Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The first thing that I noticed about this book was the imprint on the cover from the American Tarot Association (ATA). I am happy to see the ATA gaining visibility in the Tarot publishing world. This falls very much in line with their organizational goals of Tarot education and support - theirs is a voice that needs to be heard.
This is the second book in the Tarot field for Michelson (the first being Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads) and she is certainly finding her personal voice and writing style. This book is more focused, and less wordy, while being just as in-depth and reader friendly. Michelson's background is that of the world of science, and her presentation reflects this. For people like myself that also come from this world, her writing is a breath of fresh air.
Her style is very akin to that of fellow author Mark McElroy (Putting The Tarot To Work, Llewellyn Publications, 2003 and Taking The Tarot To Heart, Llewellyn Publications, 2004): tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them. May sound tedious - but it is not, with either author! Michelson does this in a very text book type manner - at the beginning of each chapter she lists Study Goals, followed by a discussion of the material, with a section at the end of the chapter listing methods in which the students progress with each of the Study Goals can be assessed.
The Complete Tarot Reader is meant to act as a self-study program. To this end, there is a Keyword Self Test in the appendices that will help the student assess where the focus of their studies needs to be placed. Michelson advises taking this test before beginning the book, as a jumping off place for future study. I think this is an excellent suggestion for readers at all levels - sometimes we think we know something, but we would benefit from revisiting it, and sometimes we think we don't really have a good grasp of a specific concept - when we really do! This book is set up so that sections can be worked with individually, which allows the student to address the topic(s) that they want to, when they want to.
Michelson sees Tarot reading as a sum of its parts: artistry, education, communication and practical skills. And this is exactly what it is - a very personal process of putting wisdom and intuition together to empower the transitions in ones life. Michelson defines three methods of learning the Tarot:
(1) learning the traditional keywords and meanings (i.e. memorization),
(2) learning a more intuitive approach to Tarot reading, and, (3) learning about the underlying structures and patterns in Tarot, including associations with other fields, such as numerology and astrology. She has chosen to focus this book on the last two methods: intuitive learning and understanding the basic structure and pattern inherent in the cards.
She covers such things as choosing a deck, creating and working with a Tarot journal, and the best way to work with this book. There is a system to the madness after all! Part of the basics in intuitive reading come from developing your own keywords, and becoming familiar with the colors, shapes and small nuances within each card. One of the most important things that Michelson has to say is that through doing the work, through doing actual readings (whether for yourself or for others), the reader will develop associations for the cards: i.e. when a given card comes up in a reading, they will recognize what it meant in a similar situation. This gives heart to meanings, such as the true concept of celebration in the Three of Cups, the need to listen to your own personal voices when drawing the High Priestess, and the feeling of being strong and capable when you draw the Magician. They become a part of you, and not words that you are remembering from some book or other.
Various tools for accessing intuitive knowledge are presented, such as the use of free association, storytelling, and developing a range of meanings (as opposed to upright vrs reversed, which would seem to indicate that there are polar opposites within each card, but nothing in between).
I really liked the section on developing elemental correspondences for the suits, and seeing how the suits then interacted with each other on an elemental level. Who is active, who is passive, who is hot, who is cold, who is wet, who is dry. This is where the suits begin to develop personalities, and where the reader can begin to address them with some sense of comprehension that does not involve memorization or rote learning. Here we also see where color and symbolism start to play a part in readings. There is a very good, concise chart in this section giving the qualities and correspondences for the suits. (Being a Capricorn through and through, I love charts, and Michelson makes best use of them throughout this book.)
From the elemental associations we move on to the numerological associations for the Pips (Aces through Tens). Again, there is a well presented chart of basic meanings to work from, as well as an explanation of how the numbers 1-9 represent a type of life cycle. (Michelson does make note that while she did not include the 10s in this cycle, that they are indeed points of transition, containing both endings and new beginnings.) This section also includes a marvelous example of what a cycle is like in terms of real life experience. Michelson has chosen the suit of Swords, and has written a very compelling storyline around what each of the numbers can mean, following the interaction of two people from beginning to end. I am reviewing a proof copy of this book, which does not include the card scans that will be in the final copy. If I found the storyline compelling without visuals, you certainly will with them! Well worth reading!
Now we visit the Court Cards - as Michelson points out, a difficult area for some readers. Are the cards part of the Seeker, other people involved in an issue or situation, or are they representative of activities associated with the cards? There are some excellent exercises in this section to help the reader become comfortable with the people cards of the deck. An important point is made when Michelson points out that these cards will differ in presentation from deck to deck more than the other cards will. There is a technique used here that I also find works well when studying these cards, and that is to lay out all sixteen cards (four cards for each of the suits), by suit, and see how they compare and contrast. (This is also done with the Pips - the Aces through Tens. It is an amazing tool of discovery!)
The Court Cards are also discussed in terms of elemental and astrological associations. What seems difficult becomes easy when you work with the cards in a systematic manner. Working with clothing, color, and body language (i.e. seated, standing etc) also helps when getting to know the Court Cards.
