Messages from the Archetypes
A Guidebook for Personal and Professional Use
review by Bonnie Cehovet, TM

Meta Arts Magazine

This book begins with the cover: it is very elegant in its simplicity. Look again - what seems like a simple presentation is actually a very complex one. The male and female figures stand for the archetypes that we can understand. Now ... look at the whirling energy behind their heads. For me, this represents ancient knowledge, universal, archetypal knowledge. Out of this energy is where these figures came from. They are standing, facing each other, with a globe suspended in mid-air between them. Male and female energies reinforcing each other, both part of one "whole" being.

Look at the colors of their robes - the fiery red robe of the male, with a hieroglyph of the Sun at his feet; the calm blue robe of the female, with a hieroglyph of the Moon at her feet, indicating her intuitive abilities. Look at their crowns - the gold crown of the male (gold representing spirituality and the Sun), the silver crown of the female (silver representing intuition and the Moon). Look at the hand positions - clearly acting as channels to bring energy from the heavens to the earth, and back to the heavens. If all of this is on the cover, what do we think we might actually find inside this book!

To understand the depth of this book, look to the background of the author. Gilbert is a Certified Holistic Nurse and Transpersonal Counselor. She is certified in Interactive Imagery™, and works with dreams and dream symbols, amongst other things. A Tarot session with her is meant to be an interactive healing experience - a wellness counseling session - not the cards telling you what you "should" do, or what "will" happen.

In her introduction, Gilbert tells us that the Tarot really came to life for her during a time of personal transformation (read mid-life crises, read stress!). Here she found the insights to gain control over her emotions and her life. In the beginning of the book, she shares with us a poem that she wrote entitled "That I Am". In this poem is the essence of this book - so much so that each stanza has been used as a chapter header. I was impressed with the poem, and delighted to see it used in this unique manner. What an inspiration! (Filing this one away for future reference!)

The heart of this book is its storyline, and the flow of life experiences that epitomize the learning.  We start out in Breitenbush, an alternative community in the Oregon mountains. She was participating in one of their annual retreats, not knowing what to expect but enjoying the experience. She was offering Tarot counseling sessions in the upper level of a small wooden cottage called the Vista House. She was seated on the floor, on bright cushions, with her client. Not exactly her style, but it felt comfortable, and it worked! And we get to be right there with her, as she unfolds both her client’s story and her story. There is no better way to get readers interested enough to keep reading, in my opinion!

From here we move on to showing how dream work, guided imagery and the Tarot can work well together. (Dream Work I feel is just now opening up in the Tarot field. It is a valuable tool, and works well with what Tarot pioneer Mary K. Greer calls the "dialoguing technique", where the reading is interactive, and based on the clients interpretation of the symbols on the cards. Guided imagery gives greater depth to the combination of Tarot and Dream Work.) There are two stories told in this chapter - one from ancient times:  a Biblical story about Daniel and his interpretation of one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams; and one from her own life, concerning an exchange of dreams and dream symbols via e-mail, with one person offering the other person what they saw in the symbols. Gilbert shares that she was not certain about using the medium of e-mail in this manner, as up to this point she had depended a great deal upon her client’s body language and facial expressions. What happened here was a true "Aha!" experience.

In discussing the history of Tarot, Gilbert refers to it as one of the oldest known methods of counseling. That will get the dander up for many Tarot historians, who hold the belief that Tarot began as a game, and that only recently have the Tarot Archetypes begun to be used in a counseling capacity. I think she is correct, that Tarot has been used in a counseling capacity for longer than we know. She also addresses the changing nature of the Tarot cards. This to me reflects the need for the imagery of the Tarot to be reflective of the times that it is used in, for the images to maintain relevance for the people using them. Before any written alphabets existed, the story of the people was retained in the pictures (hieroglyphics) they used in their lives, and in the form of oral storytelling. The Tarot acts as a gateway to this knowledge through its symbols and powerful capacity for story telling.

Those who believe that Tarot began as a game will also take umbrage at Gilbert's statement that Tarot is a manner in which people passed along their wisdom and philosophical beliefs. If we look at the pictures on the cards, the titles used, and the times that the cards are from, I think that we will find that they reflect t he politics and religion of their time (in other words, the culture of their time).

Using black and white scans from the Rider-Waite deck, Gilbert does a very credible job of presenting the Major Arcana, The Court Cards, and the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Here we also see Gilbert's wonderful feel for storytelling, as she turns the Hero's Journey of the Major Arcana into a personal journey, using a female Hero.

One of Gilbert's basic precepts is that to understand the Tarot, and use it as a counseling tool, we need to be able to see where the archetypal energy is working in our own lives. I had a very gut reaction to this - I agreed with her 100%! I have seen too many cases where someone giving a Tarot reading has no clue how their client is being affected by the information they are receiving, so they have no clue what tools to give this client to empower themselves. In fact, the readers are not even aware that they should be offering tools of empowerment! A great deal of damage can be done here, albeit unintentionally.

The story presented in the chapter on archetypal energy and healing is a powerful one. My thoughts on illness are along the lines of "dis-ease" - that the body is not at ease. In this very dynamic healing session, we see very clearly how aspects of the client’s life are affecting her health. This client was also ready to receive this information, and ready to take some action to bring a better balance into her life. For those of us that view the Tarot as a healing tool, I think we would like all of our counseling sessions to go like this! (I also think those who view Tarot as a healing art view their client interactions as counseling sessions, rather than as readings.)

