advanced metaphysical lessons without the usual bullshit
Creator and artist of The Halloween Tarot
Kip was nice enough to sit down and answer a few of my annoying questions. For those of you who are not familiar with her genius, Kipling West is an amazing artist whose unique art is at once evocative of both depth and innocence. Her credits are vast and include such gems as Rattle of Bones: A Halloween Book of Collective Nouns, Tarot for Cats, talking boards (which are more fun than plain old Ouija boards), The Amazing Fortune-Telling Book, and too many other wonderful creations to mention here. Kipling West is one of tarot’s modern treasures, although she is likely to argue against the point. I hope you will take a few minutes to read our interview with her. Thanks for reading!
Okay, so let’s start right in. Why? Why a Halloween Deck? Why not an Easter deck or a Christmas tarot?
It’s not just Halloween, although that was a catchy title; it’s Halloween and sideshow art and day of the dead and old monster movies and all things spooky tarot, but that wouldn’t have fit on the box so well. Basically, The Stuff I Like Tarot.
As for Easter and Christmas…well, aside from the overwhelming Christian angle (I’m not Christian so I am not comfortable playing in that sandbox) there aren’t a lot of defined “characters” for those holidays. Halloween is an umbrella that includes pretty much anything “weird”; there was a lot more to work with.
So then, what’s your favorite tarot card—and why?
Favorite to draw? Death or the Devil, of course! Those two are always fun. I’ve illustrated other tarot decks: Tarot for Cats, The Amazing Fortune Telling Book, and a weird one-off Office Tarot done for some agency in Chicago as I recall…it was a long time ago and no one’s ever seen it. These three were Major Arcana only.
I am completely biased. Your version of Death in the Halloween Tarot is my favorite of any deck. I especially like how you included Saturn up in the corner. Okay, so this is supposed to be an interview. Let me at least try to sound professional. Your style is so fun and playful, but unlike many decks it retains much of the core symbolism of the PCS/RW. How did you walk that fine line of maintaining a balance of purity and artistic freedom?
US Games was great to work with, they pretty much gave me complete freedom to do my thing. I actually like a few rules, they’re the skeleton to hang the work on. The RW has so much symbolism and thought in it, it was fascinating to me to see how easily the overlay of Halloween actually worked for the cards. The Halloween Tarot came out of doing two other tarots back to back. I had so much research going on to fit random animals or cats into a deck, I started making fun of it in the margins and…the mockery took on a life of its own.
Speaking of animals . . . Okay, we all love the cat; but why the cat? How does the cat fit in?
The cat is based on my old cat Miss Bee, who was my little buddy from the time I was 19 and living on my own. She was always there in my life, so I thought a black cat pal might be a good way to make the deck “friendlier” for the reader. Note she’s a magic cat, so she changes size in the cards! I still get mail asking about the mysterious Eight of Imps card, but yes, she’s in that one too. Look in the attic window!
Hey! No one said there would be homework! Now I have to dig out my deck and look. But while I’m doing that I want you to answer this: You like to paint on books that you have sewn open, as well as canvas, paper. . . Your make-up and costuming is no less amazing. What are your favorite art mediums?
I like acrylic best for painting, because you can make it look like anything you want…I’ve been doing it for so long now I can usually make things look halfway decent. My first love though is finicky little cross hatching drawings in ink.
That’s it? You know, for a Sag you sure don’t talk much. Okay, so in the Halloween Tarot the colors you use are very bold and the images are vivid and feel very alive. To get this effect, did you have to plot the images out or are you more of an intuitive artist?
Hmm. Can I be both? I mean, I sketched out everything beforehand of course. Sometimes I’d be stuck on a card and I’d read through several books, seeing what the common themes were in the explanations, and then…I’d get an image. It was kind of weird actually how stuff just popped into my head. And then of course I’d have to go look up how to draw stuff. I like research.
