Interview with James Wells
by Bonnie Cehovet
Many of you know Toronto, Canada based Tarot consultant James Wells from the e- groups Tarot-L and Comparative Tarot, where he is affectionately known as "Sir James". I met James in person at the 2003 Readers Studio, and found him to be every bit the gracious gentleman that he is on the Internet. Courteous, lively, with a keen sense of humor and a great joy for life, James is one of the most gifted people in the Tarot community.
From a very young age, James has been involved with the Tarot and its symbolism - working with it, playing with it, pushing its boundaries every chance he gets. James is also a Reiki Teacher, publisher of his own newsletter, "The Six-Rayed Star", a musician, author ("Tarot for Manifestation", 2005; "Walking the Labyrinth", Llewellyn Tarot Reader, 2005; "Going Pro", Llewellyn Tarot Reader, 2006), teacher, weaver of rituals, and facilitator of council circles.
His goal, as a consultant, teacher, and facilitator is to provide sacred space in which his clients will feel supported on their inner journey of connecting to their intuitive, imaginative, creative selves to heal and become empowered. James offers consultations and classes (in his home and elsewhere) which focusing on personal empowerment and making effective choices. In myriad ways James helps clients connect with the wisdom that already resides within them. James is a sought after speaker on Tarot, ritual, and personal growth.
I am impressed with the variety of ways that James uses the Tarot, as well as his open-mindedness, and his willingness to try new things. In his monthly newsletter, James always has something new going on - a new class, a gathering in his home where people can share their wisdom, and books, decks, or people that have crossed his path an impressed him, and that he wants to share with his readers.
It is time to turn the podium over to Sir James!
BC: James, I have read that Tarot found you at a very early age. Can you tell us a little bit about this, and about your subsequent journey?
JW: I was interested from a very young age in what made people tick and seemed to have a knack for tuning in to situations. There was also a youthful enthusiasm for mythology, magick, and many things spiritual. Tarot and I began our relationship when I was 12 years old. I had seen a couple of decks before, but when I read a passage about tarot in a book called "Let ESP Work For You" by Patsy Ruth Welding, her description was so delicious that I saved up my lawn-cutting money and purchased my first tarot deck, the 1JJ Swiss pack, from a local games store. I practiced on friends, cousins, and myself, "winging it" for some time before learning real tarot methods. Many of my high school teachers would request tarot readings from me after school hours or on weekends. In my late teens, I began to read good tarot books, beginning with Gail Fairfield's "Choice Centered Tarot". It, and the books which followed -- material by Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, and others -- opened my eyes, not only to how to do tarot, but also how to live life. That is, creatively and from a place of personal responsibility. Who'd have thought?! In 1994, I began to offer my services as a consultant (I don't refer to myself as a "reader") and teacher of the tarot.
The rest has unfolded beautifully into what you see now and it continues to unfold in surprising ways. The tarot opened my mind and life to goddess spirituality, ritual magick, archetypal psychology, council circle work, and much more.
BC: What is the Tarot for you?
JW: Without meaning to be a wiseass, for me it's a deck of cards, a tool. Its a collection of symbols and concepts that reflect conditions, challenges, resources, and options within us and around us in each moment. The cards are depictions of human experience, a suggestion box, a confidante, my best friends and therapists since 1979.
BC: Conversely, what is the Tarot NOT for you?
JW: The tarot is NOT something to believe in. It's not a creed, a religion, or an "ism". It's not the source of our empowerment, but it CAN put us touch with the source of our empowerment. This is why in my book, my articles, and so forth, the word "tarot" in the middle of a sentence begins with a lower-case T. It's not another "Bible" to be put in upper-case letters and worshipped. All of that said, I do believe that there's a sort of "tarot-ness", a kind of morphic field or archetype that's built up over the years from using the tarot in various ways.
BC: Why should/would a modern 21st century person want to use a centuries-old tool like the Tarot? Do you think the Tarot is applicable to modern day life?
