Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Janet Berres has worked with the Tarot as a reader and a teacher for close to thirty years. She founded, and was President of, the International Tarot Society, and was the driving force behind the three World Tarot Congresses - venues that brought the Tarot world together and allowed some of its brightest lights to be experienced by people who would never have thought they would have a chance to hear them in person, much less work with them.
Your Guide To The Tarot is focused on the beginning reader - the reader who is still trying to find their way in the milieux that is Tarot. The kit consists of Berres 156 page book entitled "Your Guide To The Tarot", a copy of the Universal Tarot deck from Lo Scarabeo, and a black organdy bag to place the cards in. I am not fond of the organdy bag, but the cards come wrapped in cellophane, rather than in a box of their own, so the bag does serve a purpose.
The cards themselves would be the one sticking point for me with this kit. I agree that some form of the Waite-Smith deck was appropriate to be included, because it gives the student a good grounding in traditional Tarot symbols, images and interpretation. However, as with so many Lo Scarabeo decks, the coloring here is muted and flat, which to me takes away the "punch" of the deck.
I was delighted to see this book dedicated to Tarot pioneer Eden Gray. I never had the opportunity to meet Ms Gray, but I do have a great interest in, and respect for, her work.
Berres does a good job of presenting just enough Tarot history to dispel some of the myths (those wandering Gypsies!), while giving the Tarot novice a good grounding in where the cards came from, including the knowledge that they were originally used for gaming/gambling.
She addresses the structure of the traditional deck, acknowledging the fact that there are decks with more (or less) than the traditional 78 cards. Berres also addresses some of the myths surrounding modern Tarot - things like "Your first Tarot deck must be given to you as a gift", "The cards must be wrapped in silk and kept in a wooden box", and "You must sleep with a new deck to imbue it with your own energy". All of these are things that "can" be done, but that are not written in stone. I always wondered about the gift thing - some of us would still be waiting for our first deck if it had to be gifted to us! ;-)
To get to know the cards, Berres advises studying the images, and then putting your ideas about the cards into a cohesive sentence or pattern. This is the heart of Tarot - the "story" that the cards tell us. Berres also advises using a Tarot journal, but she does so in a manner that I have not come across before. She advises drawing three cards, in the evening, and leaving them face down until the next evening. They are then read as parts of that day - morning, afternoon, and evening. Her thoughts behind this method are that if you drew and studied the cards in the morning, they could affect how you proceed through your day, especially if they are difficult cards.
There is an adequate discussion on numbers as they relate to the cards, as well as astrological correspondences (using the Golden Dawn template). For example, under the discussion of the number ten, Berres defines the number as not only containing endings and new beginnings, but as expressions of great change: 10 Wands = extreme change, gain or release of a burden; 10 Cups = extreme happiness; 10 Swords = extreme difficulties; and 10 Pentacles = extreme money (and extreme amount).
In the introduction to the Major Arcana, Berres presents a well done, free-flowing paragraph relating to each of the 22 Tarot archetypes. Each card is then presented with a black and white scan, keywords, planet, and a discussion of the card. (Note: Berres does not read with reversals. She feels, as I do, that the nature of the card comes through the surrounding cards and the use of dignities.)
When we come to the Minor Arcana, I find myself disagreeing with some of the premises presented. Berres sees the Court Cards as representing a person in the querant's life the majority of the time. My personal interpretation, gained from a professional practice of over ten years, is that they most often represent some aspect of the querant's personality (with at times an added overlay of a specific person in their life). She also believes that at times the Page, Knight and King of a given suit are interchangeable in a reading. The Knight and King, yes, but I fail to see where the Page enters into the picture.
Berres defines the Pages as representing the primal, basic expression of each suit; the Knights as representing the mutable, changeable aspect of the suit (and the ending of each season); the Queens as representing the fixed, middle aspect of each season, as well as the season's height and intensity; the Kings as representing the beginning or "first sign" of each season.
The suits are defined as follows: Wands = change, inspiration, enterprise, fire, and summer; Cups = love, emotions, spiritual ideas, water, and autumn; Swords = intellect, conflict, challenge, air, and winter; Pentacles = money, material goods, personal values, earth, and spring.
Each of the Minor Arcana are presented with a black and white scan, followed by a short discussion of the card, as well as examples of what the card can mean in a reading.
At the end of the book is a short section on spreads. The first spread given is a fifteen card Celtic Cross spread. I don't feel the Celtic Cross is a good spread for a beginner, and the additional four cards (representing the beginning, middle, later part of and end of the second year) would more than likely be confusing to the student. Also presented are the Astrology Wheel, a Three Month spread, a One Week spread, and a Yes/No spread.
All in all, Tarot Kit For Beginners is a good place for someone wanting to learn the Tarot to start. Berres style is free-flowing and friendly, and the list of recommended books is a definite plus, heading the Tarot student in a wonderful direction.
© March 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.