I just finished reading this recently-published book
. Despite only discussing the 22 trumps (or triumphs, as the author refers to them - because of the recent political developments I believe I will adopt "triumphs" for my own usage from now on), I believe this is the best English-language book on TdM available today.
Cherry Gilchrist is a professional author and writing teacher, and her lucid prose is a pleasure to read. She is certainly thorough; besides giving both brief and expanded meanings for the cards, she also covers the history of tarot, iconography of the images, the metaphysics and ethics of divination in general and of tarot reading in particular, and much else.
Gilchrist's approach, which she apparently learned from a tarot teacher named Glyn, who isn't otherwise identified, encompasses a whole system of practices which are very particular, including a three-card spread, a four-card spread, and a shortened seven-card Celtic Cross. She uses no court cards, no pip cards, and no reversals. But the centerpiece of her system is a 22-card spread called the Fool's Mirror, which, obviously, uses all the triumphs. She refers to the entire system as the Fool's Mirror School of Tarot, although I think she means "School" in a metaphorical sense -- I can't find any evidence of an actual school existing at this time.
The author has been using this system for a long time and while she does say that we should experiment, if we wish, with different spreads, with reversals, and with courts and pips, one definitely gets the impression that she believes strongly in the efficacy of her system and is not really interested in anything outside of it.
In some ways it's refreshing and intriguing when an author has a very specific system - it allows us to simply follow her guidelines and not have to weigh and measure everything against our own expectations. But it can be a disadvantage too, if the reader happens to strongly disagree with some of her positions. I suspect that, like myself, readers will generally find a lot of things to agree with but some things to disagree with as well.
For example, she feels strongly that the basic raison d'ętre of reading tarot is to read for others. She doesn't like the idea of one reading for oneself. "Reading Tarot for yourself or for someone close to you may be risky, and sometimes downright dangerous," she warns. I think even she realizes that it's a bit unrealistic for her to expect that her readers will never read for themselves, so she does allow for the possibility, but frames it with so many warnings and cautions and general disapproval that I can imagine her doing so with gritted teeth. This is one area where she and I must part company. I work at home now and am pretty isolated, and am not in a position to do a lot of reading for others, so if I were to stop self-readings, that would be the end of my tarot involvement. So, apologies to Ms. Gilchrist, but I am going to keep right on reading for myself.
Besides her graceful prose, Gilchrist deserves praise for the quality of her research. Besides the tarot specifics, she's well-versed in art history, mythology, esoteric occultism, and other fields which serves her well for a tarot book. I found that she sometimes had a tendency to discount probable origins of the images if they didn't fit in with her chosen meanings. For example, she says of the Popess, "She is not a historical counterpart of the Pope, either, or a renegade version of the Pope in female form." I feel this is a rather strong statement when the card shows a female Pope and has been titled "La Papesse" for centuries.
Nevertheless, I liked her iconographical commentary, and I especially liked her card meanings. Of course there was plenty of material that wouldn't be new to someone who has studied the cards, but I found a lot of good insights into the images which hadn't occurred to me before.
I liked her attitudes toward several facets of tarot reading with which I'm in agreement. She supports considering the images and their major elements but not necessarily unimportant visual details. 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.
She has much good advice to give about the reading process. "Don't be tempted to elaborate, to say more than you can quickly or easily see in the combination of cards. Otherwise, too much imagination can come in, and it's possible to drift off on one's own chain of association." And she doesn't mind practical, down-to-earth questions: "Tarot is robust, and an apparently mundane question will not devalue its deep symbolism." She also gives some advice that could have come from a Lenormand reader: "The significator and the question define the reading: do not be tempted to go further and speculate about additional events or the querent's overall psychological makeup, for instance; stay with what you can see in the cards."
The 22-card Fool's Mirror spread diagram looks rather intimidatingly complicated. Interestingly, the layout position meanings are very non-specific. There are no meanings such as "goal," "obstacle," "opinions of others," etc. Instead, each position has a temporal meaning (past, present, or future) and an orientation meaning (external or internal). Half of the positions relate to the external, half to the internal.
Because of long practice with considering tarot triumphs as spiritual or psychological "heavy hitters," I wondered if a spread of 22 triumphs with no courts and pips would be too heavily invested in spiritual or philosophical principles. But the absence of pips and courts means the triumphs can take on more mundane meanings, especially when located in the external half of the spread.
After finishing the book, I tried out the spread. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able, in addressing a relatively mundane question, to string the 22 cards together into a reasonable story which made perfect sense. I'm encouraged by this and plan to continue using this spread.
After reading the book and trying the spread, I can't help but wonder if, by indulging my fascination with assigning meaning to the pips and courts, I'm just chasing my own tail. Another book which I like, Sallie Nichol's "Jung and Tarot," also recommends reading without pips (although Nichols added in the courts and the four Aces). Gilchrist considers the triumphs to be an entity to themselves, and the pips and courts unnecessary. Whether one ultimately agrees or not, it's certainly an issue that merits contemplation and consideration.
I also enjoyed her husband's line drawings of the triumphs - they were faithful to tradition (mostly - he snuck a third disciple onto the Pope!) and added some nice moods and expressions to the faces.
I highly recommend the book. If anyone reads it and wants to exchange readings with her Fool's Mirror spread, I'm game!