JW: I do think the tarot is applicable to modern day life. As I said before, the tarot reflects human experience and we're humans having an experience. The cards contain the idea of mother, father, sun, moon, day, night, sadness, happiness, fear, hope, and so forth. We experience these phenomena and feelings in the 21st century just as our ancestors experienced them sitting around the fire or chatting around the communal well. The modern 21st century person can draw upon those universal themes and see how they apply to her or him. At this point in time, we have fewer public rituals of transition from one phase of life to another (e.g. birth, puberty, first intimate relationship, menopause, elderhood, death, etc.). Symbolic tools such as the tarot give us a simple way to mark and understand these life shifts. To see the progression of story through the suits or the trumps is to inwardly undergo a journey of transformation, preparing us for the outer journey of transformation. The cards are also great to use as a sort of "suggestion box" to yank our brains out of their habitual thinking patterns. Need a new idea? Pull a card! If I plug away at something that's not working, there's no point in continuing to employ that strategy. It's no longer useful. By drawing a card from a face-down tarot deck, I allow myself to be surprised. This doesn't mean that I have to use every idea that the card generates in my mind, but it does challenge me to stretch beyond my boundaries.
BC: You sometimes refer to your tarot work as "choice focused". What do you mean by that?
JW: What I mean is that I don't believe in fate or in pre-determinism. Our choices in thought, word, and action in each present moment shape and create our futures. At every second of every day, we have access to hundreds, even millions, of potential futures based on the options we select. Tarot and other tools of discovery can help us narrow down all of the information we're bombarded with from within and without so we can see more clearly what is relevant to us in a particular situation. With clearer information, we can make more informed decisions. Now let me clarify that I don't believe a person chooses to be raped or consciously elects to lose his or her home in an earthquake. That new-age "blame game" bullshit doesn't cut it with me. However, one CAN choose how to respond to such circumstances, thereby shaping the rest of one's life constructively or not.
BC: You also sometimes refer to your Tarot work as "inquiry-based". What do you mean by that?
JW: For me, the richness of a tarot consultation lies in creative, open-ened questions, in being genuinely curious. So many tarot readers get hung up on providing the right answers. Certainly a good tarot consultant will be skillful enough to offer something of value to a querent. But, to me, the session is more valuable if we sculpt exquisite questions. Divination is a dialogue, not a monologue in which I'm the expert who's here to tell you what kind of dog your Uncle Filbert played with when he was 8 years old. If someone asks, "Will I be rich?" they assume that there's only one future and that Life will cough up the goodies or It won't. Frankly, it's a lazy question. If we were to dig into that initial question, we'd find other inquiries waiting to be explored, such as:
* If money were no object in my life, what would I love to be or do right now? * What are alternative ways for me to experience that being or doing right now? * What constructive actions can I take over the next three months in order to increase my financial income?
These sub-questions are actually far more interesting and far more constructive. So we'd turn them into a layout and pull a card (or more than one card) for each question. I rarely do prefabricated layouts, because my sessions are so often about what the person is there to explore. I don't do "cold" readings or "guess my question" readings. I hate guessing games in real life and I hate them in tarot sessions. So I just ask people to tell me what they'd like to get out of our time together. Sometimes solutions present themselves before we even lay out any cards, just because weve taken the time to think about whats really on a persons mind.
BC: Who are your role models, Tarot-related or otherwise, and why?
