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Tarot Convention reports

What follows are reports on several Tarot conferences (Symposiums) that I attended in 1999 and 2000. I wrote these reports long ago, so there may be some anachronisms in the writeups now.
PS: At the bottom of this page, you will find links to writeups about a couple more recent Tarot conferences. 

Bay Area Tarot Symposium May 22, 1999 Report
© 2001 James Ricklef,
The following is a review of the 1999 SF Bay Area Tarot Symposium (BATS)

The 5/22/99 BATS was a fun event and a great success. I was able to meet for the first time many of the luminaries in the Tarot world, such as Mary Greer, Alexandra and Ken Genetti, Amber Jayanti, Brian Williams, and Stevee Postman. Of course, I’d met Thalassa before (at the recent LATS). There were a total of 17 presentations, with 2 or 3 going on simultaneously at all times. So, what follows are only some of the highlights, since (unfortunately) I could only be in one place at a time and thus couldn’t get to every presentation.

** Minchiate Tarot **

The first presentation I went to was Brian Williams’s preview of his new Minchiate Tarot deck and book, estimated to be out in the Fall of this year. In addition to presenting his wonderful artwork for this project, Brian also provided the fun factoid that the Italian word Minchiate means “lies, triviality, or (especially) bullshit”, which is derived from the literal meaning of “a small male sex organ”. (Somehow, I doubt this is information you’re going to find on the dust jacket of the book though.)

On a more serious note, Brian told us that the original Florentine deck of this name was from the Renaissance period and had 97 cards. In addition to the 78 “traditional” cards, it had 12 for the signs of the zodiac, 4 for the elements, and 4 to add in the “missing” virtues (Prudence, Hope, Faith, and Charity). Brian was commissioned to create an updated version of this interesting deck, and he closely followed the original intent of the deck, retaining its structure and the basic form of the cards, creating them in a Renaissance style. The backgrounds and borders for all 97 images will be digitally added soon, but for now we were shown the artwork for all of these cards in the “raw”. And it was beautiful!

The following are a few notes about the structure of this deck:

* Some of the traditional Major cards are different. For example, there is no Empress card. I can’t remember the substituted card (Duke?), but it was male instead of female. (Maybe they thought they had enough females with the addition of Prudence, Hope, Faith, and Charity.)
* Most of the pips just have the suit symbols, decoratively drawn. However, some have a little scene (some of which seem to be from Aesop’s Fables) imbedded.
* The pages are female for the “feminine” suits of coins and cups and male for wand and swords.
* All of the knights are half man, half beast, with the beast being a lion for coins, a griffin-esque fish monster for cups, and horses for wands and swords. (Too bad it wasn’t a dragon for wands and a Pegasus for swords, but I guess Brian had to be true to the original version.)

Brian also noted that the book will address issues concerning the explanation and justification of this variant Tarot structure, art history of the deck, divination and meditation, symbolism in the deck, etc. It will have lots of pictures (he showed us a few), and I think he said it will be a little over 200 pages.

** Elemental Dignities **

Elemental Dignities is one of those topics that has always made me tilt my head like a puzzled dog. So when I found out that Mary Greer was going to do a presentation on, I figured, what a great opportunity for me to finally get a clue!

Mary opened her presentation by noting that ED is the technique that the Golden Dawn used instead of reversals. She then provided a handy-dandy handout outlining the concepts involved, which should serve as a great reference when I start trying to use ED.

The traditional way of using ED relied on the concept that Air and Earth are inimical to each other, as are Fire and Water. Thus, for example, if 2 Wand cards are next to each other, they will boost each others’ influence, for better or worse. But if a Sword and a Pentacle are adjacent, they will weaken each other. Cups and Pentacles support each other (but not as much), as do Swords and Wands. Wands are somewhat hostile to Pentacles, and the same goes for Swords and Cups.

What Mary has discovered is that ED is based upon astrology. Of course, being a dummy in the field of astrology too, I felt my heart sink a little when I heard that. I couldn’t imagine that astrological comparisons were going to help me. Nevertheless, this did turn out to be an informative talk.

