Awesome Tarot Books & Resources for Beginners & Beyond

by Marianne in , , ,


I’m often asked what resources I’d recommend to people keen to learn more about tarot. We’re so blessed at this point in tarot history to have such an abundance of books, blogs, podcasts, courses, and conversations, both online and off, to nurture our understanding of this rich and complex art form.

When you’re starting out, though, that abundance can be pretty overwhelming. Who’s got the time or the cash to try courses that don’t resonate, or read books that barely skim the surface? Sometimes, we need a little help sorting the signal from the noise.

Best Tarot Learning Resources Books.JPG

To that end, here is a list of books and other resources that have boosted my tarot game and enriched my understanding of the cards. Of course, I can’t claim to have tried everything that’s out there, but I do have a stable of recommendations I can wholeheartedly hand over to tarot beginners, and also some juicy gems for more advanced readers to sink their teeth into.

I intend for this list to be a rolling resource, so I’ll update it from time to time as new and worthy things cross my path.

Books

My Ultimate Go-Tos

This is a pair of books I always recommend in tandem, because I read them both when I was first learning, and together they helped me to deepen my understanding of both the philosophy and the practical applications of the Rider-Waite-Smith system.

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack is hands down, my go-to for learning the Rider-Waite-Smith system. It gives some history, and looks at individual card meanings with a lot of focus and depth, particularly for the Major Arcana. The real gold in this book is the way it describes the underlying philosophical structure of the deck, with attention to its historical origins in the Western esoteric tradition. I’d say this is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand what this branch of tarot is, in the deepest sense.

If that all sounds quite theoretical, fear not! Rachel Pollack’s masterpiece is well paired with a more accessible and practical tarot handbook, Tarot: Plain and Simple by Anthony Louis. Louis’ book is also based on the Rider-Waite-Smith system, and it goes through card by card with key words and phrases, as well as situations and types of advice that might be represented by each card.

The approach is immensely practical, so I often recommend this guide as an on the go reference, when you need some clues about how a card might relate practically to a particular query. It also arranges the Minors by number rather than by suit, so you see all the Aces side by side, and so on. This gives the reader excellent grounding in how the numerology of the tarot functions, and how readers use the structure of the deck, rather than just individual cards, to make meaning.

New Favourites

My go-tos, dating back to my beginner days, might be some of the most well-thumbed books in my collection, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t found other new favourites over the years. Here are some other tarot books I’d recommend:

The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin is one of only two tarot books I’ve sat down and read cover to cover, like a novel. That’s how juicy and compelling it is! The Creative Tarot is exactly what it sounds like - a method of reading tarot for creative questioning, especially as it relates to art practice and other creative work. There are many things to love about this book, but one of my favourites is that Jessa gives recommended media - books, poems, songs, films - for each card, so you can dive deep into the archetypes. You can find tons more detail about this book in my full review here.

Tarot for Life by Paul Quinn isn’t a new book, but is a new favourite here at Two Sides Tarot. I love the anecdotes that Quinn includes to demonstrate how each card might play out in real life, but what really captured my attention is the table he lays out for each card, which includes Keywords, then suggestions for each card as Being, Doing, Shadow, Reversed, and Possible Advice. I like thinking of card meanings as different parts of grammar - like, what is the Nine of Swords as a verb? A noun? Thinking about cards in this way gives them flexible applications, and Quinn’s handy dandy tables have plenty of accessible inspiration for that way of thinking.

I picked up Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot mostly because I love Michelle Tea. I wouldn’t say that Modern Tarot is a perfect resource for the beginner, because it doesn’t include what I would consider essential learning tools, like a history of tarot, and chapters on how tarot spreads work, how to shuffle, how to read for others, and so on. What does make it great, though, is that it includes extensive anecdotes from the author’s own experience to illustrate how each card might appear in the world, and it includes a spell or ritual for working with every single card of the deck. LOVE!

Finally, an honourable mention goes to a funny little book called The Tarot Masters, edited by Kim Arnold. This isn’t really a reference book, but when I was getting more seriously immersed in my tarot studies, it proved to be a rich treasure trove of stories that inspired me to go deeper with the cards. Editor Kim Arnold has assembled a true dream team of tarot masters, and each one writes about a card from the Major Arcana, as well as a memory or story from their own tarot history. It’s like eavesdropping on the ultimate tarot celebrity dinner party. There is tea!

