Interview with James Wanless

by Bonnie Cehovet

Recent events around the Voyager Tarot, including transformation of the Voyager Tarot site and the birthing of a Coaching certification program made me feel that now was a good time to interview the gentleman that I think of as "Captain Picard". (He sees himself as Captain "Pick A Card".) Dr. Wanless agreed to share his thoughts with us - so I will now be quiet and let him speak!.

James, you started your career with a Ph.D. in Political Science, and did teach in this field for a time. How on earth did you jump from this to working with the Tarot - indeed, to creating your own non-traditional Tarot deck and creating a system that used your cards to their best advantage?

I found that working in the political field on a societal level was not fulfilling for me personally, and yet I have always desired to make a difference in the world. I realized that it was time to work more on the personal level of inner peace and be able to do that within ones self - which to me is a political act, helping people to govern themselves in a more holistic, peaceful kind of way. In my personal search, I ended up in the East - in India and Nepal, doing some heavy duty meditation courses. I came back thinking that is really what I want to teach people - how to discover themselves, and achieve that inner peace through meditation.

I started teaching that in San Francisco, around 1977. I had a Tarot reading from a college of mine, Angeles Arrien, and was really turned on to the magic and power of the Tarot, how in a very immediate and graphic way one person could help to empower another person. I took a few classes, and was off and running professionally with the Tarot! For a couple of years I worked with classic Tarot decks, and then I got bored with the traditional Tarot - I thought that it was interesting symbolism, but archaic. I felt that we were almost in the 21st century, and we were still looking at castles and queens - monarchies - reflected through white people, and people of European background, and that this was old - not the way the world was anymore. I wanted to create a Tarot that was more universal, multi-cultural, and that took us out of that politically dated, middle age European thing into the 21st century. Hence - the making of the Voyager Tarot.

How, when and where did symbolism begin to play such a large part in your life and work?

In that spiritual breakthrough in the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal in 1975 we were doing all of these symbolic meditations, and I really got in touch with the power of imagination and visualization, and of the "mind's eye". At this point I realized the power that symbols carried. When I was in the process of creating the Voyager Tarot, I knew that I wanted symbols in the deck from the many cultures of the world. When I was gathering the multitude of symbols that found their way into the Voyager Tarot, I would intuitively go through thousands of magazines, picking out symbols that were correct for the particular cards. Some of the symbols came from intellectual considerations, others just "felt right".

I was also influenced by the great statement from psychologist Carl Jung that "The energy that moves people is in the power of the symbol". It is interesting that 80% of Americans know their zodiac sign - Cancer, Aries, etc, and the symbol that goes with it, but only 20% of Americans know their blood type. A lot of this is because blood types are A, B, O ... whatever ... but there is no visual symbol, no magic and no memory. This is quite an interesting example of how visual symbols work.

The reason for such a variety of symbols in the Voyager cards is that my intention was to make Voyager a very intuitive deck, where you do not actually need to memorize cards, or go by the book, but where you can find at least one image within the card, which you may not like, but which does resonate within you, that you can respond to and come up with your own meanings about.

It is kind of irritating when people say "Oh, Voyager is way to difficult for a beginner in Tarot." That is just a crock! It is the easiest deck in the world, because it has a title at the top, which is a form of symbolism in itself, but there are so many other rich symbols in there that you can always find something. It is just a question of people trusting their own intuition when it comes to what the symbols mean to them.

In my opinion it is by far the most down to earth, practical Tarot around. As much as I love the varied types of decks around - car, medeival etc., they are all very interesting but - so what! It is kind of like "Yeah - How does this help me today in ...?" Voyager is very "real" to a real world experience.

When making a deck, the key is in trying to make it very real and at the same time have enough magic in it. You look at the world today - just look at the Internet, look around at America - it is a mix of different kinds of people and different kinds of symbols, and this is the real world. It's kind of chaotic out there - a little of this, and a little of that. A Voyager card reflects and mirrors that kind of multi-cultural thing, with a little bit of chaos.

