Review of the 2004 Readers Studio
by Janet Selman
As a midwife, I consider my most valuable asset to be my "bag of tricks," the tools learned through long years of experimenting and experience, that allow me to say, "We can approach this problem in this way, or that, and if those don't work, I have something else we can try."
The Readers Studio took my little Fool's scarf full of tricks, and turned it into a bag as large as Santa's. And the bag doesn't weigh me down -- it sets me free.
The Readers Studio is presented as a joint production of Ruth Ann & Wald Amberstone, co-founders of The Tarot School , and Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing. It is obvious that a tremendous amount of coordination and planning went into it, and the results were impressive.Day 0
This was my first tarot conference, and my first opportunity to meet many, many people whom I consider to be very close friends, from our interactions in on-line groups and projects, as well as many people of whom I had only heard! I wanted to take advantage of as much of the experience as possible, so when I heard that Valerie Sim was planning to come a day early to sight-see, I was in! The fabulous Debbie Lake met me at the bus station, and escorted me to the hotel where Valerie had spent the night with Joanna Powell, artist of the Gaian Tarot. Debbie bemoaned the loss of character of the neighborhood, as apparently it was once the neighborhood of porn & head shops, hookers & strip joints. She led us to a greasy diner for breakfast, and then escorted us on our virgin ride in the NY Subway System.
After a look around Ground Zero, Debbie left us to go to work, but we three managed to navigate ourselves to Battery Park to get a look at the Statue of Liberty, and the Native American Museum. The definite highlight was St. Paul's Chapel, across the street from Ground Zero, where we happened in just in time for a very touching peace prayer service. We even subwayed ourselves back to Times Square via Grand Central Station in time to gather our luggage and cab out to the conference locale, the Courtyard by Marriott near LaGuardia Airport.
And just in time, because just pulling in were Brigit Horner, Chris Asselin, & Saskia Jensen. This international crew (Chris from Toronto, Saskia from the Netherlands) joined us for dinner, and then we adjourned upstairs for a group session...of tarot, naturally! Saskia had brought the most incredible collection of decks from Japan, Europe, everywhere. We all ooohed & aaahhed over the foil versions of the Thoth & BOTA (unfortunately very rare), and found that the TransWaite was too naughty even for the most prurient of us. The most incredible thrill for me was actually holding samples of Joanna's amazing Gaian Tarot cards. She plans a limited edition release before too long, and there are great hopes for the eventual publication of the complete deck. When we were literally falling asleep in our seats, we reluctantly broke up to get some rest for the next day.
The first day of the Readers Studio started at a relaxed pace, fortunately! Registration began at 11 a.m., allowing plenty of time for schmoozing, shopping & hugging before the first session began at 1. But once the session began, it was full speed ahead!
As a veteran of many, many conferences, I was very impressed with the organization of the event. Ruth Ann & Wald kept things on a tight schedule, starting and finishing right on time, while not giving any impression at all of rushing or of cutting the speakers off. We were summoned into attention for sessions by the beautiful tones of a bell, which Wald could make sing like a Tibetan singing bowl. And for a conference that took place during a Mercury retrograde, there were remarkably few technical difficulties, although Wald pointed out that The Tarot School was founded during a Mercury retrograde, so that tends to be positive energy for them. There was a comical moment, however, when Wald was attempting to connect Ruth Ann's lavaliere microphone. The fumbling & gyrating required to settle the wires prompted the quick thinking Mark McElroy to run up front with a dollar bill to tip the performance!
The opening session began with Llewellyn's representative, Barbara Moore, interviewing each of the presenters in turn. Each gave a tantalizing overview of their planned presentations, and answered a few questions.
Then we moved on to the opening reading. We were instructed to pair off, and do a three card reading, in any way that we were comfortable. I found myself paired with Robert Place, the artist of the Alchemical Tarot, Tarot of the Saints, Angels Tarot, and the new Buddha Tarot! I was quite nervous and not a little intimidated, especially since I read a lot on the 'net, but have virtually nil experience reading "live" (something that would become clear as a life-challenge over the next couple days). But Robert couldn't have been nicer; his insights into history were fascinating, and having a reading with from the Buddha Tarot performed by the artist was a treat! The fact that we share an interest in greyhounds turned out to be a bonus.
After a mid-afternoon break, we returned for Ruth Ann & Wald's session on "How to Get the Most from a Single Card." As a long time reader for the Free Tarot Network, I'm accustomed to doing deep single-card readings; this session gave me a whole new range of skills to choose from. I admit I was leery of a session that ran from 4:30 to 8:30 pm, but not only did this allow us to get the most from a late starting day, the session definitely kept my interest!
Ruth Ann and Wald started from the simplest techniques, and moved to the complex. The first technique involved getting in touch with one's gut reaction to a card; turning off the automatic analytical response to the card and just going with the gut turned out to be more difficult than I expected! We were then further challenged to throw out our traditional or usual card meanings in a technique called "Voice in the Card." We were asked to scan the card until a single detail calls out for attention, and use that detail to tell us something that the person needs to know or act on right away.
