Although the Little White Book that comes with the Sacred Rose Tarot (SRT)
deck is one of the few that I have found to have merit and value, its usefulness is
necessarily limited by its brevity. For fans of this deck, however, a detailed 234-
page book is now available. In this book Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman, the creator
of this deck, explores the meanings of the beautiful cards of the SRT deck in
greater detail. And while I bemoan the fact that the card images presented in the
book are printed in black and white (since the colors on the cards themselves
are so lush!), I realize that this is, after all, a $10 paperback book, and certain
economies are to be expected.
Indeed, Sherman made fascinating use of both color and symbols in her deck,
and in this book she explains the significance and meaning of those and other
aspects of her cards, fitting them together like pieces of a puzzle. For example,
on pages 16 - 18 she provides a valuable explanation of the significance of the
four roses that are so integral to the meanings of the SRT cards.
While her concepts and explanations show evidence of a traditional Golden
Dawn lineage, Sherman’s approach is always suffused with her own unique
perspectives, which have a provocative value of their own. Many of her
keywords for the Minor Arcana are the same as those Crowley used for the
Thoth deck, but just as often they are different, being singularly her own. Also,
there are some similarities between the imagery of the cards of the Sacred Rose
Tarot and those of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, which presents a
temptation to consider the SRT to be another RWS “Clone.” But it definitely is
not that, since many of the cards are strikingly different from the corresponding
RWS cards. And more importantly, even for those that are similar, this book
reveals their distinctive identity and insights. For example, after discussing the
Aces through Sevens, and before moving on to the Eights, Sherman provides
“In the next series of cards, Eight through Ten, we hope to realize the mundane
as divine, the ever-present influence of spirituality expressed through our
everyday lives. No longer are we to look upon life’s drudgeries as punishment,
but as opportunity.”
The basic format of Guide to the Sacred Rose Tarot is that of a series of
lessons. It opens with several introductory lessons, which, on the whole, are
valuable, especially (but not exclusively) for the beginning student of the Tarot
specifically, and of divination in general. Included are a nice, albeit brief,
introduction to symbolism in general, a discussion of the specific symbolism of
the four roses (red, white, blue, and gold) that correspond to the four suits of
this deck, an interesting analogy comparing the Grail Quest to using the Tarot,
and a short introduction to the topic of Tarot and Magic(k).
Although I may not completely agree with everything in these lessons (frankly, I
don’t agree with everything that anyone writes), they always took me on an
interesting thought-journey, either showing me fascinating new conceptual vistas
or providing me with novel perspectives of familiar esoteric terrain. And so they
are there for the reader to pick and choose from so that he or she may discover
what makes sense to, and works for, him or her.
Next there are in-depth discussions of the cards themselves. The explanations
of the Major Arcana cards include details about the meanings of each card as
well as of the symbolism therein. There is also a statement or a short paragraph
designed to help the reader do meditative work with each of the cards. And of
course there are divinatory meanings, for which Sherman provides both
“Positive Aspects” and “Negative Aspects.” I found this to be a nice switch from
the “upright” and “reversed” labels typically used in Tarot books.
Sherman explains (on page 39), “... the cards need not be read upside down or
reversed to imply a negative aspect. This can be psychically perceived by the
reader,” and she goes on to note a way to do that. I like the fact that both
positive and negative aspects of the cards are presented as being part of their
natural range of meaning, for there really are no “good” cards or “bad” cards.
While Sherman prefers not to use reversed cards per se in her readings, the
option is implicitly left up to the reader to use the “Positive Aspects” for upright
cards and the “Negative Aspects” for reversed cards.
Another nice innovation in this section of the book is the inclusion of
explanations along the way of how each of the Major Arcana cards fits into the
flow of the Fool’s spiritual journey of self-discovery. This is a wonderful way to
weave the independent threads of the Major Arcana into a coherent tapestry.
This narration of the Fool’s Journey begins with a notable comment on page 55
regarding the first five cards of the Major Arcana:
“The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, and the Emperor
are ... fundamental prototypes of Child (The Fool), Suitor/Bachelor (The
Magician), Virgin/Maiden (The High Priestess), Mother (The Empress), and
Father (The Emperor). They are the spiritual family.”
I would add that they are the members of an archetypal family as well.
Perhaps some of the best parts of Sherman’s book are not the answers she
reveals, but the questions she raises. Through the frequent use of engaging
comments and questions, she encourages the reader to think about and
consider the meanings of the cards beyond the obvious interpretations. A few
notable examples are:
* In the section on the Lovers Card, there is an interesting discussion of the
mythology of Eve and Lilith, and how this relates to the Lovers Card.
* There is a discussion of numerological considerations of the Major Arcana
cards (see pages 70 -- 71), which leads the reader to questions like, “What does
Self-Imposed Bondage or the Devil card have to do with Choices/The Lovers?”
(Numerologically, the Devil, 15, reduces to 6, the Lovers.)
* Her discussion of Judas as a mythic analogy for the Hanged Man casts a
provocative light on this card’s meaning.
* The attribution of the term “Renewal” to the Aces expands our concept of those
cards when we ponder it for a while.
* I found the association of Karma with the lessons of the Sevens an interesting
addition to my understanding of those four cards.
* Sherman presents a different perspective on her Court Cards than I am used
to, but it is interesting and thought provoking. However, I would have liked a little
more explanation of her philosophy on this particular topic.
This book concludes with a few short chapters that cover miscellaneous topics
about reading Tarot cards. These include an exercise in psychic development
and a chapter presenting various spreads, a couple of which were new to me --
and I have seen quite a few spreads!
While there were a few places in this book where I was left wanting more detailed
explanations, generally Johanna Sherman’s somewhat spare writing style
effectively engages us in contemplation of the meanings of her cards. Thus this
book fulfills the two most essential obligations of a book about a particular deck.
It reveals the original intent of the deck creator, and it then impels the reader to
travel his or her own journey of discovery within the fertile landscape of the
Overall, then, this book provides a valuable guide to the understanding of the
powerful images of the cards of the Sacred Rose Tarot, and I recommend it to
anyone who uses, or wants to use, this deck. And finally, in case you are like me
and have always wondered why the faces of the figures in the SRT deck have
such unusual eyes -- with no pupils or irises -- the answer to this too is in this
book. (See page 38.)
Guide to the Sacred Rose Tarot (ISBN 1-57281-218-4) is published by U.S.
Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT.
|This review and all contents of this website (c) James Ricklef.
Guide to the Sacred Tarot by Johanna Sherman
James Ricklef -- Tarot Book Reviews