Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

February 15, 2004

Interview with Mary K. Greer
Valerie Sim, CTGM

Valerie Sim serves as the VP of Communications for the ATA. She received her first deck of tarot cards 32 years ago and began studying astrology in 1973. Both have continued to be passions for her over the years and have led to the authorship of her own tarot and astrological teaching materials, with which she has been an online teacher for the past year and a half. 

 Valerie is the Listowner of a popular tarot email list, Comparative Tarot, a list which is populated by tarot students, readers, teachers, authors and artists. Her book about the Comparative Tarot method and ways to keep tarot fun and exciting, Tarot Outside the Box, is due out from Llewellyn in 2004. She also wrote the pamphlet, or "little white book," for the recently published Lo Scarabeo Comparative Tarot Deck, and is the Editor for both Tarot Reflections and The ATA Quarterly. On the shamanic path and active in animal rescue, Valerie has many favorite decks including Animal-Wise, Vision Quest and Shining Tribe.



BIO: As an author and teacher specializing in methods of self-exploration and transformation, Mary is featured at most Tarot conferences and symposia. She has taught Tarot at the Omega Institute for sixteen years as well as the New York Open Center, the Oasis Center in Chicago, and at at numerous pagan gatherings. She has a regular Tarot consultation business and reads occasionally at psychic fairs and bookstores. She also has a wide following in the women's and pagan communities for her work in women's spirituality and magic. She is the founder of the Iseum of Isis Aurea. Lady Olivia Robertson of Clonegal Castle, Ireland ordained her as one of thirty-two Arch-Priestesses in the International Fellowship of Isis which has over 15,000 members in 48 countries.

Three of her six previous Tarot books have an innovative workbook format: Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation (1984; 2002); Tarot Constellations: Patterns of Personal Destiny (1987); and Tarot Mirrors: Reflections of Personal Meaning (1988). The first two works especially are required in classes around the country. She has also written two Tarot books for Llewellyn (The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (2002) and Understanding the Tarot Court (2004)). Her fifth book, Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses (Inner Traditions, 1995), was a scholarly biography of four 19th-century magicians. Ms. Greer also co-wrote Aromatherapy: Healing for the Body and Soul (Publications International, 1998) with Kathi Keville, President of the American Herb Association.

With numerous other accomplishments that could be listed, she feels best work is expressed through classes and workshops where she teaches using an experiential format that simultaneously benefits participants at all levels of expertise.

When not on the road leading workshops or speaking at conferences she lives in the Sierra foothills gold-mining town of Nevada City, California.


VSB: Mary, thank you for giving me this opportunity to interview you. I am sure all of our reader's are familiar with your many literary contributions to Tarot and metaphysics, but they will enjoy this opportunity to get to know you better.

I really should start by asking you how you got your start with Tarot?

MKG: It was 1967 and I was in college in Florida. A friend got Eden Gray's Tarot Revealed for Christmas and it was like a magic box had opened before me. I had to know more. But neither of us had ever seen an actual Tarot deck, so I went on a quest to find one. I borrowed a rickety car and tracked down this strange (occult) bookstore on the far side of Tampa where I bought a Waite deck (University Books edition). I realized within the first year that someday I would write a book on the Tarot and that I wanted to teach it in college as an academic course.


VSB: Wow! Talk about instantaneous recognition of a life mission! And you haven't stopped since then.

Who and/or what were your greatest influences?

MKG: Eden Gray. I think her interpretations and advice on reading the cards, especially in Mastering the Tarot, were a wonderful place for me to start. I had just been introduced to Jungian archetypal symbolism as a style of literary analysis (I was an English major), and I also felt that my interests in psychology, art, theatre and literature were ideally expressed through the Tarot images. My recognition that the ideas of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell were depicted so clearly in the Tarot was key to my involvement-here was a set of pictures that could reveal an individual's most soulful truth. Later I discovered how history and philosophy, and of course, magic and spirituality, were equally a part of Tarot lore. I started studying astrology in 1970 and moved to London (after traveling around Europe). There I discovered Crowley's Book of Thoth and the work of C.C. Zain (Church of Light), and read all the works of Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, etc.). I was introduced to these works by people who had known Crowley and Perls and so incorporated oral accounts of their methods. When I returned to the U.S. I started the course from Builders of the Adytum (BOTA), learned how to integrate Tarot and astrology, and deepened my understanding of symbols. In the mid-seventies I got Richard Roberts' Tarot and You: The First Book of Taped Tarot Card Readings. He used a method of drawing the meaning out of the querent by asking them questions about the cards based on a combination of Jung and gestalt therapy. About this time I began teaching at a college where Socratic dialogue was the preferred mode of instruction. These techniques became the core of my own reading method. I've also integrated studies in psychic development, Golden Dawn magic, and Goddess spirituality and witchcraft.

VSB: In your opinion, what is the Tarot? What purpose does it serve?