JW: Tarot-wise, my greatest role models are Gail Fairfield, Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, and James Wanless. These people really helped to rescue tarot from crackpot fortunetelling and obscure esoteric teachings in order that people might know themselves better and use the cards to create life rather than predict it. Gail's emphasis on choice and custom-created layouts is evident in my work. So is the use of a consistent number and suit system. Mary's compassion, curiosity, and therapeutic style remind me to really be present with my clients and that they are their own best counselor. Her down-to-earth approach to Golden Dawn materials is also refreshing. Rachel's willingness to stretch the tarot beyond whatever it's been keeps me fresh and creative. Her approach reminds me that when tarot gets too comfortable and predictable, I need to experiment again. And James Wanless's enthusiasm and proactive stance (don't have another reading until you've done something with this reading's information) are truly motivating. As far as non-tarot role models, my late Grandma Wells, a great trance medium and healer, was a powerful influence. She was a stellar example of how to be a spiritual person AND an earthy, big-mouthed human being. People such as Matthew Fox and Starhawk, who challenge our notions of religion and spirituality, are inspiring. They remind me that Source is right here and now, not in some faraway box somewhere "out there". Their work affirms the sacredness of all life. James Hillman's soul-filled psychology takes me deeper into the life of my psyche and into the psyche of the world. Hyakuten Inamoto, one of my Reiki teachers in Japan and a Buddhist monk, has a quiet and centred confidence that keeps me grounded and focused on the present moment.
Sorry if I've left anyone out. I do love you!
BC: I was interested to find out that you are also a Komyo Reiki teacher. What is your approach to Reiki, and do you bring the energy of Reiki into a Tarot consultation? (Just so James does not feel as if he is on the hot-seat, I personally do bring Reiki healing into my Tarot consultations.)
JW: Komyo Reiki, like other traditional Japanese styles of Reiki, is not meant to be a clinical thing. It's considered to be a path to satori, or enlightenment, or wholeness, or whatever you want to call that. Traditional Reiki is a whole lifestyle which incorporates breathing meditations, living out certain precepts each day, offering ki (life-force) to self through the hands, employing specific shirushi (symbols) and jumon (mantras), and receiving reiju (blessings, often called "attunements" in the West) regularly as a support for one's authentic journey. Its founder, Mikao Usui, intended what we now call Reiki to be a method of personal perfection, a daily personal spiritual practice. While I do offer treatments to people, I'm more interested in teaching them that they are their own best healers. It's a bit like cooking for someone every day or teaching them how to cook for themselves. As far as Reiki and tarot, I rarely use one with the other consciously. If someone wants to receive ki or wants to learn the Reiki system I teach, we do that. If they want a tarot consultation, we do that. That said, I've had many people say that something peaceful, nurturing, or warm comes over them during a tarot session. And some recipients of Reiki treatments like to pull a single card before they leave to answer the question, "How can I best support my healing over the next [time frame]?"
BC: Okay, we are on a roll here. Now that I have asked about Reiki, can you tell us a little bit about your work with labyrinths and the Tarot?
JW: I wrote a piece about this in Llewellyn's 2005 Tarot Reader. A few years ago, I discovered that walking the labyrinth brings me peace, healing, and a sense of tradition. I first combined it with tarot by simply to pulling a card before entering the winding path. I asked, "What's important for me to reflect on in the labyrinth tonight?" then used the card as a sort of mandala to contemplate while walking. I've also used tarot to create and execute rituals in labyrinths, do group readings with each person as one card as the querent journeys through the labyrinth, and much more. It'd probably be easier for people to read the article in the book to get an idea of the sorts of things I've done so far rather than getting into all of the possibilities here.
BC: In your opinion, what are the most important things for a Tarot practitioner to remember?
JW: One, that the power is in THE PERSON, not in the cards. Two, that the question is part of the answer (I'm writing a piece on this for the 2008 Tarot Reader). Three, that no one is one hundred percent accurate, whatever the hell "accurate" means. Any person who claims a consistently high and a numerically specific degree of accuracy is either lying or deluded. This brings me to point four, be humble. Be a prophet with honour by respecting the tarot, by respecting the people who come to you, and by respecting yourself, your gifts, and your limits.
BC: To carry the previous question a step further, what are the most important things for a Tarot professional to remember?
