Not long ago I found myself looking for an introductory book of tarot card definitions for a relative whose interest had been piqued by my own professional life as a reader. And, as my old stand-by favorite publication had recently been pulled out-of-print (for the second time), I was forced to look around for an alternate title.
This was no small challenge, for although there is no shortage of introductory tarot titles on the market, a long-time practitioner (like myself) acquires some mightily persnickety tastes and values that he or she wants to see reflected in the resource. One wants to point one’s protégés off in the right direction, after all.
Well, I made a choice for my relative, which happened to be before I was asked to provide a review of the book I am about to extol for you here. But if I had been aware of it’s publication, I might very well have satisfied my persnickety-ness by choosing Liz Worth’s contribution to the genre—Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to the Tarot (Lulu Publishing, 2016).
Liz Worth is not only a tarot reader and tarot teacher, she is also a published poet (several collections under her belt) as well as a sometimes astrologer. And it’s perhaps those tangential facets of Worth’s life that have helped contribute to the mystique of this book—someone with a flair for the poetic and the outlook of a star-gazing dreamer?
We have to distinguish a little bit about the type of tarot book that Worth has created here… Worth’s book is of the genre of compendium of card definitions (as her book’s title implies). The thing about the tarot is that it lends itself quite easily to being divided up into its seventy-eight individual parts, which are then conveniently transformed into a book’s chapter-index. Worth hasn’t veered from that tried-and-true format, and indeed, it provides easy referencing if one is still at the stage of needing to look-up random cards at a moment’s notice.
…What this book doesn’t include is any nuanced tarot theory or practice, nor reading ethics or tarot spreads, nor—if you were looking for it—any suggestions for attuning one’s psychic muscle. Neither does it regale readers with juicy details of weird or awkward tarot clients or stupefying tarot readings. Liz does offers tarot-reading classes based out of her hometown, Toronto, where perhaps you might catch her divulging such subject matter.
But if card interpretation and definitions are what you’re after, this book may very well turn out to be your standard go-to, dog-earred, constantly dragged off-the-shelf card reference. Humbly, Worth is pretty forthright in her introduction about encouraging constant learning and skill enhancement through whatever extraneous resources that readers can find for themselves—other books, the internet, local Meetup groups, etcetera…a superior suggestion for any tarot enthusiast. “Tarot is a lifelong journey,” she states, “and it’s a practice that’s best appreciated with an open mind and a willingness to be an eternal student.”
There’s a formula to Worth’s chapters and I’d say overall that such standardization is helpful in a reference book like this. It’s common knowledge among tarot professionals that most tarot readings can be reduced to the common denominator themes of money, love, or work. Worth reduces these even further, simplifying to a two-themed system: career or relationships—which makes sense because “work” can often be lumped together with monetary concerns, relationships with coworkers or supervisors, and dealing with institutions. Romantic relationships, however, probably hold the trophy for the topic most discussed at tarot reading sessions above all others, so maintaining a relationships category also makes sense. Worth offers interpretations for each card reflective of each of these two categories.
Each chapter offers an “intention” as well as a “mantra” for each card. The difference between the two is sometimes difficult to determine…as subtle as the difference between the words “intention” and “mantra” themselves. Both are rather prayerful; though one’s more active, and one’s more hopeful, perhaps. Or maybe one’s more associative (for spell-work types), and one’s more meditative. Either way, they both serve as additional ways to internalize card meanings. Worth also offers more standard interpretations of the cards…and then how the cards might be interpreted in “challenging positions.”
Worth attempts to address this concept of “challenging positions” in her introduction. And she does a fine job. It’s a theme that recurs often in learning circles and forums about tarot. In fact, I almost wished, with the large amount of page space devoted to it for each card, that perhaps even more would have been discussed about the concept. I think she probably could have expanded further on it… But sometimes it is the sign of a good author, when he or she “hits” on something that leaves the readership wanting even more, or allowing the reader’s mind to adventure forth with independent conjecture.
For instance, when Worth describes “good cards happening in bad places, and vice versa,” she is reiterating an earlier statement about when she was learning the tarot card meanings: “…[W]hat might it mean if [a particular card] shows up in a challenging position in a spread? For example, what might Temperance mean in answer to the question, ‘What’s holding me back right now?’”
Most of us get the concept of what she is saying, however, a more thorough presentation might have included a binary comparison. In other words, “What is a non-challenging question AND what is a challenging question in which Temperance might be the answer.” Because, in this meager example, it’s only individual perspective that holds meaning. In the example that the author offered—“What’s holding me back right now?”—I’m not sure I hear the question as necessarily negative. The question could easily be phrased two different ways: (a.) “What’s holding me back right now?” or (b.) “What can I work on that might take me beyond my sticking-point, and possibly to the next level?”
In the case of the two semantically-different-yet-same questions above, the appearance of the Temperance card likely would take on completely different tones. In the first, Temperance might be seen as an impediment; in the second, Temperance is a means of learning how to achieve advancement.
“Positivity” or “negativity”—“challenges” or “opportunities”—are completely in the eyes of the beholder. A tarot reader can be glass-half-empty or glass-half-full about almost any situation. So attitude—and semantics—matter. They particularly matter to your clients, who will make decisions about whether they’ll return for another reading based partly on your vibe… So, is it smarter to have a positive outlook and encourage your client with “active” vocabulary and questions that envision opportunity? …Or is it more pertinent to be a Debbie Downer and phrase your questions in a way that highlight shortcomings in your client? (That’s a rhetorical question.)
Besides the awkwardness of not “semantically corresponding” to a reader’s phrasing, there are other ways that a tarot card might come up as “challenging.” It could also mean a revealed card that is not anticipated in a pre-arranged spread. For instance, young or newbie tarot enthusiasts have a habit of delineating all the cards in a deck with bipolar demarcation—as either “good” or “bad” with not much leeway in between. Newbies also tend to use pre-arranged spread versions of the Celtic-Cross—which in its standard form contains at least two card positions that refer to future timelines. So everyone always freaks out when the Devil (XV) or the Ten-of-Swords shows up indicating the parameters of those positions…
The problem, of course, is that readers have minimized the breadth of meaning of these “bad” cards, and it therefore taxes the minds of those readers to interpret positive attributes on those over-demonized cards. As a remedy, this is what practice and meditation and card journaling are useful for—you become a better tarot reader when you can release each card from the stigma of its obvious ocular obsessions. (One of the most helpful game exercises you can play using your tarot deck is dividing it into those pre-conceived associations of “good” and “bad,” and then go through each pile inventing or creating positive definitions for all your “bad” cards, and likewise come up with some negative definitions or associations for each of your “good” cards. By the end of this game you will have literally doubled your card definitions repertoire!)
Yet another meaning of cards in “challenging positions” refers to cards that reveal themselves in reversed or “upside-down” position within a spread. The author of Going Beyond the Little White Book concedes that she hasn’t “included reversals here because I feel like that could be a separate book on its own.” In fact, it can be, as Mary Greer confirmed with the publication of her book The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (Llewellyn Publications, 2002)—another classic in the realm of definition books. The fact is, as Worth admits, that it is not necessary to read reversed cards at all during a reading…because the reversal is easily remedied by simply turning the card upright. More experienced readers, however, tend to read reversed cards because—again—it expands the number of possible card interpretations and ways that the cards can provide an answer.
In this respect—expanding one’s personal lexicon of available card definitions—Worth’s book is a welcome and useful addition to the repertoire of tarot interpretation manuals—if even the author was somewhat reserved in explaining the colloquialisms of “challenges” in readings. There are possibly even more ways that cards can pose “challenging” scenarios of which I have not conceived in this short review, and beyond the ways that Worth briefly summarizes in her book’s introduction. But the greatest lesson to be garnered about the tarot, as Ms. Worth’s valiant and exhaustive attempt proves, is that the tarot is virtually limitless in what it can address, how it can address virtually any question, and that its infinitum of responses are only bound by the limits of our creative mind…which is truly the most important tool of the tarot.
One final note—almost not worth mentioning, but…Worth’s book is virtually devoid of illustrations, which leaves the reader wanting a bit for referential visuals. Worth notes that she didn’t want to limit interpretations for those readers using non-traditional (non Rider-Waite-Smith-themed) tarot decks. This is a valid point, but for an artform that is based on visual interpretation, it seems a pity. Understandably, getting the rights to publish images can be a huge hassle. I can, in fact, think of several other high profile tarot books that also don’t have illustrations. It most certainly doesn’t make the information any less valuable, but it’s the difference between a cookbook with pictures and one without—it’s nice to have things to tantalize the eyes, and a reference to reinforce your expectations. The whole issue, of course, is easily remedied by having your tarot deck at hand while reading the book. Also, as a self-published work, the minimal number of type-os this former proofreader and copy editor could find will most certainly be adjusted as print runs proceed; and they don’t really detract from the otherwise excellent writing.
Overall, Liz Worth’s book will be a fine place to start—or add to—your tarot definitions lexicon…and an excellent way to broaden the value of your card readings. Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to the Tarot can be purchased through several distributors including Lulu.com and Amazon.com.
NOTE: The reviewer received a gratis copy of this book title in electronic format in exchange for a critical review of the publication.