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in Rhinebeck NY.
We are delighted to announce the first Omega Tarot Conference featuring Juliet Sharman-Burke, Lon Milo DuQuette, Ruth Ann & Wald Amberstone, Mary K. Greer, and Rachel Pollack. Join us at this beautiful retreat in upstate New York for an incredible learning experience with some of the most exciting teachers in the field.
Intuition communicates primarily through symbols. Tarot is the Western World’s greatest symbol system for helping us find meaning in life events and for exploring future possibilities. In a Tarot reading we consider a person’s questions and then lay out the cards. Along with the cards’ meanings it is really our intuition that allows us to see the patterns and messages that emerge from the questions and the images.
The Omega Institute is honored to bring you five world-renowned Tarot teachers and authors, from New York, California, and England. Each an innovator and a scholar, they are also masters of the intuitive. Their hands-on workshops will help you discover your own ability to read the cards. While everyone is intuitive the conference faculty will give you specific tools to access your own intuition, refine it and trust it. Together we will experience the psychic, psychological, magical, symbolic and interactive aspects of today’s intuitive Tarot practices, making you a more well-rounded reader for yourself or others.
This conference is for all levels. Bring your favorite deck(s). Information available here.
Then stay for the five day Tarot Magic workshop with Rachel and Mary:
13-18 June, 2010 — TAROT MAGIC: Using the Power of Symbols and Images
at The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck NY, with Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack.
Stay after the conference or come separately to the famous five-day course with Rachel and Mary, which this year features a very special topic.
Through the Tarot we view what changes may happen in our lives. But we can use Tarot to create change as well as describe it. This is the magic of Tarot. The great poet, W. B. Yeats–a dedicated magician–called magic “Truth evoked through symbols.” In this workshop we will explore the Tarot’s symbolic truths–the meanings of the cards–and then discover how we can use those truths as keys to transformation. Like the Tarot card The Magician, we will access the powers of the Trumps and four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. And, lest we take ourselves too seriously, we will do this in the Fool’s spirit of adventure and play.
Join Rachel and Mary for five days of magical discovery. Go beyond what is in the books to access your own power and develop your Tarot reading skills. Take the limits off your idea of Tarot and through the Tarot take the limits off your beliefs about creating change.
Suitable for all levels of experience. Bring your Tarot deck(s). Information available here.
No one knows the story behind the painting “The Fortune-Teller” by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), so it is ripe for speculation. It was painted in 1508 when Lucas was only fourteen, marking him as one of the great painters of the age. This work is also considered to be the first “genre painting” that depicts everyday events in ordinary life. If what is shown is truly fortune-telling with cards then it is one of the earliest records of cards being used in this way (see Origins of Playing Card Divination).
I believe the cards in this picture represent the many turns of fortune, but it may be more of a metaphor than an actual card reading. Still, we know from research by Ross Caldwell that by 1450 playing cards were used in Spain for fortune-telling “puédense echar suertes en ellos á quién más ama cada uno, e á quién quiere más et por otras muchas et diversas maneras (“one can cast lots [tell fortunes] with them to know who each one loves most and who is most desired and by many other and diverse ways.”) And, as we will see, both of the main characters in the painting married into the Spanish royal family and spent time there.
The central woman is thought by some to be Margarethe (Margaret) of Austria and Savoy (1480-1530) (see also here). Born in Flanders, she was daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. Her step-mother was Bianca Maria Sforza, daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, by his second wife, Bona of Savoy, and granddaughter of Bianca Maria Visconti (m. Francesco Sforza) for whom the Visconti-Sforza Tarot was made.
At three years of age Margarethe was betrothed to the Dauphin of France (later, Charles VIII), but at ten was returned to her family when he married someone else. In 1497, at seventeen, she and her brother, Philip ‘the Handsome’ (Archduke of Austria, ruler of Burgundy and the Netherlands, and in line to become Holy Roman Emperor), were married off in a double alliance to the Infante Juan and Infanta Juana, children of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile (who sent Columbus to America). (Pictures below are of Philip and Margarethe.)
