Women in Tarot: Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman
by Bonnie Cehovet
This is part of a series of articles on women in the Tarot world. I wanted to peek into the minds of those women who are making outstanding contributions to the field of Tarot, to honor their body of work, and to take a look at what they see for the future of Tarot.
Johanna is an acclaimed psychic who was discovered by, and has trained with, Professor Hans Holzer. She holds degrees in art and education from New York City's High School of Art & Design and Pratt Institute, and has done a great deal of personal study concerning the metaphysical/esoteric world.
Johanna's body of work includes the The Sacred Rose Tarot (U.S. Games Systems, Inc. 1980); her companion book, "Guide To The Sacred Rose Tarot" (U.S. Games Systems, Inc. 2000); her newsletter, "Your Psychic Connection"; and workshops on Tarot and Psychic Development, including co-presenting the workshop "TAROT: Unifying The Psychic and Wisdom Traditions" with Rachel Pollack, and her latest workshop, "Psychic Development and the Tarot."
Johanna has also been a featured guest on national TV and radio, has been included in "The Psychic Yellow Pages" and "The Directory of Psychics" (both authored by Professor Holzer), and featured in Woman's Own magazine, in its article entitled "Top 5 Psychics." Her Tarot art has been featured in the TV series "Baywatch" and "Baywatch Nights."
I met Johanna when I was doing an article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Sacred Rose Tarot. My fondest wish is that someday I have the honor of meeting Johanna in person. I found her to be intelligent, witty, and to carry a great sense of spirit. I am very pleased that she agreed to be part of this series. It is time to turn the podium over to Johanna.
BC: Johanna, you are the only artist that I know that has had a replica of one of their cards (The High Priestess) appear on a celebrity body part (the celebrity being Pamela Anderson when she was a member of the "Baywatch" cast). I find this to be humorous, and a great way to get one's art out there. What was your reaction to this?
JGS: It is very amusing and, for me, poignant story. At the time, I was going through a rough patch, and praying for some aspect of assistance to come my way. It was in August of that year, when my deceased father came to me, not in a dream; he was truly there in the room with me, I could "smell" him and he kissed me on the lips (which we always did in my family) saying: "Don't worry, I am sending you a gift." The experience was so real, that I immediately awoke and told my husband. The next day, I told the rest of my family about the experience. The months passed, and I dismissed the dream as a cry of a child in need and a subconscious illusory manifestation. The morning of November 21st was the anniversary of my father's passing. I could not sleep, grabbing the nearest reading material I could get my hands on, the weekly TV Guide; I sat on the toilet, and opened the page to see the image of Pamela Anderson with the Sacred Rose High Priestess card on her chest. Then it hit me. It was the date --down to the day (a Monday) -- that he passed. The time was the estimated time of his death. The photo of Pam Anderson was there because my father was a "breast man". The toilet related to the fact that he always read on the throne, etc. Everything fell into place, He did contact me.
I then taped the show to find out that the deck was renamed "Sumerian" and there was no reference to give true credit to anyone, including the publisher, U.S. Games Systems. My next action to blatant copyright infringement was to take legal action. The rest of the story is obvious, and one of the perks was a season devoted to featuring the deck on "Baywatch Nights"-a spin-off of the series and an episode that featured the deck's art as a main character. To say the least, my father in spirit did come through for me
BC: Your journey into Tarot has been quite an odyssey - one that began with sending promotional artwork to Stuart Kaplan of U. S. Games Systems, Inc. I love the idea of the first edition of the Sacred Rose Tarot coming out as a Limited Edition, Majors only, gilt edged version in a wooden box. What was your reaction to this?
JGS: I was and am very proud of this accomplishment. My grandfather was a woodcarver, muralist and oil painter whose work can be seen in the churches of Sorrento, Italy. I always think of him-whom I am named after-when thinking of the Limited Edition.
BC: Can you tell us a little bit about the esoteric/metaphysical background behind the choice of the rose as a theme for this deck?
JGS: My knowledge of all of the esoteric schools of Tarot was limited. I read with the Marseilles deck, and had various packs, including Zolar's version of the Rider Waite Smith. When Stuart Kaplan and I spoke of a theme for the deck, he left it up to me to find one. I then consulted Cirlot's Dictionary of Symbols and found under the theme of "Rose" a fascinating subject and lore. The four roses, the four elements, the four suits-need I say more. When I broached the subject of using the four elemental roses as outlined in Cirlot's book with Stuart, he liked the idea immediately.
