San Francisco-Bay Area Tarot Symposium (SFBATS) 2002
Report by Diane Wilkes

Many moons ago, when I first became obsessed with all things tarot, I found out about Tarot Network News, a journal published out of (where else?) San Francisco by Gary Ross. I immediately subscribed and saw advertisements for Tarot symposia. Such things didn't exist in my neck of the woods and I was filled with unquenched desire. The advertisements stopped for a while, and then I saw that Thalassa (a memorable name, indeed) had picked up the gauntlet. Unwilling to let these events die out, she began organizing the newly dubbed BATS, totally confusing this northeasterner.

My "unquenched desire" has been somewhat sated by attending other tarot conferences and gatherings. But when I read that the October 2002 SFBATS was to be dedicated to Brian Williams AND his mother and sister would be there, selling his tarot collection, well...I knew I had to be there. A confluence of positive financial occurrences feathered my way, and I found myself winging towards the tarot promised land.

This unique event reflects its hostess, Thalassa, who was resplendent in dark green velvet when the doors opened at eight-thirty in the morning for the vendors, who all had distinctive and desirable items: exquisite jewelry and handmade runes, rare books and decks, and, best of all, the various tarot creators who were displaying their decks. Even a dedicated shopper like myself didn't get to explore everything.

I was there to attend workshops, after all, and attend them I did. After a quick and informal round of opening remarks and announcements, I had to choose my first class (two workshops ran concurrently throughout the day). Not being completely awake, I didn't read the descriptions carefully and found myself in Coffee Klatch Discussion, or The Future According to Joe by Thena MacArthur. There I was, a dedicated tea drinker who can't imbibe coffee, in a workshop on divining by coffee grounds (Thena even refers to "sissy tea leaves" in her course description; I told you I was bleary-eyed).

I discovered that the "Church of Coffee" offers something for everyone, even an Earl Grey-gulper like myself. I found that I was in concert with MacArthur's philosophy--she said the two things one needed for coffee divination were a good imagination and a willingness to give it a shot.

This offbeat workshop was embedded with transferable coffee grounds of wisdom. My tarot compatriot David Bogie would have loved this workshop! The presenter noted that coffee was referred to as "The Devil's Drink" and was banned, showing that it has something in common with our beloved tarot. We were given a short history of coffee and coffee-houses, and how coffee and philosophizing go hand-in-trembling-hand. One can divine by cappucino, approaching the foam as if one were cloud-reading. MacArthur suggested we could make every drink of coffee a meditational and/or magical process, devising and repeating a daily affirmation as we stir our cream into the brew. She also recommended that we choose the kind of coffee to correspond to our question, hence, French Roast is the one "to use for divination on topics that are passionate, such as romance."

Naturally, this had me composing a similar list for tea (Earl Grey for issues of prestige, Rosehips for questions regarding love and sex, and Chamomile for assistance with dream interpretation). Nothing like transferable knowledge to perk a girl up (so to speak).

In terms of the nitty gritty (and I use the term tightly), when consulting the debris one should write down what we see without analysis, just look at and catalogue the shapes, allowing our imaginations free rein. Finally, we were advised not to swirl the cup, as the patterns dissolve into nothingness, leaving us without anything to analyze.

Unfortunately, time did not allow for the actual divination with the Cowboy Coffee MacArthur made during the class, but the ideas brewed will percolate forever. And she included a nifty handout that had recipes for debris-producing items like biscotti and scones.

In the workshop I didn't get to attend, Susan Levitt discussed her new creation: The Compete Tarot Kit published by US Games. Roving reporter Tom Tadfor Little had this to say about her workshop:

Susan Levitt, tarot reader, Taoist astrologer, and Feng Shui practitioner, presented The Complete Tarot Kit, recently published by US Games. Susan described how she had developed a curriculum for her tarot teaching work that focused on both the Waite-Smith (Rider) and Crowley-Harris (Thoth) tarot decks. She had approached US Games about publishing her work as a book, and the project developed into its present form. The kit as published includes Levitt's book, a workbook for recording readings, exercises, and notes, and small-sized copies of both the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. The books are colorful and attractive. It sells for only $35, and is packaged and marketed to appeal to the general public, not just tarot aficionados. It's encouraging to see a mass-market product like this that features material from an experienced and creative tarot teacher. (Susan had interesting things to say about Tarot and oriental astrology, tarot and pets, and other fun topics.) Novices who pick up this kit in a bookstore out of curiosity (or receive it as a Christmas present) will be getting a fine introduction to the world of real tarot.

