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Among the Tarot cards determined by adding the numbers in your birth date, I find most intriguing the Constellation of the Emperor, which consists of the Major Arcana cards whose numbers add up to four: the Emperor (4), Death (13 = 1+3=4), and the Fool (the un-numbered 22nd card of the Majors; 2+2=4). Many people don’t include the Fool in this set. I made the decision to do so based on teaching stories such as King Lear, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the Sufi Nasruddhin tales, etc. In the Greek play, Oedipus Rex a young man, while running away from home, kills a King at a crossroads. In fairy tales it is often the youngest, most foolish son who ends up solving a problem, killing a monster, and marrying the princess to become the king.

When the power of an established ruler is subverted by madness or the situation becomes untenable by his becoming a puppet or tyrant, it becomes apparent that what is ruling us must die. The result may be a new king or a return to an original state of innocence: both are major themes of this Constellation.

These cards depict the principle of life force and realization of power. The constellation encompasses the poles of birth and death and the step between: of manifesting oneself on the physical plane. The Emperor is the hallmark of reason and logic. He seeks to own, build and do things that have a lasting impact. Death is the necessity to release and let go for there to be renewal. It cuts away whatever is stagnant or no longer truly vital and alive. The Fool is the soul freed from all constraints. It is said that a new way of perceiving the world never fully takes hold until all adherents to the old way have died.

IN THE MINOR ARCANA FOURS the 4 of Wands points out that community involves rites of passage for each stage/season of life. The 4 of Cups tells us we need to awaken to life’s hidden gifts to relieve stagnation. The 4 of Swords says to stay true to our dreams through stress and afflictions. And the 4 of Pentacles reminds us that true stability is about moving from our center (core, chi, hara) rather than holding fast to material things.

A recent music video provides a modern perspective on this age-old theme by including the Emperor, Fool and Death in a powerful archetypal story.

The music video, “Daechwita” was written, performed and produced by Min Yoongi aka Suga aka Agust D of the Kpop group BTS. It is based on a Korean historical tale that is a perfect expression of the Emperor/Fool constellation. Synchronistically the MV was released on May 22, 2020 – double 22s! Also of significance: the MV refers to Carl Jung’s theory of the Persona, Ego and Shadow, for two of BTS’s recent albums were based on Jung’s “Map of the Soul” (see the book by Murry Stein).

Furthermore, Min Yoongi, in his BTS Persona Suga, in a solo for the second Jung-based album, sang “Interlude: Shadow.”

He sings, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King” while also claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall,” just like the Fool who leaps from a cliff edge.

He sings, “I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be the King.” While claiming, like the Fool, “My leap can be my fall.”

Regarding the recent explosion of BTS on the world stage, Suga explained that he aspired to reach the 12th floor [of fame] only to find himself on the 60th floor. “The moment I’m flying high as I wished, my shadow grows larger, beat down upon by that light. Please don’t let me shine. Don’t let me down. Don’t let me fly.”

The other song I want to talk about is Daechwita by Agust D: a rap song and cinematic music video, direct by Yoongi, based on the story of King Gwanghae as portrayed in the S Korean film, Masquerade, and the 2019 TV Kdrama, The Crowned Clown. Daechwita means “procession of the King” from words referring to the wind and percussion folk instruments used in royal and military parades. The music video set is one famously used in many historical dramas featuring a real palace and an historically recreated town.

In this story King Gwanghae fears assassination and so murders all his rivals ushering in a reign of terror. He searches for a body double who can take his place if needed. An exact double is found in a peasant street comedian who has been using his resemblance to make fun of the king. The king is poisoned or goes mad and, while recovering, the double takes the place of the King, “the clown with this face is playing as this country’s ruler.” This fool commits himself to be used as bait to bring out the traitors and eventually to die in place of the real king,“If a clown is picky about making his move, that’s the same thing as dying.” But he proves to be a compassionate ruler who truly cares for the people.

In Daechwita Agust D appears as a dark-haired peasant or slave (a Fool) walking through the street and briefly stopping to talk with a butcher at a stall. The scene cuts to the courtyard of the palace and a white-haired tyrant (a King) who raps as he leaps on the backs of prostrate subjects. Both the fool and the king have a scar running down the right eye making it clear that Agust D is both characters. The King is killing his subjects and we see three bagged heads on display that may represent the Korean entertainment companies that kept BTS off the airwaves and mistreated them publicly. (BTS has now achieved world recognition greater than any prior Asian celebrities.) But where does that leave the pure, innocent and very idealistic underground rapper who headed off to Seoul (Soul) to follow his dream of making his mark in music in the face of the overwhelming odds against him?

