by Marilyn Millstone
Imagine being given the chance to sit and talk Tarot for hours with famed New York Tarot School co-founders Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone. That's what reading the Amberstones' recent book, Tarot Tips, is like. A compendium of questions and answers excerpted from their electronic newsletter (also called Tarot Tips), the book covers everything an eager Tarot novice like myself wants and needs, and also offers sophisticated ways of interpreting the cards that should appeal to even the most advanced Tarot practitioners.
The 192-page book follows the Q&A format throughout, and is grouped by themes ranging from the basics of "decks, cards and card handling" to the complex matter of "ethics." The questions are kept "short and sweet" and the answers are clear, concise, candid and comprehensive. In short, this book delivers on both substance and style. Never shying away from the difficult, thorny or complicated questions with which Tarot readers wrestle, the Amberstones demonstrate their formidable knowledge not only of Tarot, but of other esoteric symbol systems, such as astrology, numerology and the Hebrew alphabet.
Fortunately, unlike some Tarot authorities who take themselves a tad too seriously, the Amberstones frequently remind readers to put down the book and just enjoy working with the Tarot. "Learning to read cards from a book is something like learning to dance from a book," they note. "You just have to get in there and do it."
But the Amberstones are also well aware that Tarot readers can face some serious issues — for example, handling "difficult" cards like the Death card in a reading. They address the problem directly in tip #23: "It is not necessary to add disclaimers to the cards when they first appear. Just interpret them to the best of your ability as they come up. As long as you, as the reader, are confident and compassionate, the querent will get what they need from the reading."
They continue with this perceptive piece of advice: "Keep in mind that very often the querent is already extremely aware of difficult situations in their life and unpleasant interpretations will be appropriate and not unexpected. When this happens, take time to listen. Use the opportunity to help the querent find ways to strengthen themselves and get through the rough time. An ideal goal should be that the querent leave the session feeling better than when they arrived."
One of the challenges an aspiring Tarot reader like myself faces is making the leap from theory to practice when it comes to using the kind of information contained in a book like Tarot Tips, so I was fortunate to have a serendipitous encounter with Nicholas, a precocious 12-year-old who, along with his mother, were my seat mates on a recent flight from Albany, New York.
As I took my seat next to them, Nicholas noticed that I was clutching Tarot Tips in my hand (hoping to finish reading it during the flight). "What's Tarot?" he asked brightly. I glanced at his mother, wondering if I had her permission to answer the question. She smiled, a bit wanly, and nodded.
"Well," I started. Hmm. How does one explain the Tarot to someone so young? "It's a pictorial map — a map in pictures — of the human journey," I said. "Everything that people experience — everything that happens to people — as they go through life, and the ways people feel about things." Nicholas's eyes opened wide, and I immediately knew that my plan to read (the book, anyway) during the flight would be abandoned.
"So show me something!" he exclaimed.
I happened to have a miniature Osho Zen Tarot deck with me, though I had never used it before or read its companion book. I explained this to Nicholas. "That's okay; we'll work through it," he said. Who could resist engaging a kid like this?
Then I realized I could, actually, do something that would quickly delight him: calculate his birth cards (using Tarot Tip #69). His numbers added up to 2000, which I reduced to 20 ("Beyond Illusion" in this deck) and 2 ("Inner Voice"). Nicholas had already told me that he wanted to be a forensic scientist when he grew up, so I was amazed at how easily I was able to relate these two cards to him (using Tarot Tip #54 — study the images and intuitively allow "the voice in the card" to speak to you).
I told him that he was gifted at using his intuition, the wisdom of his inner voice, to see beyond the obvious, beyond the ways that people might try to mask the truth of a situation.
"Like finding the clues at the scene of a crime," he chimed in.
"That's exactly right," I said, suddenly remembering the advice in Tip #17: "Even if the person for whom you're reading knows nothing about Tarot, they'll still have an instinctual reaction to the picture on the card. This can give you some of your most valuable information."
"You're the first person I've ever read for outside of my family," I told Nicholas. "Thank you."
"We're on a roll," he replied. "Let's do my mom's birth cards."
His mom, who was sitting between us, had been quietly fingering the cards in the deck, carefully studying the imagery. After some cajoling from Nicholas, she agreed. Her numbers added up to the nine card, "Aloneness" ("The Hermit" in traditional decks).
"How can she be alone?" Nicholas asked. "She has dad and me."
I explained that this card didn't necessarily mean not having loved ones in your life, but rather needing to be by yourself sometimes in order to think about the meaning of things and feel uplifted.
"Like skiing is for me, right?" he asked.
Geez, I thought. This kid is amazing.
"He's good at this," I said to his mom, studying her carefully.
"Nicholas," I asked, "does your mom sometimes go off and do something by herself?"
His mother smiled immediately. "Nicholas," she said, "what did I do when you and your dad went skiing this weekend?"
"You — you stayed back at the cabin."
"That's right," she said.
Nicholas stared at me. "I get it," he said.
After that, he was unstoppable. He eagerly studied every card, asking me my interpretation and then diving in with interpretations of his own. In each case, his ideas were fresh, perceptive and, at times, brilliant.
The last card we studied was number fourteen, "Integration" in this deck ("Temperance" in traditional decks). It pictured the yin and yang, a symbol he had never encountered before. I gave him my interpretation, that in the white heart of goodness beats a bit of evil and in the black heart of evil beats a bit of good.
Then we landed, deplaned, and, were heading toward baggage claim, when Nicholas came running up to me. "That last thing in a circle — it keeps changing. Does that mean we can change how we live our lives?"
Out of the mouths of babes, I thought. "Yes Nicholas," I said. "I think that's exactly what it means."
"I thought so," he said. "It was great to meet you." He high-fived me in a farewell handshake.
"You were amazing," my boyfriend said to me. "You had that kid on fire."
That's the beauty of Tarot Tips: it can help make even a Tarot novice like me come across like a pro.
About the Author:
Reprinted with permission. Previously published in Celebrating the Tarot, a Tarot Journal by Geraldine Amaral.
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