How to Read Tarot Books

Tarot books in libraryAs an educator, I am disturbed by how many times I have seen Tarotists suggest “throwing out” the books. One reason for the anti-book stance might be that some people have not been taught how to improve their (book) reading skills. So, I offer this quick and dirty guide on how to be a better reader of Tarot books.

I am using some of Bloom’s Taxonomy to illustrate steps towards becoming a better reader.

Step 1: Knowledge

This is rote memorization, which many beginning Tarot readers fear or dislike. People seem to believe that learning Tarot from a book means simply memorizing meanings and regurgitating them in readings. In this stage, one simply learns to parrot what others have written—repeating keywords from Eden Gray’s famous Tarot book is one example.

Step 2: Comprehension

When you understand keywords rather than simply repeat them, you have reached this stage. It’s much easier to learn card meanings when they are grouped in meaningful ways. Rachel Pollack, in 78 Degrees of Wisdom, groups the Major Arcana in three sets of seven, with the Fool outside of the groupings. In Tarot Face to Face, Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin discuss how to view the numbered Minor Arcana as stages in a process. These systems allow the reader to understand the meanings, not simply repeat them.

Step 3: Application

Many Tarot books include hands-on exercises. These go beyond simply conveying meanings, and offer different ways to use the meanings. For instance, Corrine Kenner’s Wizards Tarot companion book includes a past-life spread, which allows the reader to learn about themselves in addition to learning her keywords. Reading books about Tarot often means participating in activities—you interact with your cards, with your intuition (if you are an intuitive reader), and with the author’s words.

Step 4: Analysis

Analysis means to break apart. In this step, you will investigate the parts of a card—take apart the symbols, colors, numbers, etc. This could mean going beyond books that are explicitly labeled as ‘Tarot books.’ One example is analyzing Yeats’ imagery in Stories of Red Hanrahan to better understand the Magician and the Fool. Furthermore, analysis means to read a lot of different opinions. Tarot authors disagree! Analysis allows you to break into those disagreements.

Tarot book and Hermit

Step 5: Synthesis

Once you have broken apart diverse ideas from many sources, you need to put them back together again. This means to compare and contrast the different books you have read. For instance, Waite and Crowley disagree on the placement of Strength—in the RSW deck it is number 8, and in the Thoth deck it is number 11. Synthesis is looking at not only both their arguments, but also how they make those arguments.

Step 6: Evaluation

After comparing and contrasting the opinions of different authors, you get to decide what you believe. Evaluation is judging who has better rhetoric—who is a more convincing writer—and who has better ideas. Reading Tarot books shouldn’t be about finding the One True Meaning for each card, but crafting your own well-informed meanings. The more you read, the deeper and more nuanced your understanding of Tarot will be.

I believe that reading books can only increase intuition. Studies have proven that reading makes you more empathetic. Finally, it is easier to respect someone who respects the work of their peers and predecessors—reading Tarot books will make you more reputable.

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