MKG: Tarot is a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes from simple games to spiritual development. Psychologically it can serve as a projective device. It's a picture book of cosmological and human development. It's key to the western mystery (or wisdom) tradition and
a compendium of symbols and archetypes. It's a set of doors or gateways into other realms and an inspiration to creativity. It's a magical tool. It's a transitional medium allowing us to transfer experience from one realm or area of life to another. It allows us to try out things in the imagination. It's a friend. And, it's a set of pigeonholes or categories into which all knowledge and experience can be sorted to be remembered and interrelated. It's purpose can be for information, revealing the unknown, insight and understanding, advice or direction, discerning meaning and lessons, inspiration and idea generation, companionship, and as a medium for deep connection with others (including Spirit).

VSB: What advice would you give a Tarot reader who is just beginning? Please feel free to elaborate and be specific.

MKG: If possible, take a class. You can learn as much in a few weeks or months as would take several years on your own. Since you primarily have yourself to practice on, my book Tarot for Your Self is also a good place to start. Something drew you to the cards in the first place. My book offers many ways to explore that pull and find out what the cards are saying directly to you. However, in the past several years I've discovered how vastly different the reasons are for people's interest in the cards. I think you should first go with what interests and intrigues you the most and then expand from there. If you want to know where the cards really came from, then read about the history. If you want to know how they work, then explore probability, chaos and string theories (among others), as well as Jung's concept of synchronicity. If you want to tell people's fortunes in the most traditional way possible, then use a Marseilles-style deck and memorize the 17th century meanings of Etteilla or another continentally-oriented author. If you want a magical approach study the writings of Case, Waite, Crowley, Eliphas Lévi, Paul Christian and contemporary authors that follow in either the Golden Dawn or other magical traditions. If you are interested in Tarot as a psychological projective device, then read Sallie Nichols (Jung and the Tarot), Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, and other psychologists. Personally I feel that Jung's Man and His Symbols is the single most important work for understanding the relationship between Tarot and Jungian psychology even though it doesn't talk about Tarot directly. There are so many books now available with interesting spreads, card interpretations, and helpful techniques. Read as many as you can. Keep expanding your skills.

VSB: What is the biggest mistake beginning students tend to make?

MKG: Thinking there is a right and a wrong way to work with the cards. I'm not referring to unethical or morally inept practices which are clearly not beneficial to yourself or others. Otherwise, in the field of Tarot, I believe that most rules are made to be broken. You can discover through experience which guidelines are really worth keeping, which best express your world view, and which achieve the kind of results you most want. In fact, I find that taboos often protect and conceal powerful energies and techniques. For instance, it's a very powerful thing to buy a deck for yourself and it is disempowering to feel you have to wait until you are given one. The search for my first Tarot deck was not only a memorable life quest, but also taught me how to consciously undertake an archetypal journey. If you don't like borders or words on your cards, cut them off. Mix decks together. Read only upright cards. Wrap a deck in polyester (but only if it is beautiful and pleasing to you). Be willing to make mistakes and keep trying different styles and methods until you find what works for you.

VSB: I could not agree with you any more! This is so true. Breaking out of the Tarot box that confines it for so many people is the surest path to learning.

What is your favorite deck/book and why? What is the criteria for selecting those favorites?

MKG: After all these years, the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck is my hands-down favorite. The first time I saw it in the Eden Gray book, I was grabbed by something that has yet to let me go. Tarot is fascinating, but the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is what called me.

For reading purposes, I like to vary the RWS deck with other decks influenced by it (Robin Wood, Hanson Roberts, Ancestral Path, Spiral, etc.). I've also worked extensively with the Thoth, Motherpeace, and Marseilles decks. My ex-husband's William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination is one of the most powerfully evocative decks available and has more in common with the RWS and Thoth decks than is apparent at first sight. I also like the Osho Zen and Nefertari's Tarot. I love following the development of Tarot by comparing the historical reproductions of early decks, and I feel really privileged to own several short-run, self-published (sometimes even self-made) decks.

A really readable deck, for my purposes, has story-pictures on all the cards, yet allows for lots of personal ambiguity. It has internal structure and coherence depicted through the symbolism, and the symbolism is drawn from what's most common to the western cultural, mythological, and mystical/magical traditions. I prefer working with the Golden Dawn correspondences because it is a "language" I appreciate and speak very well. I also like decks that are generally positive and uplifting, yet depict a wide range of experience.

I have lots and lots of favorite books, but probably Paul Foster Case's The Tarot: Wisdom of the Ages has been most deeply influential. I've also read each the Tarot books by Waite, Crowley, and Wirth several times. I feel a good symbol dictionary like Cirlot's or The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols is essential. Among the modern books, those by Rachel Pollack stand-out from the crowd. I'm deeply appreciative of the historical works by Michael Dummett and Stuart Kaplan, even though they don't understand the value of divination and magic. I've learned a tremendous amount from dozens of other Tarot authors since I try to read everything written about Tarot. To be fair, I would have to include books about astrology, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, psychology, myth, philosophy, history and so on. I also relate nearly everything I read in any field to the Tarot as, by using Tarot as my pigeonholing system, I can easily perceive the relationships among ideas from many different sources.