Some people look at a Voyager card and think "Oh, God, where is the center of this card - it is not perfect, in order and simple." There's life! Brugh Joy, who is a wonderful teacher, gives away Voyager decks to all people through his seminar, and he just tells them to never look at the titles on the cards. This has its value, but I view the Tarot deck as a map of life, and the titles on the cards give you a clue!

I truly admire you for your willingness to travel to teach students, wherever they might be. What sparks your psyche to want to teach at this level?

The key to right livelihood is finding your passion, and persevering, which is what the Voyager teaching is for me. Why I like to teach so much is because with the readings, they can be compared to the fish that is given to the client to eat, and they go home and feel fulfilled. Teaching is teaching the people "how" to fish, so that they can become self sufficient, to take care of themselves.

That is where I am at - I am into the empowerment aspect that comes with teaching. I'll give you the tools and techniques - now you go off and figure it out for yourself. This is the only authentic way, rather than becoming dependent upon a reader or upon someone else. I very much believe in trusting.

I believe that everybody has within themselves the inner knowing, and the teaching process is just to get them going, using this huge map of life a figuring out what it can mean for them. Then they can empower other people by doing readings, so it really multiplies the whole process of the Tarot world, rather than just doing one on one readings forever and forever. Many times these can be very passive - the old predictive Tarot, which is not what we are doing here.

You currently have a program under development for certification as a Coach using the Voyager system. Can you tell us a bit about this?

The key to coaching Tarot is really no that much different from reading Tarot. There are major distinctions here, but ultimately, in the coaching process, each reading becomes an action plan where the client goes out and performs the actions that were recommended by the cards in the reading. The client goes out, takes the actions, comes back, and a new reading is done, which becomes a new action map, or plan. So coaching is the same process as doing a reading - but different!

I know that you do a seminar every year in Hawaii. I read in one of your books (I believe it was Voyager Tarot - Way Of The Great Oracle) that being immersed in water has a great deal to do with allowing our own personal process of transformation to flow more smoothly. What are your thoughts on this?

The Hawaii adventure, Hawaii Aloha Tarotha, is called "Archetypes In Paradise". It is my favorite Tarot activity, because it is expressive Tarot, living Tarot - where we become the cards, become the archetypes as we move to them, read to them, sound to them, dance to them and become them in an expressive way. When you begin to move to a card, and sound to a card, you will find new information in those cards, and in those archetypes that are not in any books! It is a whole new, revolutionary way of understanding ourselves through the Tarot archetypes as we embody them.

Plus, I have been working on a Green Man project. I have evolved a set of nature, or "Wild Cards", as I call them, about nature being the teacher. So, every afternoon we go out a into some great natural paradise place on the Big Island and kind of move to the palm trees, float like the waves, and swim like the dolphins (we go out with the dolphins), get into the energy and fire of Pele and really bring out our primal nature.

I am working with Wowza - Elisa Lodge - who is my partner. She is a genius at bringing people out of the mental shell into their mode of power and expressive charisma. When we work together, it is a totally unique process of yin/yang - I have the mental aspect and she has the expressive, and we play together - so it's fun, fun and more fun!

Over the years you have developed several different ways in which those who wish to study the Voyager Tarot system can implement it in their lives. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

I do a lot of teaching about people getting certified as a Voyager reader or consultant. This can be done in person, or through a set of audio tapes of an actual certification weekend workshop. People listen to the tapes, do the exercises and get the 20 hours of practical readings in and then get certified.

A totally different program is the Star Tree, which is really a program for peoples self transformation and self empowerment. It is a program of self mastery using the Tarot and the Voyager as a process of unfolding like the tree, and takes a person through the entire deck, all in the metaphor of a tree, growing from a seed to the fruit, growing from the roots all referencing parts of the Tarot. People have to do all of the work - it is a huge, comprehensive project, done over the span of about a year. People make their own art cards, etc - there is a lot of variety in Star Tree.

In terms of the teaching field, Star Tree is one of the things that I am proudest of. It is very comprehensive - I work one on one with the person - they send in the work, I tape record my comments, and the tape keeps going back and forth between us.

A lot of decks are done by a wonderful artist, and that is it. It is a product, and put out there and sold, and they never work the deck or teach the deck. I am unusual in that I not only created the Voyager deck, but that I am taking it in depth and teaching it. There are not that many authors that are doing the work that I do, at this level, and teaching it.

I see the 78 cards of the Tarot as each card being a voter within ones self. We are all individual governments of ourselves - how we govern, manage, direct and lead our own lives. The voters, the constituents, the interest groups within us are represented by those 78 cards. If I really want to direct my life in a wholistic, wholefull way, then I need to give voice and expression to all 78 cards.

So many of us are living a dictatorialized life, in only following certain archetypes and living those out. Picking a card face down, expressing it and becoming it is a way of living a more democratic, open system within the self, and really being a more wholistic kind of self government. I think the Tarot is an incredible political primer for how to lead ones own life. (That is a book that I should probably write one of these days, when I ever get to it.)

As far as the coaching certification - there is no tape series for that, it has to be done in person through my seminar. The Business of Intuition is also an in person seminar, as opposed to having a set of tapes out for it.

My big purpose right now is to transform into an on-line teaching tool. We are in the development phase of doing that right now. is going to be a teaching website, where you really learn, not just where you get a reading and buy a product.

The Voyager Tarot site has very recently undergone considerable change (which I discovered before I had my first morning cup of coffee!) - can you tell us a bit about what was the catalyst for this change, and where you wish to go with it?

The Voyager Tarot website is more of a teaching and learning place, and an interactive place, as opposed to the old business paradigm of static websites where I advertise my stuff, where the focus is "Buy my products." It is much more along the line of get on line, talk to others, learn how to do the Tarot. The Voyager Tarot site is not focused on "giving" readings, but on how to do the readings through the various on site teaching tools, as well as the interactivity. It is amazing how many people are going on line and becoming involved with the Talking Circle.

Rahasya (Voyager site webmaster) is someone that I met in Germany ten years ago when I was lecturing about Voyager Tarot. I was in a bookstore, in a small town, and in comes this guy, about 19 years old, in a clown's outfit. He comes in late. He was very talented, and very open, and we have kept the friendship open for a number of years. He is brilliant at working with the web.

With the Voyager, I am appealing to people with an open mind who are willing to explore and discover the child in all of us. That is why I think the family cards in the Voyager are so important. All the "kid" cards are tremendously important, as well as the inner Sage. The Sage represents those of us that are becoming elders and seniors, and we have a lot to share with people. All the Sage's are sharer's of wisdom - that is what they do, and that is who we are.

Are there any last words that you would like to leave us with?

The problem for many people with the Tarot is that it is only mental, that it is only in their heads. The thing that I have been really wanting to do, along with expressive Tarot, Voyager Tarot, and all that is connected with the website is to get the work more into the mainstream, into the corporate world. At the very least as a creativity tool.

The unfortunate thing with the Strategic Intuitionbook is that it fell in between - meaning that the Tarot world, when they say business, they don't think they are in business. Well, business is the business of living - everybody is in business! The people in the corporate world don't have any respect for the Tarot - and so the book is lost between the worlds of Tarot and business. I think that I am a really good bridge for bringing these so called different worlds - the esoteric and the "bottom line" worlds together. Because it absolutely works! If I can get in the door - it always works! Once I am in the door, and can get with people, and using the cards in a creative, proactive way, it always works! So this is a direction that I am moving in.

I want to thank Dr. Wanless for taking the time to share his thoughts on the Voyager Tarot and on Tarot in general with us. I am personally very excited by the direction he is taking with the Voyager Coaching venue, and look forward to seeing new and innovative learning tools on his site. The Internet brings both accessability and the ability to interact to the Tarot world - what a Voyage this will be! One last word - there is a great deal of wonderful information on the Voyager site concerning the "Archetypes In Paradise" Hawaiian adventure - check it out!

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.

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