Book Review: Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility by Arthur Rosengarten, PhD

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The number of books on Tarot versus the number of books on Astrology is like the difference between silver and gold prices.  Gold is currently selling at sixty-six times the value of silver.  In truth, the gap is much wider when comparing books. While the production of decks has exploded since the 1980s, books about Tarot remain few and far between, which, paradoxically, makes it easier to find the best examples and write about them.  This article will review a must-have book for any serious student of Tarot or practicing professional.

About the Author

Arthur Rosengarten is a licensed clinical psychologist, professional Tarot reader, and teacher with twenty-five years of experience in both disciplines.  Currently, in private practice, he teaches the Tarot Circle and leads continuing education workshops on Symbols and Synchronicity for Psychologists and other helping professionals throughout California. (book back cover)

And from his website:

I have been meditating for over 50 years, and no, I’m not enlightened. But that is not the point.  As a psychologist I believe meditation is the single most beneficial tool for centering the mind, relaxing deeply into one’s experience as it is, whether agitated or calm, and generating greater psychological spaciousness. This allows us to observe the thoughts and feelings that disrupt our momentary reality, to note them simply as “thought” or “feeling,” (minus their content) and then disengage immediately from the snowballing of mental chatter which actually is the source of our anxieties and depressions. Instead, we learn to refocus instantly onto the next mind-moment of breathing, and continue tracking each breath.  We do it not so much to feel good as to break the cycle of toxic self-generated mentalizing. Meditation offers a simple technology to short-circuit the causes of unnecessary suffering. And we also feel better because of it.

About the Book

Published in 2000, the book delves into the intersection of tarot cards and Dr. Rosengarten’s work as a practicing psychologist.  In his introduction, he states, “tarot operates on many levels of profound meaning from a purely non-affiliated platform in the truest sense.  Tarot makes accessible to awareness a full spectrum of psychological and spiritual possibility with little preference for its user’s qualifications or beliefs” (5)

The book is 293 pages long including a List of Charts and Illustrations, Acknowledgements, the Preface, Foreword by Lon Milo DuQuette, Foreword by James A. Hall, and an Introduction before Part One.  There three Parts: One (The Tarot of Psychology), Two (The Psychology of Tarot), and Three (Empirical Studies).  The book concludes with Appendix A (Minor Arcana and Major Arcana), Appendix B (Composite Tarot Voices), a Bibliography, and an Index.  It is an excellent, but very readable scholarly work.

There are thirteen chapters:

  1. The Deck of Possibility
  2. Healing Contexts: Three Vignettes
  3. The Tarot Method
  4. Tarot and Systems of Psychotherapy
  5. Symbolic Dimensions
  6. The Laws of Opposition
  7. Universality
  8. The Fool’s Journey
  9. Synchronicity
  10. The Tarot Research Project
  11. Case Study: The Hermit Reversed
  12. Case Study: The Lady of the Knight
  13. When Psychology Meets Tarot

In one of the three vignettes, a couple works with Dr. Rosengarten, agreeing to try a tarot reading to address their concerns about their relationship and getting married.  He writes:

Unceremoniously, we prepared the cards together and I then asked, somewhat rhetorically, if a question had been formulated for the reading.  Their answer was quick and to the point: “Should we get married?!” exclaimed Julie, of course, but with slight trepidation detected in her voice.  At this point, there was little else that matter to them.  This familiar and exceptional circumstance – being at the end of one’s rope – as all diviners know, often marks the perfect station from which to embark upon a Tarot reading.  An intervention outside of one’s conscious control is thus called for [emphasis mine]. (35)

Dr. Rosengarten found the Tarot cards to be and act as an external object that compelled him and his patients to engage “through” the cards and not just in dialogue back and forth.  He points out how helpful a tool the cards were, especially when dealing with his schizophrenic patients.

Further, in the Chapter, Tarot, and Systems of Psychotherapy, he states, “in practice, Tarot is easily adaptable because it is inherently neutral and doctrinally foundationless; it carries no particular allegiance to any system of belief which posits an exclusive claim on truth or reality” (65).  While numerous decks use belief systems to reflect the meanings of the cards, none are the “true Tarot”.  You can get Zen, Egyptian, Angelic (Christian), Celtic, and any other cultural/religion/philosophy deck.  What makes the Tarot neutral is the use of archetypes that cut through and across all belief systems.

Amazon Reviews

This book has a 4.5-star rating from 74 reviews (at the time this article was written), here are two:

This is an excellent resource if you’re considering the addition of Tarot in your mental health practices. However, it is a bit technical. This book was written for psychology and counseling professionals. Professional Tarot readers and consultants can also benefit from reading this book. If you do not have a counseling background, I suggest you read this book thoroughly prior to initiating any of its’ concepts. Also, you might start with Transformative Tarot Counseling before reading this book. (Amazon Verified Customer)

What a fascinating concept…traditional psychology applied to Tarot. The Jungian archetypes depicted in Tarot are well-known, but what about the psychological interpretation of other cards? Or the connections with I-Ching, the Cube of Space and human philosophy? It’s all here, albeit bathed in a wash of numbers, tables, and other empirical paraphernalia, but that’s how psychologists look at phenomenon and it’s an interesting ride to go on if you (like me) came to the Tarot from a purely experiential and empathetic way. If you are a categories person (like me) you will appreciate the order here and it will add to your intellectual understanding of the tarot as a system, if not enhance your kinesthetic feelings about each card. Recommended as a purely intellectual exercise! (Adam M)

I do recommend this book.  As a professional reader since 1992, this book helped me make a huge leap forward in my practice when I bought my copy in 2005.  If you want to take a deep dive into your own cards or consider reading for others, then this is a must-have book in your tarot library.

Philip Young, PhD

I am a spiritual adviser located in Cary, North Carolina. I earned my PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1996 and had a career in academics until 2007, when I retired to become a stay-at-home father. In 2013 I “hung out my shingle” starting my business Black Unykorn Enterprises, LLC. I provide spiritual guidance using different tools: astrology, tarot/oracle cards, numerology, and past life regression (using muscle testing). With a home office, Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp, I work with local clients in person and distance clients from around the world. You can read about my practice and contact me through my website: https://www.blackunykorn.com. Philip Young, PhD Website