Interview with Juliet Sharman-Burke
Steve Nobel Interviews Juliet on her book ‘Beginner’s guide to Tarot’. They discuss specific cards in the deck, from the High Priestess to the Seven of Swords, Juliet shares some tips for beginners and having her preconceptions challenged by the cards in front of her.
If you’re a first-time tarot user, then this is the pack for you. The Sharman-Caselli deck has been specially designed for the novice, with every card illustrated in clear and distinctive style, using imagery inspired by classic decks. Getting to know the cards is easy and fun, following Juliet Sharman- Burke’s user-friendly teaching method. Juliet introduces the Minor cards first, along with practice layouts, before moving on to the Major Arcana. Before long, you will be using all 78 cards of the complete deck, and will progress from beginner to expert tarot reader in no time! This is the definitive deck to use as you begin your journey of discovery through the tarot.
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Juliet Sharman-Burke is a practising psychotherapist and noted authority on the tarot and astrology. She has written several books on the tarot, and is co-author of the bestselling classic deck The Mythic Tarot.
Giovanni Caselli is an illustrator with a passion for the classical world, its literature, art, symbols and myths. His characteristic style is the perfect medium for the tarot, where colour and detail have symbolic significance.
Prefer to read? See the transcript below!
Steve: Hello and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel. Today I’m speaking with Juliet Sharman-Burke on the Beginners Guide to Tarot. Now, Juliet was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and believes her early years in that beautiful land full of myth and beauty shaped her love of stories and the stars.
She’s lived most of her adult life in London, but her memories of Africa have never faded. She became interested in Tarot in the early ’70’s and this interest soon became a passion. She’s a practising psychotherapist, an authority on tarot and astrology, having written several books on the tarot, and is the author of the Mythic Tarot Deck and the Beginners Guide to Tarot. Welcome to you, Juliet.
Juliet: Hello, thank you very much. I’d just like to say, Steve, that I co-authored the Mythic Tarot with Liz Greene.
Steve: Well, I’m sure a lot of our listeners would have heard of Liz Greene, she’s a very famous astrologer.
Steve: Can you just say something about your journey into tarot. How did you get involved with it?
Juliet: Well, it started when I was about 17, 18, and I just came across a book randomly and picked it up. It was, I just sort of was drawn to it, and it was a book with tarot cards and an explanatory book interested in astrology, through another friend just chatting about astrology, and then became more and more interested. Then finally, I started studying with Liz, with Liz Greene, at the Faculty for Astrological Studies. She introduced me, or reintroduced me to myth, because I was always fascinated by myth and fairytale from my childhood. I just started reading around the subject, and in those days, it was, there weren’t very many books on the tarot that were comprehensible, and there weren’t that many decks either. There was the Rider Waite deck, and then the old decks, and I, in a way I wrote a book to try to help myself understand it. I wrote the book that I wanted somebody else to write for me, because I couldn’t find like that in those days.
Since then everything’s changed a lot, and there are more tarot books than you can shake a long stick at, but in those days there weren’t. How did I get interested in the tarot? Just by, I think it was really I have to say by chance, and wanting, I think I, I think the title of the book was Tell Your Future in the Tarot, and I thought, “Well that’s a nice thing to know, my future.” Of course, I discovered that you don’t actually get to know your future, you get to know trends around your future. It’s not predictive in a very A, B, C way, but I found it fascinating that was happening when I was doing readings for friends, things I thought I knew about them were being contradicted by what the cards were saying, and that was quite fascinating to me. I realised that it wasn’t, that the cards were actually telling me things I didn’t know. I’ll give you an example.
I was, a friend of mine had just got married and had spent about a year and a half, two years, doing up her house with her husband, and she said, “Would I look at her cards?” Because she knew I was sort of a novice and practising, and I said, “Yes.” When I looked at the cards, I said, “Oh, it looks like you’re supposed to be moving, but you can’t be, you’ve just moved into your new house.” She said, “Well, actually I’m about to leave my husband, so, yes, I am moving.” I said, “Okay.”
Juliet: It was an example to me of how my preconception about somebody was, “Oh, well they can’t be moving because they’ve just moved. That doesn’t make sense.” Actually, I didn’t know the backstory, so the cards were telling me something I didn’t know, and that was quite a lesson.
Steve: Let me ask you something about this idea of fate and choice and probability. Our fate’s not written in the stars, such a thing. We have choice, don’t we?
Juliet: Absolutely. We definitely have choice, and the cards don’t tell us what we, what will happen, they suggest something about the influences that are around us at the time. This particular girl had, there was movement, there was moving, there was change, and some of the cards are sort of, they do quite specifically say things like change of residence, but it can be lots of things other than just a simple residence. It’s a movement, something is changing, something is happening. Now, we can’t get yes-no answers, “Will I be rich? Will I be successful?” All those sort of things. We have to, the tarot is like a weather forecast, an emotional weather forecast of where we are at the time, and there are opportunities and influences that are around us. They can be very energetic or quite passive, and we can use the tarot to see what we should be doing. It’s a bit like when the weather is great, we go outside. When it’s not so good, we stay inside, and we adapt ourselves according to the prevailing circumstances.
How I would, that’s how I use the tarot, as a guide, and also as something to, if you like, stimulate the unconscious patterns, because I think we know a lot more than we know we know. The other funny thing about the tarot, is that actually we don’t really want to know our future, we think we do, but we don’t. What we do want to know is, “What should I do at the moment because I’m lost, I’m confused, I’m feeling at a crossroads, or I’m just plain miserable? What can I do to help myself through this?” It’s where the tarot and indeed astrology can be useful, because it can give us a sort of a, and images through the tarot can give you an image of where you are in life, and that stimulates some sort of creative response rather than what will happen. I mean, if anybody seriously thought about being given a complete forecast of their life, at 21, if somebody told you, “By the time you’re 60, these things will have happened to you,” you’d probably think, “You know what, I don’t want to bother.”
Steve: Yeah, for sure.
Juliet: Through relationships, jobs, all the things that you were getting excited about, and then they fail, or they, you really wouldn’t want to know.
Steve: Yeah. Can you say something, Juliet, on this connection between tarot, astrology, psychology, they kind of weave in, and even numerology, they kind of weave in and out, don’t they?
Juliet: They’re all tools by which we can try to contact probably more unconscious, or things that we don’t process in a very rational way. That they get us in touch with, I suppose if you want to put it this way it sounds quite grand, but the greater mysteries. Things that are really quite hard for our conscious minds to process, because our conscious minds are quite small. Our unconscious minds are pretty enormous. It’s trying to unds-, I think it’s trying to get in touch with the larger, the luminous, the mysterious, in a way that’s actually possible.
Because the astrology narrows us down to time, when planets moving through, you sort of get an idea of, “Well, this particular transit’s going to take six weeks or maybe a couple of years.” We get an idea of time through astrology, and the quality of time through the planets and the aspects that the planets are making. With tarot, we get images which help us to imagine things, and to understand things, and that’s where I think story is so important and why the mythic tarot and the myths around tarot and astrology are so important, because they give us a story to think about.
Steve: Now, let me ask you something about the Major Arcana, in this deck, the Beginners Guide to Tarot, because these are really describing archetypal forces. I did pick up one before this interview, the High Priestess, and this is a woman dressed all in white, holding a bunch of flowers, and on the background there seems to be two pillars, one black, one white, with a crescent moon leach, with what looks to me like an apple on the background, it’s kind of a drape between the pillars. What is this card depicting?
Juliet: Well, the High Priestess is the, it’s the new moon, it’s an aspect of the new moon. She symbolises the virgin, she symbolises potential unfulfilled, she symbolises the beginning of something, but it’s something quite unconscious. It’s almost as though it hasn’t come to fruition. Obviously, the virgin is the, is an image of something which has, which is potential unfulfilled as yet. Full moon, is potential fulfilled, and you see that in the card of the Empress, who is fertile, who is pregnant, who is about to give birth. Whereas the High Priestess symbolises something which is around in the unconscious, but as yet not actually surfaced.
It’s a sense, almost like a pregnancy, where you know that something’s happening, it’s not quite ready to come to light yet. There’s a sense of creativity which is bubbling away under the surface, but it’s not actually, you don’t quite know how it’s going to manifest. In the same way as when you’re pregnant, you don’t exactly know what sort of baby you’re going to have. Even if you had scans and that sort of thing, you still don’t know what sort of baby it’s going to be, until it’s time for, or when at which point it reveals itself. When the High Priestess comes in, up in a reading, it means that there is sort of lots of intuitive understandings of what’s going on, but nothing is absolutely clear.
Steve: Now let me ask you about the four decks, or four suits, where you’ve got swords, wands, cups and pentacles. Now the first one I’ve got here, can you say something about the swords, and also the card I picked was the seven of swords, which is a, which look like a young man running away from a tent carrying seven swords in his hand, and looking quite jubilant, and there’s a blue sky with clouds behind him and this purple banner fluttering in the breeze.
Juliet: Well, the four suits are the, correspond pretty much to the four elements in astrology, so earth, fire and water. The seven of swords, the swords is the air suit, the suit of air. It’s the thinking function, so it very much relates to how we actually think and how we go about thinking, and the seven of swords is a card which suggests that whatever is going on for you at the moment, you need to think quite carefully about how you pitch it, if you like.
You don’t necessarily say everything that you think, you’re quite, you have to be quite careful how you go about saying things, or presenting things to people. You need to be mindful of what’s going on. For instance, if you are about, if you’re employed and you decide that you’d like to change your job, you don’t actually tell your boss that you’re going for an interview. You go for the interview and then you tell them later. Do you see what I mean?
Steve: Yeah. I do, yeah.
Juliet: Those times where you, it’s sort of you’re not being necessarily entirely dishonest, but you have to be quite careful how you phrase things.
Steve: The next suit is wands, which I guess is fire. Then I picked a card of the four of wands, which is a, it’s a very yellow, orangy-yellow card, with a man under four kind of poles holding up a reef, and there seems to be in the distance some kind of castle, and a very yellow skyline. Now, what about this card?
Juliet: Let’s see. This is the card of, it’s a sort of a celebration. The card looks a bit like people celebrating. There’s a lot of, it’s the sort of thing where you achieve a certain amount of success.
It’s the beginning, it’s the, it’s not the end result, but it’s certainly a good start on your journey to some form of creative endeavour, because the wands are fiery and they represent sort of creative endeavours. There’s a success, there’s sort of good opportunities. It’s the beginning, but it’s very encouraging.
Steve: Now the next suit is cups, which I think is water, and I picked the three of cups, which is, it looks like three young maidens kind of dancing together with flowers in their hair, holding up three golden chalices. It looks kind of hap-, a celebration of a different kind perhaps.
Juliet: Yes, it is. Very often the cups is the, it’s an emotional, it’s feeling. There’s an emotional celebration, it’s often linked with occasions like weddings or big family celebrations. It’s a time of, the three, the number three usually represents some sort of an initial completion. It could be, quite often it’s around weddings, or, yeah, the celebration of a relationship. It’s a sort of an initial, it’s the beginnings.
Steve: It’s a beautiful card. The last suit is pentacles, which I guess is earth, and I picked the two of pentacles. A young man looking up at these two flying, it looks like coins almost, and in the background are two ships sailing away.
Juliet: The two of pentacles is, it’s juggling, it’s, the twos are the sort of the starting of a journey, and sometimes it’s juggling money, it’s juggling resources, sometimes it’s borrowing Peter to pay back Paul. It’s quite energetic and it’s quite positive, but it means you have to move around quite quickly financially. It’s lots of action in order to get to a more stable point.
Steve: Now this deck is designed specifically for beginners, so I guess as a teaching guide and tool.
Juliet: Well, I think the, I mean it’s designed as a deck of its, in its own merit. The book is very much designed for beginners, but the deck is, has its roots, or its imagery is not dissimilar to that of the Rider Waite. The colours particularly have been chosen in order to link up the, that you’ve got the blues for the cups, the golds for the pentacles, but also the pentacles, which is an earth element, have got lots of greenery, lots of natural things, and they’ve all got little mice or rabbits to link them up to the natural world.
Whereas the water cup, the water suit, cups have got fish or mermaids. The fire has got salamanders, which are the famous lizards that live in the heart of flame. The swords have got things like birds and butterflies to connect it with the air. Little sort of visual aides to connect the cards with the elements.
Steve: Now, have you got any tips for beginners? If somebody is completely new and wants to learn the tarot, what few things would you say are essential just to bear in mind?
Juliet: I think the most important thing is to get a deck that you really feel comfortable with, that you like the imagery of, and to spend a long time looking at each card. You can do guided imagery with them, so you can take a card and just look at it, and then close your eyes and imagine entering into the card, imagine dialoguing with the image, with whatever’s on the card, whether it’s a person or an object.
The most important thing is to get very, very comfortable with the cards so that they’re so familiar to you, that the minute you mention the card, something is called up for you. It’s really important to actually, I mean it takes time, and you have to allow yourself the time to do it. You have to allow some time to let the images get imprinted on your brain, if you like, in your memory. And practise. Practise, practise, practise. Sometimes it’s quite good to choose a card each day and say, “What does this car represent? Will this be the kind of,” like you just picked five cards randomly, didn’t you?
Juliet: Just now. You might actually spend some time really thinking about what those images mean and what they’re trying to tell you for right now, and see where that gets you, see how that actually translates, see whether that makes any sense to you.
Steve: Yeah. Well these five cards feel wonderful. Not all the imagery of course in tarot decks are wonderful, they can be warnings as well I suppose.
Juliet: Well, I think there’s always the dark and the light. I think whatever, wherever you are, the thing is it’s a moving feast. You never get there, you never arrive at the point, because if you did you’d be dead. It’s an ongoing journey, and we’re always coming up against the same, similar difficulties, and then we get through them, but we always approach them, or we always meet them in a slightly different way. I think that’s what the tarot teaches us.
One of the big things about the tarot, and particularly you see this is in the Major Arcana, is the idea of balance. That’s why the High Priestess is sitting between two pillars, one dark, one light. She’s in the centre of that, so she represents holding the two forces of, if you like, dark and light, good and evil, night and day. The opposites, holding those opposites together so that you don’t have one or the other. I think at the moment our culture tends to be very split, and we tend to go into one or the other. Dark, light. Love, hate. Rather than actually knowing that they always exist, and our task is to hold them together.
Steve: Now my final question, Juliet. I know you’re up to a few different things, could you just say something about what you’re up to in the world now?
Juliet: Yes, I’m just, at the moment I’m doing some online beginners courses with, for a Chinese astrology school, and the Chinese are very interested in learning Western astrology and Western tarot. I’m doing a course on the mythic tarot for them, which is quite fun.
Steve: Well, Juliet, all the best for your work, and thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Juliet: Okay. You’re very welcome. Nice to talk to you.