Readers' Studio 2005 - Page Two

To teach his class, James attired himself all in black--he looked far less like a surfer dude without the Hawaiian print shirt. He began with "What's a Nice Card Like You Doing in a Place Like This?" -- delineating ways to read "good" cards in difficult layout positions and "bad" cards that fall in spots like "Advice card" and "Strengths."

He depended on our understanding that there are no "good" or "bad" cards...but had us do exercises that made us look at the most positive aspects of a card we might consider challenging, and vice-versa. DO try this at home--it can offer some interesting insights.

Next we had to focus on a person we found challenging and then chose a card to represent that person. We had to look at the card for positives and then transfer those positives in some way to the person, as a way of healing the relationship. What I learned from this exercise is some relationships can only be healed so far...but I do recommend trying it for yourself.

The next topic was spreads ("Spreads Don't Grow on Trees You Know") and James gave us several different methods and techniques for creating them. We spent significant time on creating a spread based on a particular quotation by Jinx Brooks (Sue Pacillo's father): "Nothing worth having comes easy or fast." The spread that finally developed was as follows:

1 - What's my goal and its worth?

2 - What difficulties do I face?

3 - What I need to do before the goal is achieved?

4 - What will bridge me to my goal?

The next part of the workshop focused on spicing up our relationship with the cards, making them "new" again. Some techniques James offered included a method of spread creation that engaged the querent, and going through a new deck card-by-card and looking at the images as if you were in an art gallery, divorcing yourself from the reader's point-of-view and seeing them instead as art. James discussed reinterpreting the cards into other art forms, and fortuitously, one of the vendors was selling dolls based on tarot cards, so that was one example we could all see tangibly manifested. We also each wrote a haiku poem based on a card.

Other suggestions included going on a tarot walk to look for nature's version of a particular card or symbol, and creating a tarot feast or clothes or music based on tarot. We were then given the assignment of doing a tarot reading for tarot appreciation using a specific spread.

My partner (Nina Lee Braden) quite forcefully said she didn't want to do this. "Okay, what do you want to do?" I asked. We ended up using a deck the Amberstones created (in a way they hadn't foreseen--using it as a spread designator) and pulling a card using my Index Card version of the Jane Austen Tarot (no images, just quotes and the card title) as the card. We got the "White" Devil as our position--tarot is fun, especially when you break the rules and escape the chains and illuminates our secrets for "good"...and the Jane Austen Six of Pentacles spoke of the generosity that becomes reciprocal gain--when I acceded to Nina Lee's needs, we both immediately revived and gained tangible gifts of empathy and compassion.

What was amazing is we used two decks, neither of which had an image. Yet even without pictures, the tarot showed us specific patterns. Both The Devil and the Six of Pentacles add up to the number six (10 + 5 = 16 = 6) and both The Devil and the Six of Pentacles correspond to the element of earth. So, for us, the patterns of the tarot that extended our understanding was akin to a tool that fed us earth-based denizens.

Let me explain the analogy. There is a saying that Hell is like a long dining table with a bowl of soup and people sitting around it with their arms tied behind their back--and only one spoon. Heaven, on the other hand, is identical--the only difference being that the people find a way to pass the spoon to one another. So, the tarot is the helpful, shared spoon that allows us to distribute earthly sustenance (a metaphor that links both The Devil and the Six of Pentacles).

Discovering all this--and tweaking the rules--was a deep and freeing experience for us both, and one that did make us appreciate the tarot anew. While I enjoyed James' presentation style, I realized the minute I touched the cards that the hands-on experience excited and engaged me in a way lecture--by anyone--can not. As a teacher, I decided to implement more experiential tarot exercises and do less lecturing, so this reading may be a gift that keeps on giving to others, as well as myself. How very Six of Pentacles!   

James also discussed tarot games, specifically Tarot Rummy, a game created by Mary Greer. Since she was in the room, she explained an alternative method, and Rachel Pollack contributed a different technique as well. This was exciting for me, because I often use Tarot Rummy in one of my classes.

But you can never get enough Tarot Rummy, so while we didn't have time to play during class, a group of us tried Rachel's technique over lunch. We used the Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten, and found it to be an excellent deck for our purposes. In fact, several people who played ended up purchasing the deck soon thereafter.

After lunch, I don't think I speak for myself alone when I say that this particular workshop, coming at the end of such a time-and tarot-intensive period, needed to be fun and accessible, yet deep enough to hold our interest. It was quite a challenge, but Corrine Kenner proved herself more than up to the task. To set the mood, she played a lively set of romance-inspired songs that included tales of love both lost and found before the class even began.

As someone who is not overly fascinated by the subject of romance readings, I still had faith I'd enjoy this workshop because I have long appreciated Kenner's creative approach to the tarot, and knew she could offer some new approach or insights on any subject. I don't mind doing romance readings--depending on the querent, they can be transformative or annoying, just like any other topic. I just wasn't sure how much new information could be disseminated on the subject.