As we look further we see that a Jungian interpretation helps to elucidate the Birth Card constellation. It portrays the inner battle among the various parts of oneself. The Fool, ironically, is Agust D’s innocent yet rebellious Self. While the King, who was meant to be a public Persona of rulership and success, becomes a Shadow-self who descends into madness.

As the King becomes a dangerously tyrannical Shadow-figure surrounded by dragon imagery and severed heads, we see the Fool as an endangered Ego. In fact, Min Yoongi comes from a very poor family yet is included in the formal list of direct descendants of the last queen of Korea. He then debuted with an upstart entertainment company that had no resources and was shunned by most media outlets: “Born a slave but now a King.” Like King Gwanghae, who began as a warrior, Yoongi had to overcome struggles with family, disapproving underground rappers, and haters before achieving success. “Rags to riches, that’s the way I live.”

The only girl in the video gives the peasant-rebel a key to a car. She is Jung’s idea of an Anima or inspiratrix/muse and also represents the BTS fans known as ARMY. She supports and encourages him by giving him the key to his destiny and access to his personal development, i.e., the Individuation Process. A sign above has a quote from Confucius: “a classical scholar doesn’t value treasure,” reminding Agust D of the value of knowledge over riches as in the 4 of Pentacles. But his dream turns into a nightmare through the tyrant King: “The Shadow is born out of light” (fame’s shadow grows as the spotlight becomes brighter).

The Peasant is imprisoned and condemned to death by the murderous King: “Who’s the King who’s the Boss. Everyone knows my name.” This scene shows Agust D bound and blindfolded like the figure in the 8 of Swords.

The tension between the idealistic Yoongi, who had to choose between eating or bus fare, and the famous Suga who flies the world in chartered plans and plays to multiple sold out nights in the world’s largest stadiums, is huge but comes at a cost, “my growing shadow swallows me and becomes a monster.” He fears he will forget who he really is, so Yoongi invents yet another Persona in addition to Suga: Agust D, to remind him of his true passion for music with roots in hip hop and rap.

The executioner (who was the butcher in the marketplace), a revolutionary co-conspirator, is an aspect of Yoongi’s growing consciousness which frees him from prison and death. Yoongi has talked frankly about his own issues with depression and social anxiety. In the lyrics he says he’s putting his past in a rice chest – a reference to a mad prince who was killed by his father by being confined in a rice chest until he starved to death. “I trap the past in a rice chest. I’ll take mine and eat them all.” So Agust D vows to consume his own past trauma and live.

At the moment of death the Executioner frees the Peasant/Fool who rises up against tyranny and shoots the King with an antique pistol known as a “Colt ARMY” (BTS’s fans are called ARMY).

But it isn’t really that simple, for the song “Interlude: Shadow” concludes with the voice of the Shadow,

“Yeah, I’m you and you’re me, do you get it now? We’re one body, and sometimes we will crash. You will never be able to take me off of you, you get it, right?…Success or failure, wherever you are, you can’t escape, wherever you go.”

At this point it is essential to remember that BTS stands for “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” and, as their early performances of “We Are Bulletproof” depict, they can’t be killed by mere bullets shot by haters.

From a Jungian standpoint the Shadow is not to be killed off. It is an essential part of the Self. A key task of consciousness (the Ego) is to bring the Persona and Shadow (the ideal and repressed selves) into relationship as is beautifully pictured in “Interlude: Shadow”.

For now Min Yoongi has achieved success and has everything he previously desired, yet he still experiences the post-passion let down (Korean Hunyta or Shakespeare’s “little death”) in which one wonders “is that all there is” before picking himself back up and doing what he does best—making music.

For those wanting to understand this Constellation, we see the death of the old King and crowning of the new King in the ever changing cycles of our lives—”The King is dead; long live the King!” We sometimes talk about earlier stages of life as our “past lives” acknowledging that they ran their course until graduation, a move, a marriage or divorce or pandemic ended one way of being and we stepped off a cliff into a new unknown. One of the lessons here is that it is not about being either the Fool or the Emperor but rather about keeping both in our lives: the crazy Fool leaping into the unknown and the responsible King restricting freedom with rules and boundaries in a constant cycle of lives and deaths.

Given the ‘Storming of the U.S. Capitol’ on January 6, 2021 – a day after I posted this – I can’t avoid the current political dimensions of this archetypal theme. Culturally speaking Trump is the mad King. We have so many candidates for the role of Fool, among which are the comic talk-show hosts who regularly point out that Trump is wearing no clothes: his “Big Lie” (there is no widespread election fraud, among all the other lies). Washington D..C. erupts in violence and five die, marking the end of Trump’s tenure in office. Meanwhile 3,500 people are dying per day in the U.S. alone from COVID.

