Review by Tom LeBlanc, CTC
It may be surprising, or perhaps refreshing, to
see leading Pagan figures Amber K and Azrael Arynn K.
co-author "Heart of Tarot: An Intuitive Approach", a
breakthrough book detailing a new method of Tarot Reading.
Although neither of them has attained a high degree of
Tarot notoriety, Amber K. is certainly no stranger to
print. As the very well-known author of "Covencraft,"
"True Magick," and co-author of "Candlemas" (with Azrael
Arynn K.), it may seem to many that their eventual
collaboration of on a Tarot book was an intuitive eventuality.
Although the reading method (referred to in the text as
"Gestalt Tarot") described in their book is quite unique to
Tarot, they make no claims to the origination of this
particular technique. In 272 pages (3 parts, 15 chapters, two
appendices, and a bibliography), the authors managed to
communicate John McClimans' near-therapeutic reading method in
a relatively simple and informative, yet eloquent
and elegant, writing style.
In Part One, "Tarot
Through Fresh Eyes," the authors provided a brief
introduction to the Tarot, Gestalt Psychology, and Gestalt
Tarot. In their brief discussion of the history of
Tarot, the authors present an intelligent, honest view of
the origins of the Tarot. That is, they acknowledge a
plethora of theories (e.g., the Egyptian and Atlantean
theories) as well as the lack of support for each of them.
Much to their credit, the authors also discuss the
paucity of documented historical data regarding the
origins of Tarot, such as the first written account of
Tarot as a 15th century treatise against gambling.
authors also provide a very brief introduction to Gestalt
Psychology and the Gestalt the maxim that "The whole (of
consciousness) is greater than the sum of the parts." Thus,
Gestalt Tarot argues that the person and their situation
are greater than the sum of their parts (e.g., mental,
emotional, and spiritual facets). Gestalt Tarot is therefore
a holistic method of reading in which the reader is
a neutral guide that attempts to elicit insight from
the querent regarding his or her own unique situation.
This method generates considerable advantages for
the reader: Memorization of card readings and/or
extrasensory abilities are not a requirement for a reader and
the responsibility for change (and, it seems, the
reading in general) is placed squarely on the shoulders on
The authors note "…any given card has
potentially as many meanings as there are people in the world"
(p. 88). As such, the Gestalt Tarot method of reading
appears to be akin to an assessment method referred by
Psychologists as "projective" or "associative" tests, such as
the Rorschach or Thematic Apperception Tests. In this
manner, Gestalt Tarot strips the Tarot of its traditional
meanings and allows the querent to find his or her own
symbols. That is, instead of "reading" the cards by
interpreting meanings and impressions received by the Tarot
reader, the reader instead asks the querent a series of
open ended questions aimed at eliciting the querent’s
personal meanings for each card.
Morgan-Greer deck as an example, the authors provide exercises
for each Major (and several Minor) Arcana cards. In
these exercies, descriptions and meanings for each card
from are provided from the perspectives of four unique
querents. The reader is then given space upon which to
write his or her own distinct, personal meanings for
each card. This is a particularly helpful exercise on
a variety of levels. The Morgan-Greer deck, for
instance, is filled with symbolism, color, and activity
and--as it is based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck—it is
very familiar to most readers and many querents. More
importantly, however, this exercise allows the reader to
intimately explore the cards and gain personal insight as to
the Gestalt Tarot reading method.
Gestalt Tarot method can be used with just about any
spread, the authors present two practical spreads
particularly suited to Gestalt Tarot. The 12-card-spread
appears to be astrologically based and rather lengthy.
This spread is fairly intuitive and the position
descriptions are quite clear (even for a non-astrologer such as
myself!). This spread examines multiple facets of the
personality as well as forces outside of the querent’s psyche
(e.g., things in favor, things opposing, and likely
outcome if the same pattern is maintained). A shorter,
6-card spread is also presented and merely appears to be
a truncated version of the 12-card spread.
authors go into considerable detail describing the method
of reading in this chapter. Nearly all action is
taken by the querent (e.g., shuffling, placing the
cards, and turning the cards over) and all of this
activity is subject to interpretation. After the spread is
laid out, the querent may ask, "I noticed that you put
a card in the Venus position first, what can you
tell me about that?" According to the authors, the
order in which the querent lays the cards gives an
indication of their unconscious priorities. Perhaps this
querent is mostly concerned regarding his or her
relationships. Similarly, the order in which the cards are
turned over represents the querent’s conscious priorities
and are also subject to similar interpretation. Of
course, the authors discuss other patterns that may be
interpreted in the Gestalt Tarot method (such as the
proportion of suits, Major/Minor Arcana, and Court cards) and
emphasize the importance of posing open-ended "neutral"
questions to the querent (i.e., while indicating the Queen
of Cups in the Venus position: "So…how is this person
feeling about her situation?")
