II acquired my first deck in about 1973 or 1974 (the memory gets cloudy over the years!) from my mother who had learned to read the card a few years earlier (thanks Mom for sending me down the road to ruin!). The deck was a University Books edition RWS. Mom wound up missing that particular deck and traded me out for the new one she acquired, which was a 1971 US Games version (see ramblings on Card Backs for how to tell the difference (which printing? Only God and Stuart Kaplan know as I no longer have the LWB. See NumberLine on how to read all that information in the front of the booklet.). I studied and cross-indexed and generally beat to hell my copy of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1971, Harper & Row, PB). I still recommend that book to people beginning a Tarot study, and not because it's the best book out there. It surely is NOT! Arth writes in a ponderous, turgid style that hints at much and reveals little. It is an exercise in perseverance to finish the book, and one ends not particularly better off for the process, EXCEPT FOR . . . . the Bibliography (make sure you pick up one with that part included. Many recent editions eliminate it.). In that part, Arth gives detailed commentary on the occult/Tarot literature of his day, liberally sprinkled with acid. I consider that piece the best part of the book, as it developed and honed my personal BS detector, which is a valuable asset considering the wealth of junk being published as fact about Tarot. Of course, Arth himself was guilty of indulging in specious speculations also, but golly, you don't have to buy his viewpoint to use his deck. It stands on its own. I recently reread the book and though it is still ponderous and obscure, it is much better than I remembered. There actually is quite a bit of wisdom in it.
On to the saga of my obsession with early editions of this deck. I have no idea what the year was, but Mom (again being a bad influence on me) and I went to a trunk sale. Most of the time this is merely an afternoon spent wondering at all the junk people will pay money for. On this particular occasion there was a vendor who had two decks of Tarot cards in boxes. I looked at one, and it was a RWS with a card back I hadn't seen before and a book. The other box had only a deck. The vendors were completely ignorant of Tarot, and said they ordered the cards to match the book. For some unknown reason, I HAD TO HAVE THAT DECK! Of course I was a bit short of cash, and Mom bailed me out for the one deck with the book. For the next several weeks I was walking on air - and I wasn't even collecting at that time! (Of course I had managed to acquire the Aquarian and Thoth by then, but that's hardly a collection.) I checked the date on the book, which was 1910, and was delighted to believe I had a first edition RWS for very little money (okay, it was $40).
Time passes. The curtains flutter in the window. I finally get flush enough to subscribe to Manteia magazine, which I had heard was the finest Tarot periodical around (this is sometime in '94 or '95). I send money off for the subscription and all the back issues (I have a completion complex). Some time later, I get a package from Denmark wrapped in fluorescent green-yellow custom's tape (checking for that dratted Tarot pornography no doubt!). All the issues are there and a note from Frank Jensen announcing that Manteia will be ceasing publication. This of course is "just my luck", as I was to discover as I spent the next few weeks devouring the issues. The world of Tarot got quite a bit larger from reading those issues. So it was a happy/sad time. Frank has written a book, The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot, which is available here. It is an excellent reference and historical guide. He also has a website here.
I had of course acquired several more decks and books and such by then. Okay, I confess. I was collecting Tarot by then, as having 120+ decks and 100+ books is hardly just routine. I however, did not have a RWS obsession, really, I promise.
Around that time, I joined the computer age beyond Pong. There were several attempts to catalog the decks and books I had, all of which managed to become lost in various different formats and save options (I still have enormous faith in hard-copy!). I found out about the Tarot-L mailgroup and joined. Previous discussion groups on AOL seemed to never get beyond the "what deck should I first use?" stage. This was a new adventure, and the Tarot world got larger again. There was (and is) discussion about a wide variety of topics, many of which I have no clue about, and precious little interest. But it does provide vast amounts of knowledgeable knowledge on many topics I am interested in. Tarot-L is now on YahooGroups. Comparative Tarot, also on YahooGroups is also very good. Aeclectic Tarot is fantastic.
