Interview with Tom Tadfor Little
Conducted by Diane Wilkes
I met Tom Tadfor Little in person shortly before the second World Tarot Congress, but I knew him long before that through his scholarly, yet accessible posts on Tarot-l and other e-mail lists. I became "President of his Secret Fan Club" in short order, because I loved the way he combines (and continues to combine) his historical awareness and scholarship of the tarot with a genuine appreciation of intuition. People tend to be vigorously defensive of their approach to tarot, be it left- or right-brained--Tom is the rare bird that uses every part of his medulla oblongata, and saves his contempt for those who would be contemptuous of others.
Along with noted tarot author Mary K. Greer, Tom has written what I consider the definitive book on Court Cards. He discusses the book and some of his other projects with me in this interview--DW.
Diane: How does a nice nuclear physicist get involved
with tarot? Chronology and details, please.
Tom: If there is a common thread between my career as a scientist and my spiritual interests, I guess it would be curiosity. I've always been interested in philosophy, and about 10 years ago, that interest took me into the philosophy of religion, and I learned about different belief systems and about the different ideas philosophers have had about religions and spiritual practices and what they do for people. Eventually, I became interested enough that I wanted to try to things for myself, instead of just considering them academically. Tarot was the first thing I tried! I ordered my first deck - Norbert Loesche's "Cosmic Tarot", in 1997. I couldn't wait for it to arrive, so I went out and bought a Waite-Smith deck too! I got Mary Greer's Tarot for Your Self and started doing the exercises and reading for myself. Wonderful things started to happen, and I was hooked! I got very active in the internet groups, and managed to get to the second World Tarot Congress in 1999, which convinced me that I not
only liked the cards, but liked the people too!
Diane: You originally became known for your work with the Antique Tarots and even started an email list on the subject. Could you talk about that and whether or not you will ever complete the book so many of us long for you to publish on that subject?
Tom: Thanks for remembering this and asking about it. I still have a strong interest in the antique decks, and hope to put together a book on the subject some day. Alas, I tend to get interested in new things faster than I can follow through on the things I start. And I'm conscious of how easy it is for me to spread myself too thin. Right now, I'm focusing on teaching in the local Pagan community, and that needs to be my primary work for awhile.
Diane: How did you get from Antique Tarots to the Court Cards? Did Mary Greer approach you or vice-versa? How did the collaborative process work for the two of you?
Tom: Llewellyn was interested in a book on that subject as part of their special topics in tarot series. They talked with Mary, and Mary talked with me. We worked by deciding on the basic structure of the book, and then each bringing things in to fill it out. Almost every chapter has material from both of us in it. I'm sure some people will assume that I wrote the history material and Mary wrote the exercises, but actually the section on history is almost entirely hers, and most of what I brought in were exercises! Mary was a good collaborator, very experienced in tarot writing, of course, with a good sense of what was important for the quality of the final product.
Diane: Tell me how you view the book. What do you see as its strengths? What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Tom: I see the book as creating lots of opportunities for readers to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the court cards. These are cards that many people have trouble interpreting, and that would not be the case if there were a single, simple recipe for working with them. There isn't.
So we offer opportunities: things to try, information to consider, perspectives to explore. We come at the subject from a lot of different angles, knowing that different readers will need somewhat different approaches. I think that anyone who really uses this book will come away with a more versatile and effective repertoire of methods for interpreting the court cards than they came in with.
Diane: Is there anything about the final product you'd change
or expand upon?
Tom: I don't think I would change much about it; we were careful in deciding what to put in and what to leave out. During the writing process, I found myself having new ideas that I wanted to develop, but they were not closely tied to the purpose of the book.
Diane: Is there a particular court card you most identify
Tom: I've worked with the cards so much, that I think I identify with them all now. There isn't a single card that hasn't connected with something crucial in me. I sometimes identify with the Queen of Swords in my magical work, with the Knight of Cups in my love life, with the King of Pentacles as a father, and with the Page of Wands when something stimulates my curiosity.
But in the end, they are all with me, all the time.
Diane: What are you working on now?
Tom: I'm devoting most of my
attention now to teaching in the Pagan community here in northern New Mexico.
I'm dean of the School of Magickal Arts at
Ardantane, which is a Pagan learning center offering classes that go beyond
the "Wicca 101" stuff that seems to be everywhere. It's very exciting, we
actually have a campus with facilities and faculty and certificate programs. I'm
also launching a teaching coven here in Santa Fe, called Prism Wheel. Despite
its reputation as a "new-age Mecca", there's not really much for the
Pagan-oriented people here. Prism Wheel is the only open, publicly advertised
group doing things in Santa Fe at the moment.
So I'm doing a lot of teaching and curriculum writing, but no book projects at the moment.
Diane: How do you perceive the tarot? How would you define it? And how would you say your work with the tarot has changed you?
Tom: I see the tarot as a system of spiritually potent symbols. 78 windows into the things that matter most. When I work with the tarot, I learn to see human universals manifesting in my own life and the lives of others around me. Like many people, I suppose, I had avoided parts of the human condition in my own life, and stayed in my comfort zone (which was mostly intellectual pursuits). But when you start working with tarot, you can't really hide from the big picture any more, because it's there staring at you out of the cards. You may see yourself as the King of Swords, but sooner or later the cards will show you that you are also the Queen of Cups or the Knight of Wands, and you have to work through what that means and how to live it well. Because of my work with the tarot, I now live a life that is both deeper and broader than it was before.
Interview and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes