Report on the September 29 - October 1 ATA Conference -- Diane Wilkes


There is nothing on earth I like better than going to Tarot Conferences (except seeing Bruce Springsteen live, but is it really fair comparing anything to that?).  The thorniest dilemmas involve choosing which workshop to attend and trying to talk to 18 different people at once.  

Crystal Sage and I got a slightly late start, and I despaired of attending the scheduled Gail Fairfield workshop I so looked forward to attending.  We managed to cross the threshold of the Latham Holiday Inn Express at precisely 1 p.m., but instead of marching triumphantly into "Choice Centered Tarot ," we discovered Geraldine Amaral holding forth on "Tarot and Feng Shui."




Pam Osik-Sewell, Mark McGill, Prudence Theriault, Matt Brooks, and Suzann Pacillo

The bad news was that Gail Fairfield (and Amber Jayanti) had to cancel their appearance at the convention at the last minute.  The good news was that the cancellation allowed Geraldine to double the length of her excellent seminar from the original hour and a half that was slotted.  She provided an excellent introduction to feng shui, and then showed ways to use tarot and the bagua (a grid providing nine areas that correlate to life issues and where each one "falls").  She then had each of us do our own "Guidance from the Bagua Spread," and had us pair up to offer input and discuss our individual spreads.

Geraldine has designed this nine card spread to offer long-term counsel on multiple areas of our lives.  If one wanted, it could be a blueprint for life-improvement on an ongoing basis.  

The next workshop I attended was performed by Tarot-l favorite, Liz Hazel, on "Tarot and Astrological Techniques."  I do not use the word "performed" inadvisedly; her workshop was nothing less than performance art at its best.  She first gave a rapid-fire introduction to astrology that was breathtaking in its scope and brevity.  I did see some people going into what looked like a mute and dazed coma, but most participants seemed able to get the gist of what Liz was saying. 

Barbara Wright and Geraldine Amaral
This was impressive enough, but not the performance art part of the workshop.  The real excitement came when Liz put charts on the overhead projector and went over the "hot spots" and fixed star placements that caught her eye.  She explained each vividly and hilariously--and at breakneck speed.   She would then have the person whose chart was being manically dissected conduct a spread--in real time--and then she showed how the chosen cards corroborated and encapsulated the astrological transits and progressions.

The charts had all been taken from volunteers on Tarot-l.  Yours truly was one of them, and though I am a professional astrologer, I was awed by Liz's command of fixed stars, asteroids, and eclipses.   She clearly eats them for breakfast with her Cheerios.   When not confounded by her Uranian-like brilliance, I was laughing at her allusions to Mercurial Cabana Boys and the like.  

One caveat: her presentation style is not geared to the slow-witted.  That's an understatement.  Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to discuss various subjects with Liz, and I alternated between bemusement at her arcane references and laughing hysterically at her wild, irreverent humor.

When Liz's workshop ended, it was time for dinner.  Unfortunately, the motel didn't have a restaurant, so Crystal Sage and I went to dinner with her sister, who lives in Albany.  When we returned to the hotel, we spent time meeting presenters and attendees alike, all of whom seemed to be having a great time.

I had to retire early because I knew sleep would be essential for the next day; I was scheduled to give two presentations.  I made up for my enforced  sequestration Saturday night, though.  Due to the absence of Fairfield and Jayanti, many workshops had been shuffled around and new ones were added.  I would have liked to attend Donald Michael Kraig's "Magick and the Tarot," but it was not to be; his workshop took place at the same time one of mine did.

The indefatigable Liz Hazel
Instead, I attended John Gilbert's workshop on Master Tarot.  Despite the fact that this was not a planned workshop--nor the only extemporaneous one John had to present--his seminar was extremely organized and packed with valuable information.  As a mentor, I really appreciated the newest data on the certification criteria, as well as his simple-but-effect methodology for training beginners.  A friend of mine has long been considering going for her certification as a Tarot Master.  She was so motivated by John's workshop that she wrote a tarot book review the next day!  To me, that speaks volumes about the effectiveness of his presentation.