The Infante Juan died six months later and Margarethe’s child was stillborn. Margarethe was then married to Philibert (Phillip) of Savoy with whom she was very happy, but he died three years later. (He, by the way, actively supported the Milanese cause of the Sforzas against the French until offered a bribe by the French that he couldn’t refuse.) So, by the age of twenty-four she had already had a betrothal broken by France’s Charles VIII, lost a child, and was the widow of both the Infante Juan of Spain as well as of her much loved Philibert. Although her family tried to entice her into a marriage with Henry VII of England, she vowed never to remarry and took the motto: FORTUNE . INFORTUNE . FORT.UNE that has been translated as “Fortune, misfortune, and one strong to meet them.” I see it as both a reminder of her sad story and her claiming of the strength (forte) that such adversity had brought her.
Meanwhile, in 1506, Margarethe’s beloved brother, Philip the Handsome, was named King of Spain, but he died that same year, his son becoming the next King of Spain (Carlos I) and eventually Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V). In 1507 Margarethe was named governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, in place of her brother, and guardian of his seven-year-old son. She went on to become a significant political figure and patron of the arts, negotiating treaties and continuing to rule the Netherlands at the behest of her father, Maximilian, and then her nephew.
There is a possibility that Lucas van Leyden’s 1508 painting commemorates Margarethe of Austria’s ascendancy to the governorship of the Netherlands in 1507, following the death of her brother, Philip the Handsome. The flower being exchanged (a “pink” signifying loyalty in love?) could represent the passing on of the governorship and their love for the people of the Netherlands who could be the commoners pictured in the background witnessing the change-over. The daisy on the woman’s gown could be meant to identify her (a marguerite daisy). Philip the Handsome (portrait above left) wears a necklace and hat similar to those in “The Fortune Teller” where his doffed hat and sad eyes seem to illustrate his mortal leave-taking. The portrait on the right shows Margarethe in widow’s garb as she liked to be seen in the second half of her life. The Fool with his bauble (fool’s sceptre) may have been someone specific at the court or he may be a symbolic reminder of the foolishness of thinking that a high place and worldly honors will last. More people look at him than at anyone else. There are clearly three layers to the cards: Philip & Margarethe, the Fool and a lady-in-waiting(?), and a backdrop of commoners who may represent the people of the country who are unsure what is to become of them.
At least one other painting by van Leyden is said to show Margarethe’s involvement in political negotiations pictured as a card game (1525; see below). It is thought to refer to a agreement between Emperor Charles V (left) and Cardinal Wolsey (right) to form a secret alliance between Spain and England against Francis I of France. Margarethe is known to have been involved in these negotiations. This painting would therefore refer back to the 1508 one where her position as regent of the Netherlands was commemorated.
A nineteenth century etching based on the painting (the etching is from Le Magasin pittoresque, 1840) was identified as “The Archduke of Austria Consulting a Fortune-Teller” when reproduced in Chambers‘ article on card reading. It has often been depicted as proof of early playing card divination. As we’ve seen, that may be too simplistic a view. However it is interesting that Philip the Handsome was Archduke of Austria (and his sister became Archduchess of Austria after him).
[Special thanks to Huck Meyer, Rosanne, and Alexandra Nagel—all who offered pieces of the puzzle.]
I was reminded in the previous post of people who ask what they need to do to become a professional tarot reader. After you feel comfortable reading for self, friends, and friends-of-friends, here’s my number one suggestion for when you want to make the transition.
Your Rite of Passage
The ideal “rite of passage” is to volunteer for a full day (or better yet, a weekend) at a charity or benefit event and donate everything to the cause. If you keep the price reasonable ($5-20 or sliding scale depending on the length of reading and the venue) then your schedule should be filled. The point is to read non-stop (except for necessary breaks), even to the point of exhaustion (drink plenty of water!). There’s a point beyond which a part of you doesn’t care what you say anymore, and you totally let go. You’ll be surprised at what happens then and how accurate you become when you finally bypass your critic. I can’t even begin to list the number of things you will learn from such an experience, but here are a few:
- Letting go of the critic and trusting the process.
- Explaining what you do and/or don’t do in one short, concrete statement.
- Guiding people efficiently through the question, shuffling, etc.
- Learning to listen as well as speak.
