Comparative Tarot\ITS Conference
Sacramento, CA - July 26-28, 2002
Report by Sherryl Smith

The story of how this amazing conference happened at all is a Tower-Star tale of a disastrous situation turning into magic and triumph through the energy and dedication of a small group of people.

After the original sponsor suddenly withdrew its support and cancelled the hotel arrangements without notice, the Tarot community rallied around conference organizer Valerie Sim-Behi.  Janet Berres, President of the International Tarot Society, immediately offered financial support and her expertise as an event planner.

US Games and Llewellyn Publishers provided backing, and many members of the Tarot community offered financial and moral support. Within weeks, Valerie was able to resurrect the conference and expand it beyond its regional boundaries to attract speakers and participants from every corner of the country. Llewellyn went far beyond their usual two-author provision and covered travel and expenses for editor Barbara Moore and four authors: Rachel Pollack, Donald Michael Kraig, Mary Greer and Stephen Walter Sterling. The speakers were all experienced teachers, so the quality of the workshops and presentations was consistently high throughout the weekend.

The overall tone of the conference was fast-paced and intense. Forty-five participants spent twelve hours a day attending the same classes and eating meals together, building up a store of shared experiences that quickly bonded us into a close-knit group.  Ringleader Valerie made sure we adhered to the schedule, encouraging speakers to end on time, and herding us to our seats after the breaks with such congeniality that we never felt regimented. Most of the classes lasted two hours, sufficient time to go into a subject deeply, or do an experiential exercise and share it with other students without feeling rushed.

My criticisms are very minor. The intense pace energized me, but some people burned out, and I overheard a few jokes about "Tarot Boot Camp". I would have enjoyed the Friday night buffet more if I could have changed clothes and relaxed with a glass of wine before dinner, instead of being hustled into the banquet room straight from the classroom. The hotel rooms ranged from adequate to substandard. Several of us had to change rooms after checking in, and we couldn't count on hot water; but the price was right, the food was great, and the staff were very friendly and helpful.  The art displays and bookstore were crowded at the back of the classroom and difficult to get to, but renting a separate room for them wasn't financially feasible.

I wish I could do justice to all the workshops by summarizing them thoroughly and listing the accomplishments and publishing credits of the presenters. Instead, I'll touch on the highlights:

Three classes stand out in my mind for teaching new techniques I can use in my readings. Donald Michael Kraig walked us step-by-step through "The Opening of the Key", the Golden Dawn's complicated and ritualistic method of reading Tarot. I doubt I will ever do the entire five-part process, but it gave me some spread ideas.  Teresa (Thrysse) Michelson offered several methods for seeing each minor arcana card in a larger context. She encouraged us to use our creativity to invent a story based on the ace through ten cards of one suit. Everyone had fun with Valerie Sim-Behi's Comparative Tarot exercises. This method of reading from multiple decks will be available to everyone when Lo Scarabeo releases their four-in-one Comparative Tarot deck with a booklet written by Valerie, and when Valerie's book Tarot: Out of the Box is released by Llewellyn next year.

The most profound experiences of the weekend were evoked by working deeply with our own readings.  Mary Greer had us do a three-card spread using her all-purpose question, "What do I most need to look at in my life right now?" We synthesized the three cards in a crayon drawing that revealed layers of meaning we wouldn't have experienced by interpreting the spread in the usual way.  Sandra Thomson provided an equally deep and thoughtful experience by leading us through a complex Tarot spread that showed us how we sabotage ourselves by denying the voice of our higher self.

Other presenters included Rachel Pollack sharing the inspiration behind several of her Shining Tribe cards, Janet Berres giving practical tips on starting up a Tarot business, and Arnell Ando's providing instructions for making collaged decks and boxes and publishing your own deck.

There was much more to the conference than classes and workshops. Throughout the weekend we enjoyed Arnell Ando's exquisitely collaged boxes and frames and one of her miniature Tarot shops. Joanna Powell Colbert, known for her illustrations in SageWoman and PanGaia, displayed her original artwork. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince's visceral watercolors from her Tarot of the Crone were mysterious and evocative.

Thanks to many generous donations, raffle prizes were awarded throughout the conference. Every participant received a large tote bag from Llewellyn Publishers generously stuffed with decks and other gifts. As if we didn't have enough to take home in our luggage, East-West books of Sacramento set up shop with a large selection of books and decks to purchase.

Saturday evening we enjoyed a wonderful soul food dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. After dinner, Thalassa (a well-known personality in the San Francisco-Bay Area Tarot community) entertained us while presiding as auctioneer. The hottest bidding was generated by an out-of-print Mary Greer book, a ticket to the upcoming Bay Area Tarot Symposium, and a "Position Deck" created by Valerie and inspired by Donald Michael Kraig, to be used for randomly selecting your question and spread positions.

By Sunday afternoon we were feeling like the Nine of Cups stuffed to the point of bursting with information and inspiration.  The conference wound down gently with four one-hour sessions that turned us inward, ending the conference on a spiritual note.

Under Patricia (Catwomyn) Croteau's guidance, we received messages from semi-precious stones that we used to amplify the meaning of a Tarot card. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince led us into the psychological depths to face the Bright Shadow and Dark Shadow. Deanna Frank transformed the room's energy with a Hawaiian chant to invoke the wisdom of the elders, then described the Tarot from the viewpoint of various Christian and Mystery traditions.

Stephen Walter Sterling ended the conference on a deeply inspirational note. He asked, "How often do you think of yourself as a being of light walking the material plane gathering experience?"  Then he led us on an exquisitely beautiful journey through the towers of the Moon card to encounter the Angel Gabriel of the Judgment card.

This conference is a tribute to the energy and organizational skills of Valerie Sim-Behi, Janet Berres, and the many people who worked behind the scenes to pull it off with incredibly tight time constraints. Conference participants enjoyed a casual atmosphere that allowed for socializing, focused learning, intense inner work, and networking with other Tarotists. Several experienced conference-goers I spoke to said this conference was one of the best they've ever attended. All who were present were immensely enriched by this experience.

Sherryl Smith has been studying the Tarot for 30 years. She is a member of the ATA and ITS, and is a CPTR who reads Tarot on-line at the Free Reading Network. She is currently focusing her Tarot studies on the 15th century hand-painted Italian decks and their relationship to the art of that time period.

Report 2002 Sherryl Smith
Photographs of presenters-at-work Ellen Lorenzi-Prince (top) and Mary K. Greer 2002 Valerie Sim-Behi
Page 2002 Diane Wilkes