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.

In this third installment about my recent trip to New York, I’ll cover the events of Saturday, 25 April, Day Two of the Readers Studio proper.  See my previous two entries for the days that led up to it.

So much goes on at the Readers Studio, that one can’t be at everything, so I didn’t make it to Marilyn Shannon’s breakfast roundtable on Using Tarot to be Fearless, Kind, and Happy, but by all reports it was very good.  Nor did I make it to any of the rituals in the meditation room hosted by Carolyn Cushing, but once again heard that they were helpful.


From 9:30 through 12:00, we all took part in Theresa Reed‘s wonderful session, How to Read Tarot Under Any Circumstance.  Theresa’s intention was to give us tools and tips to help us remain calm, grounded, and clear-minded regardless of what’s going on so that we can be professional throughout any tarot encounter.  We witnessed her capacity to do this as she fluidly carried on with the first part of her presentation despite snags with the audio-video equipment.  Excellent walking of the talk!  Theresa (aka the Tarot Lady) took us on a tour of the Seven Nightmare Clients — the Skeptic, the Downer, the Hysteric, the Creep, the Bully, the Penny Pincher, and the Trigger — complete with fun cartoons and real-life stories.  They were hilarious because so many of us have, at some point, worked with many or all of them.  We were offered clear advice on how to deal with each.  In addition to being a tarot reader, Theresa is a yoga teacher, so she offered a variety of yogic techniques to help us read cards even under stressful circumstances.  The breath, focused concentration, and visualisation all came into play.  Each practice was/is simple and effective.  We were given an opportunity to practise the concepts with a partner, alternating roles of tarot reader and difficult client.  Enjoyable and revealing.  Theresa strongly encouraged us to set and stick to clear policies and boundaries around what we’re happy to do readings about, what we won’t do readings about, how people need to book sessions with us, how they should not book sessions with us, what happens if querents cross boundaries, and much more.  Her advice to keep our policies in plain view of ourselves was wise; it can be easy to slip into “loosey-goosey” mode around them.  How to Read Tarot Under Any Circumstance was a polished, enjoyable, and user-friendly workshop that I know all of us will refer to again and again.


We spent 3:00 through 5:30 p.m. diving deeply with Carrie Paris.  This multi-layered experience was a delicious taste of how Carrie works with tarot/divination clients over a period of weeks and months to help clear away distractions and distortions that get in the way of the soul’s purpose so that one can be a living vehicle for the mission that the soul wants and needs to carry out in this lifetime.  Carrie’s questions and prompts helped:

  • If you could leave this session with an answer or a sense of clarity, what would it be?
  • What if we let our passion piece look at us and talk to us?
  • Are you giving equal focus to the human/soul experience?
  • What is my highest wish for myself?
  • Is this highest wish really mine?
  • What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes?  Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits.  (This one was from C.G. Jung).

Carrie reminded us that a reading that addresses such issues needs to honour spirit, heart, mind, and body.  The spread she provided did that.  My own cards, from the Thoth deck, were:

  1. What’s waiting on the other side of that old story/distraction?  Ace of Wands.
  2. What love poem does my soul want to recite to me?  10 of Cups plus a couple of slips of paper pulled from an envelope of words (See my poem below).
  3. What does my soul want me to know?  Queen of Swords.
  4. How will I be a vehicle for my soul’s mission (in one word)?  Prince of Discs.

We concluded with soul-gazing, five to ten minutes of looking into another person’s eyes, a profound act of witnessing that is a journey beyond the verbal.  Tears streamed down my face as my workshop partner and I beheld one another’s essence and I received an even larger, richer vision of who my soul says I can be.  Life-giving stuff!

In between workshops, I gave private readings using the Thoth, Gorgon’s, Medicine Woman, and Voyager decks.  Yet again, it was an honour and a privilege to help people unpack layers of story and gain support through the language of the tarot.  Praise Life!

Saturday concluded with a sumptuous four-course dinner and a dance party that gave us a chance to relax, let loose, and blow off some steam.  It was a treat to move the body, enjoy some music and a drink, and connect with people socially.  Aahh!

Here’s the poem that my soul recited to me through the 10 of Cups during Carrie’s workshop:


Oh my fountain,
thou harbour of my heart,
I worship the sacrament
that you are;
I worship the sanctuary
wherein flows the sweet river
from which I drink deeply
of the pattern
that underlies creation.
You, my beloved,
are that sanctuary.


Images:  The Devil from the Halloween Tarot; the High Priestess from the Morgan-Greer Tarot, and the 10 of Cups from the Thoth Tarot.