BC: The Sacred Rose Tarot is a deck of many levels. A significant part of this deck, and a significant part of your personal journey, centers on the "vacant eyes" of each of the figures. In our last interview, you indicated that this represented an effort to not "humanize" the archetypal quality of the figures, to not "disrespect" them. The archetypes are essentially energy beings, and the vacant eyes represent the mask of initiation. How has this thought carried forward in your work?
JGS: I think that it helps with obtaining psychic impressions. Even though the deck is seen and at times dismissed as a Rider Waite clone, it is far more intense in nature, surfacing energies that even I cannot explain at times.
BC: Johanna, in the 1980's you utilized the Sacred Rose Tarot to develop a psychic development course. Is it this work that forms the backdrop for your current workshops?
JGS: The deck is only partially used, mostly by me. I have huge reproductions of the cards that act as the doorways. I understand that people want to be comfortable with the psychic process and the decks being used, especially when accessing new skills. The Sacred Rose Tarot is not for the faint-hearted; nevertheless, when a student gets to the point of using a deck for psychic impressions, the Sacred Rose should be on the top of their list, it rarely fails to deliver.
BC: In looking over the agenda for your upcoming "Psychic Development and the Tarot" workshop, I note that you are introducing students to the world of Guardians and the astral plane through the gateway of Tarot. Can you tell us a little about that?
JGS: As I was creating the deck, my thirst for esoteric knowledge became unquenchable. I knew I needed to go beyond the information stage, into the experiential. But, I was in conflict. At the time, I was heavily creating art prints of my paintings. Traveling to the lithographers in New Jersey, camping overnight at my sister's apartment, I was tired. My husband, Stuart was all gung-ho on taking a four day workshop on the Jose Silva's Mind Control Method, which has been renamed Silva Ultra-Mind Method. I went there under protest. I was tired. I wanted to sleep on the weekends. To keep peace in my marriage, I attended, it changed my life.
Afterward, I was doing my daily exercise in the Method, and experienced what was at that time a frightening vision. To my right, grabbing my forearm was a huge claw. I knew it was a raptor's claw, but so large, it took up the whole of my forearm. Still in my meditative state, I peered over my arm to the floor beyond the claw to see what creature belonged to it. There in a semi-sleep was a gryphon. He stretched, and spoke to me. That is the first time I met my animal Guardian. I began working with the Guardian and wanted to share my findings with others. At the time, I had an ongoing group of students that met once a month. They clamored for intense esoteric experiences. I developed this system of finding and working with the Animal Guardian from my own newfound knowledge. Bonnie, the stories and experiences give you chills! I don't know how to honor it fully in the explanation. It is a profound means of achieving immediate access to the psychic realm without loosing your footing in the mundane world.
BC: What would you like our readers to know about how the disciplines of psychic ability and Tarot intersect and enhance each other?
JGS: The symbolic language of Tarot is enhanced by psychic ability. It is a gift to be able to speak of spiritual guidance, soul purpose, path working and wisdom. Also to be able to pick-up on a special event coming to the seeker or even to suggest a change in direction that would bring about a desired result delivers the portent of a renewal of spirit, opportunity and resolve.
BC: What are your plans for the future as far as Tarot?
JGS: Let me look into my Crystal Ball.
BC: What do you feel the future holds for the field of Tarot?
JGS: OK, let me check my Crystal Ball, again. All kidding aside, and just from observation, the future of Tarot is based on two opposing forces-the needs of the community and the dictates of the publishing industry. Maybe there should be a Tarot Publishing Co-op? There are some savvy people out there that could truly make a mark in Tarot if resources were pooled.
BC: You have said before that you did not want to become involved in writing another book. I have to ask this again, because the wisdom that you hold is so very unique: Is there any chance of us seeing another book from you?
JGS: I fear that I may have to eat those words! The Guardian book needs to be written. I see the need now, more than ever for such information. One reason is that I have used this method on youngsters, some with very serious developmental issues, with great results.
BC: Is there advice that you would like to share with our readers about the Tarot, and the myriad ways that it can be used?
JGS: Be open to ideas and concepts. If anything, the cards are a vehicle of self-expression, and expression differs between individuals even on a day-to-day basis. Make sure that you most of all honor life. When confronted with destructive influences, react by reestablishing the balance. And remember to "Keep the Fate."
I want to thank Johanna for sharing both her time and her wisdom with us.
© 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.