Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Booknote: Easy Tarot Handbook, with review on the Gilded Tarot deck

Josephine Ellershaw, Easy Tarot Handbook. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7387-1150-8.

Small edition note: The book was first published in 2007. The edition I have is the 15th printing of that first edition. That printing came out in 2015. I can tell from that, and from some small research, that this kit has remained a popular staple. I linked above to the WorldCat record, as I usually do. However, if you wish to purchase a set, you can find it in many bookstores (if they carry Tarot and other new age and divination materials), or you can go online to places like that online retailer you shamelessly use anyways. You can also still get it from the publisher.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination, cards decks, self-help, spirituality
Format: trade paperback (part of a set that also includes a Tarot deck)
Source: I own this one. Bought it at my local Hastings. 

Like Lyle's book, this book was part of a kit that included the Gilded Tarot deck. The Gilded Tarot is the deck I am currently using in my Tarot learning journey. On the one hand, the book has some good advice for learners, especially about keeping a Tarot journal and overall for learning how to read the Tarot. Ellershaw offers a step by step system for learning how to read the Tarot cards. On the other hand, I did find some of the card meanings in this book a bit on the lighter side when compared to other books, such as Lyle's, but the meanings still fall within tradition for the most part, thus the book is still useful in that regard. However, Ellershaw can be a bit too prescriptive at times in the sense that you can get a strict "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" tone. Some beginners may be OK with a strict tone; others may not, so your mileage may vary.

The book is arranged in six major parts. Within parts one through five, it is further divided into steps. The last part is an appendix of charts and cheat sheets to help learners. The steps are the learning system Ellershaw offers, and she does strongly suggest you do follow the steps in order. In her foreword, she writes,

"This book contains the exact format and information that I use to conduct readings, and follows a step-by-step process of learning I call 'The Tarot Technique' that has worked for me and the people I subsequently shared it with, so for the moment I ask only that you follow the steps in the order provided" (xi).

If you are someone who requires a good amount of structure as a learner, this may be the book for you. As someone who appreciates structure, I'll be giving it a run and work through the method (I will probably blog later some about that in my commonplace blog, Alchemical Thoughts). I did read through it once so I could write this review. Now, I will go back and work through, Tarot journal in hand, and go through the lessons. From having read the book once, I know some of the lessons will be better for me than others. For example, ideas about how to organize your notes and use them to learn the cards are great. For me though, some of the rituals for things like cleansing the cards with crystals are details I am not quite ready to take or that resonate with me. However, if they resonate with you, that is cool, go for it. Could I try such things some day? Maybe, but I am not there yet, and I may or not get there, and that is OK too. Though in order to learn, you can follow the steps, I would say take the lessons that work best for you and make it your experience. Do learn the fundamentals, but as for other details, pick and choose and make it your journey.

Overall, the book has some pluses and minuses, but on balance, it has more pluses. If you want to learn to read Tarot cards, Ellershaw does offer a structured approach in plain language, and she does keep jargon to a minimum. This may not become my primary study and consult book, but I will keep it handy along with others as I go through my study and for reference later. For more advanced readers, the book may be a bit too basic, so if they just want the deck, you can buy the deck separately. Bottom line: for beginners, this is a good set with a good book and an excellent deck, a deck I will be reviewing down below.

Rating for the book: 3 out of 5 stars.

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Review and some commentary on the Gilded Tarot deck:

For beginners, if you are going to choose a good deck to start learning Tarot, this is an excellent choice. The art does have basis on the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot, but this is not just an RWS clone.  This is Ciro Marchetti's interpretation of that system blending some medieval fantasy, cosmic imagery, and steampunk. The result is a beautiful deck that has a lot of visual appeal. The deck was previously only available as a limited edition from the artist, but it is now available as a mass produced edition from Llewellyn, first published in 2004. It remains a popular choice for Tarot beginners and collectors.

