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
SH: Let me begin by asking
how you first became interested in the tarot?
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
SH: What's your advice about
how a person should get started when just beginning to learn the
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
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 www.learntarot.com. Her site offers her beginner
tarot course, sample readings and descriptions of over 400 different
tarot decks and divination tools.