Yesterday, I posed two questions on Facebook:

  1. What bores you the most in the world of tarot?
  2. What might be a fascinating alternative to that thing?

The varied responses, from my point of view, can be sugared down to:

  1. What bores most people is the tarot being treated as some sort of authoritarian “ism” (i.e. “This deck/spread/meaning/school of thought/book/etc. is right and that deck/spread/meaning/book/etc. is wrong, so you’d better get/use/know/adhere to/read this.”) and the deck as a relic that’s only for readings about surface matters.
  2. What might be a fascinating alternative would be to listen to, witness, honour, and respect the diverse roles that the tarot (and spreads, processes, books, etc.) can play.  People also seem to want experiences or encounters with the tarot that take them into experiences/encounters with something deeper and larger (the soul, interconnectedness, nature, our world, cultural change).

Today, I posed the same two questions to the tarot itself, drawing two random cards from the Voyager Tarot.  Its responses were:

  1. IV. EMPEROR.  “In the world of tarot, I’m most bored with power grabs, self-proclaimed ‘monarchs’, competitiveness, ego trips, and tarot-based dictatorships.”
  2. ACE OF WORLDS.  “A fascinating alternative to that might be for tarot people to celebrate and encourage one another’s success, practise tarot in ways that respect interrelatedness, use the cards to generate synergy, and, like the planets in our solar system, each play her/his role in the grand scheme of things in ways that are natural to her/him.”


Sunday, June 7 was our final day together at Aldermarsh.  The “official” part of the day was an extended circle that took place over the course of the morning and was made up of seven sections.

First, Joanna asked people to share a meaningful image, insight, or experience they had at the gathering.  I’m always freshly amazed and delighted at what stands out for people when they share these things.  Second, Joanna invited us to pull a card from whatever deck we had with us to respond to, “What wisdom am I taking home with me from this retreat?”  Mine was the 10 of Wands from the Voyager Tarot: personal growth from the wisdom of ancestors, descendants, and the growing things; continued flourishing of life within and around me; more ways to cultivate my Centre so it can bloom and thrive in life-affirming ways; deeper roots and higher aspirations.


Next, some people who had made Ojos de Diosa showed their art and told us something about it, many of them naming their pieces for the first time in our presence.  Then guidelines for how to re-enter one’s daily routine after the retreat were offered: listen to the people at home about what occurred there while you were away, share your retreat experience with trusted people in a conscious way (i.e. in a circle-like manner) when you feel ready, place yourself within three feet of the Earth’s surface as often as possible, be aware of mood changes that can indicate grief about no longer being in the retreat environment, journal, nap, take baths, take your time, and so forth.

The fifth component of Sunday morning was a Circle of Blessings, an opportunity for participants to step into the middle of the group, state their year-long projects/intentions from the Callings and Resources activity (see the article about Saturday) and what they need in order to make it happen, and to receive the blessings of everybody else in the room through sound, touch, words, song, laughter, breath, etc.  My own intention was/is “more of this” by which I meant offering more full-day, weekend, and multi-day experiences such as retreats that bring together circle process, symbolic tools and processes, time in Nature, and clear intention in service to Life.  What I needed/need is to know:

1. What would make weekend or multi-day gatherings (such as retreats) hosted by me magnetically appealing to people?

2. What life-affirming tools, processes, and/or experiences would nourish people’s souls at such gatherings?

We concluded by retrieving our special objects from the altar, stating, “I am now leaving retreat time”, and using our voices, bodies, drums, and rattles to thank the seven directions, four elements, four archetypes, and aspects of ourselves that supported our time together with such care.

After photo ops, lunch, and clean-up, it was time to depart the beauty and magic of Aldermarsh to go forth and embody Earth’s dreams for a better future.

Most of us at the end of the retreat (photo by Joanna Powell Colbert).

Most of us at the end of the retreat (photo by Joanna Powell Colbert).

We began Saturday, June 6 with another Morning Circle, a time to share what was in our hearts and minds so far about what we were experiencing on the retreat.  Again, we pulled random cards to gain wisdom for the day ahead.  My own symbol, Unconscious (#6) from the Oracle of Initiation, suggested: whatever is happening is a mirror of my own unconscious; bring myself back to awareness when attention fades; allow what needs to emerge from the Deep Place Within to do so; find courage to embrace unknown aspects of myself; allowing connections between dreams, blue waters and skies, rich brown earth, and green growing beings to unfold.


Then I guided the group through two processes from the Work That Reconnects, a body of life-affirming, Earth-honouring activities and ideas by eco-philosopher Joanna Macy and associates.  The first one, The Seventh Generation (aka the Double Circle), was a ritual dialogue between people here in 2015 and those 200 years or so in the future.  Through this imaginative meeting, people got in touch with the atrocities happening in our time, their feelings about them, first steps they could take to change them, and sources of strength and courage to keep them going.  The Seventh Generation ritual helped us remember how to be good ancestors.

