Interview With Author Judika Illes
Janet: Hi Judika! To start off, what is your relationship to Tarot? When were you first exposed to the cards?

Judika: I would characterize my relationship with Tarot as true love and true friendship. It is among the longest, most consistent and faithful relationships of my life.

My first exposure to Tarot came at age 6. I have a significantly older sister who was then attending art college in New York’s East Village, conveniently located near the old Samuel Weiser’s metaphysical store. She brought home the first Tarot deck I ever saw.

I adored my sister: I was a little kid and she seemed very glamorous to me. We lived in Queens, one of New York City’s outer boroughs but she’d go into Manhattan by herself daily to go to college. She’d also go shopping and so she was always coming home with what I perceived as treasure: books, record albums and, one fateful day, tarot cards. I literally took one look at them and fell madly in love. She bought them for herself but I basically confiscated them immediately. And she was really nice and let me have them.

Janet: Wow, you’ve had quite a long history with Tarot then! What was your first deck?

Judika: That very first deck was the BOTA deck, Builders of the Adytum. I still have it and use it.

Janet: What is your current favorite?

Judika: I typically use multiple decks when I read: I usually have several different decks warmed-up and ready for use, both Tarot decks and oracle decks. I read playing cards, too.  I just really like cards in general: I have some decks that work as reliable, genuine divination tools, while others may not ‘work’ for me in the magical sense but I appreciate them as works of art.

I worked as a telephone psychic hot-line card-reader for several years. People seeking readings in that context are paying by the minute and they tend to be really impatient. I experimented with lots of different decks and learned that when I need to read fast, when I don’t have time to really consider the cards and meditate on them, that I can always depend on the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck: they’re my ‘old reliable’ my old stand-bys. That’s the deck I use when I teach Tarot classes, too, because it’s so generally accessible and so consistently dependable.

But in terms of a current favorite, the deck dearest to my heart, the one I really love is Kipling West’s Halloween Tarot. My Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft had originally been scheduled to have illustrations and I had hoped to include some images from that deck.

Janet: That would have been neat. I love both your Witchcraft book and the Halloween Tarot!

Do you have a favored spell, ritual or meditation using Tarot cards that you can share?

Judika: One of the best ways to learn Tarot and to develop a relationship with the cards is to go actually—via visualization—into the cards. Pick a card that you like, one that feels safe to you— your favorite card and envision yourself actually inside the card. See yourself entering the picture, interacting with the scenery, talking to the characters in the card. And then, of course, when you’re ready, leaving. It’s a shamanic exercise and, depending on how naturally visualizations come to you, can take a little time to master.

Don’t enter a card that scares or intimidates you until you’re confident of your abilities to enter and leave as you desire.  Choose a happy, sunny card for starters. Eventually this ritual can become second nature and then you have the option of reading cards in the traditional manner or shamanically accessing their wisdom.

This can also be done as a guided visualization: when I teach a Tarot workshop, for instance, sometimes I’ll lead participants into the Magician card, literally introduce them to their own personal Magician.

Janet: From your perspective, how can Tarot help individuals grow as a person?

Judika: I think one of the crucial lessons Tarot teaches us is how to analyze situations and desires, really pinpoint their nature and identity. Because to read successfully, the first thing you have to do is formulate the question- what precisely are you asking the oracle? You have to define the goal, define the problem, and define the situation. That sounds easier than it really is: you learn to really SEE what you’re looking at; you learn to cut away the extraneous and appreciate the core of a goal or situation. You develop clear vision and that skill remains with you then in every life situation, not just in the context of Tarot.

You will also learn a new appreciation of language, a full appreciation of the impact of each individual word. What does each word, each statement really mean? You learn to hear what people are really saying to you, to understand nuances, implications, hidden threats.

Developing and refining these basic skills— hearing, seeing, comprehension—will put you on track to achieving your goals and desires and crucially, to clearly identifying and understanding those goals and desires. So the skills Tarot teaches you are valuable and beneficial for all aspects of life, not just divination and self-knowledge.

Janet: What about attracting desires, problem solving, and removing obstacles?

Judika: Tarot cards are so incredibly powerful and versatile. In addition to serving as oracles, they are also power objects, sacred items that can be incorporated into spells and rituals. Cards can be incorporated into spells to protect you, to draw your desires towards you and to remove obstacles and challenges.

They are easily incorporated into candle spells. The only problem is that the cards tend to be damaged during the spell process from smoke, wax, dripping oils, nervous fingers bending them and so on. Some spells demand that a card be completely burned to ashes.

On one hand, you want to use a deck that you like and trust and perceive as powerful; on the other, you don’t want to lose a card you love or render a deck unusable. So I always recommend getting duplicate decks, reserving one for divination and using the other for spell-work.

Alternatively, to cut down on cost, you can make photocopies of a specific card and use that in the spell. If you’re working with photocopies, it’s very easy to create your own 7-Day candles for virtually any desired goal: you can get special glue from a craft store that will enable you to attach the card to the candle’s glass sheathe.

Janet: Do you have any intriguing stories about a reading, spell or ritual using Tarot?

Judika: Not to sound trite but every reading is intriguing. I have been playing with Tarot in one capacity or another for virtually my entire life. I have been reading professionally for other people since 1988. To this day, I’ve never been bored, not once and how many people, situations, interests or jobs can you say that about?

When you are reading, when a reading is really working, you are plugged into a direct connection with the divine, with Earth’s sacred energy. It’s an incredible sensation, an incredible experience. If you’ve experienced it, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t experienced it yet, then keep trying, literally keep plugging: that direct connection to the divine is the reward and incentive for mastery of Tarot.

Janet: I hear you're working on another encyclopedia! Can you share anything with us about the type of encyclopedia it will be?

Judika: I don’t know if I’m superstitious or if it’s just my Scorpio moon: I told virtually no one I was pregnant with my children until I was so obviously, visibly pregnant that no announcement was necessary. Writing these encyclopedias is very much like being pregnant and I’m still in the gestation period. Ask me again in six months and I promise I’ll give you all the details. What I can tell you now is that the new encyclopedia will have lots of spells and rituals and I think will really work as a companion to my previous two (The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells and The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft).

Janet: Thanks so much for your time, Judika, and for sharing your experience and insight with us!

Related Reviews and Articles
Tarot Card Growth Ritual - Judika Illes
The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells - Judika Illes
The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft - Judika Illes
Magical Spell Cards - Lucy Cavendish
Holland’s Grimoire of Magickal Correspondences - Eileen Holland
Wish on a Spell Volume One -  DVD by Deborah Gray

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