I took an online class the other night with Briana Saussy about prayer and blessings. She spoke about the nature of prayer and it’s expression in the many different faiths and religions of the world. As she was speaking and explaining prayer I was remembering my own experiences and how my current expression of the practice is completely different from what I was taught as a child.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I remember being taught basic prayers as a child and having a hard time with them. I had a hard time remembering the exact wording and in religious education class, in Catholic school, that mattered as did the proper placement of commas and capitalization. I don’t know if the teachers thought it mattered or if they were mixing a grammar lesson into our religion class. What I do know is that it sent the message that there is one right way to pray and it is complicated. There was also a threat in there that doing it wrong would put you in disfavor with God.
That didn’t make any sense to me.
I exasperated more than one teacher/priest/sister with questions about prayer and God. Very few of them took the time to give me a thoughtful answer. Most of the time I was shushed or given a pat, dismissive answer that didn’t satisfy me.
“If God is the father, who is the mother?”
“If I’m a child of God why can’t I just talk to Him?”
“If God is so powerful that he created everything why is he so angry with his creation? Couldn’t He just do it over again?”
By the time I got to high school I was adept at tuning out of religion class. I knew I wasn’t going to learn anything new because the previous years had all been a rehash of each other. I also had given up any hope that my questions would be properly answered. I paid enough attention to be able to parrot back the information on a test. The rest of the time I doodled, counted ceiling tiles or watched the critters outside the classroom window.
I distinctly remember one day watching the squirrels play on the school grounds and Sister So-and-so was having us recite a particularly obsequious prayer. The tone of that prayer always annoyed me; still does. I remember thinking that it must irritate God to hear this drivel. If someone were to talk to me, ask me for something, even just to thank me and they did it in this toadying manner I would be disgusted by them. I have always wanted people to stand up in themselves, face me square on and have a respectful conversation. At the time I remember thinking I was only a fourteen year old girl, if it irritated me to be spoken to that way what must it be like to be God. What must it be like to be the creator of heaven and earth, and have people speak to you this way all the time. It felt manipulative and insincere. It felt wrong and insulting. Then and there I stopped doing it.
I played along for the rest of my school career; the grades mattered. In my private moments I had conversations with God instead of reciting rote prayers. When I was sitting in church I played along there too but I was actually meditating and observing. The ritual and space are meaningful and when I studied the practice of ritual and sacred space I learned a new appreciation for the Catholic Mass, but the experience of going to mass as a child and teen was always hollow. As I got older it became harder and harder to pretend there was anything there that connected me to the Divine. It actually interfered with my experience of God and by the time I graduated high school I understood why that was:
They had made God too small.
The God I was introduced to as a child served a purpose for the child and the Church. As I grew and matured the explanations of God did not grow and mature with me so I left them behind and sought my own answers. The God I’ve experienced since is so much bigger than I can explain and the prayers of childhood are even more woefully inadequate. During Bri’s class the other night she included my favorite quote from Kierkegaard:
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
I have found that the most profound and sincere prayer is one of gratitude. We go through life taking things for granted that are, in fact, quite miraculous. The gratitude doesn’t even need to be directed to a deity for it to transform you. It’s the mindset and practice of gratitude that does the work.
The way I recommend starting when I am asked by friends and clients is a simple walking meditation. There is no heavy preparation needed. There is no limit on the time spent doing this. It is actually a simple, straight forward activity that becomes meditative in the doing of it.
It’s walking with a purpose.
With each foot strike you alternately say “Thank” and “you”; left foot “Thank”, right foot “you” or vice versa. Do this from your car to your morning train; while walking to get the mail; while looking for groceries; while taking your dog out for a stroll. Do it deliberately as part of your daily exercise. Do it for a week and see what changes it makes for you.
May 2015 be a healthy and happy year for you.
Friday is the official start of Readers Studio and every year it opens with a ritual, interviews of the master class instructors and the famous Foundation Reading. The Foundation Reading is what it sounds like: the first reading of the weekend. It is a baseline. You partner up with someone, read for each other and make a record of the reading. Then on Sunday, after you’ve taken all the classes, you meet back up with this same partner, lay out the same reading and reinterpret it using your newly learned skills.
Rhonda was my partner. She’s an amazing person. She did a reading for me and as soon as I saw the cards I got emotional. The 6 of cups reversed, The World reversed, 9 of swords, 2 of cups reversed it was all about losing my dad and the emotional waves and ripples that has sent through my life. Rhonda didn’t know about Dad and was trying to find a way to gently ask some questions. I let her off the hook and gave her a synopsis. We were both weepy and agreed that this loss is coloring everything I’ve been doing for the last few months and will be an influence for months to come. We also agreed that any readings I received all weekend would probably touch this subject. I decided right there to just stick with my few close friends instead of table hopping just to keep from having to share this over and over with new people. I had no trouble reading for other people, which is good or I don’ t know how much I would have gotten out of the seminar.