After a pause, we did the Callings and Resources exercise (aka Gifts and Resources).  First, we reflected on all that had emerged for us from the dreams, the tarot readings, the nature walks, and the Seventh Generation ritual.  Then, in pairs, participants connected with a vision of how to be of service to life on Earth, a specific project to carry out over the next year, resources to call upon and to attain, potential blocks and how to overcome them, and actions to take over the course of the week following the EarthDreaming retreat.  As one spoke, the other scribed.  The scribe got a nurturing hand massage at the end as a “thank you” from the speaking partner.


An image of the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects (art by Dori Midnight).

Saturday afternoon was Free Time.  Some people stayed and worked on making Ojos de Diosa in Marsh House, others went to a nearby beach, some went for a walk or napped.  I did a private tarot consultation for one of the participants then made my way up the hill to the Whidbey Institute to walk the labyrinth, do the Dance of Life in the gorgeous wooden Sanctuary, and savour the land and its foliage.

The Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary.

That evening, Lee LaMar led us all in a Drumming Circle at Marsh House.  He taught three basic rhythmic patterns then got the group doing all three of them.  Magic happened as people began to improvise with drums, rattles, and other percussion instruments.  Many of us vocalised chants we knew spontaneously, adding harmony as we felt called to do so.  Some folks got up to dance and move their bodies to the mind-altering beauty of the instruments.  Gradually, we wound it down to soft chanting as the sun set and our central candle was the sole light.  Good basic communal ceremony at its best!

Before bed, time for a sauna, visiting with new and old friends, sacred art play, and just unwinding after a rich day.


Friday, June 5 brought us EarthDreaming retreatants into deep symbolic space.

During Morning Circle we shared significant experiences we’d had at Aldermarsh up until that point.  To hear what carried heart and meaning for each person was moving.  Then we each pulled a tarot or oracle card for the day and spent five minutes journalling about its wisdom for the day for us.  My own card, the Knight of Wands from the Greenwood Tarot, suggested: sniff out the soul, reflect on where I’ve been in order to get me to where I need to be, focus on Self.

Greenwood Knight of Wands.

Greenwood Knight of Wands.

Next, we held Dream Council.  This telling of “big” sleep-state dreams was carried out in the spirit of a dream coming not only from and for the personal psyche, but also from and for the collective psyche and from and for the Earth’s psyche.  We explored and tended them as creative, healing experiences that were/are gifts from and for the entire Web of Life which includes us.  Dreams were shared in two ways.  First, we read them aloud as is, from the perspective of the dreamer in the present moment.  The second time around, we told the dreams from the perspective of the Earth, replacing “I, me, my” with “the Earth, Gaia, First Mother’s” etc.  To listen to and imagine each dream from this larger point of view made them more vital.  The final part of Dream Council was to reflect on the common themes that emerged and to write down and speak aloud an open-ended question that came to mind based on those themes.  My own question was/is, “How can the waters of the world show us a direct path through what is out of control?”

The group then went outdoors to spend time with Grandparent Fir and to engage in a silent, contemplative Nature Walk.  We did not talk with our human friends and did not go into any human-made structure, but rather stayed outside to build a more-than-verbal connection with wild roses, rabbits, alders, stones, grasses, clouds, and all the beings.  It was a beautiful way to round out our Friday morning.

After lunch, people had the opportunity for Sacred Art Play with Joanna.  She taught people how to make Ojos de Diosa (Eyes of the Goddess) with sticks, yarn, and various adornments.  The care with which folks wove these pieces together spoke to me of the care they have for living at this time.  That afternoon, I also performed private tarot consultations for a couple of participants.  Visual magic all ’round!

Our altar/centre with Ojos de Diosa added to it (photo by Joanna Powell Colbert).

Our altar/centre with Ojos de Diosa added to it (photo by Joanna Powell Colbert).

The latter part of Friday afternoon was dedicated to amplifying the dreams we had shared by employing the tarot.  Each retreatant listed hir dream characters, components, events, and scenes, then drew a card for each one.  Sharing observations of the symbols with activity partners helped people notice richer layers in their night-visions.  In addition to the personal, these layouts were intended to explore what else the Planet Herself was suggesting.  We summarised our readings by responding to the question, “Why might the Earth have given you these particular cards at this time?”

Trump III from the Noblet TdM.

Trump III from the Noblet TdM.

After dinner (another of Elaine’s brilliant repasts!), we gathered in Marsh House to do the Dance of Life, a series of movements that honours the wisdom of each of the four main directions.  We did this to a recording of She Who Hears the Cries of the World by Jennifer Berezan.  This dance was a gorgeous, embodied way to wind down a full and lovely day before moving into social time, quiet art-making, or relaxing in the sauna.

There’s more to tell you about the rest of the EarthDreaming retreat, but what do you notice so far?  What stands out for you in these first two blog posts about the gathering?


Joanna Powell Colbert and I co-hosted/co-facilitated a retreat called EarthDreaming June 4 through June 7.  It was an opportunity for 17 of us to slow down and pay attention to what Mama Gaia might be saying to us about these times and what we might do about it.  Our time together took place at the gorgeous Aldermarsh Retreat Center on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.