Advanced Books

Some of the books mentioned in this post (especially the ones in the next category) do deal with more advanced level tarot practices, so in terms of books that stand alone for more advanced readers, I’ve just got one that I love.

Tarot Interactions by Deborah Lipp doesn’t include card meanings, instead, it gets straight into how cards interact in a reading, and how readers can use the structure of the deck - the suits, the numbers, the elements - to inform the way they read multiple cards at a time. My favourite part of this book is the table where Lipp uses some basic maths to help readers determine what is statistically significant in a reading (what counts, mathematically, as “a lot” of Pentacles, or a lot of Majors, in a reading with six cards, or ten cards, for example). I’ve never come across that in a tarot book before, but it seems like pretty important knowledge to have! This is particularly useful intel if you read with reversals.

Books That Are Kinda Like Courses

Rather than sitting down and reading a book cover to cover, many of us would prefer something that feels a little bit more like a course or a workshop, with a bit of reading, a few worksheets, and maybe some homework if we’re feeling super motivated (and who isn’t feeling super motivated to learn tarot? Come on!).

Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer is stuffed full of exercises you can undertake to really go deep with the cards. Its focus is on using tarot for self-inquiry, and it contains a ton of practical ideas from figuring out your soul card, to doing meditative pathworking with the cards, and so much more. You’ll learn plenty about the cards, of course, but this book is really focused on putting the deck to work so you can learn about you.

Tarot 101 by Kim Huggens is not numbered like a college course for nothing! This book is best treated like a term of study, and worked through in order. Huggens weaves her lessons in interesting ways, arranging archetypes thematically, and interspersing the study of individual cards with exercises on designing spreads, doing readings, and using the cards for self-reflection.

If you’ve not seen Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen in the flesh, you’ll have to trust me when I say it is A Tome. This brick of a book from one of the most knowledgeable and prolific esoteric scholars working today will see anyone go from stumbling beginner to sage expert, because there is just SO much in here to learn. This book is technical, academic in its approach, so if you’re an absolute beginner I’d say you could start here (and certainly, the earlier part of the book is aimed at beginners), but if you’re easily intimidated by vast swathes of occult knowledge and you’ve never read so much as a blog post about tarot before, well, maybe proceed with caution! When you’re ready to dive in, you may want to supplement your reading with the Holist Tarot resources on Benebell’s website.

Courses

I’ve taken an online course in tarot here and there over the years, most of which don’t seem to exist anymore, but I’m thrilled to find that one of my favourites, Little Red Tarot’s Alternative Tarot Course, is still very much alive and kicking. This self-paced, delivered-by-email course is a really great way to dive into the cards. I especially love that it reflects Little Red Tarot’s ethical, inclusive approach to, well, everything! So many tarot decks and resources fail to grapple with problematic and exclusionary power structures and gender roles that exist in traditional tarot, but you can be sure that this course isn’t afraid to challenge that status quo and make tarot available to all of us.

If you’d rather take things card by card, Little Red Tarot also offers a Card A Day course. I haven’t tried this one myself but I think I’d happily vouch for the quality of anything that Beth makes.

For those of us with a passion for the Tarot de Marseille, or perhaps just for a different approach to the heavily metaphorical way many of us read in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, Camelia Elias’s courses are fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to read like the devil?

Other Resources

This part of the list is a grab bag of things I’ve found helpful and interesting, across different media. No doubt there’ll be updates to come!

First, if you’re looking to deepen your relationship with the archetypes of the Major Arcana, you might enjoy a free resource I created for journaling with each of the tarot trumps. This guide will encourage you to dig into your own experiences and make connections with the cards.

If you enjoy doing some tarot study on the go, try Lindsay Mack’s podcast, Tarot for the Wild Soul. Lindsay shares deep dives into individual cards and themes, as well as some really amazing interviews with luminaries in the worlds of tarot and other spiritual crafts.

