Tarot as a Way of Life

Tarot As A Way Of Life is a reference book, drawing on Jungian psychology and numerology for understanding of Tarot symbolism in the Rider-Waite.

By Karen Hamaker-Zondag

Book - Published by Weiser Books

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Tarot As A Way Of Life is a walk through the Hero's Journey - the archetypal journey that we all take as we walk our individual paths and strive for what Jung termed "individuation" - the process of development and becoming whole. It is not only a cycle through the 22 archetypes of the Major Arcana, but it is a cycle that repeats itself in our lives - each time on a different, higher level. What a gift this book is that through it we can reach into the depths of Tarot, come to a better understanding of our own paths, and see with greater clarity the paths that our clients are walking, and help them to understand the choices that confront them.

Before we go into the book, a little of the background of the author is in order. Karen Hamaker-Zondag is a founding member of Stichting Odrerir, a specific school of Jungian psychology in Holland. She is a graduate of the University of Amsterdam with doctoral degrees in social geography and environmental engineering, and did post-graduate studies in psychology, astrology and parapsychology. She is a full time counselor and lecturer.

Tarot As A Way Of Life is referenced specifically to the Rider-Waite Tarot. As symbols and imagery are important in understanding this book, my suggestion would be to either purchase or borrow a copy of the Rider-Waite deck, if you do not already have it. Yes - there are black and white scans to work with, but a card in the hand can bring greater insight (for myself, at any rate).

One of the first things discussed in this book is the power of symbolism - specifically the symbolism found within the Tarot, and how it affects our lives. Tarot acts as a mirror for what is going on in our lives, and it reflects both the conscious and unconscious energies. The symbols in the Tarot help us to access that unconscious part of ourselves. Our inspirations, and our creativity, come from the seat of our unconscious selves.

In discussing the history of Tarot, we also see a bit of the history of the symbols within the cards. We see the symbols for the four suits, and how they are reflected in early mythology - taking them far beyond the more rudimentary association with the four elements. There is also a basic discussion of numbers and their association with the Tarot. Hamaker-Zondag also goes into a discussion of the creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot, and the important change that Waite made when he added pictures to the pips (numbered cards).

Throughout this book Hamaker-Zondag makes use of black and white scans of not only the Rider-Waite deck, but of other (earlier) decks for comparison. In Chapter Three she presents a wonderful comparative study of the symbolism in seven different decks: the Tarot de Marseilles, the Rider-Wait tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Morgan-Greer Tarot, the Arcus Arcanum Tarot, the Haindl Tarot and the Tarot if the Witches. A nice variety of popular decks that includes scans of each of the cards discussed.

One of the subjects that Hamaker-Zondag touches on is the subject of attributing yin and yang qualities to the Tarot. I have seen this discussed in only a few places before, and found it very interesting.

As an example of what types of symbolism Hamaker-Zondag goes into with the comparative study, let's take a look at the Fool. The first thing that she goes into is the direction that the Fool is facing. I am used to attributing left facing to focus on the past, forward facing to focus on the present and right facing to focus on the future. The right hand side also carries the attribution of Yang, or male energy. The left hand side carries the attribution of Yin, or female energy. It is pointed out that Yin and Yang need to be balanced in everyone, and that it is imperative to develop the female side of self (with its core values of acceptance and receptivity) for both males and females, so it is important for the Fool to be facing (walking) to the left.

The presence of the dog in this card is also under consideration. In the Tarot de Marseille, the dog acts to tear a hole in the pants of the Fool. In most other decks, the dog is more playful, and represents part of our instinctual world. I was also interested to read that in some decks a cat replaces the dog (which it does in a deck that I am just now working, the Motherpeace Tarot). The cat also represents the unconscious - but is more cunning and willful. (Amen to that!) In the Haindl Tarot the symbol is of a wounded swan, which Hamaker-Zondag sees more as personal symbology for the illustrator (Hermann Haindl), that a symbol of the collective unconscious.

Now we are ready to step into the Hero's Journey. This is the process of individuation that we all go through - the never ending process of becoming whole. Hamaker-Zondag divides this process into three phases: cards 0-5 represent our basic drives; cards VI-XII represent the construction of the ego; and cards XIII-XXI represent the integration of our conscious and unconscious selves. Each of the three phases is gone into in depth, and provides a great deal of food for thought.

While the Major Arcana represents the Way of the Hero, the Minor Arcana talks about everyday life - how the forces of life play out through our choices and actions (the processes and dynamics of the psyche). There is a nice, if short, discussion of each of the four suits. Here again we see the yin/yang principle being applies, with Wands and Swords carrying the yang principle, and Cups and Discs (Pentacles) carrying the yin principle. From the book:

Six of Pentacles

The merchant has finished making his fortune, and can let others share in his riches. Life has remunerated him with this position and he realizes that he must do something new with it. The old cycle of trying to become a success is over, and in the new cycle he has to earn to use his wealth ethically and spiritually. This is expressed by the alms-giving and the weighing of money. The card is normally regarded as lucky: things are turning out well for us.

In the discussion of the court cards we come across the yin/yang principle yet again. The Page and Queen are seen as yin, while the Knight and King are seen as yang. From the book:

Knight of Wands (yang)

The Knight of Wands wants to blurt out whatever enters his head. He is characterized by impatience and a love of action, with a danger of "act first and think later." His impatience leads to aggressive insistence in the face of any protests or criticisms, or to a cross-grained redoubling of his efforts to have his own way. The Knight of Wands can achieve much and can break out of many stagnant situations, but runs the risk of needlessly losing a great deal of energy by rushing matters, by being a bad listener, or by failing to think things through. This is a card of energetic movement, which can convey warmth, but it can easily go too far.

The section on the Major Arcana does a good job of presenting the archetypal energy of the card, and the fact that these energies in an of themselves are "neutral" - it is how we place them in our lives that makes them positive or negative. The "drive" or psychological base of each of the cards is discussed, as well as exactly what this part of the journey is for us. What I found interesting was the admonition not to get "stuck" anywhere in the process! It is tempting, when we have reached a "safe place", to want to stay there a while. In this section we also come to a clear grasp of how each card leads to the next one.

In the section on astrology, Hamaker-Zondag does a nice presentation for each of the Major Arcana cards, listing the astrological attributions from several different sources (Banzhaf, Crowley, Masino, Muchery, Papus, Thierens and Wirth) for each card.

At the end of the book we have some helpful hints on reading the Tarot, as well as a discussion of one through four card spreads, and examples of three major spreads: the Celtic Cross Spread, the Astrological Spread and the Tree of Life Spread. Again - a lot of food for thought here!

I regard Tarot As A Way of Life as an excellent reference book for all Tarot students, and as a wonderful tool for learning for students that already have a basic understanding of the Tarot. It is not necessary to use the Rider-Waite as a primary reading deck to get something out of this book - there are excellent scans in the book that form a good foundation for understanding the Jungian approach to Tarot. I recommend having the deck handy simply because it is an added learning tool (and it is often referred to in reference works and Tarot articles).

© 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.

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