Reviews: New Tarot Books!
Well, they are new to me at least and they were new when Llewellyn’s best publicist sent them to me a couple of months ago before my house burned down and everything went sideways. Tonight, I finally got a chance to give these works their due with an honest, focused review.
To be fair, I wrote a book on the Tarot and I love it, so anything I review has to impress me more than my own book, Tarot for Real People. My book is more of “Get to know your deck!” and “Here are some groovy ways to use your cards!” These books all go a step further and bring a new aspect to the Tarot conversation. So let’s dive in!
When an author sends a book proposal to a publisher, what we are told the publisher wants to know, “How is your book different from other similar books on the market?” With (approximately) thousands of Tarot books going through publication in the past four decades or so, it can be difficult to find something new under the sun to say about the subject. This book is the first of four in this blog post that encourage the reader to open their eyes and their minds to what is happening with the imagery on their cards, but they each do so in a different way.
Experience the Mystery of the Tarot by Katalin Jett Koda
I have an unfortunate bias that whenever I pick up a Tarot book by a self-identified “mystic,” I roll my eyes and think, “Here we go.” Too often, the goal of the mystic Tarot reader in my experience is to go as far away from the classic beauty of the Tarot and bend it to fit into the fanciful acrobatics of becoming something else.
Being a concise method of self-evaluation, prognostication, and reflection for hundreds of years is not enough. Instead, we have to incorprate every divinatatory system humans ever encountered into the Tarot (“Tarot and Runes!” “Tarot and i-Ching!” “Tarot and the astrology!”) and turn it into a work horse to support our every esoteric whim. In my opinion, The Tarot loses its dignity when you make it dance to tunes it was never meant to know just to satisify some correlation the author discovered the same night they discovered mushrooms.
The Tarot is beautiful and magical and delicious all on its own, doing exactly what it does. When I saw the author identified as, a “queer mystic,” I braced myself. Fortunately, Experience the Mystery of the Tarot deftly avoids that pitfall and takes the Tarot deeper into what it actually is. There is truth in advertising with the subtitle of “Ceremonies, Spreads, and Meditations to Deepen Your Connection to the Cards.”
Koda uses the Smith-Waite deck and the Crowley deck for reference, which is an excellent choice since any reader who fully understands those two decks can basically unlock most decks currently on the market. The observations and excercises presented in this book are well-thought out and insightful. Nothing is extraneous or feels fluffy. The book is solid and distinguishes itself through its unique perspective on the individual cards. When you have looked at the cards enough times and spent sufficient hours in the study of them, you begin to feel like you have seen it all. This author tells you, “No, look again. Consider this… and this… and this…” As a seasoned Tarot reader, I can tell you that I will be savoring this book and spending time with Koda’s explanation of each of the cards.
Fearless Tarot by Elliot Adam
It was an absolute delight to experience this book. I teach a Tarot series and one of the sections is called “Difficult Cards” and it addresses those cards that tend to freak people out as soon as they see them.
This book goes a step further and covers every card from a positive perspective, just in case the Six of Pentacles gives someone pause. Fearless Tarot offers seventy-eight silver linings and allows readers to find the spin to make any seeker grateful they pulled the card that came to them.
Aside from that obvious win, the author gives reasonable, thoughtful interpretations that flesh out each card from a psychologically healthy perspective. Adam takes the reader on a journey into the motivations and mindset of each character in every scene depicted in the classic Pamela Coleman Smith artwork. The story of each card unfolds brilliantly in the careful hands of this author, giving the traditional deck new levels of intimacy and insight.
Adam explains the “why” and the “how” so that the reader and the seeker have a profound and relatable understanding for why they encountered this card at this time. I predict that anyone who buys the hard copy of this book will fill it with dogears, highlighter markings, and notes in the margins.
Tarot by the Moon by Victoria Constantino
Where the previous two books offer gentle thoughts of, “Have you seen this?” and “Have you thought of this?” with the ease of two youngsters watching the clouds slip by in the sky overhead, Tarot by the Moon takes you on an evocative journay through the year.
Intensive rituals, Tarot spreads, and spells work into each of the thirteen moons, along with practical Tarot reading guidance and moon lore. This is not a collection of interpretations, but instead focuses on the use of the cards as a framework for self-awareness and inner knowledge.
Like the moon itself that enlightens when full and slips into the shadows when new, this book stealthily navigates the light and dark aspects of the human psyche, exploring love, house clearing, connections to the Divine, and attracting good fortune.
The spreads are especially interesting and aptly support the intuitive framework set up by the theme of each of the moons. While this cannot be your only Tarot book, it should absolutely be one of your Tarot books.
Tarot Deciphered by T. Susan Chang and M. M. Meleen
You could kill someone with this book. It is huge. No wonder it took forever for Llewellyn to edit my last book. They were likely still working on editing this one. My last book Uncrossing, has 240 pages and weighs 10.6 oz. It’s a nice sized little book. This monster has 672 pages, so you think, “Wow! Around 3 times as big!” Oh no no no no, Child. The book is also bigger. My book is 5×8″ ish and this one is 7×9″ ish, which doesn’t sound like much, but this book could totally kick my books ass and likely the ass of my book’s entire family, given the chance. As an author, I’m curious about a word count.
There is nothing (nothing) about the Tarot you could ever want to know that is not in this book. I imagine it has two authors because no one person could possibly ever know this much about the Tarot. It does the stretches I identified in the opening of this post of equating the Tarot cards to different iChing hexagons, bringing in the astrological influences, the mythology, the time of year, the Thoth symbolism used, relative mythology, Qabalistic influences, elemental associations, and all related cards in the deck. I should say this previous list is of the “including, but not limited to” variety because wow, there is a lot here.
The sheer volume of exhaustive work represented here is mind-boggling. Just reading it makes me want to put a cool cloth on my head and poor out a stiff drink and I don’t drink! If Aleister Crowley clawed his way up out of the grave, shook off the pall of death and decomposition and wrote a(nother) book on the Tarot, it would be this book. If not, he would look at this book and think, “Shit, I might just as well die again because Chang and Meleen already wrote a better book on the Tarot than I ever could.”
Tarot Deciphered is the consummate book of Tarot exploration and leaves no stone unturned and no dark corner unexplored. It lives well up to his promise of deciphering every millimeter of symbolism ever associated with the Tarot and does so without falling into the trap of becoming dry and unreadable.
And there we have it! Four uniquely specific types of Tarot books that hold their own in terms of providing new perspective to a very old conversation.