- Realizing you can’t “fix” someone & letting go of the need to do so.
- Releasing the need to be “right.”
- Getting your timing down (how many cards for the time allotted).
- Learning how to end a reading (especially with a clingy or argumentative client).
- Discovering the things you’ll need in a “reading kit.”
- Arranging breaks, keeping hydrated, eating, etc.
A few basic accoutrements for reading at fairs and events:
- One or more tarot decks, appropriate to the clientele and occasion.
- A spread cloth. (Busy designs can interfere with the card images.)
- Business cards & promotional handouts.
- Water! Plus an emergency snack—in case you can’t get away for a meal.
- Clothing to put you and others in the mood, and in layers so you can adjust to temperature changes.
- Knowledge of local laws! If necessary have the organization collect the donation and give the person a token for a free reading.
- Watch, clock or timer.
- If outdoors, healing stones to keep the cards from blowing away (plus nice to have for the energy).
- Flowers, statue, other decorations. Don’t overdo it.
- Reading sign-up sheet on clipboard & pen.
- Mailing list (if appropriate).
- Cushion for folding chairs. This extra bit of comfort helps.
And, if you continue to do fairs:
- A professional looking sign. This probably will not be necessary for your first charity event.
- Code of Ethics written by you and to which you adhere. (Google for examples.)
- Optional: Tent.
- Optional: Tackle box with pens, permanent marker, index cards (for mini-signs), tape, tacks, clips, extension cord, etc.
- Optional: A Recording device. It’s ideal if the client doesn’t have to write stuff down. Here’s a post on great ideas for recording in person & online.
After doing this myself and making this suggestion to others for more than 30 years, as well as doing mini-events like this with my students, I’ve gotten tons of feedback from people who said it was the best thing they ever did to catapult them into the beginnings of professional confidence and expertise. Please, anyone who wants to add to these lists (and I know there’s more to say), do so in the comments.
Here’s an inspiring video of tarot reader “Ocean” reading cards at the Deaf Hope Gala & Benefit in San Francisco. The reading begins about 30 seconds into the video:
You can read the transcript here. Ocean is an experienced reader and all the proceeds went to the cause. I loved seeing a reading interpreted in ASL.
Gertrude Moakley (The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo, 1966) introduced the Tarot world to a possible original source of the Papess card: Maifreda (or Manfreda) Visconti da Pirovano was to be declared Pope in Milan on Easter 1300 in a new age of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Maifreda and others in the sect were, that year, burned at the stake, along with the disinterred body of Guglielma, who had inspired this new movement. Could Maifreda be depicted on the Tarot Popess card?
Maifreda was an Abbess in the Umiliati Order and first cousin to Matteo Visconti, the Ghibelline (anti-pope) ruler of Milan. Maifreda believed the Holy Spirit had manifested on earth in the form of Guglielma (d. 1281), a middle-aged woman with a grown son who claimed to be a daughter of Premysl Otakar,King of Bohemia, and, who on arriving in Milan in 1260, donned a “simple brown habit” and lived the life of a saint. To the Guglielmites, her arrival fulfilled a prophecy of St. Joachim de Fiore that a new age of the Holy Spirit would begin in 1260, “heralding the inauguration of an ecclesia spiritualis in which grace, spiritual knowledge and contemplative gifts would be diffused to all.” Although she vehemently denied it, “rumors of divinity already swirled around Guglielma during her lifetime.” And, “Her words about ‘the body of the Holy Spirit,’ together with her mysterious royal origins, Pentecostal birth, imputed healings and stigmata, coalesced to create a more-than-human mystique in the minds of her friends.” Immediately after her death dozens of portraits were painted and chapels were dedicated to Santa Guglielma. (Visconti-Sforza card on the right – her cross at top left is hard to see.)
Barbara Newman (aka Mona Alice Jean Newman) presented the most complete account in English of the Guglielmites in her From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature, but it is in her more recent paper, “The Heretic Saint: Guglielma of Bohemia, Milan and Brunate,” that we learn important details that make an attribution to Maifreda as Papess much stronger than previously thought (all quotes and information not otherwise attributed are from this article).
