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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

REVIEW: Tarot Triumphs by Cherry Gilchrist


Tarot Triumphs:
Using the Marseilles Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration
Weiser Books

TOP LINE (formerly Bottom Line)

In case we had any doubts about the value of Tarot Triumphs, we are given two pages of praise in the front of the book from such Tarot notables as Caitlin Matthews, Robert M. Place, and Thalassa, among others. Their observations are spot on. I completely agree with Place’s assessment that Tarot Triumphs is an excellent choice for beginners wishing to use the Tarot of Marseilles and for experienced readers as well. I fall into both of those categories in a way, being an experienced reader in general but having almost no experience with Marseille-style decks.

Early on, Cherry Gilchrist tells us that the book “is mainly about Tarot divination: that is to say, using the Tarot Trumps as a means to gain access to knowledge that is normally beyond our conscious grasp.” She succeeds in delivering exactly that, page after page, while focusing very specifically on the Marseilles Tarot, in her case, the Grimaud deck (republished by J.-M. Simon France-Cartes in 1969).

Not only did I learn things about the Marseilles deck from this book (which one might expect, since I had never studied them), I also learned new approaches and information about the Tarot and Tarot reading in general.

I particularly liked Gilchrist’s section on the simplified version of the Celtic Cross Tarot layout. She reduced the number of cards from 11 to 7 because it made less of a “leap” for the reader of this book to go from 3 cards to 7 cards, and because she feels the shorter version works better when using only the Tarot Trumps, which is Gilchrist’s preference.

As someone who is intimidated by the 11-card Celtic Cross, I confess I come close to being mind-boggled by the 22-card Fool’s Mirror spread. Gilchrist does a great job of explaining and giving examples of how to use the spread, and I may yet attempt it.

Although I disagree with some of Gilchrist’s views (for example, that Tarot is not suitable for self-analysis or prediction for oneself), I appreciate her sharing those views and challenging my perceptions.

To those of us who shy away from prediction with Tarot, she simply says, “If you are drawn to Tarot, or indeed any form of divination practice, you already accept the idea of looking ahead.” Good point.

Her advice to readers is sound (for example, “Try not to worry about the reading later, and wonder whether you said ‘the right thing.’”)

I do think that an Index would have been a great idea for this book, making it even more useful as a reference book. Also, I had the feeling while going through the book that quite a few things were repeated, but I realize that repetition is a useful tool that can help people retain a message.


Focusing on the major arcana, or trumps, of the Marseilles Tarot, the aim of this book is to encourage the reader to experience the tarot in a direct, fresh, and uncluttered way.

This exploration of the major arcana includes “The Fool’s Mirror,” a new method for laying the cards out, as well as hints for using the tarot to gain deeper levels of awareness. Cherry Gilchrist offers ways to approach each card, absorb it, and understand its essence. Readers are encouraged to relate this essence to personal experience as the most enduring and rewarding way to prepare for reading the cards.


Cherry Gilchrist wanted to be a writer from the age of four. While still at school, her work was published in a variety of places, ranging from teen magazines to the prestigious 'Poetry Review'. After graduating from the University of Cambridge, diversity continued: she worked in publishing and at running a vintage clothes shop, while practising as an astrologer and bringing up two small children. She then settled down to authorship in the field of creative non-fiction, and has published steadily ever since. Her themes cover alchemy, inner traditions, family history, mythology, life stories, social history and Russian culture. Over the years, she has also become established as a lecturer and tutor, and currently teaches creative writing for the Universities of Oxford and Exeter. Cherry loves travel, especially countries with rich cultural traditions; she has visited Russia many times, plus Easter Island, Burma and Uzbekistan. Every journey is an excuse for a book: see 'Stories from the Silk Road' and 'The Soul of Russia'. Cherry is married to artist Robert Lee-Wade, and they live in Exeter, Devon UK.