After a lunch buffet on Friday, the lovely and talented Nancy Antenucci took the stage. As you may remember, I love her book, so I was really looking forward to her class. She did not disappoint. We did several exercises to get out of our heads and into the moment. The most interesting for me was when she had us all mill about the ballroom and interact with each other wordlessly. We were to walk around as if everyone was our friend, as if no one was our friend, as if one of these people was the chosen one, as if one of these people had a special message just for us. It was remarkable how differently we responded to each other because of the underlying thinking we were doing.
The quote from Nancy that stuck with me is “Honor the human in you and let it go … for now, so you can go deeper.”
Saturday is the busiest day of Readers Studio. There is an optional breakfast class, two master classes, a costume banquet, several evening classes to choose from and the socializing that gets tucked in and around those classes. You could be going from 7am to 11pm before spending hours in the lobby or the bar with your friends.
Major Tom Schick taught the first master class on Saturday. He is a very nice guy, the creator of Major Tom’s Tarot of Marseilles, and he knows his stuff. After half an hour in his class I was getting nothing but agitated. Sorry, Tom. I actually packed up my bag and made as quiet and inconspicuous an exit as I could. Other people stayed for the whole class and you can read James Wells’ blog about it here. I met up with a few other people and we spent an hour in the readers’ lounge doing a Mary K. Greer tarot circle.
After lunch Ferol Humphrey took hold of that ballroom/classroom and didn’t let go. Her class was fast paced and kept us on our toes and moving through the cards. We went around the table as quickly as possible finishing sentences like “I accept…/I reject…” We worked at speed and then we went deeper into the cards. I’ve been a member of her Living Tarot group on Facebook for quite a while and her posts always get me thinking and doing. To do those Living Tarot exercises in person is a much different experience. It’s not better or worse; it’s a different level.
The banquet was fun, as it always is. There was entertainment provided by the more theatrical and musical members of our group which included some truly funny moments. Then there was Ciro Marchetti’s farewell. He is retiring from tarot work after ten years as a deck designer and moving on to other kinds of artwork. He showed a video of his new career in Las Vegas, which was, of course, a joke. He then followed it with this stunning computer generated compilation of his tarot work. I am sorry to see him go. No one tells a bad joke quite the way Ciro does. I wish him and his lovely and patient wife, Maria, all the best.
After the banquet I took a class lead by the amazing James Wells. He had us really get into the cards in a meditative way and we practiced with one card. I chose the Knight of Swords because it had been coming up in readings all weekend. I’ve been reading tarot on and off for almost thirty years and his class and this practice shifted my perception of the Knight of Swords and the knights in general. It was powerful.
Sunday, the final day of the conference, started with another Breakfast Roundtable discussion. We then met up with our original foundation reading partners and re-read that spread using the new skills we had learned. There was one last round of classes and I chose to learn from Carrie Paris. I’ve long felt that the online reading experience is lacking something and her class not only addressed this issue and identified exactly what was missing but gave me a bag full of tools and ideas to round out the enterprise and make it more satisfying for both myself and my clients.
There were warm good-byes throughout the day as people left to catch flights home. We were given our certificates and had some great conversations over lunch and during the more unstructured afternoon. At one point we were talking to Barbara Moore and she handed me a copy of her soon to be release Book of Shadows: So Below tarot deck as a gift. It’s a very nice companion to the first volume Book of Shadows: As Above. After I have played with it a bit I’ll post a full review here.
All in all it was great. I have yet to come away from Readers Studio feeling like I wasted my time and money. Quite the contrary. It’s wonderful energy to soak in all weekend and now, a week and half later, I’m still processing it all. And yes, I’ll be going back next year.
I’m home now and reflecting back on this weekend. It is absolutely amazing how much gets crammed into those few days. This is why I keep coming back year after year.
Readers Studio is much more than just the three master classes. It is a tribal gathering, a family reunion, an immersive education experience, and most of all a validation. To be in a room with nearly 200 people who share your passion and drive is to find your place in the world. We all come to tarot from different perspectives but that doesn’t matter. There is an acceptance of your experience and viewpoint as valid just because it is yours. There is nothing to compare to that energy. Everyone is open to learning from everyone else. You may have the most intense moments of the weekend while on line for the lunch buffet. Every year there are insights shared and perspective shifts occurring at the most random moments. It is absolutely wonderful!
I arrived on Wednesday shortly before lunchtime, checked into my room and promptly took a nap. I had a mild headache for no good reason I could find and the nap should have made it go away. It mostly did. I met a friend for dinner in the bar and slowly the evening took shape. Another friend joined us and we met another in the lobby. All four of us had headaches of varying degrees and decided a tea party in my room was a good idea. Tea, chocolate and conversation with good friends: a great way to start the conference.
Four tarot readers walk into a hotel room…sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it. We did eventually pull out a deck and start throwing cards for various things. What is up with the world right now? What is our place in it? What is the theme for this year’s conference for us? The Wildwood Tarot had some interesting things to say.