Immediately following John's workshop was my presentation on "Tarot and Storytelling" for the Advanced Track.  Naturally, I would have preferred to begin with the Beginners Track, but it was not to be.  I intentionally prepared both workshops with the intent of offering something for the novice and professional tarot  alike.  While I can't say if that proved to be the case, I found the participants in both workshops that I presented to be incredibly receptive and encouraging.  I had the most fun I've ever had presenting at a tarot convention because of it.

One high point of the first presentation for me was when Patrice Walker, a workshop participant, shared her friend, Cherryl Neill's terrific tip for organizing tarot journals.  Before starting a journal, leave several pages in the front blank.  When you complete your daily entry, you can go to the front of the journal, and write the date and the subject(s) of your extract.  That way, you can harvest and/or compile the insights of your tarot journal with ease.  I would never have thought of such a great method.  Patrice told me that Cherryl is a Virgo--and I believe it.  Earth signs are so practical!


Diane Wilkes
Lunch was harried and hurried because, as I stated earlier, there was no restaurant in the hotel, and with only an hour scheduled between classes, I was a nervous wreck.  Can you blame me--I was incredibly eager to see Nina Lee's "Tarot for Life" workshop from the beginning.  Unfortunately, I (and quite a few other people) were fifteen minutes late, but the hour and fifteen minutes I got to see and hear were terrific.  Nina Lee has a wonderful, authoritative presence (afterwards, I struggled and found the word I wanted: gravitas).

She talked about how cycles are more akin to spirals than circles, and applying the spiral pattern (and the four directions)  in our approach to the tarot.  When we are beginners, we "come from" the East--celebrating the dawning of our new tarot play with great ardor.  We are eager to know everything...and are reaching for more.  As we move to the summer of our great content, we need to watch ourselves for sunstroke (staying in the Tarot sunshine too long) and selectively prune our tarot flowerings.  Summer is also a time for sharing our tarot times with others.  Fall is the time for harvesting our Spring and Summer seeds, which have grown from an admixture of our joy and our balance.  This is the time for possibly pursuing professional work with the tarot--or simply taking our tarot studies deeper.  Winter can be dark--but we can bring in the light by teaching others.  Anyone who has taught any subject to anyone knows that by teaching anything, we learn as much as those who are our students.  

And where are we when we are learning anew?  You guessed it: we have returned to the East.   And the spiral begins again...

You can read Nina Lee's more detailed (and lucid) explanation of this here.   

But her workshop didn't stop there.  We also did two of her Tarot of Self-Discovery exercises.   Those who are unfamiliar with these free and revelatory exercises should check that section of her website out as well.

Geraldine then gave her "Embracing the Shadow" workshop, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, though I heard people raving about it as they left the room.  I was also unable to go to Ruth Ann Brauser and Wald Amberstone's "Couple's Mandala" presentation, as again I was also conducting a workshop at that time.  I understand that they used Chic and Tabitha Cicero to illustrate their couple's mandala, which I'm sure made the seminar extremely stimulating.  I have had the opportunity to attend a workshop of Ruth Ann and Wald's, and was quite regretful that I couldn't go to this one.

When six o'clock rolled around, I was one relieved puppy.  No more workshops to conduct, which meant that I could PLAY.  I could also eat: the banquet began at 7 p.m.  I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by lots of fun people--Crystal Sage, Geraldine, Rachel Pollack, Barbara Wright and Kate Brielmaier from Llewellyn, and the indefatigable Liz Hazel.  There was an excellent after-dinner speaker, Christopher Gibson, but I must shamefully admit that his serious style was not what I was looking for by this time.  I wanted frivolity!  I wanted fun!  I humbly submit that an after-dinner lecture should be heavy on humor and light on content.

Still, when Christopher mentioned something about us avoiding senility, that evoked an image for Liz that triggered her imagination and her artistic sensibilities; here is the result of that prompting.

Christopher followed his speech with a "roast-toast" to Alan Curthoys, the retiring President of the A.T.A.  This was the kind of fare I was looking for: laughs, jokes, wit, charm...I enjoyed this part of the evening thoroughly.  Afterwards, most people stayed around to chat, drink (the hotel didn't have a bar, either, but that didn't stop the more enterprising participants from B'ing their own B).  I exchanged and gave tarot readings, had the de rigeur cat discussions (tarot people and our cats--Goddess Bless Us!) and laughed and met lots of great tarot folk (always the best part of these conferences) and stayed up 'til 3:30 a.m., just because I could.

