Interview with Paul Quinn: "Mystery is Soul Nourishment"

By Melanie Marquis

Paul Quinn might be new to book writing, but he’s no stranger to Tarot. An intuitive counselor and gifted writer who has taught and read tarot for the past eleven years, Paul’s debut on the publishing front was pretty much inevitable. His work—Tarot for Life (Quest Books, 2009)—is reflective of his personal vision of mystical practicality. Offering easy to understand real-life applications while at the same time delving deep into the sacred nature of the cards, the book is a double take on Tarot, inspiring even longtime readers to take a fresh look at the craft. We thrive on discovering new talents, and when I came across Paul’s work at INATS-West this past summer, I knew right away this man is something special. 


Tarot Reflections: Tell me how you first got involved with the Tarot.

Paul Quinn: I got my first reading in 1997. The reading itself was blah and forgettable, but I got a very strong sense of the potential of the cards as intuitive tools. I bought the Universal Waite deck and dove into Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom, Mary Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, and Jung and Tarot by Sallie Nichols. Within a few years I was teaching the Tarot in my hometown, Chicago. I knew that I still had much to learn about the cards but I also had much to teach. Teaching my Tarot classes remains my primary passion. For me, it’s really a course about Life pretending to be a course on the Tarot. An experience in waking and celebrating the soul while learning about the cards.

TR: Can you describe the concept behind Tarot for Life

PQ: Over the years I had found that many Tarot books were either too esoteric and dense or too general and dumbed-down, though not the aforementioned books! I wanted to write something that was accessible yet preserved the sophistication and mystery of the cards. One way I feel I’ve succeeded in achieving that is by sharing stories of how each card has played out most memorably in readings. As far as I can tell, Tarot for Life is the first book to feature a casebook story for each card. I selected the stories from readings I’ve done for clients and myself, and from readings my students have done, to show how the cards shed light on our questions in ways that can be funny, blunt, poignant, and in the best cases, life-changing.

TR: Rachel Pollack wrote the foreword to this book—how did that come about? 

PQ: In 1998 I was in a 5-day workshop that Rachel Pollack and Mary Greer taught at Omega Institute. On the fourth day the class did Tarot readings for the Omega community, with the reading fees going to the Omega Scholarship fund. Rachel was the first person to come to my table to get a reading, which made her my first-ever client! Ten years later, when Tarot for Life was being readied for print, I asked her if she’d write the foreword. She agreed to do it on the condition that she liked the manuscript, which, fortunately, she did. I was thrilled and honored to have my first Tarot teacher and client write the foreword. Like The World archetype, everything had come full circle.

TR: In your book, you talk about "mindful tarot exploration." What is that exactly? 

PQ: First of all, I believe there is no “right” or “wrong” question to ask the cards. But when I talk about exploring the Tarot mindfully, I’m referring to a more contemplative use of the cards, such as using them to examine the roles we’re plugged into and whether these serve our highest good, or meditating on the cards that trouble us rather than reacting to them with fear. We come to see the cards as aspects of our selves that are waiting to be recognized, understood, and, sometimes, integrated. Toward that end I’ve included questions for self-reflection at the end of each Trump description in Tarot for Life, designed to help the reader discover more of who they are through the archetypes. 

TR: With this book, you've joined other Tarot readers in relating Jungian psychology concepts to the cards. Can you explain this relationship, how this branch of psychology can help a person get more out of the Tarot?

PQ: Jungian psychology and transpersonal psychology acknowledge the sacred and the importance of synchronicity. I’m not aware of any other psychology model that works from that understanding. Jung himself wrote extensively on alchemy, which—like the esoteric Tarot—is about the transformation of dense matter (the ego) into gold (Self-actualization). Symbolism is another rich foundation of the Jungian approach, in that we’re encouraged to not only understand the symbols in our dreams, but also the symbols that surround us in our waking lives. A Jungian analyst could help you understand, for example, that the recent discovery of owls living on your property and your desire to uncover your inner wisdom, may be energetically connected and therefore meaningful—just like the way a randomly drawn Tarot card has a way of corresponding directly with our inner life. 

TR: What kept you motivated to finish writing Tarot for Life?

PQ: Before I wrote my first paragraph of Tarot for Life I asked the cards what energies I would need to draw on to see it through. One of the cards was the Nine of Wands, the soldier (in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) who will not give up the cause. I never grew tired of my subject matter, and was passionate about the stories I was telling. I think the greatest motivation for me, though, was that apart from the students in my occasional classes, I had no outlet to share my deepest feelings about the cards, spiritual growth, and the necessity of raising consciousness. I started writing the book a few days after the World Trade Centers crumbled, figuring if not now, when? On a purely practical level, it also helped my motivation that there are a finite number of cards in the Tarot, so I could always clearly see the trajectory of what needed to be written, unlike a novelist who must invent the plot and characters as he goes and who may have no idea of where it’s all heading. 

TR: Have you always been intuitive, or is this something you've had to develop? 

PQ: Working with the cards has made me much more intuitive than I was a decade ago, which is how I know that intuition can be cultivated. I don’t have skills of clairvoyance—I don’t see images—but I rely on my intuition to ask my clients the right questions at the right moment or to take the risk of voicing a hunch with no apparent basis for it. Sometimes my intuition shows up when a detail on a particular card suddenly gets my attention in a way that is relevant to the reading. I believe our intuition is accessed when we notice what we feel, and trust it. How does it feel to be in this room? What’s the mood of the person next to me? Which people feel good to be around and which ones drain me? This kind of information is available to us all the time, but unless we are curious about such things, we’re not likely to pay attention. But the value of paying attention to the subtle realm is that we start making choices that are wiser, more aligned with our spirit. And that tends to make life easier and reduce a lot of unnecessary drama.

TR: What’s next for you?

PQ: I’m working on a second book, though it’s too soon to provide details. I continue to give Tarot consultations by phone and face-to-face, give talks on the Tarot, and write a blog (when I get the itch). I’m excited about teaching a Tarot class this winter, a time when people need inspiration—especially in the cold Midwest!

TR: One more question, Paul. What, to you, is the biggest mystery about Tarot? 

PQ: The greatest mystery is who or what is causing the cards to show up as they do in readings. We may call the principle synchronicity, but what is the agent for it? Is it the Quantum Field? Spirit guides? God of Abraham? Our unconscious mind? And if it IS the unconscious mind, what does that really mean? At the 2009 Readers Studio, Geraldine Amaral beautifully summed up this mystery with a quote by the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington: ‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.’ Though Eddington wasn’t referencing the Tarot, it’s the same awe, same mystery. Personally, I hope we never figure it all out. Mystery is soul nourishment.

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2009

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