Recently I asked one of the leading ladies of Tarot if she would mind doing an interview with me. I had this idea of doing a contest in conjunction with her interview. To my surprise, she said yes. I panicked. I knew what the contest was going to be (read to the end for more on that), but oh dear!
Um,now what, Arwen? You asked one of your heroines if you could ask her some questions. They better be good!
HA! Who am I fooling? This is someone I’ve wanted to talk to since I first read her book Tarot for Your Self : A Workbook for Personal Transformation Second Edition. So I decided I’d just ask her questions I’ve always wanted to know. Without further adieu, here is my interview with Mary K. Greer.
Mary K. Greer needs no introduction if you’ve been around the Tarot world for more than a year. Author of eight Tarot books, Mary has also written a biography on four women of the Golden Dawn movement. She also hosts a blog where she shares spreads and insights and history for other Tarot enthusiasts. Her bio is fabulous. You really should read it if you haven’t.
ARWEN: When did you first become aware of the Tarot? Who introduced you to them? How did you view them in that initial phase (divination? Intuitive tools? Amusing bits of cardboard?)
MARY: For Christmas 1967, my best friend received Eden Gray’s Tarot Revealed as a present, but no cards. I was deeply intrigued by the book and that the pictures could reveal things about people’s lives. Upon returning to college, I went on a quest to find a store carrying Tarot decks. Right from the beginning, I knew this was something I had been looking for all my life.
In my college literature and theater classes I was studying Jungian symbolic & archetypal criticism and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. It seemed to me that the Tarot cards reflected the same principles. In fact, all my interests in psychology, art, history, theater and literature seemed to coalesce in the Tarot.
From there, I started reading for myself and my friends who soon brought their friends. I decided early on that I would someday teach Tarot as an academic course in college and write a Tarot book. As it turned out, I taught Tarot in a college in San Francisco for eleven years and have written six books on the subject.
ARWEN: You authored what many in the Tarot world consider a must-have Tarot book Tarot for Your Self : A Workbook for Personal Transformation Second Edition along with so many other books. What prompted you to write TFYS?
MARY: I knew I wanted to write a tarot book but didn’t know what I had to offer that was different from all the other books. I started dating a man who was an author and encouraged me in my writing. Then I realized that all the books said don’t read tarot for yourself, but everyone I knew did. I wrote the table of contents in the car coming back from a year’s sabbatical in Mexico where our daughter had been born.
I had created the curriculum and taught courses for a weekend college program that required keeping a journal and writing a life history. I soon realized that tarot was an incredible mechanism for organizing ideas and events, recognizing what was important about them, and then discovering things that might otherwise have been overlooked.
As a child of the 60’s premise: “Question Authority,” an overall theme of my book was to break through limitations imposed by many of the rules and taboos that hampered a richer, fuller use of the tarot. Some rules represented good guidelines, but we need to understand and judge for ourselves rather than be slaves to rules we don’t understand.
ARWEN: We all have those in the Tarot world we turn to as “one step more.” Who is your Tarot hero?
MARY: Among the dead: Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite. I keep going back to Smith’s illustrations and Waite’s writings and, every time, I get more out of them. I could say the same for Crowley, Harris and Case, but it’s the RWS deck that I first fell in love with and continue to use more than any other deck.
Among the living: Rachel Pollack, Solandia, the Amberstones—oh my Goddess, don’t get me started. I could easily name three dozen people around the world without even taking a breath. I interact with them at conferences, classes, on forums and through email. So many people have inspired and awed me with their knowledge, contributions and dedication to Tarot.
ARWEN: Has the Tarot ever failed you?
MARY: I’m sure it has. I can’t think of a particular situation, though. It’s more likely that I failed the cards by not reading them deeply enough.
For instance, my husband and I were in the process of buying a house and I compulsively asked the cards whether we should do so. The cards came out wonderfully (Two and Ten of Cups and Ten of Pentacles, etc.), except for the last two cards which would always include either the 9 or 10 of Swords. We even did a reading in front of friends who were shocked when those cards came up just as we told them they would.
At the last minute the financing fell through. There was a timeline involved so I went looking that day for another house and found one. The “for sale” sign had gone up that morning. I did one perfunctory reading and never looked back. It turned out to be a perfect house for us and my ex-husband still lives there.
The few times I’ve been compulsive about the cards, there’s usually been something wrong that I didn’t want to see. With the house, it was essential that I go through everything I did in order to be ready for the right house.
ARWEN: Have you ever considered walking away from the Tarot? What keeps you studying and sharing this system?
MARY: Since there are only so many hours in a day I’ve several times had to choose between tarot and other studies, like astrology. Tarot always won—without any doubt. There have been a few periods where tarot took a back seat for several months, but on returning to that focus I’d find myself refreshed and at a higher level of the spiral of learning. I sometimes regret, with my current level of writing and teaching tarot, not having the luxury of that kind of time-off anymore.
From the beginning, I imagined a time when the tarot would become so much a part of me that I would no longer need any external mechanism. I’m sure that’s so today. However, I love the cards and their images! And the study of them keeps taking me down new and intriguing by-ways through all the fields found in any liberal arts education. Tarot stimulates me to think and learn in new ways, and it helps me find connections among seemingly disparate subjects.
ARWEN: What is your primary reading deck? Do you suffer from “Collect-deck-itis” like me? How many decks do you have?
MARY: I keep coming back to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and tend to prefer using pictorial decks that keep to the RWS symbolism and Golden Dawn correspondences. I love the Marseille and historical reproduction decks for research and study. I collect decks and have over a thousand (am no longer sure of the exact count). I’m equally as intrigued, or even more, by tarot books. I have no idea how many I have, but they are really the heart of my collection.
ARWEN: If you could give one piece of advice to every aspiring Tarot lover in the world, what would it be?
MARY: Here are two:
1) When in doubt, simply describe the card. If reading for yourself: turn it into a first person, present tense statement. If reading for another, ask that person to describe the card and turn their statement around. Then ask where these statements are true.
2) Experiment. Break the rules and then try to determine what purpose those rules served. Determine if and how that purpose and rule serve you, or not. If not, what do you gain by breaking the rule?
This has been fun. Thank you for the opportunity.
In celebration of Mary’s interview, I am giving away a copy of Tarot for Your Self : A Workbook for Personal Transformation Second Edition. You can either have one of my tattered, much-loved original copies (I have two, lol) or you can have the brand new one that was re-released 2002. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post. Contest ends at noon CST Saturday October 24th.
And if you are like me and already have this book, I’ll give you your choice of TFY or Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card.