Psychic Kathleen

Confessions of a Psychic - the life of a psychic practicing off and online in Canada for more than 30 years.
Tarot as a Way of Life Book Review

By Karen Hamaker-Zondag

An Author Who Knows Tarot!

Despite having been published twenty years ago, I continue to have Tarot as a Way of Life on my recommended reading list.  If you resonate with Jungian psychology, you’ll love the way in which Karen ties the tarot to Jungian psychology. If you aren’t conversant in Jung and wish to be, you will learn a lot about it by simply studying this book. But that’s certainly not all you’ll find in this rich treatise.

Karen Hamaker-Zondag’s introduction, “When I started to study the tarot more seriously in 1972, I did as so many others do…”   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.

Karen is a modernist interpreter.  The combination in 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, makes Karen a credible academic. Further to these prestigious accomplishments, Karen’s post-graduate work in psychology, astrology and parapsychology, full-time counselling practice and world travel, contributes an impressive, multifaceted, perspective. 

In this 260 page book we are guided through a discussion of what the tarot is, its history and how its connected to numerology, astrology, and archetypal psychology. 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 within a psycho-dynamic tradition.  It’s quite simply intellectually delicious.

Psychology has Plagiarized Esotericism 

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.

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.

Anyone is Welcome to Hold & Examine My Cards!

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.

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