We had a lot of fun discussing this. It’s a bit rattling to see The Blasted Oak which in this deck is a combination of The Tower and The Hanged Man. To us it said that the world is being forced to change and many folks are having to look at things from a new point of view. The Shaman represented our part in it. We are supposed to hold space for the change without getting caught up in it.* Our purpose is to help people navigate the shifts in their lives. Nine of Stones is the eventual coming to peace with it all. Getting back to what is really important.
Nancy asked what we could expect from the Readers Studio this year and we pulled The Great Bear
This is Judgment in the Wildwood Tarot but the first reaction we had was protection, bravery, and a fierce guardian energy. Again it signified to us the holding space for the change and guiding and protecting as we navigate the shifts. There is also something sacred and exclusive about that doorway and not everyone gets to go in there. We were entering sacred space for us and we’d be protected and guarded while we were there.
We drank tea, ate chocolate, talked, laughed and gently eased ourselves into Readers Studio.
*(After Saturday’s class Ferol Humphrey posted a status on Facebook and referred to the people who took her class at Readers Studio as those who “hold the edges of the world for us.” My first thought on seeing that was this impromptu reading.)
This is the eleventh year for Readers Studio. I’ve been coming for the last five. This year, for the first time, a full additional day was added. This day is the first Tarot and Psychology Conference and the brainchild of Dr. Arthur Rosengarten, the author of Tarot and Psychology. Dr. Rosengarten was to be one of the instructors but fell ill and was unable to attend. With just two days notice Mary K. Greer stepped up and taught a class in his place. Dr. David Van Nuys, Emeritus Professor of Psychology from Sonoma State University and Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a private practice psychologist in New York City were the other two presenters.
One thing I frequently caution my clients about is managing expectations. It’s nearly impossible to enter a situation without having some expectations about the experience and/or the outcome. It’s fine to have an idea of how the day is going to go but we set ourselves up for disappointment when we are attached to what we think things are supposed to be. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Tarot and Psychology conference but based on past experience at Readers Studio I expected to be introduced to a concept, be educated about the concept and then have some training in the practical application of the concept. That is not exactly how this day went.
The first speaker, Dr. Van Nuys is a psychologist first and so his presentation was not what I expected from a tarot conference but what I would expect at a psychology conference and that is not what I wanted. His talk, “Hypnotic Dream Induction and Tarot for Powerful Insights”, was interesting in parts but not compelling enough to keep my mind from wandering. Because his primary focus is psychology it seemed like the practical application of his technique didn’t really require tarot and the tarot portion felt as if it were patched onto an already existing practice. For personal use this may be handy but I don’t see it translating into a service I can offer clients. I may change my mind after I’ve played with this a while.
Dr. Greenberg’s presentation was “Tarot as a Therapeutic Tool” and she walked us through the process and rationale for having clients create their own oracles. We did this by doing it ourselves. The concept is to find your theme for a deck based on your particular need for guidance, assign meaning to images and put them on the cards. Later on the cards are drawn at random to provide guidance by reminding the clients/ourselves what we already know. There is more to it than just this. Working with a client to create a small stack of focused reminders would be very useful for dealing with ongoing issues they are experiencing. When situations arise in line with the theme, the cards act as touchstones grounding the person using them and reminding them of what they know and in some cases advising them of actions to take. Plus, we got to play with markers and stickers; always a crowd pleaser.
Then came Mary K. Greer. She did a presentation on “Intuition and Transference” that was impressive considering she had only about two days to put it all together. Mary understands the audience she was teaching to and explained psychological terms and theories that could be pertinent to a tarot practice. She took it a bit further and dissected Intuition in a way that I don’t entirely agree with. It surprised me. She came at it from a clinical point of view and gave a definition that belongs in a psych textbook written by someone who has never experienced a flash of intuition and that is not something I expected from Mary Greer. In fact the whole presentation was so very different from the last class I took with Mary that it rattled me a bit. She discussed tarot, intuition, psychic flashes and other phenomenon that her audience takes for granted but she did so in a rather detached and analytical way that most of us weren’t ready for. There was some fascinating information included like the existence of mirror neurons and the function they are believed to perform but there was also some concepts that seemed to dismiss the spiritual aspect of tarot reading. That right there is where my resistance to this marriage of psychology and tarot lies.
I wasn’t disappointed exactly nor do I think I wasted time and money on this conference. Not at all. I didn’t know precisely what I was getting myself into but I took a chance. This was the first year for this conference and I expect that next year’s will be better. There is an argument to made that tarot is a form of therapy and Carl Jung himself was a fan. His concepts of archetypes, synchronicity and the collective unconscious all intertwine with the tarot. It’s the need of science to strip away the spiritual that I find most offensive. It’s particularly hard to take from psychology: the study of the psyche, a part of us and our experience that cannot really be measured and dissected. In its zeal to be taken seriously like the harder sciences of physics and chemistry, psychology is selling its soul. I just don’t want it to take tarot with it.