Women in Tarot: Mary K. Greer, CTGM
by Bonnie Cehovet
This is a continuation in my series of articles on women in the Tarot world. I wanted to peek into the minds of those women who are making outstanding contributions to the field of Tarot, to honor their body of work, and to take a look at what they see for the future of Tarot.
Tarot Wise Woman Mary K. Greer has kindly agreed to be interviewed for this project. I literally view her agreeing to do this as a kindness, because she was in the midst of regrouping from one trip (to New Zealand and Australia), and getting ready to leave on another one (to spend a weekend working with James Wells, in Toronto, Canada and then Geraldine Amaral in Washington D.C.) when I asked her to do this.
Mary's standout book, Tarot For Yourself, was brought into my life at the very beginning of my Tarot studies, along with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. I will forever thank that store clerk for her wisdom in pointing me in the right direction. (On this same visit I also purchased Shirley Mac Laine's video on chakra balancing, on the advice of the same clerk. Wherever she is - heartfelt thanks!)
Mary's own Tarot path has included an intensive teaching schedule and a world of written material - both in book and article form. A partial list of her credits would include the aforementioned Tarot For Your Self (and its recent update); "The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals"; Understanding the Tarot Court (co-authored with Tom Little); 21 Ways To Read A Tarot Card; Women of the Golden Dawn (and outstanding book that everyone should read!); "The Essence of Magic: Tarot, Ritual and AromaTherapy"; Tarot Mirrors: Reflections of Personal Meaning; and Tarot Constellations: Patterns of Personal Destiny. Her articles can be seen under on the Llewellyn site; in the Llewellyn Tarot Readers; in Geraldine Amaral's print newsletter, Celebrating the Tarot; and on Tarot Passages ("Tarot and Emotions", "Timeline of the Occult and Divinatory Tarot - 1750 -1980).
Her teaching schedule has included working with Rachel Pollack at the Omega Institute in New York State; with Geraldine Amarol and the Washington D.C. Tarot Society in Washington D.C.; with James Wells in Toronto, Canada; with the Tarot School's Readers Studio as a featured speaker in New York City; at the Los Angeles Tarot Symposium (LATS); MARS (a yearly teaching experience in California with Rachel Pollack); and at the Bay Area Tarot Symposium (BATS).
Tools and Rites of Transformation (T.A.R.O.T) is the name of the learning center founded by Mary K. Greer for the study of divination, women's mysteries and the transformative arts. Mary is also deeply involved in the Fellowship Of Isis as a Priestess. Mary is the proud recipient of the 2006 Mercury Award from the Mary Redman Foundation, an honor given for “excellence in communication in the metaphysical field” in recognition of her groundbreaking book Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation.
At this point I am going to turn the podium over to Mary, so that her voice can be heard.
BC: Mary, your focal point in reference to Tarot has consistently been on its transformative nature. How did this come to be important for you - so important that it flows naturally and easily through all of your work?
MKG: This is not an easy question as I could take it in so many different directions. The name of my teaching and consultation service is “Tools and Rites of Transformation” (T.A.R.O.T.), stating my commitment to exploring and offering ways and means of positive, personal change. Transformation into an improved form, substance, or state is at the heart of the perennial wisdom and mystery traditions, and is the central purpose of most rituals and initiation rites as well as work with the Tarot. This often involves a “healing” of what has become broken or restricted. We usually come to a reading hoping that something will get better. Something to consider is “transform into what?” I personally think of it as greater well-being, which I see as including clarity of purpose and direction, identifying options, removing habitual or false limitations, learning and growing, and knowing oneself as part of something whole and worthwhile. Despite our hopes that we can avoid unhappiness and discomfort, life is filled with ups and downs that can’t always be predicted or avoided. My current favorite statement, therefore, regarding the purpose of Tarot is: “to help you meet whatever comes in the best possible way.”
