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"Tarot Triumphs" by Cherry Gilchrist

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Herodotus  Herodotus is offline
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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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Originally Posted by Herodotus View Post
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.
This pretty much sums up my overall impression of the book. I can see where reading for oneself for the purpose of self-understanding is a legitimate use of tarot, although I don't do much "psychological profiling" with it. On the other hand, predictive reading for oneself seems to be vulnerable to becoming "self-fulfilling prophecy." I also can't see abandoning the reading if the Fool appears in the central line, unless, perhaps, it shows up in the seventh and last position, which strikes me as a a rather nullifying place for it. Everything after the Fool's Mirror chapter seemed kind of incidental to the main thrust of the book, and I didn't find much value in it. I got a number of good ideas from the book and enjoyed reading it overall.
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...While intrigued by correspondences to other esoteric disciplines, she thinks tarot should be studied as a self-contained system without those correspondences. I also like how she recommends taking reading seriously but also with a certain lightness and humor.
I forgot to mention it when I was writing my thoughts, but this was also one aspect of Gilchrist's method that I really liked. To me, Tarot has always been its own system first, and a system for other esoteric ideas second.

See, the thing about this book was, while I was reading it, I alternated between really enjoying it, and really not. Sometimes this happened a couple times within a single chapter. As a reader, that's a little off-putting, and the biggest reason I have trouble with this book isn't because of differing opinions between myself and the author (I'm sure I can find at least something to disagree with in any Tarot book), but because of the way she presented them. The style that I liked so much when I agreed with the content turned into an annoyance when I didn't. I said earlier that I imagined that I was getting a one-on-one lesson from a friendly teacher while reading this book; I think that style is precisely why I felt this constant alternation, because while she remained friendly throughout, when she said something that I disagreed with, I almost felt as though I was just being admonished.

But that's just me. Things like style are matters of personal taste, so I wouldn't base a recommendation solely on it. The actual meat of the book (card interpretations and spread) is perfectly good.
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Hi Herodotus,

Thank you for posting your views on this book! I largely agree with your points, although I'm a bit more inclined to think positively of the book, because, having tried her method (minus the don't-read-for-yourself stuff), I find it really works for me, the cards seem to speak to me in a way that I haven't experienced before. Of course that's all subjective, everyone will have their own experiences, positive and negative.

Also, her historical perspective doesn't bother me. I feel she has a right to her own historical perspectives. Even though I don't agree with all of her conclusions, I feel they're not unreasonable. She's not claiming that tarot originates in Egypt or Atlantis, so I'm good.

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Originally Posted by Herodotus View Post
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".
What I found interesting about her triumphs-only approach is that in her card meanings, the meanings for each card expand to encompass more mundane meanings which we usually associate with the pips. This hadn't really occurred to me before, that in the absence of the pips, the triumphs can expand to accommodate them.
Quote:
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).
This is just a guess, but I think she was perhaps inspired by horary astrology, in which a chart is cast for the moment the question is asked. After the horary chart is cast, one looks for certain technical conditions that must be met before the reading can continue. If those conditions aren't met, then the chart is considered invalid. Perhaps she's trying to encourage a feeling on the reader's and readee's part that the universe is giving the okay for the reading to continue. Personally I don't really feel the need for it, but I can understand the rationale.

Just a small point, but what she says is that if the Fool shows up in the center line, the cards should be shuffled and laid out again. Only if the Fool shows up in the center line three times in a row should the reading be scrapped.
Quote:
The style that I liked so much when I agreed with the content turned into an annoyance when I didn't.
Very well put! I feel that this is a great illustration of the age-old tension in cartomancy between wanting the freedom to read as one likes versus following someone else's system. If one reads completely freely, one becomes frustrated with the presence of too much freedom - "don't have such an open mind that your brains fall out." On the other hand, it can be pleasurable to simply follow someone else's ideas, but eventually it becomes frustratingly restrictive. Gilchrist's strongly-expressed opinions are great, until she says things that many of us will find unacceptable, like the proscription against reading for oneself.

The thing I love about this book is that after reading in much the same ways for decades, I've found an excitingly different way to read. Perhaps it's good for us to radically change things up, now and then. Perhaps I should extend this to other kinds of cartomancy -- maybe I'll try reading Lenormand completely intuitively!
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Originally Posted by Lee View Post
......
So once we expand the range of meanings of the triumphs a bit to include some more mundane meanings, it really does provide a direct yet subtle and nuanced reading process, all without pips, courts, or reversals. I'm having a great time with it.....
More and more I have been using trumps only (without reversals). When one considers that rune readers make do with only 24 runes (such as the popular elder futhark), then 22 trumps does not seem like a serious limitation, particularly since each tarot trump is much richer and more flexible in meaning than a rune.

I may have to take a look at this book, although I read almost entirely for myself and do not find it to be problematic.
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More and more I have been using trumps only (without reversals). When one considers that rune readers make do with only 24 runes (such as the popular elder futhark), then 22 trumps does not seem like a serious limitation, particularly since each tarot trump is much richer and more flexible in meaning than a rune.
I mentioned the runes earlier for this very reason. If I want to choose from twenty-something symbols for divination, I will use the runes. They work, I won't deny that. However, the Tarot happens to also include an additional 56 cards, so I resort to it for more nuance. Runes are quick; by comparison, the complete pack of cards are like sitting down with a good book. I'm not saying reading with only the Majors is wrong - far from it. What I fundamentally disagree with is the notion that the Minors aren't necessary to the Tarot as a whole.

As a counter-argument, I'd like to refer everyone to Paul Huson's Mystical Origins. In this book, he suggests that most divination should be done with ONLY the Minor Arcana, and the Majors should be mixed into the pack for very weighty dilemmas and nothing else. A last resort for the desperate man, if you will.

I admit I feel like this was too strong a stance to take, albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum as that which is suggested by Gilchrist. But the point stands, I think. The Majors can be made to speak the mundane language, but why force that on them when the mundane language is already more articulately spoken by the Minors? Isn't that what's so special about the Major Arcana, after all? That they represent transcendent psycho-spiritual concepts?

Personally, I typically use the entire pack, for serious or mundane queries, and take special notice when a Major card does turn up. It drives the point home all the better when I lay out a five-card spread and all five happen to be Majors. I find that the approach of using only Majors because they're more significant diminishes that significance.

Not that I don't understand the utility of using only Majors should the occasion call for it. That's beside the point I'm trying to make, though.
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Also, her historical perspective doesn't bother me. I feel she has a right to her own historical perspectives. Even though I don't agree with all of her conclusions, I feel they're not unreasonable. She's not claiming that tarot originates in Egypt or Atlantis, so I'm good.
As the fool who thought it would be a good idea to study history at the university, I am cursed with a perspective that many simply do not understand. So I have to disagree on principle. Whether or not they're reasonable is beside the point. I found them to be perfectly reasonable, as well, but that doesn't make them factual. Nor am I trying to suggest that she was being dishonest, because that is way too harsh. It is what it is, though, and while it may not be so wild as the notion of the "Egyptian mystics origin story", for all intents and purposes, it may as well be.

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Just a small point, but what she says is that if the Fool shows up in the center line, the cards should be shuffled and laid out again. Only if the Fool shows up in the center line three times in a row should the reading be scrapped.
Good catch, I'd forgotten about that!

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The thing I love about this book is that after reading in much the same ways for decades, I've found an excitingly different way to read. Perhaps it's good for us to radically change things up, now and then.
Well, I can't argue with that. I am certainly a novice by comparison, and am still finding my own way. And I don't mean to focus on the negative. As I started off by saying: this book remains on my shelf, despite my mixed feelings. In other words, I do like it when all is said and done. But I do get satisfaction from playing the Devil's advocate at times, and this thread seemed to me like a fair instance to fulfill that role.

This discussion has led me to think that perhaps I should revisit this book in the future with a different mindset, though, and I appreciate that. Despite my argumentative stance, I was actually very pleased to see that you began this thread, because I did have some thoughts about this book that I wanted to express.

So thank you for that.
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More and more I have been using trumps only (without reversals). When one considers that rune readers make do with only 24 runes (such as the popular elder futhark), then 22 trumps does not seem like a serious limitation, particularly since each tarot trump is much richer and more flexible in meaning than a rune.
I agree!
Quote:
I may have to take a look at this book, although I read almost entirely for myself and do not find it to be problematic.
I feel it's a worthy investment, even for an experienced trumps-reader, if only for her 22-card spread, and also perhaps you might find some new and interesting viewpoints on some individual cards.
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Let me just point out, in fairness, while Gilchrist does express a strong preference for reading with triumphs only, and that is the thrust of the book, what she actually says is: "You may wish to extend your Tarot readings later to include the four suits, but even so, working first with the Trumps will give you a good basis for this. Like many other Tarot practitioners, I prefer to just use the twenty-two Trumps. As I have found, and the Fool's Mirror layout proves in chapter seven, it is not essential to bring in the four suits at all."

So it's not like she's saying "thou shalt not." I just wanted to make clear for the sake of those who haven't read the book that she phrases it as a personal preference, not a commandment.
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Let me just point out, in fairness, while Gilchrist does express a strong preference for reading with triumphs only, and that is the thrust of the book, what she actually says is: "You may wish to extend your Tarot readings later to include the four suits, but even so, working first with the Trumps will give you a good basis for this. Like many other Tarot practitioners, I prefer to just use the twenty-two Trumps. As I have found, and the Fool's Mirror layout proves in chapter seven, it is not essential to bring in the four suits at all."

So it's not like she's saying "thou shalt not." I just wanted to make clear for the sake of those who haven't read the book that she phrases it as a personal preference, not a commandment.
Sorry. I was being nit-picky and got carried away. Ironically, in my nit-pickiness, my overall impressions of the book have obviously distorted my actual memory of the words written - I should not have gone off as I did without clarifying precisely what she wrote. I didn't mean to misrepresent the book.

Another issue I want to bring up is what I said in post #27 about the historical perspective. I hold to what I said, but I should point out that Gilchrist doesn't present her book as a "history" at all, just incorporates some historical research into her overall interpretations of the cards. And of course, history of the Tarot has always been foggy at best, so given the information available, she did indeed come to reasonable conclusions.

I think I was more surprised by how many of the early posts in this thread lauded the historical aspect of this book. While I find nothing terribly wrong with it in comparison to what passes as history in many other Tarot sources, it is certainly not an aspect of the book I found to be particularly enlightening. If anything, it is on par with the average Tarot book published today (in regards to history, that is). I've certainly read worse, but I've also read much better.

To me, the value of this book is in the METHOD of learning and the METHOD of reading (despite the fact that I disagree with some aspects of these methods), rather than any particular interpretation she provides. I have to look at it as a "big picture" book, but as such, it's good.

I apologize again for overstating my negative opinions about this book.
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