Most of you are probably familiar with Theresa Reed, the Tarot Lady, who started out reading in bars in Milwaukee, has always been her own boss, and has been so generous with her advice and knowledge! The Emperor meets The Hierophant.
As a member of her Tarot Brainery (a one-time-only year-long group mentoring program), I had the assignment to interview someone for my blog, and thought you all should meet this other GREAT lady I had a chance to connect with during this year’s Readers Studio Tarot Conference. She’s one of the many AMAZING readers and wise people who were present that weekend, some of whom have been making tarot their living since before it was as widely accepted as it is now.
Her name is Barbara Nova, but you may have known her as Barbara Emrys before she decided to switch gears in her career (which is happening as we speak!). She kindly agreed to sit down for a conversation with us, so, here she is!
Jen: I wanted to interview you because you’ve been working as a tarot reader for your full time job your whole adult life, correct?
B: Since 1991, yes.
J: Oh, so that’s 25 years now? That’s so awesome and wonderful! Did you try other jobs before saying “You know what, these other lives are not for me, I am a reader and this is what I’m going to do”? Or was it more like something you floated into? How was it at the beginning for you?
B: Well, I started reading back when I was 13, and Stuart Kaplan is actually responsible for that, so it was a real thrill to meet him [during Reader’s Studio 2016]! My paternal grandmother actually read playing cards until my grandfather forbade her from doing that anymore, and I was always interested in astrology and numerology, but I never saw a deck of tarot cards until I was 12 in 1973 when the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” came out. I saw Jane Seymour as Solitaire in that gorgeous outfit and once I saw those cards I said “that’s it! that’s it!”. I knew that was the thing for me.
Jane Seymour as Solitaire
But then FINDING a deck was another story entirely, until US Games put out the 007 James Bond Tarot kit. I asked for it for Christmas that year, and my parents didn’t know what it was so they got it for me. And so I studied that book, I must’ve worn its pages thin. I actually still have that original deck from 1973, it’s in San Diego right now.
I moved from my native New York to California, started to go to college, worked in retail, and as an answering service operator, I did billing and collections for a company. Then I got married to a Baptist from Texas, believe it or not, and had a child, so all that metaphysical stuff went on hold until I decided in 1989-88 that it was time to get divorced.
So, I was 27 in 1988 when I started studying it again, I felt an urge to go back to it. During that time, before I started reading professionally, I actually worked in retail again, and in a supermarket and then I saw an ad on the newspaper in San Diego, they were looking for readers and I said “Why not?” I went and applied and they hired me! And the rest, as they say, is history!
J: I think it’s so funny, and I couldn’t help smiling, when you said you were 27 years old when you went back to it, ’cause this was during your Saturn return!
J: I also started reading the cards again during my own Saturn return, after having put them away for so long. I wonder how many of us find that we put them away an then when Saturn comes back around and it’s like *screeching tires noise* “Hang on! This is what you’re here to do!”
B: It’s amazing! You know, when I was 16 I had my first psychic reading by this woman who had to be about a thousand years old, her name was Rhonda. I actually wasn’t even supposed to be there, my mother was going to a reading party, and when I found out where she was going I asked if I could go and so she took me, and this woman told me, she told me when I was 16, that this would be my main career, and even if I tried to get away from it, it would just keep pulling me back. She said I would end up teaching and writing and creating art around metaphysics and the occult, and damn if she wasn’t right! Right now I’m developing a deck.
J: That is awesome! I want to ask you more about that later… but first I wanted to ask you, that ad that you found when you first started, was it for reading out of a store, or a phone line service, or… what?
B: It was a phone line service called Psychic Marketing Group, they actually had an office that we had to go to in San Diego every day, it was not done from home like they do now, we had to actually go into the office, and there was pretty strict quality control, so, that was my first exposure, which I think was really great, because I got to meet and hear a lot of other readers that had been reading professionally longer than I had. Since I had just started, it was a very good experience for me.
J: That is great, so, in that environment you were able to get instantly connected with a community of readers, so you had that right from the beginning. So, did you also start going to tarot conventions around the same time, too?
B: No, back then we had what we would call “Psychic Fairs” and they would last just a day or two, and it was mostly people doing readings, and selling things, so, we would go to those and meet other readers between clients. But actually my first full blown Tarot conference was Kim Arnold’s UK Tarot Conference in London, in 2013.
J: So, had you been connected with the Internet tarot community beforehand, though, before you went to the conference in 2013?
B: I was but not to the degree that I am now. Mostly, I’d go meet other readers in person when we’d go take a class, or in the San Diego Astrological Society, things like that.
J: Gotcha. How do you think the business has changed in the past 25 years?
I think it’s changed TREMENDOUSLY. Back in the day when I first started reading professionally it was still kind of like “Oh. You do that?!” Even back in the early 70’s when I first saw that deck, I mean, I grew up in New York, not in some rural area. It was suburban but only an hour east of the City, in Long Island, so it was a pretty cosmopolitan atmosphere, and even there it was really really hard to find any other materials. You’d have to go to the library and get them to request old books for you that had to be tracked down, because, remember, there was no internet back in 1973, well, not the way the Internet is now!
