Click on the links to the right to see some Tarot book reviews that I have written. Note
that I will be adding more reviews as I write them, so check back from time to time to see
Also, if you would like to see a few other Tarot book recommendations -- and short
reviews of those recommended books, read on...
Table of Contents
* Learning the Tarot, by Joan Bunning
* Tarot For Your Self, by Mary K. Greer
* The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, by Mary K. Greer
* Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, by Rachel Pollack
* The Back in Time Tarot Book by Janet Boyer
* Tarot Spells, by Janina Renee
* Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, by Hajo Banzhaf
* The Qabalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang
* The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, by Lon Milo DuQuette
** Learning the Tarot, by Joan Bunning, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1998).
If you are just beginning to learn about the Tarot, this book may be about the best place
to start. (This is not to say, however, that more experienced Tarot readers cannot find
value in this book too.) Its discussions of the individual cards, the Tarot suits, court
cards, reversed cards, spreads, card interactions, and the process of doing a reading
are all clear, concise, and easy to understand. This book also provides exercises to
help the reader practice what s/he has learned -- an excellent aid to the learning
process -- and it concludes with three insightful sample readings. In addition, Bunning’s
version of the Fool’s Journey (a metaphorical tale that highlights the twenty-two Major
Arcana cards) is about the best I have seen.
Note that much of this book’s material is also covered on Bunning’s website
** Tarot for Your Self, by Mary K. Greer, originally published by Newcastle Publishing
(1984), and now available through Career Press.
This book would be better described as a workbook than as a text, but whether you
want to use the cards for divinatory readings or for personal growth and exploration, it is
a great place to start your study, or even to expand upon it, for it will carry your
relationship with the cards into new and unexpected territory.
In addition to its discussions about the individual cards (an almost obligatory inclusion in
any Tarot book that hopes to sell to beginners) and its presentation of more than a
dozen interesting spreads, this book explores a wide range of innovative ways to use
Tarot cards to explore your life. Indeed, the book’s title arises from this focus on using
the cards for self-exploration.
Early in the book Greer shows how to calculate your Personality and Soul cards, and
explains how to understand both their meaning and their impact on your life. It goes on
to explain a vast array of atypical uses for the cards, and the following is a brief
sampling of such topics:
* Using a guided visualization to enter a card
* Playing with the court cards in order to explore your understanding of them
* Finding guidance from your inner (court card) teacher
* Healing yourself with the Tarot
* Using the cards to clarify your relationships or your goals.
I doubt that many people will explore every one of the techniques presented in this
book, but just as certainly, everyone should be able to find something there that they
can use -- some way that they can use the Tarot cards to enrich their life.
Note that Greer continues her unique exploration of the use of Tarot cards for self-
realization in her books Tarot Constellations (Newcastle, 1987) and Tarot Mirrors
** Another Tarot book by Mary Greer worth mentioning is The Complete Book of Tarot
Reversals (Llewellyn Publications, 2002).
Besides providing an extensive discussion of different ways to interpret reversed cards,
this book also explains many possible meanings for each of the seventy-eight reversed
Tarot cards, and Greer’s approaches range from the traditional to the freshly unique.
For the novice, the wealth of information in this book may even be overwhelming at first.
But by starting slow and picking and choosing what works for them, beginners should be
able to learn a lot from this book pretty easily. In fact, even more advanced Tarot
readers should be able to find in this book much food for thought on this, one of the
Tarot’s more vexing topics. And by the way, her version of the Fool’s Journey through
the reversed Major Arcana cards is an interesting companion to the more traditional
account found in Joan Bunning’s book.
If you plan to use reversed cards, this book is an excellent resource.
** Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, by Rachel Pollack, published by Thorsons (1997).
I have already mentioned two books that are among the best Tarot resources for
someone new to the subject -- Bunning’s Learning the Tarot, and Greer’s Tarot For
Your Self. A third essential Tarot book is Rachel Pollack’s Seventy Eight Degrees of
Wisdom, which takes a more philosophical approach to the subject.
With only a cursory glance through this book, one can get the simplistic impression that
it is just a book of card meanings. But Pollack never settles for the merely simple. She
has an extraordinary depth of understanding of the cards and how to use them, and her
writing easily transcends ordinary card interpretations. Through the use of philosophical
discussions, she is able to express profound insights into the cards, and so she brings
the seventy-eight Tarot cards to life.
Pollack also discusses things like the structure of the Tarot deck, trends within that
structure, and symmetries, themes, and paradoxes among the cards. And through her
search for meaning therein, she gives us an added appreciation for the Tarot in general
as well as a deeper understanding for the cards themselves.
In addition to Pollack’s discussions of the cards, there is a final section in this book that
reviewers of it tend to overlook or gloss over. In this section, she presents several
useful spreads (including, of course, the Celtic Cross, which she explains in quite
illuminating detail) and a couple of sample readings for two of the spreads. She goes on
to discuss other uses for the cards (meditations and mandalas, or patterns of cards),
and she concludes with a thoughtful discussion of how we can grow in consciousness
and spirit through our practice of doing Tarot readings.
For a long time, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was perhaps my favorite Tarot book,
but it may have been displaced now by Pollack’s new book, The Forest of Souls
(Llewellyn Publishing, 2002).