In talking about how to begin reading with the Tarot, Gilbert advises the student to view the archetypes as "inner guides in your journey of self-discovery". We have to be able to identify them in our own lives, and know what their consequences can be, before we can adequately begin using them as a counseling tool. She also points out that these archetypal images are all around us - in our dreams, in our fantasies, and in the worlds of art, myth, literature and religion. And we all experience them from our own perspective. She also talks about choosing a personal deck, and how the imagery and personal presentation must be something that draws us to it, something that is meaningful. (Throughout this book, the images are from the Rider-Waite, Osho Zen and Voyager Tarot decks. The Osho Zen and Voyager are the two decks that she personally offers her clients a choice of.)

Gilbert talks about creating a Tarot journal, and about ways in which the cards can be used for self analysis. The first of the three spreads that she presents is the Daily Card Study (where the student notes their feelings about the cards, where in their bodies they feel the energy of the cards, what the card makes the student want to "do", and what their thoughts about the card are). A final note here is that the student is asked to note themselves as an observer in their own life. Quite empowering!

The second spread is a six card Daily Direction spread that acts as a self-portrait of the energies in the Seeker's life at the time of the reading. The position definitions here are very interesting: (1) Where I am, (2) What empowers me, (3) What I use, (4) Higher power, (5) What I seek, (6) What I create. 

The third spread presented is the ten card Celtic Cross, with the positions defined as: (1) Cover, (2) Crossing, (3) Foundation, (4) Recent past, (5) Higher Power, (6) Future, (7) Self, (8) Environment, (9) Advice, (10) outcome. There is an example of a client reading  here which goes a long way to showing the Tarot student the flow of a reading, and what can be done with the cards.

There are two things at the end of the chapter on reading the Tarot that all readers should pay attention to. They are: that the reader is there to help their clients access their own intuitive awareness; and that in the process of learning the Tarot, you need to search for a mentor that will bring the answers out in you, not one that feels they have all the answers. There is a very big distinction here! This chapter is also where Gilbert presents very basic meanings for the Tarot Major Arcana.

In the section on Tarot counseling, Gilbert talks about how she assesses possible clients, including what archetypes are being expressed in their body language, clothing, and voice intonation. Gilbert is trained in transpersonal counseling, but I think that these are things that any good reader can do, to some extent. Different types of personalities will react in different fashions to Tarot counseling. For instance, Gilbert defines what she terms the materialistic personality. These people look outward at the world, but are unable to recognize their own inner worlds. Explaining symbols can be difficult here (although she goes on to say that this type of counseling may be just what is needed  to bridge their conscious material worldview and their unconscious symbolic worldview). What I see here is that the counselor has the chance to identify people that may be difficult for them to work with, giving themselves the opportunity to not work with a client. The client also has the opportunity to opt not to work with them. 

Gilbert also talks about grounding and centering herself before a reading, which I also find important. She also suggests a form for note taking for the reader (to be filled in after the reading), and pen and paper so the client can write down their question. Writing down the question helps the client focus on what they want, and may well be something that I add to my practice. Also mentioned is taping the reading for the client, which is something that I have always done for my clients, as I value it when it is done for me.

The basic spread that Gilbert uses for transpersonal counseling is a four card spread called the Quantum Approach, which, if needed, may have an added fifth card for further information. The first card represents the Current Issue; the second card represents Conscious elements; the third card represents Unconscious elements; and the fourth card represents Possibilities. The fifth card, if drawn, is regarded as a Wild Card, which gives added information.

The second approach that Gilbert uses is the Linear Approach. This is quite interesting: the client goes through the cards, face up, making two piles: one with the cards that they like, the other with the cards that they don't like. They keep going through the pile t hat they do like, making two more piles, until there are only four or five cards left. These cards are then placed in the Quantum spread and read.

Through the use of case stories and personal exercises, Gilbert presents the Transpersonal Counseling manner of reading the Tarot. The stories allow the reader to see the action of the archetypes in real life situations, while doing the exercises places the energy squarely in their own lives.

In her counseling, Gilbert refers to two levels of development: the primitive personality, which operates from the lower levels of archetypal expression, and the refined personality, which operates from the higher levels of archetypal expression. I found the two levels of archetypal expression a unique way of reading the cards, and felt that the references to chakra energy were thought provoking. Since reversed cards are not recognized in this system, the depth within the archetypes still has a way of expressing itself.

Gilbert presents meanings for the expression of the upper and lower levels for each of the archetypes - including the court cards and the numbered cards. She also gifts us with a second version of the Fool's (Hero's) journey, this time as a progression of psychological development.

Gilbert includes Appendices with her thoughts on reversed cards, a unique "sound bite" on Tarot research taken from a doctoral thesis done by Dr. M.J.C. Culberson, a listing of resources and an extensive bibliography.

The work that Toni Gilbert does - beginning with her decision to go into Holistic Nursing, and continuing with her work with dreams, Interactive Imagery™, and the use of Tarot in counseling has placed her in the position of going against the mainstream in her profession. It takes courage to follow a path like this, and even more courage to be willing to share her wisdom.

Many exciting things have happened along this journey. Toni Gilbert now runs a certification program for Archetypal Tarot Counseling ™ for health professionals, which is the first program of its kind to receive the recognition of acceptance for Continuing Education Credits (CE's) for nurses. This is a major milestone! She also offers workshops in Interpretive Dream Work, and Inner Journeys (exploring the principles of dreamwork, guided imagery and shamanic journeying). More information is available on her personal site, She is also the founding editor of the Alternative Journal of Nursing (, a grassroots journal that acts as a network for holistic nurses.

I am impressed with this book, and with the combination of tools used in this form of counseling.  Toni also extends her classes to students/readers outside of the health profession, and a certificate of completion is offered to them. This is a powerful healing tool, and a wonderful expression of the Tarot.

© February 2005