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Not everyone knows that tarot appears to have originally been created as a trick-taking game related to whist or bridge. It is still played today on the European continent, where it is called Le Tarot in France, Tarocchi in Italy and Tarock (or some variation of that) in Eastern Europe. Most people play with a specially designed double-headed deck with French suit markers and completely different trump illustrations featuring large numbers on them, as these decks are more conducive to game-playing (see here and here). You can learn more about the game at Tarocchino.com, which is the source of the following excellent video on the history of tarot and gaming. See also John McLeod’s website on Card Games, especially Tarot Games. You can download a reasonably priced shareware computer version of this game (with free trial period) in English or French for both Mac and PC at LeTarot.net. I’ve posted simplified instructions for playing the game here.
Recently, at PantheaCon (a huge pagan conference in San Jose, California), I led a “Tarot Intel Circle” with around a hundred people and was asked by several participants to provide a description so they could do it themselves. There are two forms of this process: the “Intel Circle” that can be done with any number of people from a dozen to over a hundred, and the “Tarot Council Circle” that works best with around 6 to 16 people. Each person in either circle gets to be both a Questioner and a Respondent. At most workshops the participants range from those who’ve never read a tarot card to professional readers and everything in between. Everyone gets something out of it, and it often provides a huge kick-start to one’s intuitive abilities—opening a door and switching something on in the psyche. It’s a good process to use at the beginning of a tarot course.
The Questioner usually focuses on one issue or situation about which they want to gather information, although they can change the issue at any time. In both Circles it is helpful to begin by asking, “What do I most need to look at around _(insert issue)_?“ It can be as specific as, “around the problem with the person at work who is driving me crazy” or as general as “around my life purpose.” As the process continues, Questioners can keep asking the same question or reframe it to focus on different aspects of the issue.
Questions should be brief and to the point. The Respondent draws a tarot card (more about this later) and, based on impressions from that card, responds to the question. Usually only a minute or so is allowed for each response before moving on to the next person and question. No response is right or wrong, but rather it offers information, options and possibilities, or layers of meaning. No card meaning is right or wrong. As a Respondent, you don’t have to fix anything!—which is my number one rule.
UPDATE: The germ of these processes was the “Tarot Game” created by Australian artist, Peter Rosson (1954-2002). Originally it involved a small circle of guests who were invited to explore right/left brain interaction, the creative process and the “profiling” of a personal issue using Tarot. May this seeding of Rosson’s creative brilliance continue to grow and flourish.
The Intel Circle
The Intel Circle consists of an inner and outer circle with the same number of people in each, facing each other. The outer circle stays in place (and those who need to sit can do so), while the inner circle stands and moves one person to the right for each question/response interaction. I call time, direct the movement, and I change the rules for each interaction (leaders: a mic and gong are very helpful with large groups). Before we begin, the Questioners draw five cards each from a mixed pool of several tarot decks and will keep these same cards as long as they are Questioners. These cards contain the keys to their issue. As each interaction begins, they ask their question, and the Respondent (across from them) draws one of their five cards, looks at it and responds to the question. Then I ring the bell, the card is returned, and the inner circle moves one person to the right, where a new interaction (with a new prompt) begins. Karen Krebser described her experience as “controlled chaos” with no time for self-doubt.
I’ve provided sample “prompts” for each interaction below. After six or seven interactions everyone switches roles, so that the Questioner can be the Respondent and vice-versa.
The Council Circle
For the smaller Council Circle everyone sits in a close circle (can be around a table) facing everyone else, with one or more decks in the center. The first person addresses their question to the person to their left, who pulls a card and responds. The Respondent then becomes Questioner, turns to the person to their left and asks their own question, that person responds, and so on clockwise around the circle. After responding to a question, people often need to be reminded to switch into asking/Questioner mode as it involves a right-brain/left-brain switch. It is worth becoming aware of how this switch operates in yourself. As leader, I change the “rules” or prompts with each round. After a couple of rounds we change direction (so the question is asked of the person to your right). If doing a long session of several hours, you can have everyone sit in a different seat after a break. In the Council Circle, the leader can also be a participant and usually starts and ends each round.
Towards the end of the whole process, have one person ask a question while each of the others draws a card with which to respond to the question. You can follow with another person asking a question, draw only one card for the whole group, and everyone responds in turn to that that one card. These final questions can be personal, but it’s also a good opportunity to explore spiritual, community and/or world issues. In the Council Circle much more group rapport is built as everyone hears each person’s questions and the responses.
I frequently remind participants that it is up to the questioner to determine what works for him or herself—that this is information-gathering from which they are to pick and choose what seems most meaningful and relevant to themselves. Handled well, it should end up with a deep bonding and a sense of being seen and supported by the whole.
The leader is responsible for seeing that the pace moves briskly along, that no one challenges, harangues or criticizes another, and that no one tries to impose their views. The Respondent responds to, rather than “answers” the question. The responses may be possible actions for the questioner to consider but should never be insisted upon. Respondents should not be allowed to lecture or argue for their perspective, nor should other participants question someone’s interpretation. It can sometimes be wise to begin a response with: “If this were my issue, I’d . . .” Personally, I offer gentle but frequent reminders that as respondents, we “don’t have to fix anything,” as this is an essential theme for me. Always support the Questioner’s assessment, for the questioner is the final arbiter of his or her own life. The most relevant information tends to rise to the top. On the other hand, encourage everyone to open themselves to new possibilities.
What is said in the circle stays in the circle and should never be mentioned elsewhere. Trust is paramount, which is especially apparent in the Council Circle.
At the beginning and end, the leader should take a couple of minutes to ground, center and focus everyone, state the group intent, and open (or close) the relevant energy centers for intuitive work. If appropriate to the situation you can set wards and call in guides. An informal-style Council Circle can work in a quiet, supportive social environment without needing a ritual format, but the leader should still be in control and gently guide the process.
It’s usually best to use decks that have story-telling images on all the cards. Respondents can draw from a single deck, a selection of decks, or a bunch of decks mixed in a “pool,” or a set of cards (or deck) held by the Questioner. It’s also okay to have the Questioner draw a card and hand it to the Respondent. Whatever works!
Most of the following prompts are for the Respondent, but a few require something from the Questioner. While I usually begin with the same first few, I vary the later prompts as my own intuition directs me. The Respondent should begin speaking immediately and for the entire time given, repeating thoughts, if necessary. When in doubt, simply describe the card! Each item below consists of one interaction lasting a brief one to two minutes. Indented items are part of the prior interaction and may require slightly more time. Occasionally ask the Questioner to summarize what they’ve learned so far (a few summary points are suggested below). For most of the interactions the Questioner remains silent except for asking the question. Note: it’s okay for the Questioner to see the card drawn.
After the Questioner asks their question, the Respondent draws a card and—
• responds with the first thing on the card that catches his or her eye.
• responds by literally describing the image on the card (no meanings or interpretation allowed).
-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).
• responds by describing what seems to be the emotions, feelings and attitude of the figure(s) on the card and the mood and atmosphere of the environment.
-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are feeling . . .”).
• the Questioner thinks the question silently (not aloud) and the Respondent responds with something suggested by the card.
• responds with a question (that is, answer a question with a question based on the card drawn).
-Optional: Questioner says what the Respondent’s question brought up.
• responds by not looking at the card (draw one but don’t look at it).
• breathes in the card and then responds with ONE word.
-Optional: Questioner tells how that word is relevant to their question.
• responds with one or more metaphors, aphorisms or sayings based on the literal image (“Been down so long it looks like up to you.” “Beggars can’t be choosers.” “You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” “It’s like being stuck on a fence.”)
• responds with what the person “should do.” (The Questioner can be asked to phrase their question accordingly: “What should I do about . . . ?”)
• responds with what the person “shouldn’t do.” (Ditto. Have the “should/shouldn’t” prompts follow each other.)
• responds with a wild, crazy fairytale using the card as the illustration, and beginning “Once upon a time . . .”
-prompt the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).
• responds with “The lesson of this card is . . .”
• responds with “The worst case scenario described by this card is . . .”
• responds with “The best case scenario is . . .” (Pair it with the preceding.)