To me, it’s really gratifying to see how much more accepted it is now, and the community that’s so readily available, and all of the resources that are out there. I love seeing new readers or up and coming stars such as yourself, there’s this sense of community that you get to have that we really didn’t have back then. Also, all of the products coming out, and that even mainstream people understand that we’re NOT doing “The Devil’s Work”, for example, I don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian Satan, so being told “Oh, you’re doing the devil’s work”, I have to laugh, because I don’t believe in the devil!
J: Yes! I’m so thankful that it is the way it is, because if it wasn’t, I don’t know that I would be doing it! Not with the fearful ways that I was raised, where I didn’t even see a Tarot deck until I found that one of my aunt’s had a deck and she gave me a reading at age 15 which was REALLY accurate and I was like “Whoa! How did you know ALL THAT?” Right? But now, it’s really wonderful how the Divine can channel its messages through so many people so that, somehow, if you are looking for guidance, you can find it.
B: While I love the Rider-Waite-Smith, I really like that there are so many non-Rider-Waite-Smith decks out there, with different styles of art, different colors, it’s fantastic!
J: Yes, people can find whichever deck resonates with their own aesthetic sense, and that way they can connect a bit better with it, and read with it. I believe anybody who really wants to can learn, because it’s all about learning to understand yourself.
B: Yes, and back when I started there were the traditional meanings of upright and reversed that everybody had to memorize, and you went strictly by the book. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties and was working much more with the cards that they really started speaking to me. I don’t mean that I literally hear voices, I mean that they tell me what they want the meaning to be, even if it’s not the traditional meaning for the card, so, I love that too, that I’ve had the opportunity to evolve as a reader and form such a connection.
J: Yeah, that is really nice how after you’ve been reading for a while, you do, I mean, you have all the traditional meanings, I started with the little white book that came with my Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and that was my one and only resource for the first 8 years I was reading the cards! For every reading, I’d pull out my little book and read what the traditional key words were for it, and from there, I would build the reading within the context of the question, but when you can go beyond those little rote meanings and remember, that’s when you feel like a true reader, like “I got it now”.
B: Yes! I was fortunate that the book that came with the 007 kit that US Games had put out wasn’t just a little white book, it was an actual BOOK, with descriptions and everything, so I had little more to go on, and then I started bugging my librarian to find me ANYTHING.
J: That’s so cool, that from the beginning you were so into going deeper and studying deeper, for me, it took a few years before I really started looking for more resources. Actually, what it took was me deciding that I wanted to do this as a business, and so, I should get serious about it. That’s when I bought 78 degrees of wisdom and started keeping a tarot journal, and with those two things, within 3 months I was off-book, because I already had the 8 years of practical experience reading with “training wheels” on, ha! How long would you say it took you to go “off-book” with the Tarot?
B: The first time was when I was about 13 or 14, but then I put it away for so long, so let’s start from the second time, when I was in my late 20’s. I’m gonna say it took a few months, but I also went and took some classes in San Diego, from Alexandra, who has a place who is STILL THERE called The Alexandra Institute, and I took her beginning, intermediate and advanced tarot classes, which took a couple of months all together. By the time I was done with her, I really knew my stuff.
J: So there you go, you had a good teacher! A good teacher was something that helped it click for you… and that’s really what we need! If you have a physical teacher, that’s so much better because you can really interact with them and they can answer your questions, but, in the absence of a teacher, a good book can be a great “starter teacher” like Rachel Pollack with her 78 Degrees of Wisdom was for me, or Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot could be. What do you think was the most helpful book for you? What are some of your favorite tarot books?
B: Wow, I have to really think back! It would’ve been early on, and I’ve read so many since then… David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot was on the cover… In more recent times, I just started working with the Lenormand cards, and I just bought Rana George’s “Essential Lenormand” (Llewellyn), so that’s what I’ve been really into! I also love Rachel Pollack and Mary Greer’s work, I know they’re not new, but there’s something to be said for things that stand the test of time! I really dig The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (Greer, Llewellyn), and Understanding the Tarot Court (Greer & Little, Llewellyn) is also a fantastic resource, she really clarifies a lot of the mystique around the court cards, which can be so challenging.
J: What’s your favorite deck that you’ve recently acquired?
B: I’m a big fan of Ciro Marchetti’s work, and Ginnie Jester’s City Mystic New York Tarot deck (Independent), I love the imagery in that. Oh, and I just got this one at Reader’s Studio 2016, it’s called Tarot Leaves by Beth Seilonen (Schiffer Publishing). They’re different, they don’t have the typical imagery and that’s kinda what I like about them. I find that when I’m reading I prefer muted colors and clean lines, that’s why I’m also a bit fan of the Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini (US Games)… oh, and I also LOVE, LOVE Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot (Schiffer Publishing). I love that deck! The muted colors and clean design are really appealing to me.
J: Yeah, I find that they can help us tap into a different part of our intuition, like it allows more abstract thought forms to be evoked… So, do you still do most of your reading work out of a calling service?