Okay, enough about the tarot. Let's talk talking boards. OMG-woman, your talking boards stand the Ouija on its head. These witching boards are fun and downright a little crazy—and no two are anything alike. How did you come up with this and was it the most fun you have ever had in your life?
The Talking Boards were done as a bit of a joke, too. I guess some of my best stuff comes out of mockery. It’s a Sagittarius thing I guess. It was fun to take the basic elements and play with the backgrounds…I never had a fear of Ouija boards because I never accessed a spirit who could spell. Lots of other people have told me scary stories about their experiences with them, but I seem to have lucked out and the spirits leave me alone there.
Okay, random question time: I love your paintings on books sewn open. It adds a depth to the experience of viewing the art. Where did you get this crazy idea that just seems to work so well?
I’ve seen a few exhibits of book art, and of course Flickr is an artist’s wonderland for ideas…painting in books came in part because I wanted to do art I would never sell. Once upon a time I lived in the US, and did a lot of art shows, and I always had that internal pressure to make it saleable. When I moved to Canada 7 years ago I discovered that not only did the place I live has no discernable art scene (I was very spoiled living in Seattle, because there’s a powerful grass roots art scene there, you could be in a dozen shows a month if you wanted) but that shipping art out of Canada is heinously expensive. I pretty much gave up doing art for money at that point, and decided to do it only for myself. Ironically of course more people see it on Flickr or my blogs than ever saw it in galleries, and I get nice mail about it, which is much more satisfying than selling it for essentially, minimum wage and never seeing it again.
Okay, one last question about the tarot after all: You have “been there, seen it, done it,” and have a pile of art that could fill several (unpainted/unsewn) books. Can you share a little wisdom for up-and-coming tarot artists? Can you leave us with some advice that those who come later can benefit from?
Ah…I dunno! My path remains a mystery to me and I’ve pretty much done everything the wrong way for any sort of “success.” I guess . . . just keep it fun. It’s not worth doing otherwise.
Well, that’s my interview with Kip. I hope you enjoyed it.
Next interview: Mary K. Greer!
Mary Greer is the author of several top selling tarot books for a reason. She has been reading the tarot forever and is extremely knowledgeable on the tarot; and you know what? She’s a really nice lady too. A chance for any student to sit down and ask questions of an expert of this caliber is a rarity. That’s why we cornered her in a dark alley! (We have no shame)
Please take a few minutes and read the wisdom distilled in this interview and take notes! My job is to help you learn the tarot as quickly and easily as possible. To that extent I will expose you to the teachings of real tarot experts whose opinions often clash with other experts. That is what life is all about. We look for the truth and settle on what we find along the way.
I don’t want you simply believing something because someone wrote it in a book, so I am making it a point to subject you to the various voices of the tarot. Never quit learning, but make sure that what you believe is based in fact and gives tangible, reliable results. I believe you will find great value in what Mary has to say, but make your own decisions and question your beliefs often. I gave my students the chance to ask the most pressing questions they had at this point in time and Mary answered.
Alright, enough of my yapping. I am turning the stage over to you and to Mary. As always, thanks for reading. Never forget that we are here to help you learn in any way we can.
Angela asked what your thoughts are on doing tarot readings via email; specifically distance readings when you don't have a voice to connect with over the phone or someone sitting across from you. She wanted to know if you would care to share any thoughts or tips on this.
Angela, I don’t do email readings. This is not to say that they aren’t valid and valuable. They certainly can be.
Just as there are foot doctors as well as general practitioners, I specialize. I focus on what I call interactive readings. Basically, I see myself as a ‘midwife of the soul,’ using my knowledge of Tarot to ask people questions that will help bring their own wisdom to birth. While I can do this to a limited extent through the exchange of several emails (which I’ve done on a couple of occasions), it works best in person or via phone or Skype. If at a distance, I require that the querent use their own Tarot deck so that they can examine the cards. I’m afraid someone else will have to answer your question, which is a good one.