Kenner began by presenting the pros and cons of reading, and then addressed ways to "spice up your approach to readings" using the Maiden, Mother, Crone model of tarot reading. In order to enhance our appreciation of the Maiden, Mother, Crone, she adorned the walls with images of different aspects of each; Kenner knows how to set the scene! The reader as Maiden would be filled with enthusiasm and interest, someone who loved to ask questions and examine issues of the heart in great and meticulous detail. To reinforce this aspect, Corrine handed out decks that had a "match" card on top. We had to seek out the other person who also had this card--wordlessly. This person was our "soul mate" to whom we had to recount our life stories to without using speech. We had been given, however, a tool of communication--a Majors-Only deck that we could use to recount our autobiographical narrative. While some people had problems with this exercise and found it frustrating, my soul mate and I understood one another perfectly. It was an amazing and enlightening exercise and one I urge you to try at home with someone. The story you create with cards doesn't have to be your life story, but any subject you'd like--what happened that day at work, etc.

We continued with other aspects of the Maiden that could be incorporated into a reading, such as decking out your reading space with romantic accouterments, such as a wedding veil spread cloth or chocolate in a heart-shaped box. (What maiden can say no to chocolate?) To motivate us to find tarot-themed symbols of our own, Corrine sent us all on a scavenger hunt, to find things like a stranger's phone number and a stuffed teddy bears. (I was amazed to see the profusion of stuffed animals that ended up bedecking the tables--who knew that people brought such things to a conference?)

When Corrine went on to discuss the Mother aspects of the tarot reader (nurturing, comforting, and protecting), people came up with some great ways to set such an atmosphere in a reading, including having a "safe" word for querents to use as a signal to the reader when a discussion was becoming too difficult or uncomfortable. Another aspect of the Mother Corrine stressed, is doing of the dirty work (spoken like a woman whose daughter recently graduated from diapers). Dirty work requires more than changing Pampers; as a reader, we often have to ask the tough questions and examine the hard answers--which brought us to a rousing game of Tarot Jeopardy, complete with the sonorous-voiced Mark McElroy playing the part of Alex Trebek. This kind of fun, but informative teaching tool helped us to stay engaged instead of engaging in a siesta.

Notice the cool masks the participants are holding? They are symbols of the Maiden-Mother-Crone--Corinne thought of EVERYTHING.

After Tarot Jeopardy, we embarked upon "Fortune Creation," another Mother-styled exercise (Mother gives us self-empowerment tools), wherein, using the same Majors-Only deck Corrine supplied, we chose the cards we wanted. We also created our own spreads, so that we could design them to fit our particular needs. We can also, with their permission, co-create wish spreads for others. Creation is the keyword of the Mother, after all.

When we moved on to the Crone, we focused on her qualities of wisdom, experience, and advice. Advice is a loaded word, and we discussed the ethics of giving advice and ways to advise others in a reading ethically and effectively. The Crone is associated with the labyrinth (in the form of Hecate, for example), so we ended the class with an interactive labyrinth-based spread. You can get the Living Labyrinth Spread, and other material from Corrine's presentation, here.

While this was the end of Saturday's presentations, it was certainly not the end of all tarot discussion--more like the aperitif! Lots of other tarot-themed conversation and general merriment ensued at the hotel restaurant and in the lobby. If I've said it once, I've said it a nauseating number of times--the best thing about these events is the camaraderie and informal exchanges that take place when and where tarotists gather.

Often, people from out of town have early flights, so Sunday was an abbreviated program. One thing I learned even before class was the ancient secret of wearing red silk (it MUST be silk) underwear in order to shuffle your tarot cards correctly. Don't tell anyone, though! I was sworn to secrecy and I fear what will happen if this information (or the red silk underwear) gets into the wrong hands...

We began Sunday's session with another visit to our "benchmark" tarot reading of Friday, with the same partner. Inspired by James Ricklef's class of the day before, we both wrote haiku that expressed our new and improved understanding of our spreads. After that, Barbara Moore gave a presentation on soon-to-be-published books and decks from Llewellyn, and mentioned that she would no longer be in charge of tarot acquisitions for Llewellyn. The new acquisitions editor is Nancy Mostad, whose favorite deck is the Sacred Rose. Since Johanna Gargiulo Sherman, the creator of the Sacred Rose, was in attendance, it made for a nice synchronicity. Several other workshop participants, notably Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack, talked about forthcoming workshops and books. Ruth Ann and Wald talked about the Tarot School's new projects and awarded certificates to the attendees, and then the event came to a close.

As participants exchanged goodbyes, hugs, and email addresses, but no red silk undies (as far as I could see, anyway), I was reminded of the last day of summer camp. Memories and bonds had been created, and a poignant sense of loss pervaded the air. Fortunately, I got to take the train home with Debbie Lake and Matt Brooks, so my tarot experience was extended for a few hours...

But I am looking forward to the next Readers Studio. Sign up now and avoid the wait.

Photographs 2005 Sue Pacillo
Article and page 2005 Diane Wilkes