Nessus and the Hierosgamos: My Journey with the Empyrean Key

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

The Denver Tarot Geeks

I started the Denver Tarot Geeks on May 26, 2007, as a way to share my excitement and passion about the power and inspiration I found in exploring the esoteric aspects of the tarot. I led a two-year series on the kabbalah, which was deeply transformative for me, very well attended, and which always earned rave reviews from participants.

I Felt Like a Complete Failure

But as the series wound up in April of 2009, I didn’t have a clear direction for the meetup group. I tried doing astrology and tarot, but got panned by the critics of the group. I floundered for almost a year, and in April 2010 I again attempted to start something on astrology and tarot. I had been working on developing new techniques steadily throughout the different series we did in that advanced tarot group. I felt like I was coming up with good stuff, but attendance had continued to drop and now hit an all-time low. For four painful meetings in a row, either no one but myself showed up or only one other person attended. I felt like a complete failure.

The Birth of the Empyrean Key

The one other person who was my regular during this time was the incomparable Rory Joyner who patiently worked through all my experimental processes, providing valuable feedback and support. After each session she would heap piles of praise on me insisting that what I was doing was important and that we needed to do something to let people know about these powerful techniques.

With the on-going help and persistence of Rory, I systematized my methods with a special process for each astrological sign the sun passed through. I tested and refined every tarot spread and ritual practice myself before sharing it with Rory. And the results were amazing – for both of us. Rory wrote an email to me dated May 1, 2010, in which she said, “This has been fascinating, incredible, and eye-opening work. Almost indescribable in its effectiveness for soul-exploration. I am REALLY looking forward to our next sign.”

In an effort to revamp the group, she and I scheduled a meeting at my house on Sunday, May 23, 2010, to plan a new strategy. We decided we needed a name for this tarot/astrology mix, and she brainstormed with me for probably two hours. I was exhausted but she wouldn’t give up. Finally she said, what’s Latin for star? Astra or Stella, I said, neither of which resonated at all and only made my mind spin off onto names of Golden Dawn groups. Out of sheer desperation I grabbed a set of notecards that I had used to jot down stuff I liked from a book on medieval cosmology. I knew there was plenty of Latin and Greek terms on these cards.

Finally I came to a card with the word I needed — the Empyrean Heaven. This was it; I had found the name of my process: The Empyrean Key. A sense of energy and relief swept through me — mostly because this seemingly unending brainstorming session was over. I wasn’t even sure I liked the name! Although a few days later it started to resonate and I knew it was perfect.

We established a new day and new venue for our newly named series, and on June 24, 2010, six Tarot Geeks attended “The Empyrean Key.”

Nessus and the Hierosgamos

On July 24, the full moon in Leo, I sat down at home to do that month’s Empyrean Key work. This was my fifth month of doing the process, and this month things came together in a way they hadn’t previously — before things had been amazing, now real magic was happening. Everything came together and I understood my chart and myself in a way I had never understood before. Everything kept pointing to the midpoint of my Sun and Moon — I had done the midpoint estimation in my head and guessed it was around 9 or 10 degrees Gemini. I had been doing very deep work and had moved beyond simple insight — I just KNEW something had to be in my chart at that spot.

So I pulled up Astro and scrolled down to the bottom of the Extended Chart Selection page and highlighted all of the additional objects. Sure enough, at 9 degrees, 12 minutes was something Astro called Nessu. I had no idea what it was, but I Googled it and discovered an asteroid (technically half-asteroid, half-comet) named after the Greek centaur Nessus.

The myth was that Nessus was responsible for killing Hercules, by lying to Hercules’ wife about the regenerative powers of his cloak, which was stained with blood and semen. He told Hercules’ wife that the cloak would heal a mortal wound, but when she wrapped it around her husband after he suffered a serious injury, Hercules burst into flames burning to his death, but attaining the immortality of apotheosis.

I remembered seeing Rory use Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot Renewed, and the Strength card, associated with Leo, showed a woman riding a lion while over her head she held a flaming heart into which red and white liquid from the sun and moon poured. This was the story! This was the midpoint of my Sun and Moon, masculine and feminine. I knew I needed the Alchemical deck!

I had gotten a newsletter from Robert Place a few days earlier in which he said that he had only a few of the Alchemical decks left, and gave contact information including a phone number. It was a Saturday night, and a couple hours later on the east coast than it was here in Denver, but I needed this deck now, and determined that I had better call him. Anyway, no one would answer on Saturday night — I was sure I could leave a message and I would hear back from him on Monday. I hesitated — what if he did answer? — but dismissed the possibility and placed the call.

“Hello?” he said. I about died. “Um, err, Robert, umm, Robert Place?” I said. “Yes,” he said with a hearty degree of caution. I burst into a long crescendoing explanation of who I was and the Empyrean Key and Leo and my chart and Nessus ending with “And there was blood and semen on the cloak!!!!!!” And he replied, “That’s the hierosgamos!!” referring to the sacred marriage of masculine and feminine qualities, and I said, “YES! And it’s my Sun-Moon midpoint! And it’s on your Leo card! I must have your deck now!” and then he calmed me down enough to get my credit card number and shipping address.

Stepping onto my Path

On August 5, I had the idea of using the system to examine a particular life aspect in my chart — I chose to look at career and used the Empyrean Key process to discover what my ideal career was. The process spoke to me with perfect clarity and I realized that this — the Empyrean Key transformational process — was my true calling. I contacted a friend and asked him if he knew anyone who might be interested in intuitive career coaching. He said he knew someone who had been out of work for a depressingly long time and put me in touch with her. A few days later on August 11, I did my first Empyrean Key career coaching session. Two weeks after that she e-mailed me to let me know she had gotten a job. I continued to work my Empyrean Key process with clients who couldn’t stop telling me how much they loved the motivation, inspiration and personal insight they received from the process.

Over the course of the next year we went through a full Empyrean Key cycle in Tarot Geeks. And meanwhile Robert Place polished up his Alchemical deck and released a new edition. He offered pre-orders of the deck, and I purchased not only a new copy, but also an 8 1/2 x 11 print of the card of my choice. Of course I picked the Strength card. And I continued my own work with the Empyrean Key process.

The Wink from the Universe

In November I took my next big step in sharing this process. I developed a workshop and led my first real Empyrean Key class (not just the advanced tarot meetup) on November 12, 2011. It was hugely successful and everyone — even the student with absolutely no tarot or astrology background — was able to follow along with my detailed handouts. Participants reported getting profound insight out of the exercises. I went home after this successful first day of class, tired after a long month of preparing for it and ready to take a much needed rest.

As I walked up the back steps, I could see the edge of a brown paper envelope peeking out from under the bottom of the screen door. I opened the door, and saw Robert Place’s return address. Inside the envelope was my signed and numbered print of the Strength card, with the red and white outpourings of the sun and moon joining in the flame of the heart, the hierosgamos, the reminder of my own profound personal transformation using the Empyrean Key system. Over a year and a half’s work culminating in this perfect wink from the universe, reminding me that all is in perfect alignment.

By the way, I did go back and properly figure out my Sun-Moon midpoint—due to some very rough rounding, I was off several degrees in my estimate. The actual midpoint is about 4 ½ degrees Gemini. No, not exactly where Nessus is. But something significant is there, nonetheless. The sun was not even one degree past my Sun-Moon midpoint in Gemini at the exact moment I started Tarot Geeks.

Where Does Your Story Begin?

Why does this story begin with the formation of the Tarot Geeks? It might make more sense to begin it with my joining the Denver Tarot Meetup, where I met Scott Womack who inspired me to start the Geeks. Or maybe before that, when a book signing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop turned me on to the internet site Meetup. Maybe I started it too early – perhaps I should have started with discovering the hierosgamos in my chart and the chucklingly embarrassing call to Robert Place in my state of archetypal expansion. Really, how often do you call someone you’ve never met late on a Saturday night and ramble on about blood and semen while placing a product order – and have the poor guy on the other end of the line understand your crazed outburst?

One of the things that was reinforced for me as I led the workshop on the Hero’s Journey and the Empyrean Key process is that we each are the author of our own story. We can accept the call to adventure, or reject it. The story happens either way. I’ve both accepted and rejected the call to adventure many times in my life.

What about you? Where are you in your adventure? When was the last time the Universe winked at you? Or laughed right out loud with you? If you accepted the call to adventure today, where could you be a year from now? Adventure is calling. Will you accept?

Joy Vernon is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Reiki Teacher in Denver, Colorado. Her specialty is the Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which combines energetic and esoteric modalities to help her clients break through blocks and align themselves with their higher purpose. To schedule an appointment, please visit

© 2011 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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  1. […] I knew then that there had to be a way to take the insight from my tarot readings and use it to create actual change in myself and my life. It took several more years for my ideas to coalesce around this, but eventually I developed a system called Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which I initially taught as a part of my Denver Tarot Geeks meetup. You can read about it in my blog post, “Nessus and the Hierosgamos: My Journey with the Empyrean Key.” […]

  2. […] I’ve always been particularly attracted to glyphs and shapes. Anything from a Spirograph to high school geometry to the magical use of the planar figures to the powerful energy of the Reiki symbols. I also love tarot, mythology, astrology, and symbolism. In 2010, a number of factors came together and I developed the Empyrean Key system as my form of magic to create change in my life. (You can read my story here.) […]

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