Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf
Review by Diane Wilkes

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I remember seeing this book in Borders and thinking it intriguing and beautiful.  A friend dismissed it because the chapters seemed uneven; 14 pages are devoted to Temperance, while The World only received five.   As someone whose book suffered the same disproportion, I wasn't ready to reject it quite so quickly.

Hajo Banzhaf has written or co-written several books about the tarot and astrology, most of which are well-respected.  Two were devoted to analyzing each card in the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth deck, respectively, and this attention to symbolic detail is used again and again in Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. 

The book begins with a chapter devoted to a brief history and an introduction to the structure of the tarot.  Banzhaf then dismisses the Minor Arcana as not archetypal, and used for fortune-telling only, a dismissal I don't agree with at all.  While I agree that the Majors often relate more to major themes, one can see and utilize any tarot card in a therapeutic and universal paradigm.

Another issue Banzhaf has is with Waite's re-ordering of the Marseilles structure (reversing the numerology of Strength and Justice).  He is clearly not alone in his concerns here, but I wonder why he chose the R-W-S as the main deck to illustrate his book?  (My guess: he loves the symbolic imagery)

Next is a short chapter, How to Use the Book, which Banzhaf says is not for laying out the cards, but intentionally identifying cards as present individual states of the reader.  He also recommends pulling one card for guidance.  The next chapter, Origin and Meaning of the Hero's Journey, introduces us to Jung and the hero's journey as seen through fairy tales, cultural myths, and the tarot, to illustrate the individual quest in terms of the universal collective unconscious.

The majority of the book is a card-by-card analysis of the tarot in terms of the Jungian archetypal hero's journey.   The author compares various cards (both from the same deck and drawing examples of the same card in different decks) to share his ideas of what each symbol indicates.  He also brings in astrological attributions for the cards, ones which are not taken from the Golden Dawn.  Banzhaf uses stories and myths from sources as diverse as Gilgamesh, Inanna, Siddhartha, and Bastian Balthazar Bux (from The Never Ending Story) to illustrate each of the Majors.  At the end of each chapter is a box that includes keywords for the archetype, task, goal, risk, and feeling in life of each card.

The book is lavishly illustrated, and not just with tarot cards from various decks.  Banzhaf draws upon classic subjects and art (the List of Illustrations is five full pages!), and the result is a book brimming with beauty and tarot insights that make you say, "AH" (just like Arsenio Hall without the dog pound).  This book is also interestingly written--I didn't have my usual, "I want to read a novel now" mindset as I read each chapter, because each one contained enough stories to satisfy even me.  Occasionally, the English translation is awkward, but not so much so that it interfered with my enjoyment of the book.

Banzhaf's assertions about symbolic meaning were, to my mind, occasionally stretched.  It's odd to me that he dismisses the minors, but discusses Jung's functions of consciousness, which so clearly correlate with the suits/elements.  He attaches them, with less success, to the four animals on The Wheel and The World.   In the chapter on the Death card, Banzhaf writes, "On the basis of the tarot cards, this story can be retold quite well.  But since the Bible only tells us the prayer that Jonah says in the belly of the fish and not what he experienced there, we find no correlations with cards XIV to XVIII."  It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to imply that, if only the Bible had been more explicit regarding Jonah's stay in the belly of the great fish, it would match right up with the cards he mentions so confidently.

His reasoning to return to the Marseilles ordering of Strength/Justice is so subjective that it is unconvincing; it seems to me that Banzhaf would be capable of interchanging them in his vision of the Fool's Journey to Wholeness if he so chose.  If anything, his creative application of stories and astrological attributions to the cards is a testament to the possibility of creating a similar Fool's Journey using the deck of your choice, if only you are resourceful and imaginative enough. For make no mistake: many of his insights are based purely on Pixie Smith's art, and will not easily translate to a deck with different imagery.

His suppositions and connections are fascinating enough that I momentarily considered returning to using the RWS just for that reason.  If you use the RWS as your primary deck, I urge you to read this book--I am confident it will enrich the way you look at each of the Majors, as well as the way they interact.  And even if you use a completely different deck, you will still find this book utterly readable and filled with insights.   I thoroughly enjoyed Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, even as I remained cognizant that Banzhaf's assertions are ideas with which to wrestle, not swallow whole.

Tarot and the Journey of the Hero
Hajo Banzhaf
Publisher: Weiser Books
ISBN#: 1-57863-117-3


If the heavenly parents (Magician and High Priestess) show the archetypal masculine and the archetypal feminine in the world of ideas, the earthly parents embody these archetypal principles on the concrete level: as Mother Nature (The Empress) and the force of culture and civilization (The Emperor).  If both forces are in harmony with each other, the human being lives in a protected, secure, and positive environment.  While Mother Nature, as the source of all life, constantly lets new fruits grow, The Emperor brings in the harvest.  Where Mother Nature shows herself in her original wildness, The Emperor knows how to plant gardens in the middle of the wilderness and build protective spaces where people feel safe from the encroachments and moods of nature.  Otherwise, nature causes trouble for humans in the form of cold, heat, wet, or storms.  While Mother Nature is the quintessence of cyclical changes, The Emperor constantly attempts to balance and regulate these fluctuations as much as possible.  Mother Nature may produce the most luscious fruits for many years, but at other times will suddenly let her children starve.  This is why he builds grain silos and refrigerators in order to balance these fluctuations, just as he builds heaters and air conditioners to compensate for "her" temperature variations.

Done to a healthy extent, The Emperor's striving is true civilization, which means the refinement of the raw, elemental wildness of nature.  However, the extremes of The Emperor's strength leads to flattening out all the cycles, to strengthening all the rivers, to concrete jungles and asphalt excesses, monotonous parks, square forests, and the sterile wasteland of an artificial, plastic world.  When his structures become too rigid, Mother Nature knows how to soften things or break them up.  She lovingly covers ugly concrete walls with ivy and lavishly carpets fields of ruin with flowers.  Whatever he creates will rust, go to seed, and fall back to her as soon as he no longer takes proper care of it.

As Mother Nature, The Empress embodies everything natural; on the other hand, The Emperor represents everything created by human hands.  She stands for what is round, since a straight line is the exception in her world.  He represents everything straight, since he prefers to produce smooth and square things with his hands or his machines.  Even her experience of time is round and cyclic, without a beginning and end,  and without any actual innovations.  It is the course of the year, the eternal return of what has already been here.  By way of contrast, his time is linear.  Within it, everything has a beginning and an end--and he gives the name of progress to the development in between.  This is why it is common knowledge in her world that everything that passes also arises again, accompanied by the belief in the eternal wheel of rebirths.  On the other hand, it is known with the same certainty in his linear world that everything has a beginning and an end, therefore concluding that we only live once.

Keywords for The Empress

Archetype:            The mother (Mother Nature)

Task:                    Being fertile, bringing something new into the world

Goal:                    Life force and growth, cyclical renewal, affirmation of life

Risk:                    Wild growth, instability

Feeling in Life:   Walking on fertile ground, feeling alive, knowing about the cycles, trust in the abundance

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Text excerpt 2000 Hajo Banzhaf
Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes

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