Archive for September, 2012

How Will You Use the Circle?

Nine people sit down and relax into their seats at the beginning of the tarot class.  I light a candle, then all of us read aloud the sentences that remind us how we’ll spend time together in a respectful manner.  Each person speaks hir name and how s/he feels as we enter class time.  We really get to know everyone in this brief and deep exchange.  At the end, we restate our names and what is most alive in us after that particular class session.  We remember so much better what was done and discussed after hearing these statements.  This has been a good circle.

In the middle of the dining table, my partner Cyrus and I place a photograph of us, a candle, and a rattle.  We light sage and allow the smoke to wash over us as a reminder that we’re entering something more than casual conversation.  Cyrus holds the rattle to indicate that it’s his turn to talk.  When he’s finished, I offer brief feedback about what I heard him say.  Then, we change roles.  I speak what’s in my heart and on my mind and he lets me know what he’s heard me say.  We learn much about one another and ourselves.  Our relationship deepens as we sit in circle together once every three weeks.

In what group, organisation, or relationship could YOU use more intentional speaking, attentive listening, and sense of connection and collaboration?

Find out by coming to
CONVERSATIONS THAT CONNECT: An Introduction to Circle Process
with James Wells
Saturday, October 13, 2012
1:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Ancaster CP

Circle process (council) is a highly adaptable conversational methodology applicable to any gathering of people: professional, personal, spiritual, educational, creative, and community. Its roots in ancient wisdom grounds it while its use as a contemporary leadership tool keeps it fresh and vital.

During this afternoon session, you’ll learn good circle basics, then experience a council first-hand. You’ll leave the session yearning to use the principles and practices of circle out in the world right away!

This gathering will take place in James’s space in Toronto (address provided upon registration).

Our circle

There’s a sliding-scale fee for the afternoon:
$20 to $50 (your choice)
The registration fee needs to be pre-paid by PayPal, cheque, or cash.

Limited to 12 participants, pre-registration is required.
Contact James Wells directly at circleways@yahoo.ca

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Tarot Layout Based on XIII

Trump XIII in the tarot is most often called Death, but in some decks is renamed Sunset, Transformation, Phoenix, or the Unnamed Trump (many early decks didn’t actually name Death on the card).  Its invitation to organic change, endings, and transformation are the basis for this XIII-inspired tarot layout.  It will appear in my forthcoming book, so if you use it with another person, please credit me.  May the responses from your inner teacher through the cards you receive for this spread guide you to true and helpful change.

Death, from Morgan-Greer Tarot

                                    [5] [6]

              [3] [4]

[1] [2]

1.  What needs to be eliminated from my life?

2.  How can I do that as organically and gracefully as possible?

3.  What in my life needs to be transformed?

4.  Into what?

5.  What does that transformative process look like?

6.  How will I know that the transformation is complete?


Image: Death from the Morgan-Greer Tarot by Lloyd Morgan and Bill Greer.

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In Praise of Older-Style Decks

Antique tarot decks are making a comeback.  Restorations of 17th and 18th century packs and cards created in an older style are very desirable these days.  I wonder why these decks, so long neglected on this side of the Atlantic, are finally garnering attention. 

One idea that comes to mind is that the antique-style decks have an old feel to them.  Many people prefer century-old brick houses to the metallic boxes that pass for dwellings in 2012.  Could there be a correlation in tarot decks?  The sense of tried-and-true and the feeling of being lived with is comforting.

Another thought is that the antique tarot decks aren’t layered with years and years of superstition, philosophy, esotericism, or cutesy themes.  Without getting into a pissing contest of the “this deck is purer than that one” kind, the older and older-style cards are elegantly themselves.  No excess adornment required.  They take us closer to the roots of tarot.

Perhaps using an antique tarot deck unites us with our cartomantic ancestors.  A sense of belonging to a lineage comes with employing a Marseille or other older pack.  One might perceive oneself as the carrier of a noble tradition.