Saika asked whether a couple, (lets say a married couple) can do a reading on the same client at once? If so, would you use the same deck or would each person have their own deck?
With rare exception, I don’t allow anyone to observe someone else’s reading as it can affect the focus and creation of a truly safe space. I’m not sure, Saika, whether you are asking about two readers or two querents, so I’ve responded to both.
I do, occasionally, do couples readings, using a spread that’s in Tarot for Yourself in which each person draws four cards, which parallel each other, so that the cards themselves provide a kind of dialog. If possible, I like for each person to use a separate deck so that it’s possible for the same card to come up twice. Two different versions of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot work well since there are so many ‘clones’ to choose from.
I have occasionally co-read for someone with another reader and I direct group readings in workshops. We always use a single spread. In such cases, it is vitally important to work collaboratively, to build consensus or present multiple possibilities, rather than trying to ‘top’ another’s insights. I always stress that the querent is the final arbiter of all information.
Marco would like to know what your thoughts are on reading decks that contain the trumps versus decks that do not; how important is it that a deck have a "major" Arcana section?
Marco, to my knowledge all Tarot decks have a Major Arcana section, as the twenty-two trumps are the major defining criterion. A Tarot deck can consist of either 22 cards or 78. A few versions with an extra card or two or even an extra suit are ‘allowed’ by some people but not others. Of course, one can use cartomancy or oracle decks or even standard playing cards. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
A Frenchman who had learned card reading from an old Italian woman, explained to me that an old European tradition said to never use the Major and Minor Arcana together. Instead, you should use the Minor Arcana or regular playing card deck for mundane situations and the Major Arcana, separately, and only for spiritual issues.
He also told me that I should never read cards on Saturn’s day (Saturday) and best not on Mars’ day (Tuesday). The Moon’s day (Monday) can be confusing. Mercury’s day (Wednesday) is most excellent, as is the day of Venus (Friday), while Jupiter’s day (Thursday) can work well. On Sunday, only the Major Arcana should be read and only for the most spiritual of questions. Most Continental European books focus on the Major Arcana and have spreads that only use those cards.
I primarily use the entire 78 card deck together and I read on any and every day of the week. However, there are some wonderful 22-card decks that I sometimes use with either three-card spreads or a European 5-card spread that can be found in many books. I also have a 22-card spread in which I get to see what each Major Arcana is currently doing in my psyche.
Despite the advice (and interesting lore) I was given by the Frenchman, there really are no rules about all this. Whatever works!
Dana asked what your advice would be when you flip over a card for someone and it makes no sense, even after staring it it for a few minutes. Actually, let me give you her exact words:
"OK, here's a question: what would Mary suggest someone do who asks a question and then flips a card which SEEMS to have NO bearing on the question. Yep, you concentrated hard, kept you mind clear etc etc, and then out comes a card, no matter how hard you stare just seems totally irrelevant. You don't want to wander down the road of intellectually trying to mine something out of the apparently irrelevant card, hell or high water... so how do you then shift your perspective to accommodate it? Thanks!
Dana, this is one of my favorite questions. The core of all my teachings and what I always say is, “Simply describe the card.” It’s amazing how often a simple description can be turned into either an “I” or “you” statement that makes total sense. Next, you can take those statements and turn them into open-ended questions that usually make the meaning of the card completely clear. In my books, I offer several additional steps you can use to take this procedure even further.
For example, if someone describes the Seven of Pentacles as “a person leaning on a hoe and staring without much interest at what is growing on a bush.” A exact restating would be, “You are leaning (on a hoe) and looking without much interest at what is growing (on a bush).” As the reader you might look to other cards to see what the leaning is all about and consider what could be ‘growing’ that has failed to interest the person. Or you could ask the person directly: “What are you leaning on, and why are you not interested in something that is growing or developing in your life?”