In 1996 I heard about the ITS (International Tarot Society)
World Tarot Congress, to be held in Chicago in 1997. I decided
that was something I had to go to (it doesn't hurt that I have
family in that city, and could accomplish two purposes at once!).
That particular event was quite the cosmic life-changer. I got
to meet so many of the Tarot "greats" that I had only
worshiped from afar, or heard chatting on Tarot-L. They were
Real People, and the Tarot-L pizza party was an event to remember
and cherish, as was the entire Congress. Of course, riding down
the elevator and chatting with Eden Gray was special also. As
was seeing everyone from Tarot-L's contribution to the Dollie
Tarot (some serious doll redesigning happened with that!). When
I got back to SLC, I was again walking on clouds for weeks, for
my little mind had been bent and expanded with all sorts of new
ideas (and new decks and new books and new friends and. . .).
(The ITS is sadly no longer in existence.)
After that great adventure, I decided to try to make it to BATS (Bay Area Tarot Symposium), as I had met Thalassa in Chicago and found a separated-at-birth sister. My first BATS (Bay Area Tarot Symposium) in May of 1998 was a continuation of the Tarot high. I, for some reason couldn't/didn't book a hotel, and did an "in by 9, out by 6" fly-in, learn, fly-out of SF (during Thalassa's lecture, I drew the Fool as my card, which seemed entirely appropriate!).
June, 1998. The American Tarot Association (ATA) is holding a conference in Denver. Well, that's just over the mountains from me, so I decide to go (I've turned into the little Tarot social butterfly and conference junkie!). I have no words to describe the Denver airport and my plane landing there (though kinda sideways tilted was a new and invigorating experience which I hope never to repeat! Next time I drive!). And there was the eternal trek to find the exit. . . and the silly talking train. . . . That conference was again a chance to meet many of the people from Tarot-L and the Chicago conference again. But somehow the overall experience was not quite so mind bending as Chicago. I don't know whether I had changed or what, but I somehow wound up getting irritated and challenged. I think it was the heavy emphasis on Kabbalah and Tarot that did me in (words that should NEVER be used together in my presence, except under special and limited circumstances!). But the upshot from the whole thing was that I had developed a new use for the two concepts as a result of that irritation. I came up with the Heretic's Dance on the Tree of Life, which I presented at BATS in October of 1998 in a rather chaotic fashion (it has since become rather tighter and more coherent). I am eternally grateful for that Denver experience as it stimulated me to actually DO something! Of course, part of the catalyst was Rachel Pollack from ITS in Chicago, for which she may not be held accountable.
The American Tarot Association has recently been reorganized after a rather nasty bit of turmoil. I understand it is better now.
July, 1998. I had gone to the big swap meet at the Redwood
Drive-In to kill a Saturday morning. Before that was a stop for
bagels and coffee and a pickup of the current Catalyst magazine.
After the swap meet, I sat down on the sofa to read. In that
issue was an article titled "The Solon of State Street -
James Wardle". I read through the article and flung the
magazine out of my hands. Before it hit the ground, I was out
the door with my car keys driving down to Ken Sander's Bookstore.
Time for an expository aside on James Wardle. He was a barber in SLC, and I had heard about him several years back and that he had a large Tarot collection. For some unknown reason, possibly related to Tarot-envy, I never met the man. That was my loss. I've gotten over it. Mostly.
It seems James Wardle died in October of 1997, and Ken Sanders had acquired his Tarot collection, along with several other collections of his (UFO's, general occult, etc.). I get to the store, and Ken is not there. I talk with his daughter, who says he'll be in on Monday. That's an eternity, but I have to wait. On Monday, I slink out of work early, and get to meet Ken. I express my interest in Wardle's collection. He takes me in the back to see it. We're talking about two seven foot high racks stuffed with decks and two seven foot high racks stuffed with books, plus miscellaneous stuff in boxes. I am seriously drooling. I ask Ken what he wants for the collection. He quotes a number. I don't throw up. I ask him how much for just the decks, as I had more than half the books already. He hems and haws. I get no real answer, but emphasize as rationally as I can that I'm interested in buying the decks. I get home and start emailing and annoying several people I've met through all my conference fluttering about how much some such collection would be worth. They kindly help me out and said they had no idea. Much encouragement came though. I'm still negotiating with Ken about the decks. I offer to announce the book collection on Tarot-L, and he agrees (after of course, I had pulled the titles I wanted!). Well, Ken is then able to put together the "Tarot Top Five Desired Booklist", of which I had grabbed number one, Dummet's Tarot from Ferrara to Salt Lake City (which I remember seeing in Ken's previous store, Cosmic Aeroplane, and saying "I'll pick it up someday". Boy howdy did I!). He of course discovers that no one is going to be the enormous Tarot Fool and take the whole lot off his hands. More bargaining power for me. I massage all my resources and make an offer for the whole lot, minus the books I didn't want. Ken accepts. I am delirious. We exchange coin of the realm. I have the collection. (Happy Dance time!!)
I am now faced with a serious space problem. I have had a
very bad book habit over the years, and filled my place with
them. Time to readjust priorities. I make hard decisions and
dump out several dozen boxes of books, to various used booksellers
(including Ken) and to friends. The Tarot collection, as it now
stands, has eaten my spare bedroom, and is threatening to consume
more living space, and it's not even especially well organized
due to space constraints. Auxiliary interests are shed. I am
focused now. There is no room in my life (or house) for anything
else (and to think it only took 40-some years to figure it out!).
And I am now poor. Sigh. It was a price well worth paying. I
am now a collector. I admit it. I embrace it. I don't apologize.
I am getting rather creative about living on nothing.
Now of course, I'm going to have to spend several years cataloging and archiving all the material I now have. The Tarot Garden has a very spiffy and useful database for cataloguing and I am now using that. It has several very useful functions and I highly recommend it. I haven't been actively collecting much lately, only the odd RWS variant that catches my eye (and checkbook). I've been concentrating more on the works of Pamela Colman Smith. But, the occasional deck does make its way into the clutter.
The year 2004 was very traumatic for me. Several people died and I wound up reevaluating my life. I had always had a hankering to life in the Pacific Northwest and went in May 2005 to visit a friend who had moved there. On the trip back I decided I would move there. I had no place to live there, no promise of a job there, but I decided this was one dream that I could no longer delay. So three weeks later, I'm off and moving to Bellingham, Washington. The next bit is from an email I sent to friends to let them know what I had done. Note: Gas was around $3-and something a gallon. The UHaul truck managed about 6 miles per gallon, fully loaded.
The long move from Salt Lake City to Bellingham Washington
is over. The driving part at least. The unpacking part will go
on for some time.
I'm employed now at a job I like. I still love the area and
often sit out on my porch and say, "I am happy." That
is a rather novel sentiment for me, but there you are.
In 2007 at BATS, at the Salon, I mentioned my concern about the collection and how I would like to see it as a resource for other people when I'm gone. I would donate it to a Tarot museum if there was ever such a thing. Thalassa looks up and says the Daughters of Divination is going non-profit and one of the things they want to do is have a Tarot museum. I tell her my collection is hers when that is accomplished. We both stare at each other, stunned and awed. We had just made a sacred promise to each other. This collection is my legacy and now I am content. It will have a home when I am shuffled back into the deck.
I would also like to thank Mary Greer for answering my somewhat snippy question "Does the world really need another Tarot website?" She suggested I do this one. She was right.
Of course now that I have found my life's work, finding the time to do the referencing has been difficult. I also discovered I love to teach, mostly heretical, radical approaches to using and appreciating the Tarot and Kabbalah - to push the edges is my delight! Since I've moved to Bellingham I've joined the local Tarot MeetUp and still speak yearly at BATS. Who knows, I might just start teaching again. After the 2008 BATS and all the inspiration and information I got from that I am reinvigorated and eager to finally finish that dratted Tarot book now that I have learned of options that don't require me to compromise myself too much. I'm still acquiring decks and books, though at a slower pace. And I'm still sitting on the porch saying, "I'm darned happy!"