An Interview with Mark McElroy

1. Your first book, Putting the Tarot to Work, was aimed primarily at business folk who were looking for exciting and alternative ways to bring creativity back into the workplace. Your new book, Taking the Tarot to Heart, focuses on something much more personal—love and romance. Was it a challenge to switch from the boardroom to the bedroom (so to speak)?

You might say success in both of those rooms hinges on personal creativity!

In business, success depends on fusing hard work with creative vision. Without hard work, creativity produces nothing but pipe dreams. Without creativity, hard work becomes drudgery. The techniques inPutting the Tarot to Work demonstrate how anyone can use tarot to tap personal creativity and apply that creativity toward reaching professional goals.

In relationships, success also depends—surprise!—on hard work and creativity. Without work, people drift apart. Without creativity, they become habitual and boring. The techniques in Taking the Tarot to Heart demonstrate how anyone can use tarot to tap personal creativity and apply that creativity toward reaching relationship goals.

The two books focus on two different areas of life, but they share a common message: practical applications of tarot can help you be more creative and successful, whatever your goals.

2. There are more than many books out there on love and relationships. Why do you feel your book is unique?

First and foremost, Taking the Tarot to Heart is the first relationship book I know of that treats straight, gay, and lesbian relationships equally. The examples and stories in the book embrace, reflect, and celebrate diversity, and they recognize that all couples, no matter how they’re configured, are working toward many of the same goals. I’m very proud of that.

The book also avoids the extremes common to today’s relationship myths. On the one hand, we have Internet sites that claim to make relationship success a matter of science. Essentially, they claim that finding true love is a matter of filling out an on-line form and fiddling with a database. On the other hand, we have this whole “Some Enchanted Evening” approach—a Hollywood-based approach to love that positions us as helpless victims of fate.

Taking the Tarot to Heart offers an empowering alternative to these extremes. It demonstrates how we can use tarot to envision what we want…and envision ways to make that dream a reality. Instead of a clinical or accidental approach, the book lays out a plan for using the cards to set romantic goals, plan for success and have a great time in the process.

3. Who did you have in mind as an audience for this book? Single people? Partnered people? Swingers? The heartbroken? The dot-com daters? Someone else?

Love is very intimate, very personal, and our hearts often take us to unexpected places. At the same time, our needs are always evolving and changing.

Taking the Tarot to Heart
takes this all in stride. About half our applications are for singles, including people who have always been single, and people who are, for a variety of reasons, single again. About half the applications are for partners. Some will want help with specific challenges, while others are just looking for ways to take a good thing to the next level.

I include spreads designed to help with everything from Internet dating to generating twenty-two gift ideas in less than twenty minutes…but rather than dictate where you’re going or make assumptions about how you’ll get there, I provide a flexible set of tools and show you how to adapt them to your personal goals.

4. As in your first book, Taking the Tarot to Heart is full of interesting, descriptive, and often amusing stories that enhance the methods you introduce in each chapter. Where do all these wonderful stories come from?

I’m lucky. In my role as a consultant and teacher, these stories come to me. I change names to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent!) and I occasionally tweak situations to protect a client’s privacy…but all these stories are based on real-life situations. You hear the ring of truth in every story…and, very often, you recognize yourself.

5. Your book’s casual, humorous style and its unique ideas make it highly accessible to just about anybody—even those not familiar with the tarot at all! Is this what you were aiming for?

I know people who claim you have to get a degree in Renaissance art and mythology to “do tarot.” In my own work with the cards, I’ve long argued that every fact I know about tarot—mythology, symbols, religion, art—works as a “hook” for catching ideas. From my perspective, the more I know, the more hooks I have. And the more hooks I have, the more ideas I catch.

But most people picking up a tarot book need help now. They have questions; they want answers. Asking them to memorize a list of meanings or earn a master’s degree in comparative religion up front isn’t helpful.

Both Putting the Tarot to Work and Taking the Tarot to Heart assume the reader knows nothing about tarot. By design, they provide the basics you should know, they get you playing with the cards, and then they get out of the way and let the magic happen.

The result? Beginners can be comfortable and confident, and experienced readers can plow through to new applications that will suggest new directions and provide new strategies for working with the cards.

6. Your approach to using the tarot is quite practical. You present it as a creative tool for mapping out problem-solving, for spurring ideas and for figuring out what we truly want in a relationship. That said, you’re working with a deck long steeped in legend and lore, with occult associations as strong now as they were 100 years ago. What challenges does this pose?

The primary challenge is that everyday people—often, the ones who could benefit most from what tarot has to offer—think the cards are too spooky or too esoteric to have practical applications. They’ve never been exposed to any application other than fortune telling, so they either dismiss tarot as a complicated Magic 8-Ball or worry that working with the cards will get them kicked out of church.

Frankly, tarot is a tool. It has a wide range of applications, including everything from divination to meditation. My techniques aren’t intended to disrespect or displace any existing tradition. Instead, they’re designed to encourage anyone and everyone to explore what the cards have to offer.

7. On the same train of thought, how do you walk the line between a light-hearted approach to the cards and one that may seem irreverent to some practitioners?

After more than two decades in everything from pulpits to university classrooms to corporate workshops, I know people learn best when having a good time. I take a light-hearted approach to serious material because I know a grin makes a great study aid.

8. From the book’s bio we can see that you have plenty of experience in the business world, but what’s your background in tarot?

I found a copy of the Rider-Waite deck back in 1973. I was nine. I used it to terrify other neighborhood kids, often by stacking the deck. “Ooooh,” I’d say. “The Death card in the ‘near future’ position. Scary, scary.”

I began a more serious study of the cards in 1997, after becoming fascinated with divination in general. I’ve acquired and read dozens of books, and own a collection of more than 125 decks.

I’ve been an active member of the Comparative Tarot and Tarot-L mailing lists for years, and served as a VP on the Board of Directors of the American Tarot Association. At conventions across the country, I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the very best, including Mary Greer and Rachel Pollock. I’ve led sessions for Wald and Ruth Amberstone’s Tarot School in New York, and I teach one-on-one courses and nationwide workshops on a regular basis.

One benefit of writing Putting the Tarot to Work and Taking the Tarot to Heart is that I’ve traveled the country, delivering hundreds of readings to friends, family and total strangers. It’s been an incredible (and humbling) learning experience.

9. Are there any other interesting twists on the tarot that you’ll be introducing in the future?

In March 2005, Llewellyn will publish my Bright Idea Deck—a brainstorming tarot featuring a companion book and compelling artwork by Canadian artist Eric Hotz. I specifically designed these cards so that they could be used by anyone, anywhere, in any setting, when working with any client—including children.

The structure and theme of traditional tarot are preserved, but the illustrations are taken from contemporary life. Folks “spooked” by tarot won’t be intimidated by this deck, but folks “in the know”—those people already familiar with Tarot — will spot and appreciate the deck’s subtle esoteric touches.

Later the same year, watch for What’s in the Cards for You —an experimental, hands-on guide to tarot that challenges readers to complete one fifteen-minute tarot experiment a day for thirty days. It’s a whole new approach to learning tarot.

The book samples all kinds of tarot applications, from practical to magical to psychological. For new users, this book becomes an approachable, do-it-yourself course in tarot. Experienced users might consider passing the book to friends and family (“Just try it!”). Tarot teachers, too, should enjoy the book, because any of the experiments can be adapted for classroom use.

After that … who knows? I’ve got one tarot project I can’t discuss yet, but I can say it’s one with special appeal to artists of every stripe.

In the end, I want to provide practical, hands-on instruction that helps people reach their creative and spiritual goals. I’m as excited about the potential and power of tarot as ever, and I’m really honored that Llewellyn has made it possible for me to share my passion for the cards with so many people.


About Mark McElroy

After purchasing his first Tarot deck in 1973, Mark McElroy began terrorizing other neighborhood nine-year-olds with dire and dramatic predictions.Today, he calls Tarot "the ultimate visual brainstorming tool," and shares ...

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