We then moved on to more complex systems. Wald introduced us to a list of Esoteric Functions, titles of the cards which derive from the Golden Dawn system. Some of these were quite similar to what one would expect (The Star is "Imagination"), while some were different, and challenged me to expand my understanding of a card (The Devil as Laughter; the Hermit as Sexuality/Touch). The Minor Arcana have esoteric titles as well, each of them establishing the card as "The Lord of..." Swiftness, for example, for the 8 of Wands, or Illusory Success, for the 7 of Cups.
The most challenging portion of the presentation, for me, was the next part... Astrological Attributions. I'm in no ways an astrologer; I have a general idea of what each sign tends to represent, and can fumble my way to which season each sign inhabits, but that's about it. Fortunately, Ruth Ann and Wald's excellent handout has left me the ability to review the detailed information, including a system of timing for readings different than any I had ever encountered before! I definitely came away with a clearer understanding of the potentials of using astrological implications in tarot reading.
With a head slightly reeling and full of stars and planets, I concluded the educational portion of day 1! A large and fairly raucous group of us moved on to a wonderful local Italian restaurant, recommended to us by the bellman, who also ferried us back & forth in the hotel's van. Over wonderful food, we met new people, shared stories, jokes and laughter, and somehow managed to so charm the staff with our rowdy behavior that they poured complimentary champagne for the table. Toasts were offered to Santo Briano (the uncanonized, but widely recognized Patron Saint of Tarot, Brian Williams)...", friends present and absent, old & new; and a good time (and late night) was had by all!
After that late night, a 9 a.m. session could have been excruciating. Fortunately, Mark McElroy was up to the challenge, using competitive challenges, humor & chocolate bribes to keep up our interest.
I expected Mark's presentation to be basically taken straight from his new book, Putting the Tarot to Work. While the first third of the presentation did indeed derive from that book, he also invited us to "Put the Tarot to Bed" and to take advantage of the brainstorming skills he showed us in the creative writing process.
While "Putting the Tarot to Work," Mark taught us to brainstorm using ESP... "executing our editors" (complete with evocative arm motions), "seeking scads of solutions", and "producing a plan." Our first challenge was to seek the advice of each of the trumps... asking a question, and asking "What would the Trumps Do (WWtTD)?" The sample question was "How can I lose weight for good?" and the answers ranged from the silly to the sublime, but there were LOTS of ideas, which was the whole point. A helpful handout was available to give general traits of the trumps, if one were using this technique in a room full of people unfamiliar with tarot (this, and other handouts, are available at TarotTools.com.
Mark then broke us into small groups, to brainstorm a question of the group's choice, using another technique called "Answer Mining." A favorite question of my group was, "If this illustration appeared on a greeting card, what would the message on the inside be?" But the favorite question of another table was "What are the best possible, worst possible, and middle-of-the-road meanings for this card?" The group enjoyed Corinne's interpretation, that the High Priestess might suggest, first, "You're a virgin", then "You'll always be a virgin," and "You can always be a virgin again." Again, prizes were given for volume of ideas, not content, since the idea of brainstorming is to generate lots of creative thought.
The next segment focused on the tantalizing topic, "Putting the Tarot to Bed;" in other words, using brainstorming techniques to find creative solutions to relationship issues. The "WWtTD" and Answer Mining techniques were again used, this time to shed light on relationships. The group found it a little harder to come up with the same volume of answers when asking the trumps for advice on creative dates, but in the end, lots of laughs & lots of ideas resulted.
The last segment presented the most new information to me. "Tarot for the Bookish" presented tarot brainstorming techniques for creative writing. Mark took us through a Character Creation Template, pulling cards to help us create a well-defined, fully fleshed-out character, instead of the typical cardboard stereotypes found in so many books (& TV shows, & movies...). Cards were pulled to determine the character's general appearance, age, visual characteristics, backstory, strengths and flaws, motivation, and the character's reaction to conflict or problems. I guess you had to be there to really understand, but there's definitely a story to the wheelchair-bound, compassionate, poor complected drag queen that the group created! We then created our own characters (my own was not nearly as interesting), and then Mark suggested how we could also use cards to create a plotline. We were challenged to write four sentences of the worst prose imaginable, and I can say with certainty that I succeeded! Again, however, the idea is to simply put aside fear, and get ideas on paper. Editing can happen later! Mark's section of the Readers' Studio ended with all of us on a creative buzz, as well as a chocolate buzz.
After a lunch break, we returned re-energized to Valerie Sim's section...Tarot...Out of the Box (also the title of her upcoming book). Valerie encouraged us to lighten up, have fun with tarot, and experiment; challenging, bending, even breaking the rules! Valerie had the unenviable position of presenting both after lunch and after the dynamic Mark, but was up to the challenge! Her fabulous information and gentle humor made sure that no eyelids flagged.
