Archive for October, 2013

A Tarot Circle Game/Encounter for Samhain

As we approach the end of October, we come to Samhain, All Hallows, Hallowe’en, Scorpio time, the Death card month.  Whatever name you give it, we’re reminded of impermanence as we enter the colder, deeper time of the year.  Here is a process to help you and your close ones mark this special season, the gateway into the new year in the Old Ways.


A.  Gather in a circle, whether around a table, on the floor, or wherever.  Place a beeswax candle in the middle.  Remove any card(s) from your tarot deck that reminds you of Samhain/All Hallows and what it represents for you, then place this card(s) in the centre beside the candle.  You can also add miniature pumpkins, photos or other mementos of deceased loved ones, tokens of your ancestral heritage, fallen leaves, and other symbols to the middle arrangement.

B.  Read a quote/poem that reminds you of Samhain to set the tone.  Or sing a song dedicated to this time of year.

C.  One at a time, each person receives the tarot deck as it’s passed clockwise.  Each person, when s/he receives the pack, says one word or one phrase that lets the group know how s/he is as s/he enters this game(e.g. “I’m feeling grateful for X this evening.” or “Tired, but happy to be with you all today.” or “Curious about what we’re about to do.”).  Then s/he mixes the deck and picks four cards at random before passing the pack to the person on hir left.  This continues until everyone has checked in and has four cards in their hands.

D.  Four rounds are played clockwise (each round’s topic is below).  During each, every player gets a turn to lay a card on the surface in front of hir and use its image to inspire a continuation of the open sentence provided.  This can be done by consciously selecting a card from your face-up hand or by keeping your four cards face-down and intuitively picking which one will be your sentence-completion image.  Each player can expand on the sentence as much as s/he chooses.

  • FIRST ROUND: “What is truly dead or dying for me is _________.”
  • SECOND ROUND: “I can honour that which has died by _________.”
  • THIRD ROUND: “What is sprouting from the compost of the past is _________.”
  • FOURTH ROUND: “Ancestral gifts and skills that I carry in this lifetime include __________.”

E.  After everyone’s cards have been played, allow a fruitful, respectful conversation to unfold, continuing until it reaches a natural conclusion.  This conversation can include anything that has been said or heard during the four central rounds and/or remembrances of beloved ones who are no longer alive on Earth.

F.  For the final round, the tarot deck is passed around counterclockwise.   One at a time, people receive it, express gratitude for one thing they’ve heard or said during the game, mix their four cards back into the pack, and pass it to the person on their right.

G.  After everyone’s cards have been returned to the deck, the central card is shuffled back into the pack.  Read a closing poem/quote or sing another Samhain-themed song.  If you’ve included small pumpkins or leaves in your midst, they can be distributed to people to adorn their shrines at home.


Image: Tod (Death), Trump XIII from the Margarete Petersen tarot deck.

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Dallas Tarot Conference ’13, Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the conference report continued from my previous post.  Today’s piece is about the second day.

Journal entry excerpt from the morning of Day Two: I’m heartened by the interactions here at the conference.  People are mingling, sharing, learning, and teaching no matter if they’ve been involved with the tarot for four minutes or four decades.  What gifts does today hold for me/us?  Let’s walk into the day and find out.

Over the past two or three years, several people have been getting into the Lenormand cards, a non-tarot divination tool.  The first presentation of Day Two, by the delightful Rana George, showed us how these cards might be employed well.  First, she had us do a Square Spread, a three-by-three grid of cards with the intention depicted in the centre and the commentary around it.  Then, Rana took us on a tour through a grand tableau — a 36-card layout — that she did for a client who remained unnamed throughout the session.  We were shown how Rana discovers key topics based on the significator, how to tie specific situations together by lining up rows and columns of cards, and how to weave a story that makes sense from all of this.  The clear handouts and the presenter’s friendly style had all of us nodding in understanding.


After lunch, Dallas-based Gina Thies offered a combination presentation-workshop about the shadow.  She was inspired to do this by a quote by the late Paul Foster Case in which he said that Key 15 (the Devil card) is a very important card.  Another great quote, by Jodorowsky, that she used is, “The demon is only a mask of God.”  And this one, by Carl Jung: “Find out what a person fears most and that is where he will develop next.”  Our first activity was to take Trump XV from our deck and simply spend time looking at it until a character name leapt into our awareness.  Mine was the Cynic About This F***ing World.  Oh my!  Gina’s layout of four pairs of cards — the Four Natural Enemies on the Path Spread — was very revealing, addressing what scares one, what one is clear on, the powers one holds, and one’s next development.  The final exercise was so simple yet powerful.  We paired up with someone, sat back to back, and interviewed each shadow character (from the beginning of the workshop) and drew single wisdom cards for each one at a time.  The Cynic that showed its face through me earlier now received a new role and name — the Truth Bearer.  Beautiful!

