Tarot and the Journey of the Hero By Hajo Banzhaf Reviewed by Geraldine Amaral
If you like archetypal Tarot that explores the universal energies operating in the Tarot images, then you will probably love this book. Loaded with beautiful color pictures and images, it is well-organized, clearly written, logical. Its premise is that the hero's journey is an allegory for our human life path and that in the Tarot, the hero is the Fool. There is a chapter for each Major Arcana card that contains two key elements. The first is a detailed description and discussion of the card that is nicely filled with little tidbits of information on specific details of the card as well as, at times, some pretty deep discussion about the details and imagery. The second section, at the end of each chapter is a box that contains keywords for each Major card)." These are pithy little summaries of various aspect of the archetype. For example, keywords for the Fool are:
Archetype: The child, the naïve simpleton Task: Trying out new things without any bias, playful learning Goal: Joy in life, playfully gathering experience Risk: Awkwardness, confusion, carelessness, foolishness Feeling in Life: adventurous, curiosity, sure instincts, astonished openness, carefree joy, curiosity, the desire to try things out.
Personally, I love this little summation. These keywords are excellent guideposts for understanding the essence of the archetypes and taking their meaning to a deeper level. These are clear, short synonyms for the archetype. I particularly like the "risk" concept that is provided along with the regular archetypal meaning. I liken the risk that Banzhaf provides to the negative pole of the archetype and/or the meaning of the card should it appear in a reading reversed. When I am teaching my classes on the Tarot, I spend a lot of time explaining that an archetype has both a positive and negative pole. In this convenient summary box, we have a quick reference for understanding, at the very least, the basics of this positive pole (the archetype) and the negative pole (the risk). One of my favorites of these is the "risk" for the magician: "megalomania, fantasies of omnipotence, charlatanry." This is very clear and well-done.
There is also a very good foldout page (in color) that delineates the "journey of the hero" with the Fool, of course as the hero, starting out on his journey. Banzhaf divides the journey into three main components: childhood (gradual development of consciousness); maturation (developing the ego and overcoming the ego); and Initiation(experience of self of self-development). Specific components of the journey are the various Major Arcana archetypes, some of which, for Banzhaf, include the "helpful animal (Strength), the departure (The Chariot), the earthly parents (Empress and Emperor), one's true name (the Hermit)" and so on. These are really well done. This foldout chart, his terminology of the path, though I've seen similar ideas, allows for a nice "Big Picture" view of the Tarot's Major Arcana. This is our journey and we are reminded of the common bond of the experiences and patterns that we all share. To see our personal story, portrayed in its various developmental phases is validating, inspiring, and even healing. Banzhaf's overview is beautifully and clearly done.
I also really like how Banzhaf reveals details about specific symbols, without getting bogged down or using explanations that are so esoteric and abstract you fell like saying "what did you just say?" Banzhaf uses down-to-earth and concrete explanations. For example, regarding the Chariot, he says:
"The crown of the charioteer is adorned with an octagonal star that--like the number eight-symbolizes the connection with higher things. On the other hand, the square on his chest-corresponding with the number four-represent earthly reality." He provides an explanation of the symbolic hand gesture of the Heirophant, saying that the "extended fingers stand for the visible world . . .while the two bent fingers represent the invisible (what is concealed and the transcendent." There are many more fine examples of clear explanation of specific details on the cards: the pomegranate on the Empress garment, the Venus sign on her throne, an explanation of the Emperor's ankh and many more. I suppose someone versed in Tarot should know all these, but I personally found many of these little details, as explained by Banzhaf, quite enlightening and answered questions and concerns that I had had for some time about various details on the cards.
I was also very impressed with the meanings and insights Banzhaf demonstrated such as the connection between Justice and the Emperor or the Empress and the Lovers. Such insights are very thought-provoking and more than once during the course of reading this book, I thought "Whoa, now that's really brilliant. I NEVER saw that connection before."
Certainly the concise archetypal summaries will appeal to beginning students of the Tarot since it is so pithy and clear. Tarot and the Journey of the Hero will appeal to Jungian Tarot enthusiasts for its focus on the archetypal energetic patterns. And because it is so well-researched, with references to art, mythology, legends, Christianity and more, it can really be for serious students of the Tarot who like to hear the same ideas in a fresh and clear way as well as some astonishing insights. For those who do want to travel deeper into the archetype of each card, who want to be given lots of new perspectives, wonderful insights, I can't recommend this book enough. I personally found it to be very nurturing, especially the chapter on the Hermit, learning "One's True Name." Bottom line: I am very glad I have this book in my Tarot collection.