Readers Studio 2005: An Eye-Opening Weekend by Diane Wilkes

Ideally, I'd have written the Readers Studio weekend article a day or so after I returned home, but I've been on tour with Bruce Springsteen, so to speak (three shows in a week), plus teaching my tarot classes, so sleep and writing have been virtual strangers to me.

But Bruce is on his way to Europe, so I have finally been able to gather my notes. Hopefully, my thoughts won't lag far behind.

The first insight I had was on the train to this event. Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone continue to put on tarot events in the New York area year after year, yet often support from the community is not consistent. (I can't speak for the registration for BATS and LATS, but I honor Thalassa and Barbara Rapp respectively in this mini-rant, as well.) If we want to continue to have these events available to us, we need to support them by enrolling early and spreading the word. While email lists and websites and forums offer communication about tarot in a way we never dreamed possible 20 years ago, in-person gatherings really strengthen and personalize the tarot community in an integral way.

End of harangue. On to the event...

I arrived at the Marriott Courtyard in the morning, with plenty of time to breakfast before registering at 11. In the restaurant, as I chatted with old friends, sitting next to me was a pony-tailed blond man in a colorful shirt. I was surprised to realize that this surfer dude was actually James Ricklef, looking considerably different from the more conservative, shorter-haired presenter I met at BATS a few years ago. (Check out his picture in one of his books!)

After registration, I sat down and saw some more old friends, and made some new ones, as well. Matt Brooks, long-time attendee of Readers' Studio events and ATA conferences was at my table, along with Sue Pacillo, his aunt and one of my former mentees (who is now going to return to the tarot groove). Debbie Lake, fellow Comparative Tarot (CT) moderator and member was on my right, along with Gail Wood, who is also a CT member and author of the fabulous book Rituals of the Dark Moon. We were joined by Mary Greer. This is what I mean by tarot community.

Ruth Ann and Wald, having run these events on numerous occasions, are organized and the event ran like clockwork. First, there was a "Meet the Presenters" session, where each one provided a synopsis of what was to come in the form of interviews conducted by different people. Barbara Moore, who handled tarot acquisitions (more on that later) for Llewellyn, interviewed Teresa Michelsen (Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads, The Complete Tarot Reader). In addition to previewing her workshop, Teresa talked about her personal relationship with the tarot and how she see perceives tarot and astrology as different, but potentially complementary tools. There was something about the way she communicates, a combination of sweetness, shyness, and wry self-awareness and humor, that reminds me of my dear friend, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, which drew me to her immediately.

Wald interviewed James Ricklef (Knighthawk's Tarot Readings, Tarot Tells the Tale, Tarot: Get the Whole Story). This interview was particularly entertaining to me because Wald announced at the beginning of it that he greatly respected Ricklef's work, yet had never read any of his books. This was a quintessentially Wald moment. Ricklef may have looked the part of a surfer dude, but he didn't hesitate to remind everyone that his class started at 9 a.m. sharp. He offered pithy, cogent words on what he would be covering. and answered questions, such as how to avoid the ego trap ("Find your own way.").

Ruth Ann interviewed Corrine Kenner (Epicurean Tarot, Tall Dark Stranger), who was funny and charming. Corrine loves doing romance readings and was motivated to write her book on that subject because it is the topic that most excites her target audience--new readers, women between the ages of 15 and 25. She has just completed a new book on tarot journaling which is structured on the Celtic Cross; its ten chapters are each based on a designated position from that spread. The entire room exploded into laughter when someone asked how she was able to stay energized when she wore so many hats (parent, software company owner, full-time writer) and she responded, "I can do it because I am willing to do all these things badly." (She was way too modest, as you will soon see!) All three presenters were very different stylistically, yet each one was engaging and whetted the participants' appetite for the classes to come.

