The Tarot Handbook

This is the second edition of The Tarot Handbook, first published in 1987 and reprinted ten years later with a new introduction. In the book, Arrien discusses the symbols found in the Tarot from a psychological, mythological, and cross-cultural perspective.

By Angeles Arrien · Book - 320 pages · Published by Tarcher

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

This is the second edition of “The Tarot Handbook”, complete with a new introduction by Angeles Arrien. Tarot is a series of very personal stories that evolve through the reading of the cards. The symbols and imagery of the Tarot carry an archetypal energy, one that speaks to each individual on a very personal basis. Arrien discusses the symbols found in the Tarot from a psychological, mythological, and cross-cultural perspective.

Before you even get to the introduction, Arrien lists three very powerful suggestions are given the reader for using this book: (1) referring to the Methodology section to find the reader’s Lifetime symbols, along with their current Growth Symbol and Cycle; (2) making use of the Spread section, while taking the time to review the detailed information given in this book on each of the cards; (3) making use of the Glossary to come to a better understanding of the astrological signs and planets as they are represented in the cards.

In her new introduction, Arrien speaks of symbols as functioning as a universal language between an individual’s internal and external worlds. The Tarot itself acts as a symbolic map of consciousness, as well as an ancient book of wisdom that reveals the creative ideas and states of consciousness that appear across multiple cultures. Arrien also speaks of the importance of employing the Tarot as a self-help tool, rather than in its more limiting aspect as a tool of fortune-telling.

The deck that Arrien was most drawn to in her early studies was the “Thoth Tarot”. However, she felt that the esoteric nature of the card meanings in some way hindered the use of the visual symbols drawn by Lady Frieda Harris. As a result, Arrien wrote this book to honor Harris’s execution of the “Thoth Tarot” imagery. In this manner, the Tarot serves as a tool for inner guidance, and a validation of one’s own intuitive process.

In studying the works of such luminaries as Marie Louise von Franz, Joseph Campbell, Ralph Metzner, Mircea Eliade, Stan Grof, and Robert Bly, Arrien realized that there may well be symbolic clusters, or mythic constellations within the Tarot. This led to a three- week ecstatic experience, out of which came the nine basic constellations, and the impetus to design the daily spread, the self-esteem spread, the relationship spread, the summary spread, and the permutation on the traditional Celtic Cross spread.

There is a section presented on Tarot history – where the cards originated, a timeline on their evolution, and the psychology behind the symbols.

The section on the Major Arcana is subtitled “Twenty-two Universal Principles, Laws, Teachings, and Archetypes”. In her introduction to the Major Arcana, Arrien emphasizes that the reader recognize that they are being educated in the twenty-two universal experiences that everyone has within their lifetime.

Each card is presented with a black and white scan from the “Thoth Tarot”, a quote, the principle of the card, a discussion of the energy of the card and the symbols within it, how the card serves as a Life-Time Symbol, a Visual Affirmation and Meditative Symbol, sample affirmations, the card as an outer mirror, other symbols which are aspects of the card, the Gifts and Challenges for those individuals for whom the card is a Life-Time Personality Symbols, as well as special notes at the end of some of the cards.

For example, the Fool includes a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, “The Principle of Courage; State of No Fear; Ecstasy and Peak Experience”; affirmations such as “I am a radiant being.” and the gift of Transpersonal expression of courage through: The Four of Swords (Truce), the Four of Cups (Luxury), the Four of Wands (Completion), the Four of Disks (Power), the Emperor (Leadership), and Death/Rebirth (Detachment/Creation); as well as the challenges To Trust, and To Release Fear.

The section on the court cards is entitled Royalty Symbols, with the subtitle “Sixteen Types of Self-Mastery, Mirrored by Important People in Our Lives”. The Royalty symbols are seen as demonstrating mastery at certain levels of consciousness. The suit of each card indicates the level of consciousness that the mastery is occurring in (Mental; Emotional; Spiritual, Intuitive, Visionary; Physical, External, World). The Knights and the Queens indicate mastery that has been around for some time, while the Prince and Princess reveal mastery that is new. Arrien goes on to say that the Royalty symbols indicate ot only states of mastery, but natural gifts, talents and resources. A method is given for determining an individual’s Inner Teacher, using a numerical reduction of the total letters in an individual’s full birth name.

The Court cards are presented with a black and white scan, the quality that is being mastered, a discussion of the energy of the card, and the symbols in the card, as well as a range of interpretation for each card.

The section on the Minor Arcana Pips (numbered cards) is subtitled “Symbolic Representations of Life’s Opportunities and Challenges”. In the introduction to this section, Arrien depicts the pips as pictures of life’s lessons and opportunities. Swords are associated with mental activity; Cups mirror emotional levels of consciousness; Wands refer to the spiritual in life; Disks mirror what is happening in the individual’s external reality. Each card is presented with a black and white scan, a discussion of the card and the symbols within it, and associated Zodiac signs.

In the section on “Portals of Initiation and Growth as Revealed By the Minor Arcana”, Arrien addresses the positive and negative states of Mind, Heart, Intuition, and Reality. She also lists thirteen tests and challenges in consciousness as they apply through the four suits. In the section entitled “Nine Archetypal Constellations Found Within the Tarot”, Arrien discusses constellations for the following cards, with an accompanying graphic as to how they would be placed: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Adjustment/Justice, and the Hermit.

In the section “Methodology – The Tarot Profile”, subtitled “Symbols That Apply To Your Life”, the methodology for determining your Life-Time Symbols, your current Growth Symbol, and your current Growth Cycle is given. Several charts are listed, detailing such things as Major Arcana symbol, corresponding Zodiac sign, and specifically associated sensory ability; numerology and Personality, Creativity, and Soul cards; Major Arcana card associations for general qualities, sample affirmations, and examples of ancient/modern manifestation; and a Life Path Pyramid chart. There is a Growth Cycle check sheet, a chart for Growth Cards as the individual ages, a celebrity example (Marilyn Monroe), and Growth Cycle interpretations for each of the Major Arcana cards.

In the section “Ways Of Working With Tarot”, Arrien presents the following spreads: the Path of Balance Spread, the Daily Spread (including record sheet and daily log templates), the Whole Person Spread (a revision of the traditional Celtic Cross Spread, including a template for obtaining an over-view of the cards drawn), the Self-Esteem Spread, and the Relationship, as well as notes on Tarot as visual affirmation, and Tarot as a meditation tool.

The following appendices are included: Appendix A – Glossary; Appendix B – Major and Minor Arcana Summaries; Appendix C – Tracings of Cards In Europe. This is followed by a bibliography and an in-depth listing of other books on the Tarot.

Even if you do not agree with all of Arrien’s conclusions, this material will open the way that you understand and read the Tarot in ways that you could never imagine. There is a wealth of information here, with clear suggestions for putting it to use. This is definitely not a read one time and place it on a shelf book. It needs to be where it can be easily accessed, as it is a valuable reference, not only on an intellectual basis, but as a tool for putting the cards to work in your life, and growing as an individual.

© 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.

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