Today, in Part Two of this four-part series, I’ll talk about my tarot-licious time in New York as it unfolded on Friday, 24 April.  To read Part One click HERE.

Friday marked the beginning of the Readers Studio proper.  During and after breakfast on the 24th, the place was abuzz as those of us already in the Marriot greeted those who were arriving and as Registration and the ever-popular Merchant Faire opened.  Goodies galore — tarot decks, books, bags, cloths, jewellery, candles, and more — called out for our attention (and wallets!).


Ruth Ann Amberstone started the proceedings with a simple ritual, inviting the best qualities of the four elements and tarot suits to be present at our gathering as she held up each emblem and others drummed and rattled.  This uncomplicated ceremony that Ruth Ann performs every year is deeply penetrating and sets just the right tone.

During the Meet the Instructors interviews, our three key presenters — Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Theresa Reed, and Carrie Paris — responded to questions in ways that allowed the assembly to get to know them better as people as well as tarot practitioners.  They whetted our appetites by revealing what their topics would be.  The Tarot School encourages presenters to keep topics under wrap until the conference itself in case fresh, exciting material comes forth that the teachers want to include without being bound to something that’s already in print.  This is genius at its most realistic.

All of us were then encouraged to pair up with someone in the room and do short readings for one another.  This was the foundation reading, the consultation one does at the beginning of Readers Studio and revisits on the final day to see how skills have improved over the course of the weekend.  Another bit of Amberstonian genius!  My partner for the foundation reading was named Barbara.  I did an original four-card spread for her question using the Motherpeace Tarot.  She read for me using a 10-card pyramidal layout and the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  Barbara’s fluency with the cards and her confident delivery addressed my topic (“What is the fresh mystery that is calling me?”) very neatly.

The substantial buffet lunch nourished me so that I could do a couple of private readings for people on Friday afternoon, one with the Fountain Tarot, the other with the Voyager Tarot.  Warmth filled me as the readees and I put everything together in meaningful ways.  What a privilege!


Ellen Lorenzi-Prince‘s presentation was an elegant exploration of the four elements as real elements of fire, water, air, and earth rather than as abstract suit symbols.  She guided a meditation for each element and each progression of numbers.  In between, people were invited to share their experiences of the meditations so that we could learn from one another.  Ellen asked us to come up with a single word for each element, based on our personal encounters with them during the guided journeys.  Mine were:

  • Fire: Expression.
  • Water: Humility.
  • Air: Alive.
  • Earth: Merging.

Then we did something that I always relish; we each created a four-position tarot spread using our elemental words.  The four questions that comprised my layout were:

  1. What is my ideal form of expression at this time?
  2. What does authentic humility look like for me at this time?
  3. What keeps me alive at this time?
  4. With what/whom is it helpful for me to merge at this time?

The cards I drew at random from the Thoth Tarot really “rang” for me and gave me a helpful map with regard to those parts of myself.  This session closed with a final guided meditation during which we noticed where each element supported us.  As ever, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince took us to profound places in ourselves, in the tarot, and in the cosmos with restrained grace.


After the dinner break, I offered an evening study group called A Four-Fold Path to Tarot Excellence, an exploration and enlivening of four cross-cultural archetypes — the Warrior, the Healer, the Visionary, and the Teacher — to assist us to become more well-rounded tarot practitioners who can make our consultations experiences of empowerment, creativity, love, and wisdom.  I rooted it in the groundbreaking work of the late Angeles Arrien whose image graced the altar in our midst.  April 24 marked the first anniversary of her death and her presence was felt in the bones.  After invoking the seven directions, the four archetypes, the spirit of Angie, and the ancestors of the place where we were gathered, I presented the attributes of each archetype:

  • Warrior in the North: “Show up and choose to be present.”
  • Healer in the South: “Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.”
  • Visionary in the East: “Tell the truth without blame or judgement.”
  • Teacher in the West: “Detach from outcome.”

After some meaningful discussion, I led the 15 people through a four-card layout to help them discover how their tarot readings best embody all four energies.  This was accompanied by corresponding meditation postures and instruments: rattle, drum, bell, and sticks.  After we thanked and released the Supportive Beings, all felt that something worthy and transformative had taken place.  I felt honoured and blessed.

A small drink and some conversation with friends brought Friday to a happy close before I retired for the night.

I recently returned from New York City where I spent a lot of time immersed in tarot-related workshops, study groups, meditations, interactions, and transactions.  It was glorious!  Our hosts were Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone, founders of the Tarot School and of the Readers Studio, possibly the largest tarot conference in existence at this time.   You’ll get to read about it here in four blog posts in order to savour the experience bit by bit.  Today’s piece will cover my Wednesday and Thursday experiences (April 22 and 23).

On Wednesday, 22 April, I flew to LaGuardia Airport then got settled into my hotel room.  When I went to the bar for a snack and a drink, the bartender’s warm greeting of remembrance immediately made me feel at home.  Many of us in the tarot tribe gathered in the lobby and took a bus to Manhattan.  We were dropped off at Rockefeller Plaza, so I naturally wanted to poke around the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I bought a lovely bookmark of one of the famous unicorn tapestries — mythic symbols were already working me.


At 7:00 p.m., I met innovative tarologist Enrique Enriquez for dinner at Buvette, a fabulous French restaurant in the West Village.  Enrique’s passion for the Tarot de Marseille and his refreshing non-esoteric approach to reading Marseille-style decks make him a fascinating voice and presence in cartomantic spheres.  Over excellent food and beverage, we held a natural and meaningful conversation about life changes that have occurred since our last meeting, what’s new in our tarot work, our ideal clients, our preferred types of tarot experiences, food, and daily living.  This congenial interaction spilled over into our stroll through Greenwich Village and Chelsea, admiring architecture and the general atmosphere of where we were.  A true NYC experience.


Thursday, 23 April was our one-day Tarot and Psychology Conference, the third such event offered by the Tarot School.  The three presenters were Dr. Art Rosengarten, Rick Bouchard, and Andy Matzner.  Each session was rich with ideas and useful tips, so I’ll limit myself to personal highlights.

Art’s presentation was entitled Psychological Tarot: A Psychospiritual Approach to Therapy.  He considers psychological tarot to be “the science of mental life from the perspective of pure possibility.”  I appreciated Jung’s definition of intuition: the psychic function that perceives possibilities in the present.  Art’s comment that as tarot practitioners we have the skills and tools to connect people with their essence really “rang” for me.  Each of us was invited to come up with a personal rationale for tarotwork, how people can be helped by what we do.  I came up with three points for my own tarot practice:

  • The randomness factor can surprise the readee/client into insight.
  • Tarot images can evoke the perspicacity of the inner teacher.
  • The first two points can remind the readee/client of hir innate wholeness, creativity, wisdom, and resourcefulness.

Art encouraged us to stay with the practice of “first thought, best thought.”  In other words, notice the first thought about a card that “clicks”, deliver it without over-explaining, then step back and allow the client to take it in.  As a creator of tarot circle encounters, I enjoyed receiving instructions for the Three Windows Game that Art devised to play in small groups of four to six people.

Rick’s session was called The Use of Tarot in Clinical Practice.  Helpful definitions were provided:

  • Individuation is the process of a person becoming hirself, whole and distinct from others.
  • Active imagination is a meditative technique that serves as a bridge between the conscious ego and the unconscious.

The four stages of Jungian analysis are confession, education, elucidation, and transformation.  Each of these can be used as the basis for a tarot encounter and/or a reading can be done for each stage as therapy progresses.  I enjoyed spending time on using the tarot in conjunction with dreams.  Rick, like me, prefers dream exploration or amplification rather than “interpretation.”  He took us through the five-part dramatic structure of a dream: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and lysis.  We then had an opportunity to share a dream with a partner, select one tarot card from our face-up pack for each part of our dream, to do a reading in order to discover another layer of story that the dream might suggest through the symbolism of the cards.  Kelli, the woman with whom I was doing this activity, helped me crack open my dream when she said seven words (I wrote them down) about the central card in the layout.  It was a wonderful “aha” moment for me.  Rick also told us about a 22-card projective experience that we can do with people, much like word association except with tarot pictures, that can help identify one’s complexes (sets of unprocessed emotional themes).  

Andy’s workshop was dubbed Tarot, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Positive Psychology: Royal Roads to a Life Worth Living.  Positive psychology reminds us to ask, “Instead of focusing on pathology, what if we focus on what’s working?” and that as adults, we can step back to clarify what our most healthy values are, values that can assist us to create a life that’s meaningful and fulfilling.  Expressive arts therapy draws upon all creative processes and activities rather than focusing on just one specialty.  The tarot can inspire and be incorporated into most of these (e.g. painting, movement, sound, cooking, collage, clay, etc.).  Andy took us through some simple processes, each led by a question and each carried out by sorting through our face-up tarot cards until we came up with the pictures that to us felt most right in the context of each question.  Sometimes we shared our thoughts and feelings about why we selected certain cards and arranged them in specific ways with partners and at other times we journalled about them privately.  The order of activities/questions through which Andy guided us included:

  • My values.  What’s important to me.
  • What makes life worth living?  The secret message of each card we chose.
  • How am I living these values in my everyday life?
  • What can I do right now so that at the moment of death I won’t have any regrets?
  • What am I afraid of?  What will allow me to successfully overcome that fear?  What would my life be like without that fear?  
  • Which single card will give me the strength and inspiration to live my life without regret?  Why?  How can I creatively express and enact this card?

