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Straw into Gold at 2010 Readers Studio

April 30, 2010

Dr. Elinor Greenberg presented a workshop on using the Tarot for healing work. More specifically, it dealt with ways to find the healing gold hidden within the painful lead of a “bad” card.  She discussed three techniques —

1.  When you do a reading, begin by setting an intention, which I have rephrased this way:

How would you like to feel right now, and what kind of person would you like to be?

So in a reading, consider the “bad cards” as a starting point for transformation toward your intention.

2.  “Burden to Blessings” Reading

Dr. Greenberg noted that “an event gets its meaning from its context,” so it is how we view, interpret and react to our bad experiences that defines them as either a burden or as a blessing.

The spread that Dr. Greenberg presented is intended to help us reinterpret “bad” cards that may come up in a reading (i.e., getting the Tower card in the “Probable Outcome” position in the Celtic Cross spread) in such a way that we can find the healing potential in the experience they indicate.  This spread begins with that bad card and then adds several other cards to expand upon our interpretation of it — to find both blessings and helpful advice in it.  Similarly, this spread can help us transform “bad” experiences from being burdens into being blessings.

I don’t want to infringe upon Dr. Greenberg’s proprietary material by giving away her spread here, but the concept of doing a reading to find the blessings in a “bad” card can lead you to create your own spread that can do this for you.  (See my book, Tarot: Get the Whole Story, for more about how to create your own spread.)

RWS 2.0 Five of Pentacles

Suffice it to say that my “bad” card was the Five of Pentacles (“being left out in the cold”) and the gist of the message that I got from doing a reading with this spread was the following:

Don’t let this situation create stress in my life.  Instead, see this as an opportunity to improve my ability to forgive, to get in touch with my own inner sense of wholeness, and to strengthen my connections with the people with whom I do share a loving connection.  And finally — with time will come healing and reconciliation.


Note that this technique is a great add-on to any reading that ends up with a problematic card.

3.  Gestalt Tarot Therapy

Lastly, Dr. Greenberg presented an interesting technique that involves speaking aloud as if you actually are the various items in a “bad” card.  The following is a brief statement of the theoretical underpinnings of this technique:

The act of projecting oneself into a picture and speaking in the first person as the different parts of the picture often brings a sudden, useful increase in self-awareness and new insights into one’s situation.

Again working with the Five of Pentacles, one of the figures in this image reminded me of Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol), and seeing myself as this figure and then speaking with his voice placed my situation into a new perspective.

The following is a final note about this workshop:

I think that the more accessible technique here was the idea of using an adjunct “burdens to blessings” reading to examine a “bad” card from a reading in order to see how to find healing and transformation in the situation it describes.  I encourage you to come up with a spread of your own to do this.  It doesn’t have to be complex at all,[1] but it can change an “Oh shit!” reading into an uplifting and empowering one, which will make all the difference in the world to the person you are doing a reading for.

PS: For a somewhat different perspective on this workshop, see James Wells‘s take on it.

[1] This spread can be as simple as a three card spread beginning with the “bad” card (“What is the problem here?”) and adding cards for:
What can I learn from this?
What hidden benefit is there in this situation?

  1. THis is something I usually do in my readings- interpreting bad cards as potential ways of learning and healing-and usually I’m told that my readings are helpful and consoling. However, these techniques have suggested me new ways of working with “bad” cards. Excellent.

  2. Hi James,
    I wish I had been able to be there! I think is so interesting that both of us see the Dicksonian links of Tiny Tim, and quite a few more in (this) deck. Like Rozonda, we too, aim to give constructive ways to deal with “so called bad cards” and their relation to where they land in a reading. I really liked the personal psychology way of integrating Jungian (and Fritz Perls) into the integrative process: getting the emotive energy out from the client’s psyche to clearly interpret the client’s needs. I like her approach and angle on that and can see adding more of that in our process of working with our clients. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Thank you James for your summary of Dr. Elinor Greenberg’s workshop. I have made no plans on offering my own view of these workshops. But because of your useful summary, I think a few words might be helpful.

    For one, all the major presentations at the Readers Studio 2010, were wonderfully interactive so that we were able to learn from our own knowledge base as well as from the suggestions of the presenters.

    The first thing I learned in dealing with the so-called “bad” cards, was that I selected 19 of them out of 78. That means that I consider it about a one in four chance that I am going to draw a bad card when I do a reading! I did not know I had such a negative view of tarot!

    Being that this was the first exercise at RS10, I completely botched it in a variety of ways so that I did not end up doing the exercise as she explained but a variant of it that was likely to lead me into the throes of despair!

    In other words, what I did by taking the first problematic card, was read from a draw from all the other problematic cards so that I have nothing but a dire spread to interpret!

    Now I had to put a happy face on that!

    Anyway my reading partner was even-tempered enough, where we somehow dug myself out of the hole and figured we were doing the exercise all wrong anyway.

    Somehow this seems fitting considering they were “bad” cards. This is I think the worst mia culpa that I can confess of my noncompliance of exercises at RS10.

    I hope you take time to discuss the gestalt exercise which I was better able to follow!

  4. Rozonda and Mary — Definitely, if there are problems coming up in a reading, it is irresponsible to not at least try to find ways to heal them. (Apologies for the split infinitive.)

    Paul — Thanks for pointing out the wonderfully interactive nature of the workshops! BTW, I’m sure you weren’t the only one (by far) who did at least one exercise the wrong way.

  5. James, thanks for your summation of the workshop. I had the opposite problem from Paul. I can never find any card that is all “bad”. Or all “good”, for that matter! But did manage to find something. Was interesting to read with Terressina and her 5th tarot deck, which I was completely unfamiliar with. At any rate, just want to say that your ending questions and spreads are a great addition to the technique and I’ll be using it!

    • Thanks, Chea. I’m glad you find this helpful.
      Of course there are no cards that are ALL bad or good, but most people do find some (or many) that seem to lean in one direction or another. 😀

  6. Dear James,

    I really appreciate your summary of Elinor’s presentation. It sounds like she shared some helpful skills and insights on various dimensions of relating to the cards. I especially like the Gestalt approach to bringing the symbols in a card to life. This resembles my Dreamwork approach which incorporates Gestalt theory and techniques as well as Jungian analytical skills.

    Cheers, Katrina

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