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Herodotus  Herodotus is offline
Join Date: 17 Nov 2015
Location: Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Posts: 131

Alright, here are some of my thoughts on this book.

I bought it because I was intrigued by the notion of the Major Arcana being interpreted with the jongleurs and triumph parades in mind. I think this idea is fantastic, although Gilchrist is not the first author I've read to suggest such things.
To be honest, I was slightly disappointed in the actual treatment of it. It seemed incomplete to me, like an afterthought placed at the beginning of the book during the editing process, and there are some aspects that felt forced. However, the idea is very thought-provoking, and one that I think is valuable to the overall understanding of the Tarot. The new interpretation of the Hanged Man and Strength in particular as acrobats and female lion-tamers was original and insightful, I thought, but other cards like the Star, Moon, and Sun do not feel like a natural part of such a performance, in my opinion.

I wouldn't call this book "historical". I'll have to double check the references and bibliography at the end to see how they actually line up with the body of the work, but as I remember thinking while reading it, "pseudo-historical" may be a more apt term. Not that I don't believe Gilchrist did the research, or claimed anything that is demonstrably false. Rather, her presentation of it is biased, with a lot of emphasis on what can only be conjecture, to fit a certain narrative that she clearly wants to perpetuate. Not that the narrative is inherently bad, but false history has always plagued the Tarot, and I think a book that is going to be called historical ought to be a little more honest about what it's trying to convey.

Those are my objective criticisms. Subjectively, I just disagreed with some of the opinions she presented. For example, the reading strictly for others thing, which has already been mentioned many times on here. I just have a different opinion about how the Tarot should be used. What bothered me the most, though, is the vehemence with which she expressed these opinions. I've never read a Tarot book before this one that tried to tell me with such direct language that I was using the cards wrong, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Furthermore, I firmly disagree with disregarding the Minor Arcana as not being part of the "true" Tarot or whatever (incidentally, this is also the biggest gripe I have with Oswald Wirth's work). I saw that this has also already been covered in this thread, and some good points have been made in favor of her view. However, and I admit this might just be semantics, I don't think a pack of cards has any right to be called a Tarot without containing all the parts of a Tarot. We don't call regular playing cards a "Tarot minus the trumps", do we? I think to place more importance on any one part of the deck over any other is to miss one of the fundamental points of the Tarot. Gilchrist herself said many times in the book that none of the cards is inherently "better" than any of the others. But she wants me to believe that more than half of the cards in a pack aren't even legitimate. I don't buy it. The Minor Arcana adds so many levels and shades of meaning that otherwise wouldn't be there. You may as well be reading with runes (not that there's anything wrong with runes). The Minors deal with the intricacies of everyday, worldly concerns, instead of those looming archetypal energies that are just impersonal. This is what sets the Tarot apart as a system for divination - it has both major and minor, mingled just as they are in the real world.

Now, with all that being said, I don't think it's wrong at all to separate the cards on occasion and read with only the Majors (or the Minors, for that matter). The results can be illuminating, as you all have realized thanks to Gilchrist's spread. But don't try to convince me that the Minors are pointless and/or worthless. One frustrating problem with Tarot literature in general is that the Majors always get very in-depth studies while the Minors are simply brushed over, if they're covered at all. Not that the Majors don't deserve the study, but don't the Minors, as well? Lee, despite the fact that I'm sure your own treatment of the Majors is indeed insightful (I haven't read your book), I suspect that the very fact you wrote about the Minors at all is precisely why so many are drawn to your book. Gilchrist's book, on the other hand, is just another book for the already bloated stack of what I like to call "Major Arcana Studies".

Like I said in my previous post, though, my feelings are mixed, and despite my above misgivings, there are many things I liked about this book.

For one, it is very well-written. It was pleasant to read, and I felt like I was taking a one-on-one lesson with a friendly teacher rather than reading a book more times than once. She clearly does know what she's talking about, even if she does use her rhetorical skill in ways that I sometimes disagree with.

And there were certainly insights in her descriptions of the cards that I found to be valuable and worthy of recognition. The layout of her book was novel to me, as well, with multiple levels of interpretation presented as you progress through the chapters. She definitely has a method for teaching the cards, and if I wasn't familiar with them already, this book would surely have been a huge help. It's not just abstract meanings, either; they are interspersed with "lessons" on the practical concerns of reading, which is helpful.

Finally, the Fool's Mirror spread itself is reason enough to hold onto this book for a while. It is very useful without getting bogged down in rules and restrictions (with one exception: apparently, if the Fool shows up in the center line, the reading should be scrapped. I'm sure Gilchrist has a good rationale for this, but I failed to grasp it if it was there).

Overall, I keep this book on my shelf because of my mixed feelings. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either. The good parts helped me, and the not so good parts got me thinking all the same, which I like to see in a book.
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