My very first tarot deck, purchased 33 year ago this month, was/is the 1JJ Swiss pack, a reproduction of a 19th century set of cards.  I still treasure it.  Other antique-style decks I use a lot include the Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille (a restoration of a deck from 1650), the Jean Dodal Tarot de Marseille (a restoration of cards from 1701), a version of the Tarot de Marseille by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Phillipe Camoin, and a new black and white Marseille-inspired Majors-only deck called Triomphes MMXII (I love that Enqrique Enriquez and Mary Greer, two contemporary tarot “stars”, are depicted as Trumps I and II respectively).

Since I have a fondness for the High Priestess or Papesse card (Trump II), here are images of that card from the decks I’ve named in the order in which I named them.  Enjoy!

   Tarot of Jean Noblet, II The Popess, JC Flornoy restoration   Tarot of Jean Dodal, II the Papess, JC Flornoy restoration     

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About Yes/No Questions

I recently wrote a piece called Questions Are Empowering.  This is true if they’re open-ended questions.  An open-ended question invites a descriptive, conversational response rather than netting you a “yes” or a “no”.  “What does the optimal path to earning $75,000 per year through my business look like?” is far more helpful than, “Will I be rich?”

In my work with tarot clients, I discourage yes/no questions and encourage open-ended inquiries.  Beginning a question with “how” or “what” is proactive.  Including a reference to oneself or to one’s situation keeps it clean so that one doesn’t end up prying into other people’s lives.  “What is the most respectful and inviting way that I can ask Mike out on a date?” will be bring a more fruitful answer than, “Does Mike like me?”

Some tarot readers are OK with asking yes/no questions that don’t carry too much heft in their lives.  “Should I include spinach with the main course?” or “Will I enjoy Buffy’s party if I attend?” won’t garner a life-changing reading, so they figure why not ask.  They might lay out five cards and notice how many are upright and reversed, gathering their yes or no from that.  Some people might pull a single card and through the card’s even or odd number determine their yes or no.

The only time I can see a yes/no question being helpful in a tarot consultation is after all the pros and cons have been assessed, helpful resources and worst block revealed, and all the tarot information has been weighed alongside what you already know yet you still can’t make up your mind around an issue.  A quick yes/no procedure can be the tie-breaker.  The trick, however, is to notice your emotional reaction to the answer that the tarot gives you.  That’s your real anwer.  If the card you pick says, “Yes” and your heart sinks a bit, then the true answer for you is, “No.”  If the tarot says, “No” and you feel really good about that, your feelings tell you the response.

A more empowering yes/no tarot process is a simple (yet somehow deep) two-card tarot spread:

1          2

Card 1 = “Yes, if…”

Card 2 = “No, if…”

For example, I’m asking, “Should I publish this blog post about yes/no questions?  Card 1 is The Tower: Yes, if I want to catalyse a conversation filled with strong opinions.  Yes, if I want to stir the pot.  Yes, if I want to take down or reform some old ideas about the tarot.  Card 2 is The Hanged One: No, if I want tarot to stay in limbo.  No, if I feel like procrastinating.  No, if I feel that someone will punish me in some way for my ideas.  In this moment, the active, catalysing energy feels better than putting things off and even the idea that someone might punish me for my ideas.  Who cares?!

Ultimately, my preference is to avoid yes/no inquiries.  There’s always a “what”, a “how”, or a “where in my life” lurking somewhere not too far beneath the surface of such an question.  The questions behind the questions, the open-ended, conversational queries interest me and they’ll make your journey to fulfillment much richer.

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The Power of Listening

Three years ago, a friend came to me a few times with sorrow in his heart and an overloaded mind.  Life had not been going well for him professionally, romantically, or creatively and he was at a low.  Each time, I brewed tea, laid out some morsels to nibble on, and invited Friend to sit down with me at the dining table.

As we sat together, Friend spoke everything he had been thinking and feeling.  I listened.  Friend cried a lot.  I listened and waited.  From time to time, I would ask him an open-ended questions based on what he had said that stood out for me.  Then he’d talk and cry some more.  I’d listen.  We’d hug and set up another time to meet, then he’d go home.

