I was thrilled to get my hands on the Jungian Tarot series by Robert Wang, though for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to be reviewing the first book, Tarot Psychology (Marcus Aurelius Press, Canada; 1988).
The first book took a long time to absorb, despite the fact that it’s only 120 pages long. The blurb reads
Volume One of the Jungian Tarot Trilogy applies Jungian principles of “active imagination” to the archetypical images of the tarot, offering a powerful and engaging meditative technique for self-exploration similar to that secretly taught for centuries by Western Mystery Schools.
When I read the description for the book and the series, I was expecting to examine the archetypes and link them to psychology. However, what this book actually was, was a description of the Jungian Tarot, equipt with descriptions of the actual tarot deck.
The book opens with a little bit of an overview of Jung, as well as a reminder that Jung is quite difficult to read (and this book isn’t the only resource I’ve had point this fact out). However, for whatever reason, I found this book actually difficult to read. I actually don’t have any reason for it. The language is simplistic enough, I just found myself having to re-read passages.
The first part of the book outlines the key principles of Jungian psychology:
In the application to the tarot, Wang writes:
When we meditate on a given tarot card, we deal with first our own mother, then the pure mother aspect of our own being; The Emperor brings us to consider first our father, and then the pure father in each of us. The ultimate is the reintegration of our own opposites, a return to the pristine spiritual state of The Fool.
The cards are intended for personal use as well as for interaction between professional psychotherapist and patient. Moreover, The Jungian Tarot deck is offered as a rich and varied alternative to earlier diagnostic tools, such as Rorschach, in the belief that the diagnostic validity of such currently popular projective measures depends more upon the interpretive competence of the psychologist than up on the devices themselves (p. 2).
After the introduction connecting Jung and the Tarot, pages 6-104 are spent on each individual card, providing a black and white image of the Jungian Tarot card with an archetypical description.
Here are some examples of how the cards are explained. I’m only showing a paragraph of the matter of each card.
Judgement…represents an evaluation at the end of a long cycle, such as retirement from a job, end of a marriage, graduation from college, completion of a book, or a building, or some lengthy project. It is, in many respects, a “Last Judgement.” But that term is misleading, since we experience the end of cycles over and over again. Thus, this card represents an archetype of rebirth. It shows a pause, a momentary turning inward and looking back, before the beginning of something entirely new ).(pp. 46-47).
It should be noted, that with the Cour Cards of the Jungian Tarot, the hierarchy is Princess, Prince, Queen, King, omitting the Knight and Page.
Here is a very practical and ambitious young woman with natural executive skills for business. She is extremely calculating and shrewd, but is sensitive to the feelings of people around her and easily earns the friendship and respect of business colleagues. …The Princess of Cups is a force to be reckoned with at a bargaining table whose terms may be demanding and who knows exactly when a firm demand or a compromise is to her advantage. Yet she remains feminine and charming at all times, rarely causing dissention or ill-will, and maneuvers easily around petty jealousies and “office politics.” When Problems do occur, it is often due to a failure on her part to communicate clearly… (p. 81).
In these descriptions of the Court Cards, there are no mentions of figurative meanings, only the application of the card unto an actual person.
The minor arcana are simplistically depicted. The Swords, for example, all depict an orb in the sky, under which the corresponding number of swords are painted, all tip up.
[The 10 of Swords] is success resulting from people working smoothly together, either in partnership or in association of some sort. It is likely that two partners are very different, in age, in temperament, or in social position, yet they complement each other perfectly–one contributing exactly what the other lacks. Thiers is a mutual goal of wealth and position which is the sure result of their sharing of responsibilities…Under negative conditions, something may go wrong–partners may begin to disagree and to challenge each other’s decisions. There may be disloyalty, bad feelings, and serious misunderstandings which cause profits to diminish (p.91).
Some of the Minor Arcana have some interesting definitions, such as this one, which goes against the general consensus of what the 10 of Swords is. However, because these are meant to act as psychological archetypes, it is important to consider that these might be situations in which a person might experience, rather than energy that is around them (my theory, at least).
The remaining 12 pages is dedicated to using the book as a course for the tarot. It is designed to take 34 weeks, during which the student is to develop a sense of self-understanding.
Before beginning this 34-week course, the student must also dedicate 22 weeks of meditation, one week for each of the Major Arcana. Wang provides a focus for each card of the Major Arcana, beginning with the Empress. The Student puts themselves in a meditative state and visualise the figure of the card they are working with, and then interviews them.
For the Empress, Wang suggests asking questions along the lines of ‘who are you.’ As the Empress is meant to represent the mother, the answer given will be what your subconscious has internalized to be a mother, or the student’s mother figure.
The Empress is meant to represent Mother, the Emperor Father, the Magician is the role of Son, the High Priestess in the role of Daughter, The Hierophant is ‘the Father who creates rules,’ and so on.
The idea of using these cards as a means of self-discovering allows us to uncover that which may have been hiding within us.
It may be discovered that there are some deeply repressed and unpleasant feelings. There may also be repressed good feelings, such as those which might remind us of the loss of a parent with whom we had wonderful and pleasant experiences.
…In fact, much of our initial work of self-discovery through the cards is an admission, to ourselves, of who we really are and of what our relationship to family, friends, co-workers, etc., may be. The operative principle is that…we must have totally resolved our relationship with our [Corresponding] Archetype of the collective unconscious. The more one experiments with the cards, and the more repressed materials are encountered and overcome with understanding, the deeper the meditations become, and the more the universal aspects of the figures as archetypes are perceived )pp. 112-3).
Unfortunately, I haven’t been in the right position to embark on this deep of a journey. However, I do hope to do so, and with a little luck I’ll be able to do it soon, so that I can move on to the next two books.
Initially I put the book down and thought that it wasn’t for me. I had decided I didn’t like how the meanings were put out, what they corresponded to, and that they just didn’t jive well with me.
I wasn’t certain as to how to take the book due to its brevity. However, after sitting on it for about a month now, I’ve come to respect it. I find that when I have a one-card draw that isn’t sitting well with me, I gravitate toward the book and read the archetype corresponding to the card. Generally with this practice, I find some sense.
I don’t think this book or series is for the standard hobbyist Tarot reader, but rather for those who have the intention and dedication for soul exploration. This is for those who are brave enough to really get into the depths of their own mind and confront their Shadows. While everyone really should do this, not all are in that mental position to be able to do that.
However, I do think that any reader of Tarot should make it their goal to put this book to use. Especially if their brand of reading has to do with elements of life coaching. I think that having the tools this book and series provide will make the reader a far more valuable advisor.