So, what normally gets in the way of this transforms into something that facilitates it -- kind of like changing base metal into gold. Spiritual traditions propose that we are more effective when we move up the vibrational scale of experience to a transcendant or transpersonal perspective and then look back down at the particulars from that wider and more objective-yet-loving point of view -- a view that is often called unconditional love or compassion and which generates deep insight. So, for me, transformation involves viewing particulars from a greater/deeper perspective. Sometimes this shift in perspective--a change in consciousness--is all that is needed. Tarot is the best tool I’ve ever found for assisting in this.
BC: Mary, you use a method of reading the Tarot called dialoguing. How did you develop this method, and what importance does it hold for the reader?
MKG: I am certainly not the only, nor the first, person to use dialoguing with Tarot. I was introduced to dialoguing through the book Tarot & You by Richard Roberts (1971) and by the gestalt techniques of Fritz Perls whose books I read around the same time. I also learned about using dialoguing in journals and through feminist consciousness-raising workshops in which we gave voice to different parts of our bodies. I also learned to talk with spirit guides. This led to discovering that rocks and trees could “talk” and express deeper wisdom and greater knowledge than I normally had access to. I guess I’ve consistently found that experiences involving dialoguing with other entities or consciousnesses led me to important insights and an appreciation for differing and sometimes paradoxical points of view that, nonetheless, offered great wisdom or options I may not have recognized otherwise. I believe that all the answers lie in the querent already. The issue then becomes how to access them. Having the figures on the cards speak, each from their own perspective, is an easy, yet powerful way for unconscious knowledge and inner awareness to emerge.
BC: For some time now you have been working on a study of Tarot and emotions. Can you share with us some of your thoughts on that?
MKG: This came about because I found myself annoyed when people would say that the suit of Cups represented feelings and emotions -- as if emotions were limited to just one suit. This was contrary to my own experience in that I had seen people experience emotions in relation to all the cards. For instance, what do you feel when you draw the Three or Nine of Swords or Five of Pentacles? Don’t you sigh with relief and gratitude when you see the Ten of Pentacles? Can’t there be anger expressed by the Five of Wands? Anger is an emotion. Scientist Paul Ekman found six emotions discernable in faces in all cultures: happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. In researching what emotions are, I found that one of their main biological purposes was to help us make decisions and to create circumstances advantageous to the organism (see books by Antonio Damasio). Thus, they are motivators and guiding structures for our lives. This seems perfectly in alignment with the reasons why we turn to the tarot and, therefore, I began looking at the cards as “metaphors of emotion.”
I decided to see if particular emotions were consistently associated with specific cards and suits. Ultimately, 85 people were involved in my research project, matching one emotion (from a list of 99 emotion words) to each tarot card in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The results were that some cards had tremendous congruity (similar emotions) while others had little agreement or similarities. For instance, nearly everyone saw the Four of Wands as festive, mirthful and happy, and the Three of Swords as heartbroken grief. On the other hand, the Wheel of Fortune could be accepting or surprised, daring or indecisive, and the King of Swords could be depressed or confident. Most cards showed clear conceptual trends rather than precise agreement. Conflicting emotions were not necessarily bad. The King of Swords could be depressed when weakened and confident when strengthened. Such a range is actually helpful in interpretation because one card can agree with a variety of other cards, whether pleasant or unpleasant. I also found that the RWS deck itself stressed certain emotions such as: expectant, determined, hopeful, resolute, cautious, fulfilled, and wondrous. You can find an early report (later results confirmed these findings) at http://www.tarotpassages.com/emotionsmkg.htm .
BC: What would you say to someone who was thinking about going into the world of Tarot as a profession?
