In this book, long-time astrologer and tarot scholar John Sandbach demonstrates that tarot is deeply interconnected with, and a gateway to, related metaphysical arts, including numerology, astrology, and the Kabbalah.
Sandbach has been studying and practicing in all of these realms for over 50 years. One of his major contributions began forty years ago when he channeled the Chandra symbols, a set of images for each of the 360 degrees of the zodiacal wheel that are used by some divinatory astrologers. This new book Soul Journey Through the Tarot reads like a synthesis of his life’s work.
He begins with an obvious question: what is tarot? There’s no single, best definition. Tarot, Sandbach writes, is “an arrangement of archetypes and the embodiment of sacred knowledge… a complete system,” with “an infinite amount of information that can be harvested from studying the cards—literally too much to ever be taken in by one person, or even a group of people.”
Organizing a great deal of this “too much” information is what Sandbach sets out to do. His is an accessible, albeit exhaustive approach. This is a complex book one may want to use as a reference manual.
He begins with what is most commonly known about tarot cards, that they are divided into two categories, the major and minor arcana. For many of the major arcana cards, Sandbach departs from traditional names. For example, he has changed the name of the Judgment card to “Awakening” so as to get away from Christian dogma. He uses a number system of 1 to 22 and also 0 to 21. The Fool card is placed at either 0 or 22 as the Fool’s themes can come at either end of the major arcana journey.
Sandbach also uses a different system of elemental rulerships, one he derived from the system proposed by astrologer and occultist C. C. Zain. In Zain’s system, coins are ruled not by earth but by the air element because money involves social exchange; swords are ruled by the earth element because they cut through the density of matter.
By way of interconnecting occult systems, Sandbach notes that the 22 major arcana cards correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. “We do not know for sure exactly where the tarot came from,” he writes, “but we do know that it has always been closely associated with Kabbalah, the esoteric system that emerged with the ancient Hebrews.” Kabbalists (he uses this spelling) believe that G-d created letters first. Letters are living energies with consciousness which G-d then used to create everything else. Kabbalah uses a symbolic Tree of Life with stations, the Sefirot, which correspond to the Sun, Moon and visible planets. The linkages or pathways between the Sefirot on the Tree of Life are planetary energy sources of the solar system (the macrocosm) corresponding to the energy centers within the human body, called chakras, (the microcosm). “The numbered cards of the minor arcana are read by combining the meaning of a particular energy center, as shown by its number, with the meaning of the suit it’s in,” he writes.
Beyond the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth, there’s the fifth element, Spirit or ether, called akasha in yogic systems. Akasha means space, and it is the “subtlest level of physical reality yet the most powerful force in all creation… the controlling factor of existence.” Knowing the elements and the energy centers/chakras is important because, as Sandbach writes, “the central idea of the tarot as well as the Tree of life and the chakra system is dynamic balance.” He links the various occult systems, I think, because he sees evolution as a multi-faceted process, not a product. “True balance is never static.” There’s always movement.
This book is like spiritual food for readers who already know one or more of the systems Sandbach works with, whether that be tarot or astrology or the yogas. His purpose in this book seems to be to show how various occult systems complement each other, thus encouraging mystics who work with one system to work with others as well. He’s also encouraging a deeper understanding of tarot itself. He describes the 22 major arcana cards as “home to a great consortium of spirit beings of many different kinds: angels, planet, number, and gem devas….These beings love to speak to our souls and use the great wealth of their creative resources to continually find new ways to connect to our human realm.”
At the bottom of each tarot card in Sandbach’s deck is an astrological glyph, plus a Hebrew letter and something that he calls “the most nontraditional aspect” of his book. He uses what he calls a Language of Space called aUI. It’s a constructed language that Sandbach says was channeled from extraterrestrial beings by psychologist and linguist Dr. John Weilgart in the early 1950s. Toward the end of the book, Sandbach offers a whole chapter about the aUI language and Dr. Weilgart. Early in the book, Sandbach writes that he’s including this information now because he feels “it helps to explain deeper and finer meanings of the cards and provides you with a contemplative tool that is cosmic and uplifting.” The Language of Space has to do with universal vowel sounds and includes names of spirit beings connected to each of the major arcana cards. (I’d never heard of aUI before. It’s beyond my present understanding and would require more exploration on my part for me to assess.)
Sandbach ends the book with a chapter called “A Tarot Garden of Thoughts,” a set of short essays which themselves have a divinatory feel because you can read them at random. I zeroed in on two. One is a reference to “Maharishi” (and I think he’s referring to the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) who said “that you can’t imagine a higher state of consciousness than your own, because if you could, you would already be in it,” but that “every day we are in a higher state of consciousness than the day before, even though the change from one day to the next might be miniscule and imperceptible.” The other gem here from Sandbach is that “one of the best ways to keep the energy of the tarot flowing is to always do something based on the advice that the tarot gives you.” If you take some sort of tangible action based on what the cards say, “they perceive you’re listening to them, and so they want to talk louder and clearer to you.”
This book is unusual and intriguing. I think it belongs on every occultist’s shelf.
~review by: Sara R. Diamond
Author: John Sandbach
Destiny Books, 2023
374 pages, $29.99