As one of the breakout sessions, I gave a workshop on custom-created tarot spreads.  Group members called out definitions of a spread/layout, including: a map of the tarot consultation, a constellation of sub-topics within a larger topic, a container for context, and much more.  I took the participants through an intake process wherein the querent’s goals, challenges, and objectives for the tarot session are clarified.  Then everyone went through my How to Create Your Own Tarot Layout in Five Easy Steps.  From what I could tell by walking around the room, people’s creativity was stimulated as they generated wonderful maps of personal exploration.  I wish that we’d had more time so people could have read with their spreads during the workshop, but we didn’t.  Hopefully, people have been using their layouts since returning home.  I felt energised by offering this topic, one of my favourites!

Some people flew or drove away after the closing of the conference.  Others of us went to Razoo’s for Cajun food and caught up with one another and had several laughs.  Back at the hotel, a small group of us ended up having a wonderful conversation about how the tarot is for so much more than personal stuff, how it’s also for addressing situations in our culture and world.  Inspiring!

Then, on Monday, I flew home.  Aaahhh…

Image of Trump 15 from the B.O.T.A. Tarot by Paul Foster Case and Jessie Burns Parke.  Photograph of remaining people at conference by Spencer M., using a device owned by Katrina Wynne.

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Dallas Tarot Conference ’13, Part One

Several enthusiasts of many levels gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn near Dallas, Texas to engage with one another and with our favourite tool, the tarot, on October 19 and 20.  It was so good to be with my friends and peers in an intentional way.  Several meaningful, useful presentations and workshops were on the menu and great conversations and a lot of fun happened in between.  As ever, there were wonderful tarot-related goodies for us to purchase.  I got myself one deck — Tarot 3D — and a splendid tarot-themed silk scarf.

DAY ONE: Saturday, October 19.

In the morning, before the proceedings began, I journalled these questions and responses: What do I seek here?  I seek to feel the sense of connection I get at these events.  A lot like a family reunion.  What else do I seek here?  What draws me here this weekend?  The chance to “do my thing” as a tarot teacher/mentor.  And to learn something I can apply to my tarot work.  Why is it important for me to “do my thing” as a tarot teacher?  Because it’s such a huge part of who I am.


The first workshop of the day was Interactive Tarot Readings facilitated by the warm and wise Mary Greer.  Mary began by asking us to jot down our response to the question, “What is it that you offer as a tarot reader?”  My own words were: I offer an encounter with your inner teacher via tarot symbols and strategic questions that allows you to gain insight, respond to life creatively, and become who you always intended to be.  Then, in partners, we guided each other through an experience of a tarot card in response to a question.  My question was, “What do I most need to know or learn about my tarot counselling practice at this time?”  My reading partner, Spencer, and I guided one another through the four-step process that Mary offered: a literal description of the card, a description of the emotions and atmosphere in the card, making up a fairy tale based on the image, and turning perceived helpful qualities in the card into an affirmation.  The Page of Cups (from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) yielded this summary in response to my question: I, James, surprise myself and others with my deep curiosity and connective objectivity.

The second session, offered by Marcus Katz was a presentation rooted in research that he and Tali Goodwin did around the six-month period when Pamela Colman Smith created the now-famous Rider-Waite (-Smith) tarot deck, from June through November, 1909.  I was drawn in by the story of the events and places of that time which were, in Marcus’s words, an idyl for the artist.  Marcus showed photographs of places in and around the town of Winchelsea where PCS was staying at the time.  Many sounds of “oh” and “ah” filled the room as we recognised features on buildings and in the landscape as influences for the tarot pictures we now treasure.  We also learned and used two spreads — a three-card relationship layout based on the Ace, Two, and Three of Cups and a layout about one’s idyl (how one left it and how one can return to it) — and came up with brief theatrical pieces (PCS was deeply connected with the theatre) by employing two court cards and one pip card.  This presentation was both an experience of creative delight and a poignant tribute to an under-appreciated artist and les temps perdu.

