I recently got in contact with the lovely and erudite Benebell Well, author of the highly acclaimed Holistic Tarot – An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth. We found we had quite a lot in common in terms of how we viewed the Tarot. When I asked about the possibility of an interview for the blog, she suggested we take turns asking each other questions instead. I am deeply honoured to have had the chance to chat with Benebell like this. In my mind, this is ‘The Time Lords Dialogue,’ as we attempt to tackle questions the ‘Powers That Be’ have not yet deemed mankind fit to be in the know about… But read on and form your own opinion… Oh, and don’t forget to leave a comment if you enjoyed this or have any questions for Benebell or me!
Lisa, I see that you have lots of really cool eBooks on your website. Can you tell me about what inspired you to write and publish them as eBooks? I see so much meaty content about cartomancy and metaphysical topics published by you. Any thoughts on a book someday?
Thanks for that, Benebell. Yes, I am nothing if not prolific online and when I was simultaneously running three blogs with thousands of daily visitors, people often asked me if I had other writers working for me. I don’t. It’s all me and my superpower of touch typing, which turned out to be pretty much the only useful skill I learned at school.
The eBooks came about as a result of me pulling all three of my sites, Tarotize (oldest), Love Dove Tarot (most popular) and Holistic Change (the baby) into Angelorum. I had to figure out a way of making the best of my posts available in a place where people could easily find them. eBooks was one answer and quite an immediate one since a few of my readers had requested them in the past. And I’m not going to lie, it is nice to wake up in the morning and to have earned a few pennies while sleeping.
Ah yes, the book question. People keep asking and I keep saying “Probably” or “I’m working on one right now,”’ which is true, but then I get sidetracked. I have what I like to refer to as a “magpie mind,” which means I can only stay focused on a subject until the next shiny thing comes along. It is also quite easy to get addicted to the immediate feeedback you get when you blog. Writing a book feels so incredibly lonely by comparison, which puts me all the more in awe at your achievement when it comes to Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth (North Atlantic Books). It isn’t just “a book,” it is a modern classic and reference tome covering pretty much every aspect of Tarot in 800+ pages. I’m dying to know…
Benebell Wen on Finding Time to Write Holistic Tarot
How did you find the time to write Holistic Tarot in between lawyering and managing a social life, Benebell? Could you describe the process for us, what motivated you to start and what kept you going when it got tough? There are rumours that you don’t sleep, you know, so let’s see if we can dispel them!
I wake up every morning at around 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. (even on weekends) and as soon as I’m up, it’s go, go, go, do, do, do until midnight, and I say midnight, but usually it’s more like 1:30 a.m. Do I sleep? I do. Do I sleep a lot? Um…
The best way I can describe writing Holistic Tarot is that it was a book that needed to be extracted from my mind. Also, much of it was written when the Hubby went travelling abroad with my peripatetic cousin Ron. That meant I had a ton of time to myself for focusing on writing.
I love your reference to the “magpie mind.” I think I have it, too. Right now, I have four nonfiction manuscripts bubbling, one fiction, on top of doing tarot readings and I Ching divinations for people, cooking (one of my hobbies), pro bono legal work, and am still employed full time as a corporate transactions attorney. Let’s not even get into the many projects I started preceding Holistic Tarot that I never followed through on. I start many projects and finish very few. By dumb luck really, Holistic Tarot was a project I finished. I think the reason why is because I had something to say, and that was to address the balance (and maybe even the tension) between tarot as an intuitive art and tarot as a rational discipline.
Tarot is an intuitive art, and by that I mean very few tarot practitioners can explain to you exactly how they reach the conclusions they reach in their readings, in spite of textbook card meanings, or how synchronicities that defy the bounds of statistical probability can happen. Yet what goes on during that reading that no one can explain is accurate, is cathartic, is often visceral and yet somehow makes sense on a logical-intellectual plane, too. That last part fascinated me. How might we explain the intuitive art of tarot in a disciplined, analytical manner? I don’t think I answered that question in my book, but I asked it, and now we have a conversation.