Here’s Suga in Times Square, optimistically counting down New Year’s 2020 shortly before the global pandemic hit, reminding us all that death is closer than we think. We currently rely on restrictions and laws to keep us safe while we stand on the cliff edge of a new world.

Updated 7/18/11: See Mic update at the end and helpful recommendations in the Comments.

Imagine that a client comes to you for a premium reading. They spend an hour and a lot of money, but when they get home they can hardly remember a word of the deep wisdom and insights they just received. I like to trust that their subconscious is making use of it, but I know from experience the value that comes from reviewing a reading in depth. What to do?—No one uses audio cassettes anymore.

I got myself an iPad 2 and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve been waiting a year for the next generation and I’m thrilled to have it. One of my main intentions was to use it as a fancy digital recorder for tarot consultations. And by fancy, I mean FaNcY! Nothing else offers the bells and whistles this does [except the iPhone, which can do most of these things, too].

In one, relatively small package, you can record a reading, take notes on it, create an annotated sketch of a personalized layout, and include photos of the completed tarot spread and even of the grinning querent and reader. And, at the end of the session, you can instantly email the reading to clients so it’s waiting for them on their computer when they get home (or on their iPhone or iPad for their immediate viewing and listening pleasure). Talk about moving into the 21st century! Now, there can be a few glitches in this otherwise perfect scenario. Occasionally an app crashes. Audio files can get really big and cause problems with mail. And one app even caused my whole iPad to crash (boy, is that app going to get a thumbs down!). Additionally, you can’t email unless there’s a WiFi connection or you have G3, but even if you have to send the file later that’s hardly a deal breaker. Here’s a couple of apps that make the whole process irresistable.

Click for larger image

NOTABILITY – This app does it all and the new price of $2.99 is a still a steal. Since I originally wrote this post, Notability has been upgraded, and they added all the features I asked for (thank you very much!).

  1. Type notes such as the question or subject of the reading, aspects of the issue that could be the basis of a personalized spread, recommended resources. You can use a variety of fonts & colors and can indent to create outlines.
  2. Record the conversation. The audio recording will continue even while you perform other functions within the app and outside of it, and you can pause it.*
  3. Insert a photo of the actual spread. You can resize the image and move it on the page and now place images side-by-side.
  4. Create a sketch of the spread or layout (basic shapes included as well as freehand drawing and text). You can also draw on a photo to circle important symbols or lines of sight and emphasis. No other app that I know includes all these features.
  5. The Send options are excellent since you can mail as a zipped PDF + separate Audio file; or, to other Macs only as an RTFD (opens in TextEdit). It also works with Dropbox (cloud computing).

*If you are recording your own readings—talking to yourself as you look at a card or spread—this app can be fantastic. Just type a few keywords as you speak to indicate ideas you want to return to, then, when playing back the audio, if you tap on one of those keywords or phrases, the audio will jump forward or backward to that part of the recording! This would be a great way to journal the exercises in 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card!

AUDIO MEMOS 2 – Free for the basic app, which is adequate; pay for upgrades.

This is a professional level audio voice recorder. You won’t get the photos or the notes, but you will get great recordings even with only the built-in mic (either .wav or for smaller files – .aac). You can do button or voice activated recordings and you can pause and restart. You can also do some basic editing. When played back on Audio Memos it can jump to annotatable position markers that you set when recording. Unfortunately, the position markers don’t work if you playback via a different application. End the recording and email it in seconds (if you are net-connected) or save it to mail later. CONS: Photos and sketches have to be created in another app and sent separately; you can only mail up to 15mb and the best quality files are BIG. You should be able to record an hour on .aac setting. If you want .wav use the included timer and start a new recording when the file gets too big. You can export to Dropbox or Evernote.

GARAGEBAND – $4.99. I don’t use this myself as I find it overkill for simple recording, but others love it. Great editing features.

EVERNOTE – Free with limited space on its server; a monthly charge for more space.

This note-taking app saves everything on its own server, making it accessible to you from any computer or mobile. You can also give others access to some of your files. You can type, record and take a photo without leaving the app and it’s designed to easily insert webclips (like a spread from CONS: You can’t sketch; if you stop the recording you have to start a new one; the emailer crashed the app and froze my iPad! PROS: I discovered, after recording a Skype interview with someone in Italy, that I could transfer the giant AudioMemos .wav file to Evernote and then access it through my Evernote web account on my home computer and mail it via SendThisFile—problem solved.