The next duo of workshops was the Battle of the Titans, the Sicilian Stretcher Match-up: Rachel "78 Degrees of Wisdom" Pollack vs. Mary "Tarot for Your Self" Greer. Thalassa stated at the beginning of the program that she overheard grumblings about this, but no one wanted to "speak against either Mary or Rachel" (eliciting Rachel's murmured comment that "No one wants to speak against us because we're so nice."). This involved my one stressful moment at BATS--making that Ace of Swords choice. I went with Mary because she is a west-coaster and I am more likely to see Rachel at a regional gathering.

One thing that always strikes me when I see Mary is what a true tarot pioneer she has been. So many things we automatically think and do now with ease are innovations and ways of approaching the tarot that she began or brought into the readers' consciousness. Prior to Mary's books,  individuals attempted to follow books slavishly. The idea of using your intuition or creating your own way of seeing the cards was simply not done. One woman said something to the effect of, "I always think of the cards in this way..." and I thought to myself, "Does she realize that she wouldn't have that freedom if Mary hadn't paved the way?" Because, through Tarot and Your Self and the workshops she taught, Mary did.

But I, in the spirit of Thalassa, digress. Mary's lecture was on "Reading the Court Cards," and we talked about pairings somewhat through the lens of elemental dignities (Mary prefers to choose pairs where the elements conflict, because conflict makes for more interesting dynamics). When two court cards are "enemies of each other" (ie., Wands and Cups or Swords and Pentacles), Mary urged us not to go with our preferred suit and ignore the "different" one, but to strive for a compromise. A win-win might not be possible, but there is always the potential for give and take.

We even came up with possible movie scenarios for court card duos; for the Page of Cups and the King of Wands, the movie Sabrina was mentioned, with Sabrina as the romantic and youthful Page of Cups infecting Linus, the King of Wands, with her dreams of Paris and a non-business-centered life. Rocky was another film possibility, with idealistic Rocky as the Page and the champion boxer as the King of Wands. Also noted was the potential for a Godfather-type relationship, a la Michael the dreamy idealist becoming the heir to his father's "olive oil business."

Greer spoke, as she often does, of always seeing the court card(s) in a reading as representing the persona(e) of the querent. The court card can represent someone else as well, but always represents the querent. She also talked about seeing the courts in terms of developmental stages. The Page is young, just beginning a new form of study (relating to the specific suit). The person's approach is "I want to know all about this" and is in a constant state of wonder. Knights are adolescence, with the mental attitude of "I kjnow it all...everyone's been doing it wrong for centuries, but I'll get that straightened out." Mary sees both the Queen and King as totally mature, but having two different kinds of maturity. Originally, she tried to break through the cultural overlay of masculine/feminine but finding decks that contained those correlations was a challenge. Additionally, Mary's interactive method of reading involves the querent observing the cards, and, because he/she often had ingrained sexual stereotyping of his/her own due to the aforementioned cultural overlay, Mary didn't want to constantly "correct" the querent. It just doesn't lead to a positive experience for the querent.

So she now works within a "traditional" framework, in that Kings represent traditional fathering qualities, such as being outerly assertive with a public persona. Queens represent traditional mothering qaulites, such as inter-relating, concerned for selves and others (Mary emphasized the selves part--Queens, like sistas, are doing it--caring--for themselves). Not only does Mary consider them equals, though they tend to operate on different spheres, the querent may see his/her mother as a King and his/her father as a Queen.

After this entertaining and educational workshop, we took a break for lunch. I spent mine talking to Alexandra (Wheel of Change Tarot) Genetti. The exciting news is that she is presently making copious notes for a new deck based on myth and story--and that's all I'm allowed to divulge at present. The bad news for Genetti fans is that she won't begin the actual deck creation until her son graduates from 8th grade (next year).

Click here for Part Two of the SFBATS Report.


SFBATS Logo Joseph Ernest Martin
Photographs of Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack; Alexandra Genetti 2002 Crystal Sage
Page and report 2002 Diane Wilkes