The San Francisco Bay Area Tarot Symposium (May 22, 1999)
Report by James Ricklef (firstname.lastname@example.org)
** "Those shoes! I must have those shoes!" **
The Spring 1999 BATS was a fun event and a great success. I was able to
meet for the first time many of the luminaries in the Tarot world, such as
Mary Greer, Alexandra and Ken Genetti, Amber Jayanti, Brian Williams, and
Stevee Postman. (There were other luminaries there too, but in only one day
I couldn't meet them all!) Of course, I'd met Thalassa, the event
organizer, before (at the recent Los Angeles Tarot Symposium), but those
ruby slippers of hers, which caused such a stir, were a new addition. I
kept fearing she was going to accidentally click her heels three times and
*-poof-* return to Kansas.
There were a total of 17 presentations, with 2 or 3 going on simultaneously
at all times. So, what follows are only some of the highlights, since
(unfortunately) I could only be in one place at a time and thus couldn't get
to every presentation.
** Minchiate Tarot **
The first presentation I went to was Brian Williams's preview of his new
Minchiate Tarot deck and book, estimated to be out in the Fall of this year.
In addition to presenting his wonderful artwork for this project, Brian
also provided the fun factoid that the Italian word Minchiate means "lies,
triviality, or (especially) bullshit", which is derived from the literal
meaning of "a small male sex organ". Somehow, I doubt this is information
you're going to find on the dust jacket of the book though.
On a more serious note, Brian told us that the original Florentine deck of
this name was from the Renaissance period and had 97 cards. In addition to
the 78 "traditional" cards, it had 12 for the signs of the zodiac, 4 for the
elements, and 4 to add in the "missing" virtues (Prudence, Hope, Faith, and
Charity). Brian was commissioned to create an updated version of this
interesting deck, and he closely followed the original intent of the deck,
retaining its structure and the basic form of the cards, creating them in a
Renaissance style. The backgrounds and borders for all 97 images will be
digitally added soon, but for now we were shown the artwork for all of these
cards in the "raw". And it was beautiful!
The following are a few notes about the structure of this deck:
* Some of the traditional Major cards are different. For example, there is
no Empress card. I can't remember the substituted card (Duke?), but it was
male instead of female. (Maybe they thought they had enough females with
the addition of Prudence, Hope, Faith, and Charity.)
* Most of the pips just have the suit symbols, decoratively drawn.
However, some have a little scene (some of which seem to be from Aesop's
* The pages are female for the "feminine" suits of coins and cups, and male
for wand and swords.
* All of the knights are half man, half beast, with the beast being a lion
for coins, a griffin-esque fish monster for cups, and horses for wands and
swords. (Too bad it wasn't a dragon for wands and a Pegasus for swords, but
I guess Brian had to be true to the original version.)
Brian also noted that the book will address issues concerning the
explanation and justification of this variant Tarot structure, art history
of the deck, divination and meditation, symbolism in the deck, etc. It will
have lots of pictures (he showed us a few), and it will be a little over 200
** Let's read Tarot cards! **
Susan Levitt, a San Francisco based Tarot reader, did a little workshop on
reading Tarot cards. After a quick introduction to the structure of the
deck and the Fool's Journey, she did a couple of quick demonstration
readings for volunteer querents from the audience using a three-card layout:
You, Them, Outcome
I noted that she turned around reversed cards, so I asked her if she doesn't
use them. She replied that she didn't, and that she felt that there's
enough meaning in the 78 cards the way they are. Okay, I realize that there
are (at least) two schools of thought on this issue. But then she said, "In
fact, I teach my students that using reversed cards is a bad habit." Excuse
me? A bad habit? I refrained from pointing out that (for example) in _78
Degrees of Wisdom_, even Rachel Pollack exhibits this "bad habit". I just
assumed a thin, indulgent smile and kept my contentious mouth shut for the
duration of the presentation.
** Elemental Dignities **
Elemental Dignities is one of those topics that has always made me tilt my
head and cock one ear -- you know, like you dog does when he watches you
have sex and can't figure out what the heck is going on. He suspects that
he knows what you're trying to do, but you just don't seem to be doing it
the way he always thought it was supposed to be done. So when I found out
that Mary Greer was going to do a presentation on it (Elemental Dignities, I
mean), I figured, what a great opportunity for me to finally get a clue!
Mary opened her presentation by noting that ED is the technique that the
Golden Dawn used instead of reversals. She told us that the traditional way
of using ED relied on the concept that Air and Earth are inimical to each
other, as are Fire and Water. Thus, for example, if 2 Wand cards are next
to each other, they will boost each others' influence, for better or worse.
But if a Sword and a Pentacle are adjacent, they will weaken each other.
Cups and Pentacles support each other (but not as much), as do Swords and
Wands. Wands are *somewhat* hostile to Pentacles, and the same goes for
Swords and Cups.
What Mary has discovered is that ED is based upon astrology, "stressing a
modern humanistic and psychological astrology".
Of course, being about as clueless in astrology as I am on the topic of
Elemental Dignities, I felt my heart sink when I heard that. I couldn't
imagine that astrological comparisons were going to help _me_. Luckily,
this did turn out to be an informative talk nevertheless.
First Mary charted the elemental signs. Picture a clock (not a digital one,
please) with 12:00 labeled Earth. Moving clockwise, you next have Fire,
then Water, and then Air. Then you repeat this pattern for the remaining 8
"hours". Got it? Elements separated by 120 degrees (called a trine aspect)
are harmonious, those that are opposed (separated by 180 degrees) are "
dealing with the same matter but at different levels", and those separated
by 60 degrees (called sextile) are supportive. Those separated by 90
degrees (squares) are antagonistic, because they're never going to be seeing
things from the same vantage point, and those separated by 30 degrees
(inconjuncts) have similar, but lesser problems, such as annoyances and
I'm sure the astrology guru's out there are now nodding their heads sagely.
