Through the Tarot Looking Glass In Search of Self: Guide to the Psychodynamics of Tarot Imagery by Ellen Z. Uecker                                                                                Review by Michele Jackson

This book attempts to combine Tarot and the analytic theories of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Per the author, "This book is meant to be a structured procedural guide for the use of Tarot cards in the discovery and actualization of the higher self; a handbook to a psychodynamic process of Self-Discovery." 

The book has an introduction and three sections. The introduction provides information on the author's background, and how she came to use Tarot in her practice. It describes what she is trying to achieve with the book. It also states that Carl Jung "...did acknowledge that the Tarot had its origin in the archetypal  images of the 'collective unconscious.'" This is incorrect. When asked for a reference for this quote, the author referred to Sallie Nichols. It is my understanding that Jung never mentions Tarot in any of his writings, and to my knowledge no one has been able to provide a reference to the contrary. 

Section One - Theoretical and Philosophical Basis is divided into three subsections. Subsection A - The Unconscious - Jung vs. Freud, provides brief descriptions of Freud's theory of the id, ego and Jung's theory of the conscious, personal unconscious and collective unconscious. It also discusses Jung's definition of the "archetype," and describes how these images correspond to the pictures on tarot cards. The remainder of this section is devoted to Jung's theories, particularly his theories on achieving "wholeness," or "self-awareness." Section B - Projective Techniques and Shadow Casting discusses these two psychological techniques. Section C - The Tarot - Used in a Psychodynamic Process builds upon the information presented in sections A and B, and concludes that "Used appropriately, the Tarot can be a powerful tool in self-discovery." This section also contains a brief discussion of Tarot history. The author compares how the cards are used by fortune tellers with the theories of Freud and Jung. It is in this section that the author recommends the Rider Waite deck be used for the exercises in the book.

Section Two - Tarot Exercises for Self Discovery is divided into eight short sections. These sections contain the exercises and describe how to work them. The recommendation for the Rider Waite deck is reiterated, and the need for a notebook and a place to work the exercises are explained. The exercises themselves make use of a personal log of meanings created by the user, and the card meanings provided in Section Three. One problem I had was that it was not clear to me in the explanations whether the personal meanings were to be drawn solely from the images on the cards or whether previous knowledge was to be incorporated. We are told to record "...spontaneous associations or impressions about the picture...without censorship."  It seems that "...esoteric meanings, representing data from the collective unconscious..." are provided in the appendices. Yet, if I were to create a journal of personal card meanings, they would also include the esoteric information that I have picked up over the years, i.e., the yellow background in the Fool represents the element of air. Are those who have previous experience with the cards supposed to forget that when creating their journal? We are not told. This seems to be an important point, in my humble opinion, since someone new to the cards would have a very different take in their personal journal than someone who has been working with the cards for several years, or has read a few books on the subject.

Section Three - The Appendices has card meanings divided into sections designed to correlate with the exercises. A general meaning is provided as well as meanings written for specific exercises. The Major Arcana have the most comprehensive meanings. The Minors are divided into the same sections as the Majors with the exception of the information on the Higher Self, which is included in the meanings for the Major Arcana only. The Court cards are used in the exercises to represent people and are only described in terms of positive and negative traits. Grayscale scans of the cards from the Rider Waite deck are also provided. The general meanings are "traditional." The other meanings provided are interpretations of those meanings as they relate to the exercises.

I tried working a couple of these exercises using the Rider Waite deck as recommended, just to get a feel for the instructions provided. I did not create a personal journal. I found that some of the exercises require a large work surface since the entire deck must be laid out. Perhaps a "pocket-sized" deck should be used for those with space constraints. In most exercises we are told to choose cards to represent various aspects of ourselves. We then look at our personal card meanings and compare them to the meanings provided in the appendix. We are told to use our intuition to attempt to integrate the two, if possible. We are not told what to do if it is not possible. For the most part, the exercises remind me of the exercises from Mary Greer's Tarot for Your Self or the many exercises on Nina Lee Braden's Tarot for Self Discovery site. While the aforementioned exercises do not have the psychological jargon, they provide many of the same insights in layman's terms. 

I recommend this book for those who are interested in psychology and Tarot. This book provides some basic information on Freud and Jung's theories and could be used as a starting point for further exploration. The book would also be useful to those who want to use Tarot as a tool for introspection. Creating a journal of personal meanings would be quite time consuming. The author recommends that you not do more than five cards per session, and I think five is too many, if you really want to describe the symbolism of each card, especially for those who have built a personal set of meanings over time. Once you have completed the journal, only a few exercises remain. I found them thought-provoking, and I enjoyed the descriptions of Freud and Jung's theories. As someone with no background in psychology, I found Uecker's explanations of the various theories and terms easy to understand. 

One interesting thing about this book is that it is available as an, "e-book," a book available on the World Wide Web for download. You pay a fee and download it in Adobe Acrobat format from Booklocker.com or Fatbrain.com. Alternately, you can order it directly from the author and receive it in html, Appleworks or MS Word format. Finally, you can order it on CD from Amazon.com. The nice thing about this is that you can manipulate it to suit yourself. If you want to add room for writing personal notes, you can do so. You can add color scans of the cards or change the color of passages onscreen to emphasize them, or change the font, or personalize the text in whatever way makes it easier for you to use. I hope we see many more books like this.

You can read more about this book on the author's web site.

Through the Tarot Looking Glass In Search of Self
Author: Ellen Uecker
Copyright 1999 Alternative Site


This page is Copyright 2000 by Michele Jackson