Interview with Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman

by Bonnie Cehovet

It is hard to believe that 2005 marks the 25th birthday for the Sacred Rose Tarot! This is a deck that continues to expand the consciousness of anyone who chooses to work with it. I think back to when it first came out, and realize that in many ways it was way ahead of its time.

I am very happy that it came into my life - it made me look at myself, and my use of the Tarot, in a very different manner. I asked illustrator/author Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman if she would consent to discussing the birthing of this deck. What follows is extraordinary wisdom from a very extraordinary wise-woman.

BC: Johanna, how absolutely marvelous to have a deck out that is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2005! How do you feel about this deck's journey?

Johanna: My feelings run the gamut of emotions and the journey (to say the least) has been an interesting one. The deck has opened-up many doors for me, some profound, some even humorous. Such as The High Priestess card had a special guest appearance on Pamela Anderson's breast when she was a cast member of the "Bay Watch" TV series.

BC: What is the background on how you and U.S. Games got together on this project?

Johanna: Previous to our meeting, I was working for a jewelry designer and manufacturer at the time a car accident left me with a neck injury that made it impossible for me to continue working. I decided to go back to my original love of drawing and painting by attending night classes at NYC's School of Visual Arts, specifically in Illustration. When I developed a promo card featuring my artwork on it I sent it out in a marketing campaign (via the trade publication "The Artists' Market"), one of the many recipients of this promo card was Stuart R. Kaplan. I was then commissioned to do my first painting "The Fool" which appeared in his "Encyclopedia of Tarot" (1st Edition). In 1980, the SRT was born and its Major Arcana was published as a Limited Edition with gold edging and wood box.

BC: Where did your inspiration for this deck come from?

Johanna: I felt I needed a theme to construct the deck around. Stuart agreed with this concept and one day, browsing through "A Dictionary of Symbols" by J.E. Cirlot, I came across the symbolism of the "Rose". To say the least, the symbolism fitted perfectly with the structure of Tarot. I developed the concept, presented it to Stuart and received his enthusiastic approval.

BC: I love the back of the deck, with the five roses. How did the rose come to act as a symbol for Western consciousness?

Johanna: The rose has a special metaphysical message, in its structure of beauty (its flower) and pain (the thorns), much as life was experienced in the development of our Western Civilization. Also, one cannot forget the mundane but valued uses of the rose. The rose has a valuable commodity in its essential oil. The commerce of essential oils (herbs and spices, too) from the Middle East expanded the Alchemists use of the properties found in this flower. One cannot help but note that The Church also adopted the rose as a symbol of "the fruits of sacrifice" which is a metaphor of the pain one must endure for salvation. There are many roads that lead to the adoption of the rose as the symbol of Western consciousness, to pinpoint one would be an injustice to this most powerful of symbols.

BC: The Sacred Rose is filled with vivid, deep coloring and intense, edgy, even dark imagery. Why did you choose to portray the Tarot in this manner?

Johanna: Tarot is a pictorial guide to life: the good, joyful, bad, and ugliness of it. Honesty, though brutal at times, is a virtue. Sugar coating a learning experience doesn't change it, in fact, it may make it worse. In the long run, I couldn't produce the SRT any other way.

BC: I have to ask this - why do all of the characters in this deck have the "vacant eye" look? What purpose does this serve?

Johanna: You don't know how many times I am asked this! I do know how to draw eyes and do portraits, but the images didn't want to have eyes, since there was to be no known "human to human" connection. The archetypes are beings of energy and their vacant eyes represent masks of initiation. Anyway, I didn't want to piss off or insult them by making them mere humans.

BC: In what ways does this deck reflect your journey as a psychic ... or does it?

Johanna: The whole project started opening-up my latent psychic abilities. The deck was constructed using a palette of reactive colors. Thereby, heightening psychic awareness. My dreams became vivid and prophetic in nature. It almost got out of control, I was afraid to go to sleep. Issues in my life surfaced that demanded my attention, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was then I sought various means to harness and develop my psychic abilities through integrating tarot and psychic development.

BC: How do you feel this deck is best used - i.e. for readings, for meditation, for ritual work, or ...?

Johanna: All of the above -- for readings: for truthful insights; for meditation: in developing an innate ability to balance the forces of dark and light; for ritual work: excellent universal conductor of power. Through the years, I have many times given "projects" or homework assignments to my clients in order to empower them, the SRT deck has yet to fail in its application toward personal growth.

BC: What advice would you give to someone that was new to this deck?

Johanna: Be true to your self. If the deck "offends" you, then there must be a core reaction to its energy that may turn out to be very beneficial to your quest. Something is ringing true to your inner being and should be explored. Also, be flexible and not fearful of psychic insights - not the run of the mill definitions given in the books, but genuine experiences. Keep in mind that the author is still alive and can be reached for guidance in these matters.

BC: I want to thank Johanna for her time, and for her wisdom. "The Sacred Rose Tarot" (deck and companion book) are a wonderful addition to any Tarot library. They can take you places that other decks won't, help to expand your knowledge of Tarot ... and your knowledge of yourself. Happy 25th Birthday, Sacred Rose!

Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman is artist and author of The Sacred Rose Tarot, and its companion book, Guide To The Sacred Rose Tarot. She is an acclaimed psychic whose talents were discovered by Prof. Hans Holzer.

Johanna, a schooled artist, after seeing her first Tarot images as a child knew she would someday create a deck as well as work with Prof. Holzer (whose books she read). Years later, her precognition's came true, she was commissioned to create the Sacred Rose Tarot and was introduced to Prof. Holzer. Creating the deck, to her amazement, honed her psychic abilities even further. The Sacred Rose Tarot incorporated many elements that facilitate development of psychic talents. Johanna began writing down her findings in her newsletter Your Psychic Connection, which laid the foundation for her book. She has been a featured guest on national TV and Radio as well as being heralded in print media, Woman's Own, as one of the "Top 5 Psychics"; The Psychic Yellow Pages, and The Directory of Psychics.

© 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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