I mentioned above that Little Red Tarot has some great courses, but if you’re not ready to commit to a course (and even if you are), don’t miss the incredible blog. It’s an overflowing wellspring of tarot knowledge and exploration, and captures so many marginal, magical, and necessary voices.

And of course, you can find lots of deck reviews, tarot spreads, and card analysis right here on the Two Sides Tarot blog. Perhaps start with this one, or this one. Enjoy!

What are your favourite tarot resources? Give your beloved books, blogs, and podcasts a shoutout in the comments!

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All About Love: A Meditation on The Lovers

by Marianne in , ,


If you've been here before, you probably know that when it comes to writing, I like to follow my whims. If it's been quiet on the blog front, which it has, it's because at the moment I'm mostly sharing my writing in my occasional email newsletter (that's where this piece originally appeared). If you'd like to keep up with my latest tarot musings and news, you can sign up here

The Lovers from Tarot in Space! and The Wild Unknown Tarot.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about love. In a little over a month, it'll be a year since my last relationship ended, and throughout that time, I've thought a lot about what place love ought to have in my life. I also wonder what it means to love well, not just your lover, but your family, your friends, your community, your clients and colleagues, your work.

I recently devoured bell hooks' meditation on this subject, All About Love, and it left me with a lot to ponder. hooks borrows her definition of love from the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (who in turn follows the work of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm), who describes love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." I haven't yet managed to fully understand and integrate that as a definition, but suffice it to say that lightbulbs are going off in the deep recesses of my mind! I hope this idea - one that seems simultaneously obvious and world-shaking - gives you pause, too.

hooks draws on Peck further, quoting that "love is an act of will - namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Again, this seems both obvious and revolutionary. What if we didn't think of love - in any of its forms - so much as a feeling that steals over us as a course of action we willed ourselves to undertake?

As it turns out, the trusty tarot already has this idea well and truly covered. Our friends in the Major Arcana, The Lovers, are all about helping to guide our choices. We're all familiar with the Rider Waite Smith Lovers, the union of a woman and a man presided over by an angel, but unless you're Marseille Tarot savvy, you may not have noticed that earlier iterations of this card depict a man, struck by cupid's arrow, choosing between two women (see Rachel Pollack's excellent book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, for a more extensive history of both these cards). The notion of choice, particularly in matters of love, has always been at the forefront of this card's meaning.

The Lovers from the Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition and the Tarot of Jean Noblet.

Here we have a marriage, ordained by spirit, freely entered into, of opposites, complements, chosen loves. Of course, when we look at the Rider Waite Smith's imagery, we must acknowledge that not everyone is straight, not everyone believes in marriage, not everyone sees their gender represented. As we get better at listening to each other and seeing each other's unique identities, we know that this isn't the best way to represent the choice to love and to commit. Nonetheless, the ideas here remain powerful. This is love in service of spiritual growth and inner unity, and when we draw this card, we're being invited to choose that path.

While this card is usually associated with romantic love, its lessons about choice have a much broader application. Just as The Lovers must choose the right partner if they are to reap the spiritual benefits of an angel-blessed union, so too must we choose what and whom we love, and choose again and again to love well so that our spirits - and the spirits of the people and places and projects we love - can grow and flourish.

What does this mean, practically speaking? I don't think bell hooks wants to make a prescription, and for my part, well, I'm still figuring that out. For now, though, let's chew on this idea that when we love well, we're striving to nourish each other's - and our own - spirits. And that it's through our will that we make this commitment. Every minute we get to choose to love, or not, and choose again.

What are your thoughts on The Lovers - or on love in general? Love it? Hate it? Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Twitter. I'd love to hear your perspective!


On the Bookshelf: The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin

by Marianne in


It's been a while since we've had a book review around these parts, but I think Jessa Crispin's The Creative Tarot deserves a mention because of its unique approach to the cards, and because, unlike many a tarot book, it kept me reading from cover to cover. Supporting creativity is a big part of the work I do with clients (you can even order a reading specifically for your creative projects!), and something I'm almost constantly thinking about in my own life. Naturally, I would be gripped by a book that promised to fuse these two fields in a new way.