MKG: It’s really hard to generalize, as ‘professional’ tarot takes so many different forms these days. One thing to take into account is that this is an unlicensed profession - in some cases even an outlaw one - and so the highest personal integrity as well as an understanding of local law is essential. Writing a statement of personal ethics and posting it is valuable. I guess I have two core recommendations:
First: a good way to make the transition to professional, since readiness is usually self-determined, is to volunteer to read at a charity or non-profit event and do short readings for one or two full days for a very reasonable fee (all proceeds going to the event). Hopefully, you will be inundated with querents to the point that you’ll begin to lose your inhibitions and find your true voice (which often emerges at the point of utter exhaustion). I consider this a self-initiation into the professional world that is beneficial in many dimensions.
Second: it is up to you to determine what you do and don’t do as a reader. You do not have to provide whatever the querent wants or demands! Not all doctors are surgeons or podiatrists, nor are they expected to be. You do need to convey succinctly and explicitly what you do do when first talking to potential clients. I have two short sentences that basically say that I work interactively, as a midwife of the soul, to assist querents in bringing their own wisdom to birth. I use my knowledge of the cards to ask them questions that will facilitate that. I then ask if this is what they want. If they say yes, then we have a verbal agreement and they are usually willing to work with me in the way I’ve described.
BC: What place does the Tarot hold in your life at this time?
MKG: A major chunk: I write about it, teach and do readings. I have world-wide friendships with other Tarotists and travel often to teach and learn. Tarot permeates every level of my life. It has been a major factor in directing my studies--taking me into the fields of science (how does tarot work?), neurology, math (probability theory and some statistics), history (Ancient Egypt, Renaissance Europe, 18th century France, and turn-of-the-century England and France), psychology, mythology, philosophy, anthropology, art, religion, literature and, of course, symbolism. I read the cards for myself but not everyday, although I have done so for certain periods. Tarot has become the central pigeonholing or organizational structure for all my experiences. The archetypal figures on the cards are my companions and counselors. Tarot is not a religion to me but, philosophically, I resonate with a combination of what’s called the “perennial philosophy’ or ‘ancient wisdom tradition’ that lies behind this collection of symbols and with a modern, self-deterministic, Jungian approach to the meaning of life.
BC: Mary, this is your time. What would you like to say to our readers about the Tarot, as it evolves into the future?
MKG: For that I need to turn to the Tarot itself (RWS deck). I drew the Queen of Swords--the court card that I most often identify with myself, especially as a writer and researcher. The first word that comes to mind is discrimination. I’m feeling that tarot has progressed to the stage that we could benefit greatly through scientific research. I began with my Emotions Project but it only pointed out what was lacking to make the results scientifically meaningful--necessitating resources that are beyond me. Putting the individual skills of the reader aside for the moment, we need to clarify what the tarot is most helpful for and what it is not. For instance, is it really good for predicting if, when or how you’ll win the lottery? How about a marriage? Right now our knowledge is almost entirely ancedotal and highly contradictory, whereas research often has some interesting surprises. It’s equally as important to be discriminating about the applicability of scientific findings.
Another factor in discrimination is that as tarot continues to expand, especially into new media formats and more experimental forms and directions, the question about what tarot is and is not, and what is its purpose, is going to become more and more complex. For one thing, the question of certification or licensing of readers is going to keep coming up. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that open and educated discussion of these issues is essential, and that those who care deeply and will be most affected should be in positions to influence decisions if legal issues come up. This can best be accomplished through tarot groups and organizations. I encourage anyone who is serious about tarot to attend one of the conferences or workshops that are springing up around the world and to explore internet discussion groups as a way to learn more about aspects of the field that might interest you.
Finally, I think that a strikingly new direction in tarot will begin to emerge from among today’s young people. I can’t begin to predict what it is because then it won’t be truly new, but I hope to get an inkling of it before I go. For, despite my love of tradition, I believe that tarot will continue to evolve in interesting ways.
I want to thank Mary for taking the time to do this interview. So very many people have started their Tarot studies using her material that I feel that she has not only had a tremendous influence on the Tarot world for over thirty years, but will continue to do so for many more years. I had a stray thought, and perhaps someday you will have the opportunity to make this happen: a play based on your book "Women of the Golden Dawn".
© 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.