The tarot community is experiencing a shift towards a demystified image of tarot. A lot of the younger generation of tarotists see it as a simple working tool and find it easier to "come out of the tarot closet" as acceptance in society seems to grow. Benebell Wen is part of the new generation of tarotists. She is a lawyer, offers tarot counseling and has written several books on the subject of tarot. She firmly believes in a holistic approach to tarot and has most recently published a book on the subject. It is an approach that I personally share. Thus, I'm very happy that she agreed to answer a few questions about herself and her approach to tarot.

Q: You have been pointed out to me as “part of a new generation of tarotists”. Would you agree? And, if so, how is this new generation different?

I would agree with that statement, though my agreement, which is just my personal opinion on the matter, is not of any relevance.

Even so, the practice and study of tarot today seems to be emerging from its esoteric shadows and is getting integrated into the everyday. A lot of people you might not immediately expect to be students of tarot are becoming very interested in it and open about their practice. I would even say tarot depictions in pop culture today is a lot more balanced than it used to be.

Yet make no mistake: today’s generation is not diametrically different from older generations. In past generations, there was already an internal split between tarot fortune telling and tarot divination, and even a split between whether there is any difference between fortune teling and divination. Tarot and psychology isn’t new either. The study of that intersection has been going on for decades before today’s generation.

What is different  is the Internet. With the Internet, the old and new collide at a pace I don’t think older generations can even fully comprehend. When the old and new collide, a new hybrid tarot practice is formed, and that hybrid makes many of the old guard uncomfortable.

Q: You probably have heard this before. Some people will probably think, “Hang on, corporate law and tarot? How does that go together?” What would you answer them?

They don’t go together. They should never go together. The practice of law is one thing. The practice of tarot is something entirely different. I do not mix or conflate the two, or at least try very hard not to.

I think the curiosity arises from how someone who practices law for her profession would also possess an interest in tarot and the occult. It’s not an objective question about what topics go together and don’t go together. It’s about people and our need to pigeonhole everyone. You are either this way or you are that way—you cannot be both. And yet that is so far from the truth. We all wear many different hats, and corporate law and tarot happen to be two different hats that I wear.

Q: Personally, I’m very much on the same page with you as far as your skepticism towards tarot as a fortune-telling device goes. Have you ever had to turn down clients because they insisted in you making predictions or do you usually succeed in convincing them of your approach?

I wouldn’t say I am skeptical of fortune telling. I might say it is not my personal approach or practice of tarot and it is not the approach or practice of tarot that I would teach.

No, I have not had to turn down a client for insisting on making predictions. In my preliminary communications with a prospective client, I make clear what my approach to tarot is, how glimpses of what is to come by way of forecasts might happen, but I do not engage in fortune telling or predictive tarot. I have had clients turn me down, however! And I prefer it that way. I let them be the one to turn me down, not the other way around.

Q: You have just published a book about holistic tarot (Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth. North Atlantic Books. 2015. p. 896. ISBN 978-1583948354). Could you tell us a bit about the basic principles of you holistic approach to tarot?

I compare it to music studies. Music is an art, no doubt about that. If you do not approach musical performance as an art, then you won’t get very far. There are some folk musicians who never learn how to read sheet music, never learn music theory, never practice etudes or learn technique, and they play beautiful music intuitively.

However, that does not mean music is not technical. Music is mathematical whether you approach it mathematically or not. Just because you are an intuitive music player does not mean music itself is entirely intuitive. What I am trying to do with my book is to deconstruct intuitive tarot into those technical and analytical parts.

I guess I can’t help but apply the way I learned music to the way I teach tarot.

Growing up, learning music is pure technique. There are drills, repetition, a specific way you must hold the instrument, a specific way your fingers must be, playing the song over and over again with a metronome, running scales until your fingers bleed, studying music theory, music history, and rote memorization. That is learning music. However, that is not playing music. No one performs learned music. We perform played music.

Playing music is completely different. Once all that technique is embedded into your muscle memory, you forget everything you learned and you lose yourself in the moment of performance. The act of playing or performing music is entirely intuitive, artistic, and transcends all technique. In fact, you forget technique. Your form is no longer per standard technique. You take liberties with rhythm. You are no longer playing Mendelssohn the way Mendelssohn would have played it, or the way your teacher plays it, or the way your teacher taught you to play it. You are playing it in a way that expresses what is in your soul.

That is exactly the same with tarot study and tarot reading. My book teaches you tarot study so that you can achieve a high proficiency with tarot reading.

Q: How long have you been out of the tarot closet? Have you found it difficult?

I don’t even think I’m out of the tarot closet. Yes, it’s difficult. I am not a tarot activist and I also don’t have the energy in me to lead the charge in changing public perspectives.

I believe many different kinds of judgments or assumptions are made about me upon first impression that do not necessarily reflect who I actually am, what I am interested in, or what I am capable of, and that is not limited to tarot or the esoteric. I can’t tell you the number of times I’m in court in a full suit with a briefcase and still be mistaken for a secretary. I can’t tell you the number of times someone assumes I don’t speak English. I can’t tell you the number of times someone assumes I would have no interest in the metaphysical.

Q: Do you think practicing tarot openly is easier today than it used to be?

Yes, I do, and you have to thank all of the more activist, more public tarot figures we have. Referring narrowly to American tarot readers, individuals like Christiana Gaudet, Theresa Reed, Sasha Graham, Jenna Matlin, Anthony Louis, Art Rosengarten, all the board members of professional tarot associations around the world, and many more have done so much to make it easier on the rest of us to practice tarot openly.

Q: What are your favourite preconceptions about tarot and how do you react to them?

I don’t even know where to begin here! Perhaps the one I hope my book can address is the preconception that art and technique are separate and can never intersect, or that intuition and analysis can never marry. Intuition is a form of analysis, but one you simply have not found the vocabulary or science to express. True analysis and science at some advanced point inevitably becomes intuition.

As for the more common assumptions, such as tarot being the tool of demons or tarot possessing a supernatural power to alter our futures permanently, or that tarot is superstitious hogwash, my feathers don’t get ruffled. I don’t get offended. Don’t be offended by someone else’s opinion. Also, if other people try to force their closed-minded opinions on you and you get angry, then they win. Don’t get angry.

Q: What is your take on Tarot Associations and certifications?

You have two opposing views here. One faction of tarot readers are extremely opposed to the idea of professional tarot associations and certifying professional readers. The other faction believes that doing so is the way to gaining greater public acceptance of the practice, which will in turn lead to more business and financial opportunities to truly be able to make a decent living as a professional tarot reader. I am in the faction that believes professional associations and certification is the way.

Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. Institutionalizing tarot practice opens up a number of problems and pushes tarot practice more toward a business than a sacred art. That’s very problematic, of course. But what is the alternative? That highly gifted intuitives who want to make a living by serving their calling can barely scrape by financially? That when attacked by the public or the government in their local townships, a professional tarot reader has no institutional support to come advocate for him or her? That tarot continues to be a profession that the mainstream ridicules?

However, I am against for-profit associations and certification boards. When the organizers of a professional tarot association or a certification board are making profit off the model, then that is an entire perversion of what I’ve said so far. Such associations and certification boards need to be non-profit. I am absolutely against for-profit certification models.