The Contemplative Tarot: A Christian Guide to the Cards

The Contemplative Tarot: A Christian Guide to the Cards

Brittany Muller
New York: St Martin’s, 2022. 354 pp., paperback, $17.99.

The last few decades have seen an explosion of books on Tarot, ranging from straightforward guides to divinatory expositions to complex esoteric philosophy. One might wonder if any uncharted territory remains. However, Brittany Muller guides her readers into such a new perspective in this gentle, thoughtful, beautiful book. Muller is a Roman Catholic layperson and approaches the cards as prompts for prayer, reflection, and journaling, deeply informed by Catholic theology and spirituality.

Muller provides a short reflection for each card, illustrated by the well-known Rider-Waite-Smith deck (whose creators were Christians, even if unconventional ones), preceded by a quote from the Bible or a saint, and followed by questions for pondering. These selections are pious in the best sense of that word, and suffused with a wonder-filled devotional spirit. Muller stirs her readers to inwardly enter the mysteries she is describing in an almost sermonic way. Any Christian, Catholic or otherwise, will find much value here, and esoteric students of the Tarot from non-Christian backgrounds will be enriched by a possibly unexpected perspective.

Those who are familiar with traditional Tarot attributions will note Muller’s familiarity with them, but she brings her own unique theological lens to her reflections. For example, in a powerful section on the Justice card, she notes that “to be just is to love our neighbor” and that justice is a virtue “not of retribution but of generosity in all things.” Furthermore, “the paradox of Christian justice is that we do not exact sacrifices for others, but take on the sacrifices ourselves.” Words which deserve a hearing in our difficult times!

To give another example, Muller takes the Wands in the Minor Arcana as representations of the Holy Spirit and the power of God. Thus she writes about the Eight of Wands: “The whole landscape is taken up by God’s terrible grace hurtling through the air, miracle crashing into the dull, cruel sameness of the world—the wands are . . . for us. The mystery is for us. A miracle breaks through, longing to be caught, and to catch it is part of our work in the world.” The book is suffused with Miller’s sense of the joyous strangeness of her religious tradition and of the mysterious yet deeply loving power of God.

 The Contemplative Tarot concludes with a section on the court cards. Noting that they represent “a wide variety of personalities,” Muller has chosen a saint which aligns with each. I was surprised at her choices, which align with the cards with a natural grace: Francis of Assisi as the Page of Pentacles, Hildegard of Bingen as Queen of Pentacles, Thérèse of Lisieux as Page of Swords.

Muller should be commended for this lovely, prayerful book, which I will read again and keep on my reference shelf. I hope it will serve as a bridge between Tarot and Christian thought, stimulating further exploration from both sides.

John Plummer

John Plummer is an independent theologian and member of the Theosophical Society who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.