Learning the Tarot

The tarot book for beginners. Containing a complete 19 lesson course on reading tarot and thorough, but not overly numerous, meanings for the cards themselves. Highly recommended for tarot newcomers!

By Joan Bunning

Book - Published by Weiser Books

Review by Kate Hill

Learning the Tarot is a complete course for beginner on how to read Tarot cards. Begun in 1989, the course designed by Joan Bunning was shared with the world via the Internet website in 1995 and was then published as a book in 1998. It is designed to show you how to use the Tarot cards yourself, for personal growth and insight and to develop your natural intuitive abilities -- all you need is a Tarot deck.

The book focuses on the Rider-Waite imagery and tradition, as that has been the most well-known in the English-speaking world, and beings by introducing us to Tarot from an intuitive perspective. Then begins a series of lessons in Part I, Elements of the Tarot. The first three describe the structure of a Tarot deck, major and minor arcana. Lesson four and five define the spread and give a procedure for choosing a daily card and keeping a journal. Lesson 6 outlines the most beneficial environment for readings, both physically and emotionally. Lesson 7, Writing a Question, is an excellent few pages on how to come up with a precise question that accepts responsibility for the situation, keeps your options open, is properly detailed, focuses on yourself, stays neutral and is positive. Sounds challenging? Bunning goes into detail and offers plenty of sample questions so you can best fine-tune your questions and get the most accurate answers.

Lessons 8 to 10 describe the procedure for performing, step by step, a complete Tarot reading for yourself based on a personal question; then how to perform an ‘Other Reading’, that is, ‘one that is centered on another person or subject’, not for another person. Finally, the Open Reading, which is a general request for guidance.

Part II, Principles of Interpretation, helps you out with the task of interpreting the cards that are laid in a reading. Starting with interpreting a single card in lesson 11, and moving on to the similarities of groups of cards in the tarot: the major and minor arcana, aces, court cards, and card pairs that have an affinity, whether permanent, occasional or reinforcing. Lesson 16 introduces the Celtic Cross spread, the main layout used in Learning the Tarot, through the concept of position pairs. “The Celtic Cross is a powerful spread because it contains many natural pairings. Certain positions complement each other, so the cards that fall there relate in meaningful ways.”

Reversed cards are the subject of lesson 17 (optional though they are). The technique of creating the Tarot story, that pulls together the elements of a reading, is the last educational lesson before the final thoughts in lesson 19. “A tarot practice is based on the understanding that wisdom from some Source will come to you through the cards. At first, you may have to accept this on faith, but after awhile you will receive the ‘proof’ you need in the results you experience in your life. If you can approach the cards with trust, your tarot practice will take off. Good luck!”

Following are companion exercises for each lesson, to give you a chance the practice the concepts presented. They aren’t mandatory, but they can help the concepts stick. Next are the card meanings, the core of the book, offering an image of the card from the Universal Waite Tarot, keywords, actions, opposing cards, reinforcing cards, court card pairs, ace-ace pairs, and a description of the card’s meaning in familiar terms; more ‘general and philosophical’ for the majors and ‘concrete and everyday’ for the minor arcana.. Bunning doesn’t concentrate on deconstructing every symbol or going into the history in depth, but makes each card understandable and applicable to our lives.

The Actions section I found particularly useful. These are ‘the phrases describing how the energy of each keyword manifests’, (such as respecting Justice, assuming responsibility, preparing for a decision, and understanding cause and effect) that act as the main headings for a several other facets of meaning. For example:

Four of Swords

Rest - Contemplation – Quiet Preparation

taking a break
giving your body time to heal
avoiding overexertion
finding peace and quiet
relaxing body and soul
taking life easy

gaining a better perspective
listening for your inner voice
taking time along to think
standing back from the situation
examining your motivations
reviewing where you are

Quietly Preparing
consolidating inner resources
making sure your base is secure
getting ready for the future
coming to terms with what is
tying up loose ends

The Celtic Cross is explained in further depth, position by position. Each position is illustrated with a black and white illustration of the ten card layout, keywords for the positions (such as attitudes and beliefs, conscious influence, goal or purpose, and alternate future for Position 5). ‘Jill’s Readings’ are a series of three readings done by Joan Bunning for Jill, a friend, over the course of a year.

The Appendices have a range of other Tarot material, from a description of the Fool’s Journey as a metaphor for the journey through life, to keywords for tarot suit qualities, suit pair meanings, and court card rank pair meanings. Various shuffling methods are outlined, and there are quick notes for the Question Reading, Other Reading and Open Reading step-by-step procedures in lesson 8, 9 and 10. The book is completed by sizeable bibliography, and an index.

Learning the Tarot is easy to follow and understand, practical, and perfect for beginners. It can accompany any Rider-Waite based deck (it doesn’t only have to be used with the Universal Waite Tarot) and has a comprehensive step-by-step course to get you up-and-running with your Tarot cards. Five stars.

Kate Hill is the owner, founder and editor of Aeclectic Tarot, and has reviewed more than 200 decks over the years.

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