The Bookworm’s
Guide to Tarot
By James W. Revak

BOOKS ARRANGED BY AUTHOR

A–B

Adler, Margot.  (1979).  Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  New York: Viking Press.
• Revised Ed. (1986).  New York: Penguin/Arkana.  ISBN 014019536X.  xvi + 442 pp. + appendices, annotated bibliography, endnotes, index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
This well-known, popular guide continues to serve as a good introduction to contemporary Neopaganism, including the worldview and basic beliefs (polytheism, animism, and pantheism) shared by many adherents.  The author, a committed Neopagan, devotes significant time to discussing modern witchcraft, often called Wicca.  She presents an informal, brief history and rejects as factually incorrect the notion that Wicca is an ancient religion.  However, her history is sketchy and already dated.  The author continues by presenting selected basic practices, values, and beliefs shared by many Wiccans (initiation, covens, sabbats, magic, ritual, worship of the Goddess and her consort, and commitments to feminism and ecology).  Other kinds of Neopaganism discussed include Asatru (Norse or Germanic religion), Druidry, and men’s spirituality (e.g., Radical Faeries).  Adler suggests numerous resources for Neopagans (organizations, publications, books).  However, they are already dated; e.g., she understandably makes no mention of the Internet.  The author presents results of surveys conducted among Neopagans; however, her findings are unreliable due to poor methodology.  Still, many newcommers to Neopaganism will find much of value in this book.

Akron; Banzhaf, Hajo.  (1995).  (Christine M. Grimm, Trans.).  The Crowley Tarot: The Handbook to the Cards by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 0880797150.  212 pp. + glossary; illus.; softcover. 
Apparently also published in German as Das Handbuch zu den Karten von Aleister Crowley und Lady Frieda Harris (1998).
3 StarsBeginning to Intermediate  TTT
The authors provide a good introduction to divination by Tarot, especially the Thoth Tarot Deck, with which the title is illustrated.  They treat each card methodically and include visual descriptions, introductory discussion, analysis, commentary, and divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  They also suggest correspondences between many of the cards and astrology, the I Ching, runes, fragrances, gems, mythology, music, and more.  To a lesser extent, Akron and Banzhaf explore reversed cards, spreads, and learning to read cards.  Their writing is clear and they have a knack for shedding valuable light on Thoth.  On the other hand, they are not completely faithful to Crowley’s intent as described in his advanced study The Book of Thoth. (q.v.)

Almond, Jocelyn; Seddon, Keith.  (1991).  Understanding Tarot: A Practical Guide to Tarot Card Reading.  London: HarperCollins.  ISBN 1855380870.  150 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
This title is a brief, simple introduction to divination by Tarot.  The authors present the cards in a methodical and lucid manner, suggesting lessons the cards may offer, divinatory meanings, and keywords (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  Although easy to understand, the treatment of each card is often too brief – even for a beginner.  The authors discuss selecting a deck, the structure of decks, doing readings, a few spreads, and other uses for the cards, including meditation.  Their brief history of Tarot is unfortunately riddled with misconceptions and errors.

Amaral, Geraldine; Cunningham, Nancy Brady.  (1997).  Tarot Celebrations: Honoring the Inner Voice.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 1578630142.  xxi + 281 pp. + appendices, biblio., endnotes, index; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Beginning    TTT
The heart of this book comprises brief insights into each Major Arcanum, and a short, simple ritual with which to experience and integrate lessons which each may hold.  The rituals, which are described in detail, generally require inexpensive, minimal props and supplies; in fact, many may be found around the typical home.  However, they are so short and rudimentary that some readers are bound to find many of them superficial, overly simplistic, and quickly outgrown.  An original short poem accompanies each Major Arcanum; however, they are often frankly trite.  The authors also devote significant space to explaining in an easy-to-understand manner the structure of Tarot, and how to use the cards to explore Jungian archetypes, to meditate, to practice divination, and generally to enhance one’s spiritual life.  The authors do not discuss the Minor Arcana except in passing.  Illustrations are primarily from The Morgan-Greer Tarot.

Anonymous.  See Valentin Tomberg.

Banzhaf, Hajo.  (1993/1988).  (Christine M. Grimm, Trans.).  The Tarot Handbook.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games.  ISBN 0880795115.  183 pp. + biblio.; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
The author provides a brief introduction to divination by Tarot.  He analyzes each card generally and from the perspectives of work, consciousness, and personal relationships.  He also provides correspondences between Tarot and astrology, mythology, and the I Ching.  Banzhaf places special emphasis on how to interpret each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation) in each position of a seven-card spread suggested by him.  The advantage is meanings tailored to each position.  The disadvantage is the inability or difficulty of applying these meanings to other spreads, including three which the author suggests.  Each card is illustrated from a Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Beitchman, Philip.  (1998).  Alchemy of the Word: Cabala of the Renaissance.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.  ISBN 09791437388.  xiv + 292 pp. + biblio., index; softcover.
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced
(Cabala – General)
The author presents an academic overview of selected aspects of Cabala during the Renaissance from three perspectives: Jewish, Christian, and Hermetic.  He briefly discusses the origins and content of the Zohar and explores such Jewish Cabalistic concepts as Exile, the Bride of the Sabbath, Lilith, and the Shekinah.  Beitchman next briefly surveys the spread of Cabala among Christians, including John Reuchlin and Pico della Mirandola, who often emphasized Cabalistic techniques of scriptural exegesis and sought to use Cabala to prove that Jesus was the messiah.  The author also explores the Hermetic Cabala as epitomized by the work of Agrippa von Nettesheim, a proponent of Cabala for magical purposes.  The author documents and discusses the impact of Cabala (especially the Christian and Hermetic varieties) on English culture, possibly including selected works of Shakespeare.  In a lengthy chapter Beitchman painstakingly documents numerous sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, which helped to spread this mystical system throughout much of Western Europe.  Despite the author’s expertise, command of detail, and other strengths the reader may feel cheated in the end; Beitchman unfortunately fails to assess his disparate ideas and relate them to one another in a summary of findings.

Betts, Timothy.  (1998).  Tarot and the Millenium: The Story of Who’s on the Cards and Why.  Rancho Palos Verdes: New Perspective Media.  ISBN 0964102056.  368 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; illustrated; softcover.
3 Stars Advanced  TTT
The author enthusiastically maintains that Tarot is a Medieval retelling of the story of Christ’s second coming and the ensuing millennium.  He supports his thesis with numerous quotations from the Bible, especially Revelation, and Medieval documentary sources.  Betts relates the views of Joachim of Fiore (including his triple division of history, writings concerning the Antichrist, and prophecy of new spiritual orders) to Tarot.  Likewise, he relates the views of John of Rupescissa (including his prophecies) to the cards.  The author references and reproduces numerous visual sources, including early Tarot decks.  On the other hand, Betts, going out on a limb, argues unconvincingly that drawings in a Medieval manuscript of Alexander Laicus’ commentary on the Apocalypse served as models for the Tarot Trumps.

The Book of Creation.  See Sefer Yezirah.

Book “T” – The Tarot.  (first written and privately circulated c. 1888).
• Published in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic (q.v.).
• Major excerpts published in Robert Wang’s An Introduction to The Golden Dawn Tarot: Including the Original Documents on Tarot from the Order of the Golden Dawn with Explanatory Notes (q.v.).
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This collection of brief but detailed monographs, originally circulated privately among members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, presents the order’s seminal approach to Tarot (including descriptions of cards, divinatory techniques and meanings, and its relationship to astrology and Cabala).  Specifically, it comprises: (a) introductory articles by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, which include esoteric names for each card; design specifications and brief divinatory meanings for each Minor Arcanum (upright orientation only); and elemental and astrological correspondences; (b) Tarot Divination (author unknown), which details a lengthy, complex method for reading the cards using multiple layouts; and explains a rudimentary method for applying the properties of the Four Elements to readings (commonly called Elemental Dignities); (c) The Tarot Trumps by Harriet Miller Felkin, which describes the design and interpretation of the Major Arcana; and (d) The Tree of Life as Projected in a Solid Sphere by Mathers, which is a complex treatment of components of the Tree of Life and Tarot, wherein the author assigns them to segments of the celestial sphere.

Bunning, Joan.  (1998).  Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 1578630487.  xi + 293 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Beginning  TTT
This title offers a methodical introduction to divination by Tarot, including interpreting cards, framing questions, and doing different kinds of readings.  Bunning treats each card well; she includes a concise discussion of its symbolism and imagery, lessons it may hold, divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation only), and what she terms opposing and reinforcing cards.  The book includes numerous exercises to help newcommers to familiarize themselves with the cards and their uses.  To a lesser extent, the author explores reversed cards and spreads.  Her writing is clear and direct.  On the other hand, her approach is very weak with regard to traditional Occultism or Western Esotericism.  Illustrations are from the Universal Waite Tarot Deck.

Butler, Bill.  (1975).  The Definitive Tarot.  London: Century Hutchinson.
Republished (1975). (With new title).  Dictionary of the Tarot.  New York: Schocken.  ISBN 0805205594.  iii + 211 pp. + glossary, biblio.; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars
Beginning to Intermediate  TTT
This title is a convenient compendium of divinatory meanings assigned to each card (Major and Minor Arcana) by such Tarotists as Case, Christian, Crowley, Alfred Douglas, Eden Gray, Paul Huson, Stuart Kaplan, Papus, and Waite.  Although the author often provides meanings for both upright and reversed orientations, he may confuse some readers, because he often fails to differentiate between them.  He includes brief descriptions of the design of each card from such decks as Tarot de Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, Aquarian, and Thoth.  The author also presents a very brief history of Tarot (which is riddled with errors) and relates the cards to Egyptian mythology.


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Copyright © 2001 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  Version 2.0 (8/10/01).