First Mary charted the elemental signs. Picture a 12-spoked wheel with the top spoke labeled Earth. Moving clockwise, label spokes Fire, Water, Air, and then repeat this pattern for the remaining 8 spokes. Got it? Elements separated by 120 degrees and 180 degrees are mutually supportive. Those separated by 90 degrees are antagonistic, because they’re never going to be seeing things from the same vantage point, and those separated by 60 degrees have a similar, but lesser problem.

I’m sure the astrology guru’s out there are now nodding their heads sagely. “Oh, of course! How simple! Why didn’t I think of that?” Meanwhile, we astrology dummies are tilting our heads in puzzlement. “Yeah, and …?”

But I exaggerate; I wasn’t as lost as all that. I really did understand the basic concept that, for example, Fire and Water weaken each other, while Water and Water strengthen each other. So let’s go on from there. A couple points Mary made that I found quite salient are:

* Inimical pairs indicate stress, but that can be used to show the querent an opportunity for growth. Thus ED is a tool to help you spend more time with the dynamics of the process instead of just looking at the “event” indicated.
* For inimical pairs, have the querent look for another card in the spread that can mediate between them.

I’d have liked to see examples of these techniques, but unfortunately one of the shortcomings of a symposium is the severe time limitation imposed on presentations. But perhaps Mary can use this feedback for the book that I think she said she’s writing on this topic.

As a side note to all of this, there’s something on this topic that I’ve never seen adequately addressed. What if a card is next to several cards (like, for example, card 1 in the Celtic Cross)? Do you say, “Okay, this Wand card is next to 2 Cups, 1 Sword, 1 Pentacle, and 1 other Wand. Hmm. Averaging all those out, it should be weakened just a tiny bit,” or what? Just a thought.

So basically, I’m afraid I’m still tilting my head, but I’ll keep trying to figure it out. Someday, it’ll all come together and make complete sense. I hope.

(Mary, no doubt I’ve misstated your insights to some lesser or greater extent.)

** Spring Fever Symptom Solver **

As we sat in a circle around a Beltane alter that Melanie Oelerich prepared, she presented her “Beltane Layout”. Crescent Magazine has asked her to prepare a layout for each of the Sabbats, but since the current issue wasn’t going to make it in time for Beltane, they asked her to make one for the Summer Solstice instead. Since she had already created the Beltane spread, she decided to present it to us at BATS.

According to the BATS program, “This layout reveals the active and the receptive forces at work and the results of their interaction.” The most interesting thing I got out of it is that it provides a card for “what ritual you can do to deal with the change.” I thought that was a nice feature.

I would present the spread here, but it’s next to impossible to do so without graphics capability. You’ll just have to start getting Crescent Magazine. They should be including this spread in an issue next year at this time.

** The Bow Spread **

Before beginning his presentation on the spread he calls “The Bow Spread”, Mark Ryan, the creator of the Greenwood Tarot, noted that he originally named his deck “The Wildwood deck”. But the publisher thought that was too … well, too wild, so Mark had to change the name. (NOTE: This deck was eventually remade and retitled as “The Wildwood Tarot“.) Then as an introduction to this spread, Mark noted that life is a field of energy that permeates the universe, like light and gravity. Therefore, you get out of this conscious, living universe what you put into it.

The Bow Spread is intended for the “BIG” questions, the issues that underlie the more mundane questions we typically ask. It consists of a significator, four cards that make up the bow (cards 2 through 5) and two cards that make up the arrow (cards 6 and 7). The bow is the querent, and the arrow is a spell, intent, desire, will, etc.

The spread looks like this:

Bow Spread

Card 1, the significator, is chosen by the querent and will indicate the heart of the question, or rather, the underlying issue at the base of the question.
Card 2 (the grip of the bow) is the heart of the matter. I, and someone else in the audience too, asked questions to try to discern what’s the difference between cards 1 and 2. I didn’t get a very illuminating answer, which is why this may not seem very clear now to you. If anyone else who was there figured it out, please do shed some light!
Card 3 is the conscious part of the question.
Card 4 is the subconscious (i.e., emotional) aspect of the question.
Card 5 (the bow string) is the energy passing through the issue.
Card 6 is your will, talents, gifts, etc. that will aim your intent.
Card 7 is what will bring resolve, healing, breakthrough, etc.

