Here are some short Tarot book reviews.
See the drop down menu for Book Reviews (see above) to find some longer reviews
Table of Contents
* Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen
* Learning the Tarot, by Joan Bunning
* Tarot For Your Self, by Mary K. Greer
* The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, by Mary K. Greer
* Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, by Rachel Pollack
* Tarot Spells, by Janina Renee
* Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, by Hajo Banzhaf
* The Back in Time Tarot Book by Janet Boyer
* The Qabalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang
* The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, by Lon Milo DuQuette
** Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen, published by North Atlantic Books (2015)
When Benebell Wen asked me to write a promo blurb for her new book, Holistic Tarot, I was very happy to see how well her Tarot approach matched mine. (That certainly makes it easier to make a genuine recommendation!) In this book, she shows how the true power of the Tarot lies in its ability to help our intuition shine through, and she shows us how to use the cards to guide us along a path of deep, personal development.
Holistic Tarot contains a wealth of information including card meanings, spreads and methodology, and an extensive set of theories about how Tarot works. Beyond all that, however, its greatest gift is the way it will gently guide you to use the cards to find the answers that will help you create the future you desire. And so I think this book is destined to be a new Tarot classic.
** Learning the Tarot, by Joan Bunning, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1998)
If you are just beginning to learn about the Tarot, this book may be about the best place to start. (This is not to say, however, that more experienced Tarot readers cannot find value in this book too.) Its discussions of the individual cards, the Tarot suits, court cards, reversed cards, spreads, card interactions, and the process of doing a reading are all clear, concise, and easy to understand. This book also provides exercises to help the reader practice what s/he has learned — an excellent aid to the learning process — and it concludes with three insightful sample readings. In addition, Bunning’s version of the Fool’s Journey (a metaphorical tale that highlights the twenty-two Major Arcana cards) is about the best I have seen. Note that much of this book’s material is also covered on Bunning’s website
** Tarot for Your Self, by Mary K. Greer, originally published by Newcastle Publishing (1984), and now available through New Page Books
This book would be better described as a workbook than as a text, but whether you want to use the cards for divinatory readings or for personal growth and exploration, it is a great place to start your study, or even to expand upon it, for it will carry your relationship with the cards into new and unexpected territory.
In addition to its discussions about the individual cards (an almost obligatory inclusion in any Tarot book that hopes to sell to beginners) and its presentation of more than a dozen interesting spreads, this book explores a wide range of innovative ways to use Tarot cards to explore your life. Indeed, the book’s title arises from this focus on using the cards for self-exploration.
Early in the book Greer shows how to calculate your Personality and Soul cards, and explains how to understand both their meaning and their impact on your life. It goes on to explain a vast array of atypical uses for the cards, and the following is a brief sampling of such topics:
* Using a guided visualization to enter a card
* Playing with the court cards in order to explore your understanding of them
* Finding guidance from your inner (court card) teacher
* Healing yourself with the Tarot
* Using the cards to clarify your relationships or your goals.
I doubt that many people will explore every one of the techniques presented in this book, but just as certainly, everyone should be able to find something there that they can use — some way that they can use the Tarot cards to enrich their life.
Note that Greer continues her unique exploration of the use of Tarot cards for self-realization in her books Tarot Constellations (Newcastle, 1987) and Tarot Mirrors (Newcastle, 1988)
** Another Tarot book by Mary Greer worth mentioning is The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (Llewellyn Publications, 2002)
Besides providing an extensive discussion of different ways to interpret reversed cards, this book also explains many possible meanings for each of the seventy-eight reversed Tarot cards, and Greer’s approaches range from the traditional to the freshly unique.
For the novice, the wealth of information in this book may even be overwhelming at first. But by starting slow and picking and choosing what works for them, beginners should be able to learn a lot from this book pretty easily. In fact, even more advanced Tarot readers should be able to find in this book much food for thought on this, one of the Tarot’s more vexing topics. And by the way, her version of the Fool’s Journey through the reversed Major Arcana cards is an interesting companion to the more traditional account found in Joan Bunning’s book.
If you plan to use reversed cards, this book is an excellent resource.
** Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, by Rachel Pollack, published by Thorsons (1997)
I have already mentioned two books that are among the best Tarot resources for someone new to the subject — Bunning’s Learning the Tarot, and Greer’s Tarot For Your Self. A third essential Tarot book is Rachel Pollack’s Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which takes a more philosophical approach to the subject.
With only a cursory glance through this book, one can get the superficial impression that it is just a book of card meanings. But Pollack’s work is never, ever simple. She has an extraordinary depth of understanding of the cards and how to use them, and her writing easily transcends ordinary card interpretations. Through the use of philosophical discussions, she is able to express profound insights into the cards, and so she brings the seventy-eight Tarot cards to life and shows us how those cards can enrich our lives too.
Pollack also discusses things like the structure of the Tarot deck, trends within that structure, and symmetries, themes, and paradoxes among the cards. And through her search for meaning therein, she gives us an added appreciation for the Tarot in general as well as a deeper understanding for the cards themselves.
In addition to Pollack’s discussions of the cards, there is a final section in this book that reviewers of it tend to overlook or gloss over. In this section, she presents several useful spreads (including, of course, the Celtic Cross, which she explains in quite illuminating detail) and a couple of sample readings for two of the spreads. She goes on to discuss other uses for the cards (meditations and mandalas, or patterns of cards), and she concludes with a thoughtful discussion of how we can grow in consciousness and spirit through our practice of doing Tarot readings.
