Friday, September 14, 2018

Booknote: The New Tarot Handbook

Rachel Pollack, The New Tarot Handbook: Master the Meaning of the Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2012  ISBN: 978-0-7387-3190-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination
Format: paperback
Source: I own this one (found it at Half Price Books)

This book is an adequate guide for learning Tarot. If you are using a Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, this will be a helpful book as it is keyed to RWS decks. It uses RWS images as reference points, and Pollack often cites Arthur Waite's work in this book. Still, the information in the book is applicable if you use a "clone" deck or any other deck that draws on the RWS system.

The book is arranged as follows:
  • Short introduction. This is where Pollack tells a bit of her story about Tarot, gives a bit of general Tarot history, and discusses the RWS system. 
  • The Major Arcana. This goes over every card for the Major Arcana. Before the card entries, Pollack provides some discussion on what are the Major Arcana cards. She also provides some ways to line up these cards for comparison and study. Then you get the card entries. For each  card, you get a black and white image, some keywords, a text description and discussion, a short list of divinatory meanings, a short list of reversed meanings, and a spread you can try for reading based on the card. I see the spreads as good tools for self reflection, and you could still use them to read for others. 
  • The Minor Arcana. This section includes the Minor Arcana numbered cards (1-10). This section starts with a description of what are the Minor Arcana, a look at the four suits (wands, cups, swords, and pentacles), and the themes for each number. Card entries are then organize by suit one (ace) through ten. Each card entry has a picture of the card, identifies its element, some theme keywords, text description, a short list of divinatory meanings, and a short list of reversed meanings. At the end of each suit, there is a spread for a suit reading. 
  • The Court Cards get their own chapter. Personally, I tend to prefer putting court cards with their suits, but that's how Pollack did it for this book. This section includes a general discussion of the court cards, a bit on their elemental correspondences, and ways to read them. Pollack also notes theme words and divinatory meanings for the court cards "are similar in places to those in my book Tarot Wisdom. They come from many years of both reading and studying the cards" (210). In other words, some content is recycled from other works. This is  not surprising; prolific authors and teachers who teach over and over recycle content and lesson plans. I have not read Tarot Wisdom, so I can't comment on how much or not is recycled from that book here. Moving along, in this section, each court card set is grouped by suit. Each court card entry includes a picture of the card, element, elemental combination, physical quality, theme, a description passage, divinatory meanings, and reversed meanings. At the end of the court cards section, you get a spread for a reading inspired by the court cards. 
  • Readings. You find here some advice on how to read the cards. She also discusses some Tarot "rules" and myths, and explains why she includes reversed meanings (one reason is Waite did it, but there are other reasons). In this section, she also discusses spreads and provides a few examples you can try out. 
  • Further study. Some small suggestions on what to read to keep learning. 
This is a basic and solid Tarot reference book. Pollack has over 40 years of Tarot reading, study, and teaching experience, and she does  her best to distill that in this book for beginners. It succeeds as the book is very accessible, and it gives you the basics to study and read the cards. While it is keyed to RWS decks, it can work for almost any RWS clone deck or deck that draws on RWS. However, those 40 years of experience also show in the sense that this just feels like another Tarot book. Many Tarotistas claim Pollack's Seventy Eight Degrees to be a Tarot bible, revolutionary, essential. I have that one on my TBR list. The New Tarot Handbook feels more like one Pollack could have written in her sleep, so to speak. In other words, the book is nice, but you likely could have picked up either of the other two books mentioned and done well, or if you already have Seventy Eight Degrees or Tarot Wisdom, then you can likely skip this one.

In the end, if you need a basic Tarot reference book, this book does the job. The card inspired spreads are very good for self reflection as well as reading for others. If you need a book to keep handy as you study and learn Tarot, this is an OK book. If you want some depth, there may be better books out there, including books by this author. Overall, it works for beginners. For more advanced readers, there are other options.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Some additional reading notes:

Tarot grows and changes:

"The Tarot grows and changes as we grow and change. Let the Tarot discover you so that you may discover yourself in the cards" (7).

Tarot reading more as an art:

"Tarot card reading always remains an art more than a science, with any system a spur to meaning rather than a fixed rule of what something has to mean" (207). 

Tarot as gateway:

"Think of the Tarot as an endless series of doorways--seventy-eight cards with infinite combinations. Let them become the gates to your wisdom" (280). 

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