Photo Generated Memories

When I run Left of Centre Memoir Writing courses we invariably use photographs to induce some speed writing.

Georgie has been quite intrigued by my use of tarot. She always focused on providing readings so she is fascinated that I steer well clear of doing so.

Over a cup of tea Georgie and I went through some of her old ‘photos’. I encouraged her to randomly pick two photos. Images of the lion tamer and acrobats performing bought back a host of memories and fascinating stories about her life in the Legrande Circus.

Resurrecting Buried Memories

Reliving memories as a writer is a way to keep our loved ones alive. Plus, it is also a way to help us heal from trauma or difficult experiences.

Using Tarot and a spread is an effective way to resurrect and relive some memories. As she looked at the image of the Two of Swords Georgie remembered Gesalda, known affectionately as the ‘Electric Lady’. She and Gesalda had been close friends and supported one another while they were both in the circus.

Georgie smiles as she remembers Gesalda taking a seat in a chair rigged with a Tesla Coil. She tells me how Gesalda would shoot sparks from her finger tips, light fire with her tongue and illuminate light bulbs with her bare flesh. We both agree that was a most unusual demonstration and I wasn’t surprised that the audience found it so shockingly entertaining!

Generating Narrative with the Murder of Crows

Sometimes we become so focused on the nitty-gritty technical aspects of writing and publishing that we forget the power of the unconscious mind, the part that understands story at a fundamental level.
from the Creative Penn

When I saw this spread on Instagram I asked Georgie if she thought this would be a good way of drawing out some of her narrative, tap into things that had been stored in her internal archives. She was enthusiastic so we busted out the Murder of Crows Tarot, a great deck for this kind of work. It worked a treat and we have rough notes to work with now.

Some of Georgie’s responses

1. The Nightmare: The Two of Pentacles

Upon seeing this card Georgie recalled that punishments were given when she had not performed, when she was perceived to be a bit disrespectful or didn’t pay attention. She was severely punished for any misdemeanour.

Drawing the two of pentacles drew out quite painful memories of a domineering aunt who took Georgie in after her mother’s death. Aside from her possessiveness her aunt had regularly punished her for minor infractions, sometimes locking her in an airless cupboard for hours. However, her aunts lover, the original Ring Master, was even more of a tyrant and he subjected Georgie to unspeakable abuse. Serving these two ‘masters’ was, quite literally, a nightmare.

Given the painful nature of these memories I simply listened and bore witness as Georgie spewed out painful details. I did suggest she might counter this by recalling anyone who actually supported her during these years and she recalled a clown who she befriended who discretely provided some refuge.

2. The Root of the Darkness: The Eight of Pentacles

It was normal to be told on a daily basis that she was rubbish, she was hopeless, that she was not good, that she was wasting their time, that she was weak.

Her aunt justified some of the extreme treatment as being necessary, constantly stressing that if Georgina hoped to eventually wear the mask of the Popess and become a divine healer she had to undergo intense training that might make her feel as though she had been bought to the brink of death.

Georgie recalled that there were many times when she thought she would die in one of the airless places where she was imprisoned for hours, forced to undergo ‘vision quests’. Both her aunt and the cruel Ringmaster insisted that she had to learn about discipline and their way of instilling this was by belittling and harassing her.

3 The Fog that Lays in Wait

As she looks in the mirror Georgie can see the past shrouded in fog. So many things that have happened are barely discernable. It feels like she is a little like looking in a rear vision mirror. She finds it hard to believe what she had contended with in the past and reflects upon the present and what the future holds.

That Death Card

Recently, when Georgie and I did some spreads and sought guidance from beyond, “Death” stared right back into our very souls. But unless my ghost is writing this, you can assume we are both still alive.

Nonetheless the Death card has the capacity to shake people to their melodramatic cores. If there is one thing we can both predict, without the help of the cards, it is that clients will say “I hope I don’t get Death!”

So we agreed to pull out the decks and have a look at some diverse renditions of the death card and talk ‘Death Card’.

Top Row L to R – The Gill Tarot, Ghosts and Spirits Tarot, Tarot de St Croix. Bottom Row L to R – The Lions Gateway Tarot, Murder of Crows Tarot, The Witches Tarot.

The cards we laid out are pretty hard core. With the exception of the Tarot de St Croix death has the appearance of the Grim Reaper coming to grab you. But Georgie didn’t flinch. In fact she revelled in the imagery. She has spent her life working with cards and according to her, “Death”, the thirteenth card of the Major Arcana, could do with a massive rebranding. “It has had a lot of bad press” she says. “People take it far too literally! It is actually my favourite card

“Pulling the Death card is rarely predicting death. It is actually asking if you are you ready to move onto the next level. It is challenging us to consider if we are really ready to transform into the next version of of ourselves” says Georgie. According to her the Death card is “all about releasing stuff and making room for more”. She says that “while this release may feel challenging and bring up emotions we don’t want to feel, we will, ultimately, benefit by surrendering”.

A roadside altar marking a death.

A conversation like this is the perfect ‘in’ for me to talk about Descansos, a concept I read about in Women Who Run With The Wolves many years ago.  Estes describes Descansos as resting places, places that may be found on “the edges of cliffs along particularly scenic but dangerous roads in Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean”.

To make descansos means taking a look at your life and marking where the small deaths and the big deaths have taken place. Estes says that she “likes  to make a time-line of a woman’s life on a big sheet of white butcher paper, and to mark with a cross the places along the graph, starting with her infancy all the way to the present where parts and pieces of her self and her life have died.”

Georgina decides that she will work in her journal and make where there were roads not taken, paths that were cut off, ambushes, betrayals and deaths. She will put a cross on a time-line at the places that should have been mourned, or still need to be mourned.

I suggest that we both spend some time closely examining and meditating upon some death cards. The Margarete Petersen rendition is particularly powerful and will support some journal work.

The Power of a Spread To Generate Dialogue

Georgina knows all too well the power of a spread and that Tarot reading is a search, a journey, a quest for the truth. On the inside of the Mystical Shaman Oracle there is an important quote. “Before there was time, before there was language, there were sacred symbols.” At its best Tarot draws from us what we struggle to express.

Georgina, like so many highly sensitive people feels less comfortable talking about herself. She has little problem meeting the needs of others but is slow to identify her own needs, or too acknowledge her skills. So I decided that it was the perfect time to introduce her to the I Am Pretty Fucking Amazing Spread to see what we could draw out.

Georgina literally laughed at me when I suggested this, telling me that this was an approach she had never tried but would love to test run. I produced my Tarot of the Sweet Twilight cards and said that I would draw the cards for her. She clapped her hands with delight telling me that it was fascinating to be on the other side of the table.

I laid out a photo of her alongside a LeGrande Circus and Side Show promotional poster and then laid out the three cards

Well, both Georgie and I had the same reaction when we viewed her cards. We were pretty fucking amazed!

Over many glasses of wine Georgie and I talked about what we could see in these cards. We covered a broad range of subjects from her experiences as a reader, the fact that a Death Card had shown up again, the terror clients had about the death card showing up in a reading, her willingness to follow the call of the siren, the times that she had to reinvent herself.

Inspired, Georgie pulled out the outdated planner I had bought and began to make notes. She thinks anyone who is in to journal keeping, writing fiction or who simply wants to do some memoir work will certainly benefit from doing a spread like this.

A Past Life Reading

Do you believe you have lived before? Are you curious about your past life? How might a past life reading be incorporated into a memoir?

Reincarnation appears to be woven into the fabric of the modern esoteric tarot. That fact, combined with tarot’s unique ability to tap thoughts, memories, and stories long submerged in the subconscious, makes the deck a powerful tool for exploring past lives.

Karly is the delightful Village Tarot Witch on Instagram @thevillagetarotwitch Everyone loves her unique approach using chalk boards.

After doing the St Joan of Arc spread Georgie agreed that, if I would do a past life reading with the gorgeous young witch I had met on Instagram, she would have Karly do one for her too. “What fun” I said clapping my hands with glee.

So we got in touch with Karly and she generously agreed to do a reading for us both.

As Georgie, who spent many years working as the Popess with the LeGrande Circus and Side Show, and I took in the details of my reading Georgie was suitably impressed. She had picked up on my conflicted relationship with religion, the deep imprint that lay within my heart. But then, when her reading came through her eyes filled with tears and she sobbed. As I held her tightly we both knew that doing this was going to help her heal.

“You would have had your lovely heart broken, possibly when you decided to leave the circus. I’m feeling like it was quite a gut wrenching decision as it felt rather like walking away from your home. The tides are turning for you Georgie as we see with the five of pentacles reversed. Your time of hardship is now over. It seems like you are looking at doing more meaningful work now and the magician is clearly showing that everything you need is at the tip of your fingers! The timing is perfect for you to move ahead with manifesting your dreams. You have so much potential and drive to succeed! It seems like you are fully standing in your power right now and feel so aligned with your higher self! You are fully and completely prepared to bring your vision into reality!”

Before I left Georgie asked me if I would pull a card to double check and confirm that she would manifest her dreams. You can imagine how we reacted when the Magician came out. What are the chances?

I left Georgie preparing to write in the journal I had bought her. I deliberately bought an outdated diary so that she would not feel like her entries had to be polished and so she could paste in all sorts of random bits and pieces.

Day 2 Horror Tarot Challenge

The circus was so important to home-front morale that President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave Ringling Bros. special permission to use the rails during World War II.

Georgies living room

It is a joy to work with Georgie in her home, surrounded by so many of the things that she loves.

We sat over afternoon tea, considering how the art of having afternoon tea with friends, often on a Sunday, had been replaced with gatherings at cafes. The Covid pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing has meant that these places have been closed and we both feel excited by the prospect of meeting over afternoon tea again. I told her about the things that Mum would put together. Her legendary iced sponge cakes and tomato sandwiches were always a winner. Georgie told me about gatherings her aunt, who raised her, presided over and we both agreed that there was a lot to be said for having Salons with like minded people.

As we relaxed we agreed to pull a card in response to questions posed on a Horror Tarot Challenge. Georgie shuffled the cards as I reminded her that the question asked her to consider what, if anything, had sucked the life out of her.

As Georgie looked at the Death Card she was unequivocal. It was watching the circus die a slow, agonising death that had crippled her. She had endured much in her lifetime, including the death of her mother when she was only a child. But nothing had prepared her for the death of the circus.

I suggested that she get a big sheet of paper and mark some of the events that led to the demise of the Circus, to circle some events and make notes about what she remembered. I also suggested that she make a scar coat by pinning things onto one of the capes she had worn.

the Daily Draw

Biddy Tarot suggests that instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, start your day off right by tuning into your intuition with your Tarot cards.  The act of having a ritual sets your day up for success, while the Tarot card makes you more intuitive by working as a tool to nudge your mind in the right direction.  

It gives you a starting point- a message- that you can take in whatever way you are feeling called to. Listen to the first thought that pops into your head when you think about the Tarot card you pull – it’s likely your intuition guiding you to the message that is exactly what you need to hear at that moment. 

The first question in the Lenormand Horror Story Challenge was “When does Mr Hyde come out in my life?”. The Popess drew the World Card which helped her recall the extraordinary lengths the circus will go to in order to amaze and baffle its audience.

As a novice and someone who does not profess to ‘read’ tarot cards, I was a little hesitant about suggesting that in order to trigger memories the Popess might benefit from using a daily draw and respond to Tarot Challenge prompts. She smiled a knowing smile and told me I didn’t need to be too coy as she figured I had a bag of my own skills.

Pulling The World out of a deck produced by someone, like Joe Lee, who lived and breathed the circus as a clown, drew an instant response. Georgie has very strong feelings about the animal activists who were so concerned about the welfare of the Elephants. She quite vehemently pointed out that the circus animals receive food, shelter and veterinary care and that the average life expectancy of a tiger in captivity is 26 years compared to 15 in the wild.

She also told me that she had recently learned that the Zoos who stopped animal performances to distance themselves from circuses, reintroduced them because animals benefit from the stimulation. She also observed that zoo keepers had noticed how depressed some animals were during Covid lockdowns because there were no visitors.

As a dog owner who shares my home with domesticated animals I was determined to stay neutral.

I suggested that she go through her photos and make a lists. I suggested she write in point form and note how she related to the animals at the LeGrande Circus and begin to document what she had learnt from working alongside these creatures.

The Tarot Midwife and Popess Meet

“The circus is the only ageless delight that you can buy for money,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in a three-page essay for the Ringling Bros. program in 1953. “It is the only spectacle I know, that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”

The Tarot Midwife

Allow me to introduce myself. I am The Tarot Midwife. When I bought the Legrande Circus and Side Show Tarot I bought it specifically to use as a part of my practice as a specialist teacher of writing, purveyor of creative stimuli and artistic midwife who gets joy out of birthing creative ideas.

Once this deck arrived I knew that this was going to be an important part of my creative medicine bag and that it would help me work with memoir. Under another name I have actually run, and will be running more Memoir Courses for the Goldfields Library Corporation in Bendigo. When I am working with people I always stress the importance of trusting the process. So, I held my breath and trusted that I would be guided by a force more powerful than myself. I heeded my own advice and laid out a spread that asked

  • Who will be my primary character?
  • What stage of their life are they in?
  • What is their best action at this point of time?

I cannot deny that it took my breath away when the Popess (Circus Tarot Reader – Georgina McClure) emerged as the primary protagonist. I was delighted when she agreed to meet me at her home in the country and when she agreed to work with me, to put together material that could be used if she takes the leap and writes the memoir she has known she should write. I reassure her that no one produces such things overnight, but that I have my own ‘magic tricks’ to help facilitate the process.

This site will focus on Georgie’s (as she likes to be known) journey as she puts together material for her memoir.

I have caught the Popess at a time when she is in a reflective mood. She retired from the circus many years ago and lives quietly in the country surrounded by animals who she rescues. Georgie was receptive to my offer to help her put together a memoir because she is in a period of transformation.