Jung and Tarot

A study of the major arcana, drawing upon the author's background in Jungian psychology and delving into mythology, literature, art and other sources.

By Sallie Nichols · Book · Published by Weiser Books

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

I had greats expectations for this book - and as often happens when we start out with expectations, they were not met. The very nature of Tarot is that it is a spiritual journey, a guided journey taken through the auspices of Jungian archetypes. I was very excited by the title of this book - I had visions of deepening my understanding of the archetypes and trotting through Jung's mind and works with great abandon. What actually happened is that I encountered a book that, while it had its moments, was very unevenly written, so that one was never sure what to believe and what not to believe.

The first sentences from this book read:

"The Tarot is a mysterious deck of cards of unknown origin. At least six centuries old, this deck is the direct ancestor of our modern day playing cards."

For a supposedly scholarly work, the author lacks depth in her understanding of the history of Tarot. The Tarot can be traced to northern Italy, during the time period of the early fifteenth century, where they were commissioned by nobility. As for the supposedly "mysterious" nature of the deck - this smacks of "hidden information" and elitist fraternities, and really has no place in a book of this caliber.

Nichols goes on to talk about the Tarot "suddenly" coming into the public consciousness. This book originally came out in 1980, so we need to reference that time period. Tarot decks were not as easily accessible then as they are now, but they were there. The plethora of books on Tarot that we have now were not available then - but they were there.

"Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey" is presented as a study of the major arcana (the archetypes of the Tarot) - drawing upon the author's background in Jungian psychology and delving into mythology, literature, art and other sources. The purpose is to facilitate accessing the archetypal parts of our psyche. Nichols has chosen to do this through the use of the imagery in the Marseilles deck - calling it one of the earliest example of "true" Tarot. She goes on to say that she chose the deck because it had no accompanying text, so that the learning of the deck was facilitated strictly through its imagery.

Nichols feels that any book that accompanies a deck is of little importance, that it simply reflects the world view of the author, and is basically not staying "true" to Tarot. (Here she includes A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley and Paul Foster Case.) Nichols also has strong objections to "non-Tarot" symbology - the decks that include other systems, such as the Hebrew letters, or astrological associations.

We also need to remember that Jung himself had little to to with the study of Tarot, or with its evolution. His thoughts and writing have been applied to the Tarot, and provide a tool for understanding it, but the two are separate entities.

From the book:

"The pictures on the Tarot Trumps tell a symbolic story. Like our dreams, they come to us from a level beyond the reach of consciousness and far removed from our intellectual understanding. It seems appropriate, therefore, to behave towards these Tarot characters pretty much as we would if they had appeared to us in a series of dreams picturing a distant unknown land inhabited by strange creatures. With such dreams, purely personal associations are of limited value. We can best connect with their meaning through analogy with myths, fairy tales, drama, paintings, events in history, or any other material with similar motifs which universally evoke clusters of feelings, intuitions, thoughts and sensations."

Nichols begins the book with a basic description of the 22 trumps of the major arcana, and the "journey" that they comprise. She presents The Fool, the one who takes the journey, as separate from the rest of the cards. She then proceeds to group the remaining 21 cards in three rows of seven cards each, which is a traditional representation of the Fool's Journey. This section is fairly lucid, and fairly well written.

From there we look into the Fool and each of the 21 trumps. There is a interesting process of presentation here - comparisons of the same card in different decks,the symbols included on the cards, real life figures that embody the principle of the card (I was amazed to see "Squeaky" Fromme presented as the Fool!), as well as paintings and art work that reference each archetype.

The problem with this book - aside from a lack of understanding of Tarot history - is that Nichols simply does not write well. She is wordy, and her thoughts are often very disconnected. One would have to have a strong background in the Tarot, and the study of the archetypal energies, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It would be all to easy for a novice to accept her premises - many of which are without a solid foundation. That thought gives a whole new meaning to "fuzzy logic"!

There is a very short, general section at the end of this book on how to read the cards, with one spread presented. It was interesting, and would give the reader a chance to put any new found wisdom from the book to work, should they choose to do so.

The one "bonus" to the book - a fold out section at the very back with color scans of the Marseilles deck. This made me smile.

I would recommend this book to very few people. To those who are new to Tarot, it would be very confusing. To those who want to study Jung in relation to Tarot, either read Jung's works directly, or go to the more Gnostic Tarot books. To those who want to read a more cohesive, coherent view of Tarot history, Tarot and the Jungian archetypes, read "Tarot Celebrations", by Geraldine Amarol and Nancy Brady Cunningham.

Those who might enjoy and benefit from this book are those who are in their intermediate to advanced level of study with the Tarot, are interested in working with symbols, and are open to coloring outside of the box. Nichols, through her presentation of multiple streams of consciousness (art, myth, personal experience) encourages the reader to experience the Tarot in a very expansive manner. This is not really a reference or a resource book, it is something that may be fun to read if one can ascertain what is fact and what is fiction, and doesn't mind giving the author a great deal of leeway!

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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