Added: A MUST HAVE for Professional Tarot Readers who do face-to-face or phone readings is a Credit Card App (PayPal works well for internet consultations). A credit card app will work with both the iPhone and the iPad. It allows you to accept charges and the money is then deposited in your bank account (or a check can be mailed to you). The most handy and reasonable app, that has no hidden fees or monthly charges, is Square, which is perfect for those who only need to take credit cards occasionally. See recommendations in the Comments section by people who have used it.

There are other Notes+Audio apps that I haven’t checked out yet like AudioNote, SoundNote, Sundry Notes, ClassNotes, PaperDesk, some of which may be better if you prefer handwriting and sketching to typing. If anyone has any suggestions, please let us know in the comments. Added: My Notebook! app has all the functions I’ve recommended, including a great handwriting/sketching option—smooth & with the best arrangement for color choosing I’ve seen. But the interface is unnecessarily complicated and the free Lite version has quite a few limitations, like not being able to try out any of the many Send features.

And, of course, iPad/Phone comes with FaceTime, which, like Skype, gives you the option of face-to-face calls for readings at a distance. Read suggestions for Skype recording in the Comments.

UPDATED note on External Mics:

Under most circumstances the little mic in the iPad will do okay for face-to-face readings if you don’t mind the hollow tone and a bit of a lisp in your voice. Don’t speak directly into it.

If you want an external, portable mic, then I highly recommend the Samson Go Mic. It’s very small (though surprisingly heavy), clips onto your iPad or stands alone, and works with the iPad USB camera connector. You can also plug headphones directly into the mic. It’s good enough for podcasts-on-the-go, although a pop-filter helps for optimum sound when in uni-directional mode. This video review is very helpful for understanding the three sound settings and hearing it in action.

Some Blue USB Microphones work through the iPad USB camera connection kit. The Blue Yeti is supposed to be the best of its class (+/-$125) but requires a powered USB hub. The Snowball and Snowflake are cheaper, more portable and don’t require the powered hub, but the quality goes down. If you are doing podcasts then go with the Blue Yeti (I would). I understand Blue is working on more portable mic solutions for the iPad/Phone.

See the Comments for other great suggestions for recording, including internet video and audio recording via Skype and Conference Calls.

James Redfield’s book The Celestine Prophecy recently came up in a discussion.

I read the book when Redfield first self-published it (he couldn’t find a publisher at the time), as he had given a copy to my brother-in-law. I saw it as a parable consisting of “new age” lessons made palatable through its story form. None of the ideas were new to me and the story was nothing more than a teaching device, but I enjoyed being reminded of things that I had experienced myself when “in the flow.” Reading it reminded me of how it is possible to live in that kind of “reality” (at least for short periods) and what magic can arise from it.

Flying home from a trip to visit my then-husband’s parents, as I read the book on the plane, I was especially intrigued by one section. Having just seen his parents, I asked my husband the same series of questions that the protagonist had been asked about his parents. As a result, Ed and I had one of the most deeply meaningful discussions ever about his life purpose or quest (as revealed through his beliefs about his parents).

When I got home I turned the process into a tarot spread that I’ve since used in many tarot workshops and occasional private consultations (always giving credit). I found it far more powerful to do with Tarot, since the cards suggest what may be, at first, a confusing possibility that, once comprehended, can contain a major breakthrough. This spread/process has resulted in significant insights for people. And, for siblings, and those who never knew one or both parents, it has fostered some remarkable healings.

Part One

For each question draw two cards—placing them in two parallel columns: one for your father and one for your mother (keep face down). Turn over and read the cards for one parent first and only after that for the other parent.

The key is to realize that this is not about your actual parents but about your perception of them. The interpretative process should be more about brainstorming possibilities than about applying set meanings. What memories or associations do the cards trigger?

Cards 1 & 2: What did your father(1) / mother(2) stand for and believe in?

Cards 3 & 4: In what way(s) did your father(3) / mother(4) achieve this?

Cards 5 & 6: What kept your father(5) / mother(6) from doing it perfectly?

Cards 7 & 8: What meaning or truth did YOU learn from the above experiences of your father(7) / mother(8)?

Cards 9 & 10: What would you have changed about your father(9) / mother(10) that would have enabled him or her to have a better life?

Part Two

Use the same cards received above (moving them to their own area of the table) and apply the same conclusions you’ve already drawn (although feel free to add new ones). You’ll be looking at these cards from a different perspective.

