Tarot as a Way of Life

Tarot As A Way Of Life is a reference book, drawing on Jungian psychology and numerology for understanding of Tarot symbolism in the Rider-Waite.

By Karen Hamaker-Zondag · Book · Published by Weiser Books

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Tarot As A Way Of Life is a walk through the Hero's Journey - the archetypal journey that we all take as we walk our individual paths and strive for what Jung termed "individuation" - the process of development and becoming whole. It is not only a cycle through the 22 archetypes of the Major Arcana, but it is a cycle that repeats itself in our lives - each time on a different, higher level. What a gift this book is that through it we can reach into the depths of Tarot, come to a better understanding of our own paths, and see with greater clarity the paths that our clients are walking, and help them to understand the choices that confront them.

Before we go into the book, a little of the background of the author is in order. Karen Hamaker-Zondag is a founding member of Stichting Odrerir, a specific school of Jungian psychology in Holland. She is a graduate of the University of Amsterdam with doctoral degrees in social geography and environmental engineering, and did post-graduate studies in psychology, astrology and parapsychology. She is a full time counselor and lecturer.

Tarot As A Way Of Life is referenced specifically to the Rider-Waite Tarot. As symbols and imagery are important in understanding this book, my suggestion would be to either purchase or borrow a copy of the Rider-Waite deck, if you do not already have it. Yes - there are black and white scans to work with, but a card in the hand can bring greater insight (for myself, at any rate).

One of the first things discussed in this book is the power of symbolism - specifically the symbolism found within the Tarot, and how it affects our lives. Tarot acts as a mirror for what is going on in our lives, and it reflects both the conscious and unconscious energies. The symbols in the Tarot help us to access that unconscious part of ourselves. Our inspirations, and our creativity, come from the seat of our unconscious selves.

In discussing the history of Tarot, we also see a bit of the history of the symbols within the cards. We see the symbols for the four suits, and how they are reflected in early mythology - taking them far beyond the more rudimentary association with the four elements. There is also a basic discussion of numbers and their association with the Tarot. Hamaker-Zondag also goes into a discussion of the creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot, and the important change that Waite made when he added pictures to the pips (numbered cards).

Throughout this book Hamaker-Zondag makes use of black and white scans of not only the Rider-Waite deck, but of other (earlier) decks for comparison. In Chapter Three she presents a wonderful comparative study of the symbolism in seven different decks: the Tarot de Marseilles, the Rider-Wait tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Morgan-Greer Tarot, the Arcus Arcanum Tarot, the Haindl Tarot and the Tarot if the Witches. A nice variety of popular decks that includes scans of each of the cards discussed.

One of the subjects that Hamaker-Zondag touches on is the subject of attributing yin and yang qualities to the Tarot. I have seen this discussed in only a few places before, and found it very interesting.

As an example of what types of symbolism Hamaker-Zondag goes into with the comparative study, let's take a look at the Fool. The first thing that she goes into is the direction that the Fool is facing. I am used to attributing left facing to focus on the past, forward facing to focus on the present and right facing to focus on the future. The right hand side also carries the attribution of Yang, or male energy. The left hand side carries the attribution of Yin, or female energy. It is pointed out that Yin and Yang need to be balanced in everyone, and that it is imperative to develop the female side of self (with its core values of acceptance and receptivity) for both males and females, so it is important for the Fool to be facing (walking) to the left.

The presence of the dog in this card is also under consideration. In the Tarot de Marseille, the dog acts to tear a hole in the pants of the Fool. In most other decks, the dog is more playful, and represents part of our instinctual world. I was also interested to read that in some decks a cat replaces the dog (which it does in a deck that I am just now working, the Motherpeace Tarot). The cat also represents the unconscious - but is more cunning and willful. (Amen to that!) In the Haindl Tarot the symbol is of a wounded swan, which Hamaker-Zondag sees more as personal symbology for the illustrator (Hermann Haindl), that a symbol of the collective unconscious.

Now we are ready to step into the Hero's Journey. This is the process of individuation that we all go through - the never ending process of becoming whole. Hamaker-Zondag divides this process into three phases: cards 0-5 represent our basic drives; cards VI-XII represent the construction of the ego; and cards XIII-XXI represent the integration of our conscious and unconscious selves. Each of the three phases is gone into in depth, and provides a great deal of food for thought.

While the Major Arcana represents the Way of the Hero, the Minor Arcana talks about everyday life - how the forces of life play out through our choices and actions (the processes and dynamics of the psyche). There is a nice, if short, discussion of each of the four suits. Here again we see the yin/yang principle being applies, with Wands and Swords carrying the yang principle, and Cups and Discs (Pentacles) carrying the yin principle. From the book:

Six of Pentacles

The merchant has finished making his fortune, and can let others share in his riches. Life has remunerated him with this position and he realizes that he must do something new with it. The old cycle of trying to become a success is over, and in the new cycle he has to earn to use his wealth ethically and spiritually. This is expressed by the alms-giving and the weighing of money. The card is normally regarded as lucky: things are turning out well for us.

In the discussion of the court cards we come across the yin/yang principle yet again. The Page and Queen are seen as yin, while the Knight and King are seen as yang. From the book:

Knight of Wands (yang)

The Knight of Wands wants to blurt out whatever enters his head. He is characterized by impatience and a love of action, with a danger of "act first and think later." His impatience leads to aggressive insistence in the face of any protests or criticisms, or to a cross-grained redoubling of his efforts to have his own way. The Knight of Wands can achieve much and can break out of many stagnant situations, but runs the risk of needlessly losing a great deal of energy by rushing matters, by being a bad listener, or by failing to think things through. This is a card of energetic movement, which can convey warmth, but it can easily go too far.

The section on the Major Arcana does a good job of presenting the archetypal energy of the card, and the fact that these energies in an of themselves are "neutral" - it is how we place them in our lives that makes them positive or negative. The "drive" or psychological base of each of the cards is discussed, as well as exactly what this part of the journey is for us. What I found interesting was the admonition not to get "stuck" anywhere in the process! It is tempting, when we have reached a "safe place", to want to stay there a while. In this section we also come to a clear grasp of how each card leads to the next one.

In the section on astrology, Hamaker-Zondag does a nice presentation for each of the Major Arcana cards, listing the astrological attributions from several different sources (Banzhaf, Crowley, Masino, Muchery, Papus, Thierens and Wirth) for each card.

At the end of the book we have some helpful hints on reading the Tarot, as well as a discussion of one through four card spreads, and examples of three major spreads: the Celtic Cross Spread, the Astrological Spread and the Tree of Life Spread. Again - a lot of food for thought here!

I regard Tarot As A Way of Life as an excellent reference book for all Tarot students, and as a wonderful tool for learning for students that already have a basic understanding of the Tarot. It is not necessary to use the Rider-Waite as a primary reading deck to get something out of this book - there are excellent scans in the book that form a good foundation for understanding the Jungian approach to Tarot. I recommend having the deck handy simply because it is an added learning tool (and it is often referred to in reference works and Tarot articles).

© 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.

Review by Kathleen Meadows

Despite having been published in 1997, I continue to have Tarot as a Way of Life on my highly recommended reading list. If you resonate with Jungian psychology, you’ll love the way in which Karen marries the tarot to Jungian psychology. If you aren’'t conversant in Jung and wish to be, you will learn an impressive amount about it by simply studying this book. But that’s certainly not all you'’ll discover in this rich text.

The author, Karen Hamaker-Zondag, begins her book by saying, “"When I started to study the tarot more seriously in 1972, I did as so many others do".

” Did you notice the 1972 and more seriously? That was twenty five years earlier than the publication of her book. I think we can safely assume that this is a woman who knows the tarot! She has studied the tarot, worked with the deck and grew alongside the development of the tarot and its transformations over decades. How the tarot was conceptualized and interpreted originally has changed considerably in our modern times, particularly in those decades Karen was busy getting serious about it. Karen is very much a modern interpreter with her background as a founding member of a school of Jungian psychology in Holland and a holder of two Ph.D.’s in social geography and environmental engineering. Further to this, her post-graduate work in psychology, astrology and parapsychology, full-time counselling practice and world travel adds a remarkably multifaceted perspective.

In this 260 page book we are guided through a discussion of what the tarot is, its history and how it’s connected to numerology, astrology, and powerful archetypes, such as the hero story. Although Karen discusses a few decks, she utilizes the Coleman-Waite imagery to accompany her description of the meanings of the cards. If you know this deck, you’ll definitely want to read Karen’s assigned meanings to the symbols and imagery. Karen helps the tarotist to see and translate the meanings of the cards in a richly, unique, psycho-dynamic way.

If you are being confronted by people who consider your study of the tarot to be rather frivolous and light weight, lend them a copy of this book to read. If you are a practicing psychotherapist who plays in the closet with your tarot deck, this book will help you bridge these two passions into a more congruent whole. It might even inspire and build your confidence to utilize the tarot in some meaningful exercises with your clients.

While other authors have broken down the 22 Majors into expressions of spiritual development, Karen has divided them into three psychological stages of development: the Fool to the Hierophant representing our basic drives and the Lovers to the Hanged Man, our ego development. Individuation or generativity where we integrate conscious and unconscious is represented by the Death to World cards. Her argument is compelling. Not that spiritual and psychological development must be mutually exclusive or contrary, but the emphasis on the psychological pushes us to consider the reality that these psychological teachings in the tarot are responsible for much of its power and mystery. What was once a mystery known to only a few, is now more widely recognized and accepted into mainstream culture.

I'’ve suspected for many years that the discipline of psychology has been riddled with the most unabashed plagiarists; taking a great deal of its so called insight from esoteric teachings. In fact, I have believed that for years of Jung himself!

There are so many aspects of this book that I admire and often refer to in my lectures on the tarot. Karen discusses the cards in a numerology style; for example, all four aces, twos, threes etc. are presented together providing the reader with an opportunity to compare the meanings across the suits. I prefer this style of presenting the deck because it makes it much simpler for the tarotist to recall this rather unwieldy amount of information. It is helpful to know how each number is expressed through the energies of each suit.

The book is an easy read. Rather deliciously erudite and yet unapologetic at the same time in its reference to the mysterious, esoteric and spiritual aspects of the tarot. The author clearly loves the tarot. A woman after my own heart. I often felt as if I were talking to myself or looking in a psychic mirror while reading this book. It was uncanny how much in step I felt with her. One passage (of many that I sadly don’t have the space to express!) always stays with me:

"“Some readers make a great mystery over working with the cards. We are warned never to allow anyone else to use our cards, or we are told that the cards will not work unless they are kept wrapped in a piece of silk. This tends to give the tarot a magical aura, but this is usually nonsense in practice. Anyone is welcome to hold and examine my cards, and I carry the deck around with me in various ways-sometimes in a handkerchief to keep them clean, sometimes in a plastic bag if it is raining. After use, they are left lying about on top of my desk. In short, they are no more than tools, like the pen with which I write. I have never had any unfortunate repercussions from treating the cards in this manner.”"

Don'’t you love the down-to-earth, practical voice of sanity evident here? But don’'t jump to any conclusions about this woman’'s lack of respect for the mysterious and paranormal! After all, one of her graduate degrees is in the paranormal. I’'ve often been asked similar questions, “How do you clean your deck?” or “Do you keep your deck in a silk pouch?” or “Is it okay to buy your own deck or do you have to wait to be gifted with one to use it?” There are all sorts of silly and arbitrary rules assigned to working with the tarot by various misled, and dare I say? Yes I will! Dramatists and attention seekers.

Karen'’s delightful book won’t steer you wrong. It was written to educate, demystify and inspire and she’'s done a brilliant job of all three.

Kathleen Meadows, M.A, is a Certified Tarot Grand Master with 20 years reading and teaching the Tarot from a feminist perspective.

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