Heart of Tarot
A helpful text for learning the Gestalt method of Tarot reading, which emphasises eliciting insights from the querent themselves rather than memorising meanings.
By Amber K · Book · Published by Llewellyn
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.
The 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 querent.
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.
Utilizing the 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.
Although the 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.
The 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 process.
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 questions.
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 exhaustive discussion).
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 Gestalt perspective.
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.