Tag Archives: tarot school

Tarot School Correspondence Course Review

IMG_3634I signed up for the Tarot School Correspondence Course in May of 2012. I’d been flirting with the idea for several months. I picked up my first pack of tarot cards back when I was thirteen (I’m in my thirties now) and had taught myself to use them by reading books and practicing on friends. I was well-read, but not particularly experienced, and definitely not confident.

My professional life is in academia and teaching, so I’m a big fan of organized learning. I need a lot of structure, whether I’m creating it for myself or working though someone else’s. I was interested in applying some of the same formalities to my own studies of tarot: set reading materials, homework, practice activities, and feedback from an expert I respected and trusted.

There are a lot of tarot courses available online and through correspondence (nevermind the countless books that provide all kinds of curriculae, to the point of being overwhelming). I don’t remember exactly how I found Tarot School; I think it was while researching tarot certification programs. The Amberstones have a couple of published books, a number of shorter audio courses available online, in-person workshops in New York City, and, of course, they’re responsible for the Readers Studio. Their reputation precedes them, so I felt pretty comfortable committing to this course (and chose it over others because of the promised one-on-one attention).

Just to be sure, I purchased one of the audio courses (as a bonus, it was on sale already in recognition of World Tarot Day, and I even had a coupon from signing up for the Tarot Tips newsletter). Over the course of a couple of weeks, I listened to these recordings, taking detailed notes and repeatedly having my mind blown just by listening to the ensuing discussions (the audio courses are recordings of live classes, so you get the added benefit of other students’ questions and commentary, with the Amberstones’ unfiltered responses). I was hooked. I knew that the full Correspondence Course would be worthwhile.

The Cost

The Correspondence Course isn’t cheap; there’s no two-ways about it. You have the option of paying for just the materials and working without outside guidance, which is only a fraction of the price of the full course (and significantly less appealing, in my mind, for reasons I’ll get to). You can also pay a little bit more than the full cost and submit your work via e-mail, which can save time, paper, and the hassle of dealing with the postal system.

I reasoned that it wasn’t any more expensive than one of my university classes (I was in graduate school at the time), and would likely be a good investment if I could turn my work into a professional tarot business. I was also allowed to pay in monthly installments, so the overall cost was bearable. There are courses offered for half the cost elsewhere (even some that offer “certification”), but I haven’t seen one that offers nearly the information, experience, or feedback offered at Tarot School.

But the real benefit of this course is the one-on-one time with Wald Amberstone, and that’s what I feel like I’m paying for. In my household, we joke that it’s a little like calling Yoda and talking about the Force (“EVERYBODY SHUT AND STOP BOTHERING ME UP IT’S TIME TO CALL WALD AND ABSORB WISDOM”). Wald’s experience in tarot is practically unparalleled, and his work has led him to be informed in a number of related subjects. My thinking tends to be abstract and often wanders into other occult subjects, and he has never failed to challenge me. Not once has he spouted self-help platitudes at me, for which I couldn’t be more grateful. He’s totally unpretentious, and always willing to say “I don’t know” if that’s what the question calls for. Our conversations last anywhere from forty minutes to a bit over an hour, and I look forward to them immensely. He doesn’t critique my work, per se, but rather draws connections and observes patterns that escape me on my own. If I had questions in my writing, he answers them. Mostly, he energizes my work, not just in tarot, but also as an occultist in the Western tradition. My conversations with Wald have even impacted my thinking as a Gardnerian witch, which I think is saying something.

The Time

On Tarot School’s website, we’re told to allow about three years to finish the whole course and earn the degree. I’ve never had conversations with other Correspondence Course students, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of this figure, but I’m moving at a much slower rate than that. Between my assorted jobs, writing professionally, running a Wiccan coven, and periodically entertaining the fantasy of a social life, it takes me about five months to finish a correspondence course lesson.

To be fair, I’m also a bit of a freak when it comes to these assignments. The minimum number of pages for each activity (and there might be 20-40 activities that require a writing component in each lesson) is one, with a max of five. The completed lessons I turn in are generally about 50 to 75 pages of original writing. Even if you stick to the minimum, you will have written the equivalent of a ginormous book by the time you’ve finished this course. It’s a lot of work, it requires a lot of time, and I don’t doubt that many people simply aren’t inclined to put in that much effort. Even if you only do the bare minimum, you’re still producing something enormous and profound. You have to be self-motivated.

You can do it all at your own pace, though. If you’re disciplined and patient with yourself, it’s doable. Wald is a phone call away (and always enthused and encouraging…I even butt-dialed him once), and there are outside resources listed throughout the course that can be helpful. If you’re a correspondence course junkie, I’d recommend toning it down and just focusing on this one, just for the sake of time. There’s a lot to be had here, particularly if you give it your full attention.