• responds as if the Respondent were a figure on the card, by speaking as that figure.
• responds with “Yes, if . . .” or “No, if . . .” or “Maybe, if . . .”. (Have the Questioner ask a yes/no question.)
• Have the Questioner say how all these responses relate to their issue. (Can insert this whenever it seems appropriate—not too often, but definitely at the end.)
I sometimes end with each person creating an affirmation based on the qualities that they perceive in one of the cards that they most want to develop in themselves, and committing to an action that is in alignment with that.
For Further Development
Many more possibilities are suggested by the exercises in my book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, which also presents techniques that will make you a more effective and empathic leader of this kind of group process. See especially Step 21 for the affirmation process and the “Traps and Solutions” in Appendix H.
James Wells’ reports on his experience when I taught this process at Readers Studio 2010.
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).
What deck, created two years ago by the versatile Filipino artist, Lynyrd Narciso, predicted the ascendancy of a certain unknown to national prominence? Name not only the deck and the person, but tell us what symbols in the card gave it away. Anyone use this deck? If so, what do you think of it? [Thanks to Lynn Araujo.]
Enough of you have figured it out, so I’ll let everyone know. This is the Vanessa Tarot by Lynyrd Narciso (2006, U.S. Games Systems, Inc.). The people (mostly female) have big heads and doe’s eyes like the BRATZ dolls that swept the international market a couple of years ago. Illustrations feature plenty of visual references to pop culture and fairy tales and have the same mix of adult themes and pre-teen dreams that you’ll find on TV and in the movies, including a multi-cultural cast of women scientists, warriors, judges, princesses and bartenders, and a few guys. This “cute” deck offers far more than you might think on first look. Here’s a review by Dan Pelletier.
This game is known as Le Tarot, Jeux de Tarot, Tarocchi, Trumps, Tarock, etc. These are the most basic rules; hundreds of variations exist. It’s easy and a lot of fun. Hands move quickly. Skill derives from play that maximizes points.
The Game: Tarot is a trick-taking game that can be played with two to six players (usually 3 or 4). The cards otherwise known as the Major Arcana or Trumps are a permanent Trump suit. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the simplest, yet best, tarot game I’ve tried. I learned it in 1982 from David Quigley, creator of “Alchemical Hypnotherapy”.
It’s a great dinner party game that can be played by people who know nothing about tarot in that they are asked to free-associate about the images and symbols on the cards. A knowledgeable tarotist can act as guide and add insights and possibilities, but the ideal is to encourage each player to talk about what they see in the cards and in the other players. (Some shorter “ice-breaker” variations are described in the Comments.) Read the rest of this entry »
One of the simplest ways to start writing your own tarot poetry is to begin with the haiku format. There’s something about following it’s basic rules that frees up the creative sense. Since there are three lines you can either dedicate the whole poem to one card or use it for a three-card reading—one line for each card in your spread. (I write a haiku for each of the three cards and then take one line from each to form a fourth haiku that integrates those three cards.) Different decks tend to evoke entirely different “voices” in your haiku. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.
Want some inspiration? You’ll find lots of examples, support and no criticism at Aeclectic’s Tarotforum haiku thread here.
The following are a few haiku rules, which you can feel free to break or use as you will.
A haiku describes natural phenomena in the fewest number of words, making an indelible impression on the reader. It calls attention to an observation and in effect says, “Look at this” or “Think about this.”
It consists of 17 syllables, or less, in three lines:
Guidelines (follow only if you wish):
• Use the present tense.
• No titles or rhymes (except to name your card, if you wish)
• Include two images that create harmony or contrast so each enriches the understanding of the other.
• Either the first or second line ends with a colon, long dash or ellipsis (marked or not).
• The two parts create a spark of energy, like the gap in a spark plug.
• Limit the use of pronouns.
• Traditionally, each haiku contains a seasonal reference.
• Use common, natural, sensory words. Avoid gerunds and adverbs.
• Images often begin wide-angle, then medium range and zoom in for a close up.
• Present what causes the emotion rather than the emotion itself.
Here’s one based on a very literal description of the 6 of Pentacles:
Hands catch falling coins.
Under the balance, someone
reaches — emptiness.