Friday, October 28, 2016

Booknote: Tarot for Beginners

Barbara Moore, Tarot for Beginners: a Practical Guide for Reading the Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2010. ISBN: 9780738729671 (e-book); 9780738719559 (print)

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination
Format: e-book
Source: Overdrive collection of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I got this one as an e-book via my public library's Overdrive collection. This book is one I would consider an optional acquisition for my personal collection. A positive trait of the book  is Barbara Moore's warm and nurturing tone, which is well suited for learners. The book is also an easy read.

The book is arranged into the following parts:

  • Introduction
  • Seven chapters on these topics: 
    • Basics
    • The Card Meanings
    • Finding More Meaning
    • Adding Something Extra
    • Developing Your Skills
    • Spreads
    • Sample Readings
  • Conclusion
  • Four appendices
    • Suggested Reading
    • Suggested Decks
    • Significators
    • Correspondences

The book strives to include a lot of good information without being overwhelming.  Moore gives you the basics to learn how to read Tarot cards. She then gives you a few extra techniques and options to help enhance your readings. You are free to take and choose what you think works best for you. Unlike other Tarot books I've read, this one is not overly prescriptive. Moore presents the concepts, explains them clearly, and then leaves it up to the reader.

In terms of reading experience, reading it in print may be a better option. Overdrive does not render the book very well. The layout at times is uneven. The text is cluttered too. If you are getting this book, I would say get the print version.

Overall, the book is really good. For learners wanting to learn more, the appendices on suggested readings and on suggested decks will prove useful. For beginners, this  book is a good option. Libraries that want to have at least one book on Tarot basics will find that this book can fill that  need well.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

Goal of the book:

". . .to help you become a confident reader in the easiest, most efficient way possible--while having some fun too!" (12).

I would say she was successful with  that. The book is fairly efficient, and she does show that learning Tarot can be fun. She presents it as a learning experience that builds up:

"Doing a tarot reading is a lot like reading a book. Before you can read a novel, you have to master your ABCs, and so it is with tarot; the cards are like your new alphabet" (13). 

As a reader, I could relate to that simile. Moore uses the simile of the cards as your alphabet through much of the book. It is a simple but effective image. It also works as a good example of the scaffolding learning technique. It's like learning a language. Once you learn it, you can do all sorts of things with language. Same with Tarot cards she argues:

"Reading the cards follows much  the same path. You learn basics. Your cards become your alphabet. Your readings become your essays. Your reading style becomes  your novel, poem, or song" (15). 

On rituals around Tarot, Moore leaves it to the reader pretty much. She states they are not necessary but they can be good to support a reading if you choose to use them. On rituals, she writes:

"They can also be fun and add a theatrical or mysterious touch that many enjoy. Rituals help us calm down, center, and focus on  the task at hand. Performing a ritual or rituals before a reading lets the mind know it is time to get into reading mode" (31-32).

Keep in mind that the book  is keyed to Rider Waite Smith (RWS) Tarot system. Marseilles-style decks, i.e. ones with  only the Major Arcana illustrated, will not be as good to use with this book. As a learner, what has worked for me is to use an RWS-based deck. I did start with a Marseilles deck, but I found the unillustrated Minor Arcana difficult to learn due to the lack of visual prompts. Once I switched over to a fully illustrated deck, I feel my learning has made much better progress. This is what is working for me. If you must start with a Marseilles deck or a Marseilles-style deck, have at it but I would advise the going may be a bit harder. Plus, the majority of learning books and tools for Tarot are keyed to RWS and RWS-based decks. I have done some searching for resources on Marseilles style, and there aren't many. I think I can count on one hand and have fingers left over for the ones I found that may be good. As for Thoth deck, that is a different and complex system. It is one I would like to study down the road. Anyhow, as I say in the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan:

"Every reader/collector his/her deck, and every deck its reader/collector."

The point is to find the deck that speaks to you, that inspires you, and for learning, one you feel you can spend time with. If you need suggestions for decks, Moore provides some suggested RWS decks in Appendix B. She also suggests the website as a tool for in-depth Tarot deck reviews. It is a great resource I have used, though it takes them a while at times to get a review on very new decks.

