Learning Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Self Development, Tarot Card Decks, Tarot On Line No Comments »

For those of us lucky enough to be in London at the moment, it has really been our year. The Queen’s Jubilee was a pageant on the grandest scale; the Olympics have been stunning and inclusive, making us proud to be part of this great city; and, just before autumn begins to draw in, we have the icing on the cake, in the form of the UK Tarot Conference at the Thistle Barbican Hotel on the 12-13th October.

Rachel Pollack, a well-known and highly-respected visitor from the US kicks off with a talk on what tarot is, what it does, and how it does it (I wish all clients could come to this one), goes on to look at multi-diimensional readings; and finishes with all the different books she’s had published this year. Juliet Sharman-Burke investigates The Hermit (a subject dear to my heart right now, as I’ve just started painting a new tarot, the inspiration for it being The Hermit – I’ll be posting the images as I complete them, so keep checking). Tiffany Crosara speaks about ‘Bringing the Tarot Alive’ and – a real treat this – Alfred Douglas is attending to have an informal talk about the tarot and magical orders.

Also, in the afternoon on Saturday I’m talking about the Tarot and the Shadow. We all enjoy getting the ‘good’ cards, and cringe when the difficult, awkward, shadow images turn up. Why, though, do we try to avoid them? One of the great things about the Tarot is that we are actually encouraged to explore the shadow sides of ourselves through cards like The Moon, The Devil, 5 and 7 of Swords, etc. Working through these unpleasant aspects of ourselves is one way – indeed, the only way – to reach the state of integration depicted in The World. This integration is, I believe, what the Mystery religions were all about, and their many initiatory levels are reflected in the different stages of understanding depicted in the Major Arcana.

Intrigued? Come along to the Conference – we’d love to see you there.

What Makes a Bad Tarot Reader?

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Tarot reading still has a slightly disreputable reputation. Readers are often seen as charlatans, without adequate training or quality control. As for the idea that bits of coloured card can give people an accurate glimpse into their lives and future is illogical, even a little crazy.

That’s the left-brained, rational, scientific view. Or – is it?

Einstein, one of the greatest scientists ever, was wonderfully open-minded. He understood the role intuition could play, and was awake to the marvelous. In his wake, quantum physicists are proving that the impossible is, in fact, probable, and questioning everything we think of as ‘reality’. They’re even beginning to explain consciousness and the mind through quantum physics, as well as other strange phenomena such as ghosts, telepathy, mediumship, psychic power etc.

This strange, illogical science can probably explain how the tarot works – watch this space for more articles on tarot and quantum physics.

But the intermediaries, the mediums, the psychics, and the tarot readers – their ability, or lack thereof, are what gave tarot its difficult reputation. Having said that, all the readers I know have high ethical standards and wouldn’t dream of cheating, lying, or carrying on a reading when it’s obvious they’re not getting anything right.

But, unfortunately, there are readers who do lie, cheat, say they can lift curses, etc. I heard one at a psychic fayre piling on the flattery so thickly I was amazed that the client didn’t burst out laughing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she repeated the same thing to the next one. And there were people lining up to see her! Perhaps bad tarot readers just attract bad clients, the sort that want to be buttered up and told that everything is going to be fine…

Talking of bad clients – one gay man pulled out a wad of money from his pocket and began peeling off ten pound notes, placing them on the table. He indicated that this was a bonus for me. I smiled sweetly and continued reading the cards, which were basically saying that he’d treated all his boyfriends really badly and needed to make reparation. When I got round to that, he said, ‘You’re going to be really angry with me now.’ ‘Why?’ I asked, curiously. ‘Because you’re not going to follow any of my advice?’

‘No,’ he replied, picking up all the money he’d placed on the table. ‘Because I’m going to take back my money.’ And at that he got up and left. I was in hysterics, figuring that the tenners must have been a bribe to tell him what he wanted to hear!

If the cards appear just too good to be true, they probably are. Perhaps the reader is flanneling and trying to tell you what you want to hear (without a bribe), or lying about their meanings for some reason – perhaps because they aren’t very good readers! There is one other alternative which I’ve experienced only a couple of times in the forty years I’ve been reading: that you yourself are psychically powerful and are somehow influencing the cards to say what you want to hear.

