MARY K. GREER: I try to keep my philosophical tarot mutterings to a minimum, because I find, personally, that unless philosophy is really eloquently and beautifully said and deeply profound, which I’m usually not, it’s not really worth the expression. One person’s philosophy is another person’s ramblings. Each reader and each client has their own perspective.
Generally, I like philosophy to inform us of something relevant and useful, and therefore I like to ground a concept in some application to our daily lives. A spread is a good test of the principles I’m exploring and my ability to understand them. I often turn spiritual and philosophical statements from great teachers into spreads like the Dante one. Basically, I create a spread position for each significant word or phrase in a quote. It either becomes a spread that anyone can use for deep insight, or I discover it can only be understood with a lot of explanation (in which case I might not share it with others). Rarely, it will not work at all.
This is different from ‘belief,’ in that I am ‘trying out’ the philosophy or ideas to see how my life looks from that perspective. I want to know if it leads to deep insights, greater well-being, compassionate understanding of myself and others, better choices and enhanced goals, etc. This also makes me a much more active reader. I tend to carry on conversations in my head with authors who inspire me, and tarot helps me do that.
I should mention that, when doing a reading, I try to operate within the client’s own world view, unless I feel absolutely compelled to mention a particular conceptual framework because the cards keep screaming it at me. Of course, we are never totally free from our own philosophy, but I really question whether a client needs to hear about mine (occasionally they do).
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: I like to think of tarot readings as synthetic dreams. Sometimes in a dream we see ourselves as someone-something else. We know it is us, but at the same time it isn’t. There is a whole field of meaning between what we are and the way we see ourselves as “something else”. Do Birth Cards, or year cards, work like that?
MARY K. GREER: Definitely they can. They give us a chance to try out a variety of perspectives. I may be a Hermit/Moon, but in a Wheel of Fortune year I get to ‘try on’ sensations of moving quickly, being more social or in the public eye, and may find that my words spread further afield. But all of these are only Personas that I put on in order to see what I look like in that garb, and this includes my Hermit/Moon self. It’s analogous to an element/figure that turns up in a great many dreams, to the extent that it’s well-known and comfortable, but I might not notice it as much as I do the new dream persona that alerts me with disturbing or unusual characteristics (like a Hermit being in a Wheel or Chariot Year).
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Something that comes to mind is the zodiac-sign notion, where a specific symbol is “given” to us by the happenstance of our birth date. Somehow zodiac-signs allow us to explain ourselves away as a certain set of fixed personality traits. How do you see that dialogue between a tarot deck that is always in flow, always ready to give us a chance encounter with an image, and a birth-card, something that stays with us, something that is set for us by the biographical milestone of our own birth.
MARY K. GREER: We respond to chance encounters in the moment of a reading. The card is viewed in relation to the immediate question and to other cards in the reading. With Birth Cards, we can continue to explore how they relate to us for our whole lives and can watch our special relationship to them evolve over time.
Any system used for defining people can be limiting. That’s why I like looking at a multitude of systems—to get a fuller picture. They also help us articulate things we might not have been able to see or understand otherwise. Personality systems allow us to look at ourselves through a bunch of different colored glasses or different shaped mirrors. Each highlights something the others don’t see. One of the greatest benefits is to learn compassion for others through recognizing that others have ways of being and acting that are essentially different than our own. Seeing this in them helps us see such things in ourselves.
For instance, I used to get furious when my Lovers Soul Card husband would make plans for “us” without asking me first. I came to realize that he was a “we-thinker,” whereas I, with my Hermit Soul Card, am an “I” thinker who decides on my own path and then may ask others if they want to join me. I assumed others should think and act the same way I did. But, my spouse was not being thoughtless or rude. He had different unconscious assumptions about relationships than I did. I also came to understand this part of my own automatic way of approaching things. Our Soul Cards gave us a way of recognizing, talking about, and respecting this dynamic.
By the way, sun-sign astrology is terribly limiting and possibly the least interesting of all the information found in an astrology chart. Each element in each personality system reflects a specific aspect of self. Experience teaches you to recognize what these are. Furthermore, as a person becomes more conscious and aware, the kinds of things reflected tend to change because they can reflect a new level of meaning. For instance in a reading, Pentacles, for some people, represent shelter, food and money, while other people are secure in these and, therefore, respond at an more abstract level of security, worth and value.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: I agree with you about zodiac-signs being fairly uninteresting, yet the idea seems simple enough to appeal to the vastest amount of people. The idea of a Birth Card also seems to fit in our long-to-belong. Do you find that people respond better to the images when they are framed as birth/year/soul cards than when they aren’t?