Valerie began with a detailed discussion of the Comparative Tarot method. As Valerie pointed out, the Comparative method occurs to many tarotists. At some point, a light goes on, and the reader realizes that the same card, from another deck, might clarify the reading or add additional insight. Valerie was the first, however, to name & publicize the method, even starting a hugely popular (1000+ members) Yahoo list to study the method (www.comparativetarot.com or www.groups.yahoo.com/comparativetarot ). She is also the author of the book accompanying the only deck dedicated to Comparative Tarot, LoScarabeo's "Comparative Tarot," which includes images from four decks on each card.
Comparative Tarot is deceptively simple, but the insights achieved can be very deep. In pairs & small groups, we performed one- & three-card readings, first with one deck, and then adding additional decks. As someone who cut her tarot teeth on the Comparative Method, I wasn't too surprised with the readings; the real excitement for me was watching other people catch fire when introduced to the method for the first time! The energy in the room was palpable, and Valerie was hard-pressed to move around the room and keep up with the questions & insights that came up.
Valerie then went on to present a system of elemental dignities. As she pointed out, there are entire books (and entire people, for that matter), dedicated to this subject, but a basic understanding of the subject can help to add more insight to a reading, especially in helping to determine where the emphasis needs to be. I was used to the concept of relating the cards to one another based upon their elements; what was new to me was the consideration of the element of the question itself (for instance, a relationship question as water, a money question as earth) to the cards in the reading. Yet another tool in my bag! She presented a reading from several years ago, regarding a certain public figure currently in some difficulty, which was fascinating!
Valerie finished up with a bang, presenting a surprise guest, Robert Place! Robert took her base reading (regarding the public figure), and added an extra dimension to it, by adding his personal insights with the Buddha tarot, as well as the Alchemical Tarot.
We closed this evening with a more sedate (well, as sedate as possible with James & Matt present!) dinner in the hotel. This evening closed again with a slightly larger group sampling the charms of the Tarot Madam, Saskia, procurer of rare decks!! I'm almost willing to name her Tarot Devil...as she gives us the rope that ties us further to our addictions, and every so often, twitches the strings! Again, she pulled out her box & bag of cards...the results were predictable...we fell on the cards like a pack of starved dogs. And then, when we had passed and commented and snickered, we all sat back, replete, satisfied, content. And then Saskia, with a Mona Lisa smile, reached into her bag for just one more deck...and it was wonderful, and stunning, and we were hungry again. And after that deck was put away, Saskia, with wonderful timing and that smile, would reach in for just one more...
And they always had some story...usually something like...Saskia got it for oh, like, $2.00, but now you can't find it for less than the down payment of a new car. Or there were only 3 copies in the world, and the other two are in a cave guarded by dragons. But every so often, it'd be, "Oh, I think I can find some more of these...for $15 or $20." Just enough of a taste to keep us hungering!!
Day three began with each of the presenters stepping up to answer questions that had arisen. Ruth Ann & Wald clarified their method of assigning Birth Cards, which is slightly different than the other methods I had heard of assigning Soul or Personality cards. For the first time, I realized that I shared birth cards with my father, while my brother shares birth cards with my daughter; two things that shouldn't have surprised me, but did!
And then Barbara Moore took the microphone. I don't know why, but Barbara herself surprised me. As Llewellyn's tarot representative, I was aware on some level that she "did" tarot. But what I didn't realize was the also "digs" tarot! She clearly enjoyed the educational portions of the Readers' Studio as much as she did the promotional opportunities. Barbara told us some of what is in store in the next year for Llewellyn's tarot publications, including her own role as the book author for a new deck! She passed around some tantalizing sample scans, again leaving us hungry for more! Barbara also solicited ideas from the group -- what do WE want in the way of new decks, new books? One of the ideas that came up that excited me was the possibility of doing a do-it-yourself blank tarot, but something more in the way of a kit, with supplies and ideas for creating a quality deck of one's own. In addition, Barbara had lots of advice to offer budding tarot artists and authors and speakers. She had spoken to some of these individuals at the conference, so hopefully lots of good things will come out of this! (Good luck, Joanna!)
And with this, the conference finally wound down. We all received our certificates, and final hugs were exchanged! We were all challenged to look around us, and find the next presenters and authors within our midst; continuing the cycle of creativity and learning.
Altogether, the Readers Studio was well-organized, well-attended, and full to the brim of excitement and learning! The format of 3 longer presentations, rather than more sessions of only 1-2 hours in length, is wonderful, allowing a depth of exploration without the sense of disjointedness and hurriedness that short sessions can promote. The size of the conference is perfect, small enough to allow for intimacy. Each of the presenters were experts in their own areas, and it was amazing that ways in which each of the presentations complemented the others; rather than presenting opposing viewpoints, the techniques presented meshed nicely, giving even the most advanced readers something new to draw on. I have a hard time imagining that next year's Studio can top this year's, but considering some of the formidable tarot minds in attendance, I certainly plan to come and find out!