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Tarot Reflections

 May 15, 2004

Review: Messages from the Archetypes
Sandra Thomson, CTGM

Sandra Thomson's specialty within tarot is that of an author and teacher. She is the co-author of three books (The Lovers' Tarot, Spiritual Tarot, and The Heart of The Tarot), the author of Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's Dictionary, and the author of a dictionary of tarot, Pictures from the Heart, published by St. Martin's Press.

She teaches tarot classes at the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, where she resides. Although she learned to read with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is very fond of the Ancestral Path and the Shining Tribe decks, and uses them for comparative or special readings. She reads online for the ATA reading networks, and privately.


At first glance this book looks like another book for the baby beginning Tarot reader. Be not deceived. Toni Gilbert is a certified holistic nurse, and transpersonal counselor, and the way she defines and uses tarot cards is anything but simple.

The book really starts for me with Chapter 3, "Tarot as an Inheritance." I was surprised at two statements in this chapter, but they do not distract from the additional material in the chapter or the remainder of the book. Gilbert suggests that tarot is "one of the oldest known methods of counseling." Cute, but I'm not sure. If you consider advice-giving, or fortune-telling as "counseling," then I suppose this is true. My understanding, however, is that the use of the tarot as a method of counseling—at least the way I understand it, excluding Golden Dawn practices—has only come about in the last ten to 15 years. Gilbert also says that tarot was one of the ways that people (akin to village storytellers) "passed along their wisdom and philosophical beliefs." Some Tarotists would agree with this, many would not—understanding it as one of the lovely myths associated with the tarot. Nevertheless, that quibbling aside, there is much to be treasured in this book.

Although the deck presented in the book is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (helpful since it is the most popular deck sold), Gilbert uses the Osho Zen and the Voyager decks in her counseling—at least in the cases she reports—allowing the client the choice of deck. This is a fun way to see how someone uses these decks, especially the Voyager, in a counseling situation.

Gilbert defines the cards as representing "psychological energies inherent in the human species. . . .which provide a point of focus that assists us in accessing our own inner truths." And, those of others, of course, where her purpose as a tarot counselor is to help "make the nature of the client's challenge clearer." If this is similar to your own credo about the cards, you will be right at home in this book. In fact, reading it may then feel like cuddling up in a cozy chair. So pull your chair up closer to mine.

Gilbert considers all of the tarot cards as containing archetypal messages. Nothing mundane about the Minor Arcana. This, too, fits in nicely with my own ideas about the tarot. Now, here's where she gets unique. Gilbert believes, and teaches this notion in her tarot archetypal counseling program, that we operate from two levels of development: the primitive personality, and the refined personality. The former operates at the lower levels of the archetypes, while the latter operates at the upper level; hence, Gilbert has "lower" and "higher" levels for the archetypal meanings of each tarot card.

Part of Gilbert's counseling task is to ascertain the level at which her client is operating. This understanding allows the counselor to consider and be able to suggest directions in which the client may wish to move to operate at more refined levels of archetypal functioning, and to see the options that exist at the "higher" level. This is based on Gilbert's idea that clients experiencing emotional pain and problem in their lives "may be predominately operating through the primitive personality, or the lower levels of their archetypes, and the archetypes to receive counseling will turn up in the cards."

"Higher" and "lower" levels of functioning also pertain to the higher and lower chakras, so to be effective using Gilbert's ideas one must know something about the energy of the chakras, which, unfortunately, is not included in this book. There are, however, plenty of excellent books on the topic, and in personal conversation with me, Gilbert said she did not want to include material that others had already written so well. Rather, she wishes to present her unique way of understanding the cards within the counseling situation.

Gilbert perceives the hero's journey as a progression of the psychological development we must all go through "to achieve the upper levels and become a self-actualizing [think Maslow's hierarchy] and more refined personality." Here the tarot cards are our guides; they are a textbook of personality development. Take a tarot card and decide for yourself what it says about how you are functioning at the present. Then use Gilbert's higher and lower levels to determine how this card might guide you in growing up (Oh, no!) a little more.

There is an entire chapter on reading for yourself ("Getting Started with Tarot"). Gilbert presents ideas for finding a personal deck, and for finding yourself in the cards. She has a rather lengthy section on Daily Card Study, which gives good guidelines for delving more deeply into the daily card you draw. No longer will you simply look at your daily draw and simply say, "Hmmm, that's interesting."

Throughout the book, Gilbert presents exercises for a series of readings and understandings about yourself. If you are honest in these exercises, you will know much more about yourself, and how the cards function in your life, when you have finished them, than when you began. Gilbert believes you have to know how the archetypes operate in your own life—at both higher and lower levels—in order to be able to help others.

Gilbert also presents a six-card daily direction spread, which gives you a "self-portrait of the archetypal energies in your day at the time of the shuffle." She demonstrates with an actual reading, how to apply her counseling techniques in a Celtic Cross spread. She also presents a five-card counseling layout.

For those of us who have studied with Mary K. Greer, interactive reading and interpretation of the cards is not a new concept. For those of you who have not, Gilbert's ideas may suggest an entirely new way of reading. No longer can you simply give your own understanding of the meaning of the card and be finished with a querent (Chariot reversed. "No, you will not go on a long journey in the near future. $15, please ). Rather, you have to begin with how the client understands the card—his or her associations—and move from there. Gilbert writes, "When I read cards, I always help my clients access their own intuitive wisdom. Only if it is needed will I give an interpretation." I cannot emphasize enough, however, that in order to be able to function this way, you have to be very clear about how the tarot cards operate in your own life. If you never take up "tarot counseling," you will still find the contents of this book extremely helpful in guiding you toward your own healing and spiritual growth.

Messages from the Archetypes: Using Tarot for Healing and Spiritual Growth (ISBN 1-883991-57-9) is published by White Cloud Press in Ashland, Oregon, and can be ordered through Toni Gilbert's website.


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Tarot Reflections is a publication of the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2004
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