Toronto Tarot Symposium Report by Debbie Lake


Okay, so it's been a week since I attended the first day of the Toronto Tarot Symposium and I'm still on Cloud Nine.  It was a wonderful event that reaffirmed my dedication to tarot and allowed me to reconnect with some wonderful friends and meet some warm and interesting new ones.


The weekend started out with Brigit Horner, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince and me setting out bright and early via car for Toronto.  We knew we had a 10 hour trip ahead of us, but we were psyched and excited about the upcoming conference.  Along the way we amused ourselves by sharing stories and tarot chat.  At one point, Ellen suggested creating a tarot spread for the trip and thus, the Road Trip Spread was born.  This is the spread we created on the Road to Toronto:


1. Where you start from  

2. Where are you going 

3. The vehicle you take

4. The baggage you bring

5. The pit stop

6. Distance

7.  Home Again


I was the volunteer querent and we used Ellen's marvelous and mystical Tarot of the Crone (in charm form) to do the reading.  Without giving away specific cards, let's just say it turned out to be a very accurate reading.


After some pit-stops and breezing through the border, we arrived in Toronto at around 5:30 p.m. after hitting some traffic on the QEW.  Brigit and I were lucky enough to be staying with Chris Asselin, so we dropped our stuff at Chris' apartment, freshened up a bit and headed over to the conference location to get Ellen registered in her dorm room.  When we found Ellen's dorm room, we learned that her neighbors would be Tom Tadfor Little, Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack.  It almost made me wish I had stayed in the dorms, too.  I had visions of hanging out until the wee hours chatting about tarot, life and everything else.


The evening began at 7:30 with drinks, hors d'oeuvre's and lots of tarot talk.  I listened to Mary and Rachel talk about their week long seminar at the Omega Institute (something else I'd love to do, but scheduling has been problematic).  Then I caught up with James Wells, our host and the creator of this little shindig.  I also met Amy Lee Rosenberg, James' co-conspirator for this event, Jeffrey Elliot, Bev Haskins, Paul Hughes-Barlow, Elayne Doue, and others whose last names escape me (Valerie, Georgiana, Deirdre, Steve, etc).  James introduced all the presenters and asked them to briefly discuss what their sessions would cover.  It was a great start to the weekend.


After the introductions were over, folks started breaking up.  Chris tantalized Brigit, Jeffrey, and me with promises of the World's Biggest Bookstore and some great used bookstores.  So, off we trooped to this mecca of literary treasures.  Unfortunately, the World's Biggest Bookstore was closed when we got there but Chris was true to his word about great used bookstores.  We prowled through three of them and I found some marvelous treasures.  Then we found a bar/restaurant and grabbed something to eat while we talked and enjoyed watching the colorful Toronto night life which surrounded us.


The next morning found us back at the college campus and ready for the opening ceremony.  Several vendors had already set up shop and I found myself browsing through the books and decks offered by a local metaphysical store.  One thing I found quite frightening was that I already own many of them (Ah, tarot - how addictive is thy sting).  But I did decide to pick up a copy of the re-issue of the Jungian Tarot. 


The Opening Ceremony was a Golden Dawn-based ritual led by Sir James and assisted by Mary Greer, Tom Little, Ellen Lorenzi-Prince & Paul Hughes-Barlow.  Decks were blessed and positive energy invoked.  We also did a meditation on the question "What can we do, collectively and individually, to assist/improve the world using my gifts?  I drew the Eight of Cups, reversed, from my Illuminated Tarot by Carol Herzer.  This suggested that I shouldn't give up, not be disillusioned, and keep reading and helping others to learn about tarot. 


Before the first session began, I had an opportunity to visit the other vendors and found a lovely citrine & amber bracelet and a necklace of moonstones, jasper and carnelian.  I was very excited and upbeat, ready to begin this weekend's Tarot Journey. The first class was...


Mary Greer's Interactive Readings 


Mary stated up-front that the interactive style of reading is not appropriate for every reader or in every  setting. She feels that interactive reading combines a variety of other fields, including Jungian and gestalt therapy, mythology and drama.  As readers, we often project our beliefs and issues onto the querent.  The interactive reading format can help us avoid this pitfall.  Just as we can't empower anyone, we also can't heal them.  We can help them to get in touch with their emotions and what their meanings are in this person's life.  We can help them see patterns and learn how these patterns can help them grow. 