Back to bad tarot readers. If the cards (or interpretations) are completely wrong, a bad tarot reader will carry on regardless, ignoring the fact that the energy between you is mismatched or missing. A good reader will say ‘this doesn’t seem to be working, is it’ and give you the option to continue, or return your money.

A quick point about being asked questions. Clients often think that the reader is trying to pump you for information if s/he asks questions. But the cards only offer a general landscape, not a specific landmark, so the questions are to see whether different aspects of the card meaning would be more appropriate to your circumstances. However, there are exceptions: I was shocked recently to hear about a reader in the west of London who spent the whole reading attempting to get the client to interpret the cards, instead of doing it herself. Apparently she charged a fair amount for her readings, too. I find this rather strange – if she couldn’t make head or tail of the reading, perhaps she should have offered a refund.

Finally, the reading is about you, no-one else. A reader who starts talking about her- or himself is bad news. You may get a reader illustrating a point from something they’ve experienced themselves, fair enough; but it should be kept to a minimum.

So what makes a good tarot reader? Someone who uses their psychic gifts to intuit through the cards what is going on for you, and what possible futures you have in store; someone who listens to anything you have to say; can put their ego to one side and concentrate totally on you for an hour or so; someone with good life experience and perception. Tarot readers are counsellors, not predictors, who use their cards as a window through which to gaze on your possible future/s. Your job is to walk out into those future landscapes, using the tarot reading to ensure you notice the opportunities to blossom and grow.

Tarot workshop

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Following their successful Foundations of Tarot last year, Hilde Liesens and Cilla Conway are running A Journey through the Major Arcana on the 21st August 2010. They will look at the origins, myths, history and lore of the tarot, while guided visualisations allow you to vividly experience the myths and archetypes of the Major Arcana as an initiatory journey through life. Practical demonstrations, exercises, and experiential practice will demonstrate how you can start to read the Tarot for wise guidance and insight into life’s challenges. People are always astonished at how accurate their tarot reading can be, using these methods.

The second workshop, on the Minor Arcana, will be held in September, allowing you to practice and get to know the cards. Then, using elemental correspondences, numerology, and the traditional meanings, Hilde and Cilla will offer practical methods to familiarise yourself with readings, spreads, reversals etc. Exercises and story-telling, drama and role play will enable you to read well without having to learn the meanings by rote.

Venue: Atlantis Bookshop, 49a Museum St., London WC1 (nearest tube Holborn or Totterham Court Road)

Date: 21st August 2010

Time: 10.30 for 11 a.m. – 5.30 a.m. with breaks for lunch and tea (biscuits, coffee and tea provided)

Cost: £50 for each workshop, £90 for both if paid in advance

To book: Atlantis Bookshop – 020 7405 2120

Exploring Tarot Seminar 2010

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Mark your diaries – July 31st, 10am-5.30pm – if you’re anywhere near London, the first Exploring Tarot 2010 seminar will be held at the College of Psychic Studies (South Kensington). Emily Carding will talk about her new Transparent Oracle and how Tarot & Oracles combine; Martin Jeffrey will look at archetypes, and Avril Price will discuss Spirit & Spiritualism. My angle will be the creative process of making your own tarot deck – I found that the process led me into a world which was deeper and richer than our own. Now it’s often called the OtherWorld; back then (1973) I had no words to describe it, but the gifts it gave me were immeasurable.

Ticket price is £40 – call 020 7589 3292

Developing Your Own Tarot Reading Style

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When first you start working with the tarot, your ‘reading style’ is probably not going to be uppermost in your mind. You’ll no doubt be concerned about the meanings and how on earth to remember them, or, if you’re an intuitive reader, whether you can trust your intuition and how you’ll find enough to say to the people who ask you for a reading – ‘it’ll take me 5 minutes and then I’ll run out of things to say’. (Actually, that won’t happen; if you make enough of a connection to the cards the meanings will come. You put your mind into neutral and allow yourself to say what streams off your tongue. Even after 34 years I often listen to what I’m saying and think ‘what on earth am I talking about? Is this total rubbish or does it make sense?’ Often it sounds like garbage to me, so I often ask the client whether it makes any sense to them. It’s rare that they look absolutely blank and say it’s total rubbish.)

But to return to style. When I first started researching the tarot I had about 5 books I read constantly, Alfred Douglas The Tarot being the most useful. Douglas’s approach was quite Jungian and that suited me; I’d become interested in psychology at the age of 18 and so references to the unconscious, myth and archetypes rang all sorts of bells, and actually inspired me to start reading into history, mythology, and psychology – I have always said that the tarot educated me. Jung’s personality types – intuitive/creative, feeling- or sensory oriented, or intellectual – made perfect sense in correspondence with the suits (Wands, Cups, Discs/Pentacles, and Swords). My readings naturally had the same slant – they were concerned with underlying concerns, background history and all that entailed, and interpersonal issues, often at work. The readings worked fine, especially using my own deck (The Intuitive Tarot), but I wasn’t sure this was actually what most tarot readers did. So when I began reading professionally, I figured I’d be a one-off, doing psychological tarot – and in fact, I met a psychic fair reader who informed me that she didn’t know what sort of reading I was doing – it wasn’t tarot, she said. It was only when I met other tarot readers that I was reassured: most readers nowadays consider that their readings are more counselling than psychic. Some readers prefer to concentrate on character-readings and past issues, and avoid looking into the future (based on the premise that it’s all in flux and can change without warning). However, I know the cards can, and do, look into the future – often with frightening accuracy. It’s just we haven’t got there yet. Trust the cards – they will be telling the truth; it’s our own vision which is limited.

Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself psychic. In my experience ‘psychic readings’ contain a lot of the reader’s ‘stuff’, whereas by using the tarot (especially if you get the client to draw the cards), you have a good chance that they will be accurate: all you have to do then is to interpret them. We all have some sort of psychic awareness, but it can exhibit in different ways. Each ordinary sense – sound, sight, taste, touch and smell – is matched by a subtle level, or ‘psychic’ sense. So you might get words or ideas ‘coming through’ (clairaudience), some ‘see’ clairvoyantly; some ‘just know’ things, sense atmosphere or get information on places (claircognizance); some can pick up information from items such as hair or wristwatches (psychometry and psychokinesis). Some can sense energies in and through the body (clairsentience), and the subtle level sense of smell (clairgustant) may well be something we used to rely on far more (animals have far greater olfactory abilities, but we are certainly still able to pick up on sexual pheromones, for instance). Indeed, it may be that all these extrasensory abilities are atavistic – throw-backs to our animal origins, when our lives depended upon what we picked up from the environment. This ‘secondary awareness’ is just about being fully awake. In our polluted, over-stimulated, over-populated world, we have forgotten what life is really about.

Anyway, finally, the most important ‘style’ a tarot reader needs, is to develop empathy. Empathy, the ability to feel someone else’s emotions and reactions, isn’t necessarily inborn. Some have no empathy at all, and they would not be particularly good tarot readers. However, the ability certainly can be learnt: practice by putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. Ask yourself ‘how would I feel in this situation?’ And, of course, the more life experience you have the more you’ll be able to understand how others feel.

The Tarot – Five Common Myths

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Many myths and assumptions have built up around the Tarot over the centuries – many of them wrong. Some of the most common are:

1) The Tarot is evil.

Wrong. The Tarot is powerful, yes. It speaks directly to your unconscious, and the imagery is archetypal and certainly sometimes disturbing – but essentially the Tarot is a mirror: it reflects what is inside you. Thus anyone who considers it evil is merely projecting evil from themselves onto the cards.

Like any powerful tool, you can abuse the Tarot – by becoming addicted to it or obsessively repeating the same question (in which case you may well find that it can get really tetchy). If, however, you treat it with respect, study and use the cards for self-awareness, you will soon discover that the Tarot represents a profound and transformational spiritual journey.

2) You have to be psychic to read the Tarot.

Wrong. All you have to be is intelligent and able to understand pictures (an integral gift for all humanity: we dream in pictures, so – while our schools work hard to make us forget how to do it – you probably will find it easier than you think).

3) You should always be given a Tarot deck: you should never buy one for yourself.

Unless you’ve told the person exactly what tarot to buy, a tarot gift pack is usually one that sits unused in a drawer. The best way to find a deck you can actually use is to go to a good esoteric shop which has samples, and look at every card. The pack that speaks to you, that you love, is the one you need to buy.

4) The Tarot tells you the future

The cards are capable and do foretell the future. However, changes occur every second, and we can also change our lives by how we think. So it is best to consider the cards as suggesting possibilities, of indications of what you need to be aware of, and sometimes, old patterns of thought we need to alter.