VSB: What is the biggest tarot myth, wives tale or fable that you'd like to dispel for all time?

MKG: None. I don't want to see the myths scattered or driven out. I cherish them and feel they are keys to the soul's meaning that we search for in the cards. They should be appreciated in their own right for there is a power and inner truth in them. However, we should know where the myths and historical fact differ and which is which. The TarotL History Information Sheet was originally my idea, in the hope of clarifying just this issue. I was hoping every publisher would give the sheet to their Tarot authors. It seems to have been fairly effective as shown by many of the recently published Tarot books. The power and significance of the myths in the development of modern, occult and psychological Tarot has not yet been fully explored.

Though far from a Tarot historian myself, I also feel strongly that it is almost an obligation for someone sincere about a thorough study of the Tarot to know the difference between valuable mythos and historical inaccuracies. The TarotL History Information Sheet is something I make sure all my students have.

VSB: What is an "interactive, transformational, empowerment reading" and how does it differ from other readings?

MKG: The reading is interactive in that both reader and querent are actively involved in determining the significance of the cards and the reading; they have a deep conversation. Usually the reader guides the querent, by asking questions, through an exploration of the pictures and symbols, and into a discovery of how their responses relate to the querent's life. An empowerment reading is based on the assumption that the querent has all the answers, all the information needed, within him or herself. The job of the reader is to act as a "midwife of the soul" with the task of assisting the querent in bringing this inner wisdom to awareness, to birth. A person cannot empower another, we can only empower ourselves. In this style consultation, the reader affirms, assists, and guides the querent, creating opportunities for the querent to clarify goals, make decisions, and commit to his or her own actions. The transformational aspect involves a change of perception or understanding of oneself, the situation, or the meaning and value of events and others. This usually leads to a self-designed action-step that both symbolizes the new understanding and is a movement in the direction chosen. One of the truly magical aspects of Tarot is that, when a person experiences a real change of consciousness, others in the situation (or the situation itself) will likewise change, and often before anything is said.

VSB: What is it you get out of reading for other people? How has that changed over the years?

MKG: I get to experience what I feel is my deepest vocation-working with another as a midwife of the soul and witnessing their realizations as they deepen into the authentic self. Assisting others in bringing their own wisdom to birth is the most exciting thing that can possibly happen in a reading.

VSB: How do you use the cards for yourself?

MKG: See my book Tarot for Your Self since I've used all those techniques and many more. One of my favorite personal processes is dream interpretation. I first learned about the process through Gail Fairfield's Choice Centered Tarot. Basically, you select one card to elucidate the meaning of each of the major dream images. The card/dream image pairs that seem to make the least sense at first, are usually key to the whole dream once I finally "get" the connection. You have to be willing to really play with all the possibilities rather than just use book interpretations.

VSB: What is the most profound or lasting lesson you have you learned from all your years doing Tarot?

MKG: It's hard to pick one. Break the rules. Be willing to play. When in doubt simply describe the card. You don't have to "fix" anything; sometimes it's best to simply acknowledge someone's pain rather than rushing to make it all better. Use the querent's own words whenever possible -therefore, you really have to listen. Obsessing with the cards means something is wrong (and you probably aren't getting it). And, the cards themselves (or, rather, the archetypal images on them) are great teachers, so talk with them.

VSB: Which of your own works is your favorite? Why?

MKG: For many years it was I. So many magical and synchronous things happened when I was writing it. It's probably my most philosophical work and seeks to explore and understand the inherent structures in the deck as a kind of metaphysical DNA. My heart warms to Women of the Golden Dawn. For nearly six years I lived with, studied, and wrote about those women and their men. I consider it my unofficial Ph.D. dissertation and a labor of love. Tarot for Your Self beautifully serves the people I wrote it for; this makes me very proud.

VSB: Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Please explain.

MKG: Each book had its own challenge. Tarot Reversals was hard because, during the time I was working on it I personally received all the reversals-my life got turned on its head. I got divorced, sprained my ankle, broke my leg, dealt with cancer in a family member, but I also went on an incredible Tarot tour to Italy with Brian Williams (Renaissance and PoMo Tarots), discovered how wonderful friends really are, and learned a lot.

VSB: Related to, but not necessarily dependent upon the above questions: Which of your own books do you think will have the most lasting value for your readers?

MKG: So far, I'd say Tarot for Your Self.

VSB: What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from Mary Greer in the future?

MKG: I'm working on my Tarot and Emotions Research Project and, perhaps, eventually a book on the subject. Basically I feel (and can show) that emotions are central to the Tarot reading experience. By understanding what this means we can become more skilled readers. I have two other books in some state of development, but I get so wrapped up once a book is contracted that it's a little scary to commit myself.

VSB: I certainly look forward to reading all of them. Thank you, Mary! I've enjoyed this interview immensely!

ATA members can read the review of Mary's Understanding the Tarot Court in the Spring 2004 issue of the ATA Quarterly. Several tarot and book sellers are now taking pre-orders for this book.


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