For a long time, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was perhaps my favorite Tarot book, but it may have been displaced now by Pollack’s new book, The Forest of Souls (Llewellyn Publishing, 2002).
** Tarot Spells, by Janina Renee, published by Llewellyn Publications (1990)
This popular book, beautifully illustrated with the cards from the Robin Wood Tarot deck, presents a host of practical spells (71 to be exact) ranging from one to help overcome an addiction to one for general business success. Each of these spells use Tarot cards as the focus for the ritual and as a basis for the visualization and meditation processes, although there are other supporting elements involved in the overall process. These spells comprise the majority of this book, but Renee also includes general notes about the Tarot, magic and spell casting (and the ethics thereof), rites, and rituals.
Note that even if you have no intention of ever casting a spell, the material in this book is still valuable for the Tarot visualizations and meditations that are suggested in them.
** Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, by Hajo Banzhaf, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. (2000)
This book focuses its attention exclusively on the Major Arcana, and concentrates on how its twenty-two cards depict the archetypal forces of our lives. To provide a context for this discussion, Banzhaf presents a new structural paradigm for these cards that consists of the Hero (the Fool card), the Hero’s Path (the Magician to the Moon cards), which first travels along a “daytime arc,” then moves along a “nightly arc,” and the Hero’s Return (the final three cards of the Major Arcana). In this way, he weaves the twenty-two individual threads of the Major Arcana into a complete tapestry that tells a coherent tale.
Along the way, Banzhaf uses his vast knowledge of myths and legends to illustrate his points and to shed light on the meanings of these cards. Although he occasionally seems to force an example to suit his purpose (for example, his argument that the Temperance card has an underworld motif left me unconvinced), generally his discussions of the cards as they relate to this Hero’s Journey (and vice versa: as it relates to them) shed new light on each of the Major Arcana cards. As a result, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero does an excellent job of reexamining these cards and explaining how they can depict archetypal forces.
Overall, then, I found this book to be a fascinating read. Banzhaf is effective in relating myths and legends to the Major Arcana, which is a special treat for people like me who have a passion for mythic tales. In addition, this book is lavishly illustrated with Tarot cards (mostly from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck), diagrams, and artwork. It is far from being an easy read for a beginner though, with its discourses on philosophical, psychological, and spiritual matters, but it captivated my interest, and whenever I picked it up, I found it hard to put down again. So, if gaining spiritual and philosophical insights into the Major Arcana is what you are looking for, this book should serve you well.
** The Back in Time Tarot Book by Janet Boyer, published by Hampton Roads (2008)
Due to its unique approach, Janet Boyer’s The Back in Time Tarot Book is not a very easy book to review without a lengthy explanation of its content, but I will give it a shot here. In brief, this book explains how you can find fresh perspectives on the Tarot by correlating specific Tarot cards with personal experiences from your past, familiar stories, and world events. And through these personal experiences with the card, you can increase both the breadth and depth of your understanding of the Tarot. The true richness of this book, however, lies in the many engaging and endearing illustrations of its technique provided by Boyer and a variety of Tarot authorities. Whatever your level of Tarot expertise, after reading this book, you’ll gain valuable new perspectives on the cards.
** The Qabalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1987)
This book is chockfull of information about the Qabalah and the Tree of Life, and how the Tarot relates to them and can be seen in the light of their understanding. Although Wang makes this information more accessible than previous writers from the Golden Dawn tradition (such as Crowley or Regardie), his writing is still rather dry and dense. Nevertheless, if you are interested in this topic, it is worth wading through this book.
The Qabalistic Tarot is also an excellent resource for comparing the cards of the Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth, Tarot de Marseilles, and Golden Dawn Tarot decks, which lends insights into the meaning and implications of each. However, as implied by its subtitle (“A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy”), this book’s focus is philosophical and metaphysical, and it only touches upon divination peripherally. (There are about ten pages devoted specifically to the subject.) So how well this book will suit your needs depends on the extent to which you are looking for a theoretical, versus practical, guide to the Tarot.
** The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, by Lon Milo DuQuette, published by Weiser Books, Inc. (2001)
Whereas The Qabalistic Tarot is an in-depth, but dry, treatise on the Qabalah, The Chicken Qabalah is an introductory, but hilarious, work on the same subject.
Yes, I know. Technically, this is not a book about the Tarot. But much of the underlying philosophy upon which many modern Tarot decks are based is Qabalistic (and that includes both the Rider-Waite-Smith and the Thoth decks), so I decided to include a quick review of it here:
READ THIS BOOK.
Okay. I’ll expand on that a bit.
If you are already an expert on this subject, but you just want to roll on the floor laughing while reading about it, read this book.
If you have little or no knowledge of the Qabalah and you want an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand introduction to it, read this book. Be prepared to laugh too, though, because DuQuette knows that you learn more when you are entertained at the same time.
If you have no idea what the heck the Qabalah is, or if you just don’t give a rat’s behind about it, read this book anyway. You may not learn anything of use to your Tarot practice (although you may be surprised!), but this book is so clever and so very amusing that you won’t regret it. Honest! And then the next time someone says to you, “You read Tarot cards, but you don’t understand the Qabalistic Tree of Life?” you can look them square in the eye and respond using this book’s memorable refrain:“Hell no! I’m a Chicken Qabalist! I don’t worry about it.”