After a thorough reading
of Part One, the reader may get the impression that
he or she has a very strong feeling for Gestalt Tarot
and may well put the book away to go out and begin
reading. Part Two, "Reading With the Gestalt Method,"
however, is an indispensable section for those who wish to
pursue this reading technique. Herein, the authors
provide brief reviews of many of the major Tarot decks and
rate their appropriateness to Gestalt Tarot (e.g., the
Robin Wood, Rider-Waite-Smith, Morgan-Greer, and
Aquarian decks). They also provide instructions for the
construction of a "reading surface" (from cloth, masonite, or
some other material) to aid with the Gestalt reading
The authors also provide exercises for the reader to
further their understanding the Gestalt method (e.g,
describing the action of each card in at least five different
ways) and to help obtain the proper mindset for a
Gestalt reading (e.g., relaxation exercises, grounding and
centering, ensuring privacy, releasing preconceptions, and
trusting intuition). A rather extensive list of proper
"Gestalt" questions (i.e., open ended, neutral questions,
such as "What is the probable outcome of….?") is a
great benefit of this section as is an also extensive
discussion (later on in the same section) as to how to help
querents clarify their questions, formulate your own
questions, and avoid asking the querent leading
While discussing the considerations necessary while
reading for others, the authors emphasize the importance
of making clear things such as setting a fee, meeting
time, place, and indicating the things that querents may
need to bring. They also provide advice as to how to
set up a Gestalt-conducive environment (e.g., ways to
help the client relax). A major part of this process,
of course, is explaining Tarot and the Gestalt method
of reading to clients who are either inexperienced
with Tarot in general or have preconceptions that may
run contrary to this method of reading. They even give
you tips regarding how to read for clients who won’t
tell you their question.
For many readers, the
prospect of someone else handling, shuffling and laying out
their cards evokes a bit of anxiety. Although I felt
that it would be helpful to address this issue earlier
in their book, the authors provide an interesting
viewpoint in this section regarding the importance of the
level of involvement (e.g., kinesthetic, responsibility,
and "ownership" of the reading) that is obtained by
the querent as they shuffle and lay out the cards, as
well as the added interpretive value of the order of
cards laid out and turned over.
The authors also
provide advice and exercises aimed at helping querents to
relate their perceptions of the cards to people and
situations in their lives (e.g., reflective listening and
role playing). In addition, their advice regarding
coming to a conclusion and terminating the reading
session ("summing up") are often indispensable when
reading for others.
Perhaps of most value to the reader
wishing to fully understand Gestalt Tarot is the final
chapter of this section. Here, the authors provide two
lengthy verbatim transcripts of actual readings. Here,
the reader can get a detailed idea of how a Gestalt
Tarot reading is conducted and clarifies the process
considerably. Although there is some annotation to this
transcript (i.e., indications of what cards in which
positions are being addressed), further indications as to
what the reader’s purposes behind his or her statements
would have been much more helpful.
Part three of this
book, "The Compleat Tarot," appears to be a sort of
hodgepodge of topics not discussed in the previous sections.
The authors review and discuss nine additional spreads
including the well known (e.g., three-card spreads, Celtic
cross, horoscope, and the seven-card spreads) and some
less familiar spreads (e.g., the comparison and choices
spreads). In addition, they provide an example of creating
one’s own spread (although this is certainly not an
While their discussion of reading
professionally is also by no means exhaustive, they provide
extremely good advice and direction as they address issues
such as motivation and skill level. Their further
discussion regarding legal considerations, fees, working
hours, self-presentation, and advertisement are also
quite valuable. The authors’ descriptions of the various
types of challenging clients (e.g., the skeptic,
guru-seeker, and dependent clients) is quite humorous and their
advice regarding the proper handling of these individuals
will save the reader many headaches. In addition, the
authors provide various effective group exercises and
lesson plans for those who wish to teach Tarot from a
It would certainly seem unusual for
widely recognized Neo-Pagan leaders to write an extensive
book on Tarot without including a section on Magick.
The authors rightly include a very non-denominational
treatment of magickal ethics and the use of Gestalt
symbolism in magick. They then provide several ideas for
magickal work including transformation, karmic cleansing,
goal achievement, growth, and protection. I
particularly enjoyed their recommendation for a change of luck
spell (It involves knocking down a house of "Ill Luck"
cards…Fun!). The authors even include recommendations for wood
and herbal correspondences.
The appendices also seem
particularly interesting. Appendix A provides an accurate and
easy-to-understand history of the development of Gestalt Psychology
from the observations of Max Wertheimer and research of
Wolfgang Kohler to the development of Fritz Perls’ Gestalt
Therapy. The appendix then briefly describes how each of
these developments relate to Gestalt Tarot. Appendix B
contains a brief, but helpful, 18-step checklist for the
complete Gestalt Tarot reading process. Finally, this book
rounds off with a marvelously annotated bibliography of
recommended books for Tarot.
In sum, "Heart of Tarot"
provides a very complete treatment of a unique method of
Tarot reading that may appeal to those who prefer to use
Tarot as a therapeutic venue. However, this must be
taken with a considerable degree of caution in that any
attempts at Psychotherapy by a non-licensed or certified
practitioner are dangerous ethically and legally. Further,
although many will enjoy these techniques, as they are very
interactive, they may nonetheless feel quite uneasy about
allowing querents to handle their cards. Those who provide
distance readings (e.g., over the internet, telephone, or
mail) will find it impossible to utilize much of the
techniques in this book without first ensuring that the
querent has the same Tarot deck that the reader utilizes.
Also, this method limits the decks that are useful in
Gestalt Tarot rather considerably. While many decks
currently in production have detailed symbolic images on
each of the Minor Arcana, those who are attached to
decks that do not have such images (e.g.,
Visconti-Sforza or Marseilles), will be at a significant
disadvantage. Finally, this Tarot reading method makes no
accommodations for the interpretation of reversed cards.
Personally, I find the utilization of reversals and dignities
to provide a very rich Tarot experience and I am
loath to relinquish it.
In all, this is a very
helpful text for those who desire to use this method of
Tarot reading and may well find that the advantages of
these techniques far outweigh their shortcomings.
While learning to read Tarot as a young child, Tom LeBlanc had no idea what role Tarot would one day play in his life. Having grown up providing readings to family and friends, he took his trusty deck to college and discovered that he could partially support himself by reading for others. Now a Certified Tarot Consultant with over 25 years experience, a Ph.D. in Psychology, Tom enjoys providing occasional readings in addition to writing. Tom is currently involved in designing a Tarot Certification course for the College of the Sacred Mists.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Heart of Tarot honors the technique of Gestalt Tarot, and the gentleman who developed it, the late John McClimans. It is written with respect, to honor the man as well as the technique, and to place it in a form that can be easily shared with others. It represents an entirely intuitive approach to reading the cards, where the reader functions as a guide for the Seeker, allowing the Seeker to access the answers that already exist in their own subconscious.
A short history of Tarot is given, along with an explanation of the division of cards with in the Tarot (Major Arcana, Minor Arcana and Court Cards). What I found interesting was the short synopsis of some of the alleged origins: that they originated in Atlantis, or in Egypt, that the four suits represent the four classes of Hindu society, that they may have been brought from China by Marco Polo, or some other traveler. Some of these theories I had never heard before, and they certainly were interesting!
The authors define three ways in which Tarot can be read: by memorizing the card meanings, by psychically interpreting the cards, or by having the Querant search for the meaning within themselves, with the help of the reader. The third method is what is termed Gestalt Tarot.
In Gestalt Tarot, the reader functions by asking open ended questions, listening well, and suggesting experiences that allow the Querant to follow a certain thread of meaning. The reader remains neutral at all times. The backbone of Gestalt thought is that human beings are seen as a whole entity, rather than as a sum of their parts. What happens in one part of life affects all other parts - the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual aspects of man function as a union.
The authors go through each of the 78 cards of the Tarot, listing a summation of the traditional meanings, followed by three interpretations that could be developed during a reading. In this system, reversed cards are not acknowledged. If they come up in a reading, they are turned upright and read as such. There is also space for the student to write in their own observations on each card. (Note: Throughout the book black and white scans of the Morgan-Greer Tarot have been used.)
Although the Gestalt method can be used with any spread, there are two spreads presented that were developed specifically for it: a twelve card Gestalt Tarot Spread, and a condensed six card spread. The positions are defined as follows1:
Gestalt Tarot Spread
I. The Sun: Power Source
II. The Moon: Emotional Position
III. Earth: The Self
IV. Jupiter: Things In Your Favor
V. Saturn: Opposition or Teacher
VI. Venus: Love or the Female Principle
VII. Mars: Action, or the Male Principle
VIII. Mercury: Message, Thought
IX. Neptune: Prophecy, The Future
X. Uranus: Changes
XI. Vesta: The Unknown Factor
XII. Pluto: Beginning, End and Outer Boundary
Condensed Gestalt Spread
I. Earth: The Self
II. Pluto: The Situation
III. Saturn: Opposition or Teacher
IV. Jupiter: Things In Your Favor
V. Mercury: Guidance
VI. Neptune: Prophecy, The Future
There is an excellent section discussing the positions within the two spreads, and how they can be read. This is followed by a discussion of how to read the patterns within a spread - starting with the order in which the cards are laid out, and the order in which they are read. (An integral part of the process is that the Querant shuffles the cards, lays them out in the order they wish (all face down), and turns them over in the order they wish (one at a time, discussing them as they are turned over). Also discussed are the upper cards (outward events and conscious thoughts) versus lower cards (inner, subconscious thoughts), the presence or absence of court cards, the proportional representation of the suits, and recurring themes (colors, objects, animals, natural elements, conflict or harmony, lone figures versus groups and emotional themes). There is a very sensible, in my opinion, emphasis placed on bringing the reading together at the end - summing up the parts into a coherent storyline and answering any questions the Querent may have.
The authors have presented a followup section of sample readings. The readings are well done, and certainly act as a guide for readers that wish to use this technique in their own readings. As with all things, the Gestalt Tarot technique takes practice, a certain sense of confidence on the part of the reader, and the ability of the reader to step outside of their ego and allow the process to flow.
It is recommended that the student work with a Tarot journal when studying this method, and that a Tarot cloth be made that shows the card positions. With any other method, a Tarot cloth would be a personal decision, and certainly not necessary, but with this method the Querant lays the cards down, in the order that they wish, so the use of a cloth is imperative. There are also exercises in this section that will acquaint the student with the Gestalt reading method.
One of the things that the authors do not address is allowing the Querant their choice of decks. This is something that many readers do, and really would not interfere with this method. The authors also recommend that the reader set their personal boundaries and develop a code of ethics for themselves. They also address issues such as charging for a reading, setting the date and time, setting the environment (use of music, incense, candles and other lighting, flowers etc) and explaining exactly what the client can expect from a Gestalt reading.
Asking open-ended questions is a biggie with this method, and is addressed. Some things to think about are to form the question along the lines of "how", "why", or "what", and staying away from something that can be answered with a yes or a no, as well as staying away from asking leading questions. The Querant needs to find their own path here!
There are additional spreads presented towards the back of the book: a two card Snapshot Spread; the Three Card Spread (with a unique listing of position definitions); the ten card Celtic Cross Spread; the twelve card Horoscope Spread; a unique Name Spread, making use of the letters in the Querants name; a seven card Comparison Spread; an eight card Choices Spread; a seven card Past/Present/Future Spread; and a five card Yes/No Spread. A bonus in this section is a variety of tips given on creating your own spreads (something that really is fun to do!).
There is an excellent discussion on reading professionally, and on the things that need to be taken into consideration before a reader decides to do this. The best part of this section was the description of Querants that present "special challenges". I think the authors pretty well covered the field here, and I also think that any prospective professional reader needs to be aware that these types of people, and the situations they present, do exist. Once a reader has experienced one or more of these clients, they will find the humor in the situation (as well as developing ways of handling them).
Teaching the Tarot, and using the Tarot in magical ways are also covered in ways that make the subjects both accessible and exciting. This is a well researched, well written book that presents Gestalt Tarot as an alternative manner of reading the cards that can be used by anyone. It is the type of material that acts to present a solid foundation for the student to build on in their own lives. It is an excellent resource book, and I highly recommend it.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Footnotes: 1. Ibid pages 89, 90, 101.
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.