Understanding Deep Emotions with Andrea Harrn

Understanding Deep Emotions with Andrea Harrn

Psychotherapist and author Andrea Harrn speaks with Steve Nobel about how mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and positive psychology theories are woven together to create the bestselling Mood Cards and its follow-on deck ‘Understanding Deep Emotions’. 

Psychology doesn’t have to be complicated. The Mood Cards offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore your moods and emotions.

Andrea discusses how people are already using the Mood Cards in Schools, Hospices and as a tool for therapists. Mental health in the UK is of growing concern, Andrea explains how these cards can be used at home to help you take control and understand your emotions.

Watch here!

Listen to Andrea and Steve chat about cultural differences in emotions, mental health in the UK and a closer look at ‘Abandonment’, ‘Bullying’, being ‘Excluded’ and ‘Passive Aggressive’ emotions.

Download to listen on the go.

Subscribe so you never miss an episode!

We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting Mind, Body, Soul, Personal Development and Health topics.

    Steve Nobel:                         Hello, and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel, and today I’m speaking with Andrea Harrn on Understanding Deep Emotions. Andrea is a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, intuitive healer, expert in emotional intelligence. She is the creator of the Mood Cards published by Eddison Books. Her latest offering is Understanding Deep Emotions, which builds on her work of the previous Mood Cards set. And her mission is in creating more peace and understanding in the world through emotional intelligence, empathy, forgiveness, and love. Andrea, hello. Andrea Harrn:                      Hi, there, Steve. Steve Nobel:                         Now, it looks like the Mood Cards have been highly successful in helping people gain greater insight into this emotional state. Have you had a lot of feedback on the first deck? Andrea Harrn:                      I’ve had so much feedback on it. It’s been amazing, actually. I created them originally just for myself in the therapy room, but they’re spreading out and being used in so many settings by parents, by teachers, by coaches, meditation teachers, health workers working with kids in children’s homes, hospices. So much feedback and people are using them in so many different ways. Maybe sometimes with groups as well and with young people. Yeah, I’ve had some great feedback. I’m really happy, thank you, Steve. It’s all going well. I just keep hearing more and more feedback from people about all the different uses for them. Steve Nobel:                         Well, I can really understand how kids would benefit, schools, even coaches, young people. Hospices, that’s a new one. How are people using it in hospices? Andrea Harrn:                      Well, when people are in a hospice, it’s really hard for the families, and sometimes the families just find it very, very hard to talk about what they know is the obvious. There’s a grief card, there’s lost cards, there’s disappointment. There are so many cards that can help people to express themselves, and it can help people to communicate and come together at that very, very difficult time. Also, help the person themselves who is in the hospice to perhaps talk about some of the feelings that they have around family. Maybe there are things that they always wanted to say, but they never said them. The cards do bring people together, Steve.  
Steve Nobel:                         You must have had feedback from around the world. Do you find that there’s a cultural aspect to moods and emotions? Like some cultures find certain things easier. For example, I always felt the Mediterranean cultures were very much more able to be angry and say what they feel. Whereas in Britain, I always felt, well, if you say anything like that, your relatives won’t speak to you for 20 years. Andrea Harrn:                      Yeah, definitely. I mean, we are more reserved here, aren’t we. We’re more reserved in the way that we talk about our feelings in this country. Yeah. In fact, in some of the different countries, they’ve had different ways of expressing. The cards have gone out to places like China, for example. In those countries that are quite heavily influenced in the way that you’re supposed to think and feel, I think accessing emotions is something they’re just not used to. Yeah, it’s different. Wherever you are, it’s different in terms of how you talk about feelings. Steve Nobel:                         Wonderful. I mean, that’s great it’s gone to China. You’re right about that. Are you getting much feedback from these countries? Andrea Harrn:                      There’s a lot of interest in them, interestingly, from the ex-Eastern Bloc in Europe. Countries like Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary. They’re doing really, really well in countries like that. I think that for many, many years, perhaps people weren’t able to express how they feel, and the cards are doing are really well in those countries. It just shows you how it’s a human need in all of us, isn’t it, to be able to be who we are and talk about what we think, what we feel, and to be able to talk openly and honestly in relationships as well.
Steve Nobel:                         How do these differ from the first deck, are they aimed slightly differently? Andrea Harrn:                      The concept is the same. The way the cards work is the same. The difference really is in the cards themselves. The first deck that I created was more of a general moods and emotions deck. This card is really more about the issues and problems that people bring to therapy, so we’ve got cards like abandonment, rejection, bullying. We’ve got all sorts of other cards that relate to the problems that people bring into the therapy room like victim, for example, sensitive, Limerence, problems with people that have got love problems, jealousy problems, envy. Yeah, I would say that this second deck relates more to the issues and problems that people bring into therapy. Steve Nobel:                         Could it be described as an aid for therapy? Therapy nowadays, particularly in the NHS, I think you get six weeks or something and then you’re out. Not the good old days you could years and years of it. Andrea Harrn:                      Often you get six weeks now. You don’t really get that even, and people have to wait months for that. Even when people get the therapy, a lot of the time it’s more about filling in questions and fulfilling assessment criteria. That’s not to say that there aren’t good therapists out there because there are many good therapists out there, but it’s quite hard for people, especially in the U.K., to get therapy and long-term therapy is just not happening with them on the NHS. Yeah, I mean, the cards are an aid for therapists working with clients, but for those that can’t access therapy, it’s a self-development tool. It’s a way to learn more about your moods and your emotions, and your obstacles. Or perhaps with families, to help children and young people communicate how they feel. There are a lot of families using them. A lot of parents are using them with your children and helping their children to open up about their feelings. It gives children that experience of learning that it’s okay to talk about feelings and to explore them because with mental health issues on the rise … The problem with mental health issues is because people feel that, a lot of the time, they can’t express themselves or there’s no one there to listen to them. Using the cards does help people to be able to explore their moods and emotions, and if you can use them working with a friend or a family member, it’s going to be even more powerful.
Steve Nobel:                         This deck talks about some much deeper issues than the first deck I should say, bipolar, addiction. Is there a strong healing and educational element to these cards? Andrea Harrn:                      Well, the education is more about the self-awareness and the self-management, and how you may be able to gain control of your difficult moods or emotions or your mood swings. Also, the cards help you to recognize behaviors that don’t support you or help you or even your thinking that’s unhelpful. Again, if you use them with other people, it’s a great way for people to understand what it’s like to be you. What it means to be you with your problems. Not necessarily trying to change you or fix you, but just being able to listen to you. It helps to develop empathy, and if we experience empathy, we feel heard by someone else. That in itself is so healing. It’s so powerful to feel heard, and it doesn’t always happen. Everybody’s busy with their own lives, we don’t always have the time to sit down, and really listen to someone. That’s why counseling is so good because it does provide that place. But for people that can’t get counseling, this is a great way to experience what it feels like to have counseling. They’re not there to give scientific explanations of problems as such. They’re more there for individual discovery and learning for positive outcomes. Steve Nobel:                         Yeah, and I would say these cards are a much cheaper form of therapy than just going for endless therapy. Can I say, like the first deck, these cards are based on CBT, mindfulness, and positive psychology. Again, can you say something again about that? Andrea Harrn:                      Yes, because mindfulness is really about acceptance, isn’t it. If we can accept how we feel, by talking about how we feel we can accept okay, this is where I am at the moment with whatever it is. That in itself is a powerful process. Being mindful about your feelings and what’s going on inside you be it a physical problem, be it an anxiety or be it thoughts in your head, obsessions in your head. Just to acknowledge that’s where I am, in a mindful way, is powerful. Then the CBT is really based on three structured questions on the back of each card to help people to define, then to explore, and then to move through and see different perspectives on problems. Taking action points as well. Helping people to see how I can move forward. The cards in the box, they’re not all negative cards, by the way. There are many, many positive cards in both of the card decks. The positive part cards you can help to reinforce all the positive things about you. If you’re very talented or creative, the cards help you to become even more talented and help you to place your creativity and actually inspire you to do something about what you feel creative about, what you feel inspired about. It works with the positive cards as well as the negative cards.
Steve Nobel:                         Wonderful. Now, these cards use affirmations. I think the first time I came across affirmations was the Louise Hay book You Can Heal Your Life. What is the value of affirmation? Andrea Harrn:                      Affirmations is really talking to yourself a powerful way. It’s a positive way. You know sometimes if you have a friend that is feeling really down on themselves, you might want to give them some words of encouragement, so if you think about an affirmation as giving yourself words of encouragement. It’s about being there for yourself. It’s about aiming to build positive self-esteem, and empowerment, and hope. It’s using words and language that are powerful and positive. When you actually speak out the words, it’s like planting seeds of positivity not just into your mind but into your whole energy system. Of course, depending on your voice tone and your body language as well, it can become even more powerful. For example, if you’re going to say something like, “I choose to be around positive people and in positive environments.” If you say it like, “I choose to be around positive people and in positive environments.” Okay, you’re saying it with a low voice tone. You’re not being very energetic about it, so just raise your voice tone. “I choose to be around positive people and in positive environments,” and as you’re doing it, you feel that energy raising. That’s also important. It’s the way you say it. The way you talk to yourself about it, whether you’re going to talk to yourself, perhaps in an energetic way. Or if it’s an affirmation on relaxation, it will be doing the complete opposite and lowering your voice tone, “I feel so relaxed. My body is feeling calm. I’m really relaxed. I feel peace within.” It’s changing your voice tone according to the message that you want to give yourself according to the reaction and the impact that you want from it. If you want to become more empowered, more lively, more energized raise your voice tone. If you want to become more relaxed, lower your voice tone. The other thing is, because I’ve my hypnotherapy training as well, but a lot of my hypnotherapy training has been brought into the different language and the different words and the different suggestions in the mood cards. Steve Nobel:                         I’ve picked a few cards. I’ve actually been drawn to more negative cards, sorry about that. The first one was abandoned. Can you say something about this card, abandoned?
Andrea Harrn:                      Yeah. I mean, abandoned it’s hard because people do feel, sometimes, that abandonment can be something from childhood abandonment, parental breakups, that kind of thing. And I think that people that go through feelings of abandonment have probably experienced very early abandonment, so it’s about exploring that, those feelings and asking you, if you were abandoned, what it feels like. Helping people to resolve things in their own mind about how their own personal abandonment has happened and how it’s affected them, and about learning to make the best of that situation from now on. Steve Nobel:                         The second card, which I guess is really powerful for many particularly young children but not all, is the bullied card. I mean, there are many people also being bullied in the workplace, so what can you say about this one?
Andrea Harrn:                      Absolutely. Yeah. The bullying is quite often people that are bullied, don’t understand why it’s happened to them because they haven’t asked to be bullied. Quite often people that are bullied are actually people that have got a lot of very positive qualities. Bullies, generally, have low self-esteem and not very strong identities, so what they tend to do is they tend to bully people that maybe they have envy for that person or they feel that that person has something they want. Especially these days in the workplace when you’ve got a good employee, and then you have somebody that’s perhaps not so good at their job, and they could be bullying that person that’s actually doing a great job. Of course, when you’re going through bullying, you don’t see that that’s the reason I’m being bullied. That it’s because there’s something about me that is a threat to somebody else. And so the cards help you to explore your own experiences of bullying. Looking at who do you think has the problem, was it you or was it the bully? There are lots of questions on the cards that help people to really get to grips with this whole concept of bullying. It’s a massive area for exploration, but it does really affect people. Even today, I had somebody come in. This is a person that’s really successful, and it just suddenly came out that why she’s feeling so bad, and she just brought up this bullying incident that happened when she was about 12. It still stayed with her for 20 years, and it’s affected her self-esteem. It’s a big thing that affects people for many, many years, so it’s important to explore it and resolve it. Steve Nobel:                         The next one I’ve got, which follows on in some way, is excluded.
Andrea Harrn:                      Yeah, it’s another form of bullying, isn’t it, exclusion. Again, it’s a similar process looking at who’s excluding you. Why do you think that’s happening? Is there anything that you could do differently as well because sometimes people feel I’m being excluded, but actually it’s them that doesn’t want to socialize. Maybe they’ve got some social anxiety, or perhaps they’re more of an introverted type. It’s just helping people just see what’s actually happening, what’s really happening, where’s the evidence for it? Is there something that you’re doing that could maybe help the situation or change the situation? Steve Nobel:                         Yeah, and the last one, which I’ve actually come across many times in my life, is this passive-aggressive thing, which kind of, seems to me, to link to anger or how people can’t really express it clearly. It comes out in weird ways. Andrea Harrn:                      Yeah. I mean, I’ve done a lot of work on passive-aggressive behavior. In fact, a lot of my writing on my website is about this subject because it is a really difficult problem. Especially when you’re faced with it in your relationship. It’s about the anger that is the hidden anger. It’s the way that the anger comes out, and it can come out in all sorts of very, very abusive, emotionally abusive and destructive ways. The passive-aggressive card helps people to understand what it is, how it affects them, and maybe what the triggers are to it and how you can manage your own passive-aggressive … If you’re in a passive aggressive relationship, the card will really help you to understand what it is you need to do to put in firmer boundaries and to be more assertive against the passive-aggressive. Now, if the person looking at the card is the passive-aggressive, it will help them to learn about how they don’t need to be passive-aggressive. It can help them to learn that they’ve got a right to have their emotions and feelings, and they’ve got a right to express them as we all have.
Steve Nobel:                         Wonderful. Well, Andrea, once again, thank you for speaking with me. Understanding Deep Emotions, and the website is TheMoodCards.com. Thanks, Andrea. Andrea Harrn:                      Thank you so much, Steve. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very, very much.

Understand deep emotions

Explore more complex emotions and behaviours for healing, happiness and inner peace.
Based on mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, this pack demystifies psychology and mental-health labels, and offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore moods, feelings and emotions. Following the success of the original bestselling MOOD CARDS box, this new, stand-alone volume offers 50 cards to help you work with more complex emotions and behaviours, so that you can embark on a deeper journey of self-discovery. Learn more about your issues and obstacles, and how you operate in relationships and work situations, and gain new insights and perspectives that will take you forward to success and a healthy work/life balance. Each card includes guided questions for self-exploration plus an affirmation for positive thinking, and the pack is suitable for personal and professional use alike.

£17.99 ISBN: 9781859064030

£14.99 ISBN: 978-1-85906-392-7

The Mood Cards

Make sense of your moods and emotions for clarity, confidence and well-being
Psychology doesn’t have to be complicated. Based on cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and positive psychology, The Mood Cards offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore your moods and emotions. Each card includes guided questions for self-exploration plus an affirmation for positive thinking. Whether to help you manage difficult moods, approach relationships more skilfully, become more sensitive to the needs of others, or simply be able to communicate and listen effectively, using the cards will encourage you to be con dent in who you are, expand your emotional intelligence and help you move forward in a positive way.

Interview with Cilla Conway on the Byzantine Tarot (Podcast part 2/2)

Interview with Cilla Conway on the Byzantine Tarot (Podcast part 2/2)

Cilla Conway is an intuitive artist who works primarily with the concepts of archetypal energies, alchemy and metamorphosis. 

In collaboration with John Matthews, she created The Byzantine Tarot, published in June 2015.

This is the first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire. This sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art. Cilla Conway and John Matthews talk about how they came up with the idea for the deck and how their collaboration came about.

Cilla explains a few of the cards:

  • The Tower
  • Six of Swords
  • Knight of Staffs
  • Ace of Cups
  • Countess of Coins

Watch here!

Get to know the Knight of Staffs, the Countess of Coins and the Ace of Cups in this video. Grab a cup of tea and sit down with Cilla and Steve chatting about tarot.

Listen to Part 1 here- Steve Nobel with John Matthews

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Cilla Conway Interview transcript
for those who prefer to read:



Steve:   Hello and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel. Today I’m speaking with John Matthews and Cilla Conway on The Byzantine Tarot: Wisdom from an Ancient Empire.

Cilla Conway is an intuitive artist who works primarily with the concepts of archetypal energies, alchemy, and metamorphosis. She’s the co-author of The Byzantine Tarot, published in June 2015 in collaboration with John Matthews. And her website is cillaconway.com.

Steve:   Okay, so hi Cilla. Thank you for joining me. Can I ask you, what drew you to this project? Why Byzantine Empire?

Cilla:     It was quite a strange set of coincidences. One of the guys at Watkins where I used to work, had this postcard on the wall which was of Elijah, it was an icon. And I just though, my god, that’s the Tarot hermit. So I asked him if I could have a copy and he gave me the postcard. And I had this in my mind, you know, this is the start of a new Tarot deck, because projects do seem to address themselves to me like that.

And then when I met John at this launch, I said, “I’m thinking of doing a Byzantine Tarot,” and he said, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about that for ages! But if you’re doing it I can’t do it.” And I said, “Well why? Because I’m a painter and you’re a writer. Can’t we pool our resources?”

Steve:   Great. Was it challenging? I mean, just getting all the art from these images, or were they fairly easy? Is there a lot of art to draw upon?

Cilla:     There’s a huge amount of art to draw upon, and I went to Istanbul about two or three times, found this absolutely amazing church, which is now a museum. It’s off the beaten track, you really have to travel to get there. And they had a book, so I used the book a lot, and of course all the mosaics and stuff like that as well.

Steve:   I’ve been asking John about some of the images on the cards and I’ve picked these five cards. Now, the first one, the Tower card. Can you say something about the artwork there?

Cilla:     Yeah, that one I did a sort of conventional tower first, but I kept on seeing this little sculpture again and again and again, of this guy sitting in a pillar. He’s quite a fixture in Byzantine, not iconography but legend, because he wanted to withdraw. So he went along and he built himself a 10 foot pillar, but people then started coming and talking to him, and his tower would get higher and higher and higher and eventually ended up as 40 foot high. Don’t ask me what the snake is, I’m assuming the snake is temptation.

Steve:   Yeah. It’s a beautiful image. It looks like some ancient mage under the sun really there. It’s amazing.

Cilla:     Very striking image, that’s why I wanted to do it.

Steve:   Well the other card I’ve got is the Six of Swords. Now this one, I’m not sure if it’s been drawn of gained from some older piece of art. Well, John told me it was a soldier returning, but this looks like someone’s painted it from an older piece.

Cilla:     I copied, not completely straight, but I copied every single image in the whole deck-

Steve:   Right.

Cilla:     From the mosaics and from the other work that I found in this chapel. So if you know your Byzantine art, you’ll see the references everywhere.

Steve:   This is a beautiful image, and I love the kind of striking purply, lilac in the background. And the sky looks this kind of terracotta. It’s a beautiful colouring.

Cilla:     The funny thing is … you know, I live in Italy now. And I’ve just realised that the mountains that I pained in the background, are more or less, with poetic licence, very similar to the mountains that I look at every single day now, but I’d never seen them then.

Steve:   Oh right. Northwest Tuscany aren’t you?

Cilla:     Yeah.

Steve:   I’ve been there’s, it’s a beautiful place.

Cilla:     Absolutely gorgeous.

Steve:   Now the Knight of Staffs, there’s a kind of very Grecian look about this one. This guy … I said it’s mini harp, but John reminded me it’s a lyre. It looks like something out of ancient Greece this one.

Cilla:     Yeah. This is probably me doing poetic licence. The figure would have been drawn from Byzantine art, but I wanted a slightly creative figure for the Knight of Staffs. This is just one of my things. And so I put the lyre in and I have no idea if they had lyres, I’m hoping they had lyres, but you’re right it does look Grecian.

Steve:   It looks like snowdrops by his right foot, is that significant? Or creative licence again?

Cilla:     Creative licence.

Steve:   Okay, okay. I don’t know, it looks like something … compared to the whole image, the snowdrops are quite striking I think.

Now the chalice, the Ace of Cups, now this is absolutely beautiful and it looks kind of very, I guess Byzantine or Orthodox Christianity.

Cilla:     Orthodox. Yeah definitely.

Steve:   Where did you get this image from?

Cilla:     Big book on Byzantine art. They had a couple of huge exhibitions in London, and I got the books on both of them, and I found this image in there, just thought it’s so beautiful, I’ve got to use it for the one of Cups. And then John said that it was the image that he always imagines the Grail to be, so that was quite a nice sort of coincidence.

Steve:   The last one, the Countess of Coins. This one is really beautiful, I really love this image. It looks almost like slightly mediaeval as well, doesn’t it?
Cilla:     Yeah. But again, Byzantine woman, I probably changed the background to the buildings because I wanted it to fit in there. But she would have been taken straight from Byzantine art. Oh, I know who she is, she’s Catherine, Saint Catherine, she had a big wheel. So you know, you don’t really want to put that in there.

Steve:   Oh right. She’s holding a … well kind of holding a large coin, so I suppose there’s kind of a similar sort of thing.

Cilla:     Yeah.

Steve:   How did the two of you work? There was one other Tarot deck where there was a very famous one, the Crowley one, where you had Crowley with all the meaning and then you had the artist and they went backwards and forwards for about five years I think. Was this kind of bouncing backwards and forwards with imagery and meaning?

Cilla:     It did bounce back and forward, but poor old John more or less had to put up with what I did, because I would look at it and I’d get some ideas, then I’d draw it up and I’d send it to him. He’d say, “Yeah, yeah, great. This is what the meaning could be.” There were a couple that he said to me, “Really, you can’t do that.” The Knight of Swords, yes, I copied from an icon, and he said, “You just couldn’t kill a dragon like that. The staff just doesn’t work or the sword doesn’t work.” And I was like, “Okay, but fine, that’s where it is.” So poor old John had to more or less put up with what I did.

Steve:   No, it’s amazing. Just looking through the book, there’s some amazing images here. And if anybody’s drawn to this piece of history, as John said it’s very good for dealing with complicated issues because it draws upon the Byzantine imagery and worldview.

Cilla, thank you so much, and thank you John for joining us. And all the best with this project. I’m going to be using this deck and playing with it for sure. So thank you so much. All the best.

Cilla:     It’s a pleasure, thank you very much.

The Byzantine Tarot

John Matthews and Cilla Conway

The first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire, this sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art.

The Byzantine world, which lasted from 330 to 1453 CE, combined the elegance and power of Rome with the opulence and splendor of the Orient. This combination brought about richness in the world of art, literature, and spirituality that has seldom been equaled. Yet it also has a mysterious resonance, and it is to this world of emperors and empresses, saints and sinners, faith and miracles that the creators of this dazzling new tarot have turned, capturing the Byzantine vision, magic, and enchantment.



ISBN: 9781859063910

John Matthews on the Byzantine Tarot (Podcast part 1/2)

John Matthews on the Byzantine Tarot (Podcast part 1/2)

This is the first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire. This sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art. 

John Matthews talks us through how he came up with the idea for the deck with Cilla Conway and what the Byzantine Tarot can bring us. John explains a couple of the cards:

The Tower 
Six of Swords
Knight of Staffs
Ace of Cups
Countess of Coins

The Byzantine world, which lasted from 330 to 1453 CE, combined the elegance and power of Rome with the opulence and splendour of the Orient. This combination brought about richness in the world of art, literature, and spirituality that has seldom been equaled. Yet it also has a mysterious resonance, and it is to this world of emperors and empresses, saints and sinners, faith and miracles that the creators of this dazzling new tarot have turned, capturing the Byzantine vision, magic, and enchantment.

Watch here!

Take a good look at Cilla Conway’s artwork on the Byzantine Tarot cards, timed so that you can see what John and Steve are talkng about.

Download to listen on the go.

Subscribe so you never miss an episode!

We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting Mind, Body, Soul and Health topics

For those who prefer to read, here is the interview transcript:



Steve:  Hello and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel. Today I’m speaking with John Matthews and Cilla Conway on The Byzantine Tarot: Wisdom from an Ancient Empire.

Now John has been a full time writer since 1980, has produced over a hundred books on myth, faery, Arthurian legends, and Grail studies, as well as books of short stories, poetry, and books for children. He lives in Oxford, England with his wife Caitlín who’s also a writer, and a white cat named Willow, and his website is hallowquest.org.uk. There will be a link going out with this podcast.

So hi John.

John:  Hello Steve.

Steve:  So John, how did this all come about?

John:  Well it was interesting, because actually it was because I was doing a launch party for an earlier book at Watkins bookstore in London, and Cilla was there and we got chatting. We’d run into each other a couple of times before, but we didn’t really know each other well. And we just got talking and I happened to say, “One thing I’ve really always wanted to do was a Byzantine Tarot,” and she looked at me and she said, “But that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

So after a few moments awkward silence we just kind of went, “Well, why don’t we just do it together?” And it worked very well. Because Cilla is a fantastic artist and has a really deep understanding of the style of the period and the place. And I have quite a good knowledge of the history of Byzantine. So you know, we put it together and hey presto.

Steve:  Well, I did actually read about the Byzantine history several months ago. Amazing empire wasn’t it? The power of Rome combined with the opulence and splendour of the orient. Now, can you just say something about why is the Byzantine world so important?


John:  Well it’s a kind of matrix point really, as you said it has elements if the Roman world, it has elements of the oriental world, and particularly of the belief systems of both places. Because of course by this time the Roman empire is nominally Christian, and so you have a very strong Christian focus in the great cathedrals like Hagia Sophia and so forth. And it brings those two streams together in a very powerful way. And also the literature, the literature of the east and the literature of the west really combine here into something wonderfully elaborate and picturesque.


Steve:  Now I’ve read in the Tarot book that you say the Byzantine world became synonymous with the idea of complexity and chicanery, from its early days. Can you say something about that?


John:  Yeah, well I mean the Byzantine court is very famous for being immensely complex. You had categories for everything, you had people in charge of who put what on the table, who cooked it, how it was cooked, who dressed in what, who could speak to the other person. Very hierarchical. And there was a great deal of evidence of backstabbing and climbing, people trying to climb the ladder through the court to be part of the emperor and empress’s entourage.

The whole complexity of the thing has become in a way synonymous with very complex political manoeuvring. To this day you still get people talking of political situations as being very Byzantine, implying that they’re complex and sometimes devious. So that’s the kind of energy that comes out of the place.


Steve:  Yeah. Now, I know John that we chatted before about this deck and you said it’s very good for complex issues. What I’ve noticed with Tarot as I’ve used them over the years is different decks have different flavours and are good for different things. What kind of issues have you used this deck for?

John:  I think I said that, I said that it was good for complex issues, because of the very thing that I just described. The whole complexity of life at court and the Byzantine world in general. So I find that this is particularly good for those kind of everyday issues that we come up with, like problems in the workplace, sometimes problems at home, but more often to do with exterior forces if you like. So if you’re having a particularly hard time at work, if you are running into problems with your neighbours or your landlord, that kind of … very good for legal problems for instance. I did a reading for someone who was having horrendous legal problems, and it was really very pointed and clear. So that kind of thing.

Steve:  Right. Now, the Rider-Waite deck kind of set the associations of the Minor suits in stone didn’t it? The swords or air and the ones of fire and so on. But you’ve kind of got different associations. Could you say something about your suits?

John:  Well we do still have swords. Staffs instead of staves. Cup is still a cup. And the coins are still coins. So basically, they’re still the same sort of courtly associations that you have in the standard right away to other well known decks of that kind. But what we did do was to make them reflect the particular emphasis within the empire itself. So there’s a very strong emphasis on money, there’s a very strong emphasis on power. There’s a very strong emphasis on warfare. There’s a very strong emphasis on love.

So you’ve got all of the … so the traditional meanings are there, but we applied them to the world of the Byzantine Empire, which as I said, was very complex and there were lots of interactions between people. So we’ve got each of the suits reflects those specific meanings. So anyone who is familiar with Tarot finds this deck very easy to work with. Because although we have applied it, if you like, to the world of Byzantine court, people still recognise the imagery and the meanings that would come from a standard Rider-Waite style deck.

Steve:  Now I’ve picked five cards just to get a kind of understanding myself of the deck, so I’m just going to ask you to comment on the meanings of these cards. Now, the first one is from the Major and it’s the Tower card. And this is beautiful image of looks like some kind of mage dressed in blue, standing on a tower with a great serpent weaving up towards him, and there’s a kind of sun radiating down overhead.


John:  Yes. Anyone who’d familiar with the standard meanings of Tarot, will know that it’s usually the lightning struck tower or sometimes the falling tower. It always represents a break in life, a change, sudden and unexpected and sometimes shocking. We wanted to find something different because there wasn’t an exact parallel anywhere that we could find in Byzantine iconography. So Cilla came up with this one. The character standing on the top of the pillar is an old saint called Saint Simeon Stylites and he spent the last 40 years of his life sitting on top of a pillar, and people would send food up to him and everything else would be sent up or taken down. And so we liked this idea of the solitary figure who is sort of holding out against the world on top of this pillar. And then the serpent represents the sudden and unexpected break, the change, and stress if you like, of an unexpected turn of events.

Steve:  Powerful card, yeah.

John:  It’s a very powerful card isn’t it? Yeah, I love it.

Steve:  So the next card John is the Six of Swords, and here’s, looks like a kind of traveller or pilgrim on the road, an old … I’m not saying he’s an old man, but a guy with a staff. There’s these six swords buried in the ground, and behind him there’s a town with these kind of purple mountains.  Lovely image actually.

John:  It is a lovely image. Well he actually is not a pilgrim, he’s a soldier returning from the wars. All of the swords feature people who are involved in the army in some way or other, in being soldiers. So here he’s coming home, presumably after long years of service or after an intense battle. And he’s heading for home. And somewhere in the distance there, in the little village or town, is someone waving to him, waiting to welcome him home. Presumably his wife.

But the swords are there because whatever he does, he can’t quite forget the fact that he was once a soldier, or still is a soldier, and that reminds him of the world that he comes from.

Steve:  Yeah. I can just now see a little figure kind of waving.

John:  There’s a woman waving from the walls I think. So soldier coming home from war, you could say if you wanted a short version.

Steve:  So next one I have is the Knight of Staffs, and here’s a man sitting on what looks like a rock, playing a kind of flute, and beside him is another mini harp type of thing.

John:  Yes, it’s a lyre. 

Steve:  Lyre.

John:  Yes again, well in this case the staffs as I said, has to do mostly with the courtiers who attended upon the emperor and empress in the court. We do know that there were a number of wandering musicians who would go from place to place, rather in the same way that the bards did in the Celtic world. And they were musicians, they could tell stories, they would write and read poems, sing songs. And they were entertainers in fact. So this one, the Knight of Staffs is a performer, an entertainer, someone with the subtle qualities that such people have.

Steve:  Next card is the Ace of Cups. Now this looks a really beautiful Byzantine chalice. Is this an image from a real chalice?

John:  Yes it is. It’s one of my own favourites actually. It’s one of the number of such objects, cups, vessels, cauldrons and so on, round the world that have been at one time or another associated with the Holy Grail. So it is rather important, because there is a strong association of Grail mythology with Byzantine. There’s even a story that the Grail was taken there at one point and kept within the city, but it vanished after the city was sacked by the Turks in the sixth century.

We wanted something that would suggest that Grail imagery, the sense of the peace, there’s a dove of peace flying down into it you’ll see. And there are fish underneath it. It’s kind of floating over the water. And we’ve got the fish of peace, [inaudible 00:10:12], and the dove of peace descending into the cup. So yeah, it is a very powerful image.

Steve:  And the final card is the Countess of Coins. Beautiful woman sitting in what looks like some kind of courtyard, dressed in kind of gold and peach coloured clothing, and holding a large coin in her left hand.


John:  Absolutely, yes. I mean this is another … you’ll notice that as you go through it, that there are so many rather wonderful characters here that were mostly taken from actual Byzantine iconography. Cilla will talk about this I know. She really represents the, I would say the ladies of the court if you like. Even although in the Byzantine Empire as in the rest of the ancient world, women were not equal to men, they did have a very powerful role. And married women control their own diaries, and often came with their own households. So they were in positions of quite considerable power. And the Countess of Coins is really, she guards the power and the bounty within the Guild to operate it within the court. So she’s a very powerful courtly figure.

Steve:  Beautiful. Well John, it’s an amazing deck, beautiful book and fantastic cards. So thanks for talking and I wish you all the best with the project.

John:  You’re very welcome. Thanks a lot.

The Byzantine Tarot

John Matthews & Cilla Conway

The first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire, this sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art.

The Byzantine world, which lasted from 330 to 1453 CE, combined the elegance and power of Rome with the opulence and splendor of the Orient. This combination brought about richness in the world of art, literature, and spirituality that has seldom been equaled. Yet it also has a mysterious resonance, and it is to this world of emperors and empresses, saints and sinners, faith and miracles that the creators of this dazzling new tarot have turned, capturing the Byzantine vision, magic, and enchantment.



ISBN: 9781859063910

Interview with Philip Carr-Gomm on the Druid Plant Oracle

Interview with Philip Carr-Gomm on the Druid Plant Oracle

We interviewed leading Druid Philip Carr-Gomm to find out more about The Druid Plant Oracle, which he co-wrote with his wife Stephanie Carr-Gomm. 

Philip talks about symbols, such as the cauldron, archaeobotany, mistletoe and how to use the cards for guidance.

Discover the herbs, owers and fungi considered sacred in the Druid tradition, with this beautifully illustrated oracle. The virtues and qualities of each plant, and the ancient folklore and mythology associated with them, offer wisdom, inspiration and guidance, in this enlightening pack.

Watch here!

Take a good and close up look at the Plant cards, see some card spread ideas, excerpts from the book, all timed to apprear on screen while Philip is talking.

Download to listen on the go.

Subscribe so you never miss an episode!

We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting Mind, Body, Soul and Health topics

Want more from Philip Carr-Gomm? Check out this interview on the Druid Plant Oracle ->

Read the interview

Steve:            Hello, and welcome. My name is Steve Nobel and today I’m speaking with Philip Carr-Gomm on The Druid Plant Oracle. Now, Philip wanted to be a writer from a young age, but it really came about when he met a publisher at a dinner party in London. He was then in his late 30s and he was invited to write a book on druidry which went on to be a bestseller. Nowadays Philip is a psychologist, psychotherapist and writer on druidry. He’s the author of many books and oracle decks including The Druid Animal Oracle and The Druid Plant Oracle, both of which he co-authored with his wife Stephanie. If you want to find out more about druidry, his website is philipcarr-gomm.com, and there’ll be a link with this podcast. Welcome to you, Philip.

Philip C-G :   Hello. Hi there.

Steve:            My earliest introduction to druidry was actually through the amazing Asterix graphic comics. I really loved. I read them all, I think. I really like them as a kid for many reasons, but one of the reasons now I realise was that they showed this druidry and ancient way of living in a very positive light in numerous way, but a lot of Earth-based spiritual paths have not always been promoted this way. Has this been challenging for you as a druid?

Philip C-G :   Well, it’s funny you should mention Asterix, because many people that’s their first introduction, particularly on the continent actually in France and Germany and so on. It’s true that Julius Caesar and some of the classical authors gave druidry a bad press, and of course, later Christian writers. The thing about Asterix is that if you remember there’s this wonderful image of the cauldron that bubbles away and that gives the druid, what was his name, Getafix, I think, get his fix of the juice from the cauldron, which gives him incredible strength. Although, of course, it’s just a cartoon, there’s a grain of truth in there, which is, well, a number of things.

One is that the cauldron is a hugely powerful symbol for us as druids. It’s the primal symbol that in Christianity became the holy grail, but is the symbol of the divine feminine, of the womb of the goddess, of nourishment, of spiritual nourishment, and of inspiration. The drink that comes out of the cauldron in druidry is awen in Welsh or immas in Irish, which is the elixir of inspiration, of divine inspiration, which is what druids seek. Because druidry is at its heart a way of seeking inspiration. We work with this idea tremendously. Of course, there’s a link there with plants because there are all sorts of suggestions about what plants might have been in that cauldron to produce that magical elixir.

Steve:            Now, I’ve read somewhere that you wrote, “As the wilderness is eradicated, so some wilderness disappears in us also.” Now, most of us live in urban settings, and some of us have never even ventured in the wilderness. Is this a problem?

Philip C-G :   I think it’s a huge problem. We’re going through a period in the story of the Earth and humanity which is absolutely critical, this period of mass species extinction, with this five runaway trains really, one being the population, the other being pollution, the other being habitat degradation and species extinction, and that’s four. There’s a fifth one, but that’s enough of them for the moment. I can’t remember that for the moment. They’re all seriously out of control, and what we need to do is we need to address them, as many, many people are. It’s important to focus on the positive. One of the ways to get back in touch with our deep selves, with our souls, with our purpose in life and to be of more value to others in the world is to get in touch with the world outside, with wilderness, which is why druidry is a spirituality that is celebrated outdoors as much as possible. We don’t have buildings, churches or temples. Our temple is the Earth and our sacred places are stone circles and clearings in the woods and spots besides rivers and seas, and so on.

Steve:                        Wonderful. You mentioned inspiration, and I think a lot of young people are looking for inspiration perhaps in music or celebrities, you know David Bowie in my day. They’re not really looking internally or certainly not so much in the wilderness for it, do you find?

Philip C-G :   Exactly. The desire for inspiration and transcendence, for mystical experience is absolutely hard-wired into us, I believe, which is why when young people who are brought up in what’s called the consensus reality, sort the box of consensus reality and they start to break out as they grow up, that’s why they turn to drug taking and drinking and so on, in an attempt to get out of the box and expand their awareness and to have new experiences and consciousness. I think there’s a real duty amongst spiritual leaders and spiritual groups and any of us involved in this movement, really, to say to young people, hey, look, we understand why you’re doing this, but there’s a safer way to do it. There’s a more long lasting, effective way to do it, which is to follow these ways, these magical ways which can produce altered states of consciousness and a deeper sense of being alive in the world.

Steve:            It’s an interesting point, because you mentioned the drug taking and the psychedelic culture, which has been really a party party thing, but that also was part of the ancient way of connecting with the spirit worlds, wasn’t it? There were magic mushrooms and various other things that were taken.

Philip C-G :   Exactly. At the moment there’s this big fascination for ayahuasca to such a degree that demand now exceeds supply, apparently, and so the usual story is happening where the plant is being cut with or substituted with other things which are not good for you. There’s this story that I think there isn’t evidence for this, but some people in the 60s developed a story or a narrative that went that the druids were the sacred guardians of the mushrooms in the British Isles, and that’s why we are mycophobic in Britain, not mycophilic as on the continent. What that means is mycophilic is people who love mushrooms and who go out mushrooming, so if you’re in France, people will happily go out with baskets, pick mushrooms, and every local pharmacy will have charts explaining which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t, but people don’t do that in Britain.Somebody developed a theory, well, the reason why it’s taboo in Britain is because the druids were in charge of the mushrooms, because we have two psychedelic mushrooms that grow naturally in Britain, amanita muscaria, and the other one that’s fly agaric.

Steve:            Fly agaric.

Philip C-G :   Yes. Liberty caps. Fly agaric and liberty caps. There’s a very good book called Shroom by doctor Andy Letcher who dismisses this theory, but it’s a theory nonetheless. It points to exactly what you say which is the spiritual relationship that people have developed between humans and plants.

Steve:            Now the healing tradition of plant medicine seem to have a lot of it gone underground as allopathic medicine came to the fore and wanted to elbow out the way these healers and kill them off and all that. Has it been challenging rediscovering some of this lost world of druid herb lore?

Philip C-G :   Well, the thing with The Druid Plant Oracle, it’s been such a fascinating project because it’s really like such a lot in druidry. It seems to be lost but it’s just beneath the surface. A very common reaction somebody might have if you talk to them about druidry or if you say, “I’m getting interested in druidry. I’m following … ” They’ll say, “Well, there’s no evidence. There’s nothing around. It died out thousands of years ago and it’s just all fantasy.” That person just doesn’t know enough. They haven’t read enough. They haven’t studied enough, because actually there’s loads of material just waiting to be discovered really and rearticulated. That applies to the animal traditions and it applies to plant lore as well.

Although it’s true that allopathic medicine and modern approaches have pushed a lot of this stuff underground, luckily the holistic movement and the alternative health movement have been pushing back, as it were, and rediscovering stuff. You find if you look at plant lore, you find you can go right back to herbals that were produced at the same time as the ancient druids. The science of archaeobotany, which is a wonderful science really, which is extraordinary, and sometimes it’s called paleoarchaeobotany. It’s basically finding, digging up soil and discovering remains of plants from thousands of years ago. To a layperson that seems extraordinary that you could find any remains at all, but the fact is you can.

If you take, for instance, there’s a wonderful place called Llyn y Fan Fach which is a lake in Wales. Up on the top of that in this very windswept location there’s a cairn, bronze age cairn that was excavated a few years back by archaeologists and they discovered the cremated remains of a young woman. Alongside those cremated remains were traces of meadow sweet, enabling scientists to say when this woman’s remains were buried there, offerings were made of meadow sweet, and that’s, is it 4,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago. You think how can they possibly tell? They can and they do it by putting what they find under a microscope and detecting the cell structure that remains of whatever remains are there.

We’re familiar with the stories of is it from Tutankhamen’s tomb of grains of wheat or whatever being found and people being able to regrow them from thousands of years back, and that’s because they were sealed in a tomb, in a dry, hot place. Even in a windswept, wet place like the British Isles, archaeobotany can tell us what was growing at the time of the ancient druids and what they were cultivating and so on. That’s how Stephanie and I worked on The Druid Plant Oracle. We first of all turned to archaeobotany and said, okay, what was around at the time of the ancient druids, so we had a picture of that. Then we looked at the cotemporary herbals and said, okay, what were they talking about then.

Steve:            Now, I was raised a Christian as most people in this country, but what I love about druidry is it’s a path of direct experience and revelation unlike here’s the book and here’s what you have to believe type of thing. As you were writing this oracle deck, did you find that the plants themselves were inspiring you with what to say and what to do?

Philip C-G :   Here’s the extraordinary thing. It’s perhaps easy to believe that you can go inside in a meditation and become aware of the human being who tells you stuff, and whether it’s your imagination or you’re actually contacting somebody who’s died in the past or a being on another plane is a matter of belief and so on. One can imagine that. You can sort of imagine it with an animal getting, contacting an animal and perhaps that also bringing you information and so on. A plant, to the sceptic that would seem extraordinary that a plant could give you insight or information or healing in some way just in this inner world. An exercise I like to do in workshops is I just ask people, I just take them on a little journey up to Llyn y Fan Fach, this lake in Wales just for five minutes imagining they’re drifting on a cloud and travelling there and so on.

I get them to sit by the lake gazing at the lake and so on, and then I say, “Just imagine now that you can sense behind you a plant growing. Don’t turn around. Just feel it behind you. Just feel the colour. Get a sense for the colour that’s coming towards you. Get a sense for whether the energy is sharp or soft. What’s the kind of feeling there?” And so on. Then I get them in their imaginations to turn round, keep their eyes closed, feel the plant more, and then open their inner eyes and look at the plant, touch it, and then get a message. Get why am I seeing you. What is extraordinary is virtually everybody gets information, is astonished by how real the experience is and how the message or healing or energy or quality that is conveyed to them, how much it’s of help to them.

That’s really the basis of this. There’s this idea that what the plant oracle isn’t, it’s not a herbal that’s going to teach you how to make herbal concoctions and drinks and so on. There are plenty of those books, very valuable and helpful books. What it’s doing instead is it’s working with plants in a different way. It’s saying, look, these are the sacred plants of the druid tradition. These are the ideas that are traditionally associated with it. Here are some of the stories associated with this particular plant, and here’s what it might mean in your life if you draw this card in the oracle. Plants have been used as oracles, I mean the yarrow, for instance, was used as an oracle in the highlands of Scotland for centuries, as it was used strangely enough in China with the I Ching as well.

Steve:            I took the liberty of pulling a card from the deck before we spoke and I picked mistletoe, and you got a beautiful image here of mistletoe growing on an oak at the time of the winter solstice. Now the card has an upright meaning and a reverse meaning. Could you just talk us a little bit through this?

Philip C-G :   Yes. Sure. It’s interesting you chose the mistletoe, because of course that’s the plant most famously associated with the druids. The reason we associate it with the winter solstice is because the winter solstice is the time of the greatest darkness. It’s the time of the longest night. Then the whole year turns on that fulcrum, as it were, round to the light again. What we do in a druid ceremony is we put out all the lights, we extinguish candles or whatever light there is, and then we just bathe, as it were, in the darkness for a while, that sort of nurturing, nourishing power of the darkness. Then we light one candle, and then everybody in the circle lights a candle from that. You have a wonderful magical moment of everybody standing there with these little flames.

Then we hand out mistletoe. The mistletoe, those little white berries symbolise that same thing, that point of light in the darkness. It symbolises the awen that we talked about earlier of inspiration, these three drops of elixir that comes out of the cauldron, that the cauldron of darkness, if you like, of the womb. Drawing it symbolises inspiration and it’s great to draw that card if one’s going through any kind of difficulty or just any confusion of lack of clarity, or sense of darkness. It’s also used in druidry as a symbol of fertility. When you squidge a mistletoe berry and it’s rather like male sperm, so it’s been associated in that way with the idea of fertility.

It’s also auspicious to draw it when you’re trying to stimulate your own creativity, your own fertility and creativity. It’s also used to symbolise healing as well. Of course, mistletoe technically is poisonous, it’s toxic. You can’t just munch mistletoe berries to get better, but it was called All Heal, and in fact in anthroposophical medicine mistletoe is used as a medicine for cancer, and with some very interesting research around that. I think it’s a strong, good card to draw. Then this idea of the reversed meanings that you talked about. There’s generally a tradition in using cards is you can just use them for them to mean one set of meanings, but because truth is paradoxical and life is paradoxical, and there’s often a shadow side to things, or there’s a way in which something can be good for you in one moment and bad for you in the next at a different time in your life and so on, so it’s important to take that into account as well.

Of course, if you look at the opposites of all these things, and fertility is sterility, inspiration is actually the lack of guidance and so on. It’s drawing one’s attention in the reversed meaning to perhaps one is going through a period of sterility, and then you need to just sit with that and just allow that and so on.

woSteve:            Wonderful. Great. I know there’s a number of ways you can use this deck. For example, you can use it as a magical tool for creating the future. You can use it for meditation, but can I ask you just about how do we use it for guidance?

Philip C-G :   Well, what we don’t ask you to do is to use it to tell the future, because probably too long a discussion for us to have about that, but there’s a real problem with oracles as fortune telling. You have this business of the self-fulfilling prophecy, of suggestibility and so on. The way oracles can be tremendously helpful is in giving guidance. It’s as if our life and the flow of events is like the surface of a river that we’re looking at. There’s this flow of events, and what an oracle is helping you to do is just to go a little deeper and to connect or become aware of some of the currents that are flowing beneath the surface. What an oracle can do is it can say, ah, have you considered that? Look at this particular inference, and this seems to be the direction you’re going in.

This is where the fortune telling side comes in but in a gentle way. If you carry on like this, this is the direction you might be going in. Time to take stock, and that’s why you quoted earlier this thing about magically creating your future. You see, that’s where it gives you the choice. It says, look, your life is going this way, you can encourage this direction or you can take a different direction. You’re actually engaging in the process of literally creating your future.

Steve:            Wonderful. Now, the oracle comes with a beautiful book. Lovely, gorgeous, colourful cards, and I must say illustrated by Will Worthington. We should mention him. There is also something where you can actually do all the different spreads, aren’t there? Something that you can lay them on.

Philip C-G :   Yes. There are two spread sheets.

Steve:            Philip, thank you so much for speaking with me and all the best for your work.

Philip C-G :   It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much, Steve.

The Druid Plant Oracle

Philip & Sephanie Carr-Gomm

Discover the herbs, flowers and fungi considered sacred in the Druid tradition, with this beautifully illustrated oracle. The virtues and qualities of each plant, and the ancient folklore and mythology associated with them, offer wisdom, inspiration and guidance, in this enlightening pack.

The perfect companion volume to the bestselling Druid Animal Oracle, this is a must-have title for all those interested in Celtic and Pagan subjects and the world of nature.




Price: £21.99

ISBN: 978-1-85906-419-1

Philip Carr-Gomm was trained by the Chief Druid Ross Nichols. He is Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the author of many titles, including The Druid Way and Druid Mysteries.

Take Control of Your Posture with The Alexander Technique (Podcast)

Take Control of Your Posture with The Alexander Technique (Podcast)

After 10 years of back pain, Richard Brennan discovered The Alexander Technique and was pain-free after 6 weeks. 

Now an Alexander Technique expert, Richard Brennan teaches people to take control of their own posture. In this interview he talks about his latest book ‘The Alexander Technique Manual’ 
Richard Brennan explains what the Alexander Technique is, and shares the story of how Alexander first developed the technique.
The Alexander Technique is a way of moving, this includes everything from simply walking, to running in playing football and tennis.

Watch here!

Listen to stories about people with long term pain healed without surgery, get some great excerpts from the book. Special sections on playing sport, reducing stress and tension and pregnancy and back pain.

Download to listen on the go.

Subscribe so you never miss an episode!

We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting Mind, Body, Soul and Health topics

Read the interview

Steve:   Hello and welcome. My name is Steve Nobel and today I’m speaking with Richard Brennan on his book, the Alexander Technique Manual. Now, Richard has studied the Alexander Technique since 1983, and has been teaching full-time since 1989. He travels widely, giving talks and courses on the technique. He’s a director of training at the Alexander Technique Centre based in Galway, Ireland, and he’s a leading figure in helping people resolve back and neck problems. His belief is the root cause of most back pain lies in poor postural habits. He is the author of this book, the Alexander Technique, and we’re going to speak with him now. So welcome to you, Richard.

Not everyone’s heard of the Alexander Technique. Can you just give a description of what is it, and what’s it broadly for?

Richard:             Yeah. It’s quite a profound technique, but very simply, throughout our lives, we develop postural habits, and we go about our activities with far too much tension in the body. It’s a technique where I make people aware of the tension and gives you a tool to let that tension go.

Steve:   Brilliant. How did it all begin?

Richard:             Well, Alexander was an actor, a reciter in the 1800s and he developed a voice problem. Onstage, he started to lose his voice, and he tried everything, medication, exercise, but nothing seemed to help. Then, he realised it was something he was doing himself, so he studied himself. He looked and recited in front and saw that he was pulling his head back with quite a lot of force, which was depressing the larynx, and affecting his voice.

When he was able to see it and change it, his voice became perfect again. He went back on to the stage and he started getting on with reciting again. Then, his fellow actors started saying, “Well, I’m getting the same problem as you,” so he started helping his fellow actors. Then, doctors got wind of it, and then, doctors started sending him patients that they didn’t know what to do with.

Steve:   Amazing. In the book, there’s a section here that says ‘Taking Responsibility’. “Many people carry on for years enduring unnecessary pain, not realising that anything could be done for them. We need to face up to the fact that we have to take responsibility for our ailments, and not expect other people to have all the answers.” Of course, modern medicine, people go there for the pill and the bit of solution, don’t they? But this asking us to take more responsibility.

Richard:             Yeah. I mean people don’t advocate responsibility on purpose. They just don’t realise that they’re doing something to themselves, which is causing the pain. I am a pretty good example of that because I had managed back problems and sciatica for about seven years, and it just got worse and worse and worse. My father is a doctor. He couldn’t do anything. All the surgeons couldn’t do anything. Then, I turned to alternative therapies, and they didn’t do anything, either.

Then, I realised it was the way that I was sitting. I was a driving instructor at the time and it’s the way I was sitting in the car, which was exacerbating the problem. I would go to someone like a chiropractor, they put me back into place, and then, I would go back into my old habits, and the back pain will be back within two days. It’s only when I realised what I was doing and was able to change the way I was sitting that the actual pain went for good.

Steve:   Is posture a major problem for a lot of people, do you think?

Richard:             Absolutely. Absolutely. The main reason is everyone goes to school. Everyone is bending over a desk between the age of five and the age of 18, so there’s a lot of postural habits that get … You go into a classroom, everybody is actually bending their back as they’re writing, and then, they just think that’s normal after … It’s actually 15,000 hours at school plus homework. That’s a lot of time in a basically bad posture.

Steve:   And a lot of people, of course, me included, sit at a desk for long hours of the day over a computer or looking at a computer so, again, Alexander Technique is very useful for that. What kind of problems happen with this? Or was it kind of just manifested in many, many types of ways?

Richard:             Well, the most common is back problem, 49% of the population in the UK and most of the Western world, 49%. That’s nearly one in every two people have some sort of back problems every year.

Steve:   Wow.

Richard:             That’s huge. But it can cause breathing problems, like people get asthma, and people get other … And that is posture-related, too, but those are the knee problems, hip problems, ankle problems, and a whole range of shoulder, neck problems. It’s vast. Arthritis is another postural, you know, after years of misusing the body, arthritis sets in, which is basically wear and tear, so we’re wearing ourselves out before time.

Steve:   So back pain, you mentioned, is universal. I have suffered with a lower disc problem. I had a MRI scan. They said it was a problem between the fourth and fifth vertebra. I’m not sure if it was cartilage or whatever. That kind of produced sciatica, which comes and goes, here and there, which is incredibly painful, as you’ve mentioned you have it. If you’ve got this kind of condition, is Alexander Technique something that once you’ve got it, you can actually alleviate?

Richard:             Well, you know, when I had my back problem, there was no MRIs in those days. This was back in 1980s, ‘1, ’82. I had an x-ray, they injected radioactive fluids into the spine. They took x-rays and there was no disc left between L4, L5 and S1, so all the three bottom vertebras was completely worn. What they did was they said, “Look, what we need to do is remove what’s left of the disc, and then, fuse the last three vertebraes.” Says, “You’ll never be able to bend again, but at least you’ll be out of pain.”

I actually signed up for the operation. It was only after to talking my father, who is a GP, he said, “Whatever you do, don’t have the operation because I am seeing the people afterwards, and they’re usually worse,” so I cancelled the operation. Eventually, when I got around to doing the Alexander Technique, within six weeks, my back was absolutely fine …

Steve:   Wow, that’s incredible.

Richard:             … and I haven’t had a day of back ache since.

Steve:   I mean that’s incredible, isn’t it? Do you think that this is something that really should be in every office, in every school room?

Richard:             Yes, I do. I do. Because, you see, we’re spending a vast fortune on the National Health Service. A lot of it is posture-related. So if you caught it early, when the children were at school, you can have a much healthier population. That would save billions, absolutely billions.

Steve:   Gosh.

Richard:             And people ignore it. 49% of the population has back pain. What are we doing about them? We’re just producing more and more painkilling drugs.

Steve:   Someone should have a word with the government. I’m not sure they’re particularly listening, this particular government.

Richard:             Well, I’ve tried over here in Ireland, and the politicians are just … They’re too busy.

Steve:   Right. Another massive area the book covers is stress. Now, I’m sure most of the listeners to this podcast are no strangers to stress. I’ve worked in the city for 10 years. It’s high-pressure environment, work, money, going home, the mind doesn’t stop thinking. For me, stress is also not just a physical thing, but it’s also a mental, an emotional thing. How can Alexander Technique impact all those levels?

Richard:             Well, one of the major principles of the technique is the body, the mind, and the emotions, and the spirit are not separate, but they’re intuitively connected with one another, okay? When I stress myself, if I feel stressed, the muscles are also going to be stressed. If I release the muscle tension, you will feel less stress. It’s as simple as that. If someone would come to me, I would work with them for 10 minutes. They would come in in a stressed state, and then, they would leave after half an hour completely unstressed. So you work on the physical, but most people will feel the benefits emotionally and mentally as well. They go out feeling calmer.

Steve:   And stress again, the NHS must deal with a lot of stuff around stress, surely.

Richard:             Sure. A lot of mental issues are stress-related.

Steve:   Coming back to posture, I’ve done yoga and Pilates and martial arts, and they all have their own view on posture. What does Alexander Technique say about it? Is anything radically different than yoga, Pilates, and martial arts?

Richard:             You can apply the Alexander Technique to yoga, and you can apply the Alexander Technique to aikido or Qi gong or whatever. It’s something you actually apply to an activity, so it’s not an activity in itself. You can’t go and say, “Well, I’m going to go and do my Alexander Technique,” like, “I’m going to go and do my yoga.” It is an awareness technique and the philosophy behind the technique is we all started with perfect posture.

Go and look at any three-year-old, they are moving beautifully. They are standing straight. They’re not standing up straight. They’re not tensing their body. They just stand straight. That posture is already inside us. All we need to do is to let go of the muscular tension that’s actually pulling us down into ourselves, and then, the perfect natural posture just comes through.

What you do with the technique is you don’t do anything. You stop doing something. You stop doing your postural habits, and then, when you stop doing your postural habits, the right posture is there already. We have a whole series of postural reflexes, which are just dying to work if we let them.

Steve:   Now, the book comes with a whole range of things. One of the things I was really interested in, which I was surprised at, was when it comes to walking. I would have thought that walking, naturally, we have a good posture. Is that not so?

Richard:             No, not at all. Not at all. When children walk, they actually walk fairly straight. If you watch your child walking towards you, they’re very upright and they’re very straight. But if you go to a shopping market or shopping mall, and you watch people walking down the corridor, they’re actually walking kind of like a pendulum. They’re going from one side to the other side, just like if you’re walking when you get off a boat. What you’re doing there is actually walking, you’re pulling yourself down into a hip, and then, you lift a leg, and then, you pull down into the other hip, and you’re just wearing your hips out.

Steve:   Another one that was very interesting, a lot of people drive. You’ve got to listen to this. Now, you say car seats cause back problems. What can we do about driving?

Richard:             Well, I use a wedge. I put a wedge on the seat. You see, I was a driving instructor, so it was the seats in the car that gave me my back problem, because I was sitting 10 years pretty much all day in the car seat. Then, I realised that the car’s slope back, the seats slope way back, maybe as much as 15 degrees. So I just get a wedge and I put it on the seat and I make the chair flat. I don’t know how old you are, but if you went back to the 1950s, all the cars had kind of bench seats and they were much more L-shaped.

Steve:   Yeah.

Richard:             Now, our car seats, because of the shape of the car, they’re more V-shaped. So you need to get back to an L-shape kind of seat because that’s much better for your posture.

Steve:   Now, I’m a writer and you say in the book, “It’s amazing how many people hold their pens when writing, and how it creates muscular tension.” What can we do about writing?

Richard:             Well, Alexander has his own school. He actually formed his own school because he said, “We teach children lots of things, but we don’t teach them how to hold the pen.” The computer, you’re taught Java, you’re taught Microsoft, but you’re never taught how to sit at the computer, so you’re missing the basic thing. You’re actually looking at the way you do something.

Steve:   A good friend of mine is an Alexander Technique teacher, and I used to work with him. Whenever I was sitting opposite of him, I always used to sit a bit more upright, or when I was having tea with him, I was always much more aware of my posture. The one thing he told me was about the neck, and I know in your book, you talk about the kind of freedom of the neck. Again, this is a big problem, isn’t it, around the neck that we create all kinds of tensions around the neck, don’t we?

Richard:             Yeah. The head actually weighs about 12 pounds of weight. That’s six bags of sugar. That’s a huge amount of weight. Now, most people carry their head more forward than their body, so the neck is actually under quite a lot of strain, even when you’re sitting watching TV, even when you’re driving, or using computer.

Steve:   What about swimming? Because when I heard about this, I was thinking, when I swim, my neck is kind of in a very strange position, especially doing breast stroke, and I couldn’t think of a way of how I could change that.

Richard:             It’s more you pay attention and you just think of the neck becoming more relaxed. You just think of the neck muscles softening …

Steve:   Really?

Richard:             … and then, you’re not holding the head with so much tension. Now, obviously, if you’re swimming, you have to hold your head out of the water because if you relax your neck completely, your head falls in the water, and then, you can’t breathe. So, obviously, there’s common sense here, but maybe you can hold your head with not quite so much tension as before, so just thinking of the neck muscles softening can help that.

Steve:   Great.

Richard:             There is a guy called Steven Shaw and he specialises in using Alexander Technique for swimming.

Steve:   Now, there’s a whole section in the book on sports. You mentioned swimming. Now, I was a great football fan and very into playing football and tennis. Now, I did have a knee injury from a very young age, right knee dislocated. I wish I would have had some advice like this when I was a young kid. I had endless problems with my right knee. What can be done about things like football?

Richard:             Well, I’ll just give you a story of my son. He was a keen tennis player, and he ran a lot. Every time he played tennis, he’d sprained his ankle. He had some Alexander lessons from me, but also from somebody else as well. They worked out that actually it was the way he would run differently when he had his shoes on, so what he did he started playing tennis barefoot. Then, he went to the Royal College of Art in London and he designed the shoe called the VivoBarefoot Shoe. When he was wearing these, he never got any problems with his ankles. He realised it was the way he was reacting to his shoes that was causing the problem, so just becoming aware of that.

Also, when you have Alexander lessons, your whole body is just much freer anyway, so when you go and play tennis, or football, or horse-riding, you’re not so likely to be injuring yourself.

Steve:   This principle applies to playing musical instruments. I didn’t realise that many musicians gave up their careers because of aches and pains and injuries generated by the way they stand, sit while playing.

Richard:             Yeah, people like Madonna, people like Paul McCartney, quite a few famous musicians. But, just regularly, I live in Galway and the whole musical community, so I get a lot of people coming to me. Just holding the guitar with too much tension for too long can produce a pain in the shoulder, or a pain in the neck. So, again, just teaching them how to sit, stand or whatever and hold their instrument in the easiest sort of way, the pain just go away. The pain just go away. Pain is always a sign that something’s going wrong. If I can find out what is going wrong and change it, then I can eradicate the pain.

There’s an interesting story, actually, of George Bernard Shaw, the writer. At the age of 80, he was riddled with pain. He has pain in the neck, he has major back problems. His hips didn’t work properly, he had knee problems and ankle problems. So he booked a lesson with Alexander, not for any of this reason, but because he had a heart problem and the doctors given him a few weeks to live. So he goes along to Alexander and when he gets to the front door, he can’t even get up the three steps to ring the doorbell. He’s so frail. Everyone would think George Bernard Shaw is just about to die, and he’s on his last legs.

Anyway, he eventually gets into Alexander’s teaching room. Alexander takes one look at him and said, “Look, I can’t do anything for you unless you promise to come every day for three weeks.” After the three weeks, George Bernard Shaw writes a letter, says, “Dear Mr. Alexander, I just want to thank you because all my aches and pains have gone and the doctors can’t find the angina anymore. I’m walking five miles a day and swimming every morning, which I haven’t been able to do since I was 14.”

Steve:   Incredible.

Richard Brennan:             Yeah. “However, you have left me with one problem I didn’t have in the first place. Now, that I’m three inches taller, none of my clothes fit me anymore.” Then, he went on and lived for another 14 years. The only reason he died, he fell out of a tree while he was pruning it, so he’s up apple trees at the age of 94.

Steve:   Incredible. I didn’t know.

Richard:             Yeah, I know. I know.

Steve:   Well, this is going to appeal to some people, I’m sure: Pregnancy and childbirth. Now, there are some great images in the book of a woman with a great bump in front of her. Of course, this puts a great strain on the human body, doesn’t it?

Richard:             It does, it does. Yeah. Again, when someone did childbirth or in pregnancy, the more tension that they have in their body, the harder the pregnancy is going to be, the harder the birth is going to be. Someone who has a more relaxed body is just going to have an easier time there. Also, back problem is a really big problem with people who are pregnant. A lot of pregnant moms get back problem and the Alexander Technique can actually definitely help with that.

It just gives people an easier time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant or whatever you do. It just helps you to move through life with greater ease.

Steve:   It’s a beautiful book, Richard. Who is it really aimed at? Is it aimed at anyone?

Richard:             Pretty much. Anyone who wants to be more conscious of what they actually do. Anyone who wants to improve something. You might be a musician want to improve your playing, you might be a runner who want to have better performance, or you just might want to improve the way you sit at the computer. If anyone wants to improve something, or if they have any aches or pains and they don’t know why they’re getting them, this might throw some light on them.

Steve:   Richard, thank you so much. Now, if anybody interested in Richard’s work, do check his website, alexander.ie and, yeah, Richard, thank you so much for your work. I’m sure it’s touching many people brilliantly.

Richard:             Okay. Thanks, Steve.


Richard Brennan is the director of the Alexander Teacher Training College in Galway, Ireland. He lectures extensively throughout Europe and the US, and has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 25 years.


This highly effective technique for releasing muscular tension throughout the body teaches new ways of sitting, standing and moving that put less stress on our muscles, bones and joints. This step-by-step illustrated guide shows you how to move with comfort and ease and relieve and prevent common aches and pains, simply by taking control of your posture. By adjusting the way you do things you can avoid putting your body under strain, and achieve
a more relaxed muscular system. Let go of tension, and discover a new sense of lightness and well-being in
your day-to-day life.

Price: £14.99 RRP
ISBN: 978-1-85906-408-5

Making sense of your moods and emotions with Andrea Harrn

Making sense of your moods and emotions with Andrea Harrn

Psychotherapist and author Andrea Harrn talks to Steve Nobel about how mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and positive psychology theories are woven together to create The Mood Cards. 

Psychology doesn’t have to be complicated.The Mood Cards offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore your moods and emotions.

Andrea explains how she designed the cards to help teachers, psychologists, mental health professionals and hospice workers connect with, and help their clients open up about their moods and emotions. Andrea talks through a couple of cards with Steve, giving examples of the questions she may ask her client and the issues surrounding each emotion.

Watch here!