Crispin's new tarot book first came to my attention when one my un-tarot-y friends (is it wrong to refer to them as my muggle friends, I wonder?) sent me a link to its write-up in the New Yorker. It might be unusual for a tarot book to be reviewed in The New Yorker, but it isn't a surprise to see an author with such literary chops as Crispin's snagging real estate in what is probably the world's most beloved literary magazine. A long-time critic, writer, and creator of the lit culture website, Bookslut, Crispin is having her moment to come out of the broom closet and say yes, smart people with many degrees and prestigious careers respect and use tarot. 

Of course, around here we knew that already, and I do admit to issuing a blinding eye-roll when I read The New Yorker's chosen headline, "Making Tarot Literary Again." Remind me, when wasn't it? After relishing my moment of snark, though, I thought, ok, I better find out what this is all about.

As you'd expect from the title, The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to the Inspired Life examines the tarot in terms of its application to creative practice. This has always been a subject of great interest to me, both as a maker of things and as a tarot reader, so once I regained my post-eye-roll vision, I got a little excited. Most readers know how powerful the cards can be to shake up stale ideas and offer support in moments of creative crisis, but this book goes above and beyond in championing that as a practice.

The book offers a moderately good introduction to the art of tarot, as Crispin tries (successfully, I think) to engage both total newcomers and more experienced readers. Crispin kicks off by sharing a little bit of tarot history and her own tarot origin story. To settle in the cautious beginners (ie, all those sceptical New Yorker readers), there's a Q&A about what deck to use, whether you can read for yourself, and what to do if you're an atheist (spoiler alert - don't panic!). The author reassures that no crystals and incense are necessary to reap the benefits of self-reflection with the cards (note that the only reason a piece of clear quartz appears in the above photograph is because that's what actual mystics have on hand to hold an uncooperative book cover closed).

Crispin then strikes out into the meatiest section of the book, her card-by-card index of meanings, associations, applications. The Rider-Waite-Smith is her chosen deck for this book, and the meanings are based on the traditional lexicon of that deck. Crispin does stress, though, that her suggested interpretations needn't be applied only to work with the RWS, and in her image descriptions, she gives some leeway for non-traditional card depictions. For each card, we get a general description of the card image (as well as a picture taken from the RWS), some ideas about the story each card tells, and then that story's application to an aspect or aspects of the creative process.

Then, the best part - that application is illustrated with an example from an artist's biography, a nugget of popular culture, or a myth or fairytale. For example, Crispin uses Nikolay Gogol's burning of half of his opus, Dead Souls, to illustrate the destructive fear and anxiety of the Nine of Swords. Temperance's blending of opposites to create a new path is exemplified by David Bowie's genre- and gender-bending period in the 70's. St. Teresa of Avila's fevered holy visions demonstrate the lightning bolt inspiration of the Ace of Wands.

For me, this was the juiciest bit of the book, and I surprised myself by reading this part of it from start to finish. These days, it's unheard of for me to read a book of card meanings from cover to cover, but I was seduced by Crispin's storytelling and eager to see how her unique vision would interpret the next card. Not to mention, I'm a total studio voyeur - I can't get enough of stories about the work practices of creative people (FYI, if that's your kind of thang, see Daily Rituals by Mason Currey). 

Having said that, I didn't agree with all of her interpretations and correspondences (e.g., she associates Cups with spirituality, which has always been a fiery Wands trait in my book), but I came to appreciate that as one of the book's strengths. The interpretations offered may not always be traditional, they may not always resonate with my approach, but they're so obviously born out of many years of direct work with the cards in the context of creative practice. Crispin has a clear and unique voice that shines through in her approach to each card and the deck as a whole. There's plenty here to spark consideration and debate for seasoned readers. 

Wait - did I say the stories of creatives was the best part? I think I was wrong. The best-best part has got to be the recommended materials that Crispin offers for each card. An inspired idea! For the Eight of Coins, we're dispatched to view Chuck Close's Self-Portrait, for the Page of Cups, to read Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil. The Queen of Swords can be found in the works of Diane Arbus, and The Hierophant in The Essential Rosa Luxemburg. Films, photographs, paintings, and books are presented as a means to deepen our understanding of each archetype. It's a tactic I've employed myself, and more than anything, I think its value lies in teaching us students of the tarot to pay attention, always. Mythologies and their attendant lessons lurk around every corner!