Cards 7 & 8 (from Part One): What is the Higher Synthesis or Truth for YOU based on what you learned from your parents? You derive this by blending Cards 7 & 8 along with the insights you had about them.

For instance, a summary of your earlier insights might be: My Higher Synthesis or Truth is that I believe in 7:”standing up for” 8:”the beauty of life.”

Cards 9 & 10 (from Part One): What do you want to find out how to do? This is based on your being able to integrate and do what you believe your father and mother SHOULD have done to live a better life.

Summarize this as:

My Life Quest is to find out how to ________. Combine 9 & 10 into a statement reflecting what you think they each should have done.

For instance, My Life Quest is to find out how to 9:”live my own truth” while 10:”caring deeply for others.” This might also be stated as, “. . . know the truth in myself about caring for and being sensitive to others.”

From this perspective, your Life Quest is to fulfill what you perceive as lacking in your parent’s lives—what you see as their unfulfilled potential or destiny. You combine these perceptions, deriving from the combination something that is unique to you. Thus, it is a kind of spiritual DNA.

As Carl Jung noted: “What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents . . . have not lived.” (The Red Book)

I’ll always be grateful to James Redfield and The Celestine Prophecy for this process.

Recently, at PantheaCon (a huge pagan conference in San Jose, California), I led a “Tarot Intel Circle” with around a hundred people and was asked by several participants to provide a description so they could do it themselves. There are two forms of this process: the “Intel Circle” that can be done with any number of people from a dozen to over a hundred, and the “Tarot Council Circle” that works best with around 6 to 16 people. Each person in either circle gets to be both a Questioner and a Respondent. At most workshops the participants range from those who’ve never read a tarot card to professional readers and everything in between. Everyone gets something out of it, and it often provides a huge kick-start to one’s intuitive abilities—opening a door and switching something on in the psyche. It’s a good process to use at the beginning of a tarot course.

The Questioner usually focuses on one issue or situation about which they want to gather information, although they can change the issue at any time. In both Circles it is helpful to begin by asking, “What do I most need to look at around _(insert issue)_? It can be as specific as, “around the problem with the person at work who is driving me crazy” or as general as “around my life purpose.” As the process continues, Questioners can keep asking the same question or reframe it to focus on different aspects of the issue.

Questions should be brief and to the point. The Respondent draws a tarot card (more about this later) and, based on impressions from that card, responds to the question. Usually only a minute or so is allowed for each response before moving on to the next person and question. No response is right or wrong, but rather it offers information, options and possibilities, or layers of meaning. No card meaning is right or wrong. As a Respondent, you don’t have to fix anything!—which is my number one rule.

UPDATE: The germ of these processes was the “Tarot Game” created by Australian artist, Peter Rosson (1954-2002). Originally it involved a small circle of guests who were invited to explore right/left brain interaction, the creative process and the “profiling” of a personal issue using Tarot. May this seeding of Rosson’s creative brilliance continue to grow and flourish.

The Intel Circle

The Intel Circle consists of an inner and outer circle with the same number of people in each, facing each other. The outer circle stays in place (and those who need to sit can do so), while the inner circle stands and moves one person to the right for each question/response interaction. I call time, direct the movement, and I change the rules for each interaction (leaders: a mic and gong are very helpful with large groups). Before we begin, the Questioners draw five cards each from a mixed pool of several tarot decks and will keep these same cards as long as they are Questioners. These cards contain the keys to their issue. As each interaction begins, they ask their question, and the Respondent (across from them) draws one of their five cards, looks at it and responds to the question. Then I ring the bell, the card is returned, and the inner circle moves one person to the right, where a new interaction (with a new prompt) begins. Karen Krebser described her experience as “controlled chaos” with no time for self-doubt.

I’ve provided sample “prompts” for each interaction below. After six or seven interactions everyone switches roles, so that the Questioner can be the Respondent and vice-versa.

The Council Circle

For the smaller Council Circle everyone sits in a close circle (can be around a table) facing everyone else, with one or more decks in the center. The first person addresses their question to the person to their left, who pulls a card and responds. The Respondent then becomes Questioner, turns to the person to their left and asks their own question, that person responds, and so on clockwise around the circle. After responding to a question, people often need to be reminded to switch into asking/Questioner mode as it involves a right-brain/left-brain switch. It is worth becoming aware of how this switch operates in yourself. As leader, I change the “rules” or prompts with each round. After a couple of rounds we change direction (so the question is asked of the person to your right). If doing a long session of several hours, you can have everyone sit in a different seat after a break. In the Council Circle, the leader can also be a participant and usually starts and ends each round.

