World Tarot Congress, May 10-12, 2002 by Diane Wilkes

Day One - Friday, May 10, 2002

Where to begin?

If you're reading this article, you're doing so online, which gives a framework for what I'm about to write next. E-lists have given the tarot community a place of such camaraderie that you feel you know all these people you've never encountered in the flesh. At a large gathering such as the International Tarot Society's World Tarot Congress (I think about 250 tarotinteressienteres were gathered under the Radisson's roof), you get to meet these friends and have eye and voice contact. Add to this the opportunity to meet tarot folk from New Zealand, Japan, England, Germany, Denmark, and--of course!!--Italy, and you see that the conference is aptly named.

If you've been to other tarot events, you get to see far-flung friends and tarot icons you know and love. It can be quite overwhelming, in a wonderful way. I am not a spacy person, but this weekend flakiness set upon me with a vengeance. I was on such emotional overload that my intellect became utter purée.

Crystal Sage and I traveled together to the conference. Friday morning, sitting next to one another on the plane, we did readings with the beautiful Celtic Wisdom Tarot for one another, which started the tarot drumbeat threading our path to the hotel. Upon arrival, I went downstairs to find my roommate, Debbie Lake, so I could drop my suitcase off in the room. Before I found her, I got to meet Valerie Sim-Behi, Comparative Tarot List-Owner Supreme and hitherto unmet compadre. I hugged her, and she gave me a listless hug back, because she didn't know who I was. (Can you blame her for the lack of enthusiasm--getting a hug from an unknown person?) The second hug was far more satisfying. I also ran into old friends, like Lola Lucas, one of my very first online tarot comrades, and Sally Anne Stephan, my most recent tarot-buddy-in-the-physical-realm.

The purée-ing process had begun. I ran upstairs, dumped my bag, and flew back to the vendor room so I could see my spirit sister Arnell Ando. She hadn't quite unpacked her beautiful tarot artwork, so I "assisted" her, with the generous intent of being the first to see her wares and purchase what I wanted most before the other scavengers--I mean, Ando-art appreciators--descended. I bought a Strength mirror (the scan doesn't do it "Justice") and a Women of the Tarot Tray that I am unable to scan. 

Friday's classes had begun. Each of the three workshops scheduled were the sole classes held at those times, so the cruel decision-making process of choosing between great options was delayed for a day. Lo Scarabeo artist Giacinto Gaudenzi taught the first class, "Create a Tarot Card," in which he literally did just that. Barbara Moore of Llewellyn Worldwide was the model for a beautiful Queen of Pentacles that Gaudenzi continued to refine throughout the weekend, but even by the end of the one hour (plus) workshop, he had created a work of art. You can read much more about this workshop here.

The second workshop was given by Juliet Sharman-Burke, who is probably best known in the tarot community for the Mythic Tarot, her collaboration with Liz Greene. Both women are also teachers at the prestigious Centre for Psychological Astrology in England and have written many erudite books on that subject. In the future, she may become best known for the beautiful newly-published RWS-influenced Sharman-Caselli Tarot, which she lectured about on Saturday afternoon. 

Her Friday workshop was titled, "The Relationship Between Myth and Tarot," illustrated with the RWS, the Mythic Tarot, and the Sharman-Caselli Tarot. Sharman-Burke spoke on the Demeter myth for the Empress, for example, and how using myth and fairy tale enriches readings.

I missed Hajo Banzhaf's lecture on "The Return of the Oracles" (I had to eat!), but I hope to have a report on his workshop and others I was unable to attend later on. While eating, I ran into Riccardo Minetti, and he was kind enough to show me sample cards from several of the new Lo Scarabeo decks.

The opening ceremony began at 7 p.m., emceed by the indefatigable Janet Berres. The spirit of Brian Williams  pervaded the conference for me and many I know, so I was touched when he was recognized for his contributions to the tarot community both by Janet (who was quite upfront about a contretemps involving Brian and the ITS) and Stuart Kaplan, whose U.S. Games was the publisher of Brian's Renaissance Tarot. Kaplan also did a simple ritual honoring Brian and three other artists affiliated with U.S. Games who are no longer with us: Karen Kuykendall (Tarot of the Cat People), Martin Yeager (Yeager Tarot), and Giorgio Tavaglione (Stairs of Gold, Tarot of the Stars).

