Heart of Tarot: An Intuitive Approach by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

In conversations with others, I kept referring to this book as Gestalt Tarot. I suppose that was because the heart of this book (pun intended) is a method the authors describe as "Gestalt Tarot," a process attributed to the now-deceased John McClimans.

This method involves querying the querent, and the main selling point of both book and method seems to be that the reader doesn't have to know anything about the cards. Simply devising five ways of "seeing" the card from your own projections (the authors readily compare the cards to Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Tests) and doing readings by questioning five friends using the Gestalt method prepares you to set up your practice.  The Gestalt method is to ask open-ended questions (ones that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no") about the cards, so that the person describes what is going on in each one from his or her point of view. Occasionally, when a card seems to indicate further exploration or identification, the "reader" encourages the person having the reading to embody the card, ideally having props like a sword or chalice handy to reinforce the totality of the experience. The reader is also expected to note patterns, such as the number of Major Arcana or a particular suit or number (ie., three fives) in a reading. 

I keep wanting to use the term "querent," but I can't, because it's too confusing in this context. The reader is really more of a questioner (aka querent) than the person seeking a reading.

According to the authors, there are three major ways to read the tarot: "First, the reader may memorize and repeat the card meanings listed in a book, often one written by the creator of that particular deck design. Second, the reader may psychically interpret the cards. (Some readers may combine these methods, using the official card meanings as a foundation, and adding their own insights into the process.) And third, the querent may search within for the meanings of the cards, with assistance from the reader..." (Gestalt Tarot)

Naturally, the most empowering of these methods is for the querent (person seeking the reading--you know what the Hell I mean) to derive their own answers, led by the tarot midwife.

That term (midwife) wasn't supplied by the authors of this book, but by Mary K. Greer, who has taught this method in Tarot for Your Self and in her other books, as well as in numerous classes and workshops. So I don't find this method particularly new or innovative, though others who are unfamiliar with Mary Greer's work might. I should hasten to add that while Mary has used this method as a reader for years, she doesn't urge others to adopt it as the only way of performing empowering readings.

And because I appreciate this kind of tolerance and wisdom, it sticks in my craw that the authors of Heart of Tarot present the concept of Gestalt Tarot, a concept I laud and think an excellent tool in any reader's arsenal, as such an either/or proposition. As a reader, I have an understanding of the cards born both of doing readings and reading others' insights, saving what I've found valuable, and discarding other interpretations when I've found them of little use to me and my clients. In addition to sharing that knowledge, I also try and involve the querent in the process by asking open-ended questions about the cards, much as is discussed in depth in this book. I know I am not alone, and that many people who are reading this review are nodding their heads in agreement, because they do variations of this, also, depending on the situation. Sometimes when doing phone readings, one can't ask the querent specific questions regarding the cards because the querent doesn't own a deck! This doesn't mean that you can't involve the querent with questions by describing the scene and asking how that might relate to his or her issue.

I don't mean to go on a rant here, since I actually like this book a great deal, despite what I see as its flaws. I'm all for empowerment, myself, and the Gestalt Process, as described and illustrated by the authors, gives readers at all levels a productive technique for using the cards in a healthy and illuminating way. It's just not the only way, or the only empowering way. And it seems ironic that it would be presented that way, since the stated virtue of this method is to empower everyone concerned.

Now that I've hammered that point home sufficiently (some might say excessively), let me move on. I will only add that, the older and more experienced I become, the more enthusiastic I am about the "Gestalt Process" as described by the authors--modified by my own inclinations, of course. I don't want the projection of all-knowing seer from the people I read for, and do all I can to remove it from the reading process. This method helps to accentuate personal responsibility and allow the querent to find his or her own path, which are goals I hold dear. I also believe I have valuable knowledge about the tarot acquired by many years of study and experience, and withholding it completely in the name of "empowerment" seems foolish and, frankly, stingy and ludicrously self-effacing.