Towards the end of the whole process, have one person ask a question while each of the others draws a card with which to respond to the question. You can follow with another person asking a question, draw only one card for the whole group, and everyone responds in turn to that that one card. These final questions can be personal, but it’s also a good opportunity to explore spiritual, community and/or world issues. In the Council Circle much more group rapport is built as everyone hears each person’s questions and the responses.

I frequently remind participants that it is up to the questioner to determine what works for him or herself—that this is information-gathering from which they are to pick and choose what seems most meaningful and relevant to themselves. Handled well, it should end up with a deep bonding and a sense of being seen and supported by the whole.

The Leader

The leader is responsible for seeing that the pace moves briskly along, that no one challenges, harangues or criticizes another, and that no one tries to impose their views. The Respondent responds to, rather than “answers” the question. The responses may be possible actions for the questioner to consider but should never be insisted upon. Respondents should not be allowed to lecture or argue for their perspective, nor should other participants question someone’s interpretation. It can sometimes be wise to begin a response with: “If this were my issue, I’d . . .” Personally, I offer gentle but frequent reminders that as respondents, we “don’t have to fix anything,” as this is an essential theme for me. Always support the Questioner’s assessment, for the questioner is the final arbiter of his or her own life. The most relevant information tends to rise to the top. On the other hand, encourage everyone to open themselves to new possibilities.

What is said in the circle stays in the circle and should never be mentioned elsewhere. Trust is paramount, which is especially apparent in the Council Circle.

At the beginning and end, the leader should take a couple of minutes to ground, center and focus everyone, state the group intent, and open (or close) the relevant energy centers for intuitive work. If appropriate to the situation you can set wards and call in guides. An informal-style Council Circle can work in a quiet, supportive social environment without needing a ritual format, but the leader should still be in control and gently guide the process.

The Cards

It’s usually best to use decks that have story-telling images on all the cards. Respondents can draw from a single deck, a selection of decks, or a bunch of decks mixed in a “pool,” or a set of cards (or deck) held by the Questioner. It’s also okay to have the Questioner draw a card and hand it to the Respondent. Whatever works!

The Prompts

Most of the following prompts are for the Respondent, but a few require something from the Questioner. While I usually begin with the same first few, I vary the later prompts as my own intuition directs me. The Respondent should begin speaking immediately and for the entire time given, repeating thoughts, if necessary. When in doubt, simply describe the card! Each item below consists of one interaction lasting a brief one to two minutes. Indented items are part of the prior interaction and may require slightly more time. Occasionally ask the Questioner to summarize what they’ve learned so far (a few summary points are suggested below). For most of the interactions the Questioner remains silent except for asking the question. Note: it’s okay for the Questioner to see the card drawn.

After the Questioner asks their question, the Respondent draws a card and—

• responds with the first thing on the card that catches his or her eye.

• responds by literally describing the image on the card (no meanings or interpretation allowed).

-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).

• responds by describing what seems to be the emotions, feelings and attitude of the figure(s) on the card and the mood and atmosphere of the environment.

-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are feeling . . .”).

• the Questioner thinks the question silently (not aloud) and the Respondent responds with something suggested by the card.

• responds with a question (that is, answer a question with a question based on the card drawn).

-Optional: Questioner says what the Respondent’s question brought up.

• responds by not looking at the card (draw one but don’t look at it).

• breathes in the card and then responds with ONE word.

-Optional: Questioner tells how that word is relevant to their question.

• responds with one or more metaphors, aphorisms or sayings based on the literal image (“Been down so long it looks like up to you.” “Beggars can’t be choosers.” “You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” “It’s like being stuck on a fence.”)

• responds with what the person “should do.” (The Questioner can be asked to phrase their question accordingly: “What should I do about . . . ?”)

• responds with what the person “shouldn’t do.” (Ditto. Have the “should/shouldn’t” prompts follow each other.)

• responds with a wild, crazy fairytale using the card as the illustration, and beginning “Once upon a time . . .”

-prompt the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).

• responds with “The lesson of this card is . . .”

• responds with “The worst case scenario described by this card is . . .”

• responds with “The best case scenario is . . .” (Pair it with the preceding.)

• responds as if the Respondent were a figure on the card, by speaking as that figure.

• responds with “Yes, if  . . .” or “No, if . . .” or “Maybe, if . . .”.  (Have the Questioner ask a yes/no question.)

• Have the Questioner say how all these responses relate to their issue. (Can insert this whenever it seems appropriate—not too often, but definitely at the end.)

I sometimes end with each person creating an affirmation based on the qualities that they perceive in one of the cards that they most want to develop in themselves, and committing to an action that is in alignment with that.

For Further Development

Many more possibilities are suggested by the exercises in my book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, which also presents techniques that will make you a more effective and empathic leader of this kind of group process. See especially Step 21 for the affirmation process and the “Traps and Solutions” in Appendix H.

James Wells’ reports on his experience when I taught this process at Readers Studio 2010.

Tarot of the Magicians coverHere’s a classic “reclaimed spread” in the form of a five-card-cross that is most often found in French and continental Tarot books. The version I offer here is from Oswald Wirth’s Tarot of the Magicians, with an introduction by me (originally published as Le Tarot, des imagiers du moyen-age, 1926).  Wirth claims to have learned it from his teachers, Stanislas de Guaita and Joséphin Péladan (famous 19th century French occultists). It uses only the Major Arcana. Note that the card layout itself will probably be familiar as it has been adapted to many different kinds of readings, some of them focusing on the four elements or directions with the fifth-essence/situation/resolution in the center. The original spread is quite different. Note: This new edition of the book includes a reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Major Arcana!

What’s great about the Oswald Wirth version is that it’s based on the premise that your case is being considered in a court of law with the result being advice or direction for achieving success. The Major Arcana cards that turn up are characters in the resulting courtroom drama and should be seen as acting in a manner aligned with the card and presenting its unique attitudes and perspectives. Ham it up; imagine a scene from your favorite legal-eagle TV show.

Ask a specific question, and using only the Major Arcana, shuffle and cut. Then, taking cards from the top of the deck (*see alternate technique below), place them in the positions indicated.

The first two cards are the lawyers and the evidence presented by the two sides.

THE CARD ON THE LEFT is affirmative, showing what is in favor of (“for”) the situation. It points to what it is wise to do and those people or qualities on which one can depend.

THE CARD ON THE RIGHT is negative (the opposing counsel) and represents what is “against” it. It points to hostilities that should be avoided or feared: the fault, enemy, danger or the “pernicious temptation.”

THE CARD ABOVE is the judge who discusses the evidence, weighs the pros and cons, and may arbitrate between the for and against. The judge helps clarify the decision to be made and gives advice as to what’s required.

IN THE CARD BELOW the “sentence,” result or solution is pronounced. Taking into account the synthesis of the fifth card, this “voice” of the oracle offers a look into what comes from the decision. It may contain a “teaching” about what style, attitude or demeanor is ultimately to be aimed for.

THE CENTER CARD is determined by adding the numbers of the first four cards and reducing to 22 or less.** It is a synthesis of what has gone before, and points out what is of prime importance on which everything else depends. Although placed last, Wirth reads it first, since the situation or topic depends on it.

The Fool is considered 0 when adding or 22 when it is the result of the addition. The fifth/center card may be the same as one of the other four.

* Wirth suggests a special way of selecting the first four cards that you can use if you like. Shuffle the Major Arcana and then ask the querent for the first number between 1 and 22 that comes into her head. Count down that many cards and place the final card of the count in position one. Shuffle again and repeat for each of the next three positions.

** A much superior way of obtaining a reduced synthesis, numerologically speaking, is to add all the cards and then subtract 22 from any sum over that. This is the only way to get a true range of card possibilities as your synthesis. (Thanks to Steve Mangan, aka Kwaw, who did the math!)

In a sample interpretation Wirth asks “How should one advise a would-be diviner?” (That is, What advice should be given to a person who wants to become the best tarot reader possible?)

The cards received give an answer that you might find surprising. Please tell us your interpretation in the comments section, but here’s some direction from Wirth. He begins with the center card, stating that it shows what the divination depends on. He then contrasts the “for” (on the left) with the “against” (on the right): “the Emperor puts himself at the service of Strength to whom the Moon is detrimental, being against.” That is, the Emperor opposes (or reigns in) the Moon. Cards in positions three and four offer instruction. The Judge (above) shows what we must do and the Solution (below) shows what will come from doing that. What do you make of these cards?

This is the Radical Wirth Tarot painted by Carol Herzer, a beautiful, 22-card deck currently available in a limited edition, although perhaps not for much longer.

Two upcoming films have Tarot in them:

Wolfman (a remake) directed by Joe Johnson with Hugo Weaving, Joe Johnston, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Geraldine Chaplin (as the gypsy tarot reader). England’s own Kim Arnold was the tarot consultant, tutoring Chaplin for the tarot scenes.

