The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa
This is one of the most significant books in English on the Tarot de Marseilles. Jodorowsky is a Chilean surrealist filmmaker, therapist and tarot reader based in Paris who uses the Tarot de Marseilles exclusively. His background and tarot experience couldn’t be more different from mine, but I feel he’s a kindred spirit. Jodorowsky’s approach to tarot, which I heartily endorse, rests on the following principles:
- He does not apply external systems like Kabbalah or astrology to tarot. He uses the structure of the deck itself to discover its meaning. (He mentions Kabbalistic correspondences in some of his card descriptions, but they don’t have much influence on his card meanings).
- He uses tarot for counseling and psychological healing; does not use tarot to predict the future.
- He does not confine the cards to fixed meanings, but reads intuitively by closely examining the card images and their interactions while in a trance-like state.
The book starts by teaching us to see the deck as an organic whole and to observe how each card relates to the others, rather than studying the cards in isolation. Jodorowsky organizes the deck into a mandala with six sets of ten cards each: ace through ten of the four suits, and the trumps divided into sets of ace through ten and eleven through twenty. (The Fool and the World begin and end the series, and the court cards are somewhat awkwardly wedged into this system.) Jodorowsky’s mandala is very rational and satisfying to contemplate. He admits it’s only one of many possibilities, and he’s refreshingly modest in not claiming to have discovered the one true key to tarot.
[NOTE: His card descriptions pertain to the Tarot de Marseilles he created with Philippe Camoin which contains many controversial details you won’t find in other TdMs. If you are using another deck and don’t see something he mentions, don’t worry about it.]
Each component of the deck is discussed from several viewpoints, like holding a crystal up to a flame and turning it to see the beauty of each facet. The trump cards get five different treatments:
- The main discussion of each card, which takes up 135 pages, consists of a list of keywords for quick reference, a description of the image, a discussion of how the energy of the card manifests in a reading, the card’s message for the querant, and several paragraphs where the image speaks in the first person saying who it is, how it feels about itself, and what it wants the reader to know about it.
- In the mandala, the trump cards are lined up in two rows with Strength under the Magician (1 and 11), the Hanged Man under the Papesse (2 and 12), and ending with Judgment under the Wheel (10 and 20) The book has a short section discussing how these pairs interact based on their shared number. (I’ve tried out several systems of pairing trump cards, and this is my favorite, as these pairs seem to have the most affinity for each other.)
- The trumps are divided into male and female archetypes then shown interacting in various combinations.
- When trumps one through twenty are set out in a line, the cards mirroring each other from opposite ends of the line add up to 21: Magician and Judgment (1 and 20), Papesse and the Sun (2 and 19), etc. The cards’ interaction is described briefly.
- There’s a short discussion of trumps 1 through 10 as they relate to numerology.
Each pip card is discussed twice. The numerical sequence in each suit tells a story of progressive development; then the four cards that share a number are discussed as a group. The court cards are allowed to speak for themselves in the first person; then they are each given a brief character analysis with divinatory meanings.
I counted at least forty spreads and techniques in the 90-page section on reading tarot. Each spread is illustrated with diagrams, photos and sample readings. The student progresses from one-card readings to a 22-card spread, although most of the spreads are for one to three cards. Jodorowsky also presents creative techniques like using a card as an ally, doing a reading for a trump card to better understand it, and rearranging cards within a spread. True to his European background, Jodorowsky uses only trumps in his readings.
The book is 535 pages long, and nearly every page contains diagrams or black-and-white photos of cards. There’s a glossy insert with color photos of the trumps, court cards and aces, plus the mandala of all 78 cards. The book uses the Tarot de Marseilles restored by Jodorowsky and Philippe Camoin, but it works well with any TdM. Anyone who works through this book will have a deep understanding of the Tarot de Marseilles, a magician’s bag full of techniques and spreads, and a solid foundation for doing readings with any Tarot de Marseilles deck.