Friday, May 27, 2016

Booknote: Reading and Understanding the Mysteries of Tarot

Staci Mendoza and David Bourne, Reading and Understanding the Mysteries of Tarot. London, UK: Lorenz, 2011. ISBN: 9780754819622.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, art books, divination, photography
Format: small hardback
Source: I bought this one at Half Price Books.


The book has a lofty title, but it is not much really. At 96 pages, this small book has just enough to cover the bare essentials. It is not very substantive, but thing going for it is that it has some nice photography.

The book starts with a short introduction that gives you some opening basics such as describing a Tarot deck's basic structure. The authors write in the introduction that the book is "designed to be a practical reference guide" (6). After the introduction, you get some background on topics such as choosing a Tarot deck, origins of Tarot, and a bit on Tarot and astrology; the astrology section has two charts, one for planetary links and an astrological (zodiac) chart. These charts and the astrology content are just enough to give the reader a small glimpse of integrating astrology with Tarot, something many Tarot readers do to gain additional insights when reading the cards. You then get sections for the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana, with meanings for each card. Finally, you get some advice on reading the Tarot for yourself and for others, and you get three Tarot spreads explained: the popular Celtic Cross, the Romany spread, and the Tree of Life.

Having recently read Lyle's The Illustrated Guide to Tarot as well as consulting some reputable online Tarot sources, I found this book a little underwhelming in terms of content, especially the card meanings. The meanings were very minimal, and at times I get there was not much to work from. The book does include reversals, but often these are boiled down to telling you that a reversal was similar to the upright card but more extreme. In other words, you don't get much to work from. While the idea long term in reading Tarot is to develop your intuition, knowing the basic meanings is a fundamental skill as part of the process. You get the very bare basics here if at all. Also for me, compared to other sources, some meanings just did not seem right.

The other sections of the book history and advice are alright. They are very short but they have some good information for beginners. The spreads are illustrated and explained adequately; they also include a full sample reading, an element I found useful in exploring these.

A strength of the book is the photography. It does have some nice photographs. For card illustrations, it draws on some classic decks. However, the decks are not identified in the text. In the meanings section, the authors draw on two decks. One is the classic Marseilles Tarot; the other is one that I did not know which it was. A small caption on at least one card would have been helpful. Still, it is a nice book to look at.

In the end, it is a nice book to look over, a bit more art or photo book than reference book. As a reference book, you will get the bare minimal basics. If you really want to learn, you will need to seek out more substantial sources. The book is barely enough to whet  your appetite. It is nice to look at, but then you move on to something better and stronger. In the end, this was an OK book. If you must, this is a book to borrow. I got it at Half Price Books for $4.99, which is not bad for a small basic illustrated book. I searched for it on Amazon, and the retail price there was $19.99 at the time I checked. That is definitely way too much for this little book.

2 out of 5 stars.

A side note on the edition: the Hermes House edition I have is a reprint of an older edition. When I searched for the ISBN it provides, it turned out to be either incorrect or inaccurate; I was unable to find it in WorldCat or anyplace else. What I did find was the 2011 Lorenz edition, which I did find in WorldCat. I am using that ISBN as the reference point.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:





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