Centered Relating and the Tarot by Gail Fairfield
Review by Diane Wilkes
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Gail Fairfield has clearly used the tarot in a therapeutic manner for many years. Since my approach to the tarot is also primarily psychological, I appreciate this focus more than a more traditional, predictive one. Like Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack, Fairfield was into tarot long before tarot was cool, and is sort of a "Founding Mother" in the field. Her book, Choice-Centered Tarot, is a classic text in the "New Tarot" tradition, a book I especially treasure for its "How to Create a Spread" section.
The book does have its idiosyncratic--and oddly simplistic--side in its approach to interpreting the cards. Fairfield sets up a system of reading the Minor Arcana purely on the combination of its number and suit. There is no attention paid to telling the card's pictorial story, and, in fact, using a deck with simple pips works most efficaciously with Fairfield's system, since it's simply a matter of memorizing and combining keywords, and applying their meanings to the querent's situation.
For someone like me, for whom the pictorial image is a bountiful cornucopia that offers background, texture, resonance, and depth for the kinds of readings I like doing, Fairfield's approach seems impoverished and limiting. It's like a diet of serviceable crackers and water when I can so easily dine instead on the fine cuisine the banquet tarot images offer.
The new book shares the strengths--and weaknesses--of Choice Centered Tarot. At 334 pages, Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot is significantly longer than its predecessor, and contains a more generous assortment of questions and issues to ponder and explore in tarot readings.
The book is divided into three sections. Part One is entitled "Core Concepts", where we learn the intent behind Fairfield's choice of title. She uses the word "relating" as a counterpoint to "relationships," a word she finds static, stagnant. This is an excellent point to remember when dealing with a querent who wants only to know when she'll be in another relationship, as if that's the be-all and end-all in life. I use "end-all" with the same intent Gail Fairfield does with "relating"--the prevalent attitude seems to be that once you're "contained in relationship," that is the end of any necessary movement or growth.
The author also talks about the models of Fate and Choice--she's on the side of Choice, in case you hadn't picked that up from the title. It is also made clear that relating offers us the opportunity to determine how we will think, feel, and act as we move towards our goals...and also the chance to respond and react to others' thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Fairfield has three "Rules" of tarot reading which she shares in the first section:
1. The cards reflect their core meanings, regardless of orientation (upright or reversed). However, their orientation does influence their interpretation.
2. All the cards are neutral; there are no good or bad cards.
3. Each card's core meaning will emerge for you over time.
Fairfield returns to the six steps of Choice Centered Tarot reading from her first book. At the end of each chapter, she offers numerous exercises, and each chapter contains layouts and interpretations based on her core card interpretations, which she lists briefly but fully in this first section of the book. Part Three, the last section of the book, does this again, but even more fully, and specifically as someone's positive and negative attribute, as the answer to a positive or negative question, and the card as questions for you to answer, in both its upright and reversed mode. I must question why this material is repeated twice--why have it in the first section at all if just a hundred or so pages later, you have it again, but more fully. This is a minor quibble, though.
The "meat" of the book comes in Part Two, Issues and Examples. There are four chapters, and each one deals with a specific aspect of relating/relationships. The first is "Finding and Creating New Relationships," "Enhancing or Healing Existing Relationships," "Long-Term Relating," and, finally, "Closure" (think: Greg Kihn's "The Breakup Song"). In each chapter, Fairfield explores these different seasons of relating with an eye to personal responsibility and recognizing relationship gamesmanship on your own part, as well as another's. Each chapter is chock-filled with sample layouts (all of which are illustrated with examples), the kinds of questions that you might want to ask regarding the specific situation, and exercises you can do for yourself.
I love the way she brings in certain sociological and psychological concerns that a more novice reader might not take into account. For example, in "Communicating Clearly" in the chapter pertaining to "Enhancing or Healing Existing Relationships," Fairfield talks about the differences in perspective between different cultures. Soon might mean fifteen minutes to me, but in other countries, "soon" could mean anything from three days to a month. Sometimes a partner might say they'll be ready to commit soon--you're thinking fifteen minutes, and they're thinking a year! You might believe that having sex with someone other than your partner is nothing but betrayal; he might see it as a way to bring new energy back to a relationship (that example seems a bit extreme to me, but I'm an old-fashioned girl). Fairfield advises that we might want to see the "other" as foreigner, in a way to establish common understanding.
Another really valuable section can be found in Chapter Seven, "Reaching Closure." Fairfield has a list of 20 Ending/Keeping indicators that you can use to determine if a relationship no longer serves you. Actually, throughout the book, Fairfield is extremely generous in providing exhaustive and clear ways of looking at relating so that you can plug in what feels appropriate for you to explore and interpret.
I also like some of the points she makes about relationships. Often, you'll hear someone in a bad relationship point proudly to the fact that it (the relationship) has been of long duration. The fact that they're miserable and/or oppressed seems to them mitigated by the length of time they've been in this harmful dyad. In the chapter on Long Term Relating, Fairfield makes the differentiation between staying "on purpose" and "for purpose," showing that similar goals is something healthy, and disparate goals combined with no growth is not a formula for a healthy relationship, no matter how long a time you've been together.
Occasionally, though, I see a judgmental quality creeping through Fairfield's writings. In her exercise section in Chapter Five, she writes, "For each one, create a layout of 1-6 cards (or more if you feel ready for bigger readings)." This seems to imply that advancement = more cards used. While I recognize that a beginner might need to start with one or two card readings, I don't necessarily agree that more cards makes for a superior, deeper reading.
In a sample layout on whether he should take a job he was offered in his corporation, "Ian" asks how his new boss will tend to support his career goals. Even though he likes the potential new boss and the money is better than at his present position, he chooses not to take the job because he gets the following cards in the following positions:
Boss' focus on past, present, and future possibilities: Seven of Swords, Reversed; Temperance, Reversed; and Ten of Cups, Reversed.
Fairfield's method of interpretation: "It looks as if this boss takes his inspiration from the past and focuses on the productivity and team spirit of the present. He seems less interested in his own future or the futures of his subordinates." I must say as a former employment counselor that these cards alone wouldn't seem negative enough to give up working for a boss you like and superior financial remuneration. I'd see the Temperance and Ten of Cups, even reversed, as opportunities of great potential--and I suspect most other readers would, as well.
But this goes less to Fairfield's judgment and more to my own prejudice against using canned card interpretations. I think her method is perfectly workable and probably a great therapeutic model, but it turns the cards into psychological cardboard keys, not tarot. In one layout, the Six of Pentacles, Upright, is taken to mean "a regular sexual partner." I think that's really pushing it.
While I can never cozy up to Fairfield's method of card interpretation, I see enormous value in this book. It's excellent for a reader, novice or professional, to ponder the author's thoughts on relationships and relating as a way of coming to terms with his own perspective on this subject, as most querents want to know the answers to relation-related questions. The sheer volume of layout and question possibilities and the exercises make this volume worthwhile as a resource.
Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot
Publisher: Weiser Books
If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes