Holly's Rider-Waite Site

Personal Stuff - What a Long Strange Journey It's Been!

James Wardle

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.

It was an adventure from start to finish and I had to learn all kinds of new things, often against my wishes.

On Thursday, June 23rd, I picked the truck up from UHaul. I thought it would be a good idea to move my stuff myself, driving the truck. Hah! I rented a 24' truck, thinking that would hold all my stuff but still worrying whether or not it would. Where did all that stuff come from??? It is a very different thing driving a truck that big. I drive a Nissan Sentra, which is a smallish car. This truck was enormous! I managed to make it to my mother's house to pick up some furniture. We got it loaded with the dresser and coffee table and end tables and miscellaneous other stuff. Still plenty of room inside. So far.

The next stop was to a gas station to fill the tank up the rest of the way. Wow! $75 for gas for half a tank. That is going to be a new experience.

My cousin Hank helped me back the big beast into my parking space at my apartment. No one to the west of me can use the sidewalk - they have to walk around the truck since the back end is hanging over the sidewalk. Other friends come over to help me load the small overhang/attic space with my delicate treasures - Christmas ornaments and such, along with clothes. See later for why clothes in the front of the truck is a bad idea.

I have my whole life packed up by now though I still have to disassemble my desk. I do that, thinking all the while I could just buy a new one and save the trouble. But no, I have to take it with me.

It's time to sleep now because I've taken everything apart so I have no TV or movies and I can't find the radio. All the books are packed too.

I get up early on Friday because the burly men I hired to load my truck are due in at 9 AM. Sophie the cat and I sit out in the backyard for the last time. About quarter to 9 I try to herd her into the bathroom where she will be out of the way, but wait! The movers are here. I manage to get her into the bathroom where she unhappily sat for 4 hours. The movers are all from Russia and are very nice and efficient. They keep saying there is no problem with all my stuff. So many books, lots of bookcases, and a bit of furniture. They do manage to get all of it loaded into the truck. Now, all I have to do is drive it 1000 miles. After I pick up the car carrier to put my car on and tow behind the truck. I call the apartment complex where I'm trying to get a place to live. It's mine! One less thing to worry about.

My mother is over now with her stuff for the trip. I get the cat out of the bathroom and into the travelling box. She is not happy (the cat). We drive to UHaul to get the car carrier hitched to the truck. Then, to the interstate to drive to Washington.

The truck drives quite a bit differently fully loaded with a car towed behind it. I really can't see the back end of this parade I'm driving, which the man at UHaul said I'm about 50' long now. Mom, the cat, and I are on the interstate now. It's about 2 PM in the afternoon and I'd like to get a bunch of road behind me and make it to Oregon if I can.

Just south of Tremonton (not that far from the Utah-Idaho border) traffic comes to a stop. For 2 hours. I knew it! Utah is not going to let me go that easily! It turns out it is merely a lane closing and traffic has one lane to drive through. Only in Utah can this be a catastrophic event! We finally get through the mess and at last make it into Idaho. I have made it out of Utah!

There's quite a bit of wind on the road and it is very difficult to keep the truck in the lane. My arms are aching and I have to keep two hands on the wheel at all times. There are a few hills and the truck slows down to 35 miles per hour on the uphill. This is a portent of things to come. There's a stop for gasoline. $91. The first of several big gas bills. I'm getting rather tired from the driving and in Boise Idaho we find a motel. This is yet another challenge. They will take the cat (who has been remarkably quiet through the trip - she must have been a gypsy in a previous life). However, I have to park the truck behind the building. This doesn't make me too happy but it is a place to sleep. I just have to make wide turns with everything. I manage to park the truck and then go to look at how I have to get the truck back out onto the road. Well, if all the cars leave their spaces, I can get it out back onto the highway. That's a worry for tomorrow. We've driven 350 miles or so.

We get in the motel room and let the cat out of the box. She immediately runs under the bed. She does come out later and investigates the room. She's doing fine with all this change. We all go to sleep. In the morning, we all start the watch for people leaving the motel so I can get the truck back on the road. By 10 AM enough cars have left for me to get the truck back on the road. The cat goes back into the cat cage. She sleeps the whole way. I wish I could. On towards Oregon!

We leave Idaho for Oregon. That part of Oregon has rolling hills, mountain foothills and the truck takes most of them at 25-35 miles per hour uphill. The downhill never seems to make up the pace. The wind is bad too so I'm not driving all that fast. The hills never end. Hours and hours of hills. I'm tired of them by now. I will never never complain about being trapped behind a slow-moving UHaul truck. I know what it is like now. Another fill up of the gas tank for $120. We cross the Columbia River and get into Washington. Hooray!

More hills and mountains. More slow driving. I'm tired again from all that work of keeping the truck on the road. I want to get past Yakima which did not impress me much the last time I drove through it. We get to the highway change at Ellensburg. There's no room at any inn. There are conventions and reunions and every motel, hotel, inn is booked up clear into Seattle. This is bad news. We have to sleep in the truck. We make it to the next rest stop, park the truck, and work out how to sleep in the truck. The rest stops in Washington are nice as they serve free coffee (and cookies for a donation - nice ladies run that operation). The cat cage is in the middle of the seat. Mom is sleeping on the right. I'm sleeping on the left (with the cat box and cat food at my feet). Not very comfortable, but we manage. The cat is free in the truck and checking out the scenery. She settles in with Mom because there is a better view there (my side only looks at another truck). Another 400 or so miles. That seems to be my limit for driving the truck.

We are in the Cascade Mountains. It is windy but doesn't get too cold. We wake up at 5 AM with the dawn. Cat back in the cage. She knows this game by now. Get back on the road. We are less than 100 miles from Seattle and then less that another 100 miles from Bellingham. It's all downhill from here. Literally. Uphill at 25 miles an hour; downhill at 45 miles an hour. I'm very tired by now. One more gas fill up. Another $120. The road is much wider now - there are ski resorts here and the road is empty this Sunday morning so I'm doing okay. We take a side route around Seattle proper. Amber and I got stuck in traffic for more than 45 minutes on a previous trip, so I wanted to avoid the city itself. Final road change and we are on the way to Bellingham.

It was a very beautiful drive with real trees and green and now more traffic, sigh. We find the exit to the UHaul drop-off point and get there. It is fortunately close to where I was trying to get an apartment. The guys there get the car off the car carrier and agree to keep the truck overnight. That solves a major problem - where to put that truck! Mom, the cat, and I get into the car to drive to Sharon's house. Oh yeah, the car was filled with all those plants I couldn't leave behind. They are a bit fried from the trip (Note To Self: drown the plants before you leave; water in between). They go into the cab of the truck while we go looking for Sharon's. Driving the car is a pure joy compared to driving that truck. I'm loving it!

Back onto the highway to find Sharon and a place to stay. We get there and the cat goes out of the cage and into the garage. Sharon has a cat too and I don't want cat-wars happening. Sharon feeds us and I then decide I'll sleep in the spare room with the cat. She's not happy in the garage. Too many strange things have been going on and the garage just isn't working. I'm happy to be in Bellingham on the shores of Lake Whatcom and not driving the truck. Tomorrow is the last day of that. I have no clean clothes to wear. The trip took one day longer than I thought. The clothes are in the front of the truck. Not a clever idea. Nothing to be done for it.

Monday comes. I try some phone numbers to get burly guys to unload my truck. Lots of answering machines (no help - I don't have a cell phone) or replies that they are booked up for weeks. Things are not looking good at the very end. We all get back into the car. Mom at my side; Sophie in her cage. Back to UHaul to pick up the truck (for the last time!) and go to the apartment. I meet the manager and do all the paperwork. I finally get to see what I'm moving into. It's on the ground floor and probably the same size as what I lived in before. Just better laid out. Nice patio, small, with a view of the wetlands. Lots of birds. The cat will be excited. I back the truck up to the apartment (with Mom's help) and take the cat out of her cage (for the last time). She investigates the new place, probably wondering how many more times she is changing locations. I get all the plants onto the patio. They don't look happy but they're here now. I open up the truck, tell my mother to only move the easy stuff out while I go looking for someone to unload my stuff (where did all that stuff come from??). I go to a place recommended by the UHaul guy. They are booked up but try the phone number of a free-lancer. Another answering machine. Sigh. This looks very bad. As I'm walking out the door, the guy calls back and agrees to unload my truck. Hooray! I don't have to unload my stuff (I'm too old to do that, though not to acquire it). He'll be over in an hour. Life looks much better now. I go to Fred Meyer's (my new favorite close place to pick up all those little things needed to keep a household - very big store with everything. Must find a cheaper place to shop eventually) to get some lunch and odd stuff and go to the apartment. The cat goes back into the bathroom. John, the mover, shows up and he and his son unload my truck (after backing it up better than I did). They are my saviors! They do a great job and now I am sitting in my new apartment, filled with boxes. I take the truck back to UHaul. No more driving that big beast! They get a truck with a full tank of gas (I only had to return it with half) but I don't care. I don't have to drive the truck anymore! Back to the apartment and find the necessities - coffee pot, bathroom stuff. The cat is out of the bathroom and investigating all the stuff. She remembers most of it - it is all in another location now. Some unpacking and then to bed. My own bed. Very nice.

You know, there are cars that have bumper stickers that say "God is my co-pilot." Mom was my co-pilot and I'll take her any day. I would not have made it up here without her. The trip was much harder and slower than I thought it would be. She kept me driving with good conversation, encouragement, and steered me around things I couldn't see.

The cat was a trouper. She slept most of the way. Except when she was poking me through the cage bars. I never imagined she would take the trip so well. Of course now she is happy to be home. Discovering the birds and new smells and sights. She hasn't seen a slug yet, but I'm sure she will.

Slugs. They're everywhere. Early in the morning. I'll just have to watch where I walk.

Mom helped me unpack for a day and then left to go back to Salt Lake. She was great help. The plane flight from Bellingham to SLC went well. Now I know that it is okay to take the shuttle plane from Bellingham to Seattle. I don't have to drive to Seattle, yeah! I live right by the airport, but since it is very small and usually only handles commuter planes, it is no bother. I heard more planes living in Salt Lake. I mostly hear birds. All day long. The crows discovered the cat and had lots to say about her. She ran back into the house. They have her number!

I'm still unpacking. I got rid of one bookcase too many and will have problems with that. I'm not dealing with that right now. I found a post office yesterday. Learned some new things. Driving around this town will be a challenge but I have a map now so I may get braver and expand my horizons. I have to. Oh yeah, getting a job will make this all so much better. Another week of unpacking and I will get serious about that.

All in all I really like it in Bellingham. The scenery is beautiful with big, green trees (something I forgot about in Utah) and the climate is more pleasant, much cooler than Utah. I'm only 20 miles from Vancouver and the rest of Canada. I'll have to visit there. Water is right there, Bellingham Bay and then the Pacific Ocean. That's a big change for me. The people are friendly and there are much fewer of them, only 80,000 compared to over a million in SLC. I get Canadian radio much better than US radio. That's a different perspective. Rather nice. And, I don't have to drive that truck anymore!

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.
And of course, there's the issue of "what happens to this collection when I'm dead?" This is something that has concerned me for some time, even before the big purchase, and is even more compelling now, as I get older. My desire is to have the entire collection left intact for others to use. The collection is genuinely too large for one person (even myself), and a large part of the reason I bought Wardle's collection was because it would have been a tragedy for a man's life work to be broken up. Well, now it's both our life's work, and I don't want it dispersed because both of us have done good and valuable things with the subject. And anyways, I am sure people would want to see the Tarot tea towel set. And the plates. And the refrigerator magnets. And the prints. And the personal reference notes from both of us. And our correspondences.

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!"




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