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