Elizabeth Hazel wears many hats including astrologer, author, deck creator and columnist. She is the editor of the American Tarot Association's members-only Quarterly. Her book, Tarot Decoded (Weiser Books, 2004) is the first handbook of tarot dignities, and gives a wide range of techniques for expanding tarot readings using numbers and astrology. She is available for consultations. You can reach her at http://www.kozmic-kitchen.com.
When Lynn of U.S. Games asked who or what inspired them to study Tarot, Elizabeth responded with such an intriguing answer, that we asked her to expand upon it. Enjoy her very interesting response.
My hometown library was split into two sections. The kids’ books were shelved on one side of the central walkway, and the adult books were on the other side. By the time I was nine I'd read all the books in the kids’ section. The librarians wouldn't let me read the books in the adult section. All that was left was the encyclopedias. These were shelved along the central walkway for easy access.
So I read the encyclopedias. In order. When I got to "C" in the Encyclopedia Britannica, there was an article on "Cards." Most of it was about playing cards, but at the end there were some pictures of tarot cards. They seemed awfully familiar. I had to have them!
A ten-year-old kid is pretty much at the mercy of parents when it comes to shopping. Whenever we went to a store or to the new mall, I searched and searched for a deck of tarot cards. Finally I came across a magic shop. I was thrilled when I discovered tarot decks in the big glass case under the cash register. I had saved up the allowance I got for doing chores, so I could afford them. I bought the Aquarian Tarot because the drawings and bright colors reminded me of Peter Max. Yes, I was an art snob at ten.
There was a LWB included with the deck, but it was very basic. I went back to the magic shop a month later and looked at the other tarot decks. The one that really attracted me was the Thoth Tarot. The shopkeeper didn't want to sell it to me, and tried to discourage me. I haggled with him until he sold it to me. I was about eleven years old at the time. I still have both of those decks…and hundreds more.
Looking back, both the Aquarian and Thoth tarots were very recent releases in the early 1970s. Without knowing it, I got them hot off the press. I used these decks for years while learning. The Aquarian Tarot spoke to me in a more personal and mundane way. The LWB included in the Thoth Tarot was invaluable from the standpoint of learning how to actually use the tarot and the deeper meanings and attributions behind the card images. The Thoth Tarot did a better job at helping me develop a “magical mind,” delving into esoteric mysteries, dreams, and omens. It took both decks to learn different lessons.
There weren’t any tarot books available in the Midwest at that time. I had to learn through trial and error and be my own guinea pig. I kept a tarot journal before anyone had ever written about keeping one – or before I ever read a recommendation to keep one. It seemed sensible. I learned to read the future by looking backwards at spreads to see what happened to me. I created a loose-leaf notebook with pages for every card, and wrote down things I discovered about what the cards could mean, which was a lot more than either LWB suggested.
A few friends found out I could read tarot cards when I was about sixteen or seventeen. I did a few readings for them, but it was all pretty hush-hush and reluctant. I did a ton of readings in college, and there were more resources and books available there. I read Crowley’s Book of Thoth when I was around eighteen. It fueled my tank to keep going, to keep studying the tarot. I found an astrology teacher when I got out of college, and was able to fuse tarot and astrology with ease. There was no one around to suggest doing otherwise. I thought they belonged together – it seemed such a natural combination.
I had no clue that fusing tarot and astrology was unusual until I attended the first International Tarot Conference in Chicago. Janet Berres told me it was rare for people to use them together! It was baffling.
People now have nearly universal access to hundreds of tarot decks and books, websites with information, internet tarot groups and organizations. None of that was around when I got started, or at least I didn’t have any access to it. None of the scholarly books were even a twinkling in the writers’ eyes yet. I had to learn and develop tarot-reading skills in secret, because the tarot was considered a shady, black magic thing. It got a lot of disapproval. It was taboo. It wasn’t something a nice girl did (although it wasn’t as bad as having sex, it was right up there). There wasn’t any positive encouragement for studying the tarot – quite the reverse. There were penalties and warnings. Maybe this wasn’t the case in more sophisticated cities on the east or west coasts, but it certainly was in the white, uptight Midwest.
So at least for me, my early years of learning tarot weren’t just about learning card meanings and spreads. It was about weighing and balancing social approval or disapproval, of knuckling under to adult and parental disapproval, or of taking the risk of violating that particular taboo. I had to decide what was more important on my own terms. Did I have to believe everything adults told me, or should I push the limits and face censure because I disagreed with them? That’s a hard question for a teenager to answer. The pressure wasn’t coming from my peers – it was coming from adults. Did I love the tarot enough to take risks? I did, but I was canny enough to keep it very quiet, very secret. It took many years before I was able to do tarot readings openly for friends or clients.
It was a Hanged Man situation. What was I willing to sacrifice? It was more than just the time and effort to learn – it was a potential sacrifice of social approval, of being marginalized, excluded, and even banned from the company of others. It was a big struggle to keep studying, even in secret, without a teacher or any source of guidance or direction. There was no external sources of approval – only my private delight in making new discoveries. My desire to master the tarot was stronger and more powerful than the fear of sacrifice or censure.
How many people who want to learn tarot have to face that risk? Maybe some, maybe none. I don’t know. The forbidden nature that the tarot had in the 1970s has faded a lot and they’re more or less mainstream now. But there are still some places and people who disapprove, or feel that they’re evil in some way.
Perhaps the more a person is willing to sacrifice for tarot wisdom, the more wisdom can be gained along the path. No pain, no gain.
Images used: Aquarian Tarot Fool, Thoth Tarot Fool, Aquarian Tarot Three of Rods