Mark also indicated that this spread can be performed iteratively. You would first pick a card from the spread to use as the new significator. Then reshuffle and layout another Bow Spread. You can do this as many times as you need to.

** Tales from the Dark Side. **

With her talent for extemporization, Thalassa talked about how the Dark Side of issues (such as sex and death) relates to the Tarot, and vice versa. She said, “Those of us in oracular arts need to be comfortable with the ‘shadow’ issues, because no one else is.” i.e., because these are times that seem “hell-bent on keeping people from their inner truths and their inner selves”. But since “Tarot doesn’t shrink from ‘shadow’ issues” we need to be able to face them too.

She also noted that what you do affects everyone else. This observation draws upon both the “100th Monkey” theory and the “Butterfly effect” of Chaos Theory. Simply put, this means:

* The more people do something, the easier it is for the next person to do it
* Small actions can have large effects.

At the end of her talk, Thalassa broke open a new deck (The New Paladini deck) and had each of us pick one card from it and consider what the shadow issues in that card are. And of course, as usual, we got to keep the card we picked.

** Closing Notes **
As this event wound down, Alexandra Gennetti passed out party favors — little snippets (approximately 1 inch square) from her deck — and I got the Devil. So if I’ve been irreverent at all in this write up, I have an excuse. The Devil made me do it.


LATS 1999: The September 1999 L.A. Tarot Symposium
© 2001 James Ricklef,
The following is a review of the 1999 Los Angeles Tarot Symposium (LATS)

“The Amazing and Wondrous Reversals”

At the 1999 LATS Mary Greer presented a talk on “The Amazing and Wondrous Reversals”. She noted that typically the “Little White Book” that comes with a deck will provide reversed meanings such that “good” cards become bad and “bad” cards become worse, then asked the rhetorical question, “Do you really want to live in such a negative world?”

Since her answer to that question is “no”, she has come up with a less insistently negative way to deal with reversed cards. The following are various ways to modify reversals that she tries until something makes sense:

1. The card’s energy may be blocked, repressed, denied, or resisted. Mary noted at this point that you need to keep the judgment out! For example, resistance or denial may be all for the best for the querent, it may be what is required at this time. She also noted that at least half the time, this is a key!

2. The querent may be projecting such the card’s energy onto others. (For example, “Everyone else is able to find love but me.”)

3. There may be a delay or hesitation in the manifestation of this card, which may indicate that an extra commitment or effort is required to manifest this card’s energy. This is often the case when it’s an Ace that is reversed or when a majority of the cards are reversed.

4. The energy is unconscious, inner or private.

5. It could indicate a breakthrough, relief, or liberation from the condition pictured in the card. So, for example, a reversed Five of Pentacles might mean that the querent is beginning to overcome a misfortune.

6. It could indicate a bumpy road, that the energy of the card is not flowing smoothly. Thus what is needed may be to slow down or to just persevere.

7. The card could be operating in a “trickster” mode, advising the querent to have a sense of humor about the situation.

8. It could indicate that an unconventional view of the card is necessary.

9. Perhaps “no” or “not” should be added before the standard upright interpretation. However, Mary cautioned that you should NOT overdo this one!

Perhaps the most valuable (for me) technique that she described was the following:
Have the querent describe the (upright) card, and wait until s/he provides some sort of a “flaw” in the description. That will help you get to the reversed meaning. For example, say the card is the Magician, and the querent indicates that he (the Magician) has all the tools he needs, but he’s not enjoying the job. That “not enjoying the job” is a clue how the card’s energy may be repressed for the querent.

Finally, Mary concluded that you should use the other cards in the spread for clues as to which technique to use. I would add that intuition and practice certainly help too!

Addendum: Note that Mary has written a book called The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals.