When the alarm clock rang at 7:30, fun was the last thing on my mind.  Crawling under my sheets and playing dead occurred to me, but I couldn't miss Rachel Pollack's workshop.  Could I?  No.  So up I got.  Several complete strangers approached me to let me know that I looked pretty bad (I had to pack my bags AND the bags under my eyes--so unfair).  I staggered into Rachel's workshop thinking that I could maybe learn to sleep with my eyes open.

Fortunately, I didn't need toothpicks to prop up my eyelids after all.  I was absolutely captivated by Rachel's lecture. 

Alan Curthoys
She began with mentioning it was Rosh Hashanah, which Jews see as the "birthday of the world, an anniversary of creation, a moment worth recognizing annually."  From there, she made the "leap" to the Fool as a symbol of the dawn of creation.  As the Fool gets separated into Male and Female (Magician and High Priestess), the journey begins, with the Fool dancing from card archetype to card archetype.  The Fool is "No-Thing" and then we start naming as we "separate" from perfection until reaching The World...and then the cycle begins again.  

The rest of her presentation showed Rachel in World mode, as she integrated stories, alternate arcana numbering systems, myth, religion, angels, and a variation of the Professor Irwin Corey shtick into a lecture that kept everyone, from beginner to jaded pro,  spellbound.  As someone trying to combine eclectic Judaism and Goddess Worship into a holistic spirituality, I felt she had created the lecture just for me.  Nina Lee, who is studying magick, was sure that it was for her.  Connie's affinity for angels made her believe that Rachel was talking directly to her.  It seemed everyone I spoke to felt the same way we did.  

It's impossible to share every pearl--and Rachel offered no handouts, speaking extemporaneously.  But I will offer my version of her adaptation of Corey's routine.  When asked "Why does the tarot work?"  Rachel says, "Why is a question 

Nina Lee Braden, Carolyn Guss, Ruth Ann Brauser, and Rachel Pollack

that has been asked throughout the ages, from the greatest metaphysical questions to the most mundane.  "Why..." is an eternal, mystical question...

"Does the tarot work?  Yes."

In a note to some friends, I wrote, "The last presentation I went to electrified was from a woman who, like me, combines Goddess Worship with the Reconstructionist Jewish path, though unlike me, she really gets into it, with scholarship, thought, and practice, and I just think about it a lot."  I think that sums things up nicely.

I had to leave shortly after lunch, and was unable to participate in the Chic and Tabitha Cicero's Tree of Life Walk.  But I have experienced this visceral introduction to the Kabbalah, and found it extremely accessible and valuable.

I have to express how delightful it was to meet my mentee, Connie Walters, after our lengthy correspondence.  She was nothing like I imagined her to be--she was much more fiery and fun.  Look for her to be offering her own presentations in the future.  I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with Nina Lee Braden, but am grateful for the communication we did have.  Audrey Savage, the creator of the unique and beautiful Dance of Life Tarot, gave a short, but profound and fascinating, presentation on her nearly-new deck (you can see it for yourself here) .  Look for a review of this deck on this page SOON. 

I made so many new friends I hate to mention names, because I don't want to leave anyone out.  Hopefully, some will come to the local Tarot Munch events Crystal Sage holds...I really appreciated Dan's fabulous tarot reading...and I especially enjoyed reading for Christiana Gaudet.  I loved getting to know Liz Hazel and John ("Mr. A.T.A.") Gilbert, and so many others better.

I was also so impressed with John's consistent and calm presence in the face of major and minor snafus.    

It is always special to see dear friends with who you don't get to spend nearly enough time at these things.  Fortunately, Geraldine Amaral and Ruth Ann and Wald don't live too far away, so maybe I can spend more time with them before the next convention.

I can't recommend these conventions enough.  Any tarot enthusiast who has read this far NEEDS to go to one.  I hope it will be soon, so I can tell you, too, all about my cat, Benigni...

View more pictures from the conference.



Page and article 2000 Diane Wilkes
Photographs 2000 Crystal Sage