Tarot reading books?
January 21, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the best book on tarot, and on doing tarot reading?

I'm hoping to find something that's satisfyingly mystical (and perhaps steeped in history) without being too silly and New Age-y.

It has to take the whole tarot thing seriously enough that I'll be able to do good readings based on what it says.

I'm not going into the sketchy divination business or anything, I just want to do personal readings for myself.
posted by bubukaba to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning is the most useful, least woo-woo book I've found. It's not "mystical" at all, though: she mentions the "Inner Guide" a few times, but it's mostly just a guide to using the cards in a practical, down-to-earth way. I think the whole book is online for free at her website, but I liked it enough to buy the hard copy anyway to keep on hand.
posted by lemuria at 3:50 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't have a recommendation for you, but it's possible to get a lot out of self-tarot-readings without taking tarot "seriously". Even if you believe (as I do) that the throw is totally random and that divination is impossible, what you've done is lay out a bunch of archetypes that you need to "read" in a particular order and context. The story you then make up for yourself by following the rules can reveal a lot of thoughts and feelings you didn't know you had. It's like journaling using writing prompts - only ten million times cooler.
posted by moxiedoll at 3:52 PM on January 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Moxiedoll, that's just the kind of thing I'm hoping to do. I guess what I'm looking for is a good book to draw some archtypes from.

Lemuria - I've been using that site, actually, but I don't own my own computer anymore, so it's good to know there's a paper version out there. Does it include anything aside from what's on the site?
posted by bubukaba at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2008

I use The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals by Mary Greer, as well as Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning. The first book is nice because it offers full descriptions for reversals that aren't of the "opposite of the upright" variety. The second book goes into more depth about the many ways you can use the tarot, as well as a good description of The Fool's Journey.

For me personally, I draw a daily card, and use it to have a fixed data point around which to compare the events or feelings of my day. For instance, today I drew the upright Strength card. I think about what the Strength card symbolizes, as well as what that card means to me personally (based on the feelings that the art on the card evokes...do I like it, hate it, etc. I use the Kat Black Golden Tarot deck, which is made up of artful compositions of various bits from 1300-1500c gothic art. It is exquisite, with gold-leaf edges and abstract interpretations of the basic themes). I then compare the events and feelings of my day to these two "expectations" of the card. How does my day compare? Was it way off? Was it right on? What does that say about where my thoughts are today? What is today's theme in comparison to this card?

Basically, I use the tarot as a medium to gain some clarity with where I am at, day to day. A card that is completely off base has just as much to say as something eerily on target. It's a reference point that you can use to triangulate spiritual and emotional distance and location from/to other things.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I like Gail Fairfield's Everyday Tarot; I find the emphasis on choosing how to deal with life situations that are shown us in the tarot to be preferable to the "flip, flip, flip, your dog's gonna die" deterministic readings that many think tarot is all about. In a way, this goes with Moxiedoll's stories philosophy -- I think the cards can point us out to things in our lives we wouldn't examine otherwise.
posted by lleachie at 4:30 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not the oldest, and certainly not the newest, but my favorite is
posted by RussHy at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2008

I have several books on tarot and the one which I would most recommend for your purposes is "Tarot of Ceremonial Magick" by Lon DuQuette. His writing is very straight but he packs plenty of meaning down into his simplicity.
posted by bukvich at 5:06 PM on January 21, 2008

What deck do you use? Almost regardless, I've been digging this one that covers the Crowley deck. It's perhaps the most practical deck on the tarot I've run across in a long time, no matter WHAT deck you're using.

I recommend against anything by Lon Milo Duquette at this stage. His book on the Tarot of Ceremonial Magick is, well, about ceremonial magic(k), including enochian invocation and evocation. Perhaps a bit heady for your purposes.

You may also really love Alan Moore's "Promethea" series, a really stunning graphic novel that includes so much background on the Tarot that you'll be very inspired. Sort of mack-y as well, but at least with that you can tell yourself it's just a story...

And to halfway self-plug, I'm launching a tarot-site this month that will contain (among other things) an encyclopaedic reference for all the cards, based on my years of experience. Memail me and I'll give you the address for future reference.

Good luck!
posted by hermitosis at 5:49 PM on January 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

If it's archetypes you're looking for, you might like The Complete Book of Tarot bvy Juliet Sharman-Burke. It takes a decidedly Jungian approach, not New Agey. Reading the tarot becomes like interpreting a dream. I've gotten a lot of deep insight from it.
posted by PatoPata at 7:23 PM on January 21, 2008

Response by poster: I have a B.O.T.A. deck that my father gave me.
posted by bubukaba at 9:26 PM on January 21, 2008

Rachel Pollack's 78 Degrees of Wisdom is my favorite.
posted by hades at 9:51 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

My very favorites are Tarot for Your Self by Mary K. Greer and The Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien. Both take a more psychological (as opposed to divinatory) approach to the Tarot, and emphasize its use as a tool for self-knowledge.

As for decks, I always use Karen Kuykendall's Cat People deck, but then I'm a confirmed ailurophile. Both Arrien and Greer prefer the Crowley deck, and I've also used that one to good effect - if nothing else, the illustrations are gorgeous.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:05 PM on January 21, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed, please read the OPs question and follow-ups and don't just link to books about hoaxes, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:58 AM on January 22, 2008

N'thing Joan Bunning. I ran into it after years of reading and still found it very useful, it is also the first book/site I point students to. Amber Jayanti's BOTA work is good for a more esoteric and in-depth exploration of the Major Arcana.

Once you get past the basic "common" meanings of each card, though, I feel the best way to learn is to spend time with each card an make notes on what *you* get out of it: how it makes you feel, what the symbols mean to you as a person, etc. Over time, practice like this will lead to more intuitive and natural readings.
posted by foxydot at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a complete tarot noob and haven't read many books on it, but I just picked up Tarot as a Way of Life: A Jungian Approach to the Tarot which has gotten good reviews and sounds like it might be what you're looking for.
posted by Durin's Bane at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2008

I found the Alchemical Tarot deck to have a great accompanying book. Combining Renaissance alchemical design and the Jungian process of individuation, the descriptions are concise and work out great as a meditative tool. The deck is gorgeous, btw. This other book by the author looks good, but I haven't read it yet.
posted by ikahime at 11:09 AM on January 22, 2008

Learning the Tarot (previosuly mentioned) seems a reference that you simply must have, as I see it mentioned everywhere.

Right now I am very much enjoying The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by Robert Place. He goes through an extensive and academic history of the Tarot, full page descriptions and breakdowns of each card in Rider-Waite, and good spreads. I am a relative newcomer and I ended up skipping to the cards and the layouts first, and coming back to read more the history later. The author seems extremely knowledgeable on the subject and really delves into the background and historic atmosphere at the time of major developments and changes to the deck.
posted by sophist at 2:10 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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