Now we are ready for the journey through the Major Arcana. This is a very spiritual journey, and that is the way that Michelson presents it. She also works with the journey as presented in the Golden Dawn Tableau - removing the Fool from the deck, and placing him above the other cards, then placing the remaining 21 cards under the Fool in three lines of seven cards each (1-7, 8-14, and 15-21). The first seven cards show the early growth and development of the soul; the second seven cards show the souls struggle with earthly existence (middle age, or the middle years); the third group of seven cards represent the spiritual struggle for reintegration. Michelson also addresses the mythology of the Major Arcana through the archetypal and psychological meanings of the cards, and the astrological attributions (which can vary, depending on the system being used). In this section is also included information concerning the history of the religious and mythological themes contained in the Tarot. This is the only place in this book where she includes online and print references.
The section on how to integrate the Tarot Trumps into a reading is quite well done. It gets a bit confusing when she notes that in older books the Trumps are seeing as representing issues out of the Seeker's control, but that in reality we do have choices, and through those choices, we do have personal control. I personally do not see the two thoughts as being incompatible. A given situation is being presented in the seeker's life - this much is out of their control. How they choose to react to the situation is well within their control.
The next section - on actually doing a reading, gets a bit bogged down in the beginning. The reader setting personal boundaries and developing a code of ethics is fairly clear cut, with Michelson encouraging students to check Internet sites to see what other readers have developed as their own code. (The actual code of ethics given as an example is that of the ATA, which is really an organizational code of ethics.)
Where the book bogs down is on the issue of rephrasing questions. Note is made that this is actually much easier to do when reading in-person than when reading through the venue of e-mail, but that in general when rephrasing a question the reader risks offending the client and perhaps getting the reading off to a poor start. Michelson does advise repeating the question back to the client as a start, to make sure that both parties are on the same page. Questions are rephrased for many reasons: to bring in focus, to eliminate part of a question (where one part of a question is dependent on t he answer to the other part of the question), or to prioritize what the client wishes to cover during a reading.
Michelson offers alternatives to rephrasing, such as letting your client know your concerns about the question without substituting a question of your own (this surprised me, as I see rephrasing as a combined effort of the reader and the client, not the reader pulling their own questions out of their hat!), defining the card positions and meanings so that the client is empowered, and reading the cards in a manner that allows the client to get the help that they need without handing them the answers. I really don't believe that rephrasing needs to be all this difficult. Every reader needs to remember that while they should never act as a bully, that they are indeed in charge of the readings that they give!
Also addressed is reading for ones self, whether using card a day type readings, or using a larger number of cards. Retaining objectivity and self confidence are areas of concern here. And that will never change. When going through a particularly bad time, it is not unusual for a reader to have difficulty reading for themselves. Working with the exercises in this section will truly help.
Dealing with reader's block is another area of reading that is addressed. Whether it is one card, or an entire spread, this happens to the best of us! The first advice given is the best - relax and slow down! Take things one at a time - look at the picture, look at the symbolism, the suit qualities, the numbers - something there will kick in, and the reading will start to flow. Interacting with the client is also a good tactic - ask them how they feel about the card, what symbols, colors etc they are drawn to. Make it a true interactive reading. Something that is not mentioned, but that I have had happen to me in situations like this, is that the cards are not addressing the question asked. They are doing something better than that - they are addressing the question that needs to be answered. I learned to just tell my clients exactly that - and quickly found out that I was right, and that in most cases my clients were actually relieved!
Reversals also rear their dainty little selves in this book. Michelson works from a sense of positive, neutral and negative aspects for each card. She also acknowledges that there is a full range of attributes in-between these aspects. She does a nice job of defining what reversals can be - which is just about anything but the reverse of the upright meaning. Working with the exercises in this chapter will give the reader a good sense of how they personally want to handle reversals in their readings. For myself, I do not read with reversals at all (unless one sneaks in there - in which case I leave it alone and see what it has to say). I feel that I can get the same information by looking at how the cards relate to each others through number or element.
The following chapter does in fact address how to read with Elemental Dignities. Different methods of working with Elemental Dignities are given, including using position definitions within a spread.
Timing is also touched on. This can be done in various ways, including defining the suits and elements as to day, week, month, year or season; using the active or passive nature of the cards; or using astrological attributions.
Michelson includes appendices that cover: the Keyword Self Test; Numerology and the Tarot; Astrological Associations; Elemental Associations; a Glossary of Terms; and instructions for the game of Tarocchi.
It is indeed a bit much to entitle a book The Complete Tarot Read, and then sub-title it Everything You Need To Know From Start To Finish. As you can see from this review, Michelson has really covered all topics, and done so in a fairly in-depth fashion. Hopefully this in not "all" we need to know, because that would mean we had stopped growing. I see this book as an excellent start to a journey that each Tarot reader needs to take for themselves. If they are lucky, this will be a life long journey, and there will never be a "finish".
The one thing that is sorely absent from this book is a bibliography, a list of references so that students can follow their own journey. The one place where there are references, the section on history, has left out at least one significant Internet resource, and the section on Elemental Dignities would be well served with the inclusion of a highly accessible Internet resource that many people have turned to for years.
Having said all of that - I do recommend this book. The research is very good, the style is accessible to students of all backgrounds, and the exercises are written in such a manner that the student cannot help but learn. I am still laughing at the thought of what the Court Cards might have to say to each other. Quite the "mad hatter" scene!
This is one author that I hope we hear more from!
© February 2005
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.