** The Back in Time Tarot Book by Janet Boyer, published by Hampton Roads (2008)
Due to its unique approach, Janet Boyer's The Back in Time Tarot Book is not a very
easy book to review without a lengthy explanation of its content, but I will give it a shot
here. In brief, this book explains how you can find fresh perspectives on the Tarot by
correlating specific Tarot cards with personal experiences from your past, familiar
stories, and world events. And through these personal experiences with the card, you
can increase both the breadth and depth of your understanding of the Tarot. The true
richness of this book, however, lies in the many engaging and endearing illustrations of
its technique provided by Boyer and a variety of Tarot authorities. Whatever your level
of Tarot expertise, after reading this book, you'll gain valuable new perspectives on the
** Tarot Spells, by Janina Renee, published by Llewellyn Publications (1990).
This popular book, beautifully illustrated with the cards from the Robin Wood Tarot
deck, presents a host of practical spells (71 to be exact) ranging from one to help
overcome an addiction to one for general business success. Each of these spells use
Tarot cards as the focus for the ritual and as a basis for the visualization and meditation
processes, although there are other supporting elements involved in the overall
process. These spells comprise the majority of this book, but Renee also includes
general notes about the Tarot, magic and spell casting (and the ethics thereof), rites,
Note that even if you have no intention of ever casting a spell, the material in this book
is still valuable for the Tarot visualizations and meditations that are suggested in them.
** Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, by Hajo Banzhaf, published by Samuel Weiser,
This book focuses its attention exclusively on the Major Arcana, and concentrates on
how its twenty-two cards depict the archetypal forces of our lives. To provide a context
for this discussion, Banzhaf presents a new structural paradigm for these cards that
consists of the Hero (the Fool card), the Hero’s Path (the Magician to the Moon cards),
which first travels along a “daytime arc,” then moves along a “nightly arc,” and the Hero’
s Return (the final three cards of the Major Arcana). In this way, he weaves the twenty-
two individual threads of the Major Arcana into a complete tapestry that tells a coherent
Along the way, Banzhaf uses his vast knowledge of myths and legends to illustrate his
points and to shed light on the meanings of these cards. Although he occasionally
seems to force an example to suit his purpose (for example, his argument that the
Temperance card has an underworld motif left me unconvinced), generally his
discussions of the cards as they relate to this Hero’s Journey (and vice versa: as it
relates to them) shed new light on each of the Major Arcana cards. As a result, Tarot
and the Journey of the Hero does an excellent job of reexamining these cards and
explaining how they can depict archetypal forces.
Overall, then, I found this book to be a fascinating read. Banzhaf is effective in relating
myths and legends to the Major Arcana, which is a special treat for people like me who
have a passion for mythic tales. In addition, this book is lavishly illustrated with Tarot
cards (mostly from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck), diagrams, and artwork. It is far from
being an easy read for a beginner though, with its discourses on philosophical,
psychological, and spiritual matters, but it captivated my interest, and whenever I picked
it up, I found it hard to put down again. So, if gaining spiritual and philosophical insights
into the Major Arcana is what you are looking for, this book should serve you well.
** The Qabalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1987).
This book is chockfull of information about the Qabalah and the Tree of Life, and how
the Tarot relates to them and can be seen in the light of their understanding. Although
Wang makes this information more accessible than previous writers from the Golden
Dawn tradition (such as Crowley or Regardie), his writing is still rather dry and dense.
Nevertheless, if you are interested in this topic, it is worth wading through this book.
The Qabalistic Tarot is also an excellent resource for comparing the cards of the Rider-
Waite-Smith, Thoth, Tarot de Marseilles, and Golden Dawn Tarot decks, which lends
insights into the meaning and implications of each. However, as implied by its subtitle
(“A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy”), this book’s focus is philosophical and
metaphysical, and it only touches upon divination peripherally. (There are about ten
pages devoted specifically to the subject.) So how well this book will suit your needs
depends on the extent to which you are looking for a theoretical, versus practical, guide
to the Tarot.
** The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, by Lon Milo DuQuette, published
by Weiser Books, Inc. (2001).
Whereas The Qabalistic Tarot is an in-depth, but dry, treatise on the Qabalah, The
Chicken Qabalah is an introductory, but hilarious, work on the same subject.
Yes, I know. Technically, this is not a book about the Tarot. But much of the underlying
philosophy upon which many modern Tarot decks are based is Qabalistic (and that
includes both the Rider-Waite-Smith and the Thoth decks), so I decided to include a
quick review of it here:
READ THIS BOOK.
Okay. I’ll expand on that a bit.
If you are already an expert on this subject, but you just want to roll on the floor
laughing while reading about it, read this book.
If you have little or no knowledge of the Qabalah and you want an easy-to-read and
easy-to-understand introduction to it, read this book. Be prepared to laugh too, though,
because DuQuette knows that you learn more when you are entertained at the same
If you have no idea what the heck the Qabalah is, or if you just don’t give a rat’s behind
about it, read this book anyway. You may not learn anything of use to your Tarot
practice (although you may be surprised!), but this book is so clever and so very
amusing that you won’t regret it. Honest! And then the next time someone says to you,
“You read Tarot cards, but you don’t understand the Qabalistic Tree of Life?” you can
look them square in the eye and respond using this book’s memorable refrain:
“Hell no! I’m a Chicken Qabalist! I don’t worry about it.”
The image at the top of this page (yes... WAY up there) is from the Tarot deck that I have
designed and illustrated. This image, and all contents of this website (c) James Ricklef.
James Ricklef -- Tarot Book Reviews