"Oh, of course! How simple! Why didn't I think of that?" Meanwhile, we
astrology dummies are tilting our heads and cocking an ear. "Yeah, and
But I exaggerate; I wasn't as lost as all that. I really do understand the
basic concept that, for example, Fire and Water weaken each other, while
Water and Water strengthen each other. So let's go on from there. A couple
points Mary made that I found quite salient are:
1. Inimical pairs indicate stress, but that can be used to show the querent
an opportunity for growth. Thus ED is a tool to help you spend more time
with the dynamics of the process instead of just looking at the "event"
2. For inimical pairs, have the querent look for another card in the spread
that can mediate between them.
I'd have liked to see examples of these techniques, but unfortunately one of
the shortcomings of a symposium is the severe time limitation imposed on
presentations. So basically, I'm afraid I'm still tilting my head, but I'll
keep trying to figure it out. Someday, it'll all come together and make
complete sense. I hope.
** Spring Fever Symptom Solver **
As we sat in a circle around a Beltane alter that Melanie Oelerich prepared,
she presented her "Beltane Layout". Crescent Magazine has asked her to
prepare a layout for each of the Sabbats, but since the current issue wasn't
going to make it in time for Beltane, they asked her to make one for the
Summer Solstice instead. Since she had already created the Beltane spread,
she decided to present it to us.
According to the BATS program, "This layout reveals the active and the
receptive forces at work and the results of their interaction." The most
interesting thing I got out of it is that it provides a card for "what
ritual you can do to deal with the change." I thought that was a nice
If you want to see this spread I'm afraid you'll have to get the issue of
Crescent Magazine next spring when they should be presenting it.
** The Bow Spread **
Before beginning his presentation on the spread he calls "The Bow Spread",
Mark Ryan, the creator of the Greenwood Tarot, noted that he originally
named his deck "The Wildwood deck". But the publisher thought that was too
... well, too wild, so Mark had to change the name. (There! Another of
those fun factoids you can learn at a symposium.)
The Bow Spread is intended for the "BIG" questions, the issues that underlie
the more mundane questions we typically ask. It consists of a significator,
four cards that make up the bow (cards 2 through 5) and two cards that make
up the arrow (cards 6 and 7). The bow is the querent, and the arrow is a
spell, intent, desire, will, etc.
The spread looks like this (and I hope the formatting comes out okay):
6 3 7
5 2 1
Card 1, the significator, is chosen by the querent and will indicate the
question and its underlying issue.
Card 2 (the grip of the bow) is the heart of the matter.
Card 3 is the conscious part of the question.
Card 4 is the subconscious (i.e., emotional) aspect of the question.
Card 5 (the bow string) is the energy passing through the issue.
Card 6 is your will, talents, gifts, etc. that will aim your intent.
Card 7 is what will bring resolve, healing, breakthrough, etc.
Mark also indicated that this spread can be performed iteratively. You
would first pick a card from the spread to use as the new significator.
Then reshuffle and layout another Bow Spread. You can do this as many times
as you need to.
** Tales from the Dark Side. **
With her unique talent for extemporization, Thalassa talked about how the
Dark Side of issues relates to the Tarot, and vice versa. She said, "Those
of us in oracular arts need to be comfortable with the 'shadow' issues,
because no one else is." i.e., because these are times that seem "hell-bent
on keeping people from their inner truths and their inner selves". But
since "Tarot doesn't shrink from 'shadow' issues" we need to be able to face
She also noted that what you do affects everyone else. This observation
draws upon both the "100th Monkey" theory and the "Butterfly effect" of
Chaos Theory. Simply put, this means:
1. The more people do something, the easier it is for the next person to do
2. Small actions can have large effects.
Then at the end of her talk, Thalassa broke open a new deck (The New
Paladini deck) and had each of us pick one card from it and consider what
the shadow issues in that card are. And of course, as usual, we got to keep
the card we picked. (Go to enough of these symposiums and you'll eventually
have a complete, free deck, eclectic though it may be.)
** Closing Notes **
If you want to browse for a deck or a book, these symposiums are a great
place for that, especially since some of the authors and deck creators are
right there! But one of the best parts of symposiums like this is all the
people you can meet, either before the presentations begin, during the lunch
break, or after the presentations and before everyone packs up to leave.
For example, I was able to spend some time chatting with Amber Jayanti
(Founder of the _Santa Cruz School for Tarot and Qabalah Study_ and author
of _Living the Tarot_) and we ended up talking about the Alchemical Tarot
Deck, for which I've written a review for Tapestry. I talked to Brian
Williams, Alexandra Gennetti, and Mary Greer about their work, and I was
able to meet some of the people from the Tarot E-mail list I belong to,
Tarot-L. So this event was as social as it was informative.
But all good things must come to an end, and this symposium was no
different. As the event wound down, people began to pack up to leave,
Thalassa changed into sensible shoes, and Alexandra Gennetti passed out
party favors--little snippets (approximately 1 inch square) from her Tarot
deck--and I got the Devil. So if I've been irreverent at all in this write
up, I have an excuse. The Devil made me do it.
1. The Fall 1999 BATS will be held on 10/23, again at the SOMAR Gallery.
So if as you read this report you said to yourself, "Gosh darn it, I've just
got to go to the next one of those," mark your calendar now! And for
further information you can contact Thalassa at Airndark@AOL.COM
2. The Fall 1999 Los Angeles Tarot Symposium will be held at the end of
September. For further information on that you can contact Barbara Rapp at
3. This report on the Spring 1999 BATS was originally published in Tapestry