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.
I’ve been tempted to read this book for a while. My only hesitation has come from the large amount of negative press Jodo gets. I’ve seen him speak and do readings, and he is definitely a fruit cake; some of his ideas and connections are truly puzzling… but once in a while, i can truly enjoy some fruit cake with a good cup of coffee….
I also own his Camoin deck. It’s not my go to Marseille, but I like it, and I personally don’t have any problem with the small details that they’ve added. The arrogant ‘secret knowledge’ claim that it was promoted with did bug me a bit… But I have a feeling that that was more a Camoin thing than a Jodorowsky move.
Your blog review makes me want to go get a copy of his book, and like anything, one can take or discard information as it best fits. Plus us TdM lovers don’t have that many books to choose from…
P.S. I love your site!
Sorry it took me 2 days to reply to you. You’re the first person I’ve encountered who has actually seen Jodorowsky in action. One of his associates, Richart Carrozza, is going to be at the Dallas tarot conference next month. Have you ever met him? I’m going to fly down there just to rub elbows with a genuine French TdM reader.
The tone of his book is surprisingly humble. In a few places he says that his methods are just one of many possibilities. I’m filtering out a lot of silliness and trawling the book for new insights into the cards that I haven’t come across before. He talks about the details on his cards, so he might point out things in the deck you never noticed before.
I’ve just picked up Jean-Michel David’s book Reading the Marseille Tarot, which is available on Lulu.com. It’s an oversized book of 537 pages with a lot of history, other very early decks, and art contemporaneous with tarot’s early days, all illustrated in black and white. If you only want to buy one door-stopper of a book, you might want to consider this one instead of Jodorowsky.
I’m glad you’re enjoying the website.
Sorry to miss lead you but I’ve only seen Jodorowsky perform through youtube… Not that exciting…Still, i’m very glad to hear your perspective on his book.
And I’ve read JMD’s book. I bought a PDF copy and enjoyed it as much as one can enjoy reading a book on a computer screen. I’d like to print it or order a physical copy to see if i get some more out of it. It was a great source of historical information despite the fact that I found his words and style a little complicated to follow. Totally worth it!
well you may know by now that Richart Carrozza will not be in Dallas. I will however! I’ve been reading with the Marseille style tarot for many years. And a few years ago taught a teleconference call where we went through Jodorowsky’s book in great detail. If you go to my website http://www.tarothermeneutics.com and go to the tarot classes section we should find the remnants of that class which includes biographical information about Jodorowsky. I also agree that Jean Michel David’s study is worth getting from Lulu.com. Jean Michel has been teaching an in person workshop for several years but very little of it has been put into print. It is a shame that very little of that has made it onto his website which has been moribund for about three years now.
As you may know I work with Enrique Enriquez and his poetic approach to the Marseille style readings. There is a greater precision of image reading in EE’s approach whereas Jodorowsky even though he has in his own way denounced the Rider Waite Smith deck still was influenced by residual interpretations based on Pixie Smith’s illustrations in my humble opinion. So I hope to see you in Dallas Sherryl!
Hi Paul: I was very disappointed Carrozza backed out of the conference. He was the main reason I’m going. Oh, well! I have a review of J-M David’s book in the works. Were you part of his online class about four years ago? We got PDFs with color illustrations that are the foundation of his book. While I’m reminiscing, I wonder if anyone is around who took Tom Tadford Little’s Antique Tarot class about 10 years ago. I think it was conducted in a Yahoo group. His class was instrumental in showing me how I could actually read with the decks I’d been collecting. Thanks for the link to your website. I’m going to zip over there later today. See you in Dallas!
I have bought the Way of the Tarot and find it really fascinating, and rich. I was a fan of Jodorowsky’s from the 70’s Holy Mountain and el Topo. He is a huge personality, living a transpersonal life. I don’t think he is egotistical. He is totally focussed and dedicated. He lives an archetypal life. Also the European influence is very different than we in the West. I will check out these other websites as well. I found a copy of the Universal Marseilles deck at a Goodwill recently as well. Blessings TARA
Tara, thanks for the insights. Studying with Jodorowsky is evidently a life-changing experience. He seems to be larger-than-life and a nearly mythic figure. I’m looking forward to seeing his recently released autobiographical film.
See Jodorowsky’s tarot notebook, which gives a lot of insight into his thoughts on tarot: https://www.scribd.com/doc/232320548/Jodorowski-Tarot-Notes
There was also a documentary by a French filmmaker entitled “La Constellation Jodorowsky” which ought to be available online, it was included as an extra on a recent DVD release of his films. This shows the man himself in action. The more recent Pinchbeck documentary-interview also has a few tarot reading scenes.
Jonah, thanks so much for these resources. Netflix used to have the DVD with his films plus a short bit showing him doing the Family Constellation process, but the last time I looked, it had disappeared. The notebook should be intriguing – I’m going to check it out soon.
“True to his European background, Jodorowsky uses only trumps in his readings.”
Why do you say: “True to his European backgroun”. I have been searching for why some tarot readers use only the Major Arcana. Most of the given reasons converge onto ease/convenience or on being being beginner friendly. But surely Jodorowsky is no beginner. What is your view on this ?
Reading with Tarot cards didn’t exist in the English-speaking world until the very late 1800s, and it didn’t become popular until the advent of the Waite Smith deck in 1909. When all 78 cards are fully illustrated, it makes sense to read with the entire deck. French and Italians may have been reading tarot since the 17th century, but we don’t know how the cards were read until Etteilla started teaching and writing in the 1770s. French occultists turned up their noses at the suit cards, considering them fortune-telling tools, like playing cards, while the trump cards were a book of ancient wisdom. Even today, many European how-to-read tarot books omit the suit cards or only give them a few sentences each at the back of the book.
I think people who say using just the trumps is easier for beginners are rationalizing what they’ve always done because it’s tradition. It seems a lot of readers are intimidated by the pips and are happy to have a reason to avoid them. Personally, I find reading with just trumps more difficult. There’s too much information – too much going on. I love the pip cards and often do spreads with just the suit cards then add a trump (taking the sum of the suit cards) for an extra layer of meaning.
I hope this is the kind of information you’re looking for.
Sorry for the late reply. I had lost track of this post notification in my emails.
Yes, this makes perfect sense. Thanks 🙂