Review: Holistic Tarot by Benebel Wen

Holistic Tarot (book)This is an enormous book—874 pages, to be exact, the kind of book that can serve as a projectile weapon to knock out a home invader or a vicious dog. Its scope is considerable, as well, with chapters on history, theories of how readings work, choosing a deck, shuffling and other card handling techniques, spreads, meanings and keywords, and even a section on advice for going professional.

Wen calls her approach to reading the cards “tarot analytics,” and she explicitly rejects predicting the future in favor of a more insightful, psychological style of reading that illuminates the present circumstances of the querent (or “seeker” in her terminology) and suggests possible modes of action. This is my approach as well, although I do not rule out the possibility of the cards predicting things that may happen (because experience has taught me that they sometimes do exactly that). Those who favor more spiritual/mystical approaches to readings might be left feeling a little uninspired by the analytical approach, but the wealth of information and encyclopedic breadth of the book should still make it a worthy addition to any reader’s library.

There are an enormous number of spreads detailed in Holistic Tarot—the various spreads and their interpretations making up the bulk of the text—from basic one- and three-card queries to the Golden Dawn’s complex Opening of the Key. Wen is also keen on Paul Foster Case’s “First Operation” and the use of significator cards. Since I use and teach a more free-form style of reading, in which cards are laid out intuitively and without a proscribed pattern, much of this material was of little interest. If you are the type of reader who enjoys trying out new spreads, however, this book will provide a lifetime’s worth of experimentation.

Holistic Tarot is also geared towards those who use the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck or one of its many clones, with only six scant pages covering the Tarot de Marseille and the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. If you do not use the RWS or similar decks, and you’re primarily interested in learning the meanings and how to read the cards, you’re best picking up books dedicated to your specific deck (and see below for suggestions for readers of the Tarot de Marseille and Thoth*). Nonetheless, even those who use non-RWS decks may find the book helpful—discussions of elemental attributes, astrological symbolism, and the advice on various types and techniques of reading the cards and spreads can be useful to anyone. The chapters on how to handle inappropriate questions and ethics for readers are particularly concise and thoughtful. The incorporation of Eastern and oft-neglected Western philosophical and spiritual systems, such as Taoism and Islam, into readings is also refreshing.

One unfortunate mistake that I hope will be corrected in a future edition is the omission of the table with attributions and correspondences for the suit of swords (page 771, appendix D).

Despite the sometimes overly-analytical dryness of the text (especially when compared to the more lyrical and poetic works by Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack), the breadth and comprehensiveness of material covered makes this a worthy addition to the tarot canon. I can’t imagine any tarot reader, regardless of experience, not finding something useful in this doorstopper of a book. I will be recommending it to all of my beginner students, but I also recommend it to tarot generalists, particularly those who use RWS-style cards and who can benefit from learning the Golden Dawn system upon which they are largely based.

Holistic Tart (cover)
Buy it now from your local bookstore or Amazon:
Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth.
Benebell Wen, North Atlantic Books.

*For those who use the Tarot de Marseille, I strongly recommend two books: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Way of Tarot: the Spiritual Teacher in the Cards and Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot – The Open Reading. For users of the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, there’s no better beginning resource than Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo Duquette. Crowley’s own The Book of Thoth is daunting and not the easiest read, but it’s the type of book that I find gives up more with each re-reading.

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