Many tarot scholars since Moakley have doubted Maifreda as source, nor do they give much credence to an older assumption that the card depicted Pope Joan (see article by Ross Caldwell). Instead, modern thinking proposes that it was always an allegorical image of Fides (Faith—see Giotto image to right), Sapientia (Wisdom), Ecclesia (Holy Mother Church) or the Papacy itself. Here’s an image from the Vatican itself:
Alternately, she could be Isis (see below with Hermes Trismegistus & Moses by Pinturicchio in the Vatican), the Blessed Virgin Mary or a priestess of Venus (below) —see especially Bob O’Neill’s “Iconology of the Early Papess Cards” and Andrea Vitali’s essay on “The High Priestess.” Even Paul Huson in Mystical Origins of the Tarot finds it difficult to believe the Visconti family would memorialize a family member burned at the stake as a heretic.
Certainly “Faith” and “Holy Mother Church” may be referenced in the Tarot image, but they were probably of a more heretical sort than the orthodox church has ever sanctioned. Andrea Vitali recounts a summary of the trial of Guglielma and her followers in which we find:
“As Christ was true God and true Man, in the same manner, she [Guglielma] claimed herself to be true God and true Man in the female sex, come to save the Jews, the Saracens and the false Christians, in the same way as the true Christians are saved by means of Christ.” [Tying her story in with the final cards of Judgment and the World, we find,] “She too claimed she would arise again with a human body in the female sex before the final resurrection, in order to rise to heaven before the eyes of her disciples, friends and devotees.”
O’Neill objects that “beyond the deck specifically produced for the Visconti about 1450, the local Milanese phenomenon of Guglielmites is unlikely to be the source for the image on earlier decks, for example, the 1442 deck mentioned in an inventory of the Este estate in Ferrara.” But, as Newman’s paper points out, Matteo Visconti’s son, Galeazzo, married the Duke of Ferrara’s sister in 1300 and lived there from 1302-1310, so Ferrara had its own early connection to this saint. Furthermore, Guglielma’s story and veneration were popularized in Ferrara by 1425 through a hagiography (saint’s life) by Antonio Bonfadini, and in Florence through a popular late-15th century religious play by Antonia Pulci—although they garbled her history. (15th century deck on the right is known as the Fournier/Lombardy II.)
Matteo Visconti (first Duke of Milan and first cousin to Maifreda) had as an advisor his good friend, Francesco da Garbagnate—an ardent devotee of Guglielma. Matteo was at the center of his own long battle with the Church, having expelled the Papal Inquisitors in 1311, and being himself excommunicated in 1317, tried for sorcery and heresy in 1321, and having Milan placed under interdict in 1322. Matteo’s grandmother and uncle (archbishop of Milan) had earlier been named heretics. (Pope/Papess? card, left, is from the “Cary Sheet” found at the Sforza Castle, Milan.)
From Newman’s article, we learn that Maifreda’s convent was in Biassono, but she fails to note that Biassono is only five miles from the small town of Concorezzo that in 1299 was home to 1,500 Cathars. (I’ve since been told that this source is wrong and that most of the Concorezzo Cathars were burned as heretics or driven out by 1230). After the Albigensian crusade many small towns around Milan became refugee outposts of this faith, of which Concorezzo was a center, and may have inspired the order of nuns who called themselves the “humble” (umiliati)—[correction: the Cathar influence on other groups is not known.]
The most compelling bit of data making the attribution of the Papess card almost certain is that between 1440 and 1460 Bianca Maria Visconti, wife of Francesco Sforza and duchess of Milan, frequently visited Maddalena Albrizzi, Abbess of monasteries in Como and Brunate, and gave aid and gifts to the Order. (Brunate is just north of Milan with Biassono between them). Even the stones for the Como monastery were donated by Francesco Sforza. The Visconti-Sforza deck (first picture in post) was probably commissioned by or for Bianca Maria. Around 1450 (the same period as the deck) a cycle of frescos were painted in the Church of San Andrea at Brunate that recorded the story of Guglielma:
“How she left the house of her husband, came to Brunate, and lived a solitary life here, wearing a hairshirt and ordinary dress . . . in the company of a crucifix and an image of Our Lady.”
