Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth is a practical and very comprehensive handbook for the beginner and intermediate tarot student. In its 896 pages, Benebell Wen pulls together theories, methods and ideas from a range of diverse sources and presents her insights on every aspect of tarot.
By Benebell Wen
Book - 896 pages - Published by North Atlantic Books
Review by Lori Lytle
My review of this book is long overdue. I have been blissfully immersed in it for weeks, carrying around this huge tome, reluctant to put it down and start writing (even though I have to admit, it weighs a ton and is not conducive to reading on the subway). But, the time has come when I must finally tear myself away and just do it.
As you may have guessed, I am a big fan of this wonderful book, Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth by Benebell Wen. She had me at Chapter 1, when she explained her philosophy of the Tarot, seeing it as ‘a holistic tool that can help us mine our own unconscious to find answers’ (pg. 1). Ms. Wen goes on to say that her system of reading Tarot, which she calls Tarot analytics, ‘…is about using Tarot to empower, and to help you confront the most probable outcomes of your actions so that you may rectify any missteps today to ensure a better tomorrow’ (pg. 2). She is clear from the outset that she doesn’t see Tarot as a fortune telling tool, rather as something much deeper and more useful.
In the course of 33 chapters and 9 appendices, Ms. Wen leads us on a journey through many aspects of the Tarot, both practical and esoteric. In her elegant and approachable writing style, she talks about basics such as the history of the Tarot, choosing your deck (she is a proponent of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, by the way), shuffling and cutting, and the importance of keeping a Tarot journal.
At this point, when the reader is well-prepared and ready, she launches into card meanings, and using, creating and interpreting spreads. Finally, when the reader is again fully prepared, she moves into more esoteric territory, such as professional ethics, complementary energetic tools (such as crystals), progressing from beginner to intermediate Tarot reader, and the Opening of the Key divination method.
Ms. Wen’s book is certainly dense, but she has gracefully divided it into chapters that are not overly long, presenting the information in digestible portions. She includes case studies that help to clarify and solidify what the reader is learning, and the appendices are extremely useful, packed full of reference materials that are so valuable but may have been overwhelming if included in the main body of the book.
One aspect of Holistic Tarot that particularly impressed me was that it doesn’t shy away from the darker or shadow side of life and the Tarot. The tone of the book is positive and bright, but Ms. Wen takes the time to address our fears and concerns. She talks about how to deal with so-called “scary” cards like Death, the Devil and the Tower head on, how to handle the situation when a reading for a client appears to be very negative, and how to expertly manage inappropriate questions. Here, as throughout the book, she is clear that these are her approaches, methods that have worked for her through her own research and experience. She in no way suggests that these are the only ways to read Tarot and encourages practitioners to discover and use what works for them.
Even as I write this, I am looking forward to diving back into this book, a work that is sure to join the ranks of Tarot classics. It is an invaluable resource for Tarot beginners, intermediates and professionals, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Lori Lytle is a professional Tarot reader based in Toronto, Canada and the founder of Inner Goddess Tarot. Her email and in-person readings focus on empowerment and personal growth. Visit her website and blog at innergoddesstarot.com.
Review by Christine Payne-Towler
Benebell Wen's book Holistic Tarot makes a powerful demonstration of the sophistication an organized and systematic person can draw forth from a simple pack of Tarot cards. Wen is a good student -- the type of person who takes copious notes and enjoys the process of graphing her insights. She is also gifted at finding coherent patterns in what initially seems to be a grab-bag of shifting influences. These traits make her a near-ideal candidate to synthesize the vast Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot literature into a practical handbook for beginning and intermediate students.
The fact that Wen has also included insights gleaned through her background in Chinese/Taiwanese culture is a distinct plus. Her wide-spectrum approach fully justifies the title term Holistic. Announcing the practice of Tarot to be a "science of the mind," Wen challenges herself to catalogue the multicultural spectrum of ideas that she has collected for this ancient set of gaming cards. Her synthetic approach is on display throughout, interweaving theories and methods adapted from such diverse points of view as physics, magic, Chinese medicine, comparative religion, alchemy and modern psychology.
Partisans of one or another subset of the Tarot family might not be comfortable with this book, since it represents an assemblage that is unique to Wen's east/west exposures. But in fact, since at least the Renaissance, western magi have been studying and experimenting with Hindu, Arabic, Egyptian, Chinese and Siberian practices. This can be easily demonstrated in the Faust legend, as well as the many branches and grades of Masonic studies. Such a mixing of modalities should therefore seem neither strange nor irrelevant in the context of Tarot. This is especially true in modern times, witnessing the great eagerness of the Chinese market to learn about Tarot.
In my opinion, this distinctly Western toy and tool would not so easily find a beloved niche in the eastern cultural psyche if there weren't legitimate points of intersection that benefit both sides of the conversation. I especially enjoyed Wen's presentations of the 3x3 square (called the Lo Shu Square in Chinese), the BaGua and the Six Faiths, all used as subjects for creating a spread. These types of cultural cross-pollinations can be wonderfully enriching, so long as we don't do violence to the essential nature of the Tarot deck when we are making the adaptation.