In The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus from Terry Gilliam with Heath Ledge, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law, the Hanged Man literally appears just as Dr. Parnassus pulls the card from his Tarot deck. For those who don’t mind spoilers here’s a hermeneutical review of the film. (Thanks to Bill Dalz.)

If anyone finds any clips of the tarot scenes please send them to me.

Dr. Flamstead’s and Mr. Patridge’s New Fortune-Book containing . . . Their new-invented method of knowing one’s fortune by a pack of cards appears to be the oldest book with instructions on fortune-telling-with-cards in the English language.  The first edition seems to be from 1729—well before Etteilla wrote his 1770 book on “cartonomancie” and contains a “lot” style method of divination in which the card chosen leads to a verse based on your choice from a list of pre-set questions. However we know from the 1730 play Jack the Gyant-Killer that multi-card spreads with meanings for each card were already current in England. (Thanks as always to Ross Caldwell for additional information and corrections.)At some point between 1750 and 1770 a new, much shorter book appeared called Patridge and Flamsted’s new and well Experienced Fortune Book, delivered to the world from the Astrologer’s Office in Greenwich Park, for the benefit of all young men, maids, wives, and widows. Who, by drawing Cards according to the direction of this Book, may know whether Life shall be long or short; whether they shall have the person desired; and every lawful question whatsoever. The signification of Moles in any part of the body; and the interpretation of Dreams, as they relate to good or bad fortune. Along with the change in author spelling there was a major change in the technique portrayed. For the first time we have instructions for a one-card spread and individual meanings given for each card (text appears below).

The individuals in the title are supposed to refer to Dr. John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719), the first Astronomer Royal, and Mr. John Partridge (1644-1715), a well-known writer of astrology books and almanacs and associate of the astrologer William Lilly. However, the names of both Partridge and Flamsteed were appropriated by others as documented by Adrian Johns in The Nature of the book: print and knowledge in the making, p. 619: “But did Flamsteed remain Flamsteed? The question of his identity had been a real one in his own time. Before him there had been no royal astronomical observer in England, and there is evidence that Flamsteed himself was represented by various contemporaries as a virtuoso, an astrologer, a rogue, pedagogue, and a pamphleteer.” He mentions, as an example, a pamphlet, purporting to be by Flamsteed, entitled Plemstadts most Strange and Wonderful Prophecy.

John Partridge was made famous by Jonathan Swift who, under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, wrote an April Fool’s prediction for the death of Partridge in a spoof astrological almanac (followed by an announcement of Partridge’s death on the date given), after which the name of the still-living-Partridge became legion, appearing on many spurious publications.

Whoever it was who wrote this book, we can be grateful for the first publication in English of playing card meanings. So, without further delay, the instructions and meanings according to Patridge and Flamsted’s new and well Experienced Fortune Book:

Directions whereby the Reader may be informed of the Rules in this Book.

Take a new pack of Cards. Shuffle them well together, Read the rest of this entry »

Hermes Trismegistus SienaA book called The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece by Three Initiates was published in Chicago in 1912. It presented seven fundamental working principles of Hermeticism. But, what is Hermeticism?

At the base of the occult tarot and especially the tarot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) lies a philosophical system or religious philosophy. It derives from a series of anonymous writers who used the nom de plume Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice-Blessed), a composite of the Greek Hermes, Roman Mercury, and their Egyptian counterpart, Thoth. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E., the set of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum brought about a brief renaissance of pagan thought.  Read the rest of this entry »

Part I: Skeptics, Mentalists and Tarot Readers

mind-readingFor purposes of this article let us assume that there is no paranormal or spiritual aspect to tarot readings. Let’s pretend, for the moment, that all tarot readings have a rational basis in easily explained normal human skills.

Skeptics and mentalists reduce tarot reading to just this level. Mentalists utilize skills to make money in public performances, while skeptics denounce any tarot or psychic readings that don’t acknowledge they are merely mental tricks.  They claim “pseudo-psychics” exploit human weaknesses and take advantage of the desire to easily gain benefit from something. Pseudo-psychic readings are seen as “too-good-to-be-true” and as giving false hope just to make money. Skeptics claim that psychic and tarot readings can be explained by techniques gathered under the terms Cold and Hot Readings. We will ignore hot readings (that fraudulently use information obtained ahead of time) as our purpose is to examine readings where nothing prior is known about the client. Read the rest of this entry »

I no longer update this post, but you’ll find a lot of old information about Tarot in movies and Tarot on TV. Please post in the comments when you see one so we can keep a running list in the comments. The more info the better.

See especially Richard Kaczynski’s wonderful list of Thoth Sightings in film and TV.


Read the rest of this entry »


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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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