MARY K. GREER: Actually I meant Sun Signs. Zodiac signs, in tropical astrology are simply symbolic divisions of the solar year mapping the location of planets in an astrological chart. I find the study of astrology and of one’s chart to be very rewarding.
As to responding better to the tarot images as Birth Cards—some do and some don’t. I certainly don’t think everyone has to use this system! It’s only an option. I have noticed, however, that in beginner classes, it’s a wonderful way to get people quickly involved with the cards—first with their own personal cards and then expanding to those near and dear to them. Before you know it, they have a personal relationship with all the trump cards—they have seen them in action, so to speak.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: How does the idea of Birth/Soul Card relate to Jung’s archetypes?
MARY K. GREER: As is frequently pointed out, each of the Major Arcana relate to primordial ideas that Jung called archetypes. With Birth Cards, we get to see how the related archetypes align with our life direction and how that archetype symbolizes core patterns of growth and change. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t, then find concepts that serve you better.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Is the ‘chance operation’ of picking a random card out of a deck the same kind of chance of picking a card based on our date of birth?
MARY K. GREER: Not at all. “Chance” (if there is such a thing as chance) exists in the moment and day we are born, not in the card. There’s no chance in the way the numbers add up, and I don’t think chance is involved in which cards correspond with which numbers. Think of it this way: each of us is born into a particular culture, defined in part by the way we look at time and the calendar we use. In theory, our Birth Cards reflect our relationship to that. There’s no way to prove whether or not there is intent behind this, but I find that when I act “as if” there were, “as if” I were drawn to experience this life through a particular season, day, minute, then I find I can experience my life in much more meaningful and exciting ways. It enhances my life and relationships with other people.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: I like your “as if” proposition. I find it very healthy to apply it every time I look at the tarot, but I also think it is useful when we consider all the intellectual beacons of our culture, like Marxism, Freudian theory, or any religion in general. Now, how can we put the “as if” in our readings, when so many clients look for certainties in the tarot?
MARY K. GREER: Of course, I’m always acting “as if” the tarot can offer worth while insights to me, and as if they were magic and magic were real, because then they tend to work that way for me. The biggest “as if” for me, when reading for others, is that I act “as if” my clients have all the wisdom they need inside themselves. The question then becomes, how do I conduct a reading in a way that will actualize their own knowledge and so that they make their own well-considered choices.
I sometimes suggest that clients “try on” a suggestion or perspective “for size”—and offer them more than one perspective. Then I ask how each “fits.” I want the client to always be evaluating things for themselves. I also sometimes say things I deliberately know are wrong so a client can “correct” me. It can be a way to help them realize they already know something or have made a judgment or choice inside that they hadn’t yet recognized consciously. Perhaps I over-emphasize the conditional, but I try to always remember that my own invasive judgments and proclivities may not be appropriate for another person, so I keep giving clients choices until they seem to have ended up at some kind of destination, and then I ask them if this is where they really want to be. Thus, a tarot reading can be a “dry run” or rehearsal for the future—a trying on of attitudes and approaches.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Your idea of “acting ‘as if’ clients have all the wisdom they need inside themselves” is absolutely beautiful! I think it is very healthy for a reader to assume that all clients are more or less imaginary. I know that I find it very sobering to think that, as a tarot reader, I am imaginary. So, thinking that I am an imaginary tarot reader who speaks to an imaginary client, and we, along with the trumps, are all part of a strange dream, is a delightful thing. That probably is not what you meant, but still, Thanks!
MARY K. GREER: If our whole life is about acting “as if,” then we definitely have moved into acting as if life were a dream, and that’s a pretty mystical/magical and wondrous place to be. By the way, I also teach classes in “Life as a Dream,” in which we look at life events using dream techniques. After a while a person begins to function naturally within a special kind of being-in-the-world that is often mentioned by poets and mystics. Not everyone feels comfortable doing this.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Now, I suppose that a Birth Card or a Soul Card could help clients to re-imagine themselves, or even to imagine a way out of themselves. Is that right?
MARY K. GREER: Definitely. And that’s where a focusing on the highest and deepest aspects of a card become important. Ultimately, I think we transcend any of these labels, but ‘going through’ them can, paradoxically, help us to do so.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Is there anything in your book for those who don’t believe in Fate nor Destiny?
MARY K. GREER: Sure they can try out the mechanics and see if the results serve them in some way. I tried to leave the underlying principles open-ended enough that each person who finds the system intriguing can make of it what they will.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Do you remember, and would share, a memory of a reading you did that made you proud?
MARY K. GREER: This one is from fairly early in my tarot reading career. I was visiting my younger brother and his wife and offered to do a reading for her (my brother wasn’t interested at all). I remember that I had always thought of my sister-in-law as a rather colorless, please-everyone kind of person. I don’t remember any details of the cards, but it quickly became apparent that she thought and felt deeply about things at a level I would never have guessed. When I said this, she started crying and said, “No one has ever seen that in me before.” For the first time she felt that someone else had looked beyond the surface and recognized something in her that had never been acknowledged. My whole attitude toward her shifted, and through the years she’s proven to be amazingly deep, wise and strong. I don’t often read for family and close friends, but I feel that every one of those readings has been powerful and has drawn us closer—perhaps because they’ve always taken us deep into previously uncharted waters of knowing each other.
I’d also like to mention doing brief readings for several of my mother’s ninety-plus year-old friends at her retirement community. Difficulties showed up for each of them, but we faced them squarely, head-on (at that age can you do anything different?) and found a certain attitude or strength of spirit that could serve them. I felt so honored to be able to share a moment with each person that seemed to touch on the core of their being. It was like looking past the veneer that they so graciously kept up, to see them as much richer and braver beings than I had before. Old people often feel like they are not seen anymore.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: I find it very hard to read for older people, because I am more interested in what they have to say than in whatever I could tell them. I always want to derail the reading and ask them things. Is there any type of client you feel uncomfortable reading for?
MARY K. GREER: I don’t do at all well with people who are rigidly lying to themselves—who have created a habit of such deep denial that they daren’t let anything else through. I don’t feel I should challenge such deeply held defense postures, even when the cards show me what’s going on. If I continue the session, I find myself forced into a straightforward reading of the cards based on traditional meanings, which such clients usually reject anyway. When I realize it is not my job to ‘fix’ them, then I can move into a kind of compassion that just lets them be.
Occasionally someone is so fascinating that I want to just sit and talk with them. Then I have to discipline myself to keep the focus. After all, they are paying me to help them look at a particular concern.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: You are talking about “compassion,” which is certainly a good word to use, although I personally prefer “indifference”. A street sign doesn’t care if we turn left or right. The job of the sign is to signal, not to make us take the turn. Even so, I have to say that I don’t read for enlightened beings looking for the next stepping stone in the development of their inner self, but for women who obsess over their love life, and people in fear of what they cannot control. Half of the time these clients behave as if they have a toothache, and they go to the dentist, and the dentist takes an X-ray and says: “yes, you have a rotten tooth”, and they ask the dentist to please take another X-Ray, and then another one, and another one. They keep asking the dentist to do it “one more time” hoping that at some point he will look at one of these X-rays and say: “Look! You are perfectly fine!”
This fascinates me because it links the act of the reading to gambling. Asking the same questions over and over, either in the same reading or over a period of weeks, has the same compulsory feeling of putting coins in a slot-machine. There is an entrancing irrationality in the whole process, and I tend to treat such irrationality as I would treat a soap bubble. I do my best at letting it float, without attempting to pop it out. I think that irrationality is the ‘Prima Materia’ of tarot readings and any other kind of divination. What do you think?
MARY K. GREER: Some people, although they may not know it, are looking for a definitive sign that says, “now is the time to move on,” but they don’t know what that is, and they refuse all the ‘logical’ signs. I try to focus readings more on learning than on advice or prediction. So, although a situation may not a good one, the person may not yet have learned all the lessons necessary, or the timing isn’t right for a new direction. Of course, some people are just plain stubborn or stuck. My inner mantra is, “I don’t have to fix it.” I don’t try to solve their problems. However, indifference is a little beyond me in that I am very empathic. This is why I created “The Breakthrough Process” (discussed in most of my books), with which I conclude most readings. Basically, at the end, the client choses cards from the spread that show: 1) their major problem, block or obstacle, 2) a way to break through that problem, 3) what they most want to develop in themselves, and 4) an action that is in alignment with #3. I become a scribe writing down what they say, so it is clear the choice is in their hands. This leads to what I see as an ideal purpose for tarot: to help us meet whatever comes in the best possible way.
ENRIQUE ENRIQUEZ: Finally, if this were our first meeting ever, after having this conversation, what would be the last thing you would want me to hear from you?
MARY K. GREER: I’d want you to know how much I enjoy our back-and-forth conversations, even if this was more one-sided than the previous one. You notice the little things that others would overlook—observations that open me up to areas I rarely get to touch on and that challenge me to think about what is most important. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my favorite subject.
Enrique resides in Manhattan and is well known for his appreciation of historic tarot decks. His fresh and disciplined approach to the interpretation of this antique imagery bears only a superficial resemblance to the more synthetic ways tarot is usually read. Because of this distinctive approach to tarot reading, Paul thought an investigative interview designed to explain Enrique’s suppositions would make clear to the tarot reading community what he is does when he reads.