B: I do, for a number of years I also had a private practice, where I would see people in my home, or speak to clients over the phone, and that was great, but I found I was spending so much time handling the business end of it, because you know, you have to do your own advertising, and even if you have a clientele that comes to you through word of mouth, you still have to advertise, you don’t want to the same people coming every day or every week!
Remember, I wasn’t doing this just to make some extra money, this was how I was making my living, so having to do the advertising, booking the appointments, running the credit cards, if someone’s card charged back you had to handle that, there was so much more to do, that it was taking away from my pleasure at reading professionally. So I actually prefer contracting with one of the companies, because they do everything! I feel that with the company I’m with, I’m very fairly paid, the compensation is fair considering the services they provide, and all I have to do is answer my phone!
J: Do they also take the taxes out of your check?
B: No, I’m an independent contractor, so that’s a part of my business that I still have to manage. But I don’t have to maintain a website, or all of this and that, so, it’s worth it for me.
J: And they bring you enough clientele that you’re able to, you know, take care of yourself, and go to conferences, and do your thing!
B: It’s been the best job ever! It has allowed me to live in NY, CA, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and England. As long as I have access to my phone, I can work!
J: What has been the most important self-care practice for you in doing this work?
B: That’s an excellent question. When I first started reading, at 13, I didn’t know enough to sometimes just shut it off, so you can take on a lot of stuff. So that’s been it, knowing when to shut yourself off, and also knowing when you’re a little burnt out and need to take a little break from reading, even if it’s just for a couple of days. Especially if you’re working a phone line, hopefully you’re going to get a lot of volume, and in one respect it’s really exhilarating, but in another it can be kind of exhausting. Psychic rest, is what I call it!
J: Do you have any sort of end-of-day ritual that you do to clear yourself, or anything like that?
B: I do, I actually do, I have a little mantra that I say prior to starting work, I ask The Goddess and The God and The Bright and Shining Ones to bring to me that day the people that I can genuinely help, and to put the right words in my mouth that are going to get through to them. That’s how I start my day, in the Spirit of Service and wanting to benefit the people I speak to. At the end, it might sound kinda silly, but I like to physically move and just kind of, shake it off! Because you do pick up people’s stuff, so it’s important to make sure that you don’t end up carrying it around with you.
J: That’s so cool! So, you have been doing readings and that has been pretty much it for you for the past 25 years, but now you’re working on something new, tell us a little bit about it.
B: I decided that I would like to actually use my artistic and writing abilities, because back when I was younger, as my daughter can attest, I had ideas for so many different products, but as a single parent supporting a child as a reader, money was tight and it had to go towards the day-to-day essentials, first. So I had this long list of different product ideas I had come up with but never had the resources to do anything with them, of course, we didn’t have crowdfunding back then, and I knew that I really didn’t like the traditional publishing world even back at that time, so I thought “one day I’m going to become a publisher, a small press publisher”, and that’s what I’m in the process of doing. Initially it was intended just to showcase products that I developed, ’cause I’m a little bit of a control freak, so I get to keep control over them! And this first project I’m working on is actually a collaboration with an artist friend of mine, she had an idea of something she wanted to do and she asked me if I wanted to be the author, because she only wants to do the art, I’ll share some of the images we have so far because I feel they’re really special.
Take The Flame
J: Oh, these are so wonderful, thanks for letting us have a sneak peek! Is there an underlying theme for this deck?
B: What’s interesting is that we did have an initial idea, which I’m not going to talk about yet because I DO plan on doing that later! But as the illustrations started to take life, we realized that this deck had a mind of its own as far as what it wanted to be, it did not want to be what we initially were going to do with it, so it’s actually going to be more of an oracle deck, with 48 cards. It’s kind of unfortunate for us that Angelo Nasios is calling his BRILLIANT new deck the Inner Journey Tarot, because this was going to be the Inner Journey Oracle deck! I don’t know if we’re going to change the name or not because that’s been its working name for a few months already, I don’t want people to get confused though… But that’s really what it’s all about, to help people look inward and see what they might need to identify, what’s holding them back, where they could improve,though it can also be used as a predictive tool. I might call it the Journey to Grace, we’ll see!
J: What piece of advice would you have for somebody who is just starting in the business?
B: Something that’s really important for new readers to know is that to remember that a lot of times the people that you’re speaking to are in pain or in denial.
If they’re in pain, be kind, but be honest.
If they’re in denial, you can present the truth to them, but don’t take it personally if they’re not ready to accept it. Because a lot of times people will say “no, no, no!” and you can see in the cards that the answer is “yes, yes, yes! This is what’s happening!” but they’re just not ready and sometimes you’re just planting a seed for somebody, and seeds take time to germinate and sprout and grow, and you may be the first person that’s saying something to them. They may need to hear it from a hundred different people, so don’t take it personally.
I also think that trusting your intuition is really important, don’t doubt yourself!
Thank you, SO MUCH, Barbara for taking the time to talk with us! And for sharing the gorgeousness that you and Victoria Vale are cooking up! As soon as the deck is available, I’ll update you guys with a link where you can get it 🙂