Listen to Andrea and Steve chat about emotions, psychotherapy and get a closer look at the emotions including Anger, Acceptance, Forgiveness and Disapointment.

Download to listen on the go.

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We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting
Mind, Body, Soul, Personal Development and Health topics.

Steve Nobel:                       So, hello and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel and today I’m speaking with Andrea Harrn on The Mood Cards. Now, Andrea’s a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, intuitive healer, and expert in emotional intelligence, and she’s the creator of The Mood Cards, published by Eddison Books. Now, these cards are based on cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and positive psychology. There are 42 cards in the box, showing a variety of emotions, ranging from happy to sad to resentment to guilt to stress. Each card comes with guided questions for self exploration, plus an affirmation for positive thinking, and her mission in creating these cards is to bring peace and understanding to the word through emotional intelligence, empathy, forgiveness, and love. And a good website to check out these cards is themoodcards.com. Hi, Andrea.

Andrea Harrn:                    Hello, Steve.

Steve Nobel:                       Can I ask you … I really think they’re brilliant, by the way. I’ve been looking through them and I can see so many applications for these. Can you say something about how you came to create these cards?

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, sure. Well, I’m working in my therapy, and I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 18 years now. I was noticing that a lot of people found it really hard to find the words to express their words and feelings and their emotions, and I was actually looking for a product myself that I could show to people with the different types of faces and expressions, and there was nothing available. So I just started to work on my own set of cards.

Andrea Harrn:                    In the beginning I imagined that this was something that I was just gonna use for myself. But as the idea developed it sort of grew and grew and I could see that there could a good use for this with other therapists, because if I was looking for it then I guess other people might be looking for that as well. As the idea developed, I began to realise that this could actually be a great tool for people that aren’t even in therapy, just being at home on their own and maybe struggling with how they think and feel. The idea developed over a period of time, and it eventually became the product it is now, which is a product that is suitable for adults and children and also the professionals to use, and teachers, and anyone really working with vulnerable people.

Steve Nobel:                       Great. I was going to ask you that actually, because they have these kind of very child-like faces, don’t they on these, kind of round faces with different expressions, but I guess everyone can relate to that.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, the point was I wanted to keep them very simple, so I didn’t exclude anybody. I did toy with the idea of making the faces fancier, but I just really liked that that’s not necessary, and actually simple is good, because what the faces do is they act as a mirror to whoever’s looking at them, they act as a mirror to that person. So in a way, when you’re looking at the card you’re reflecting your own impression onto the image, and the image is looking back at you. It’s that simple form that helps people to open up, because there’s no barriers there.

Steve Nobel:                       Do you think, it seems to me this way, that there’s a greater need for emotional intelligence in our modern day world? We’re kind of trained educationally to think and to do stuff, but what about emotional intelligence?

Andrea Harrn:                    Well, I think that it is something that is very important, because if you look at the way society is and other societies are [inaudible 00:03:23] in a way to think certain ways or believe in certain ideologies, or religions or ways of doing things. Even in families, families are built up with certain structures. Actually it’s quite hard for people to break away from that, and sometimes you feel that you can’t be who you are because you’re born into a certain society or to a certain culture.

Andrea Harrn:                    What the mood cards does is it helps you to think for yourself. So they can actually be quite challenging to a person using them, because as it gets you to really think things through, and it might go against what you’ve believed or to avoid in the way that you’ve seen life or thought about life, and really understanding it through emotions is a great way to do it, because emotions is what drives us. When we drive with our emotions our moods influence the way we behave, and of course, having emotional intelligence can help us to understand who we are, and have better relationships with people. If we can understand, especially when things go wrong, if we can understand what it was that happened to us in that process of things if things go wrong or maybe go right, then we can look at how to make things better in relationships, or having better connections with people, more understanding.

Andrea Harrn:                    So yeah emotional intelligence also opens up self-awareness, and it opens up empathy, and deeper connection. That has to be a good thing for societies.

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah, no, I come from an averagely neurotic British family, that’s my background. Certain emotions felt almost like taboos. There were certain feelings that just would not seem to be allowed. Do you think that’s kind of a general thing for a lot of families?

Andrea Harrn:                    I think that sometimes people aren’t given the opportunity to express themselves and feel that they’re being listened to. For example, if you are feeling a certain way and you are wanting to express that, but you weren’t given that space to express it, and you don’t feel like you’re being listened to. In the end you just begin to clam up and hold all those emotions in. That’s why people have problems in mental health, because they’re not able to express themselves properly, they’re not able to be heard, and to use other people to bounce ideas off. It can feel for some people that there’s no point in telling anybody how they feel, or if they do tell somebody that they’re gonna be talked over or told that they’re wrong.

Andrea Harrn:                    So yeah, it’s good to be able to express yourself and to give a person the chance to listen to you and you to listen to them. That’s really what I wanted to create the cards, because I wanted to bring an easy way really for people to look at how they’re feeling, and to have conversations with others. For example, if you’re using the cards with a friend or with your partner, or maybe for a parent using it with child, the questions on the cards actually allow people to open up, because it’s not the person asking the question it’s the card that asks the question. So it does allow people to open and answer in an honest way and hopefully be listened to.

Steve Nobel:                       I never really thought much about the difference between a mood and an emotion, but I guess there is one. What’s the difference?

Andrea Harrn:                    Well, I mean both of them are temporary so nothing is permanent. For example, if you wake up and you’re feeling angry when you first wake up, by lunch time you may feel quite happy because your day’s gone well. So I would say that you could wake up in a bad mood, but you can be in a good mood later on in the day, something good happened. Emotional thinking is more instinctual. It might be when somebody does something and you immediately go into a feeling of hurt or disappointment, and you feel that in your body. So it’s more of an instinctual biological response. To be honest moods and emotions there’s a crossover in both of them. More or less they’re both really doing the same thing, except that I would say that a mood can be longer lasting, and emotions tend to come and go.

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah. Now your cards are based on CBT, mindfulness and positive psychology. Can you say something about how all of this works together? How have you woven all these different things together?

Andrea Harrn:                    Okay well it would really be, the cards are a reflection of how I work as a therapist. So I’m an integrative therapist and many therapists will be working in an integrative way. So you know lots of models and study to become a therapist and a counsellor, but you never just stick to one model anyway, because life’s not like that and people aren’t black and white, so it won’t work that way. So really what I’ve done in the cards is the cards are reflection of how I work.

Andrea Harrn:                    For example with the mindfulness, it’s really about paying attention to the mood or the emotion that you feel, not trying to push it away, but just looking at it and sitting with it for a while, and being able to accept yes this me, this is how I feel. And that’s really important to do that because if you don’t do that then you’re just burying it and pushing it down or fighting it or resisting it.

Andrea Harrn:                    Then CBT, which is cognitive therapy, is a really useful way to break down problems, and look at how your thinking might be affecting the situation. For example, some people have what I call a negative script, everything about them tends to be, it might be nothing’s going to work, people don’t like me, I’ve got no friends, I’ll never get that job, things don’t go my way, that would be a typical negative script. So what CBT aims to do is look at how a person thinks about a problem, and then break it down and see is that actually true, is there evidence for that, okay if that is the case what can you do to move forward from that. So it’s quite a structured process. CBT is quite structured by it aims to move somebody from thinking negatively about a situation, to be able to see a different perspective, and hopefully to come out seeing a brighter side or a learning that you can take forward.

Andrea Harrn:                    Then the positive psychology is more to do with changing mindset, having positive thoughts, thinking about life in a more positive way. That also includes, well on the cards it is about the affirmations, and being able to give yourself positive statements. The thought is just a message that we give ourselves, and it’s just as easy to give ourselves a nice little or a helpful thought than it is to give ourselves a bad thought or a negative thought. But it does take practise to learn how to do that.

Andrea Harrn:                    I have separated the cards out into three different areas of working on the cards, and usually what I would suggest is people start with the mindfulness, which is looking at the image. And then also the statements and the words on the front and the image which you can work with as well. Then moving on to the three questions which is the CBT moving on to the affirmation. So why I’ve done in that way is I’ve found that a lot of my clients were looking at positive affirmations, and saying that they didn’t work for them because they hadn’t really moved to that point where they could say a positive affirmation. There was still work to do, there was resentment, or hurt, or disappointment or trauma that hadn’t been worked through. So if you could imagine if you’d been through a trauma or something really difficult, say something like I really love myself, it’s like sticking a plaster on top of a huge wound. So you work through the wounds and the injury before you can come out and give yourself the positive affirmation and actually feel, yeah this feels right for me now.

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah, I guess these cards have a wide range of applications from schools to therapy sessions. Can you say something about, kinda, the applications you envision for these cards?

Andrea Harrn:                    When I first created the cards, I didn’t really know, I sort of did it intuitively, I went through the process of creation of them, and I hoped that they would reach the right people. My intention was these cards will reach the people that need these cards. I couldn’t have imagined at the time how wide this would reach, it’s actually amazing and the publishers have done an amazing job of also making sales of the cards. I think they’re in about 14 languages already, just in three years, which is incredible. I know from the feedback I get from people that they are being used at the moment I know that they’re being used by therapists, psychologists, counsellors. They’re being used in hospices, they’re being used in children’s homes, they’re being used in youth projects, the kids that are on probation, or kids that are getting into trouble, they’re being used in schools, they’re being used by mental health workers.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, there’s lots of cases and at junior schools and primary schools. I am really happy that they’re reaching into schools as well, because that’s such a good place to be teaching children about emotions. When schools talk about results, you know SATs results, and other results, well you know so many kids don’t do well at school because there’s so many emotional problems going on. I think especially nowadays with so many children coming from difficult backgrounds, poverty, and chaotic family life, refugees. There’s a whole array and reasons why kids can’t do well at school, and these are emotional reasons, so it’s actually, I feel really happy that they’re getting into schools now.

Andrea Harrn:                    It’s so simple to use the cards as well that they can be used by children from about three or four upwards. So yeah they’re being used in lots of places, and of course by individuals buying them just for themselves to use for their own self-awareness and their own self development. They’re being used by couples as well to help to understand each other, because quite often you can be with somebody for twenty years and not really know what makes them tic. But somehow using the cards, the questions on those cards gets people to open up in a way that they might have ever opened up before. It does deepen connections.

Steve Nobel:                       Great. Now I’ve picked four cards just to give people a flavour of this, and let’s go through. The first one I’ve pick is this universal, probably universal, anger with a big red border with a ‘grrrr’ around it with a round face and kind of grimace. Can you just take us through this card?

Andrea Harrn:                    Yes sure. Well you’re right, anger is something we all feel isn’t it? I know that I felt angry a few days ago, and it did take me awhile to process that. But what I noticed in my own anger is that it was me that was really suffering. So the meaning of the card is to actually help people to see, well what is it that’s actually causing you to feel angry. When we talk about what it is that’s made you feel angry sometimes you can even laugh about what made you feel angry, because it doesn’t always sound that serious when you speak it out. So the first question, “What is causing you to feel angry?” To actually pinpoint what is the problem here. Is it something simple like somebody pushed in front of you in a queue, or is it something more of an anger that somebody’s done something terrible to you? So it’s about putting things into perspective.