Read the interview at TAROLOYEAST (BETA).
Check out Paul Nagy’s on-going and free teleconference class “The Way to Tarot Wisdom” based on the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Marianne Costa and Rachel Pollack.
This is an interview with me by Rachel Pollack, as part of our series on the presenters at the Omega Institute Tarot Conference happening July 29-31st. You can read plenty about me right here on my blog, so let’s get on with it.
Rachel: Your work has featured endless ways people can develop their own style and ways of reading. And yet, you are also steeped in Tarot knowledge and tradition. How do you integrate these two sides in your teaching?
Mary: I am a life-long learner; I feel history can enhance anyone’s life, and that natural skills can be refined and augmented by study. I don’t fully integrate history and technique in my teaching, although I try to do so in my practice. Carl Jung advised that one should learn everything possible about symbols and then, when working with a dream, to forget it all. It’s a paradox involving an intelligent ‘forgetting’ that allows one to be fully present in the moment with a person’s own material. In actuality, all the learning forms a backdrop, which helps me recognize patterns that may elucidate the whole situation.
When it comes to reading tarot, you don’t need to know tarot history, just basic card interpretations and a few spreads. Some people are intuitive readers and don’t need book meanings to help people via the cards. I really try to honor this potential, so most of my class exercises are designed to develop a person’s natural abilities and insights—to help students discover how much they already know and what their own reading style is. But that’s really only a starting point.
Skill development and history are very useful when faced with crises, blocks and difficult situations. I believe it was George Santayana who said that those who do not know their history are bound to repeat it. We get stuck in old patterns of thinking and behaving, but models and techniques are available that can help us break out of these. Tarot is a kind of story-telling, and history consists of stories from the past. But, a study of history also teaches us how to evaluate these, for all stories are not equally relevant or helpful. In my longer, on-going classes I bring in quite a bit of history. I’m trying to find ways to make history more relevant to a workshop environment, because dry facts can be deadly when students are wanting and needing to experience tarot directly. It’s one of my current challenges.
Rachel: In recent years you have devoted yourself to the history of Tarot and fortune telling. How does new knowledge of the past affect what we do with Tarot today?
Mary: History is accumulated, collective knowledge. It helps us meet challenges and opportunities that we may not have yet encountered on our own. Here’s a couple of examples.
The history of oracles and cartomancers gives me a sense of belonging to one of humanity’s oldest professions, present in every time and every culture. As an older woman I can see that this is a skill, that while practiced by men and women of all ages, has been a speciality of elder females, for which they have been revered, ignored, sought out, villanized and even killed. Caitlin Matthews expressed it eloquently at the last Readers Studio when she said, “We live on the edge for a reason, so that when people are on edge, they run towards us!” History makes us aware of just what that edge looks like, how others have met the challenges, and conditions under which an ‘edge’ existence becomes honored or dangerous. Knowing this, and seeing how other professions have improved their status, suggests possibilities for elevating this profession for myself and for those who come after.
A second example involves the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, where I have discovered that the Minor Arcana suits illustrate stories chosen by A.E. Waite. For example, Cups tells the story of one of the first Grail myths, and Swords is the foundation myth of the Freemasons. They lend a certain archetypal, psychic power to this deck that has been intuited by many who have copied the artwork, but not previously understood. More importantly, perhaps, is that when we recognize that we are living out elements of a great myth through getting cards in these suits, it gives a greater meaning to the experience and helps us to recognize possible outcomes and make clearer choices.
Rachel: You’ve worked with astrology and Tarot “birth constellations.” Considering our theme of “Fate and Free Will,” do such structures suggest a more fixed fate than readings where we just shuffle the cards and see what happens?
Mary: There’s an old astrological axiom: “The stars impel, they do not compel.” Impel suggests an urging while compel is about being forced. I sometimes feel that life is like floating down a great river carried by a particular current made up of current events and our own character (or karma). I can go with the flow, enhance it, or fight it. I don’t think that Lifetime Cards tell us who we will become, or that Year Cards tell us what events will happen that year. I find that they have more to do with sensing the existing flow and then discerning the meaning those events can have for us. They reflect qualities that bring a sense of fulfillment—no matter what happens. Were we fated to be born on a certain day? I really don’t know, but I like to think that my Higher Self chose circumstances that would best facilitate my soul’s journey. When I live life as if that were true, then everything seems more vital, exciting and purposeful then when I don’t. Meaningful synchronicities abound, leading to ‘probability enhancement’—one of my favorite definitions of magic. In readings, I like mixing free will with considerations of chance, fate and destiny, which I hope we will do in my conference session.
