Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Before I begin my review, I would like to talk for a moment about the three individuals involved in this book. Paul Hughes-Barlow is a well known and highly respected authority in the field of Tarot. Several years ago he worked with Comparative Tarot members to help us to understand Elemental Dignities. As we floundered through, he gave us a great deal of his time, patience and expertise. He was ever the gentleman, and we will all be eternally grateful for that. Paul has had quite an elaborate site up for some time now - the best resource that I have seen when it comes to Elemental Dignities in particular and reading the cards in general.
Catherine Chapman is a young lady that I met on Twitter – just about the time that she was getting her site, up and running. I admire Catherine for her courtesy, her wisdom, and for her vision. I see her as an up and coming lady in the field of Tarot – someone whose progress it is fun to watch!
Douglas Gibbs is someone that also crossed my path on Twitter. He did not have an active part in the process of this book, but he played a major role in writing the foreword, and doing one of the best reviews that I have seen on this book. He was also there to act in a supportive role, and to be someone to bounce ideas off of. His site – and his blog, are very pithy, very in depth, and very relevant. If you want to expand your Tarot worldview, visit Douglas’ site!
As the Tarot tells the story of the Seeker, this book tells the story of one person’s journey – that of Catherine Chapman, and her attempt to interpret and understand a relationship reading that she had done for herself that ended up with two Knight’s in future positions – one of which was in the position of the outcome!
Amazingly, this whole book is about interpreting one single reading! Catherine used a Celtic Cross spread for the reading, laid out in the traditional manner, with defined positions. The first thing that Paul did was to transform the spread into a linear spread, where it will stay for the duration.
Quoting Douglass from his foreword: “This journey includes the use of techniques that were originally developed for the Opening of the Key Spread and chronicles Catherine’s own Spiritual journey, culminating in a series of powerful initiating visions.”
Douglas goes on to talk about the foundation of this book – the dialogue between Paul and Catherine, with Paul as guide and Catherine examining and interpreting the cards. As Catherine notes, this was at time frustrating, because she would ask a question, and there would be no answer. She was the one on the quest, and her answers were to be found within.
In his introduction Paul addresses issues that all readers face at some point in time – amongst which are struggling to understand a reading and its object. Also, the fact that at times specific sections within a reading may read like Greek to both the reader and the Seeker, or you may simply be going in circles trying to interpret the cards. How do we go beyond this as readers and access new depths within the cards?
Through e-mail, over a period of ten days, Paul and Catherine worked together to transform the reading. The cards drawn, along with the position meanings, are presented so that the reader can get a visual on what is being worked with. Then the cards are shown in the linear template – in the exact order they were drawn, but placed down in a linear fashion.
Part of the process between Paul and Catherine was that she wanted to understand Elemental Dignities better, and be able to apply them to the reading. In doing so, Catherine encouraged Paul to write in more detail about the process of uncovering the hidden ninety percent of the reading.
In deciding to write a book together, and in rewriting and restructuring the book, Paul notes that both he and Catherine experienced personal transformation. Catherine’s confidence in reading the Tarot grew by leaps and bounds, and her questions became more complex, philosophical and insightful. As a result, Paul had to raise the bar for his own standards!
The first part of the book addresses the structure of the reading as it was originally set out, including the positional meanings. The techniques used for interpretation are Card Counting, Elemental Dignities, and Card Pairing – in that order.
This is followed by chapters on analyzing three card combinations (which had some surprises in it for me!), advanced elemental analysis and elemental bases, and the transforming power of the Aces. Paul also addressed the cards that were not counted, and the power that they held.
What is the end of this story? Which Knight wins? Or does Catherine win? Douglas was quite right when he called the visions that Catherine had after doing this work initiatory visions. (Visions that grew in strength the longer she spent on the journey with Paul.) They involved Pegasus, a dancing High Priestess (sacred dance), and continued visits with the High Priestess. Then there was the child, that she recognized as having come to her before as a baby.
This is a book that you will not be able to put down. My one suggestion would be to not move from one section to the next until you have thoroughly understood it. This book will bring out great wisdom from the reader, as well as from the cards.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.
Review by Sean McLaughlin, MS, CTR
While working on my master’s degree I had to watch the movie The Prince of Tides (staring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte) for one of our class discussions. While I enjoyed the picture, I was put off by the flagrant disregard for the ethical boundaries between helper and helpee. Helping and mentoring relationships are some of the most meaningful contacts we can have as human beings. So imagine my joy at reading about a healthy mentor-mentoree relationship between Hughes-Barlow and Chapman in this latest book entitled Beyond the Celtic Cross: Secret Techniques for Taking Tarot to an Exciting New Level.
In this book, we the readers are allowed access to an edited and redacted long-term email correspondence between Hughes-Barlow, a twenty year Tarotist veteran, and newly emerging Tarotist enthusiast Chapman. Throughout the book, both voices of the mentor and mentoree are preserved as we the readers are invited to some tasteful voyeurism of this particular mentor-mentoree relationship.
The book begins with the co-authors explaining in their own words the order of events. Chapman, a single mother and recent/recent-enough divorcee, had laid out a Celtic Cross spread for herself using the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to see what lay in store for her love life. While the spread did have some promise of two male figures, the Knight of Pentacles and Knight of Wands (Rx) respectively, she quickly became stuck in her ability to interpret the spread. So she reached out through the internet to Hughes-Barlow, who lives in another part of the UK, for some assistance. The book then takes off from there in a delightful blend of Hughes-Barlow’s unique take on the Opening of the Key (OOTK) approach (based off Crowley from The Book of Thoth) and Chapman’s search for romance in her cryptic reading.
In my day job world, we would call this an extended case study and it has a long, prestigious history in the human services field. Jung’s first book, later revised under the title Symbols of Transformation, used this format as he weaved his theory of a collective archetypal symbology in with the published diary of a schizophrenic woman. In a similar vein, Hughes-Barlow’s extends the appeal of his more academic OOTK approach to a larger audience through its application to Chapman’s reading. Further, he shows how a novice like Chapman can learn and apply these concepts within a short period of time for personal benefit to the point where Chapman goes “pro” by the end of the book.
The style of this back and forth of theory and practice is very engaging. It makes Hughes-Barlow’s explanation of elemental dignities (ED) much more understandable and immediately applicable. My only dissent is that I do believe in a “neutral” category between fire & earth and air & water while Hughes-Barlow sees those as “friendly.” Interestingly enough, Chapman agrees with the presence of a “neutral” category and there was no attempt to make her tow-the-line with her mentor. In this sense, her voice is preserved and privileged which makes the book even more winsome as different views are honored. The book was a delightful read and I look forward to seeing more from these authors in the years to come.
Sean 'Michael' McLaughlin is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader (CPTR) and sole reader of Tarot by Michael. He earned his Master of Science in Human Services and has studied religion, spirituality, and theology at the graduate level in addition to psychological studies. He combines brief, empowering therapeutic techniques with a Systems-Based approach to Tarot that incorporates aspects of Astrology, Intuition, Numerology, and the Qabalah.