Andrea Harrn:                    The second question on the card is, “How is your anger affecting you and those around you?” I think that’s an important question because when we hold on to anger it’s us that suffers isn’t it, Steve. We’re the ones that are feeling knotted inside. So also thinking about that question, how is it affecting you, how does it affect you physically? Are there knots in your stomach, are you clenching, are you getting hot? Also, what’s your behaviour like, because when you’re angry it might be affecting others around you. So it gets you to think through actually what is happening when I’m angry and how many people are affected by my anger. Then it asks, “what could you do differently?” So that will help you to just think, well maybe I should just walk away or go for a walk and do some deep breathing, something like that.

Andrea Harrn:                    Also, the third question, “Are there possible explanations?” So that question helps people to look at maybe see the other side of things, look at things from other people’s point of view, or perhaps just check out that you’re not making assumptions. Then the affirmation is about being aware of the anger and knowing that that will pass, so it’s not a permanent state.

Steve Nobel:                       The second card, acceptance, with a blue border this time. A bit of a different faced with a statement at the top, “I take life as it comes, there are some things that you just can’t change.” Acceptance.

Andrea Harrn:                    So should I do this card for you, Steve, and that might help you, yeah? So I am just wondering the first question that I might ask you is why you chose this card, acceptance?

Steve Nobel:                       Well, it seems to be a nice follow on from the anger. I chose kind of a difficult one and the a nice easy one, and acceptance to me seemed one of those things, something that I work on a lot. There just really are some things you can’t change. Of course there are some things that you can do things about. So this card really for me is about self-acceptance and accepting external things, around me which I might not like particularly.

Andrea Harrn:                    Okay, so the first question on the back is, “What does acceptance mean to you?” It will mean something different to everybody I’ve asked, but what does it mean to you, Steve? Acceptance as a concept, what does it mean to you?

Steve Nobel:                       It means accepting the parts of myself I might not like very much. For example, my vulnerability, I might not like feeling vulnerable. But it’s accepting that I do have these different aspects of myself, and to love all of those parts or to accept all those parts of myself. Also, accepting what I consider I would say difficult people. Trying to accept them, that that’s the way they are, rather trying to change them. It actually leaves me feeling much happier during the day doing this kind of practise.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, so that would be the second question, “How does it feel inside?” So when you come to that point in acceptance what does that feel like for you inside of you?”

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah, a lot more relaxation, less fighting, less struggling, more going with things, more helped me put my energy towards things which are probably more constructive.

Andrea Harrn:                    So in the future, thinking about acceptance, how can that take you forward if you keep going with this sort of acceptance, how do you think that can help you in moving forward in life?”

Steve Nobel:                       Less worrying, less struggle, less putting energy into things which is a bit pointless in putting into. So it makes me more productive in a way, because I’m actually choosing to my energy into things which can be moved forward, rather on stuff that’s just almost like banging my head against the wall.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, wasted energy.

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah, totally.

Andrea Harrn:                    So do you want to say the affirmation?

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah. I gratefully accept all that comes my way as an opportunity for personal growth and learning. That’s nice, I like that one, very nice.

Andrea Harrn:                    So with the affirmations, they’re not always gonna feel like the right affirmation for people, but I offer that opportunity for people to think about the affirmation, and then maybe if it doesn’t feel quite right to make their own affirmation or change the affirmation slightly that’s fine. It’s not a fixed affirmation that has to be your affirmation. It’s a suggestion of an affirmation. When I’m working with clients I find that they really like the affirmations, they don’t want to change them. It seems to work quite well.

Steve Nobel:                       Great. Now the third card is disappointed, and there’s a kind of grey boarder. I expected more, you know the face is slightly less than happy face.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, so that’s something that causes a lot of problems for people, is disappointment with others, and it’s about expectations. People have their expectations quite high. A lot of people have high expectations than others, and other people can’t make them because they don’t know what they are. So unless it’s a specific agreement that you have with someone, if I do this for you you’ll do that for me. It’s specific, people don’t know what is expected of them. So where expectations are too high, that just leads to disappointment. But nevertheless when people are feeling disappointed, it’s important for them to be able to express it and not just to have the answer that I shouldn’t expect so much, because if you’re feeling disappointed you’re feeling disappointed. It’s important to be able to express why.

Andrea Harrn:                    So the first question is, “Why are you feeling let down, why are you disappointed?” And that gives people the opportunity to just express it, whatever it is, however much it might seem a big thing or a small thing, however it may seem to somebody else, to the person that’s disappointed it’s real, and it’s hurtful, and it’s affecting them. So the first question gives people the opportunity to talk about the disappointment. Who’s let you how do you feel, and also be empathic if you are working with somebody else on this, let them express themselves, be empathic, be kind, be compassionate, this person hurts and they’re disappointed.

Andrea Harrn:                    So and then it talked about that, then you can talk about expectations. Where your expectations realistic, did you expect that to happen? That gives people that opportunity to think, well actually maybe I was just hoping for something that was never going to happen anyway, or perhaps that this is just typical that this person always does this so why am I surprised, you see what I mean? It helps people put it in perspective.

Andrea Harrn:                    Then the third question is, “What can we do to make sure that you no longer let events or behaviour of others affect you?” So in that way it might be well, I know this person always cancels me at the last minute when we have arrangements. So what can you do to no longer let that affect you. Well, I won’t make arrangements with that person, or I will do this or I will do that. So it’s quite a logical practical step that people can begin to take, because it’s about empowerment really as well. Empowering yourself and not being let down by others but actually being in control of the situation, deciding how you are going to manage it, and how you’re going to be in control so you don’t have to be let down by anybody.

Steve Nobel:                       Great. Now the last card is forgiving. A nice green boarder, slightly more smiley face, “We all make mistakes.” This is obviously a much more optimistic and healing card isn’t it?

Andrea Harrn:                    It is. Would you like me to do this one with you, Steve, and ask you the questions?

Steve Nobel:                       Sure, okay.

Andrea Harrn:                    Okay, so do you believe that we all make mistakes?

Steve Nobel:                       Yes, totally.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah. So the first question is, “How easy or hard is it to find forgiveness in your heart?”

Steve Nobel:                       Well to answer this one, being in the spiritual world I should say, it’s very easy, but I’m not going to say it is always very easy. I’ve noticed in myself actually I need to feel everything in myself completely, before I can ever come to a point I could let it go or forgive it. I can’t do it immediately, it sometimes takes me a day or two if it’s very strong to just process all the stuff inside of me to come to a point where I know, okay I’ve felt it all fully. I need to feel it fully, what’s going on and then, not necessarily express it without feeling it. When I’ve come to a point of neutrality, then I find it’s okay, but I have to go through the process first.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah, I think that that’s quite understandable and normal and perfectly acceptable to do that, because we’re human aren’t we and if we’re hurt by someone, then to just forgive somebody straight away, I don’t know, it might happen, but I guess it depends by how hurt you by someone, or what they’ve actually done to think about forgiveness straight away. Would that be saying that well that didn’t matter or you weren’t bothered if you weren’t bothered that it wouldn’t hurt you that much, but if you are bothered than yeah, it’s normal to want to take that time to process.

Andrea Harrn:                    But forgiveness isn’t forgetting, there’s a difference between forgiving someone and forgetting what they … you know still remember what somebody’s done, but you might reach that point when you can forgive them. Actually forgiveness helps you. When you do forgive how do you find that it helps you when you can forgive someone?

Steve Nobel:                       Well, I like the saying, “Forgive but not forget.” I think as you said I think it’s important because there are lessons in life that we can learn from even difficult experiences, rather than just go ah forget about it. So I think what’s the learning and this, how can I learn and grow, and forgiveness kind of lets go of the hard edges of it, lets go of the kind of angst all the story of it. So for me forgiveness is letting go of the story, but absorbing the lessons. I’ve found in my life that I’ve learned so much from the hard knocks as much as from the lovely hugs you know. You do learn from hugs. I think it’s letting of the story of it that keeps us bound in the patented or maybe recreating it.

Andrea Harrn:                    Also, I think it’s similar to the anger card as well. When you’re not forgiving somebody what you’re holding onto is anger or resentment or hurt. All of those negative emotions. You’re the one that suffers when you’re not forgiving. When you can forgive and let it go, actually it frees you up, it frees your energy up for better things and more important things. It’s sort of letting go it’s a cleansing isn’t it, forgiveness?

Steve Nobel:                       Totally. It really feels like a weight is gone.

Andrea Harrn:                    Exactly, exactly. It moves you out of conflict because when you’re not forgiving it there’s a level of conflict there isn’t there?

Steve Nobel:                       Yeah I’ve got a fair amount of scorpio’s on my chart, so I can understand the power of this card. Scorpio’s don’t find it easy, I’m not scorpios I haven’t got a lot in there, so I have to really feel the angst of it and then I’m okay, then it’s gone then it’s fine.

Andrea Harrn:                    Yeah and just as well Steve that this first box, the main colours was relating much to the colour of the chakras as well. When I created the cards I had to sit with all of these feelings and facts. This is a bit of my personal journey here because everyone of these cards, I couldn’t just sit and write it, and create it, I had to actually go through all of these emotions. When I was going through them it was, I connected to where felt the emotions in the body and that helped me to connect with the colours of the chakras and see where those emotions are held. It was a powerful process for me really to go through creating these cards. It was quite hard to write them in the beginning …

Steve Nobel:                       I guess that makes them more powerful doesn’t it?

Andrea Harrn:                    It was really powerful, it was powerful. It was, I had to go through everything myself. That’s why it took a long time to create them. I’ve let them go now. It took me a long time to know that I could let them go, and now I’ve let them go emotionally, and they’re just doing what they need to be doing, they’re out there in the world.

Steve Nobel:                       Well, I highly recommend people to check these cards out. The Mood Cards published by Edison books. Andrea thank you so much for speaking with me.

Andrea Harrn:                    Thank you.

The Mood Cards

Make sense of your moods and emotions for clarity, confidence and well-being

Psychology doesn’t have to be complicated. Based on cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and positive psychology, The Mood Cards offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore your moods and emotions.

Each card includes guided questions for self-exploration plus an affirmation for positive thinking. Whether to help you manage difficult moods, approach relationships more skilfully, become more sensitive to the needs of others, or simply be able to communicate and listen effectively, using the cards will encourage you to be con dent in who you are, expand your emotional intelligence and help you move forward in a positive way.


Understand deep emotions

Explore more complex emotions and behaviours for healing, happiness and inner peace.

Based on mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, this pack demystifies psychology and mental-health labels, and offers a fun and accessible way to help you identify and explore moods, feelings and emotions.

Following the success of the original bestselling MOOD CARDS box, this new, stand-alone volume offers 50 cards to help you work with more complex emotions and behaviours, so that you can embark on a deeper journey of self-discovery. Learn more about your issues and obstacles, and how you operate in relationships and work situations, and gain new insights and perspectives that will take you forward to success and a healthy work/life balance. Each card includes guided questions for self-exploration plus an affirmation for positive thinking, and the pack is suitable for personal and professional use alike.