Why Ever Not?: Diane Wilkes and the Tarot of Jane Austen
My friend Grand Master Tarot Reader Diane Brandt Wilkes and I bonded over Bruce Springsteen, and quickly learned that we also share a love of literature. When it comes to the things she cares about--Bruce, the North Carolina Tar Heels, politics, the tarot, or the works of Jane Austen, Diane is easily the most passionate person I know. A few years back, she found a way to marry two of her grand passions when she authored the Tarot of Jane Austen, a book and tarot deck that draws upon that writer's deep understanding of human nature to speak to our present day concerns.
Diane agreed to let me interview her about her work in two tantalizingly overlapping spheres. She also graciously offered a free tarot reading to one lucky reader of this blog. Just post a picture of yourself including my book, Jane, on the book's Facebook page, and I'll choose a winner at random on February 28. The reading will be conducted via Skype, so this offer is open to anyone anywhere.
And if you'd like to set up your own reading with Diane, please contact her at email@example.com. I can vouch for how amazing she is.
AL: Could you please say a word or two about what the tarot has to offer in the 21st Century? (I’m specifically wondering what you would say to skeptics.)
DW: The tarot is perceived differently by people, but I will share my view of what it has to offer and what it has specifically been to me. The tarot is a two part affair--the Major Arcana, which speaks to universality, archetypes that exist in every culture, and the Minor Arcana, which consists of four suits represented by symbols of the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) and pertains to our everyday lives. The structure of the deck is very balanced, and for me provides the perfect blend of spirituality and the daily weave of our lives. Its very construct, as well as its message, embodies balance.
I think that combination of balance and universality makes the tarot a tool for all ages and times. I use the tarot for myself and others for determining, understanding, clarifying, validating, judging, and ultimately choosing the best path(s) available at the time. Prediction is not my main focus, but I am interested in the future--and investing in the present for a better future. The tarot is one tool that allows me to do that.
To skeptics I would say, there are many tools you can use for wisdom and insight and you should choose the ones that suit you. I'm no tarot evangelist. I don't harbor any desire to foist my views on anyone. I find it amusing, though, when people who know nothing about tarot speak as if they are authorities. But that amusement isn't limited to the subject of tarot, but all pseudo-authorities. Sadly, gullible people will always exist and there will always be those who will prey on them.
AL: What drew you to the tarot? And how did you become such a central figure in the world of tarot?
DW: I started reading cards when I was exposed to the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Deck at a kid's party. The adults were in another room and a woman was using them and I was fascinated--I ignored the kids' room and burned to do readings myself. I had the chance shortly thereafter when my cousin gave me a deck. It was similar to a regular playing card deck but with small images and messages of meaning. I would read your “fortune” and then play “War” with you right afterwards. I was ten or eleven. I found my first tarot deck at that upscale department store, Nan Duskin, while the rest of my family was looking at designer clothing, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I don’t know that I would call myself a “central figure in the world of tarot,” but my website, Tarot Passages, received several million hits when I was still updating it. I do plan to redo it, but having made the computer switch to Mac, I need to learn a new website program first. My reviews were fairly well-respected and a publisher asked me to create a screenplay for a deck (stating what should be on each card) and a companion book. I didn’t intend to say yes, but a friend and spiritual advisor said, “This is a great opportunity. Isn’t there a literary subject to which you’d like to devote a tarot deck. I said, “I love Jane Austen…” and that was my forethought behind that concept!
DW: Why not? Or should that be, “Why ever not?”
As I have affirmed, I really didn’t think much about it before I decided to do it—I had read Pride and Prejudice over 100 times, Emma about 50, and the others at least 10 times, plus I had read the Juvenilia and some biographies. I figured I knew enough about the tarot and Jane Austen to “do it right.” The problem is that the “little bit of ivory” Jane is so brilliant at creating is that it’s a very self-contained world. Her books aren’t expansive epics with lots of plot twists and turns, and I had to come up with 78 cards that matched a character or scene in a book. But the universality and timelessness of her characters matched the universality and timelessness of the tarot. So, it worked out.
Tarot is not the easiest thing to learn—it takes time and practice. A lot of people buy a deck that ends up in a musty drawer because they discover the investment of time necessary to become a reader. I primarily created the deck for those familiar with Jane Austen who were curious about the tarot, because if you know Austen’s work, the stories are great mnemonics for learning. I think storytelling is the best way to teach anything (think: Christ and his parables).
DW: I’m a devoted and eclectic Janeite and have been one since high school; I have a quotation from P&P on my yearbook page. I belong to JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America), which is a literary society. I have attended three Annual General Meetings (AGM). In fact, I gave a lecture on the Jane Austen Tarot at the Philadelphia AGM, which was great—lots of skeptics in that room who just didn’t want to go to the ball. To see them realize they weren’t attending a gimmicky, fluffy-bunny presentation and become intrigued and open to what I was doing was quite satisfying. I was a member of a Jane Austen book club for several years and have been to several Jane Austen lectures and events, in addition to the AGM.
I see many of the movies and read some fan fiction, but am not usually overfond of either. What I love is Jane’s words, Jane’s characters, Jane’s wit and wisdom. Never have those two words been more connubially placed than in describing Jane Austen, I believe.
AL: The Jane Austen Tarot was a collaboration—you wrote the book, and worked with an artist who illustrated the deck. Were there frustrations involved in the process? Unexpected joys?
DW: Yes, both. My publisher, Lo Scarabeo, is Italian, and the artist didn’t speak English. I would send over my descriptions of how the cards should look and then my friend Riccardo (who works there in a very different capacity than translator) would translate what I wrote for the artist, who had never read any Jane Austen. I sent over videos so she could at least learn a little about Jane Austen from them, including the Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice, hence the time-inappropriate attire on some of the cards. But seeing and using the deck has been incredibly satisfying. There’s no deck I know more intimately and I love reading with it. Sometimes I feel like I’m channeling Jane! I occasionally do readings with it at the Southeastern Pennsylvania JASNA events and always for clients who are familiar with Austen’s work.
AL: What are your plans for the future, in terms of both tarot and Jane Austen?
DW: Well, in terms of tarot, I have another idea I’m working on for a deck—not the Bruce Springsteen Tarot, which you know I created a few years ago as a gift for some friends. It’s another author that I love and think her work will really lend itself well to the tarot. Fortunately, I am very familiar with her writing and life/journals as well so I am hoping it will be a similar labor of love. As for Jane Austen, you never forget your first love. Ask Anne Elliot if you don’t believe me. I will go on re-reading Austen's books and mixing with my Jane Austen “tribe.”
I am lucky enough to have three tribes: my Bruce tribe, my Jane Austen tribe, and my Tarot tribe. As I said earlier, I’m an eclectic type of girl.