The emphasis on questioning querents as a way of helping them to find their own answers is undeniably akin to therapy. The method is even called Gestalt Reading, accentuating the emphasis on psychology (and we have no idea what credentials the authors and/or John McClimans have in this area). This brings up reasonable concerns, as one ordinarily goes to college and graduate school and undergoes various tests before becoming a licensed therapist. The authors do strongly urge the reader not to "play Sigmund Freud" and seem to suggest that the reader echo the client's words and ask focusing questions. This is called "active listening," and I know that laypersons can and do acquire this skill, so I don't have too many problems with this concern myself.

There are two spreads primarily identified with the Gestalt process, both based on astrology. The main spread is 12 cards, using the traditional planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto) and adding Earth and the asteroid Juno (!) to the mix. I particularly like the authors' comparison of Saturn to "a stern, unpopular high school teacher whose words and teachings you retain longer than any others." 

The second spread is a modified version of the first, using six of these positions. Cards in the upper hemisphere of the spread might indicate conscious thought, and the lower hemisphere might represent subconscious desires. The reader should also note the "storyline" of the cards, possibly based on the order in which the person being read turns the cards over, and any other themes that he/she observes, though never imposes, on the querent. No reversals are used in Gestalt Tarot.

Other spreads are provided, some of which are familiar to tarot readers, such as the Celtic Cross and the 12 house Astrology layout. Additionally, there is a list of questions provided for "Creating Your Own Spread."

The Morgan-Greer Tarot is the preferred deck of the authors, but they also offer an annotated list of other suggested decks from which the reader can choose. Interestingly, while they suggest having several decks to work with, the choice of decks is left to the reader, not the querent. Also, there are some choices on this list that don't seem suited to the Gestalt Process, such as the Visconti-Sforza, which doesn't have illustrated pips. 

Several sample readings are offered and provide excellent examples of the Gestalt method, though if you read carefully, you'll note that not all questions follow the stated directives for the "reader." 

There is a chapter on "The Professional Reader" that is filled with cogent and astute information, from determining your motivation and skills prior to "going pro" to practical concerns. The following chapter describes challenging clients and methods of dealing with them. There is a chapter on "Teaching Tarot," which also has  good information, but repeats the Atlantis myth (which is also mentioned in an earlier chapter without the tongue-in-cheek one would think requisite in a book that emphasizes professionalism and not overwhelming the potential querent with "woo-woo" new age-isms). The authors seem to think that, because Stuart Kaplan includes the Atlantis myth in his "78 Possible Origins of the Tarot" (found in The Encyclopedia of Tarot), that provides the imprimatur of credence. It does not.  

The last chapter offers some ways to combine Tarot and Magick, which makes sense as Amber K has written numerous books on witchcraft. 

There are two Appendices (one on Gestalt Therapy, the other a step-by-step guide for the Gestalt Reading process) and a Bibliography. I am tempted to comment on the incongruity of the authors' particularly commending Gail Fairfield's Everyday Tarot (formerly Choice Centered Tarot), a book that totally de-emphasizes using card imagery, and relegating Mary Greer's books to a less-important section of the bibliography, but I'd hate to be accused of beating a dead horse, so I won't point out that little paradox.

Instead, I'll recommend this accessible and enjoyable book to tarot readers at every level who wish to explore this valuable process. If, however, you're committed to the concept of the reader involving the querent minimally, if at all, during a reading, this is not the book for you.

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Excerpt:

[T]he reader's job is to ask open-ended questions, engage in reflective listening, and suggest experiences that help the querent follow a thread of meaning, until the querent finds an insight that makes perfect sense to that individual. The reader is a neutral guide, neither sage nor psychic, who is there to facilitate the quest. The querent finds their own answers and is strengthened as a result. The answers are the querent's answers, discovered and owned by them. The authority and responsibility for the insights, as for all of their life, rest squarely where they belong--in the hands of the querent.

We might wonder whether all querents really want that kind of responsibility. The answer is "no." After all, it is easier (and more entertaining) to have someone else explain us to ourselves, than it is to grub around in our subconscious minds and find the truth for ourselves--just as it is easier to watch baseball on television than it is to run out on the field and endure the sweaty, muscular reality of the game firsthand. Just as it is far easier to blame or credit Fate, the gods, or a tarot reader for what happens to us than it is to accept responsibility for our own lives.


Text 2002 Llewellyn Publishing
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes