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A few years ago I added this book to my already vast tarot collection because I had heard it described as a ‘Tarot Bible.’ It is certainly the most in-depth tarot book I have ever come across.
In my opinion, the book is not suitable for a beginner. My advice to anyone wishing to find out about the tarot would be to learn the basics first from a simpler guide. There are many such books out there (including 10-minute Tarot, which I reviewed a few days ago.) You can always return to Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom when you feel more clued up about the subject.
Rachel Pollack’s book moves away from the simplistic, formulaic descriptions of cards that are found in many tarot books – “you are about to close a chapter in your life” etc -- and encourages the student of tarot to look deeper into the symbolism behind the cards and to draw esoteric conclusions. She makes the point in her introduction that most people, when they think of a tarot reader, imagine a woman in a headscarf, and she is at pains to show that tarot goes beyond mere fortune-telling games and can be a powerful tool in self-discovery, meditation and counselling.
Rachel guides us through all the cards and her explanations are very thorough. The major arcana (the 22 most powerful cards in the deck) are each dealt with in great detail, covering several pages of texts. The minor arcana cards are dealt with in a couple of paragraphs. Reversed meanings of the cards are also discussed. Much attention is given to the artwork in each card. Considering that the author points out so much detail in the pictures, referring to many things that I certainly had never spotted, I thought it was a shame that the book only had small black and white illustrations. I suppose this isn't a problem as most people reading it will already have purchased a deck of tarot cards, but I think clearer illustrations would have made it a more interesting read. Certainly someone taking the book to read on a train journey, for example, might not want to have to take a pack of tarot cards along with them as well.
In addition to card-by-card explanations, the book also looks at different types of readings and contains some useful sample readings.
Although I had been studying the tarot for several years by the time I read this book, I still found it heavy going and quite overwhelming. It read like an academic book in some ways, with its references to the Kabbalah, Jung, mythology, religion and numerology. I keep this book in my collection for those times when I want to go a little deeper, but I can honestly say I don’t look at it that often. For me, it simply makes the whole subject more complicated than it needs to be. Although Rachel Pollock makes the point that tarot reading is a very personal thing and that we should all be true to our individual interpretations of the cards and our instinctive feeling for the pictures, as I ploughed through this 350 page book I felt as if I was being given a lecture and being bombarded with complicated information, which didn’t really support an intuitive approach.
I would not recommend this book because I think there are other books on the market, which are more straightforward in style but still provide an adequate degree of detail. To me the tarot is a fascinating, exciting and enlightening form of divination but if this had been the first book I had ever seen on the subject, I would probably have lost interest and taken it no further. I think that would have been a great shame.
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I guess it's always interesting to read about another persons interpretation and influences but chances are that if you're reading a book like this (and you didn't pick it up accidently as a beginner) then you don't need it anyway.