Looking for a new tarot book to get stuck into? New perspectives on your cards, or an introductory guide? I asked members of the Alternative Tarot Network for their recommendations, and here’s what they said.
Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen
There is no such thing as a perfect tarot book, but this comes as close as I have ever seen. Wen’s writing is very straightforward and concise- no flowery, new-agey meanderings here. In addition to her card-by-card guide, she also ties in astrology, numerology, Jungian psychology, spreads, and even professional development. Wen also includes case studies, which are thoroughly explored and explained. Holistic Tarot is a behemoth (870 pages!), but an exceedingly practical and useful one.
PS. Be sure to check out the free supplemental materials on her website! They double the usefulness.
The New Tarot Handbook: Master the Meanings of the Cards by Rachel Pollack
I bought this book at the same time as Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, but almost didn’t because many of the reviews said it was just a “shorter” version of Seventy-Eight Degrees. I disagree, and I’m so glad I purchased it anyway! The New Tarot Handbook’s card descriptions are indeed much shorter than in Seventy-Eight Degrees, but they offer new insights that add depth to my study of tarot. In addition to discussing basic spreads, she also provides a spread for each of the 22 Major Arcana cards, the court cards, and each of the four suits. As a beginner, these spreads are such a wonderful way for me to get to know the cards on a personal level.
Through these readings, I have been able to positively connect with cards I had at first only had negative impressions of. I also appreciate Pollack’s warm and open attitude toward studying tarot. She doesn’t present any one way of approaching tarot as the “right” way to do it; she tells the reader to find what works for them and to go for it. I think Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom is incredible as well, but if I had to choose just one book to recommend to a fellow beginner, The New Tarot Handbook would be it.
Pollack’s clear, beautiful insights, 30+ spreads, and numerological descriptions are a truly excellent foundation from which to explore the world of tarot.
I’m always on the fence about tarot books – I can never seem to find ones that are really helpful, but I still eat them up. I most recently read the 1984 edition of Feminist Tarot (Sally Gearhart, Susan Rennie) and I haven’t sat with it long enough to get my thoughts together. Here are two other books that have stuck with me:
Tarot Tips of the Trade: Tying it All Together by Raven Willowmagic
Initially, this book was a disappointment, or seemed like a disappointment. It seemed like a basic how-to, a one-page description of the card meaning with a black-and-white depiction of the RWS image of the card. Along with the description of the meaning, there is a little poem to act as a mnemonic device to remember the card’s meaning. A little basic, but cute.
However, the rest of this book is really the reason I’ve changed my tune. All of the other writing–the introduction, any side bars, etc– is a window into Raven Willowmagic’s idiosyncrasies about interpreting the cards. For example, pages are all messengers tied to an astrological season. This book is also where I picked up the tip that has incredibly aided my intuition while reading: are the figures in the images pointing at anything? Or looking anywhere? Now it’s so much easier to look at the reading as a whole and see how the cards interact with each other.
Overall, I’m still not sure if I’d recommend this book outright, but what I got out of it has been valuable to me.
Tarot Tells the Tale by James Ricklef
This book is one of the most meaty books about Tarot I have read. It doesn’t focus on individual meanings of cards, but on how to interpret them in spreads. Ricklef focuses on three card readings, and each example reading is in depth and extensive. Meaning is truly mined from the cards. The sample readings are for fictional characters or even historical figures (my favorite one was for Gertrude Stein) and even though he’s not reading for people in the flesh, Ricklef is thorough and caring about the advice that he gives. overall, it was very insightful, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Step by Step Tarot by Terry Donaldson
I got it from my local library a few months so I’m going off pure memory here, but I remember it having twodifferent chapters for card interpretations: one with shorter, introductory meanings and then another that goes more in-depth. He also had a (short) chapter solely devoted to the court cards, which I know a lot of people can have trouble with. As the title implies, the goal of the book is to walk the reader through learning tarot and developing their own method of understanding and relating to the cards, rather than simply giving a list of meanings for each card.
What I liked best was his emphasis on learning the cards by creating stories that make them make sense to you, rather than memorizing the meaning for every single card. It’s really helped me in learning to read different decks and not always trying to remember the RWS standard picture/definition. I would say that he’s very practical in the way that he approaches tarot – at one point, IIRC, he writes that it’s all just art on cardstock so there’s no point in getting precious over it! Of course that’s not an attitude that will appeal to everyone, but as a beginning it really set me at ease and helped me stop worrying about interpreting the cards the “right” way 🙂
The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals by Mary K Greer
It is a wonderful book with a deep understanding on how a reversal card can have very many differents interpretations.
This book is for me one of the best books on tarot reversals ever written. It most definitely helped me see things in a much better light than before. When I learned how to read Tarot cards, I just looked at the reversed cards as a, well, reversal of all the things that the upright card would talk about. This book came along at just the right time in my journey with the cards, and answered so many of those ‘reversed’ questions that I had been having.
As for me, I’d recommend two books:
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
This was the first tarot book I ever read (besides diving into the ubiquitous – and great – Learn Tarot by Joan Bunning). I would devour chapters on the bus to work each day, trying to absorb all of the vast concepts Pollack discusses in her classic work.
It can be used as a reference book – cards with interpretations are presented in the usual systematic way – but it’s even better read cover to cover, as a story. Reading Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom in this way helped to make me a more cohesive tarot reader. I recommend this to any tarot lover, whether you’re a complete beginner or a veteran reader. It’s beautifully written and feels like the result of so much experience and study.
She Is Sitting in the Night: Revisioning Thea’s Tarot by Oliver Pickle
This is the tarot book I wish I had written! Taking a beautiful feminist lesbian tarot from the 1980s, Oliver Pickle and friend Rima Athar set out to ‘queer’ these cards. The introduction explains the interplay between second-wave feminism and the modern queer politic, and the card descriptions will resonate deeply with those of us involved in queer communities. (I love this book so much, I stock it in my shop!)
Over to you! What’s your favourite tarot book? Let us know in the comments!
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.