The Heart of the Tarot: The Two-card Layout

The Heart of the Tarot: The Two-card Layout is a gentle guide on how to best put the Tarot to use. The book looks at the theme of each card - the energy that it carries, and how it fits into a reading - and the use of a two-card spread (a cut down version of the Celtic Cross).

By Robert E. Mueller & Sandra A. Thomson & Signe E. Echols · Book - 320 pages · Published by Harper San Francisco

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Sandra Thompson, author/teacher/lecturer/mentor, is one of my favorite people in the Tarot world. In "The Heart of Tarot", Sandra and her co-authors bring a background in psychology into the archetypal world of the Tarot. And they do so in the most gentle of manners - the emphasis is on the Tarot, and how to best put it to use, and not on the psychology of Tarot.

The format of this book is focused on the theme of each card - the energy that it carries, and how it fits into a reading. Rather than working with upright or reversed keywords/meanings, we learn to work with the theme of the card. In defining and exploring the different themes, Sandra and her co-authors work with the Rider-Waite Tarot and the Robin Wood Tarot. The "Rider-Waite Tarot" is used because it is a traditional deck, and because it is often used in teaching and in reference books. The "Robin Wood Tarot" is used because of its updated imagery and vibrant colors.

The backbone of this book is the two card reading - symbolically representing the first two cards from the traditional Celtic Cross spread. The first card drawn represents the Situation, while the second card drawn (which is placed crossing the first card) represents the Challenge.

A very good job is done of presenting what the Tarot is, and what can be expected from a reading. The formatting of a good question, which is the base of any reading, is dealt with in depth. In any reading, the answer is only as good as the question. The point is made that what we really need to know is what we can do, what actions we can take, to lead a more effective life, to be more effective in regard to our issues/situations.

We also need to remember that each of us interprets symbols according to our own background and life experiences. A reading needs to be interactive between the reader and the Seeker. In discussing imagery, the authors also refer to the chakra system - the energy system that is located along our spine. Noting where imagery has been placed can be very significant. (Yes, it is on the tunic ... but is it also over the heart chakra?)

The layout for the traditional Celtic Cross reading is presented, with one minor change. I have seen the layout done several different ways, and was pleased to see that the authors basically take the attitude that there CAN be permutations, and that if they work for the reader ... then they work! From this basic structure, the authors develop their two card spread, with the first card representing the situation, and the second card, laid crosswise over the first, as the Seeker's challenge to that situation.

Nine steps are presented in developing a reading:

1. Choose a situation that asks for information beyond a "yes" or "no" answer.
2. Acknowledge the Tarot deck as an oracle, and thank it for its help.
3. With your question in mind, shuffle and cut the cards in whatever style is comfortable for you.
4. Turn over the top card, placing it in the Situation position.
5. Consider what it tells you about your situation or issue and jot that down on a piece of paper or in a notebook of readings, if you keep one.
6. Turn over the second card, and place it in the Challenge position.
7. Decide what it tells you about the kinds of tasks or actions you might consider to resolve your situation. Enter that information in your notes.
8. Briefly summarize the two cards.
9. Finally, if you have not answered it already, ask yourself, "What do these two cards tell me about the lesson I need to focus on for maximum growth with respect to my issue?" Enter your insights in your notes.

In their introduction to the Major Arcana, the authors discuss the various archetypes represented, such as the "anima" - the feminine life principle, the "animus" - the masculine life principle, the "Self" - the potential that each of us has for becoming all that we can be, and the "Shadow" - parts of our personality that we have come to believe are improper or unacceptable and have consequently disowned.

The Major Arcana are presented as he who takes the journey (The Fool), and our twenty-one teachers ... the twenty-one archetypal cards. Each card is presented by theme, with an accompanying discussion. Black and white scans for each card from both the "Rider-Waite Tarot" and the "Robin Wood Tarot" are shown. The cards are broken down into three parts: cards I-VII (predominant or dominant personality characteristics that we are that we are usually able to recognize as present within ourselves), cards VIII-XIV (archetypal characteristics that we struggle with), and cards XV-XXI (the archetypal qualities, or temperaments, outlooks or attitudes that can come about as a result of our basic struggles. Some of the themes include:

The Fool - lightheartedness and the limitless energy of spirit
The Empress - abundance
The Hierophant - inner teacher
The Hermit - the light of inner work
The Star - we are the star of our own lives and we can use our ideas to nourish ourselves

The authors have presented several ways that each card can be viewed, in both the Situation position and the Challenge position. For example:

The Tower

Drawing The Tower for The Situation may suggest that:

a. our situation has produced, or will produce, a sudden strong insight, or a change in our typical way of thinking that may fling us into new action, or cause us to change our course of direction;

b. plans presently inherent in our situation will likely be changed dramatically, or may even have to be aborted;

c. our situation has within it the possibility of "burnout", and/or destruction of previous work. It's time to reevaluate how to take care of ourselves.

Drawing The Tower for The Challenge position may suggest that:

a. it's time to abandon the limitation of old habits and ways of thinking and to explore more creative or less limited ways of behaving;

b. if our situation or issues leaves us feeling shattered, disrupted or disoriented, it's time to work toward insight and awakening;

c. it's time for us to draw upon or develop our survival skills as the old order - those things that now seem false or artificial - gives way to the new, and we abandon ideas and attitudes no longer useful.

The same type of information is presented for the Pips (numbered cards) and the Court Cards.

At the end of the book, interpretations for sample readings are presented. There is no question used, instead the themes of each of the cards are worked with. The presentations include situations where both cards are Major Arcana cards, where one card is from the Major Arcana and one from the Minor Arcana, where both cards are Minor Arcana, and where one card is either an Ace or a Court Card.

"The Heart of the Tarot" is a gentle book that contains great depth. It presents an alternative way of looking at the cards, an opens up readings for new readers and long term readers alike. This is a valuable addition to any Tarot library.

© 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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