Mary also shared some of the preliminary results of her emotional research project. Some words (hatred, spite and jealousy) do not appear much in the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS ) Tarot while others (determined, hopeful, and confident) appear a number of times with different cards.  Images and emotions work on each other and with each other.  Meaning = image + emotion   We direct images and energy and help put symbols in motion.  


She explained the concept of a snapshot - a moment in a person's life that is recalled by the tarot card drawn and how it reflects, or is recalled by, the current situation.  In an interactive reading, we don't have to fix anything for the client.  We don't have to answer any question or resolve any issues in the reading.  We are giving them information and helping them find choices.  In an interactive reading, the reader must simply sit, not jumping in with the answer.  Using the client's reaction to cards can often trigger something and provide insights.  Mary advised readers to check both the literal and the metaphoric levels of the card.  The art of asking is very important.  Try  to avoid Yes/No questions, unless they're being used deliberately to push the client towards a certain point.  If an idea or image pops into your mind, but seems to have no bearing on the reading, just throw it out there and see where it leads.  Don't overlook a card that doesn't make sense; sometimes it may prove to be the key to the reading for that client.  When giving a reading, don't be afraid to be wrong; this allows the client to be right and enables them to feel a sense of control and participation in the reading. 


As I understand it, the interactive reading style can be somewhat difficult for someone more familiar with a traditional tarot reading style, because we don't actually need to say much.  We facilitate and help querents find the answers within themselves.  But there may be moments when we are almost tripping over our own tongues because we want to shout out the meaning of a card.  But the fact is that would be our truth, not necessarily the client's truth.  And that seems to be the key to interactive readings.


Two options were offered during the second session - Walking the Arcana - Tarot and the Labyrinth with James Wells and The Path With Heart:  The Major Arcana and You with Bev Haskins.  I was very curious to see how James incorporated the labyrinth into tarot work, so that was the selection I made.


Walking the Arcana - Tarot and the Labyrinth


As James explains it, journeying the labyrinth allows us to do something while we meditate.  It is a physical action which allows us to go deep within ourselves.  Labyrinths come in a number of different sizes, usually called circuits, ranging from the relatively simple three circuit to ones as complex as that at Chartres Cathedral.  You can use a three circuit labyrinth to walk the tarot representing the three rows of a tarot tableau or to work on a three card spread.  A seven circuit labyrinth could be done to work with the seven chakras or the seven ancient astrological planets.  You could "Dance the Tarot" through a labyrinth.  It can ultimately be a very healing process. 


After looking at various ways to incorporate the labyrinth into tarot work, James shared a labyrinth spread which can be expanded depending upon the number of circuits being used. 


Labyrinth Spread


1. What you bring in

2, 3, 4 (this number varies according to the number of circuits) - what is released during the journey

5. What do I find in the center

6, 7, 8 - What am I filling myself with?

9. What is taken out or released at the end


We then paired up and did readings for each other about what we would get from our labyrinth journey.  It was quite interesting.  After the readings, we actually walked a small, three circuit labyrinth created on the floor of the room using colored tape.  Despite its temporary nature, it was an amazing and deeply moving experience. It has left me with the desire to create my own labyrinth on my property.  It was wonderful to watch as people gave each other the space and time they needed to complete their walk and perform their personal rituals at the center.  After we finished the walk, James pointed out that, while walking the labyrinth, everything that arises - sights, sounds, smells, feelings, etc, should be looked at and considered.  Even if it seemed unrelated to the experience, nothing occurs in a vacuum.  Overall, it was an enjoyable and enlightening experience.


Tarot and the Magus - Paul Hughes-Barlow


I have to be honest. With no disrespect to Paul, by the time his class began, my brain was fried.  As a result, I was not as alert during this session as I wished.  So, my memory of it is hazy. 


It began with Paul regaling the audience with the tale of his  introduction to tarot and how he began using tarot and set up his business.  He then guided the audience through Elemental Dignities and the Opening of the Key Spread, highlighted in his new book, Tarot & the Magus.  He called up audience members to exhibit three cards to explain Elemental Dignities, as well as the sample reading.  I honestly don't have much interest for Golden Dawn- related approaches to tarot.  But Paul made it seem more approachable and user-friendly, and his 81 page handout provided a multitude of useful and interesting information to follow up on at home.


