In the Beginning . . .

. . . there was the Word, and the Word was Good.

Most of us began our tarot journey with books. The more “senior” among us probably found our way to Eden Gray’s The Tarot Revealed first, followed by Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot. I surmise that it’s a rare person who picks up the cards “cold” and tries to puzzle through their often confounding images without quickly resorting to the published “keyword crutch.” I came at it from an esoteric background, so my influences were people like Aleister Crowley, Gareth Knight and Paul Foster Case, but that path isn’t for everyone, at least not in the beginning.

I haven’t fully explored the flood of popular modern tarot books for beginners because I’m well beyond that stage after studying and practicing tarot divination for over four decades, but there are a few that stand out from the crowd. One of my favorites is the two-volume output of Anthony Louis, who was a compatriot of mine from the Astrological Society of Connecticut back in the ’70s: Tarot Plain and Simple and Tarot Beyond the Basics. (He has also authored a recent book on fundamentals, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide). Mary K. Greer has a number of worthwhile offerings, although I don’t own many of them, as does Rachel Pollack, and some people swear by Dusty White and Joan Bunning. Of those I have actually read, I found books by James Ricklef and Paul Fenton Smith to be solid contributions to the Waite-Smith genre (and also available as e-books). Those who start with the Tarot de Marseille are at a disadvantage since there is no written tradition for its divinatory interpretation; Yoav Ben-Dov’s book is a good place to start, and I understand that Caitlin Matthews and Andy Boroveshengra (noted Lenormand expert) are also working on new TdM material. Then there is The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky that will inevitably appear on the newbie’s wish list since there are so few alternatives, but I can’t recommend it for starters. Aspiring fans of the Thoth Tarot (who may be masochists at heart) have Lon Milo DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot and the Thoth writing of Hajo Banzhaf and Michael Snuffin to shield them from the Master’s intimidating Book of Thoth. There are also numerous tarot blogs and websites of varying quality. The best ones I’ve found to date are posted on my home page.

As far as actually getting started, most of us perform self-readings first as a way to familiarize ourselves with the cards and the techniques of divination, then move on to read informally for friends and family members. The one-card “daily draw” with a keyword list handy is usually recommended by modern tarot writers as the best approach to learning the card meanings. Party gigs may follow, and eventually the occasional paid performance. But in the beginning, any practice is good practice.

4 thoughts on “In the Beginning . . .

  1. I absolutely love this post. To hear people who “came before me” talk about what the tarot resources were like “back in the day” is always refreshing and humbling. My journey with tarot started exactly as you mentioned here, struggling with keyword strings and terrible LWBs. Gradually I worked my way into Occult Philosophy and discovered… tarot resources.

    I’m guilty of consulting Rachel Pollack’s work often. Her Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom and The Tarot of Perfection are my favorite. However, I also quickly discovered myself alienated due to reading A History of the Occult Tarot, Meditations on the Tarot, and, of course, The Book of Thoth. And, when I say alienated, I mean alienated. I’ve been accused of being sexist for my Ceremonial Magic/Esoteric background, and I’m female… and was talking to other females.

    The whole surge of tarot beginner 101 books has really created a problem, a distinct rift between new age tarot and occult tarot. It’s frustrating, especially after so many beginners have read and chosen to ignore the great, more substantial books you’ve highlighted here. I’m not really sure what to do when people get the resources, but then ignore them in favor of more intuitive and only intuitive information. Personally, when it comes to actual practice, if you’re not able to practice on yourself… how can you practice on others?

    Sorry for rambling, I’ve just been noticing this trend too and wanted to comment on my observation since I’m on the post-surge end of things trying to get back to pre-surge tarot reading.

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  2. I keep a few books handy on my desktop for reference purposes. They include Crowley’s Book of Thoth; Qabalistic Tarot by Robert Wang; The Tarot by Paul Foster Case;The Tarot by Joseph Maxwell; Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot; Eden Gray’s The Tarot Revealed and Mastering the Tarot (but not her Complete Guide, which I don’t like as much); Dictionary of Tarot by Bill Butler; Tarot Decoded by Elizabeth Hazel; Crowley’s Tarot Divination from the 1912 Equinox, his adaptation of the Golden Dawn’s Liber T; Hajo Banzhaf’s Keywords for the Crowley Tarot; Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy; J.E. Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols; Liber Theta by Jim Eshelman of the College of Thelema (free downloadable PDF); Manly P. Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages; Gareth Knight’s A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism; James Sturzaker’s Kabbalistic Aphorisms and Yoav Ben-Dov’s Open Reading. The original Liber T is available to read on Benebell Wen’s web site. I also have a binder of reference material from the web.

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