"Love, Death, Sex and Ecstasy" -- The Mary Greer/Rachel Pollack Workshop
 October 27 - 29, 2000,  Irvine, California
                Report by Valerie Sim-Behi

I had been anticipating the Mary Greer/Rachel Pollack Workshop for many weeks before I got there. I just knew that it couldn't possibly live up to my astronomical expectations. I was wrong.

Before I get into my comments on the workshop itself, there is something else that I must mention. The "something" is more of a "someone" as it all revolves around the dynamism and style of Barbara Rapp. I have never had the pleasure of making it to LATS (though I hope to attend next year), but I have been to BATS and Pantheacon and expected the same atmosphere. Now do not misunderstand me here. Both BATS and Pantheacon are marvelous events. I love them and plan to continue attending them. But the way Barbara arranged and coordinated this workshop was both efficient and stylish. 

The hotel chosen for the conference, the Atrium, was comfortable and esthetically laid out and decorated. But credit goes to Barbara for setting up a main conference room that was more than just adequate; it was comfortable, warm and inviting. And Barbara managed to gather together the best collection of tarot decks, books, etc. that I have ever seen in such a small space without looking cluttered. I expected a lot of US Games and Llewellyn decks, but was pleasantly surprised to also find material from smaller publishers, as well as independently published decks and many that are quite hard to find unless you are a tarot addict and collector like yours truly. If this is even a small representation of The Crystal Cave, I must get there on my next visit. Lunch was included in the reasonable workshop cost on both Saturday and Sunday, and unlike a lot of convention/workshop food, this was good!  Kudos to Barbara for being a great organizer and hostess.

10/27/00 Tarot Goddesses on "Opening Night"

Now we get to Mary and Rachel. I don't know about the rest of you, but within my budget, I will travel to anything featuring either one of these great teachers. To have the opportunity to study with both of them together in an intensive workshop format is something you simply can not afford to miss.  Mary and Rachel have been teaching together for 12 years and their comfort with each other enhances the knowledge they each bring to the forum.

The workshop began with an overview of the cross-cultural and multi-spiritual meanings of the weekend preceding what we call Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, or Samhain. Rachel lit the candles symbolizing Mercy and Judgement in honor of the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. She explained that during the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, that people of the Jewish faith believe that one has two souls. It was a reverent and auspicious beginning to a wonderful weekend to begin it with an extra soul with which to absorb and appreciate all the wonderful information that was to follow. We couldn't help but notice that the candle of Mercy flared brightest when lit, but also couldn't miss the fact that Mercy flickered out a few times during the evening. Life in mimicry of itself?…

Both women also drew a card to answer the question: "What message is important to us as we begin this workshop?" Mary drew the Five of Ghosts (Cups) from the Halloween Tarot which she interpreted as "Pay attention to something hurt or lost on a spiritual level and reclaim it." Rachel used her soon to be released Shining Tribe Tarot to draw the Place of Stones (Page of Pentacles). Her take on this was "Entering the body of the Goddess. Creating a temple for one's spiritual work."

The ladies then showed us how to work with Rachel's Transformation Spread, which involves only the Majors and has three lines of seven cards each (one Major is discarded before the spread is interpreted).  The rows of cards in the spread represent your conscious, subconscious, and superconscious. Without going into an elaborate discussion of the spread, suffice it to say that it is extremely "illuminating", in the true sense of the word. Rachel gave a fascinating talk about the Journey of Light from The Devil (Trump 15) to The World (Trump 21), which are represented by the cards in the bottom row.  Paraphrasing Rachel slightly, doing the reading correctly and honestly leads to "regaining your beauty and your power by embracing the Light and the Love."  Rachel refers to this as "the embrace of the human and the Divine" via a journey that requires "going into the darkness to find the light."

10/28/00 Day Two- The Journey Continues

Mary began the Saturday workshop class with a spread about What Love Means. This was another interesting and somewhat unconventional approach to a spread. Mary used the letters in the word L-O-V-E itself to help create and define the spread. Through a look at the shapes of the letters themselves, we got an insightful new look at "love". We did a general reading for this spread. The cards drawn were ones that were right on the mark for several people at the workshop in regards to their primary love relationships. Amazingly, this continued to happen throughout the workshop. Over and over, group readings seemed to be specifically targeting certain people in the group and telling them very specific information they needed to hear. We 
never knew who we would be thus "chosen", but it occurred several times over the three day period.

Rachel went next with a demonstration on how to have the cards ask the questions instead of just answering them. True to the subject of the workshop, she demonstrated this technique with the topic of Love & Sex in mind. She showed us how to pull cards first to create the pertinent questions/spread before moving on to others to answer those questions. I found this technique very refreshing. The cards became not only possible answers, but individual teachers as well...And in a humorous aside, Rachel also confided in us the most amusing question she ever got from a querent:  "Is my boyfriend sleeping with anyone besides me and his wife?"  Eventually, we stopped laughing uproariously, and got back down to business.