Only one of these frescos, ornately framed, remains today near the original chapel that had been dedicated to Saint Guglielma (see above). It depicts Guglielma with two figures kneeling before her. She appears to be giving a special blessing to a nun. Newman identifies the two as Maifreda and Andrea Saramita (he was the main promulgator of her divinity as the Holy Spirit). Others, more convincingly, claim them as Maddalena Albrizzi (founder of the monastery and candidate for sainthood) and her cousin Pietro Albrici who renovated the church. Even as late as the nineteenth century, Sir Richard Burton, author of The Arabian Nights, noted that “Santa Guglielma, worshipped at Brunate, works many miracles, chiefly healing aches of head.”
It seems reasonable to conclude that Bianca Maria Visconti may have had a special devotion to the woman whom, 150 years after being condemned by the Inquisition, so many Lombards venerated as a saint, and that she honored an earlier family member, Maifreda, who served as Guglielma’s Vicar—hiding her in plain sight as an allegory of Faith.
Let’s ask the question about the source in a slightly different way: Would it have been possible for Bianca Maria Visconti to have not seen this card as Maifreda? Likewise, would it have been possible for a church reformer of the time, familiar with Maifreda and Pope Joan, to have not seen this card as an allegory of Heresy instead of Faith? For instance, a monk wrote in Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis (c. 1450-1480) about La Papessa, “O wretched, it is what the Christian Faith denies.”
I’d be remiss to not mention the very real possibility that the Popess represented St. Clare of the Poor Clares, the female branch of the Franciscans (right).
Or, perhaps she was simply the Church in contradistinction to the State as seen below in which a Popess and Empress represent each of these.
Later Swiss, Germans and Belgians de-sacralized the deck, finding both Pope and Papess objectionable and substituting for them cards like Jupiter & Juno, Bacchus & the Spanish Captain, or the Moors. The Papess, it seems, has always been a mysterious and disturbing force, spreading anxiety instead of the calm assurance one might expect from Faith.
Acknowledgements: Huck Meyer pointed out this picture and Newman’s article at Aeclectic’s tarotforum last year – see discussion. I was then reminded of this material through reading Helen Farley’s fascinating book, A Cultural History of Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism. Check out Ross Caldwell’s webpage on the Papessa and Alain Bougearel’s post on Catharism and other heresies of the period here.
I will be one of the three featured speakers, along with Robert Place and Elinor Greenberg, at the 2010 Readers Studio in New York. The website is now updated with all the information about this fabulous event. Hosted by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone from The Tarot School, Readers Studio is a unique event, geared to those who want practical techniques that will improve their reading skills. As a result, the 200+ attendees experience a community of tarot enthusiasts who share ideas, resources and connections. For instance, just the “give-away” table alone has hundreds of gems to swap, to say nothing of the seemingly “never-ending” raffle. The vendors tables offer books and decks that would be hard to find elsewhere and give you the opportunity to meet a deck artist or book author in person. Publishers send representatives to scout new book and deck possibilities and to give away freebies. Besides the main speakers you can choose among a variety of shorter evening lectures, the breakfast roundtables or get a reading from one of the luminaries. Several of the online tarot forums have found it a great place to meet other members. Come one, come all to a great event.
Like games? Check out these fun Tarot Jigsaw Puzzles based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
Each puzzle consists of two cards back-to-back so you will have to flip some pieces over. This is a great way to examine the card’s symbolism and its placement of elements far more closely than you would have otherwise.
Check out the other games including Solitaire with the Rider-Waite Minor Arcana (tough because there are no colors to go by).
Here’s an intriguing quote from G.I. Gurdjieff, In Search of the Miraculous (1949), p. 100-101.
“In order to know the future it is necessary first to know the present in all its details, as well as to know the past. Today is what it is because yesterday was what it was. And if today is like yesterday, tomorrow will be like today. If you want tomorrow to be different you must make today different. If today is simply a consequence of yesterday, tomorrow will be a consequence of today in exactly the same way. . . .
“If a man wants to know his own future he must first of all know himself. . . . Knowing the future is worth while only when a man can be his own master. . . . In order to study the future one must learn to notice and to remember the moments when we really know the future and when we act in accordance with this knowledge.”
Any thoughts on this? It’s worth reading the whole section in Gurdjieff’s book (link to text above). How might these thoughts relate to our reading tarot?
There are thousands of good causes and I don’t want to make this a forum that addresses them. However, in the spirit of the Hanged Man in its original intention of a shame portrait, I want the 30 senators who voted against the anti-rape law to explain why they did so, and I’m willing to hang them in effigy until they produce some good reasons. The bags in the hands of the Hanged Man in the Charles VI Tarot (see right) are there as the mark of Judas and indicate the selling out of trust, honor and goodness. Who is hurt in this case? Hundreds or even thousands of women who work for American companies overseas. Their contracts prohibit them from suing or speaking out. Instead, they are forced into secret arbitration and most of the perpetrators are never punished. More insidiously rape becomes a practice that “should be expected.” Company arbitration has not been effective at deterring rape among overseas workers. Laws have to be enforced and the consequences severe enough to protect the women. The companies have proved themselves unwilling to do this. This is explained in the video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Jamie Leigh Jones and her attorney—here. You’ll find Jon Stewart’s commentary here, in which he points out that the Republican’ claim that it’s “political,” and that government should have no say regarding the company contracts of those hired by the government, is directly opposite to Republican arguments regarding other companies. By the way, the link to “Republicans for Rape” that pictures and names the 30 senators—with their phone numbers—is a spoof site, designed to show just how outrageous this situation actually is and to make it easy for you to contact the senators and tell them what you think.
Joanna Powell Colbert’s full 78-card Gaian Tarot is now available in a limited edition in your choice of two sizes. Both the deck and accompanying book are signed. In addition to a 20% discount, there are lots of extra goodies included if you order before Nov. 3rd. This deck has taken nine years to produce and it’s an amazing accomplishment. Llewellyn will be coming out with a commercial version in September 2011 (if you can wait that long), but Joanna’s limited edition will definitely be a collector’s item and the colors will probably be more vivid. See the cards here.
I asked Joanna some questions about her deck a couple of months ago. Here are her responses:
Mary: Is there a particular kind of question or issue that your deck is ideally suited to respond to?
Joanna: It’s designed for people who want to go into the depths of the issue at hand, and is not really a deck for superficial questions. It’s for people who are walking a spiritual path, especially those who find sustenance through their connection with the natural world. I’ve been told by readers who use the Majors-only deck with their clients that it cuts right to the heart of the matter at hand. Because people recognize themselves in the figures on the cards, they also find inspiration in them and can envision solutions to their problems.
It also seems to lend itself quite well to Rachel Pollack’s “Wisdom Readings,” in which we ask about the larger issues of life. Two readers that I know, James Wells and Carolyn Cushing, have developed Wisdom Questions for this deck that focus on what we can all do to heal the Earth in this time of global climate crisis.
Mary: If your deck could speak what would be its core message to the rest of us?
Joanna: To quote a familiar chant:
“The Earth is our Mother, She will take care of us.
The Earth is our Mother, we must take care of Her.”
Then it would ask us a series of questions:
– How can the wisdom of a particular card help you to heal yourself?
– How can the wisdom of a particular card help you to heal your community?
– How can the wisdom of a particular card help you to heal the Earth?
Self, Community, Planet: all are inextricably woven together. Each one of us has a gift to give, and it’s our responsibility to discover that gift then bring it forth, for the good of the community and the planet.
Mary: Why no cities or city life?
Joanna: I think it’s partly because the cards are a reflection of my own rural island life, and partly because the cards are centered in the wisdom of the natural world. As I meditated on each card before coming up with the concept for it, I asked myself: “Where is the voice of Nature in this card?” Then ideas came to me. I don’t think I consciously chose not to show cities; it was more intuitive than that.
Part of my ulterior motive in creating the deck is to encourage people who experience Nature mostly through metaphor and symbol to get outside and start experiencing Her directly. If I remember the statistic correctly, most modern Americans spend less than an hour a day outside. I’d like to encourage people to garden, to hike, to do field sketching, to spend more time with the Mother in whatever way works best for them. I do believe that spending time in Nature heals us, and in return, we have a responsibility to heal Her.