Joanna, Elaine (our fabulous cook), and I arrived at Aldermarsh a day early, on June 3 to settle in.  I walked the grounds to re-acquaint myself with the place (I had been there almost eight years prior) and to greet Grandparent Fir, a huge douglas fir that towers over the meadow where Marsh House, the main workshop space, is located.  This tree is magical!

James adoring Grandparent Fir.

James adoring Grandparent Fir.                            Photo by Joanna Powell Colbert.

On Thursday, we greeted participants as they arrived from various parts of the continent.  Then I did a reading for someone, Dana (one of Aldermarsh’s stewards) provided an orientation for everybody, and we all tucked into the first of many scrumptious meals.

In the evening, the group gathered in Marsh House for our opening circle.  With drums, voices, rattles, body movement, animal sounds, a flute, and words of welcome, we invoked the seven directions, four elements, Four-Fold Way archetypes, and the best of who we are to be present at and to support our time together.  Each of us placed a special object on the altar in the centre of the room, told a short story about it, and declared, “I am now entering retreat time.”  Next, we held a round of council on the question, “If the land where you live could tell us something about you, what would it say?”  This opened us to knowing one another in a rich way.  All of this was framed by Psalm 24 and Psalm 133 from Angela Magara’s Earth Psalms.  In the words of the latter, we began to remember “How good it is, how good and sweet it is, when we hold community between us.”  We had crossed the threshold into sacred time and space for EarthDreaming with our souls, one another, and the Soul of the World.

The path to Marsh House.

The path to Marsh House.                                      Photo by Joanna Powell Colbert.

Acrostic Tarot

An enjoyable, and creative way to pay homage to a tarot card and to gain fresh ideas about it is to use the card as a springboard for an acrostic poem.  To do this, write a card’s name or its keyword vertically on the left side of your page then fill in the lines as spontaneously as possible, using the picture as added inspiration, if you like.  This isn’t about creating literary masterpieces, but rather is about spontaneous expression, so just go with it.  Here’s an example from the card I pulled for myself today, the 3 of Worlds from the Voyager Tarot.  This morning, I chose to use the printed keyword, “nurturing”, as the basis for my acrostic poem.

three_worlds_voyager_lg (1)

now is a good time to sprout

under the auspices of the mother,

rejoice in what you already have

to see it grow and thrive,

until you’re grateful for what IS

reaping more will mean nothing,

implement a practical plan then

nest for a while to enjoy

getting taken care of.

This piece is the fourth and final installment of my report on the recent tarot gathering in NYC.  Please see my previous three posts for the others.

Sunday, 26 April was wrap-up day for this year’s Reader’s Studio.  I wasn’t able to attend Mitchell Osborn’s breakfast roundtable, How to Handle Family and Friends (and Clients) when they “Just Don’t Get What You Do” as a Reader/Psychic, but people told me that the discussion was enjoyable and useful.


The tribe gathered in the ballroom and each person found hir original foundation reading partner from Friday.  Barbara and I pulled out our notes and the cards from the beginning of the conference and took turns going over the spreads with fresh eyes.  Ideas we discussed before were fleshed out and made even more clear by paying attention to natural elements as depicted in our layouts, by paying attention to our breathing, by offering thoughts of blessing to one another, and by concluding our sessions with the sacred gaze.  I felt truly helped and I perceived that my reading partner really witnessed a deep and authentic part of herself in the key card from her reading.  This Readers Studio practice of revisiting the foundation reading after learning new ideas is valuable and demonstrates just how much a tarot practitioner can improve hir skills through an immersive experience.

Ferol Humphrey invited various attendees to share their experiences.  People contributed their thoughts and feelings about how the workshops, study groups, interactions with peers, and questioning their own assumptions opened them up as people and as readers of tarot.  Heartening!


Our morning concluded with an hour and a quarter of Tarot Incubators, a multi-table brainstorming session facilitated overall by me and at each topic’s specific table by several friends.  This year’s Incubator table hosts were Wald Amberstone, Nancy Antenucci, Joanna Powell Colbert, Ellen-Mary Keough-O’Brien, Mellissae Lucia, Andrew McGregor, Heatherleigh Navarre, Beth Owl’s Daughter, Cheryl Ryder, Doug Reuschel, and Gina Thies.  People were invited to go to the table whose topic would be most useful to them and to take part in discussion and Q & A about that topic.  This year, we covered being specialists in aspects of tarot, the ins and outs of creating a deck, tarot for creative expression, using the cards for meditation and ritual, employing specific cultural concepts in tarot decks, embracing a cross-cultural approach to reading for people, building active tarot meet-up groups, and building an audience for one’s tarot practice.  The conversations were lively and inspiring.  At the end, participants were asked to state one thing they could take with them beyond the conference to help ground the ideas in reality.

After lunch, certificates were handed out, Ruth Ann bade farewell to the elements/suits (always so moving), and we all thanked one another for the whole experience.  A seamless, heart-centred, and effective Readers Studio had come to a close, but its wisdom and energy were carried forth into the world by all of us.

I’m already looking forward to next year!


Images: 10 of Flame Songs from the Songs for the Journey Home Tarot; 10 of Rainbows from the Osho Zen Tarot.


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