“Re-Symbolization of the Self” Book Review

“The art of interpreting Tarot images requires a developed intuition in conjunction with analytic thinking.” p. 145

Re-Symbolization of the Self — Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic
by Inna Semetsky
2011 Sense Publishers, Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei

This was the year I discovered Inna Semetsky and fell in love with her mind and soul. My #1 pick for Tarot reading in 2011 is her latest book Re-Symbolization of the Self — Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic.

In my own mind and heart, I have felt the urgency of developing a scholarly approach to explaining the psychological workings behind Tarot as a phenomena and powerful tool for growth. Semetsky has far exceeded my abilities and I am thrilled to see her dedication to the in-depth research, writing, and promotion of the science and validity of Tarot cards and reading.

Re-Symbolization of the Self explores the relationship between outer images, in this case Tarot cards, and inner psycho-spiritual processes. Drawing from the insight and teaching of writers, such as Carl G. Jung’s transcendent function, Semetsky captures the dreaming process in many of it’s aspects to reveal what really goes on between object and subject in the creation of meaning.

Semetsky’s research touches upon the works of Plato, Plotinus, Giordano Bruno, Valentin Tomberg, Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Peotr Ouspensky, David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, Nel Noddings, Ervin Lazlo, Erich Jantsch, Robert Romanyshyn, Gilles Deleuze , Mary Greer, Emily Auger and Robert Place, among others.

Excerpts from Chapter 1 “WHY THIS BOOK?”:

“This book originated as an action-research project conducted between 1992 and 1994 under the auspices of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences when I was a postgraduate student enrolled in the Masters of Arts degree program in the area of Marriage, Family and Child Counseling and Human Development at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. Unbeknown to me at the time, my study was to be a type of research analogous to what Jungian scholar Robert Romanyshyn will have called more than a decade later “research with soul in mind” (Romanyshyn, 2007). Yet back then in 1992 I was not only ten years away from the subject matter of my future doctorate in the area of philosophy of education and cultural studies, but also quite undecided on the topic of my Masters thesis that was eventually to be called Introduction of Tarot readings into clinical psychotherapy: a naturalistic inquiry.

“In the area of human development, which is the focus of this book, the rigid boundaries between those apparently separate, in the contemporary context, disciplines of education and therapy become blurred: both are oriented to creating meanings for our experience that includes the realm of the yet unknown and unconscious.

“Furthermore, you will discover that Tarot hermeneutic paves a road toward such expanded self-knowledge and that using Tarot symbolic system as an educational and counseling “aid” enables us to learn from life-experiences hence becoming able to acquire intelligence and wisdom…”

Major concepts and studies Semetsky draws upon within this well researched and referenced publication:

Bricolage – French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss created this phrase “to identify spontaneous human action grounded in the characteristic patterns of mythological thinking and in the context of structuralism defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity.” (p. 11) Merriam-Webster simplifies this definition to “construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand.” Semetsky draws an analogy when she states “A bricoleur — a genuine Tarot reader — makes creative and resourceful use of the ‘material at hand’ that is, the images and symbols on Tarot pictures.” (p. 11)

Hermaneutics – according to Merriam-Webster is “a method or principle of interpretation.” In Chapter 2 “MYTHS AND REALITY” Semetsky offers an overview of “cultural memory traces left in history by ancient Hermetic tradition and revived during the Renaissance.” (p. 23)

 — Six Hermetic Qualities (p. 29-31):
1. The “relational world view” of interdependence, analogy or correspondences between phenomena.
2. “Imagination and meditation” utilizing symbols and images to discover deeper meanings, and relationship to experiences. “Developing a creative or active imagination becomes a soul’s inner means for achieving spiritual Gnosis which exceeds the factual knowledge obtained by modernity’s ‘scientific method’, leaving no room for imagination. In Jung’s psychology, it is the method of active imagination and dream work that can reach the depths of the unconscious at the level of psyche or soul.”
3. “Transmutation” is an inner alchemy concept used metaphorically to represent human spiritual development, as with Jung’s concept of individuation of the Self.
4. Semetsky connects the hermetic concepts of “concordance and tolerance” with Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a place where we transcend language, cultural, and belief system barriers to connect with inter-communication and mutual understanding.
5. Having a “specific pedagogy” – a study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction. (Wikipedia) “Tarot functions as the method and as the knowledge obtained by this very method; and the knowing of Self is praxis and theoria at once.”
6. “The natural world is not reduced to ‘dead matter’ but is alive.” Tarot helps to remove the veil of the invisible realm of life much like The World card expresses the quintessence of including this fifth element.

Transcendent Function – “The collective unconscious encompasses future possibilities, and the pictures arranged in a certain pattern in a Tarot layout, analogous to the archetypal images that appear in dreams, perform a synthesizing symbolic, transcendent, function ‘seeking to characterize a definite goal with the help of the material at hand, or trace out a line of future psychological development.’ (Jung CW 6, 720): Jung’s transcendent function by definition bridges — transcends — the gap between past and future; both coexist in the present, in the hermeneutics of the here-and-now.” (p. 55)

Virtual Field of Becoming – Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy suggests the virtual field of becoming “is as real as the actual plane of manifested phenomena, and an object of experience is considered to be exist only if its tendency to exist in its virtual, potential form.” (p. 61) Semetsky postulates this virtual field to include Jung’s archetype of the Shadow.

Transcendental Empiricism – “…functions on the basis of what Deleuze called the transversal communication that establishes an intuitive access to the virtual reality of the archetypes akin to Jung’s transcendent function enabled by a synchronistic connection of opposites. The prefix ‘trans’ is significant: the unconscious dimension is transcended by means of an indirect, transversal, link of a symbolic mediation via the archetypal images, thus establishing ‘the bond of a profound complicity between [unconscious] nature and [conscious] mind’ (Deleuze, 1994, p. 165) leading to the conjunction and unification of opposites, the mystical coincidentia oppositorum, which determines the very threshold of consciousness.’ p. 63

Projective Hypothesis – in simple Tarot terms, is a layout or a spread of the cards. “’the projective hypothesis holds that an individual supplies structure to unstructured stimuli in a manner consistent with the individual’s own unique pattern of conscious and unconscious needs, fears, desires, conflicts, and ways of perceiving and responding’ (Cohen et al, 1992, p. 441). Thus a projective technique that externalizes a person’s unique experience is inseparable from her life-world.” p. 73

Chapter 4 “HUMAN EXPERIENCE AND TAROT SYMBOLISM” explores the “Hero’s Journey” with Jungian sensitivity to the allegory of each archetype of the Major Arcana.

Chapter 8 “STORIES LIVES TELL” includes 15 case studies with visuals of the Tarot cards laid out for each Celtic Cross spread along and the formulated feedback received from the individual participants in Semetsky’s study.

All quotes are by Inna Semetsky from this book and I thank her for extending her gracious permission.

To read more about Inna Semetsky or to schedule a reading with her, please visit her website: Inna’s Sense

© 2009-2017 Katrina Wynne, all rights reserved. Nothing herein may be copied, reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in any media format without express written permission of the author.

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  1. […] Inna Semetsky writes about the power of Tarot Hermeneutic in the therapeutic relationship as a tool for education and human development (see my review of her book Re-Symbolization of the Self (2011)). […]



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