Book Review: Tarot. Talisman Or Taboo? Reading the World as Symbol.


Mark Patrick Hederman

Currach Press: 2003. ISBN 1-85 607-902-3

The title says it all, and drew me like a magnet. Having been brought up ‘a good convent girl’, to hear a discussion between a radio presenter and a monk from Glenstal Abbey about his recently published book on the Tarot, was to be drawn towards the mysterious. I was drawn towards what in the past had been forbidden, dabbling in superstition. I bought the book to read on holiday and was not disappointed.

The purpose of Mark Patrick Hederman’s book, written within a deeply rooted Christian perspective, is to show how the Tarot can be used as a way of becoming meditatively self-present. He plays out the belief that the accessing of our unconscious is our root to healing and wholeness. He states, “The unconscious harbours a blueprint for our wholeness, it contains a map of how we should and could reach completion” (p.93).

As therapists, we know, both for ourselves and for our clients, the need to be connected to the unconscious. We use signs and symbols, relaxation and meditation, art therapy and sandplay as a means by which we get in touch with our innermost selves. Hederman states, “Symbolism is the only means of allowing thought and imagination to keep up, to keep abreast of what the heart and the will are imposing on the whole person” (p165). He believes that meditation, using the major arcane of the Tarot is another way by which we can touch in to those internal difficult-to-access places.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first section addresses the question of why one would write about the Tarot. It goes on to explore the history of the Tarot and reveals that it was first and foremost a conventional card game, much like Bridge, that dates back at least to the fifteenth century. It was not until the sixteenth century that it became associated with the occult. There is a fascinating chapter on William Butler Yeats. Hederman recognises this poet as a man whose perspective of the universe was expressed in symbols, which at times were inaccessible to the world at large. Yeats’ search for a belief system that would satisfy his thirst for ‘something more’ led him to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A further chapter discusses, among other things, the C.G. Jung principle of ‘synchronicity’, how we notice connections and how we use symbols in our lives.

The middle section of the book is a series of meditations on the major arcane of the Tarot. It issues an invitation to view our own lives through this medium. Hederman states earlier in the book, that it is his firmly held belief that the Tarot is not intrinsically evil but consists of “very beautiful and inspiring images that can be used as provocative and helpful spring-boards to meditation”(p.35).

The final section of the book might be seen as the ‘genesis’ of this book. Hederman addresses world events, for instance the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the sinking of the Titanic as symbolic events in the world and as ‘signs of the times’, not merely events that affect the people for whom they represent personal tragedy.

I hope you will read this book. As you may have gathered I feel it has significance in terms of reading our lives and world through a different type of lens.

Kath Mulligan BA, MIAHIP, is a psychotherapist and offers supervision on the northside of Dublin.