“Magical Triangles”

At this symposium Alexandra Genetti (creator of the Wheel of Change Tarot) gave a talk on “Magical Triangles”. (See also the book that goes with The Wheel of Change Tarot deck for an extended discussion about Magical Triangles.) She covered more information than I could possibly discuss here, but one thing that I got out of her talk was the fact that almost every action we take can be diagrammed as a triangle with a point in the center. The triangle can be diagrammed like this:

Magic Triangle

Corner 1 corresponds to “Self” (or, in Tarot terms, Swords/Air).
Corner 2 corresponds to “Other” (or, in Tarot terms, Cups/Water).
Corner 3 corresponds to “Action” (or, in Tarot terms, Wands/Fire).
The center point, 4, corresponds to “Result” (or, in Tarot terms, Disks/Earth).

(Note that although the above elemental assignations were presented for the sake of content. You could have a situation where, for example, the opposites were earth and air, the action water, and the result fire.)

This diagram can thus describe any dynamic relationship between two entities. For example, you (“Self”) can eat (“Action”) an apple (“Other”) and thus obtain nourishment (“Result”).

As I said, there was much more to this talk than just that, but this got me thinking about what spreads you could create based upon that four-point diagram and the associated concepts. I came up with the following two spreads:

The first one could be used for questions of the type where the querent wonders what might happen if s/he does something.
* The “actor”
* The “object”
* The questioned “action”
* The probable outcome

The second one could be used to recommend a course of action to deal with a problem. It would also discuss the probable outcome.
* The querent
* The Problem
* The recommended action
* The probable outcome

I’m sure there are other such spreads that people could come up with, but that’s a start. Let it be a challenge to you to come up with your own!

“When Psychology Meets Tarot”

Art Rosengarten’s presentation was called “When Psychology Meets Tarot.” He began with a discussion of the experience of dying and the needs of the dying person. He then presented his technique for using Tarot cards to help dying people find coherence and meaning in their life and in their situation, as well as to heal and find closure in their relationships.

The process he described begins by having the client pick a Tarot deck that speaks to them. They then pull every card from the deck that evokes a strong feeling from them, and they arrange those cards into whatever groupings seem meaningful to them. In the example he presented, his client used these three groupings:
* Those cards he liked
* The cards he disliked
* The cards that seem mysterious to him

The next step is to explore these three groups of cards, one at a time. To do so, they pick one of the groups, then separate the cards of that group into sub-groupings however they want. (The example he gave was Childhood, Adulthood, and The Present.) They then layout those sub-groupings of cards into whatever meaningful arrangements they want. From his description, it seems to me that the client will thus create several “spreads” that will have unique meaning to him or her. They then spend time with these spreads, contemplating them and discussing what meanings they see in them.

The result is that the client is able to quickly and effectively sort through, organize, and understand the themes of his or her life, using the images on the cards as metaphors for or icons of people and events. They are able to release or make peace with the problematic cards, and remember and thank the good ones. And by reflecting on the mysterious cards, they are given a chance to contemplate the mysteries of life and to prepare for the coming mystery of death.

I know of several meditative processes that use Tarot cards, but I had never heard of one that was quite so dynamic, and that used an entire deck to such an extent as this one. After the presentation I thought about how there are many people in extreme, although non-terminal, situations who could also benefit from this technique. I suggested this to someone at the symposium who works with the ATA’s “Pen Pals” program, which provides Tarot mentoring for incarcerated persons, and I am sure there are other situations where self-reflection would be useful, and where Tarot cards could facilitate that process. After all, psychic or spiritual transformation was one of the earliest ways that Tarot cards were used.

Note that Art has written a book called Tarot and Psychology.


Party Hearty in the Tarot Rumba Lounge:
A Report on the 2000 Los Angeles Tarot Symposium
© 2001 James Ricklef,
The following is a review of LATS 2000. It was originally published in the Winter 2000/2001 issue of The Belfry, published by the Daughters of Divination

There are those who claim that the virtual environment of the Internet is separating us from personal interaction, but I disagree. In 1998 I got Internet access, and it did not take long for me to do a search on “Tarot,” wondering if perhaps there might be a website or two on this subject. I found (to my amazement and delight) thousands of them instead. Actually, it was a bit overwhelming, but the door was cracked open, and with only slight trepidation I poked my virtual head inside to find a vast Internet party going on. Now mind you, sifting through that many websites is no small task, so it was several months before I discovered that there are Tarot conventions and symposiums out there — real Tarot parties, by gosh! — and I even found one here in the Los Angeles area.

I immediately contacted the organizer of the event, but unfortunately, I was a few weeks late for the Fall 1998 Los Angeles Tarot Symposium. But now I knew it existed, so I made plans to attend the next LATS (luckily it was still a semi-annual event back then, so I did not have too long to wait), and I have gone to every one since then.

When someone who has never gone to a Tarot event asks me what one is like, I find it hard to give him or her a description that does it justice. But I know that “the more, the merrier,” so in hopes of tantalizing them, I start by explaining what they would find and do there.

First of all, there is a dazzling array of Tarot-related items for sale in the bazaar, such as Tarot decks, books, calendars, and bags, as well as sundry items like jewelry and incense. Luckily, this year at LATS I was able to restrain myself, buying only one thing: the beautiful Robin Wood Tarot book, which I had been intending to buy for some time anyway.

Of course, a more compelling feature of any Tarot event is the assortment of workshops. At this year’s LATS some of the workshops were presented by illustrious Tarot authors. For example, Isabel Kleigman talked about “Magical Correspondences and Internal Confirmations”, Dr. Art Rosengarten discussed “Tarot and Sand Play”, Ed Buryn demonstrated a “Blake Tarot Meditation”, Lon DuQuette showed us “How to Magically Charge Your New Deck of Tarot Cards”, and Tarot High Priestess Mary Greer presented her thoughts on two of the thorniest Tarot topics in a discussion of reversed Court Cards.

Other workshops were presented by Tarot savants who may not have such easy name recognition, but whose presentations were insightful and informative as well. And as usual, the ever-vibrant Thalassa put on flashy shoes and a lively presentation (“The Tarot Rumba Lounge”).

I realize, of course, that giving you a list of presenters and presentations is about as enticing as giving you a menu from my favorite restaurant instead of taking you there to taste the food for yourself. So to try to illustrate what I am raving about, let me give you an example.

Melanie Oelerich’s “Tarot Fairy Tales and Myths” was a particularly delightful presentation wherein she deconstructed a myth (the story of Persephone and Demeter) into constituent parts, drew a card for each part, and worked with us to use that card to gain insights into what that component of the myth meant for us. But even that description fails to convey the sumptuous flavor of this presentation. Between LATS and BATS I have attended several of Melanie’s workshops now, and invariably she is amazingly creative with them. Using props, visual aids, and a bit of theatrics, she puts on a delightful show as well as presenting her material in a clear and interesting manner. But don’t take my word for it — go to a Tarot symposium and see for yourself!

However, while these aspects alone are worth the price of admission, there is another, more valuable aspect of Tarot events such as LATS 2000: community. There was a time when names like “Mary Greer” were just words on book spines that I read with my head tilted to one side while I stood in the Tarot aisle in occult bookstores. Such names were the distant stuff of legends, and little did I dream back then that I would eventually meet Mary Greer at a Tarot symposium, let alone get to know her personally.

Of course, I cannot promise everyone such illustrious personal contacts, but I can promise people the opportunity to meet some wonderful Tarot-philes and to have fun discussing with them something about which you feel passionate. After all, how many of the people that you see in your everyday life will understand what you mean if you tell them, “I had a real Tower experience yesterday”?

Tarot-philes share a common interest, speak a common language, and travel a common path. Thus, Tarot events in general can be an extraordinary opportunity to experience that common bond in person, and at LATS 2000 in particular, with about 60 participants, there was a special synergy to the exchange of information, ideas, and enthusiasm.

Once in a while someone asks me how I got interested in the Tarot. I explain that I did not “get interested” in the Tarot; I fell in love with it, for truly that is how it felt when I first encountered the cards. For me, going to Tarot events like LATS expresses, celebrates, and reinvigorates that love, and it might for you too.



Since these Tarot events in 1999 and 2000, I have attended many other Tarot events. I wrote up some of my experiences at the Readers Studio event in 2010 and at BATS 2015.  If you would like to read a few blog posts about all that, here are links to them:

Readers Studio 2010:

BATS 2015:

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