5) The Tarot came from Ancient Egypt

No-one knows where the Tarot originated. It is unlikely to have been Ancient Egypt (though it’s a nice story); it’s more likely to have been Italy as the titles on the early decks were in Italian. The Major Arcana might have been designed as part of the Mystery Plays, and no-one knows where the Minors – which are like ordinary playing cards – came from. The latter are first mentioned in 1377, the Majors in 1415. The two sets were first amalgamated in the 1500s. The first decks we know of were beautifully illuminated – the Visconti Tarot is a good example.


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If you are trying to learn the Tarot, it’s easy to get flummoxed at the beginning by the sheer volume of cards. Seventy-eight of them – and then there are the reversals and combinations as well. I remember when I was thinking about growing vegetables: I bought a book on how to do so, and found their information on the number of bugs and diseases so off-putting I never planted any!

But the Tarot is has a major advantage over vegetables. The images speak to us without any need for book-learning: we can often understand them clearly just by quieting the left brain down, and allowing ourselves to go into a little reverie. We then are opening up our intuition, and it will respond. Often the messages are quite off-the-wall: the more unexpected, the better!

As I’ve said before, the Tarot images are archetypal – they are the language of human unconscious, and as such we ‘get’ them without trying. Indeed, if we do try, we often lose the sense of them – it’s our left brain that’s trying, and the right brain gets overwhelmed by the left’s voice. The right brain sees in patterns, in wholeness, in feelings and shapes. It’s subjective and wordless (or mostly wordless – it can apparently swear). It’s probably the part of the brain that dreams, creates, and heals. The left brain is the cortex – some say it’s more evolved than the right brain, but that’s highly debatable. Firstly because both hemispheres must have evolved in tandem, but more importantly, our society’s emphasis on reason and logic has left us spiritually poverty-stricken. What we have gained in lucidity and logic, we have lost in connection and wisdom. Anyway, the left brain thinks mathematically, logically, sequentially. It categorises, rationalises, reduces.

So to learn the Tarot, begin by turning down the volume of the left brain. It can learn the traditional meanings and the Spreads if it wants to, and categorise the suits. That’s fine. The right brain, however, is the one you’ll really need to work the tarot.

Some info for the left brain:there are twenty-two Major Arcana, usually numbered in Roman numerals, though the Fool is either unnumbered or 0. So the Magician is number I, and the World, the highest card of the deck, is XXI. There are also four suits, which are similar to traditional playing cards: Cups, which are linked to feelings and water (Hearts); Staves / Wands / Rods (Clubs), linked to creativity and intuition, and are either associated with air (or fire in the Rider Waite); Pentacles / Discs / Coins (Diamonds), linked to money, physical energy, and earth; and finally Swords (Spades), linked to the intellect and fire (air in the Rider Waite).

Then there are four face or court cards in each suit – Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. Pages are usually young people and are often depicted as feminine; Knights are male and youthful or immature; Queens are feminine though they can often be the feminine side of a person; and Kings are masculine – though again, they may be referring to the masculine side of a person. The character of each face card relates to its suit – thus the Queen of Cups will be emotional, generous, usually flexible and open-minded. The Page of Swords will be clever, passionate although she keeps that passion under tight control, usually focusing it on her passion for truth and justice.

A Journey Through the Major Arcana

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A friend and I have been running workshops together for a few years – she is a shamanic practitioner and teacher who facilitates workshops on storytelling, journeying, and the Tarot. I’m a professional tarot reader and visionary artist, and use my own decks in readings (The Intuitive Tarot and the Devas of Creation). We began these workshops two or three years ago with a slightly challenging title – the Tarot and Transformation. One of  the exercises in the workshop was a movement sculpture, which proved to be phenomenal for all concerned.

We have now taken this idea one stage further, in recent workshops on The Major Arcana (in Harrow, London). After a guided visualisation on the Majors – designed to demonstrate how the Majors depict a profound journey of initialisation and self-development – and an audio-visual presentation on the history of the Tarot,  we suggested that  participants each embodied the qualities of one of the Major Arcana. Having taken on this powerful archetypal energy, others then joined in to illustrate other aspects of that image to which they felt drawn. It was a powerful exercise.

We also held a day’s workshop on the Minor Arcana, and will be running more of both in the New Year. We always look for creative ways to present the cards, and new ways in which to work with them, so if you would like to join us, let me know (, where you can find the flier and phone numbers).