I happened upon Tarot Talks with the Woman Within by Cassandra Eason a couple of months ago. I was intrigued. I believe that there are two different languages that are masculine and feminine (see Pythagoras’ Trousers by Margaret Wertheim), and I wanted to see how Eason addressed this and Tarot.
First Impression: Introduction
Written initially in 2000 and published by Quantum in Berkshire, England, the first impression I got was that it was playing on dated, even for then, depictions of women. It actually really resonated with the idea of women in the ‘80’s. Though, I’ll say right now that my perspective of women in the ‘80’s is not direct, since I was born in the second half of the ‘80’s, and I was 13 during the year 2000—so the Spice Girls were my model of womanhood at the time.
Eason’s introduction reads
Women are the masters in the art of juggling different aspects of their lives. I am writing this chapter on Boxing day, having cooked the lunch, mended the broken presents, soothed teenage angst and covered cage. Almost ten years ago, when I was writing my first Tarot book, I was a working mother with five young children and I discovered that for many women, magic and divination had to be slotted into spare moments during the day…But women do still have pressures, for while in the 1980s we were promised we could have it all, the media hype forgot to mention that meant doing it all. The wealth of opportunities we have nowadays may give an exciting, fulfilling life, but the resulting pressures bring in their wake of exhaustion, with many women feeling too tired for sex and eating disorders rapidly increasing (p. 14).
While this book was published nearly 20 years ago, I feel like the introduction perpetuates the stereotype that women do have to do it all, and doesn’t offer any assurance that a marriage or a family is a partnership in which duties can be equally distributed. I felt like I was buckling down into a book that was playing on the essentiality that women had to be the home keepers as well as the workers, and thus was doing nothing to progress the voices and independence of women.
However, once I got past the introduction, I began to enjoy the book. This books is addressed to people looking to dissolve masculine boundaries in the tarot. While I think that a female audience was intended, I do think that there are some great learning opportunities for everyone.
The book looks at standardly seen masculine cards such as the Emperor to shows how to utilize it and embody it with feminine energy.
The Emperor is an important if not naturally empathic card for women, representing assertiveness, ambition, and the courage to stand against second-rate treatment of them, their loved ones or vulnerable colleagues or friends. [Strong women are branded as] unfeminine because they are prepared to work for what they want and not play helpless of flatter a guy’s ego at work or in relationships. And so this card may appear when you need a serge of power or ambition, especially if you encounter the “glass ceiling: in your career (p. 35).
At the end of each of the Major Arcana card descriptions, Eason gives examples of women she’s worked with who utilized the energy of the card. This approach gives a different way of looking at the card, and shows ways to bring the message of the cards into the real world.
Maggie, a single parent, met her Death card when her daughter started school and she realized that she needed to reassess her life, since she had put her career and adult relationships on hold while Emily was young. Joanne encountered her Death card when she was offered a scholarship at a French university, thousands of miles from home. She knew that she needed and wanted to accept, buy regretted leaving her close-knit family and friends behind (pg. 59).
After 2-4 pages spent on each Major Arcana card, there is a description of the manifestation of the negative aspects of each. One downfall is that it isn’t explained that each of the aspects is just one negative aspect of the card, whereas regarding the positives aspects, many are explored.
So what is the negative side of Strength? It’s the side of you that insists on being cheerleader almost permanently on show for an ungrateful world, and pouring love and effort into those who will never try to help themselves. Use your Strength to walk away (p. 42).
The Minor Arcana don’t have as much time spent on them as the Major Arcana do, which is typical in Tarot books. However, I personally think that ample information is provided for each card. There is talk of myths from different cultures which outline the meaning of the card, astrological rulings, as well as the ‘negative side of the card.’ All of this information is provided in sentence format, rather than a list of correspondences that are bulleted or numbered. However, unlike the Major Arcana, examples of women who utilized these cards in their lives are not given.
The Ten of Swords is sometimes called the darkest hour before the dawn and here the swords do pierce the victim. But dawn is breaking and to regard the card as gloomy is to mistake its deeper significance.
I mentioned earlier the myth of Isis and Osiris and many cultures have a Corn God who willingly sacrifices himself so that the land will be fertile. Shamans, the magic men and women in many cultures, undergo a ritual death and are re-formed in a more perfect, permanent state by the ancient Bone Goddess, taker but also giver of life. So on a personal level, you may select this card when you are desperately fighting a lost cause or hanging on to a dead relationship or stage in your life. It is time to accept that some aspect of your life is ending and allow yourself to be sad and rest before moving on.
It also talks of spiritual transformation, through your unfolding psychic world, so that you do see the world in a different way. It is a card of transformation, of fertility, new life, hope and a richer understanding of the interconnectedness of people and the natural spheres, enlightenment that will increase as you evolve (p. 134).
What I like
Once I got past the introduction, there were several things I really enjoyed about this book.
The way this book was organized gave you bite-sized sections of the tarot. Eason introduces 2-4 cards at a time in each chapter, then gives the reader a little bit of a break, and offers spreads and examples of readings she’s done in which the cards that had been gone over so far in the book, came up.
While it wasn’t initially clear to me, the book is meant to be taken in as a lesson, during which the reader spends time with each card in the order that the book is written, and only does readings with the cards that have been gone over to up to that point in the book. The first chapter goes over the Fool to the Empress, and then stops, giving exercises for readings to do. The next chapter regarding cards goes over the Emperor to the Chariot before giving another method of reading, using only the cards 0-VII.
By breaking up the chapters like this, for me, personally, it made it easier to get through reading the cards in the book. When you’ve read a plethora of books which all describe and define the cards, it gets redundant and somewhat tedious reading them all over again. However, when reading this book, because of the break which allowed for additional information between a set of cards, the book was really enjoyable to read.
For example, the chapter which follows the cards up to the Empress talks about how to begin tarot readings, examining reversed cards, basic 3-6 card layouts, and using masculine and feminine energies within the cards. Eason refers to these energies as animus and anima, referring (I believe) to the terminology of Carl G. Jung.
The Minor Arcana, however, do not follow the same pattern of being broken up by tarot information related to practice.
I actually like the way this section is organized as it’s reminiscent to the Spiral Tarot’s little white book that I referred to when I was learning tarot. She divides the cards up by the numbers. Each section has an introduction relating to the number, and then talks about the individual cards.
The Sevens are ruled by the waning moon and so the energies are those of the inner world and the mysterious face of the Moon, mistress of the psyche and of unconscious wisdom. Seven is the most spiritual and mysterious number and so these cards are concerned with spiritual awareness rather than achievement or material success (p. 119).
Eason really takes her time with the Court Cards, which I think many will appreciate, as they are such a complicated section. Like the Major Arcana, she divides the sections based on the similarity of the Court Cards, so in this case, by figure rather than number. For example, there is an introduction on the Pages and what they represent before going on to discuss each individual Page.
At the end of the section for the Court Cards, she provides a 4-card spread specifically for the Court Cards and getting to know them.
While Eason really emphasizes keeping to basic 3-Card spreads, and modifying them to 6 or 9-card spreads, she does provide some more unique spreads. I think what I really like about her section of spreads is that while she mentions the Celtic Cross, she never provides how to use it. I think simply because of the redundancy of the use of the spread, I really appreciate that she did not include it.
Her spreads vary incomplexity, with the basic ones already mentioned which are recurring throughout the book, to intense 33-cards spreads that she strongly advices should only be done once in a life time per person, and not to be done for strangers.
Again, I do think there is valuable information for everyone in this book. I think that for those who are of a more masculine nature who might not have had the opportunity of the feminine experience in life, I think this would help to give an alternative perspective in their readings. This can only enhance their ability to connect to clients.
However, while I think this book was probably a great and empowering book at the time, Feminism itself has moved on, and I might go so far as to say that it’s a bit harsh on men at times in the book. There are parts in in the quotes above where I altered the phrasing (alteration in brackets so easily identified) so as not to cause offense.
Saying that though, I do think there is a commentary in there that if women can put up with centuries of being seen as lesser and talked down to (consider Papus’s commentary on making tarot simple enough that even a woman can follow it), then these slights can be overlooked by men as well, at least for the duration of this book.
The book itself does provide citation, which—if you’ve read past reviews, you know I’m a huge fan of—though I think in the citation, at least four of the books mentioned are written by Eason.