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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Reading with Tarot Dynamics Unleashed

Okay, you finally succumbed. You bought a pretty deck of tarot cards and have been happy enough just looking at the pictures for a while, but now what to do with them? Sure you want to share the pictures with your friends, but isn’t there some mystery to unpack in them?  The way the tarot reader at the county faire looks at the cards and talks about your secret life with uncanny insight. Yikes was that an embarrassment! How do you begin to read them? The little white book (LWB) says a few things, but so far the readings based on those directions seem a bit stilted and farfetched, hardly the drama of self-insight you experienced before.

Go to the bookstore and look a good book on tarot reading. There are hundreds of them, almost all cover the basics about the cards and layouts and the rudiments of reading for yourself and others. Is one just about as good as another? Well yes, and no. Many books are written by tarot artists as a chore or justification for the way they redrew classic tarot motifs. Even more are written by experienced tarot readers with decades of experience reading for people of all types. They have plenty to say about the way they have learned to read the cards. I try to read just about any book on tarot that is published, because I am a tarot reader with decades of experience who is curious to know what my colleagues have to say that may refresh the way I read. I really appreciate that they share their experience and rules of thumb for card reading. However as much as I try to read every book on tarot, (I do not get to them all folks), I rarely feel moved to write about the books I do read.

A successful tarot book needs to do several things: Cover the basics of tarot deck, spreads and card images for beginners, adding a few special zingers here and there especially for the professionals, and display the humor, humane insight and wisdom of how the cards work in readings. Probably most books, not written to introduce a particular deck, are professional calling cards for tarot readers who also teach how to read tarot.

If you know a tarot reader you are comfortable with see if she (most tarot readers are women) or he (a few tarot readers are men) teach a tarot class to get you comfortable with the basics of tarot reading. If you do not know of a tarot reader, seek out tarot interest groups in and around your community or through the internet and cyber social media may help. Face to face contact with people who share some fascination with tarot may very well empower you to want to read for yourself, but some may well drive you away as a bunch of oddballs. (Do not let that discourage you, plenty of normal people read and collect tarot cards).

In all the tarot books I try to read, some especially standout for their learning and exemplar vision of the tarot. The one I want to especially recommend now is ideal for the newbie tarot reader. Anna Burroughs Cook has been reading for over 30 years and has developed a straightforward and thorough system for introducing and empowering people new to tarot card reading. I first encountered her system with her first book, Tarot Dynamics, a few years ago and have recommended it as a solid invitation into how to read tarot in spreads with confidence and competence. Now Cook offers a fresh take on tarot for new readers in the new edition, Tarot Dynamics Unleashed (Kima Global Publishers: ISBN978-1-920533-07-6). It seems to follow the structure and pattern of her first book but it shows a total rewrite.

The strengths of Tarot Dynamics Unleashed include her choice of illustrative deck: The Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) is because of its many variants or clones, illustrates the most common tarot imagery in many tarot decks available in America. There are now plenty of decks out there that do not follow the RWS pattern, but for generic tarot card interpretations the RWS pattern has set the common meanings of tarot cards no matter the unique art work.

Anna Cook also adapts a number system that assigns a number to each of the 78 cards. She begins with the Magician as 1 through to the unnumbered Fool as 22, then the suits, Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles, beginning with the Courts, King (for example: 23W, 37C, 51S, 65P), Queen, Knight, Page and following Ace through 10 of the pips for each suit in order. I find this analytical convention well overdue and underutilized in general tarot discussions, and am pleased to recommend this system of enumeration which she adopted from Faith Javane’s and Dusty Bunker’s tarot numerology classic, Numerology and the Divine Triangle. Identifying each card with its own number helps to keep in mind which card has which illustration.

Another strong point is Cook is thorough and consistent with classic tarot card associations, often patchily dealt with or mentioned in many tarot books. Numerological and astrological correspondences are integrated into primary reading information and key words and strong ways to understand the Major Arcana, well proportioned Court card orientation and useful ways of discovering themes for the pips or as she calls them the subject cards. In fact, the true power of Tarot Dynamics Unleashed is the lively way everything she proposes synthesizes into a cohesive integral reading style that as a underpinning will serve any new tarot reader well, no matter what bells and whistles you eventually add to your tarot reading skill.

There are other solid reasons I would suggest this volume to the tarot beginner but here are my top two. Everything you will learn initially will offer a firm foundation that you will not have to unlearn as you progress in tarot knowledge and practice. And finally, it is so well designed, that you can pick up the book and read from her card glosses and begin right off to figure out what that selection of random cards could possibly mean right now. Once you done that a time or two take my advice and read the book through too! Soon you will be a better tarot reader than me.