Time-Space Conundrums and Trying to Render a Rational Explanation for the Intuitive Art of Tarot
So here’s the question as I (Benebell Wen) pass that hot potato to you:
How do you explain the intuitive art of tarot in more rational terms, Lisa? Also, I think a secondary question is embedded in that first: what is the relationship between space-time and tarot? How does a tarot reading done by a practitioner thousands of miles away manage to answer your question with spot-on accuracy? Why is it a tarot reading can seem to touch upon events that have not happened yet?
Hot potato indeed! The way I see it, the craft of interpreting the Tarot relies on two sets of skills: the ability to harness intuitive guidance (which every single human is gifted with) and the skill of being able to analyse and synthesise what you see in the visual clues and know about the card meanings, for instance, memorised material about numerological and astrological correspondences.
That is not to say you cannot read the cards completely without knowledge about card meanings. The reason people who have never studied the Tarot still have psychic hits purely by looking at the images is that we all have a wealth of knowledge about symbols stored in our subconscious mind as well as higher consciousness – the parts of our mind which connect us with the Anima Mundi. However, as any student of the Tarot will tell you, the more they study and analyse meanings and correspondences, the more depth their readings take on – provided of course that you don’t stop relying on the intuitive component of the reading. Balance is required. Think Temperance here.
When it comes to that ‘wibbly, wobbly, timey-wimey’ stuff we call time, I think it is safe to say that the true nature of time is not one we can access with our ordinary waking consciousness… yet. In this third dimension, time appears linear. Quantum mechanics is only just starting to reveal how incredibly untrue this is – a revelation that is cray cray enough to drive the scientists occupied with this field of study to the very edge of sanity. Apparently, we live in a hologram and time is an illusion – a truth known to Seers and Shamans for millennia and the reason why it is possible to make predictions across the time-space continuum.
By the way, I came across a quantum weirdness article the other day that proves that events in the future can decide what happens in the past. If you pause to think about that long enough, it might just blow a fuse.
I am not a scientist so I can’t speak in-depth of time in these terms but due to the nature of my work as a Tarot reader, I have spent a lot of time analysing time in terms of predicting events. Based on this analysis, in which I have had to dig deep about fate vs free will, I feel pretty certain when I state that while the future is not set in stone there are some ‘fixed points’ which is what people commonly refer to as fate.
The interesting thing about fate is that the more people believe in it, the more of a reality it becomes to them. Where your mind and energy flow, the rest follows. So if you live your life as if most of the events in it are indeed fated, this is what you will experience. To a Tarot reader, such a person’s trajectory is already so firmly fixed by the client’s own mind that many events do appear set in stone in the reading… On the other hand, to someone who has empowered herself with the divine knowledge that they are able to co-create their destiny almost entirely (barring the entry and exit points, as well as major ‘Acts of God’), this will be her reality.
Having this bird’s eye view of destiny makes it very important for the Tarot reader to make an informed choice about how to read the cards when it comes to prediction. So this is what I would like to ask you about, Benebell…
Benebell on Using the Tarot for Personal Development vs Fortune-telling
How did you decide to put the emphasis on personal development rather than traditional fortune-telling and how do you use prediction when you do use it?
First, I love everything you just said and I was nodding my head emphatically the whole time.
As for your question, to know yourself is to know the universe. So to me, knowing yourself and knowing the future—being sensitive to any aspect of space-time—is one and the same. The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, are so connected that I don’t believe a tarot practitioner would be able to read predictively without first having a very strong understanding of personal development. And by that, I don’t mean an academic study. I mean a generally clear, intuitive understanding of people and the world around us, the concord and discord of yin and yang, if you will, and how it affects us on the material-physical plane. In fact, I kind of wonder whether that’s why earth- or nature-based spirituality often goes hand in hand with tarot practice.
It’s not really a matter of predicting the future like it’s an autonomous event unconnected to the past and present. It’s through the past and present that you can project into a future event. A good card reader is simply someone who has a very keen sense of metaphysical probability. The specific balance (or imbalance) and chemistry of energies going on at the moment is most likely going to lead to X. Another interesting theory comes from esoteric Taoism, specifically from the text Yin Fu Jing, which—and I’m grossly paraphrasing here, as the original text is quite dense—before every event or occurrence, there is a window of opportunity that avails itself to human willpower to affect the outcome and transform that event or occurrence. Now that’s the crux of why I read tarot. I use tarot to shed light on that window of opportunity.