See interviews with other presenters:
Marcus Katz is one of the fabulous presenters at this year’s Omega Institute Tarot Conference, July 29-31st. He lives in England’s beautiful Lake District, made famous by so many romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge. Truly it is a place to inspire the soul. In addition to founding Tarot Professionals and Tarot Town, Marcus is the author of two books, Tarosophy and Tarot Flip, and a doctoral candidate in Western esotericism at the University of Exeter, where he earned his master’s degree. (Picture: Marcus at Rosslyn Chapel.)
Mary: How did you get into tarot and what motivated you to found the largest tarot organization in the world?
Marcus: When I was very young I asked what seemed to be unusual questions. When I turned 12, I was sure I had missed some important lesson at school, or teaching from my parents, that everyone else other than me seemed to have received. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing and what the world was about. Otherwise how did they know what to do, what was important, and why they should do anything? So when Tarot was taught in one of our rather spectacularly alternative lessons at the experimental school I was lucky enough to have joined at that age, I saw what Tali Goodwin, my co-author, calls a “Blank Bible”. A pictorial system in which I could make sense of the world, uniquely to my own experience. So within a weekend I had created my own deck (22 Majors only, pasted onto cardboard) and learnt enough to do readings for my friends at school. Since that time I estimate I’ve done easily over 10,000 face-to-face readings over 30 years – and am still learning.
I founded Tarot Professionals to bring full-time professionalism and consideration to the craft of Tarot study, reading and teaching. We aim to marry commercial common-sense with spiritual sensibility and now after two years are able to support other Tarot projects, such as Moti Zemelman’s Dancers Tarot and Chris Deleo’s tarot documentary, featuring Enrique Enriquez, as well as consulting on the ShindigTarot.com online video reading system. Our main ambition is to restore the spiritual dignity of Tarot. Our work to support World Tarot Day brought some 2,600+ people to the site on the day itself this year, up from 600 last year. As such we were also able to donate to two important charities, and create a positive vibe for Tarot to a wider audience. The Facebook group has gone up 840% because we invest our money back into advertising such events. For those who want to encounter Tarot in a supportive environment, we offer Tarot Town, currently approaching 6,000 members. All of these offer my own research and unique, often unpublished materials, including a rarely seen Crowley sketch from his original notebooks as one little part of the full 78-lesson course!
Mary: Your main focus seems to be on tarot education and professional support and development. What do you think a tarot reader most needs to learn in order to get the most from the cards for themselves? (Picture: me, Marcus and the Fool’s dog.)
Marcus: My main focus is indeed on education. Our Hekademia Tarot program is two-years long and now has two cohorts, totaling 50 students, on what aims to be the most comprehensive Tarot course in the world. The work that the students is producing is already astonishing us! We have a showcase of the first term’s work on the main site, where students produced “Wonder Cabinets” of Tarot, entire photographic decks and essays on the oracular tradition, all within the first two months of the course! We originally planned to have one cohort of 20 students per year, we are currently looking to fill a third enrolment in September of three such enrolments this first year!
To me, a Tarot reader needs to see the cards as a language. A language which can then express insight to them which could not otherwise be communicated. I see many students on my beginner courses who have “been reading 20 years” and yet don’t seem to have progressed beyond quite linear and mechanic readings, or “intuition”. I hope they leave my beginners course with a new excitement as to *why* they have been learning that language for so long without visiting the country in which that language is spoken, and what it can express and to what it can lead. It is not the learning of French that is useful, it is when you use the language to order a delicious meal in Paris, or get directions to a one-off music event in Geneva – that is what is useful about the language. I believe Tarot is a tool to engage life, not escape it. So every time your Tarot reading takes you to a new encounter, a meeting with a new person, an event you might not otherwise have attended, a place you might not otherwise have gone, this is Tarot teaching.
Mary: You are a trainer in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and other communication and business techniques, what does tarot offer individuals that none of these others does as well?
Marcus: I work with clients using NLP on a weekly basis, ranging from such issues as insomnia, addictions, weight-issues, compulsive disorders, phobias, etc. I also coach clients in performance skills such as presentations, interviews, exams, etc. This is a wide spectrum of work and what strikes me is that many of my clients lose sight of their own unfolding story when afflicted with such issues. Whilst my work with them may help us undo their curse or weave a better spell, it does not fully open out into the mundus imaginalis, the world of wonder beyond that which is presented to us. The tarot enables this world to be accessed in so many different ways.
So I see the Tarot as a reflective tool, one arising and stabilizing in the same perceptual world we find ourselves in—and we find ourselves in Tarot as the blank bible which in turn is the truth of our encounter with what arises. Tarot is the picture of the Soul’s dance inside itself, the divine dance of the Fool. It transcends all material and transient nature in which business, communication and counseling all take place, each to their own world – important in their place, however only part of the full deck of possibilities.
