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Tarot Reflections

 February 1, 2004

Interview with Joan Bunning
Sheila Hall, CTM

Sheila Hall has been studying the Tarot for 16 years. She recently received her CTM certification and is currently working towards her CTI. Sheila is an ATA mentor, has been a reader on both the Free Tarot and Free Reading Networks, and also serves on the ATA Education Committee. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and two sons.


SH: Hello Joan! I want to begin by thanking you for this interview. As the author of Learning The Tarot, which stemmed from your website and now, your new book Learning Tarot Reversals, you are someone I've always wanted to chat with. The publication of your second book must be exciting for you.

JB: Thanks, Sheila. I'm really glad to talk with you as well. Yes, seeing Learning Tarot Reversals in print was exciting for me as I've wanted for a long time to bring together my thoughts about reversed cards.

SH: Let me begin by asking how you first became interested in the tarot?

Joan Bunning

JB: My work with the tarot began after a certain event in 1985. I was attending a conference on near-death experiences and "happened to" sit down next to a man who was a medium at a Spiritualist church. He suggested I drop by sometime, so a few weeks later I did. As my friend was doing intuitive readings that day, I signed up out of curiosity, never having had a reading. The first thing he said to me was "You should study the tarot." So, I gave it a try, and everything has followed from that!

SH: Do you have a favorite deck that you like to use?

JB: I guess I'm a traditionalist when it comes to decks. I still use the same Rider-Waite I began with long ago. It's a marriage of sorts! But, over the years, I've collected over 400 different divination tools, and some others stand out to me. One is the Symbolon deck which is not exactly a tarot deck although many cards overlap. This deck gives very powerful readings that get right to the heart of the matter. Each image evokes very complex stories.

Another deck I like comes with the Book of African Divination set. This black and white deck has cards with concrete keywords such as "good health" and "fortunate trip." I usually don't like this kind of deck, but this one has a special feature. The cards are in positive/negative pairs, so there are also cards for "guarding health" and "travel problems." Life's polarities show up very clearly this way!

SH: I still use my Rider-Waite a lot, too. Even though I venture out and try working with new and different decks, I still come back to it. It seems like I still continually learn something new after all these years.

JB: These cards do have so much depth, don't they? I think that's why this deck is the classic it is.

SH: What's your advice about how a person should get started when just beginning to learn the tarot?

JB: I think learning the tarot is similar to learning any art. First you need to expose yourself to the existing body of knowledge so you have a base to work with. Then you can move off on your own. A book or two for self-study is a great way to start, but there is a drawback. When you learn by yourself, you're very susceptible to doubt. You wonder if you're "doing it right" or "just imagining" the results. It's vital to get past this hurdle. So, classes, study groups and knowledgeable friends are very helpful too. This support and validation can make all the difference.

SH: Yes, support and validation can make a big difference. I think trusting the cards and growing to feel more comfortable with your knowledge of the cards helps with this, too.

JB: You're right. Trust is such a key element. I think everyone experiences doubts at first, but if you don't give up, you eventually get past that barrier and find you have the trust you need.

SH: Some people learn the tarot with such ease, yet there are others who have to really work hard at it. Do you have any suggestions for the latter group?

JB: I think the tarot is hardest for those who are very literal. They tend to focus on what's actually pictured on a card, not what the card suggests. They have trouble with meanings that shift and change. For these readers, a structured system can make all the difference - one with concrete procedures and interpretations. This reading style will be more comfortable, but still allow room for intuition.

Sometimes the tarot seems like work because you're trying so hard to "do it right." There seems like so much you don't know that others do. When you're struggling with these feelings, it helps to remember your Inner Guide is always supporting you. You can let go of any sense that you have to master a body of material. All you need do is relax and enjoy discovering your special relationship with the Wise One within.

SH: Good advice, Joan. I noticed how everyone learns differently when I first began teaching the Tarot. It's best for beginners to work at learning in whichever way is most comfortable personally, to find a method or system that works and to keep using it.

JB: That's it exactly, Sheila. It's important to find and develop the approach that matches your own unique self.

SH: You know, many people have different opinions about how tarot really works. In your opinion, how does a tarot reading work?

JB: My view of a tarot reading is based on two ideas about life that I hold. The first is that we are all connected and experience this connection on the inside. Our thoughts and feelings are not just our own, but reflect our tie to everyone and everything. The second is that we can access all knowledge as needed by going to that connection through our Inner Guide. All we need do is ask and be ready to receive.

A tarot reading is a structured way of asking our Inner Guide for what we need to know in a given moment. It gives us a known way to make the request and prepare to receive the answer. The cards are helpful because they're picture symbols which are an ideal language for this kind of communication.

SH: I agree! I first became interested in the Tarot after studying symbolism. I've met so many people who have a hard time reading for themselves. Tell me, when we read for ourselves, how can we tell if we are seeing only those things we want to see in a reading?

JB: One way is to spend some time before doing the reading thinking about what outcome you most desire. Get very clear on what it is you most want to be true at the moment. This is a helpful exercise in its own right, but also makes it easier to notice later when you're attempting to "mold" the reading toward that view.

A second way is to look for that subtle feeling you get when you know you're dead-center on a personal truth. There's a certain solid calm that comes when you know you've touched how it really is. It's hard to describe this feeling because it's so personal, but once you recognize it,
you can trust it.

It's also useful to track your readings over time. You'll learn your own patterns of wishful-thinking and see exactly how you slip into them with certain cards or in given situations.