A Walk Through the Forest of Souls - Rachel Pollack


Rachel's session focused on wisdom readings, a topic she covers in-depth in her new book, The Forest of Souls. Wisdom readings allow us to ask about things beyond ourselves. "To make souls" is to open ourselves up to more knowledge and experience.  Using her Shining Tribe deck to illustrate her points, Rachel proceeded to explain Wisdom Readings.  For the question, "What is soul?" she drew the Ace of Birds.  The question "What is tarot?" yielded the Six of Trees.  The combination of these two cards yielded the concept of a walk through the forest of souls - the title of Rachel's latest book.


As Rachel explains it, there is a difference between Spirit and Soul.  Spirit rises up towards the light, the heavens, while the soul is drawn to the dark, chthonic Underworld.  Rachel prefers to "roll around in the mud with the soul."  She shared the reading she received when she asked the cards about her workshop for this weekend.


Workshop Question:


1. What do I need to know about this weekend? - Ace of Birds

2. Don't do this - Ten of Stones - traditions - don't just roll out old knowledge, traditions and wisdom

3. Do this - Six of Rivers - allowing yourself to be enveloped, going with the flow, immersing yourself in your feminine, intuitional side

4. Benefit/gift of the workshop - Gift of Trees  - we give each other the wisdom of the heart


Rachel also shared that being as wild and playful as possible allows her to fully explore the usefulness of wisdom readings.  She takes a somewhat irreverent, and yet deeply respectful, approach to wisdom readings and seems to get some interesting results.


Did the tarot exist before creation? - Ace of Rivers (the source of all nourishment)


What is God up to today? - Nine of Stones (When Rachel drew this, Mary Greer drew The Devil at the same time)


Then Rachel discussed the four levels of interpretation of anything and how they impact on a tarot reading.


Pshaw - the literal level

Remus - the intellectual level

Dash - a wider  understanding, a broader perspective

Sod - the mystical level


The class then spent some time looking at The Fool from these different levels and yielded some interesting, eye-opening responses. 

Creation of a Wiccan Deck with Tom Tadfor Little


I decided to attend this class with Tom Little rather than Marcia Mansino's Tarot Image Therapy because I was familiar with Tom's deck and was interested in learning his inspiration and vision behind the deck. Tom spent some time discussing what motivated him to create his own deck and what decks influenced and inspired him the most (Alexandra Genetti's Wheel of Change and Tarot of the Crone).  He felt that his Wiccan worldview and reading style were not adequately satisfied by most modern Pagan tarot decks.  His words made it okay not to connect with decks, even when we like them, because they don't fit our worldview.


He shared his numerological system (which he refers to as folk numerology) and how it is more reflective of his worldview and not as structured as more traditional, orthodox numerological systems.  Tom uses a similar structure when teaching how to work with the unillustrated pips found in antique tarot decks.  Then, he used transparencies to show the audience images from his deck in progress - The Tarot of the Lady and the Lord.  At one point, he became very excited when Chris Asselin suggested laying the Fool transparency over The World transparency. It was amazing how perfectly they matched - as though The World was embracing The Fool and vice-versa.  Tom also handed out color copies of the completed cards in his deck so that we could see the images as he explained his inspiration and the meaning behind the cards.  It was quite exciting to have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes peek at a deck as its being created.


And after that, it was over, this magical, wondrous weekend was over for us.  There were two more sessions (one by Norma Cowie and one by Amy Lee Rosenberg), but with a 10 hour drive ahead of us, we needed to hit the road.  So, we said our goodbyes (always the hardest part of a conference) and started home.  We were all still floating from the fabulous time we all had and spent the journey home catching up on the folks we met and the sessions we attended.  We also managed to come up with the foundation for a Junk Food Tarot (inspired by all the fast food stops lining the NYS Thruway).  And somehow, despite a 10 hour ride both ways and two days of tarot stuff, the journey still seemed to end too soon.


Debbie Lake is a cranky, opinionated Tarotholic who was born and bred in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. She has been married for 15 years (which explains the crankiness) and just loves working with Tarot, reading and driving friends and family crazy with her know-it-all-ness. Visit her at her website.

Report 2003 Debbie Lake
Page 2003 Diane Wilkes