Late afternoon brought us a choice of breakout sessions.  I chose Sheilaa Hite’s workshop, The Tarot, Past Lives and Karma.  I’m not a person who is much interested in whether a past life really is a past life or whether it’s a concurrent life or simply a story that our unconscious weaves to help us learn something, but I wanted to take part in a session that isn’t my usual thing.  Sheilaa kept it meaningful, useful, and grounded.  Her handouts were clear and she merged depth and mirth with grace.  We were shown what karmic issues related to specific Major Arcana cards, suits, and Minor cards in Sheilaa’s system.  The two spreads that we worked with — a three-card layout with a few possible position meanings and a five-card “Have We Met?” layout — are very useful for examining precise life situations and connections with other people.  I certainly gained insight into a particular arena of my life when the final card in the three-card spread was a card that relates to my primary Jungian Function.  Pieces fit into place!  And the cards that showed up in the “Have We Met?” spread provided me with great comfort, a sense of “aahh…”,  as they mirrored a lovely relationship that I enjoy.  A gratifying presentation.

After a delicious and filling dinner, Katrina Wynne presented Sexual Symbolism in the Tarot.  In some hands, this topic could be a surface-scratching romp.  In Katrina’s hands, the session was an eloquent exploration of gender, symbols, energy, movement, sensuality, emotion, and so much more.  Multiple levels of the topic of sexuality were discussed.  I appreciated Katrina’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, the many modes and configurations of sexual expression in our world.  Everything from sex as union with the Divine to sexy tarot games one can play with one’s partner(s) was covered.  We concluded with a three-card process.  The first two cards were chosen from one’s face-up tarot deck to respond to “Your Current Sexual Experience” and “Your Sexual Ideal — Sexual High Dream”.  The third card, chosen in the “usual” random way, was a commentary on “How to Bridge These Two States of Being”.  The Five of Cups that I received spoke to me of vulnerability.


As I write this blog piece, I’m aware of the importance of the suit of Cups in Day One.  This speaks to relating to one another as a tarot tribe, going deep, allowing flow and feelings to be present, allowing intuition to come into our sacred container.

Stay tuned for Part Two!


Images from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck by Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite.

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It’s Worth the Time


“What could you possibly talk about for an hour and a half or two hours?  I thought you’d just sit down, deal out some cards, and tell people what you see for 20 minutes or so.”  From time to time, someone will say this sort of thing to me.  Perhaps in the fortune-telling model of using the tarot (or any other symbolic tool) that’s what happens, but not in tarot counselling or what I like to call Evolutionary Tarot or Depth Tarot.

A client deserves time out for her- or him-self, a sanctuary free from the sound bites and drive-by news flashes that pass for communication in 21st century Western culture.  A tarot counselling client will derive richer insights and more creative strategies when s/he is given ample time and space to allow these to emerge.  It’s important to remember that a particular situation or a process of personal evolution takes care and nurturing.  A conscious tarot encounter that touches the soul and stimulates helpful change is a conversation between practitioner and querent, not a monologue to show off how “right” the reader is.  This type of dialogue, a give and take between two people exchanging ideas and feelings about time-honoured symbols and strategic questions, takes time.

Imagine curling into your favourite cosy chair or sofa after a hard week at work.  A longer Depth Tarot session is like this in that both reader and readee step over a threshold from everyday activity into a cushion of trust that allows both to sink comfortably into a meaningful exploration.  The seeker can be witnessed deeply, listened to, acknowledged, challenged, stretched, mirrored in a more nuanced manner by the cards that are chosen.  By the end of a longer consultation, the client feels satisfied that many facets of his or her topic have been addressed and the practitioner feels satisfied that he or she has provided something of value.  Think of it as a sort of “spa for the soul”.

People often elect to spend 90 minutes or two hours with the tarot and me at important times of life — birthdays, work-related changes, beginnings or endings of important connections with people or organisations, when there’s a sense that “something more” wants to make itself known, at the entry into a new year, at solstices and equinoxes, when they shift from adulthood into sagehood or cronedom, when coming out as queer or questioning, and at other times of transition.  The consultation process becomes a significant part of their rites of passage.

So, what can we talk about in that time frame?  A lot!  And clients get the chance to embody the card symbols, to try on in their gestures, movements, and feelings in order to discover what particular concepts can be like for them so they can choose with more awareness the paths that are healthiest for them.  That can’t be done in a “wham bam, thank you Sam” tarot reading.  It requires the tending that takes place in something more human-paced and compassionate.  Instead of feeling bamboozled with a lot of “tarot chat”, the person leaves the session feeling confident and aligned with her/his power, ready to contribute even more to a life worth living.  That, to me, is worth the time we spend together.

What time do YOU need to enter into council with your inner wisdom?


Image:  The Hermit from the New Tarot (Hurley, Hurley, and Horler).

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