Finally, you can trust that "seeing what you want to see" is part of who you are at the moment of the reading. You'll learn much about your situation and state of mind simply by examining that tendency itself - so it truly is a real part of what the cards are calling forth.

SH: This is so true. Can you offer any other suggestions for people when reading for themselves?

JB: I've found the most powerful readings tend to happen when the need is greatest - when your desire for knowing is so strong your heart cries out for an answer. Of course, it's just not possible to feel this way all the time, but when you do, reach for your cards and let them help you.

It's worth taking the time to write a meaningful question. The cards will address the specific question you ask (at least in some way) and this helps with interpretation. I also recommend speaking out loud as much as possible during a reading. Greet your Inner Guide verbally. Talk to your Guide as you place the cards and as you work through your interpretation. The power of sound will add much to your efforts. It also helps you get past any shyness and uncertainty. Be confident and grateful for this real opportunity to connect!

SH: <Grin> I am the quiet type. This is really hard for me at times.

JB: I am as well. It took me a long time to get comfortable talking this way during my readings because I just wasn't quite ready to truly acknowledge what I was really up to - even to myself. :-)

SH: What approach do you recommend when a tarot reader reads for others?

JB: I've never read professionally, so I can't talk about that type of reading. The readings I've done have been for friends, family, colleagues and others who've asked. I see readings as occasions when two people agree to step into each other's life for a time in a special way. The reader gives her experience and Self in service. The other brings her desire to know and willingness to receive. It's a time to set egos aside and allow a larger understanding to come in. I like to think there are actually four at the table as both Inner Guides are present too. Together we create a cone of timelessness around the moment that is enriching for everyone. No matter what, something is always learned, and something shared.

Because of this philosophy, I like to sit next to the other person so we can view the cards together. I encourage open sharing and volunteering of background information. Some people want only to listen in a reading as a test of validity, but I gently work to dissolve this barrier as it's not my preferred way. I try to keep the reading focused on the positive. So-called troubling cards are warning signals that we can be grateful for. I let the reading go as long as it needs to until there seems to be a natural sense of completion. Then I try to sum up with the other person what was learned and what positive actions might be taken as a result.

SH: I definitely share this viewpoint. Most readers begin learning about the tarot in the upright and reversed positions, but your approach is quite unique. I believe it's more intuitive and adds more depth to a reading. How did you first arrive at the idea of using the energy of the card with the cycles and phases that the card is in for readings?

JB: Here's a quick summary of how I see card's orientation. I view the cards in a reading as representing energies that are impacting your situation at the moment. Each card's energy is in a certain phase - beginning, middle or ending. Upright cards represent energies in the strong middle phase, reversed cards, those that are either beginning or ending, and so weaker.

This way of looking at reversals just seemed to come to me over time. I knew from the beginning of my studies that I couldn't work with the idea of reversed cards as having distinct, separate meanings (usually opposites). I needed a card to have just one core meaning - its essence or energy. That way I could build up a solid relationship with it. I also felt the play of opposites worked better between two cards, not between a card and itself. So I tried exploring the idea that a card's orientation shows its strength. This worked for me. Readings no longer seemed so fixed in time. There was a greater feeling of movement and flow.

SH: I can understand that as I had a hard time using reversed meanings until I found a comfortable way to work with them. I think a lot of other people do too, especially when first beginning to learn them.

JB: It is interesting how so many readers have to grapple with the idea of reversed cards. Working with them just doesn't seem to be as intuitively obvious, so you have to try out different methods. It's well worth the effort, though.

SH: I have to ask: What do you think is the best feature about this book?

JB: Can I mention two features? :-) The first is the way upright and reversed cards are integrated into a unified view. They work together instead of being separate systems. The other is the book's format. It's the same lesson/exercise design I used in my first book which I think works well for absorbing information in little chunks that build on each other. Students can also try out the information in a known, practical way.

SH: Good points! I think both features are really are helpful. Do you have any plans for future Tarot books that we can look forward to?

JB: Yes, I'm working on a book right now called Learning Tarot Spreads, which you might guess is all about spreads! It has the same lesson/exercise format. I'm hoping this book will give readers a basic tool-kit of useful spreads that they can rely on. I working with a few of proven worth, but going into them more deeply (rather as I did for the Celtic Cross in book one).

I would also love to write a book about how to use readings to create a moment of sharing between two people (in the way I described earlier). The current model of a reading is based on the idea that there's a reader who knows and a querent who doesn't know. One gives and the other receives. This is a vital part of tarot work, but I'd like to expand the possibilities. I think readings offer a way for people to connect in many different ways. It's very exciting!

SH: Oh! I look forward to the book on spreads, and I think the other book idea sounds great, too!

Joan, I've really enjoyed this time with you and want to thank you again for this interview. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

JB: I'd just like to thank you and the ATA for this opportunity to share with fellow tarot lovers. It's been over eight years since I first put up my Learning the Tarot website. Those years have been an incredible experience for me with blessings I never could have imagined at the beginning. For those of you who have visited my site or done my course, I do hope it's helped you in some way in your tarot practice. May your cards always bring you many insights!

Joan Bunning is the author of Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners and Learning Tarot Reversals. Since 1995, she has been the webmistress of the Learning the Tarot website at Her site offers her beginner tarot course, sample readings and descriptions of over 400 different tarot decks and divination tools.


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