Review: Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf

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I bought this when it came out in 2000 (yes, 11 years ago!), read the first part of it, and then it got put aside as I was in the middle of dealing with moving from San Francisco to London.  (Nothing like moving halfway around the world to throw your daily schedule right out the window!)  So, here I am, 11 years on, finally getting back to it!  (I really hate leaving things unfinished. There are only two books in my life I have not finished; neither of them Tarot books.)

Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf is still available through the publisher, Weiser Books, and also by special order from your favorite independent booksellers, such as Fields Book Store in San Francisco.

Banzhaf”s theories and interpretations go well with the established wisdom on the Hero’s Journey, found in works by authors such as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  What makes the book interesting is Banzhaf’s incorporation of references to works by authors which may not be familiar to the average English speaker. Many of the authors whose work he cites are, like Banzhaf, based in Europe and writing in languages other than English, so this book is valuable for the bibliography as well as the content. Some of the works listed are available in English, but many are not, so here is your chance to learn another language or two!

The other outstanding feature of this book is the number and quality of illustrations.  Banzhaf includes images from classic art that are not the usual ones used in many mainstream Tarot books.  Banzhaf has done his research (or someone on staff did!), and the images include works by Edvard Ille, Alexandre Seon, and Salvadore Dali, as well as a number of pieces from antiquity and museum pieces not commonly seen – for example, a floor mosaic of Hermes Trismegistus from the Cathedral of Sienna.

What separates Banzhaf’s approach from most Tarot writers is that he does not believe one has to spread the cards and read them in order to find meaning. He divides the Major Arcana into stages of the Hero’s Journey, assigning each a meaning and life situation.  His approach is to identify the life situation in which we find ourselves, and work with the card that represents that situation.  We can look to the immediately preceding card to see where we’ve come from, and to the following card to see where we are going.  Working with the archetypes of the Major Arcana figures, and the symbols and meanings contained in the cards, we can then have a deeper understanding of the task at hand and how to best address it to move forward.

To assist in this way of working with the cards, Banzhaf provides the Archetype, Task, Risk, Goal, and Feeling associated with each of the major cards. While not all of the items listed in the Feeling category are actual emotions – many of them are possible experiences or actions, rather than feelings – it’s an interesting way to assign values to the cards.

For example, the Feeling in Life listing for Justice includes “Harvesting what one has sown, treating others and being treated fairly, making intelligent decisions.”  All of these are actions, rather than feelings, but this may be due to the fact that German has many compound words that don’t translate exactly into English, and this was as close as the translator, Christine M. Grimm, felt she could get to the original meaning of the German word.

That small linguistic consideration aside, I found this book to be an interesting read, presenting many valuable ideas about interpreting the Major Arcana, and I would recommend it for any reader of moderate or advanced experience who is looking for a new perspective on the cards.

 

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