What is better for a Tarot de Marseille month than being able to review a book dedicated to reading with the tarot trumps of the Marseille: old-school divination style? The book Tarot Triumphs by Cherry Gilchrist uses the Marseille tarot trumps ‘for Divination and Inspiration’ and introduces a new way to read with only the Major Arcana.
Gilchrist’s publication comes in a thick paperback in the French flag’s (Marseille) colors. Core of the book: reading with the trumps or triumphs. She uses both these titles interchangeably to honor the historical background of the Trionfi – the Italian name for Tarot of which both these words were derived from -, but also to show their spiritual sequence. And…perhaps the notion that the Triumph/Trionfi processions popular in 15th century Italy might have something to do with the way this deck was built up. I say might because the author is very well versed in both tarot history and you won’t see her present beliefs or suggestions as facts.
The book consists of a total of nine chapters and is loosely divided into three sections. A part where she will show you the trumps as actors, the section where she will give the set of cards individual meanings and the part where she shows an in-depth investigation of the cards, including spreads.
Of course every chapter will have its own focus and based on their contents it shows Tarot Triumphs book was originally written for tarot novices. At least, that is the intention. That’s not to say this book could not be interesting for advanced readers. On the contrary. But I will get there soon enough.
Cherry Gilchrist has a personal way of writing. You won’t encounter anything remotely academic in style, despite the fact that Tarot Triumphs offers quite a lot of background in history and cultural anthropology in the card section. She has a knack of bringing the tarot alive, which is already visible in the very beginning. Visual practice is important in Tarot Triumph, as well as imagination.
Just before diving into reading the Tarot de Marseille Trumps Tarot Triumphs has a special chapter on divination; not just reading the cards, but basically everything around you. The author shows her way of working with the cards and other types of fortune-telling. If you aren’t into fortune-telling it might seem at first this book is not for you. But believe me, as a tarot reader who focuses mostly on the tarot therapeutic approach, I can tell you it would be a shame if you don’t pick up Tarot Triumphs just because she’s so adamant about (the word and practice of) divination.
The sections where she discusses all the Majors of the Tarot de Marseille – each card drawn by her husband, an oil painter – are useful for *every* tarot reader. The information is excellent. They make clear Cherry Gilchrist knows her tarot history. Other than that you’re treated to valuable insights on folk traditions, religion and mythology. All to explain how certain symbolism and portrayals ended up in those 22 tarot cards. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it added to my own knowledge (one can never know enough, right?). This is definitely the part where experienced readers might sit down with their coffee and copy of Tarot Triumphs and think: hey…that gives me a new perspective.
For those who are worried that the author’s training in Astrology and Kabbalah might dilute traditional reading and meanings: don’t. While it is mentioned in Tarot Triumph beginners could explore those esoteric attributes at a later stadium I only saw a writer being faithful to the Tarot de Marseille tradition with just a handful of sentences pointed towards these topics. The examples she focuses on are derived from decks like the Grimaud, Conver 1761, the Pierrre Madenie and several other historical ones.
In my personal opinion his book has two very distinctive sides: it is a book set up for beginners to start their tarot journey – not just with the TdM, but in general – and on the other side it is a book about reading the Majors of the Tarot de Marseille. The first shows itself in the fact that throughout Tarot Triumphs Gilchrist offers many a personal opinion on what you should and should not do with tarot, how to read it (she, f.e., isn’t a fan of reading for yourself or even charging for a reading), including how to prepare for and manage a reading.
The bridge to deeper information and part 2 comes when she focuses on meanings & spreads. Normally that is typical for a beginner’s book, but since the whole idea of Tarot Triumphs is to read with just the TdM Majors here it is when she offers *any* reader something interesting. Because of the title I had expected her to only write about the Tarot de Marseille and how to work with those trumps. The whole journey, her personal experience and opinions; it is nice for a beginner, but the way the book is marketed raises different expectations. Perhaps because of that it felt like these other chapters were doing Tarot Triumphs a disservice. Even if you won’t agree on that, the parts where she delves deeper into the Tarot de Marseille, is clearly where Gilchrist shines.
In my opinion it is exactly in “Using the Marseille Tarot Trumps for divination and inspiration” where Tarot Triumphs’ strength lies. The moment it dives into those 22 cards. I said earlier that imagination is important for Gilchrist when it comes to tarot reading. You can see that in her written tableau vivant of cards in the first part of Tarot Triumphs, but it is also clear from the way she approaches reading the Tarot de Marseille. It is a bit reminiscent of Yoav Ben Dov’s The Open Reading, if you are familiar with that book. In Tarot Triumphs you will learn to divine with what you *see*. Despite the fact it does not lack in what to know ;-).
Reading the cards for her reading is the same as questioning the symbolic makeup of the tarot. Question someone’s face, question the patterns, the (a)symmetry, the cultural associations, the sequence etc. She does not believe in reading really small details, such as the color of someone’s shoes or the number of lines used to to depict the folds of a cloak. I know many readers who do think those details have significance, but in her opinion those are unlikely to have an implicit significance, because they are part of the maker’s wish to introduce their own variations in style.
She does not go into detail when describing the cards, but she does explain why certain cards are the way they are and what the background is or could be. Her excellent descriptions and tips on how to bond with your cards are great practice for newbies, but could freshen up a seasoned reader’s way of handling the cards. Also: this bonding of with the cards will help you with the most important part of Tarot Triumphs: The Fool’s mirror.
Fool’s Mirror: 22 card spread
Again: interesting for beginners, but definitely the part where advanced tarot readers – TdM aficionado or not – can learn something again. The Fool’s Mirror is a spread in which you’ll be able to read all 22 cards in one. Just for this method this book is worth buying – although her descriptions of the cards add to the book as well. It’s deep, it’ll give you different focus-points, many angles to revisit later even. It is a thorough look into an issue, although grasping the concept might take some practice due to all the bridging and parts. Gilchrist promised reflective reading and that is what you get. The Fool starts his journey and will take you to every single detail of an issue before that trip with the 22 Major Arcana is over. In less poetic words: it is a bloody awesome trick to read and bridge all the Majors together.
Another big plus for especially advanced readers – and very enthusiastic beginners – is the fact Tarot Triumphs has footnotes. Those notes are bundled in the back of the book and delve deeper into certain comments, including historical allusions. Not only that, but she’s included several sources and I would be surprised if you’ve seen and/or read all of them. If you have, it is time you start writing a book ;-).
Conclusion: beginner & advanced
Basically Cherry Gilchrist has managed to write two books into one. First of all a beginners guide to reading with (part of) the Tarot de Marseille. The beginner’s book idea is definitely not original, the TdM part is. Tarot Triumph – for the newbie – is full of tips on how to read and prepare for divining with the cards. It is written from a very personal perspective, which makes it easier to read than those books with a more scholastic approach. The same personal style does lead to a huge amount of ‘should’s’, but I guess we are all old and wise enough to make up our own minds, right?
On the whole Tarot Triumphs is an easy to read, very informative book. Gilchrist outdoes herself in the parts where it is really all about the cards and her Fool’s Mirror. Her information is rooted into a deep knowledge of tarot history and cultural anthropology. Topped off with her experience in reading the cards reflectively. The Fool’s Mirror is how this book could have been named too, since that is really the selling point of Tarot Triumphs. Whether you’re a tarot novice or a veteran; these are the spreads anyone could use in their tarot arsenal. My recommendation: despite some reservations I think Tarot Triumphs would do good in both an advanced reader’s bookcase or that of a newbie.
|Author or artist||Publisher||Publication|
|Cherry Gilchrist||Weiser books||2016|