The hands-on part of the conference began immediately thereafter; we broke into pairs to do a threshold reading. The concept is that you and a partner read for one another at the beginning of the weekend, and then revisit it at the end of the event, with the same partner, discovering how much you have learned in two and a half days. My partner's reading for me was really helpful and illuminating. I had been in a shame spiral about my lack of productivity. My partner showed me I wasn't unproductive at all. I was exceedingly productive, simply not in the area I had the power to make a priority. My last card was the Five of Cups, and the "Don't cry over spilled milk" aspect of this card was very helpful in allowing me to cut my losses and mentally move on. The clarity I received from this entire reading (as well as completing my "homework") allowed me to see myself differently and feel I had more control of my life. Thanks, Mary!

On the other hand, taking me out of that shame spiral allowed me to delay this update. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. Maybe shame has its benefits, too.

After lunch at the local diner, it was time for the first class (three hours), taught by Teresa on "Questions We Love to Hate." She began with a joke she had read on the Aeclectic Forum in the Tarot Games and Fun section and then noted that, if you believe in free will, questions that ignored free will could be quite annoying. Each of us came up with "questions we hate" and categorized them as:

Repetitive (the same question from the same querent repeated again and again)
Naїve ("Will I hit the lottery?")
Ones that assume an unshared belief system ("Will I meet my soul mate?" if you don't believe in soul mates, for example)
Deterministic/Not Useful ("Will I be rich?")
Answer Shopping (a question that the querent has already asked several other readers)
Not Taking Responsibility ("When will I stop cheating on my husband?")

As a class and in smaller groups, we brainstormed solutions, such as:

Reframe the question towards empowerment
Give a pre-reading speech explaining your individual tarot philosophy
Ask for specificity
Refuse yes/no questions
Refer questions as appropriate to professionals, ie., medical questions to a doctor, legal questions to a lawyer, etc.
Asking for background to questions, ie., Why do you want to know?
All purpose question: What do I need to look at in my life right now?
Discern "real" issue behind question via cards
Going back to the roots, create specific spread to deal with all aspects of a situation
Focusing on what the querent can do in terms of a question/issue
Explore possibilities/options; give the querent a "tool kit" as opposed to a purely predictive reading
Talk about free will/destiny
Put the reading itself in context--it's one option, not the future set in stone
Educate the consumer--what tarot can/can't do
Remember that these issues matter to the querent even if we've heard them many times and really listen
Clarify ethics--know and state what you will and won't do
Encourage proactive action
Impose a time limit/frequency of readings
Focus on the unique and individual needs and traits of the querent
Have a referral list of other readers--different readers, different styles
Know your medium
Teach the querent to read his/her own cards
Have pre-set questions--have them order off the menu, so to speak
Give the querent prompts to ask in a certain way, give examples--ie., How can I..., What can I...

We then broke into groups and did or observed a rôle-playing exercise, where each table got a different situational reading. Watching Mary Greer play a giggly high school student who wanted to meet her soul mate was quite entertaining, and the reading itself was a good example of how to handle (and not handle) this kind of situation.

Teresa talked briefly about archetypal patterns in the cards as well as the unique ones. She made the point that a dual dynamic plays out in all our readings--that of the individual's situation and the universal and archetypal patterns that the cards contain. I found this very interesting and wished that this topic was explored in more depth.

We then moved on to separating our own personal expectations/biases/morality from what the cards have to say, working in pairs with more role-playing doing readings involving simulated situations. As the reading progressed, we discovered more about our querents' situations. These backstories put a different spin on them and made us examine our own pre-conceived misconceptions.

Some tools for handling judgmentalism:

1. Know your boundaries--if you just had a miscarriage, this may not be the time for doing pregnancy readings.

2. Consciously acknowledge/notice your reactions and biases.

3. Do ritual to separate these rules in a "box" during readings--they aren't about YOU and your morals.

4. Trust the tarot.

When the workshop was over, I was exhausted and went to sleep early. Didn't want to be late for James' workshop that started at 9:00 a.m. sharp!

Read about the remainder of the conference here.

Article and page © Diane Wilkes