Personally, I prefer deeply interactive readings. I’ve noticed that cards that at first seem to have no bearing on a question often point to something the querent knows that I wouldn’t otherwise ‘get,’ so I like to involve them. I’ll usually ask the client to describe a difficult card and to rephrase it, as we get to the heart of the matter much faster than any other method. But either way works.
Once there is a breakthrough with such ‘difficult’ cards, it tends to open up the entire reading at a whole new level of significance.
Sue would appreciate it if you addressed her question: How can one come to trust the Tarot and let go of self-doubt and fear/fear of ridicule? How do you turn from the "normal" professional life to a life of spirit?
“Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” Who is to say that a ‘normal’ professional life is not one of the Spirit? It is the way we pay attention to things that counts. The Tarot is simply painted cardboard. What one really has to trust is the self who is in God/Goddess/All That Is. Each person has to find their own way to this, but I find that meditation and grounding through breath is very helpful. I also find that working with an inner guide, whether it is the Holy Guardian Angel of Tarot, a particular Tarot figure, or some other expression of a Higher Self can make a profound difference. The Buddhists talk about mindfulness, Ceremonial Magicians use symbolic rituals, as a Priestess I focus on being of service to something greater than myself. There are many worthy paths and not all have to be overtly spiritual.
Sue, once you are ready to read for others, you might want to try a weekend of non-stop readings for a good cause as described on my blog in “Suggestions for Becoming a Professional Tarot Reader.” There’s nothing like ‘not having a moment to think’ to get you out of your fear and self-doubts.
Okay, now for my questions:
1: What are your thoughts on computer generated tarot card readings (e.g. software, iPhone apps . . . that kind of stuff)?
I think they are great fun! Any method of drawing the cards can work in terms of the synchronicity of the moment. Computer interpretations can be as good as what you find in books, plus some make an attempt to address specific areas (relationships, career, money, etc.) and even integrate spread positions with the card meanings. Occasionally certain patterns are noted, like a preponderance or lack of a suit. However, I haven’t yet seen a computer that can successfully integrate the meanings of cards with each other nor discern overall patterns. This is where the true ‘art of Tarot’ comes in. Really, it’s just like anything else—it depends on what you, yourself, put into the reading. Use the material as raw data with which you are going to work further, and then these tools can be very helpful.
2: How much emphasis do you put on numerology in tarot readings? I saw in 21 ways to read a card that you address life numbers and soul numbers. Is numerology of primary importance to you with the tarot, and whose system do you follow?
I don’t consider myself a numerologist, but I think number symbolism can be very important as one of many symbolic factors. I draw primarily from Kabbalistic, Pythagorean and Medieval sources.
My latest book is Who Are You in the Tarot? which is a total reworking of my popular earlier book on birth cards called Tarot Constellations, which has been out of print for quite a while. In a full reading of 1-1/2 hours I discuss one’s personal cards in depth, and look them over more quickly depending on the length of shorter readings. I first learned the Birth Card system from Angeles Arrien in the mid-‘70s, and I still prefer her way of adding up a birthdate. Since then I’ve studied other systems, and I’ve developed my own nuances through experience and research. I find it just as valuable as any other personality categorization like basic astrology, the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. Because it’s specific to Tarot I find it very helpful in readings and classes.
3: What are you working on now? What is your next book and how will it help students? Why should they read it?
Well, I only recently finished Who Are You in the Tarot? and am taking a break while teaching, writing articles and blog posts, and doing things like the recent Tarot Tour of Italy. I’m still sorting my 2,000 photographs from that. I’ve had several projects in the works for many years for which I continue to gather information and write segments. I may look to self-publishing since main-stream publishers are not much interested in advanced Tarot works.
People should read Who Are You in the Tarot? if they are interested in gaining a sense of meaningful direction in their lives and a compassionate understanding of self and others. The techniques can help ground a reading by giving a reader an idea about how to best communicate with a client and, sometimes, what their true issue might be.
4: Having a personal tarot teacher is a godsend. Having one that is an established authority is all but impossible. Do you offer one-on-one personalized teaching by phone to your students at this stage of your career? If so, how much does it cost? If so, how many slots do you have open and where can people sign up?
Thanks for the opportunity to promote my stuff. I do occasional webinars, teach workshops around the country and speak at conferences. Check the Events page of my tarot blog regularly.Note: Mary has requested that the cost of her personal training and requirements of students before being ready to be trained be removed. Out of respect for her wishes I have removed that from public view. I despise censorship but this is not my concern so do not think that I am trying to hide anything from you. If you want to know how much she charges you will just have to ask her.
If you would like to train with Mary you should contact her directly. Mary is the author of several tarot books which I would strongly encourage you to read before you make a decision on investing in an apprenticeship with her. Mary is an expert on the tarot with decades of experience. What she knows about the tarot obviously fills several books, so it would be advisable, if you have the disposable income, to consider investing in education from her. I can say this openly and freely as I am making no money off of you learning from her.
5: Just for fun, Team Edward or Team Jacob?
I like the Twilight story the way it is told, even if it is incredibly cheezy. I don’t much care for Edward Pattinson as Edward and I think that Taylor Lautner as Jacob would be much sexier if his character weren’t so angry all the time—but the story has its reasons. My personal favorite vampire in TV and Film is Ian Somerhalder as Damon in The Vampire Diaries. Now he sends chills up my spine—oh my!
6: In the same vein, Team Waite or Team Crowley?
Crowley is more complex and interesting both personally and in his writing. However, I am one of Waite’s few fans and I think he is far more brilliant and insightful than people give him credit for. Waite’s symbolism is, at least on the surface, universal and friendly, while Crowley’s tends towards arcane and scary. When it comes right down to it, I’ll have to go with Waite for the purity, depth and clarity of his vision. But both of them have given us great treasures.
7: How much importance do you put on the Kabbalah when reading the tarot for your clients?
Normally, not much. Occasionally, a lot. During periods when I’m deeply involved in Kabbalistic studies it assumes more importance. I’ve been at this so long that I rarely separate out the specific sources of my information. And, I rarely bring up Kabbalah with a client. However, I am always aware that the Fives of the Minor Arcana are related to Geburah, Mars and the Pillar of Severity on the Tree of Life within the Golden Dawn system. When I look at the Three of Swords, I often think of its placement in Binah as the “Sorrowful Mother.”
8: There are a hundred books on how to learn the tarot out there. The quality varies but to the new student one book looks the same as another. Is there any highly specific advice you would have for any serious student who is learning the tarot?
There are far more than a hundred tarot books, as I can affirm since I’ve been collecting Tarot books for 45 years. However my advice is to get my books, especially if you use tarot for yourself for personal insight, creativity and self-transformation. They are great for expanding your techniques rather than just learning one method for reading the cards. I also recommend studying the classics: The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Waite, The Book of Thoth by Crowley and The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages by P.F. Case (for symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). The serious student will benefit greatly from learning something about the true history of the tarot, for instance, through Paul Huson’s Mystical Origins of the Tarot (several other history books are also good).
I have three bits of reading advice.
1) The core of my teaching since the early ‘70s has been: “When in doubt, simply describe the card.”
2) All rules are made to be broken—however, some make good guidelines. Experiment and find what works best for you—so that you can be the best reader possible, in your own unique way.
3) As a reader, don’t try to “fix it.” If you let go of the need to fix things, you’ll discover far more powerful and effective ways of working with people in the reading context.
Well, that’s my interview with Mary. I hope you enjoyed it. Mary wanted me to add one other thing however: “I definitely advocate studying as much as one can about Tarot—history, different correspondence systems, symbolism, astrology, Jungian archetypes, etc., as well as coaching and communication skills. It's a life journey that, if followed, can result in an excellent liberal arts education while, if a professional reader, earning money the whole time.”
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