At the end of the last of these sessions, Friend seemed much more animated, less sad, and had some ideas about moving on in his life.  Just before opening the door to leave, he said, “James, you should be a motivational speaker.”  I responded, “Actually, Friend, I’m more of a motivational listener.”  We stood there for a moment, eyes and mouths wide open.  Both of us knew that something important had just been spoken.

When people hold a conversation in council or circle, they agree to express themselves one at a time and to listen attentively to whomever is speaking at any given time.  I’ve seen amazing changes happen to people simply by being witnessed in this way without cross-talk, fixing, or advice.  To be able to tell personal stories of unfathomable pain or great exuberance in the company of trusted people without being judged is an act of healing.  They realise there’s nothing wrong with them or with their feelings.  People hold their stories as tenderly and respectfully as any official sacred text.  The listening is enough.  As I often say, “We have two ears and one mouth.  Let’s remember that.”

The questions I pose during tarot counselling appointments, council circles, motivational listening sessions, and in my journal are all rooted in listening to what’s occurring.  Once I ask, I need to step back and simply witness where that question takes me or the other person/people.  Often, the listening is the healing balm that’s required.

How might we practise the power of listening?  Let’s try these things:

  • The next time you want to interject an opinion or piece of advice into a conversation, take a slow, wide, deep breath and say nothing.  Notice what happens.
  • Go for an after-dinner walk with someone who is close to you.  Agree to simply listen to what’s around you instead of talking.  When you return home, share with one another what your experience of the walk was.  Remember to listen to one another as you share.
  • Find a place outside where there is as little activity as possible.  Sit down there.  Spend seven to fifteen minutes focusing your sense of hearing in seven directions: before you, behind you, to your left, to your right, above you, below you, within you.  What was your experience during those seven to fifteen minutes?
  • Pull a tarot card (or other insight tool) at random from your pack.  Briefly look at the picture.  Hold the card up to one of your ears.  Listen.  What do you notice?

When did you feel most deeply heard?  What conditions made that possible?  When did you truly hear the very core of something or someone?  What conditions made that possible?  What, for you, was a peak healing experience that involved the power of listening?  How might you build on that experience to enrich yourself and our world?  Please tell me…I’m listening…

Image: Two of Air from the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert.

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Questions are Empowering

On page 8 of the Strategic Questioning Manual, Fran Peavey writes, “An important task of strategic questions is to create the environment where people can see the solutions that are within themselves.”

Whether I’m working with a tarot client, hosting a council circle, offering a workshop, or sitting with someone in their motivational listening session, questions play a key role.  Without clear, intentional questions, the tarot would be random cards on the table and the circle would devolve into a kaffee klatsch.

A good question, usually open-ended and that begins with “how” or “what”, cracks open our habitual thinking and invites something more spacious to come forth.  Part of my work includes coming up with questions that get us closer to what we most need to know or learn about something.

Many times, a tarot card and a client’s experience of it in the moment stir questions in me rather than statements.  When I pose these questions to the person, it’s an opportunity for hir to enter another layer of understanding connected with hir issue.  The card images in partnership with such inquiries weave a richer tapestry than if I just sat there and talked at the client.  S/He discovers hir own solutions! 

Instead of me saying, “The World card can be about options, choices, multiples, and international experiences”, I can invite a client into the card with, “What story is happening in this picture?”  If s/he describes it, “There a woman who is standing naked before all of nature, before all the natural creatures of the world”, I can ask hir, “In what ways might you need to stand naked before all of nature?”  Such an unexpected question can lead to an equally unexpected insight.

When sitting in circle with my peers, I often sum up what I’ve heard in our collaborative conversation by formulating one to three questions based on what really stood out for me.  Some of them do so, too.  Not only does this practice efficiently summarise our time together, it provides us with seeds to plant in the next council.  Infinitely more interesting, for me, than page after page of meeting minutes and a good path into the deeper wisdom of the group.

Thumbnail image for Explorer of Air

The Gaian Tarot‘s response to “What are the richest gifts that questions offer us?” is the Explorer of Air:

  • Focused thoughts and words.
  • A higher perspective and a longer view on what is happening.
  • The capacity to hear la langue des oiseaux more clearly.



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