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Sacred Rose Tarot Guide

SRT deck and bookGuide to the Sacred Rose Tarot
by Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman
Book review © 2001 James Ricklef

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.

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 this comment:

“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 cards’ meanings.

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 is published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT.

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