JW: Same as above. Also to be curious about life and about people. And to be up front about what it is you do as a tarot consultant. If you hate doing "will he come back to me" readings, don't do them. If you love doing business strategy consultations, do them. If you're a predictive style person, then advertise that. If you're a therapeutic tarot practitioner, then tell people about that. If you only take six clients per week, book the seventh one next week. If you charge $25 an hour or $100 for thirty minutes, say so. And let people know what's in it for them. They don't care if you're a tenth generation intuitive trained in the Academy of the Silver Sunset. They only want to know how they'll benefit from your services. So THAT'S what you market to people. People can read more about some fine points of professional tarot work in Christine Jettes Professional Tarot, and in my piece on "Going Pro" in the 2006 Tarot Reader. I know I've mentioned this almanac a couple of times, but I think it's a good publication. Which brings up another point. Professional tarot consultants need to keep abreast of the most current information, books, decks, and so forth. Other professions bone up on their skills, so why shouldn't we? It irks me to see someone take a one-evening "learn the mysteries of tarot in three hours" class, then hang out their shingle the next morning. I worked at this for 15 years before I charged a professional fee. Go to tarot conferences (the Tarot School's annual Spring event is a good one), attend classes and workshops, form a practice group. Read non-tarot things on psychyology, symbols, mythology, helaing, or business-building. Keep the brain working and keep your skills fresh.
BC: When I was doing research for this interview, I came across an interesting page on James Ricklef's site, concerning Tarot Prosperity Games. Can you tell us a bit about this?
JW: Another of my favourite tarot books is "Tarot Games" by Cait Johnson and Maura Shaw. They offer playful ways to interact with the cards and discover things about yourself. In that spirit, I created a tarot card game for friends or classmates to explore prosperity together. Money and security are big issues in North America. Instead of getting very serious about it, why not play a game? A playful mindset often triggers richer insights and actions because we let our guard down. I've also created tarot games around sex, love, and more of life's standard topics.
BC: James, I was impressed with the work that you did in your book "Tarot for Manifestation". What do you have coming up that we should be on the outlook for?
JW: I'm compiling original layouts and processes into a small book. People like new spreads that cant be found in little white books and more tarot practitioners are getting into the "doable action" thing. This book will have both. I've also started a small inspirational book on action-based living that says faith alone does NOT move mountains, but action based on that faith does. And more classes and workshops, both here in Toronto and in other places. Anyone want to host me at their centre? I continue to host some guest presenters. Mary Greer is doing a weekend of workshops here in Toronto in October. Rachel Pollack was here last autumn. It's fun to work with them.
BC: James, the Tarot world seems to me to be in a mode of change. How do you see it at present, and where do you see it going?
JW: Currently, a lot of the world seems to be going down the shitter. So many "isms" are vying to win that they're in danger of wiping out everyone else. Unfair distribution, or lack of distribution, of basic needs such as health care, food, and shelter is rampant. Some countries are interfering in the affairs of other countries for their own selfish purposes. You get the idea. In spite of all this, I am something of an optimist. I belong to a group called Dar?which is a Shona word referring to a gathering for healing and peacemaking purposes. We sit in council and address tough questions. We offer healing on an individual and a global basis. And there are other groups and individuals doing their damnedest to keep life on Mama Earth a reality. If more people would simply sit with what is, here and now, they might see some new possibilities. Not necessarily perfect solutions, but at least possibilities. Maybe more people need to work with tarot, or dreamwork, or astrology, or Jungian analysis, or Reiki, or whatever in a proactive, self-empowering, non-fatalistic kind of way to realize that the choices they make in the present will have reverberations, for good or for ill, later on. I can see hope for the world if the people of the world actually do something about it. Interestingly, I suspect that the planet itself will go on regardless of what we do to ourselves.
BC: What last words of wisdom do you have for our readers?
JW: Two things, neither of which is original to me. First, from the gokai, the five precepts of Reiki: "Be compassionate to yourself and others." Second, from the Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley: "Every man and woman is a star."
I want to thank James for taking the time to do this interview. He does so many wonderful things that it was hard to limit the questions. If you want to know more about the work that James is doing, sign up for his newsletter, find out more about his book, or drop him a line, he can be contacted through his website.
© 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.