The deck provides a modern interpretation of Tarot and RWS. I am not really a fan of RWS. I find it a bit too plain, but it is considered a basic standard. Most Tarot study books use RWS cards and symbols for their lessons. Down the road, I may acquire a traditional RWS deck, or perhaps a more modern rendition like the Radiant Rider Waite deck, for study and reference purposes. However, I would rather not do my initial learning of Tarot on the basic RWS. For folks in a similar situation who want to learn Tarot but find the RWS deck to not be their thing but still want something close to it, the Gilded Tarot deck is a good alternative. I already mentioned its visual appeal; the deck is brilliant and colorful. Working a bit with it so far, I find it more pleasant to use. Also, like the RWS, it is fully illustrated. By this I mean that the Major and the Minor Arcanas have full illustrations, not just symbol pips.

I started my Tarot journey with a Marseilles deck. As much as I liked that one, I struggled with remembering meanings, and forget about developing intuition. I just could not get impressions or jog my memory on pip only cards. So I put my Marseilles away for a while, and I switched over to my Gilded Tarot. So far, the stronger visuals have worked better for me. Sure, as a beginner I still look things up, but now I can do so more often by checking things after I jot down my initial impressions. I don't feel like I have no idea what to do with a plain four of cups for instance. Slowly but surely I am learning.

Though I also collect decks (and I will note that I also collect playing card decks), and I have acquired a few more Tarot decks, which I will review and work with down the road, I can see the Gilded Tarot being my daily use default deck. It is easy to use. The images feature great art, and there is plenty of variety in the 78 cards. A nice detail in the deck is the pentacles. Unlike other decks that use round coins (pentacles are coins after all), Marchetti chose to make them in a pentagon shape. It may be a small thing, but it is neat. Another reason I like this deck is that so far I have not found a card I dislike. I often hear Tarot users say of other decks, or even this one, that there is that one card or two they dislike or can't connect to. For me, that does not apply here. Sure, I do have some favorites, but I can say I like them all.

The cards are about 4 1/2 by 2 3/4 inches wide; they are a bit smaller than my Marseilles. For me, this makes them a bit easier to shuffle. The cardstock is pretty comparable to what you would get in most good standard playing cards. As long as you treat them well, they should last you a bit. The deck comes with two end cards that show the outlines for the Celtic Cross Spread and a 5-card Daily Spread. The book features three additional spreads plus the Celtic Cross.

As I mentioned, you can buy the deck individually, so if you are just a collector or you just want to skip the book, you can do that. I am betting if you are one of those hardcore Tarot collectors, you probably already have this one. For beginners, getting the kit with the book is a good option. It retails for $19.95 (and if you must, I am sure you can find a deal on that online retailer), which is not bad for a kit featuring this fine deck. I did notice that the individual deck retails for three dollars more, thus my comment. There is also a kit with a companion book by Barbara Moore; I have not seen Moore's book. That one retails for $26.99 (again, if you must, I am sure you can get a deal at that online retailer). A reason I mention pricing, something I do not usually feel a need to do, is because I have discovered that in buying Tarot decks, 20 dollars will not really get you far. These decks can be pricey (there are options, including getting the items used, but we can discuss those some other time).

At any rate, I do love the Gilded Tarot, and it is one I would happily recommend to others, especially beginners and those seeking an RWS alternative that is still close to RWS.

I am rating it a full 5 out of 5 stars.

On a final side note, this was Marchetti's first Tarot deck. He has done other works since then. I recently acquired his Legacy of the Divine Tarot for the Better Half who, after seeing the cards online, said insistently she wanted it. So, I did my best to make her happy with that. I did get a look at the deck, and it is another amazing set of cards. If I can borrow them from her, I will read the book and offer a review down the road. Keep in mind, that promise may take me a while to fulfill. These days, I have my eye on his newest (as of this post) Tarot deck, the Tarot of Dreams. I understand it is finally available for the hoi polloi (published by U.S. Games Systems). Hey, I like nice editions, and I get that often a deck comes to life directly from an artist (and if they get lucky, a big company makes a deal, and it gets mass produced). Maybe some day I can save enough coin to get a collectible deck directly, but I am also on a librarian salary so I have to get what the rest of the hoi polloi get, which is cool by me. If I do manage to get that deck kit, you can count on a review here.

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The book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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