If you look deeply into the Eye painted on the Tower card of the Thoth deck, and turn it on its side, you will see the 0 or black nothingness of the Fool in the centre. The outside of the eye now resembles the vesica piscis of the Universe/World card. And between them, vibrating in perfect harmony between the Nothing and the All, are 22 radiating lines of gold … our Tarot.
See interviews with other presenters:
Rachel Pollack is one of the organizers and featured presenters at the Omega Institute Tarot Conference on July 29-31st. Rachel is best known in the Tarot world for her landmark book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which has been followed up by more than a dozen tarot works including a tarot deck and the recent book, Tarot Wisdom. She is also a well regarded fiction writer, having received many honors and awards, among them the famed Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction and the World Fantasy Award. Currently, she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College. Among comic book aficionados she is best known for her run of issues 64-87 on the comic book Doom Patrol, on DC Comics‘ Vertigo imprint. Rachel is a member of the American Tarot Association, the International Tarot Society, and the Tarot Guild of Australia and presents Tarot workshops around the world.
Following the Conference, Rachel and I will be teaching a Five-Day Workshop on The Art of Becoming a Great Tarot Reader, July 31 to August 5th. Watch a video of Rachel discussing teaching tarot at Omega here.
The picture on the right shows Rachel wearing a mask created by Marlene Boaz (go, girl!). It’s The Speaker of Birds from Rachel’s Shining Tribe Tarot.
Mary: As a novelist, comic book and short story writer, and poet you are very involved with story. How does story relate to the tarot and how do you think tarot readers can benefit from knowing something about story?
Rachel: There is a famous Chasidic proverb that says “God created humans because God loves stories.” Story allows us to enter the cards and become part of them in a way unlike anything else, not study, not meditation. Story seems to me the basis of readings, with the querent the hero, the question the springboard of the plot, and the cards in their places the action. It can often help Tarot readers to ask the querent story questions, such as the attitude of the figure in the picture, where he or she might be going, why a figure is weeping, and so on. And we begin to go deeply into the cards, in a very personal way, when we see great stories of mythology or literature in the Tarot. I’m sure the original designers never thought of Rapunzel when they created the Tower and other cards, and yet it works perfectly, and gives the cards more meaning.
Mary: You’ve been doing tarot for over 40 years. What keeps it alive and fresh for you after all this time?
Rachel: I have never walled Tarot off into its own corner. To me, Tarot is the world, so as I learn more about anything I think of how it can apply to Tarot. For instance, just yesterday I read an intriguing idea about the story in Genesis that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. At first glance, this seems very sexist, and has been used to describe women as inferior. But the writer I was reading looked at the fact that chimpanzees have 13 ribs and humans have 12. Thus the creation of woman was the evolutionary change from ape to human. Women can be said to introduce human consciousness. How does this affect Tarot? Well, for one thing we find Adam and Eve in the Rider version of the Lovers, so now we can consider new and interesting points about that card. But it also opens up the relationship between the male and female cards, such as the Magician and the High Priestess, or the Empress and the Emperor. The Tarot and has led me to spiritual wisdom, inspired stories and poems, and brought truly wonderful people into my life. I’m currently writing my 33rd book (not all about Tarot, but probably half of them), inspired in part by the classic works of Eden Gray, who introduced so many of us to Tarot in the late 60s and early 70s. In the introduction I say this about Tarot: “The only thing I can tell you for sure is that you will never come to the end of it.”
Mary: You created the Shining Tribe Tarot deck. Do you feel fated to have done so? What were the biggest lessons you learned, and is there something a tarot reader can gain by creating a deck that they won’t get any other way?
Rachel: All my work with Tarot seems fated in a way. In that same introduction I write that people ask me how I discovered Tarot, but it feels more like Tarot discovered me. I began to create my own deck while writing The New Tarot, which looked at some seventy-five decks created in the 70s and 80s. It felt like the right thing to do. I was also reading about early human spirituality, and traveling to prehistoric caves and stone circles, and ancient temples for my book “The Body of the Goddess,” on the origins of religion in nature and the human body. So creating a deck grounded in nature and tribal and prehistoric art happened naturally. Fate, you could say. Getting permission to go into Lascaux cave was one of the great experiences of my life, and deeply affected my relationship to images in general and the Tarot in particular.
When you create your own deck you bond with the cards in a very deep way. They become an extension of you, and you of them, a living relationship. At the same time, my whole way of teaching and experiencing Tarot runs against any idea that I own the meanings of the cards. I love it when people show me new meanings. I did a Shining Tribe workshop this past year, and a woman came who loved the cards, never used any others, but had never had my book about them. She made up all her own meanings, and they were completely different than mine. I think she was nervous I would be angry, but I loved it. I could see the truth of everything she said. Maybe everyone should find a deck they know nothing about but like, work with the cards, do readings, draw or tell stories with them until we really know them, and then publish a book about them, all without ever reading the creator’s interpretations.
See interviews with other presenters:
Ellen Lorenzi-Prince is one of the featured presenters at this year’s Omega Institute Tarot Conference, July 29-31st. She is creator of Tarot of the Crone and Tarot Paper Dolls, both available at The Tarot Connection, and she has a forthcoming tarot deck inspired by the ancient Minoan culture (see sample below). As well as being an innovative artist and writer, Ellen is one of our most outstanding tarot presenters, leading participants gently on their own personal journey, helping them find the story in the cards. Visit Ellen at Crone Ways. Here she is interviewed by Rachel Pollack.
Rachel: Where some people write books you create Tarot decks. The Tarot of the Crone, The Minoan Tarot, decks of just the 22 Trump cards–do each of these express a different side of Tarot? Do they expand Tarot’s possibilities?
Ellen: Do my decks express different sides of Tarot and expand its possibilities? Yes. But no. Yes, because they do provide other windows and passageways. But not really, because Tarot is more of a power than an artifact, more than something with a predetermined amount of sides. It’s a power that is generative and fundamental for the artist, reader and mystic in me. Tarot is a power that is alive, and it’s a realm that deepens the more I explore it. New card images are like keys in a hall of doors. The good ones take you places.
Rachel: In your Tarot of the Crone study group you have avoided the traditional way of teaching meanings and instead developed a great wealth of readings and exercises. Do you think we understand the cards and what they can mean for us primarily by working with them?
Ellen: Study is important. So is experience and exploration. We grow in understanding through both hands. I like to provide new experiences in Tarot because that keeps it challenging and fun for me. But the nature of the study group also reflects the philosophy of the Tarot of the Crone: immediate, personal, and transformational. I don’t take a formal approach because the deck is about the individual journey.
Rachel: You have traveled to sacred places, especially in Greece, and gone deeply into myths as living stories. Do the mythic figures come alive in the cards? What guidance do we get from them?
Ellen: Sometimes mythic beings literally come alive in the cards. I may get a reading that knocks my socks off, where I feel a deep and powerful voice speaking to me. Sometimes because of how the image strikes me, the context of the question or other cues, I recognize certain qualities in the voices. Qualities similar to those that speak in the sacred sites. Characteristics that allow me to give a voice a name, and through a name, a form and a story.
You can get good advice from these figures precisely because you do know their story (although never believe you know the whole of it). You know where they might be biased. You know what choices they made, what they believed and what they valued. Through understanding their story and recognizing where it touches your own, you learn how they would handle your situation, information which can help you create or avert the outcome suggested by the card.
See interviews with other presenters:
The 2011 Omega Tarot Conference: “Fate and Free Will” is coming up soon on July 29-31. This year Rachel Pollack and I are including three speakers who are among the top workshop presenters at tarot conferences. They really understand the needs of tarot students and practitioners and create fun and innovative ways of experiencing the cards more deeply and effectively no matter your level of knowledge. With this lineup, we know this will be an outstanding weekend for tarot learning.
James Wells lives in Toronto, Canada and is a professional tarot reader, teacher and workshop organizer. His book, Tarot for Manifestation, will be available in time for Omega, while his deck, The Circle Ways Tarot Deck, will be out later. James’ readings focus on self-empowerment and conscious decision-making. He uses circle methodology, reiki, journaling and many other modalities to help clients and students remember their creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness. We are really honored to have him on the faculty this year.
• How did you get into tarot and how did you make the shift from your former profession into being a full-time tarot teacher and reader?
Since childhood, I’ve been interested in what makes people and the universe tick. When I was 12 years old, I was reading a book called Let ESP Work for You by Patsy Ruth Welding. There was a short section of seven or eight pages that talked about tarot cards. Welding’s description of the cards was simultaneously luscious and grounded. I saved up the money I earned from lawn cutting and newspaper delivering and went to a games store to buy my first tarot deck, a 1JJ Swiss pack. Any time I could, I practised with friends, cousins, and myself. When I was in high school, some of my teachers would ask me to pop into their offices after classes to give them short readings. In my late teens, I discovered Gail Fairfield’s book, Choice Centered Tarot. At last, an understandable system! A couple of years later, I went into a career in music (classically trained), directing choirs, playing organ and piano, composing, and so forth. This career sustained me creatively and spiritually for a while, but I became disenchanted with the interactions I encountered in that world. I realised that when I was offering tarot sessions for people, I felt really alive. People began to give me fare from their gardens, books and other gifts in exchange for tarot consultations, so I checked with a healing teacher with whom I was then working and with an astrologer friend of mine about going into tarot in a professional manner. Their feedback plus my own sense of inner rightness took me to a printing shop to get 1000 business cards made. They simply said, “James Wells, Tarot Consultant” and displayed my phone number. These got around and more people started to call. People told me that the sessions they experienced with me helped them see things in a good way, so I began to wonder what I did that made our times with the cards so beneficial. That’s when I started to teach workshops and classes. The process of creating a format and handouts clarified, and still clarifies, what is valuable to me as a practitioner of tarot. The private consultations and the teaching enhance one another.