Gary Ross, who was the publisher of the very first tarot publication that I know of, Tarot Network News, was honored with the Pamela Colman Smith Award, which acknowledges the unsung contributors who do so much for the tarot community. (Speaking of recognition for unsung contributors: Stuart Kaplan agreed to officially change the name of the Rider-Waite Tarot to the Rider-Waite-Smith in future publications of the deck!)

The legendary Frank Jensen, tarot collector extraordinaire and publisher of Manteia, the finest tarot publication ever, was the recipient of the "big" award, the Lifetime Achievement Award Stuart Kaplan received last year. Kaplan was quite an entertaining and assured presenter, noting that not everyone who gets the award passes away after receiving it.  (Note: Eden Gray was the first recipient of the award, and sadly, died shortly thereafter. She was, however, quite a bit older than the two more recent recipients of the award.)

Janet received a crystal gavel from the ITS staff, as well as a dozen beautiful red roses. You could see she was surprised and delighted. Janet also acknowledged members of the ITS board for their hard work and had a plaque for Dawn Williams, the webmistress of the ITS site.

A wonderful panel on "Tarot Past" followed the presentations. Panelists were "Bunny" Bob O'Neill, Ron Decker, Frank Jensen, Stuart Kaplan, Mary K. Greer, Christine Payne-Towler, Tom Tadfor Little, Giordano Berti, John Opsopaus, and Robert Place. While there was an occasional disagreement, panelists tended to expand on what each other said, as opposed to negating statements. My favorite moment occurred after various panelists answered the question, "Why is tarot history important?" Tom Tadfor Little played the role of Devil's Advocate (Trump XV as Mirth-maker) and said, "It's important that tarot practitioners have enough knowledge of history to not unwittingly pass on misconceptions to people who ask the inevitable historical questions; beyond that, I think it is a matter of personal focus. I love tarot history, and for me it greatly enriches my work with the cards. For others, the primary path to enrichment may be something else - a meditation practice, a study of numerology and the occult sciences, or a personal spiritual discipline. These are all valid ways to know the tarot better. Find what is right for you." 

As the official President of the Tom Tadfor Little Secret Fan Club, I feel the need to also share his response to the question, "Is it currently the determination of tarot historians that tarot was created solely as a tool for gaming?" Tom responded, "We modern westerners tend to make a false dichotomy between recreation and depth. We seem to assume that if the cards were created to be a game, they cannot be profound - and if they were created to be profound, they could not have been a game. But the history of the culture that created the tarot gives many examples of profound games. One very close to home is the story of the cards created by Marziano da Tortona at the request of the Duke Filippo Maria Visconti, around 1420. The duke wanted a game to illustrate the interplay of vice and virtue in human life. He gave the concept to Marziano, his court astrologer and scholar, who had tutored the duke as a child. Marziano specified the designs (which involved depictions of pagan gods) in detail, writing a full monograph about the deck. The cards were then executed by a painter named Michelino da Besozzo, and were magnificent (and expensive) pieces of art. The book Marziano wrote has virtually nothing to say about how one is to play with the cards, instead he writes in detail about the symbolism depicted in them. Although Marziano's cards are not a tarot deck, they were created in precisely the same milieu that gave birth to the tarot, and remind us that Renaissance games could be devised around the most profound subjects, and put together by the leading intellectuals of the day."

Following the panel discussion was an electric performance by Blues singer Grana Louise and her bass player. I expected to stay for one song and leave, since I'm a frequent (and spoiled) concert-goer, with very high musical standards. I actually feel physical pain when listening to music that I find discordant or inferior. I stayed for every minute of this sassy singer's show, as her engaging presence and vocal stylings were an example of Chicago blues at its best.

I, however, wasn't even thinking about singing the blues, because at that very moment in time, Stuart Kaplan approached Arnell Ando to publish her long out-of-print Transformational Tarot. If that doesn't bring joy to the land of Tarot, I don't know what will.

Soon after Grana Louise finished her performance, I went to bed, knowing I had to save my strength for the next two days.

Click here to continue to the second day of the conference.

Photographs of Janet Berres (one smokin' High Priestess) and Three Tarot Graces (Arnell Ando, Fern Mercier, and Mary K. Greer) © 2002 Mike McAteer
Article and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes