21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card

21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card is Mary Greer's latest book, containing techniques and exercises for reading the cards through personal and traditional interpretation, storytelling, dialogues, visualisations and much, much, more.

By Mary K. Greer

Book - 200 pages - Published by Llewellyn

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

This is an incredible book! Mary Greer is well known for her outstanding work in the field of Tarot, but this to me is the "best of the best", right up there with Mary's books Tarot For Yourself (Career Press, 2002, revised edition) and Women of the Golden Dawn (Park Street Press, 1995). Once I started reading the book, I did wonder why Llewellyn had not chosen to make it part of their "Special Topics In Tarot" series, as ways in which the cards can be read should certainly qualify as a special topic! Having said that, I am very grateful that this book did see the light of day.

One other small, but long-standing, quibble with Llewellyn would be their habit of placing graphics on their pages tilted at an angle. There are a multitude of card scans presented in this book (well, there will be, at any rate - they aren't in place in my copy because it is an uncorrected proof), and they are all tilted at an angle! Annoying, to say the least.

On to the review: if you buy one book this year, make it this book! There is such an incredible amount of material presented here - researched and presented in a thoroughly professional manner - that I feel that this book will be just as much of a benchmark as the aforementioned "Tarot For Yourself". At the outset, I want to let you know that I do not read using Mary's preferred method of reading, which she terms dialoging. Her work here is very much based on the use of that technique, but it did not stop me from working with this material, nor should it stop you. I walked away with a wealth of information about myself, and about the Tarot, and so will you.

The foundation for this book is the synthesis of 21 techniques for deepening the reader's understanding of the meaning of the 78 cards of the Tarot. I have never seen this done before, and I think that Mary did an incredible job (of course, nearly four decades of experience as a reader, lecturer and teacher helps!). The emphasis here is on interaction, leading to transformation and empowerment.

In her introduction, Mary talks about the role of the reader to see how each card expands the Seeker's understanding. She feels that an empathetic approach to reading is one that will move difficult emotions and issues into the healing realm. From my perspective, this would certainly be true, but I also feel that an intuitive approach can be applied - and that these are two different things.

From the book: "21 Ways To Read A Tarot Card is about processes that guide people to their own realizations and support them in becoming more capable of making decisions that promote well-being." Mary has accomplished this in an admirable manner, and gifted the Tarot world with a stunning tool of empowerment. We can all set a personal goal that when our clients leave a reading, we have assisted them in accessing at least some of the things that Mary sees a Tarot reading delivering: (1) Who they are, (2) Where they are coming from, (3) Where they are going, (4) How to get there, (5) Why its important to do so, and (6) What and who they will encounter along the way.

Mary's lists her goals for this book as: (1) to expand the ways you get information from a card, (2) deepen personal insights, and (3) evolve an individualized reading technique. Mary - you have without a doubt achieved a smashing success here!

A separate chapter has been devoted to each technique, with the caveat that they be done in order for maximum benefit (they do build on each other). Mary suggests that at the minimum, the first ten steps be worked through before jumping into any of the remaining work. Each chapter is divided into two sections: Apprentice and Adept. At the Apprentice level, you will be put on the fast track, and be provided with an overview (or quick look) at the messages in your cards. At the Adept level, you will be taken more deeply into the concepts, and offered variations to work with.

Step 1 is to choose the card that you will be working with in the ensuing chapters. A prelude to the excitement to follow! Step 2 is to develop a description of your card. Step three deals with the emotions, feelings and attitudes of the figures within the card, and the mood and atmosphere of the environment (think Three of Cups versus Three of Swords!). Step 4 involves making up a story, a fairy tale, if you will, about the card that you are working with. In these stories, Mary feels that the reader will see their own inner truth reflected.

Step 5 involves identifying one to three keywords to associate with the number or court rank on your card. One thing that might be taken into consideration here is perhaps both the rank and the number on the court cards, as many readers do assign numbers to them (i.e. Page = 11, Knight = 12, Queen = 13, and King = 14). Step 6 involves developing keywords related to the mode, suit and element of the card being worked with. The four modes are: Court Cards, Numbered Cards, Major Arcana and Aces. Step 7 is a synthesizing steps 5 and 6 - number or rank, plus suit, element and mode - into simple statements. Step 8 talks about accessing information that is embedded in cliches, aphorisms, puns, song lines and proverbs.