To me, when I hear the term “fortune-telling,” my impression is of someone “telling.” If this is a mere game of semantics, then so be it. However, whether we’re talking about the word in English or in Chinese (another language I happen to speak), it implies a practitioner who inserts him or herself into the life path of a seeker. That very act of insertion itself becomes a factor, a variable that ends up transforming the outcome. Ethically and karmically, I don’t think that’s a burden worth taking on. Divination, on the other hand, whether we’re talking English or Chinese, suggests that the practitioner is a mere conduit through which energy flows. I prefer the term divination.
The Difference Between Fortune-telling and Divination (a question from Benebell Wen)
Do you make any distinction between fortune-telling and divination, Lisa? Or do you see the two terms as interchangeable? Also, how would you characterize your views on fortune-telling?
Brilliant, Benebell! Yes, I agree with everything you said here and loved hearing about the semantics of the term ‘fortune-telling’ in the context of Chinese culture. It is actually very similar to how I view it and is why I shy away from ‘telling fortunes.’ I mean, who am I to manipulate the fate of the Seeker? Definitely, not a karmic burden I wish to carry!
To me, divination is the act of aligning the ego with the Higher Self, which is the part of the self that holds the bird’s eye view of the lessons we incarnated to learn. When we use the Tarot cards to hold space for the Seeker to make informed choices about the best way forward, based on where they are now and based on their soul’s desire, we opt out of manipulation and become true Oracles of the Divine.
Of course, I believe it is possible to ‘tell fortunes’ and many of my new clients come to me expecting this and very little else. I see it as my duty to inform them of the malleable quality of time as well as their own responsibility in terms of co-creating their destiny. If it is still only ‘what to expect’ in the future, they want from their experience with me, I usually inform them that it is best to stick to a limited time frame of no more than 6-8 weeks and that even then, the future is not set in stone. What we are dealing with then is what I like to call ‘trajectory-forecasting’ and this, of course, concerns only events already set in motion.
Once the Seeker becomes aware that they are on a set trajectory, they can become empowered to change this trajectory and also to make better and more well-informed choices in order to avoid a less agreeable outcome.
Benebell on Cherished Beliefs and Myths about the Tarot
My final question for you, Benebell, is how do we best proceed in dispelling the time and fate-related myths about the Tarot (ideally without causing dissent within the community)?
Hmm. That is a very good question, Lisa, and one I have not been able to answer for myself yet. Right now, I don’t. I don’t try to dispel any mythologies that others hold on fate or free will. Belief—perspective—ontologies—these are funny things. We each believe what we believe and will go out into the world in search of our tribe, and others who believe the same thing. Also, see, it’s not that I don’t believe in fortune-telling. I do. I just wonder whether it is truly a beneficial use of craft.
In the past, I have attempted to talk about my tarot-related beliefs by comparing or contrasting them with other tarot-related beliefs out there, and that has most certainly gotten me into trouble. People read that as meaning I think my way is superior, or I am being demeaning toward their way, and that is most certainly never my intention. To say, “Well I didn’t intend to…” isn’t enough, however. When people’s feelings get hurt, people’s feelings get hurt. I was still at fault, whatever my intention. So now I try to learn from that mistake and be mindful of the way I talk about my beliefs. I try to make sure I’m only talking about me, and do not refer to contrasting ways of thought.
Lisa, I am overjoyed about our connection here and am so glad we have had this amazing opportunity to talk. If I may end with one final question for you…
Lisa, what do you hope is the legacy you leave behind? This includes being a tarot practitioner but goes beyond that to include all of your spiritual practices, body of spiritual writing, and the lives you’ve touched through your divinatory work. What do you hope that legacy is?
Likewise! It has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you like this, Benebell. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and bring the light of your wisdom to show the way for aspiring young readers and old pros alike.
You are right, of course. People will believe what they believe until they are ready to do otherwise – or not, as the case may be. I often disagree with my own opinion from a year ago, so who am I to tell people theirs is wrong? But perhaps it is not so much about that. Perhaps dispelling the myth and clearing up old superstitions is about sharing our experience of how Holistic Tarot can be used to improve people’s lives, mine included.
And in answer to your final question: To have made the world a little more beautiful.
Thank you again, for taking time out of your very busy schedule for this, Benebell!