Wen claims to have written an introductory work, but her real beneficiaries will be individuals who are aspiring to evolve their attraction to Tarot into a professional practice. Fully half of the book is written to assist her students in creating a service which includes (but doesn't have to be limited to) reading Tarot cards. Some of the chapter titles from this section include The Five Components of Circumstance, Assuaging Seekers When a Reading Seems Negative, The Setting of a Tarot Reading and Energetic Supplements, Ethical Considerations of the Tarot, Tarot and Love, Tarot and Professional Development, Using Tarot to Build Resilience, and The Professional Practice of Tarot. Wen is making sure that her students have thought long and hard about the demanding but tricky responsibilities inherent in making pronouncements about other people's life experiences. She also offers plenty of case studies to help the reader see how to interweave all the variables that make up a Tarot spread.
Reading through Wen's manuscript brought home to me how well-developed our Art has become in the 21st century, compared to the barren bookstore shelves and formulaic texts of my own Tarot coming-of-age in the 1970's. The author has done an excellent job of addressing the unspoken assumptions and self-defeating clichés that still linger around the edges of Tarot practice. With Holistic Tarot in hand, Wen's more mature students will be able to shorten the novice stage of their studies by several years.
Christine Payne-Towler is a tarot scholar and author of The Underground Stream: Esoteric Tarot Revealed and creator of the Tarot of the Holy Light deck with Michael Dowers. Payne-Towler is also the founder of the Tarot University and a contributor to Tarot.com. She has been practicing tarot for over 44 years.
Review by LuminariaStar
This impressive book is a dissertation worthy of some advanced degree in the most rarified levels of Tarot Practice! When first holding it in my hands, I was overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of it! Even as a paperback, it is HUGE enough to be a doorstop. I have a hardcover copy of War and Peace that is smaller than this! I think the only paperback I have ever seen that could compare to this for sheer size is a technical reference book, which in a way, also describes "Holistic Tarot".
Ms. Wen was not messing around when she wrote this...I don't know how she managed it, while also working in such a demanding, full-time profession such as the Law, but here it is, and it's not full of fluff or fillers, either- it's solid, densely packed information. There are tried and true layouts, original and inventive layouts, derivative layouts adapted for use with Tarot, comparisons and correspondences, keywords and cross-references all gathered together to form a comprehensive matrix you could use to form cement. This is foundation-making material, for sure.
I opened it and waded in, and even with my 40 year background in Tarot, I found myself hip-deep in minutes, wishing I had brought camping gear and a machete with me...because this was going to be slower-going than I've been accustomed to since college...(and I read constantly- so that's really saying something!)
I kept having to stop and ponder, since some of the strong opinions expressed run counter to all the...I guess you would say "current paradigms" in Tarot-land. That's ok. Ms. Wen is certainly entitled to her own point of view, and she explains her reasoning very clearly. I can understand why she thinks/believes as she does, and while I don't always agree, I will staunchly defend her right to do and believe as she sees fit. This is HER book, so she gets to call the shots between the title page and the index. We don't have to like it. However...I must say that I DO like it! I have never been a fan of simpering sycophants, and I appreciate a person with an independent point of view...(even when I'm wading through their rather turgid prose, LOL.)
I should say here, that this is not a book for the fluffy, the wannabee, or the surface-skimming hobbyist. This is a seriously deep immersion experience, and it requires GUTS. It can be slow-going, and you'll find yourself back-tracking, just to make sure you've really grasped some of the finer points. If that is too much for some, I will happily direct them them to the Cliff-Notes style works, written by all too many other writers. Leave this to the serious Tarotists, who really want something they can sink their teeth into. Happily, "Holistic Tarot" can also be used as a sort of dictionary, where you can look up discrete packets of specific information, and then close it before it swallows you up, whole.
If you need to avoid the full immersion experience, this can be done, with a certain amount of self-control. For those of you who fear to be engulfed by its quicksand maw, just be prepared to exercise a little restraint, and take the dictionary approach. Do not allow yourself to be tempted, or the hours and days will fly by, and you'll re-emerge like Rip Van Winkle, blinking in the bright light of day, wondering what happened.
If you can't resist the lure of the depths, first caffeinate thoroughly, put down kibbles for the pets, turn off the phone, take a deep breath, and dive in! You will find yourself in a demanding realm of powerful currents, that will take your mind to far places, even if you thought you were experienced and knew what to expect. It's one of those phenomena where you feel that you're moving very slowly, if at all, and then find yourself shockingly far from where you began in time/space.
I especially liked the chapter on "Using Tarot to Build Resilience" (Chapter 28). Seriously good advice lives in that locale! This is the stuff our clients come to us for- and this is the stuff WE started reading Tarot for - validation, empowerment, self-realization and affirmation. This is therapy, and vitamin I (I for Information). This is crisis management in a (virtual) jar. I love it!
I should add here, that this is an excellent investment for the person who is serious about attaining a deeper grasp of Tarot-think. Where else can you get what is essentially the equivalent of a Mastery Level course in this very valuable subject for around $30?
I rest my case.
LuminariaStar has been a reader for over 40 years, and has taught Tarot skills for over 30 years.She's an avid collector, and has written numerous reviews. She knows what to look for in a deck or a book.