Step 9 shows the reader how to transform metaphor into message by asking questions and capturing snapshots. Step 10 deals with using interpretations found in books (yes, this does have its place!). Step 11 explores the range of meaning of a card (from most beneficial to most problematic). Step 12 discusses the various factors that interact to modify a cards meaning, including: (1) the card itself, (2) the question or issue, (3) the spread position, (4) the individual circumstances, (5) stance (upright or reversed) and (6) interaction amongst cards.

Step 13 explores the role of symbols in the Tarot. Step 14 explores dignity and theme. There is one point that Mary makes in this section that I have to disagree with, at that is when she discusses the "missing element" in a reading. She adamantly does not believe that the missing element has anything to do with the reading. As do many other readers, I sometimes do see the missing element as the "way out", and will address my client from that POV. This will vary from reader to reader, and from reading to reading. There is not hard and fast rule here. Step 15 discusses dialogs - speaking with the figures on the cards. Step 16 involves sketching the cards - including sketching an entire spread. Step 17 involves assuming the poses of the figures int he cards - sometimes referred to as "dancing the Tarot".

Step 18 explores accessing the Tarot through the use of imagination - specifically, using guided (active) visualizations. Step 19 journeys into the world of myth and archetypes. The way that we see and describe the Tarot cards is reflective of our personal mythology. The stories of the Tarot define our sense of self and give us meaning, identity and purpose. Step 20 deals with comparing identical cards from different decks, seeing how they differ and what new information they bring in.

Step 21 works with the "possible" self, the self that we wish to create, through the use of forming affirmations from the cards within a reading. A fitting ending to any reading!

There are several Appendixes, including: an emotions list; a numbers and rank keyword list; mode, suit and element keywords; elemental dignity combinations; the Empress vision; an Archetypal Motifs chart; reading styles; traps & solutions in R.I.T.E.; 21 Ways Worksheet, as well as a glossary and an extensive bibliography.

There is something in this book for every student, at all levels. The "traps and solutions" section is a wonderful gift to all readers, in that Mary addresses issues that can crop up as stumbling blocks in a reading (such as getting stuck on a keyword and not being able to move beyond it, and ignoring a card that doesn't seem to fit in, or doesn't seem to make sense). This is the first time that I have seen all of these modalities addressed in such a coherent fashion, and my bet is that everyone can become a better reader through working with this book. Take what serves you well, leave the rest behind, and you will still walk away with more wisdom than you came in with.

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.

Review by Seaweed

The BEST book on intuitive tarot to date! If you have ever wanted to be an accurate and intuitive reader, this book is a future classic and a must-read. It has something for people of all levels of tarot work—it’s a tarot workbook in a large sense, but it's peppered with insights on fine-tuning the art of being a reader, too.

Mary Greer doesn't skimp on the exercises she puts in her books--she doesn't let you rest easy on book definitions, instead she challenges you to rely on your own intuitive/Jungian/world and personal mythology connections to make tarot reading much more of an adventure than just memorizing card meanings! Areas she covers include: sections on numerology, symbolism, creating narratives between the cards and expanded meanings for both the Court and Major Arcana cards--going far beyond any other book in their comprehensiveness. In this book she handles a lot of cards (like The Tower) with more sensitive and insightful interpretations than I’ve seen and she includes many real life case studies-- in many cases drawn from emails she received in response to various cards and situations, so her writing is based on responding to the real life issues facing actual tarot card readers. By focusing on the intuitive mythologies of the cards, Mrs. Greer doesn’t weigh in so heavily on individual symbols—instead, she seeks themes that would be universal to several different kinds of tarot decks.

This book also helps expand your vocabulary for explaining difficult cards to querants—such as The Death card—in ways that not only help them relax their defenses, but actually help them open up to see the bigger picture and get more from their readings. There is much here about how to engage a querant in a conversation about their cards, instead of a reading being only a one-way question and answer session. Mrs. Greer also brings attention to the art of reading people, their reactions, the words they use and don’t use to give a more sensitive and finely attuned reading (instead of just advising people, you’re helping them arrive at their own unique epiphanies—in fact, she borrows the phrase from Freud saying that she considers herself a “midwife of the soul”—a beautiful analogy of helping people “give birth to their own wisdom.”

This book can be a bit heavy for beginners since it takes a meditative approach (as in Tarot for Your Self,) but it fills in many of the little crannies left by her former books. For anyone teaching tarot, this would make an excellent textbook for an advanced tarot class as it is a book that people can grow into and, as a result, grow from.

The price is unbeatable and while it’s come out as a first edition in the quality paperback format, it’s worth picking up a copy because it's certain to become a classic in the field.

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