After working her way through the deck, Crispin offers a series of thoughtful spreads to address quandaries and questions that might arise at different points in the creative process. Each spread comes with a sample reading, so you can see her interpretations in action. She also keeps those anxious atheists on board by offering some advice for how to start doing your own readings (look for patterns, look for the story, be calm and trust yourself when you're starting out). To wrap up, there are some tips on how to choose a deck, keeping a journal of your readings, and how to read for someone else. 

The Creative Tarot strikes a good balance between being a gentle introduction for beginners and offering new ideas and substantial-enough content for readers who have been around the block a few times. While I wouldn't recommend it as the sole resource for a total tarot noob (bitch please, that's always going to be Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack - accept no substitutes!), there's more than enough here to get you started. Certainly, if you're a tarot reader looking to expand your creative practice (or that of your clients), this will be an invaluable resource. 

In the weeks since I picked up the book, I've seen it pop up all over the tarot instagram-o-sphere, and also in some unexpected places - for example, artist and creativity guru Austin Kleon has posted about it. There's no doubt that the popularity of tarot is on the rise, and if more people come to use the cards to enhance their earthly experience, all the better. The inimitable Brene Brown cautions that "unused creativity is not benign", and if that is the case, then it would behove both readers of the tarot and readers of The New Yorker to put it to good use! To that end, Jessa Crispin is a great cheerleader to have in your corner, and The Creative Tarot a great resource for your bookshelf. 

Are there any readers of The Creative Tarot in the crowd? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book, and on supporting creativity with tarot in general! Drop me a line in the comments.

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Further Reading - 27th May 2014

by Marianne in , ,


May has just flown by, hasn't it? I'm only now realising that the New Moon is nearly upon us again (coming up on the 29th), and I need to get thinking about setting my aspirations for June. When it comes to making plans and setting intentions, there's a lot of inspiration out there! These are a wonderful things I've been reading in the past week or so to feed my curiosity and fill my brain up with possibility for the weeks ahead. 

My offline reading material this week has been Alice Walker's recent collection of essays, The Cushion in the Road. I'm not all that knowledgeable about Alice Walker's oeuvre, but I picked this up on a whim and found it to be exactly what I was looking for. Alice's tireless and compassionate witness of human crises and redemptions is inspiring, and her emphasis on the need for us all to return regularly to the cushion for more contemplation was a timely reminder for me. 

I stumbled across a wonderful article by one of my favourite bloggers, Bri of Milagro Roots, about how to spiritually cleanse your space and your person. Her suggestions are wonderful if you're feeling some stale energy, and even better if you think there's actually some bad juju around. Along similar lines, her document on how to take a spiritual bath is not to be missed!

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of Musings on the Moon Card over at My Curious Cabinet. The Moon is one of my favourite cards, and its myriad interpretations are so fascinating. It's funny, too, that the responses to it in a reading range from deep attraction to fear and repulsion. The author follows some interesting threads, and I have to agree, the Cosmic Tarot truly does depict the crayfish to end all crayfish!

How great are these instructions for a New Moon Ritual Gathering over at MysticMamma.com? I'm a little disappointed that I've left it too late this month, but maybe I'll be able to get my mystical ladies together in time for the next new moon so we can connect with this important natural cycle, strengthen our bonds, and make some magic!

Finally, the courageous Hilary of Tarot by Hilary wrote a great post last week on how you just Can't Read for Everyone. It's a tough topic to tackle, but Hilary hits the nail on the head when she says that sometimes, the connection between reader and client just isn't there. As a business owner, it feels screwy to decline an order, but the fact is, sometimes saying yes when you're feeling no does more harm than good. As a metaphysical professional, I definitely agree that it is of better service to both client and reader to be honest about when the vibe isn't right. Hilary, thanks for writing so honestly and sticking to your guns on this tricky subject!

What have you been reading lately? I love a good tip! If you've find something intriguing and inspiring, let me know in the comments!

P.S. Looking for more reading material? Check out some of my very favourite tarot blogs!