• You are considered to be one of the best tarot workshop presenters. Why do you think this is and what do you most want participants to get from one of your workshops?
I get a thrill from the “aha!” moment, so in many workshops I set up the possibility for someone in the group to have a revelatory experience. Recently, I offered a creative exploration of people’s birth, year, and month cards (derived from their date of birth). A psychotherapist who was in attendance suddenly blurted out, “Holy s**t!” as she had a realisation about a pattern in her life. My heart leapt for joy. People who attend my gatherings also comment that they feel heard, accepted, and wiser than they first believed themselves to be. My experience with, and training in, circle process fosters these. Circle process is a simple and adaptable communication methodology rooted in basic human practices such as attentive listening, intentional speaking, and reliance on something greater than ourselves. In my tarot workshops, my job is to weave a container wherein people not only get information from me, but also bring their personal journey to the cards and learn from hearing their fellow participants speak about how the tarot and their lives converge. I suppose all of that comes down to offering hands-on learning experiences rather than just talking at people.
• There are many purposes for tarot readings. What, for you, is its most profound purpose?
Two words come to mind: liberation and wholeness. The tarot, at its best, is a marvellous lens through which we can see what IS. When we become aware of what is, we can see our options more clearly. Knowing that we can choose any of these is liberating. We’re no longer victims to our thoughts about whatever our experiences, past or present, have been. An accumulation of these liberation moments can help us to remember that at our core we are whole. What a profound gift to those who use the tarot consciously!
See interviews with other presenters:
I’ve been busy recently doing a couple of interviews as well as my two-part webinar, and I wanted to make these links available.
I was thrilled to be asked recently to do an interview with Fiona Tankard from Italy. In return she offered to do a reading for me, which is included in the interview. After a couple of rough starts via Skype we had a really enjoyable talk. Then she discovered that her recording hadn’t worked. Luckily I was trying out my new iPad as a digit recorder and was able to send her the file. Ah, technology. Enjoy Fiona Tankard and myself at Tarot Can Help. Her reading for me really helped. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be on the receiving end of a reading and get direction about a big issue.
I also did an interview with Andrew Kyle McGregor in Toronto for his blog, The Hermit’s Lamp. Andrew has been asking people about change and how we, as tarot readers, handle this with our tarot querents, and what our philosophy of change is. We had a really interesting conversation that you can find here.
Webinar on Cartomancers
Don’t forget that you can still access the 2-part webinar that I did through Linda Marson’s Global Spiritual Studies on “An Analysis of the Role of Cartomancers through Western Art.” You get access to the webinar classroom where you can watch the PowerPt presentation and listen to the complete talk. The only thing you miss compared to being there ‘live’ is the opportunity to ask questions and the short after-class discussion and wind-up.
I was completely surprised to discover that a reading I designed for tarot.com has been turned into an app for the iPad called Yes/No Tarot (just out this month). The animated introductory scene is outstanding!—worth the price of the app for that alone. The Spread has been vastly simplified from the version available at tarot.com—the Yes or No Tarot Reading. In the App-version, you get the basic answer but the only details about the cards in the spread are a short comment for each Major Arcana (if any turned up in the reading). That’s disappointing since, in the on-line version, you also get an analysis of suits and what elements are missing from the spread. I guess the point of the app is that you get a quick answer and then can ask again (or from a different perspective) as much as you want. You can also save your answer to a journal. If you would, please leave a review or rating, as well as letting me know what you think here.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has listened to these interviews or talk and wants to continue the discussions we had there.
Now, I’m off to Readers Studio 2011.
Here are a couple of clips from an independent feature length documentary on tarot by Chris Deleo and Kimmie Naughton that’s currently in process. It was inspired by Enrique Enriquez’s Tarology approach to the cards of the Marseilles deck that you see in this video. They will be filming other approaches to the tarot:
Please, stop by the filmmakers’ IndieGoGo page to learn how you can contribute to their campaign and help make this film happen.