I often say that one of my greatest joys is to teach. I find it a great privilege to teach gifted students, but nothing beats teaching the dedicated ones. There’s a type of energy there, in the dedication to learning and to finding solutions, that’s quite unmatched.

I always end up saying that my favorite students are the ones who hit walls, but because of dedication find a way to blast the walls. I like students who climb the Everest in winter, but because of resilience, they find the right boots and continue to the top. With such students we move very quickly from posing fundamental questions, such as, ‘what are we all afraid of?’, to telling stories about ‘what has life taught us’. Within that space I find that we develop the necessary skills that will give us the confidence to press on and move closer towards deciphering the mysteries of the obvious.


For some time now, I’ve been tutoring Mary Martha Collins, a wonderful artist, and a dedicated student of reading with the Marseille cards. Mary wants to see things. I make her see things, sometimes the hard way. But see things she ends up doing. For a teacher there’s really nothing more rewarding than when the students says: ‘I see that now.’

In our last session with Mary, I’ve ended up formulating some of my basic principles of reading the cards. I’ve asked her for permission to reproduce the lesson here, exactly as it was delivered, as some others might find it useful. Then, of course, as I’m an advocate for the benefits of working one-on-one, I hope this example here demonstrates the precious relationship that develops between the student and the teacher, when they both are on the same page, aiming for the same goal. To learn and to rejoice.

This lesson was part of a string of questions that I ask the student to formulate and read the cards for. First the student draws her own cards, and then offers an interpretation. I then offer my own take of what is happening in the student’s cards and her interpretation, and together we work towards what is the most possible and plausible solution. After my contribution, there’s an exchange based on feedback, so nothing remains ‘in the dark.’ Usually the questions we work with are related to our most common concerns with love, work, and health. This time around, Mary’s question was about her work.

Enjoy this lesson. A grand thanks to Mary for allowing me to reproduce our exchange here, ad literam.



“What’s the best way to approach my painting?”

Image: Mary Martha Collins
Image: Mary Martha Collins


As I look at the question and see these cards my immediate response is…wtf, APPROACH?… where did the questioner (MOI) come up with such a word…. (i am laughing at myself right now before i even answer the question)




Mary, you made me laugh so hard. Thanks. ‘Approach’ is a very good word. For everyone.

But here’s what I think.

Your sentence is based on ‘hearsay’. ‘Let go’ is a cliché, as you don’t explain. Let go of what?

Ok, sure, you identify with the woman in the World card. Fair enough. You are very pretty there. Standing quite comfortably, with lots of stuff attending to your needs. Perhaps a little too neat. But if this was so perfect, then what’s Death doing there, coming right after all that World, and ruining the perfection?

The fact that Death follows the World should give you an indication that all is not well in Paradise. Ok, you suggest this much yourself: ‘Let go’, you say. But think a little. You can’t say that to Death. Death comes unexpectedly, and it does something that hurts. Death exceeds your agency. You can’t even have an opinion about it. Death doesn’t care about your projects, of holding on, or letting go. So we’re here with something more essential. Dig.

At this point, also, you must remember your question. This is NOT about you – let go – but about your APPROACH. Yes, that word. So then, think again.

What does Death call you to do? Not to let go, as that is not even in your own power. It is also too vague and pertaining to your persona. Death calls you to embody its function IN RELATION TO your painting style NOT yourself.

Ok, so far so good. What’s next? The Tower. How does the Tower feature in your sentence? It doesn’t really. If I didn’t have your cards in front of me, I would have no idea that some broken Tower was involved in the process.

Where did you get the confidence part from? Not from the cards. Beware of the clichés. They mess with our heads.

How does the Tower tell you to become one with the process? It doesn’t. Quite the contrary. All comes down. All becomes dust, as if ‘ashes to ashes’ is not enough.


The World is neat. Death comes. The Tower breaks. Is this an indication that you must continue with what you’re doing? Nope. What then? Well, what does Death do? She cuts (through) all that neatness. She messes it up.

The Tower, what does it look like to you? A work of integration, of becoming one with the process? Nope. It’s a work of disintegration.

So, I’d say, the best way to approach your painting is by messing it up. Brutally. Use your brush to break the neat lines. Create dots. Maybe a dash of impressionism is a good idea. Mess it all up. Break it to pieces.


Ok, I rather liked this lesson, as it allows me to articulate many of my principles of reading cards right here. So thank you.

The final point is: Never depart from the world of the cards and what they tell you concretely. Describe the cards first, and then look at the function of each card. Meaning emerges from that. The correct and precise meaning is then refined according to how the question plays a part. Never mix the narratives. Is this about you, or about your approach? As soon as you mix the narratives, you’re in danger of getting lost.


yes, this was great…you are a great teacher……i do feel like I’m not “getting” it though. (HA , especially after what you wrote) i feel like when i look at the cards i do not have the detachment that you do. I saw a movement of “flow” from the tower card towards the world…. ending up at the world which would mean in a “yellow brick road ending sort of feel)

however when you read, it makes sooo much sense to me. it’s so clear and obvious…i JUST LOVE the way you snap it together. you bring it down to its base message. i personalize it too much on tip toes….cliche-ing the snot out of it.

you can use my lesson of course…when i said “let go”…i meant “a little” bit of “altering” my approach to painting, but death and the tower are way stronger than i read into cut through and mess it up… disintegrate.

thanks for your inspiration….i feel like my focus is coming back/together slowly, slowly.


Mary, great. That’s the spirit. The cards themselves are soft and brutal. When they are soft, go with that. When they are brutal, hit yourself over your head with them. Get into that brutal feeling, and see how much you’ll get out of it. The cards teach us all about sensory overload… and death, when we feel nothing, when we’re numb. That’s why we want to read the cards, to get to that feeling. Culture makes sure to feed us amnesia. So we read the cards to remember what it’s like to really feel something beyond that.

Keep going, and keep trying. As I said: You’ll get there.

Thanks for allowing me to use this material. I feel that it may help others to see a teaching session in action, not to aggrandize myself, but to point directly to what we’re dealing with, and most importantly WHY.

All best, and fling the next one.



For more on my tutoring check my 3 programs.

For staying connected on what teaching activities are in the works, join my monthly newsletter. Current teaching going on: Cards and Magic.

Mary, thank you. As I said, keep them coming. Thank you for allowing me to meet and greet my own demons, my own sense of glory and feeling of inadequacy. We teach each other.


  1. Ted says:

    Thank you to Mary Martha (and Camelia) for sharing this. I find it s-o-o-o helpful to see (read?) how experienced readers make sense of the cards with respect to the question.

      1. Carla says:

        Very useful. I’m reading your book right now (Marseille Tarot) and quite enjoying it. I like your stance on ‘no question, no reading’. I hope you write another book! 😀

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