“A Tarot master is, I suggest, someone who acts either as your first true point of contact with Tarot or as a teacher of Tarot at any given moment along the way. Maybe the person is an expert, maybe not.”
“… divination is not necessarily the perception of a fixed future. The diviner should give the person somewhere further to go; the aim is that by seeing the situation more clearly, choices also become more apparent…”
“Divination is linked to time. We ask a question at a particular moment in time, and the answer that comes emerges from that moment.” 
“The way we perceive the Tarot is…a mix of personal response and an understanding of its cultural and mythical content. So overall, Tarot reading offers a chance to practice a balance of intuition and learned information.”
“A woolly approach to divination is likely to produce a vague answer.”


This 295-page quality paperback book features a sturdy multi-color cover designed by Jim Warner, with interior black-and-white illustrations by Robert Lee-Wade. The text is easy to read and separated frequently by heads and subheads to further ease in reading and digesting the information (kudos to Maureen Forys of Happenstance Type-O-Rama for the interior layout). The book measures 9 by 6 inches and is 1 inch thick.


  • Introduction
  • Enter the Triumphs
  • The Tarot as a Method of Divination
  • Taking On the Tarot
  • The Wandering Fortune-Teller
  • Becoming the Diviner – Grasping the Fool’s Mirror
  • A Search for Order and Meaning in the Fool’s Mirror
  • The Fool’s Mirror Layout
  • Managing the Reading
  • The Fool Leads Us Further
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Glossary


Cherry Gilchrist begins Tarot Triumphs by asking us to imagine “The Pageant of the Trumps,” a triumphal procession like those that were popular in 15th century Italy, around the time that many believe the Tarot was born. Gilchrist also notes: “There’s no attempt on my part to say that the Tarot set as we know it is derived from a ‘lost’ triumphal procession. . . but. . . it may be a link to how Tarot itself was first conceived.”

Gilchrist uses the terms “Triumphs” and “Trumps” interchangeably throughout the book when referring to the 22 cards of the Tarot Major Arcana, noting that the words are linked linguistically: “the Italian word trionfi translates into “triumphs” and “trumps” in English.” Although the terms have acquired different meanings over time, Gilchrist combines them, also pointing out that “triumph” is something that Tarot is and does. . . “It triumphs through its powerful images, its persistent survival through the centuries, and its capacity to instruct and illuminate those who study it.”

The nine chapters in this book provide a comprehensive account that takes us from studying the history of and symbolism in the individual Major Arcana cards (Marseilles-style) to reading the cards in small layouts, to larger layouts, with references to “Preparing for Your First Reading,” “Whom to Read For,” working space, rituals, and “Ending the Reading.” Gilchrist also addresses the idea of whether we tap into our own unconscious when we read intuitively, or whether we are actually tapping into a greater form of consciousness – a “basin of mind” or “common mind” or “the mind of mankind.”

The chapters that focus on The Fool’s Mirror contain a wealth of information that is helpful to readers no matter what type of reading or layout they choose. Gilchrist learned about The Fool’s Mirror from one of her Tarot teachers. She tells us: “The Fool’s Mirror is a symbol of divination, a means of capturing the impressions that we hope to interpret.”

The book also includes information on Gilchrist’s personal history with divination in general and the Tarot specifically, her first two decks being the Marseilles and The Rider-Waite-Smith. She shares with us her views on commonly discussed Tarot issues such as
third-party readings, storing the cards, reversals, reading for oneself, dummy readings, accepting payment for readings, and prediction.

Throughout the book, Gilchrist documents her sources and elaborates on comments using numbers that correspond to a “Notes” section at the back of the book. The Glossary following the Notes is an extremely useful aid to further understanding the history of the cards along with various terms that are frequently used.

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, I hereby disclose that this product was provided by the publisher for free. Other than the occasional review copy, I receive no monetary or in-kind compensation for my reviews.  The substance of my reviews is not influenced by whether I do or do not receive a review copy.

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