Remembering Angeles Arrien – My Tarot Teacher

Remembering Angeles Arrien – My Tarot Teacher

1940 ~ 2014

With the sudden and unexpected passing of my great Tarot Teacher, Angeles Arrien, I am reminded how she inspired me to become a professional “tarotist.”  My first Tarot Reading ever was with her. We were both faculty members at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  The Reading was so upbeat, so positive and, of course, so right on, that I was moved to take her series of classes in San Francisco in 1977, which included tarot luminary, Mary Greer.  Angeles used the Thoth Deck by Crowley, but never referred to his weighty, incomprehensible book (at least to me it was).  She simply reframed the picture symbols and archetypes in such a way that it was empowering and made sense (not occultish or all that esoteric).

I learned how to use the power of symbols.  I learned how to read the cards.  I learned how use them in a practical way in my daily life. I learned about magic! I learned about intuition. I learned how to teach.  All this from a master teacher. I pretty much imitated her and copied her way and style of reading and teaching Tarot.

For the first few years, I read the Crowley cards.  It was my only work in San Francisco and almost starved. I lived in her office.  But when you love what you do and do what you love, so what?  Yes, follow your bliss and the money will come, but who knows when.  Keep the faith and keep on trucking.  Believe.

Angeles and her team began creating annual Tarot Symposiums, which might have been the first of such a kind in the world.  Becoming very acquainted over these first few years with many of her other students, we began to coalesce, which eventually led to our collaborative publishing of “The Wheel of Tarot: A New Revolution,” that Angeles and I edited as an anthology of how to apply Tarot in a variety of ways from dance to therapy to politics to dreams to literature.  This book is out of print, but it’s great and still very relevant in the tarot world (It includes articles by Angeles, myself, Ralph Metzner,the prolific explorer of consciousness, Mary Greer who has gone onto write many well-researched and popular Tarot books, and the esteemed Dr. Hilary Anderson).

In the meantime, I began making Voyager Tarot with Ken Knutson.  Much of the Voyager Deck was inspired by the Crowley/Lady Frieda Harris cards, including the original large sized cards.  In fact, some of the Voyager “Family” Cards were based on the Thoth’s Court cards.  And I ascribed some of the numbers, titles and meanings of the Majors to the Crowley/Arrien way. (See her excellent book  on Tarot and the Crowley cards, “The Tarot Handbook”).

Angeles has produced many, many books over the years.  All exceedingly relevant and beautifully done.  Maybe in some subconscious way of being primed by her, I proceeded to write myself.  One of my early books, “New Age Tarot,” was based on her meanings of the Thoth Deck cards.  I spiced it up with a reading and master layout graphic for each Major Card.
As I was finishing up the Voyager Deck, of course, I wanted to know what Angeles thought of it.  Yikes.  But she appreciated it.  In fact, she called Voyager “A Symbology beyond any Tarot Deck.”  What a compliment.

After Voyager was published in 1985, Angeles and I collaborated a couple of times by teaching a Tarot class at Esalen Institute on the spectacular Big Sur coast.  That was pure fantastic!  And in that period, we began to co-create with a small group to make a new deck, a deck of “nature cards for business.”  We even had a Stanford Business professor on the team.  It was a radical idea.  And it’s difficult to make a deck by committee.  Eventually, it lost steam, but I didn’t.  So, 20 years later, I finally harvested that initial vision with the publishing of the “Sustain Yourself Cards.”

Thinking back on mirroring Angeles as my mentor (btw…. she was known as Angie then, and I was Jim), I certainly embodied her “wholistic” approach to the Tarot – I think she had a “Whole Person Spread,” which became my “Whole Self Mandala” in a transformed way.  Her Readings were always based on that Spread and she would project into the future the cards that arose.  Over the years, I gravitated away from that with my own “Q & A” conversational style of Readings.  As I say to my students, find your own style.  Then you will be in your power and more able to empower your clients.

Over the years, Angeles moved away from Tarot into her work as a Shaman….perfect!  She was an in-depth teacher who could nurture the growth of a person’s soul in a step-by-step, clear, comprehensive, absolutely real and loving, friendly, gracious way – a true Empress!

As I’ve grown and become more of myself, my way of coaching/reading/teaching is well-described by my most recent client who says that I am “a delight, so human, so straight forward, creative, raw, honest, humorous,… a real treasure of a human.”  I’ll take that and I thank my angel, Angeles Arrien, for planting within me the seeds of my own flowering.  She would be happy, happy, happy.  That’s what great teachers are for – to blaze the way so that those on the path become their own trail-blazers!

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