Review by Bonnie Cehovet
In "Discovering Your Self Through the Tarot", author Rose Gwain brings together three distinct schools of thought: Jungian psychology, the Tarot, and the Qabalah. In doing so, she clearly moves the use of the Tarot beyond that of divination into the realm of individuation and spiritual wisdom.
In her introduction, Gwain refers to the dual nature of the Tarot: that it functions on both an exoteric and an esoteric level. She defines how these levels work through each of the divisions of the Tarot:
Exoteric: Reactions to experiences of fate. People that personify forces of fate. Esoteric: Cosmic, transpersonal forces that seek to transform the individual self by bringing it into an awareness of the Divine Self.
Exoteric: The people in our lives and world. Esoteric: Inner energies that are of an identical nature to the outer people in our lives. Processes that assist the Major Arcana in transformation.
Exoteric: The Mundane experiences in our lives. Esoteric: Levels of consciousness.
Gwain presents a solid background on Jungian thought, including the modes of functioning (thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing), and the dual natures of receptivity and aggression. Being a person very attuned to charts and graphs, I found the diagram of the parts of the psyche (Persona, Ego, Personal Unconscious, Anima/Animus, the Collective Unconscious, the Self, and the Supreme Spiritual Self) both personally interesting and a good point of reference for Tarot work.
The groundwork is laid quite well for the beginning student to choose his/her learning deck, and to enter the process of studying the Tarot. One of the more interesting statements, in reference to using decks with illustrated pips, was: "Much later in your Tarot work you may find that the scenes actually limit your ability to move more deeply into a card's energy field by limiting you to one dimension of the archetype, positive or negative."
The emphasis is made that there "are no rules", and that working with the Tarot works best if it is fun. It is also noted that as the student does more readings, and becomes more familiar with the Tarot, that their learning will move onto a deeper level. Sometimes this shows up in the need to move onto a new deck.
Meditation and the use of active imagination are discussed in quite an interesting manner. Traditionally, the cards themselves are entered, in some fashion. Gwain recommends grounding and centering ones self, then calling on the archetype that one wishes to know better. You may be asking to speak with/experience the Knight of Swords, or the High Priestess, for instance. Ask for the energy, and allow the archetype to come to you in whatever fashion that it wishes, and to show you what it wishes. The way that I understand this is, through the Tarot you determine the energy that you wish to access, and then you work with it through active imagination.
The laying out of spreads, as well as Tarot journaling, is also discussed. There are some interesting thoughts here: Gwain views the right side of the spread as the conscious nature of the reading, and the left side as the unconscious nature. The cards therefore should be laid from right to left, as we are moving into an understanding of unconscious energy's. I loved her attitude towards journaling, as she comments in passing that a really nice pen should be used to journal with, as this gives the writer an incentive to journal! (It is also a synchronetic thought, as I have been seriously considering banning "dimestore" pens from my house, and writing with only quality pens.)
The whole "reason for being" for this book is to present a system that can be used as a tool for personal growth, for "individuation". To that end, personality types, and the Court Cards, are covered extensively. Gwain presents a highly workable "Court Card Quiz" that is to be used to identify functions and their corresponding Tarot cards in the Seeker (the Seeker may be the person doing the reading, if they are reading for themselves, or the person the reader is reading for, if they are reading for someone else). ( will say that I found something in myself that I would never have voluntarily identified with!)
Throughout the book, Gwain presents specific spreads that allow the reader to work with the material that she is presenting. Amongst these spreads is the "Function Block Spread", a 16 card spread that helps the Seeker to become aware of where the balances and imbalances of energy are within their lives. Part of the process here is becoming aware of, and integrating, weak functions. There are tips given as to ways in which each function can be integrated - things that the Seeker can actively do to bring balance into their life.
There is an excellent section describing the personality types of each of the Court Cards, so that the Seeker can recognize this energy within themselves, and in the people that inhabit their lives. The strengths of each card, as well as their shadow aspects, are addressed. (There is an interesting description of shadows as being the interplay of light and dark.)
In connection with shadow work, Gwain presents the Alchemical Spread, a ten card spread used to examen the process of projection between two people. My immediate thought here was: "Wow! I already have clients that this would be a positive tool to work with!" This is a very powerful spread, and a very good way to peel away the onionskin layers of intent and purpose within relationship.
Another spread that touched me deeply was the "Sleeping Knight" spread, where the four Knights are used to determine which archetypal "Knight" energy worked for the Seeker in the past, which is at work in the present, which will be at work in the future, and which represents unconscious, or shadow qualities.
Gwain devotes an entire section to Tarot and the Qabalah, showing how the Tarot progresses through the levels of consciousness represented by the sephiroth on the Tree of Life. Through text and visual representation, this very magickal world comes to life before the Seeker.
There is an excellent section on the meaning of the cards that almost comes as being "incidental" to the work of the book. At the end of the book, Gwain takes several different spreads and gives sample interpretations for them.
This is a very well written book that presents a wealth of esoteric information in an easy to understand, easy to work with format. This is an excellent addition to the library of anyone who is seriously working on the process of individuation (personal and spiritual growth).
© September 2005
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.