To conclude, I selected the Knight of Coins from the Fountain Tarot, a new deck on the market, to remind me to cherish a sense of ease and “at-home-ness” in myself and on the Earth.  My creative honouring of this card includes a doorway/threshold ritual, dressing in green clothing, growing a small garden, going to a sacred site, a “be a tree” meditation/ritual, and doing a contemplative scan of my body more regularly.

unnamed (2)

After the evening cocktail reception (yummy fare provided by our hotel!), I attended a night-time study group offered by Mellissae Lucia, a friend of mine who created the luscious Oracle of Initiation.  Mellissae’s offering was called Ancient Initiatory Impulses.  After giving us a brief background to her own initiatory experience that led to the creation of her cards, she took us through a 13-card layout that acted as a map for one’s personal quest.  Most of the cards we used were from her pack, but an element of play was brought in with a sprinkling of animal cards, children’s storytelling cards, and some psychological terminology flashcards.  I was struck by how often similar symbols and themes kept arising for people in the group.  Something within us was definitely weaving the bits and pieces together.  This study group was a simply and effective ceremony of soul awakening and gaining insight into the people into whom we can mature.

This was only the first part of my recent time away!  The next installment of Tarot and More in NYC, 2015 will appear here in a couple of days.  Please feel free to comment on this first one, then come back to read the forthcoming posts.



  • Trump I, Le Bateleur, from the Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille, restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy.
  • Trump IX, The Hermit, from the Tarot of the Nine Paths by Art Rosengarten.
  • An array of cards from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.



There has been some discussion among my friends and colleagues lately about how some elements of social media encourage certain people to feel a sense of entitlement to freebies from self-employed visionaries.  Some folks think that a tarot consultant or a circle process host or an intuitive coach or an artist should just give it all away for nothing or barter for it, forgetting that these activities are not only our deep delight, but also the ways in which we earn our living.

Once in a while, I enjoy offering a gift certificate for a consultation or a class to a silent auction for a worthy cause to help them raise funds.  There are also times when I love to give a free one-hour presentation because I’m giddy about sharing some of my latest work with people.  Giving back to the community in such ways feels authentic and comes from my heart.  It’s a choice that I make, not something I do because someone has coerced me.

When it comes to barter, most people are not offering something that I truly like, need, or want.  I won’t trade an hour-long tarot consultation for an Elvis-shaped macramé plant holder.  A 90-minute reiki session in exchange for a cracked meditation CD from 1989?  No thanks.  

On Facebook, I don’t comment on people’s self-readings or cards of the day because that would dishonour my time and skills.  When someone sends me a private message to request commentary on their self-reading or if they ask me to just “pull a card” for their situation, I politely direct them to my Services and Fees page because I want them to know that this is something I not only enjoy, but that is also something for which they are required to pay a fee.  Some people still don’t get it, but most people graciously catch on that their request is not something that “James that guy on Facebook” is responding to, but something to which “James the professional consultant, teacher, and facilitator” is responding.

In days of old, villagers honoured the shaman by giving hir food, garments, blankets and other items of value in exchange for services rendered on their behalf.  In Greece, people made lengthy pilgrimages to the Asklepian dream-healing temples where they provided offerings to the keepers of the tradition and sacrifices to the goddesses and gods in exchange for their wellness encounters.  Nowadays, monetary remuneration is the form that practitioners require in order to buy food and clothing, pay rent and mortgages, and stay sharp by attending workshops and conferences.  

Another point is that to just give away our services disempowers the client.  When someone doesn’t pay for what they receive, she or he is being treated like an infant who is unable to make hir way in the world, a charity case to be pitied.  This robs the client or student of hir sense of being a capable, self-reliant human and further diminishes hir well-being.

In short, while we’re passionate about what we do and while many of us enjoy giving to worthy causes from time to time, skilled, knowledgeable self-employed visionaries offer work on a “for pay” basis for our own sake and for the sake of the people consulting us.


Image: 10 of Worlds from the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless and Ken Knutson.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 223 other followers