Back to rituals. Moore emphasizes that you can make them as simple or complex as you wish:

"In simplest terms, a ritual is a consistent way of doing things--something as simple and unobtrusive as taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly" (32). 

Moore offers a good discussion on forming questions to ask when reading Tarot. For some learners, like me, formulating a specific question can be difficult, so this part of the book was helpful. She reminds us of the old saying that to get the right answer you need to ask the right question. She further adds:

"Asking the question is  probably one of the most important aspects of a tarot reading. Right off the bat, the question takes control over the reading by providing the focus of the answer" (37). 

Another simile. On the future and predicting it, it's like weather forecasting. You take into account as many variables as possible, but you can't get them all, thus a weather forecast is not going to be 100% accurate ever. Plus, further out you try to forecast, less accurate the forecast will be, less certain. Best use then of a forecast is to be prepared for what may  or not come. This applies to Tarot:

"For me, a tarot reading is very  much like a weather forecast. Knowing what is likely to happen helps us be prepared, so that when or if the event occurs, we'll be able to respond in a thoughtful manner" (38). 

Moore does make use of various simple metaphors and similes to aid in learning. It certainly helps in understanding basic concepts.

Moore strongly encourages journaling as do many other Tarot teachers and books. She offers a section on ways to keep a journal. Personally, I have a journal notebook as my Tarot journal, and I write down a variety of things in it related to Tarot. Again, find what works for you. For me, Tarot journaling made sense given I already keep a personal journal. Writing for me has always been a good learning and reflection tool, and so far, it serves me well in studying Tarot.

Moore uses three Tarot decks to illustrate the section with the card meanings and other parts of the book. She uses the Universal Waite Tarot, which is based on the original RWS; this version is illustrated by Mary Hanson Roberts. The second deck she uses is the Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti; this is a deck the artist made after the Gilded Tarot (link to my review of the Gilded Tarot). The third deck used in the book is the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. The latter two decks are particularly beautiful decks. Sadly, they do not look good in the book where the images are small and in black and white. The result is that you often just cannot make out what is depicted in a given card because the reproduction quality in the book is bad. In the case of the Shadowscapes deck, where the art is very detailed and intricate, the cards themselves are a bit small given the art; the publisher's decision to minimize the cards more in the book does no favors to the book nor the deck. If the publisher was hoping to spark a deck sale or two with the book illustrations, that may be a bit dim in terms of hope.

Having said that, Moore does well with what she has. On the meanings chapter, she gives a general comment on the meaning of each card. She then comments on each individual card, comparing and contrasting the decks, showing how each card illuminates a core meaning and/or differs from the core meaning somehow. This is an important detail because within core meanings, Tarot readings can and do vary. Readers may look at, for example, the Two of Wands. They may interpret it based on the traditional meaning. However, those interpretations may be more nuanced, may vary, or even subtly (or not so subtly) deviate from a traditional meaning based on which  card from which deck a reader uses. Tarot readers are after all a diverse community, and that can be reflected in the many ways different readers can interpret a card or spread. So, why is looking at variations important in learning to read Tarot? Moore writes,

"By looking at three variations in the same tradition, you'll learn how to really look at and read any card  images. Once you see how easy it is to do this-- how the core meanings are simply another way to say what the image conveys-- you can then combine the core meaning and the image of any deck to create your own divinatory meanings that make sense  to you" (54-55).

That may be a useful exercise for folks who have and/or use more than one deck, comparing cards from one deck to another to see where your interpretations may vary.

In addition, Moore offers in the book what she labels as experiments. These are exercises to help learners get to know the cards better and to refine card reading skills. She also has a chapter of sample readings. Moore says these can help a learner see how a reading is done. However, you can decide whether to read through that chapter or not. A strength of the chapter is that she considers various reading styles. She will take one question, one spread, and show how it can be interpreted in different ways.

In  the end, Moore ends on a humble note with a hope Tarot learners will continue their journey and explorations:

"As you move forward on your own journey, take  from this book only what you think you'll need or what pleases you. There is a whole tarot world out there waiting for you to explore it" (306).

Some books from the appendix I found of interest, so I am jotting them down to find later:

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: 

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