The Result

Since beginning work on the Tarot School Correspondence Course, I’ve become a professional reader. I have a website, a blog, and a practice out of a local storefront. I don’t make my living at tarot, but I have made enough money to cover the cost of the course several times over.

I have a handle on some of the most commonly avoided tarot-related subjects: Qabalah, astrology, and alchemy. You can choose to ignore those things down the road if they’re not your thing, but they’re no longer intimidating or irrelevant to my tarot practice. I’m excited about them now.

I have my own gigantic body of original writing (whether it’s journaling or more formal essays about particular cards or concepts) upon which to draw when I get stuck or just need to be inspired. I also have a strong enough foundation in a variety of tarot-related subjects, so it’s easier to recognize good sources when I’m looking to expand into some other tarot realm.

I’ve got a mentor I trust.

I’ve developed the confidence to reach out to other tarot communities (through Tarot School, locally, and through other online sources), making new friends, learning tons of things it had never even occurred to me to know.

And I’m barely halfway through the course, three years later. So ask me again in another three years!

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Tarot Contemplations: The Magician

IMG_6143Here’s an oldie pulled from the massive Archive of Things Written by Thorn.  The following essay was written in September of 2013 and specifically for my own tarot teacher, Wald Amberstone, as part of the Tarot School’s correspondence course.  I make a couple of references to course material, but I think it’s clear enough for a general readership. Enjoy!

The following section on The Magician was written after a long evening spent reading and considering social theorist Pierre Bourdieu.

It’s relatively easy to assert that the central meaning of The Magician is will.  Anyone who has been involved in any kind of magical practice or community for any length of time has heard that magic is change occurring in conformity to will, that one must possess will to work magic, that magic is only as strong as the magician’s will, etcetera ad nauseum.  These sometimes come to sound like platitudes.  They are true, of course, but I don’t think that many of the people making such statements (often casually and in the format of New Age self-help) are aware of just how profound a thing Will is.  In contemplating The Magician, I think about the role that Will plays (or doesn’t) in my own life.

When I was an undergraduate music major, I was involved in countless conversations about talent.  Brilliant musicians are often described by laymen as “talented” or “gifted,” and treated as though they possess something supernatural.  And, indeed, some people seem to possess inborn aptitudes that feel almost magical.  But in music school, we saw things very differently than the people sitting in our audiences or listening to our recordings.  Behind practically every “talented” musician are thousands of hours spent practicing, listening, and analyzing.  Students who were more “gifted” than others—prodigies—almost always came from musical families, where their training began sooner or was carried out in greater depth.  If not, they simply spent more hours sealed away in practice rooms than the rest of us.  Those who would chock things up to “talent” were often excusing themselves from working as hard (in the case of jealous classmates), creating theologies that justified their innate specialness (in the case of the prodigies themselves), or simply mystified and engaging in magical thinking (in the case of nonmusicians).  Usually, none of this is conscious—most of us believe in talent, even if intellectually we can explain it away.

I tell this anecdote because for me The Magician is that Will that creates the prodigy.  The prodigy makes it look effortless and mystifies his audience, even though intellectually we understand that, obviously, he practices a lot.  We would describe him as talented or gifted, but that’s never the whole story (and maybe not part of the story at all).  In the Transcendent Interpretation, you describe him as “the embodiment of surrender,” and this to me is most apt.  Keeping with my musician analogy, the prodigy is a prodigy at the expense of a great many other things.  I was no prodigy, but there were days when even I didn’t see sunlight because I was buried in a basement practice room all day.   Our Will drives us to be great at whatever our Craft is, but at great personal sacrifice.  We surrender much of what we would call “ourselves” in order to be great.

And most people, of course, are not prodigies.  Very few of us—an almost insignificant few—were graced with the social locations, time, and resources to pursue greatness.  But I believe (and a number of scholars in the fields of education, psychology, and cognitive science would agree with me) that we all possess that potential.  We are not all The Magician, but we all could be or could have been given the proper circumstances.

The Magician for me is the unshakable impulse to keep pushing myself to achieve.  Every time I lose the day, forget to eat, and finish whatever academic project I’m working on, and do so with joy, I am The Magician.  My work is not effortless, but it feels effortless and often looks effortless to outsiders.  My best friend thinks that I’m smarter than her, but the reality is just that I spend more time practicing the sorts of things that we associate with smart people: reading, writing, making connections, retaining information, etc.  I had to be taught how to do those things, and I had to practice them for countless hours.  And it is Will that drives me to continue doing them.  It no longer even feels like a decision that I make every day—it’s just what I do now.

So the central meaning of The Magician is Will, but for me it’s more profound than just the decision to do something.  It’s heavier than the simple act of setting a goal and deciding to work towards it.  The Will of The Magician occurs at the point where what was initially a simple decision (“I’m going to play the violin.”) becomes so much a part of what you are that you almost forget ever having made that decision (“I am a musician.”).

Is certification worth it?

IMG_3634I love pretending that there are tangible, truly objective ways to measure nebulous things like experience, intelligence, or aptitude. Formal schooling is all about this sort of thing, and my whole life has been instance after instance of trying to measure up to imposed standards, jumping through hoops, and earning letters after my name. My degrees make me feel like I’ve accomplished something, and they (theoretically) convey that accomplishment to other people in meaningful ways:

“Oh, wow, she went to college, like, four times. She can totally work a cash register. Let’s start her at $7.25 an hour.”

But as much as I love school (not even kidding) and as much as I believe in formal education and having agreed upon standards, I also know that no system is perfect. I have seen firsthand how SAT scores, grades, and degrees are not always reliable measures for competence, long-term performance, intelligence, and a lot of other things that we often take for granted. Working in academia quickly taught me that having a Ph.D. in the humanities is often only a reliable indicator of two things: your capacity for withstanding bullshit and how much money you have laying around. Bright students can flunk out, the incompetent can win praise, and countless others will never have the chance one way or the other simply because they have been arbitrarily denied access.

Formal education might be one of the better indicators of experience, ability, and potential that we have, but obviously it is a problematic system.

Tarot certification is much the same, on a smaller scale.

The first problem, of course, is that there is no universal standard for what makes a competent tarot reader, worthy of the client’s time and money. A university must earn accreditation through an external board of reviewers according to standards that are applied to all other universities of its type (and fork over a shit ton of money in the process). A tarot reader can only be measured according to the standards established by what is usually a private business (often owned by only one or two people) interested primarily in generating a profit (which is not a criticism—money is awesome—but let’s be honest).

There have been organizations in the past (such as the now defunct American Board for Tarot Certification) that have attempted to establish more objective standards for readers, awarding titles like “apprentice” and “master” and even “grandmaster,” but these often only guarantee that the so-titled has passed a series of online quizzes and essays, perhaps published in some capacity, or performed a certain number of readings (with testimonies provided by clients who could just as easily be conspiring friends). While these might be likely indicators of ability (like college), they are only surely indicators of free time (and, hopefully, professional commitment to tarot), expendable income (because there are fees all along the way), and perhaps writing and networking abilities. It does not guarantee the ability to give a great reading.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m totally nay-saying certification. I’m not.

Like formal schooling in other disciplines, determining whether or not they’ve undergone any kind of certification (or even just attended workshops or classes) is still a useful way for potential clients to gauge a reader’s experience. It doesn’t mean that they’re definitely going to be a better reader than someone who taught themselves and just works out of their tent at summer festivals, but it at least tells you that they’re committed enough to tarot to further their studies in a (usually) more rigorous ways.

It’s not a guarantee, but if this was a racetrack and you were placing bets, you’d be better off choosing the person with some kind formalized training. As a client, you still might lose in the end, but the odds are better.

As a reader, my own work with certification has been enormously beneficial. Studying with the Tarot School doesn’t make me a “certified” anything per se, but I do get to talk about fancy “degree” levels. Will it mean anything to a client that I’m working on a degree through Tarot School? Probably not. It usually doesn’t mean anything to other readers beyond HOLY SHIT THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY (correct, but thus far cheaper and with greater profit margins than my entire graduate career). But I’m a completely different sort of reader because of it, and my experience with and knowledge of tarot has developed to such an extent that I can hardly believe I ever thought myself competent beforehand.

Tarot School is quite a bit more academic than a lot of other available programs (not to mention longer), and absolutely will not appeal to everyone (nevermind the cost). There are a lot of others to choose from. The Tarosophy Tarot Association has about a dozen classes (including its own degree program) that I’d love to take, including a “Tarot Certificate” course. Biddy Tarot is another popular site (and, I believe, a sole proprietorship) that offers a kind of certification, though I can’t personally speak to the quality of the material (I know I’ve got some followers who can, though).

If you’re considering certification, my advice would be to go for it as long as it’s affordable. It’s certainly possible to be successful without it, and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a better reader. But you probably will be. It demonstrates seriousness to potential clients, helps you to meet others, hopefully challenges you to consider things in a different light, and will almost surely make you more confident.