Next came Mary with her thought-provoking Hanged Man Spread. This spread was created by Mary with an eye to the Shaman's Journey in the lower world. It is subtitled "The Art and Ecstasy of Reversing Adversity". Her spread, consisting of all reversals, lends the Hanged Man's unique and altered perspective on some very important questions. To quote Mary briefly: "By learning to change our misery and pain into fulfillment and understanding we reverse our erroneous thoughts and interpretations of ourselves and of life-the illusions of appearances-into reality" [c. Mary K. Greer, 2000.] For each of the six cards in the spread, both an inner world and outer world interpretation were given. By using this spread to enable you to move from ego personality to the true Self, you can achieve better understanding and healing. 

Rachel then showed us (via a modification of a spread created by Anita Jesen), how to use the body as a means of expression for tarot readings. When I say "use the body", I am speaking literally. The cards were not placed on a table or the floor, but were placed on the reclining body of a valiant workshop volunteer. Though not a spread you would want to use on your average client, it was a great spread for understanding that which is thought, said, felt, desired, etc... and how they differ. We had fun with this one in the workshop and a couple of us used it later on my willing and eager sister-in-law to produce a dynamite reading. She called me today (AGAIN!) to tell me how correct the reading was and asking when I can come back down to southern California. (Okay, so she is also my dentist and wants to finish working on my teeth… But she did love the reading!)

10/29/00 Sunday - New Mysteries

Rachel began the day with one of her favorite topics: Death. She stressed the fact that many people, though no longer in fear of this card, still look at it solely at the transformational level and don't spend enough time on whatever it is that "needs to die". She cautioned that it is not enough to just jump ahead to rebirth, but that it is necessary to look at the "death" itself. She considers the reading process to be "dismemberment under construction" and likens shuffling to "breaking apart" and the layout to "bringing back together. She asks: "What dies and what is born?" 

She had us all contemplate the following questions: What is death? Where does it come from? Where does it take us? What do we find? What does it give us?

After a few moments she suggested the following as the basis for one's Personal Death Spread. No exact layout positions were given for any of the cards.  Rachel would deal a card to answer a question, and when she was ready to read the next, she put the next card directly atop the one before...which seemed timelessly appropriate.

1. What is my relationship with Death?
2. What in me needs to die?
3. How do I resist this dying?
4. How can I help it? [the dying]
5. What wants to be born?
6. What is my purpose?

She recommends that after one does this spread the cards should be swished together on the face of the table in order to "return them to Chaos" [Spread & description c. Rachel Pollack, 2000]

Now one of my favorite parts of the workshop: "The Essence of Tarot While Standing on One Foot"... Many people came up with their definition of the essence of Tarot. Here are just a few:

Rachel: "The Tarot is a guide for the soul from birth to enlightenment." AND "78 images that are gateways to the imageless."

Isabel Radow Kliegman: "Facilitators to the wisdom of the unconscious."

Robert Mueller: "The soul acting itself out."

Sandy Mueller: "Flashcards of the Self."

Ellen Lorenzi-Prince: "A tool for becoming your best and most complete self."

Valerie Sim-Behi: "A portal to any point on the continual journey."

It was at this point that Isabel interjected "Every reading is always for the reader as well as the one being read for"... Wise words, Isabel.

The last class of the workshop was Mary's brilliant, yet simple, treatise on Elemental Dignities. Mary stressed that there are many systems being touted today that have little to do with the original Golden Dawn concepts. And there are many people teaching Elemental Dignities (EDs) today who espouse their own ideas and insist they are the original & only correct method.  Mary's lecture was on the original principles of this method and how to use them in reading. She also reminded us that EDs are but one of the Magician's tools. She cautioned against the tendency to ignore any of those tools. EDs are not the sole answer for any reading, but can be used in conjunction with traditional readings (both upright and reversed) and other methods such as comparative tarot.  Mary is currently working on a book pertaining to elemental dignities and is also working on a book explaining reversals... The amazing (or not?) thing about Mary's book on reversals is that it is overdue because, as she writes, she is experiencing every possible type of reversal just as outlined in her book!!! 

Does Tarot mimic Life .... or does Life mimic Tarot?...

I won't attempt to answer that, but I will tell you that this was the best tarot workshop I have ever had the pleasure to attend.


Samhain 2000
Valerie Sim-Behi

Valerie Sim-Behi is the founder and moderator of Comparative Tarot, an email list devoted to studying cards of different decks  in comparison to each other.   She has worked with the tarot for over 30 years, recently attending a Blake Tarot Workshop with Ed Buryn.  Valerie created a spread that will appear in the book accompanying the Victoria-Regina Tarot by Sarah Ovenall, and has written various articles, including one on the Comparative Tarot method that will be published in Llewellyn's Tarot Calendar 2002.  You can visit Valerie at the Comparative Tarot website.

Review © 2000 Valerie Sim-Behi
Page © 2000 Diane Wilkes