Omega Institute, in the Hudson River Valley of New York, is like a big summer camp for adults, with a mind/body/spirit flavor. The grounds are lovely, filled with trees, gardens, cabins and classrooms. When I visited last week, the place hummed with activity, with hundreds of people visiting. But there was an undercurrent of peace that held it all together, possibly from all the meditating, yoga and other spiritual practices constantly taking place. I especially appreciated the emphasis on sustainable living, and the local, organic food. There were plenty of gluten-free alternatives in the dining hall, and little signs that let us know which local farm or dairy supplied the greens, the yogurt, the honey. Loved that.
Mary Greer, Caitlin Matthews and I did a little
shopping — uh, exploring — the day before the conference started. We drove alongside the Hudson River, stopping to walk the grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion and to visit the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. (So many interesting stories there!)
Caitlin sang to a tree . . .
and she and Mary found a replica of a “divination plate” that was used for parlor games a hundred-plus years ago.
The weather was a little crazy-making. It was either so hot that I was constantly sweating and strategizing ways to stay cool (like keeping my water bottle filled with ice), or there were sudden deluges that turned the Omega pathways into muddy waterways.
On the evening of the Big Storm, Caitlin and I sat on the front porch of the Bittersweet B&B, watching lightning flash behind the trees across the road, listening to thunder and the sound of plunking raindrops on the portico roof. We were lucky; the worst of the storm passed us by. We didn’t even lose power.
Caitlin, of course, sang to the storm, soothing and calming it. Soothing and calming us.
There were five teachers at the Omega Tarot Conference — Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, Caitlin Matthews, Bob Place, and me. I have been reading books written by these four and collecting their decks since the mid-80’s, so it was quite an honor to share the “stage” with them.
We had a great group of folks join us, most of whom were new to me (and the Gaian was new to them). The thread that ran through all our presentations was how creating our own decks changed our relationship to tarot. We had lively discussions about tarot history and how subsequent generations reinterpreted the cards; how we each reinterpreted the cards to reflect the themes of our own decks; and whether or not one can be “wrong” when creating new decks. (We decided that no one is wrong, or everyone is! How’s that for tarot fundamentalism: All decks are wrong!!) We also each told the story of how we found tarot (or how it found us).
In my workshop, I spoke about the different things that people have taught me about my own deck, and how I feel it has taken on a life of its own. I gave birth to it (after a nine-year labor!), but now it is making its own way in the world, and is creating its own set of new relationships.
We did lots of hands-on exercises. Everyone’s favorite part! In one of the exercises I did with Rachel (led by Mary), I got clear direction on which of several creative projects to focus on next (an oracle deck based on the Wheel of the Year). That was huge for me, as I have been dithering a bit.
Saturday night, we held an open house for anyone on the Omega campus who was interested in coming. We answered questions about tarot from a packed audience, and taught a little tarot history. Then we each did a few sample readings. It was fascinating to see how each teacher had a different way of reading the cards.
The first reading I did turned out to be one of those extraordinary moments of tarot magic that you just can’t plan.
A young woman wanted to know whether or not the timing was good for her to try to get pregnant. I helped her get clear about her question, and we finally asked for “deep wisdom about starting a family.” I turned up three cards: Justice, the Gardener, and the Child of Fire. The first thing I noticed was that all three figures were wearing red — the color of life, of blood, of fertility. It tied all three figures together, making them a family. I asked the young woman if anything from the cards jumped out at her, and she pointed to the Justice card and said “my husband is bald.”
“Ah,” I said. “And notice that the Gardener is pregnant. So we have Papa (Justice), Mama (the Gardener), and Baby (Child of Fire).
Happy family. Happy family . . . there really isn’t anything else to say.”
I felt the air thicken, always a signal to me that the spirits are near, and the young woman was so moved she started to cry. There were sighs and murmurs all around.
Her friend said, “Time to start picking out boys’ names!” (The Child of Fire is a boy.)
It was a beautiful thing.
Mary smiled and commented, “Moments like this are why we all do this — why we’ve made tarot our life’s work.”
The conference ended with hugs from lots of new friends. Later that evening, I shared a delicious Thai dinner with Mary and Rachel in a Rhinebeck bistro, then one last night at the Bittersweet B&B. My travel day on Monday was 19 hours long, with two trains, a plane, a bus ride and interminable waiting inbetween. I read two mystery novels and Michael Moore’s new memoir on the way home.
I’m glad to have seen the Hudson River, and to have made the acquaintance of a number of Plant People in the Rhinebeck countryside. And I’m happy to have bonded with other members of the Shining Tarot Tribe.