Tarot: Unlocking the Arcana
Tarot: Unlocking the Arcana is a modern and fresh approach to tarot for beginners. It's a reliable and clear introduction that makes tarot cards relevant to the contemporary era.
By Angelo Nasios
Book - 240 pages - Published by Schiffer Books
Review by medusawink
Schiffer Publishing has established a stellar reputation with cutting-edge tarot and oracle decks, and with the publication of Angelo Nasos’ book - Tarot Unlocking the Arcana - they have produced a first rate introduction to the tarot. This is a beautifully presented book, attractive in its layout, with high-quality paper, clear printing of black on white with blue headings in elegant script. It is short on illustrations and long on information. The hardback cover is illustrated with an elaborate interpretation of The Hermit, highlighted with spot varnishing. The content is 10 solid chapters in 239 pages.
The Preface unsurprisingly details the author's history with the tarot. The Introduction however discusses the intentions/purpose of the book – demystifying the esoteric wall around tarot, familiarising the Seeker with the meanings of tarot symbols; and outlining the content of each chapter. There is a lot of information to get through before the actual tarot is dealt with on a card by card basis.
Chapter 1 addresses some common questions about what tarot can and cannot do, and looks at common myths such as: tarot is evil, tarot is always correct, tarot is magic, anti-religion, a gateway to the devil, and so on. The author also debunks some of the popularly voiced 'rules’ about tarot – you've probably heard them before; you must be given your deck, don't let anyone touch your deck, keep the cards wrapped in silk, you must be psychic to use the cards and a whole host of other misconceptions. There is a very helpful discussion about How Tarot Works, and more wisdom about how to select your deck.
Chapter 2 discusses the valuable practice of tarot journalling then plunges straight into Getting Started. This covers vital areas such as phrasing your questions well, rituals/practices for reading, shuffling the cards, and cutting the cards. There is a brief overview of the cards – Major and Minor Arcana cards are all given short summaries. This is followed by several options for reading reversed cards, included are a handful of examples demonstrating each option.
Chapter 3 familiarises the reader with Astrology, the Elements, Numerology, the Qabalah, and their relationship to/ influence on the tarot. Each of these topics have been covered a great length in other books; this chapter is intended to put a novice Seeker in the picture, not provide an in depth analysis of such information.
Chapter 4 is a more profound and fascinating chapter which discusses tarot history, philosophy, and religion(s) – how each relates to divination systems, fortune-telling practices, and tarot reading.
Chapter 5 gives the reader a broad selection of divination spreads including a daily spread, spiritual guidance, a horseshoe spread, three-card draws, problem-solving spreads, love and relationship spreads, and of course, the Celtic Cross.
Chapter 6 is, to my mind, the most problematic chapter – dealing with Sample Readings. On a fatuous level there is the who-will-win-the-Super Bowl reading – probably not the best use of the tarot. More darkly, readings regarding Anna Nicole Smith, Amy Winehouse, Gabrielle Giffords, and the Virginia Tech shootings are also given. While readings about the Virginia Tech and Gabrielle Giffords shootings are of questionable taste, they are to a large extent understandable. These are situations which provoked fear and grief and using tarot for insight into the situation may give a Seeker a good framework for coming to terms with these events. The Anna Nicole Smith and Amy Winehouse readings on the other hand
are cheap, sensationalistic, and highlights the less than salubrious uses for the tarot – namely invading a person's privacy, exploiting a tragedy, and imposing interpretations on an unknown situation. One cannot reasonably trust a result that has been based on the most salacious speculations in the popular media. Additionally there is the question over the morality of using the tarot to pry into the private life of non--consenting individuals.
Chapter 7 – Tarot Expanded deals with education and tarot reading. Here the author discusses several streams of education which may enhance a tarot users understanding of the cards. He also tackles the taboo is of fortune-telling and death predictions.
Chapter 8 is lengthy and deals with the Minor Arcana. Each card has its own short sub-chapter, beginning with the cards title, and an esoteric title courtesy of Crowley/the Golden Dawn. A brief description based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is given. This is followed by Symbolism and Meaning which dissects some of the most obvious symbols in each image. The 'meaning’ is the broader understanding one is given for each card, the emotion or intention the card represents.
'In A Reading’ is the finely tuned divinatory meaning giving specifics that the card may represent. The author has arrived at a healthy combination of both traditional meanings and progressive/modern interpretations – giving the Seeker the best options for an in-depth understanding of the card in a layout.
Chapter 9 deals with the Court cards. The introduction gives the Seeker three possibilities that the cards may represent – a person, personality or aspect of self, and environmental influences. Abstract possibilities are not included. There is a short discussion of the Elemental and Qabalistic associations of the Courts, and a chart of elemental combinations is provided.
Each card has a description (again RWS cards), an explanation of the symbolism and meaning, and as with the number cards, a divinatory meaning, or way of interpreting and understanding the card in a reading. Here the author also looks at Piaget’s cognitive development theory and applies it to the personalities of the Court cards. Again the interpretations given are an interesting combination of classic and progressive divinatory meanings.
Chapter 10 unlocks the Major Arcana. Rather than describe the card a lengthy analysis of each Arcana is provided. This takes into account the myths depicted in the cards and on which each card is based – including Greek, Roman, Egyptian myths and biblical allegories. Astrological influences which shape the meaning of the cards are also discussed at considerable length. The divinatory meaning is given (as is for all cards) for both upright and reversed cards.
Tarot - Unlocking the Arcana is a wonderful book for beginners, but those who have been reading about tarot for a while will probably be familiar with most of the content. If you are a beginner looking for a book which is modern in its approach and reliable in its information this is a great place to start. While it is not cutting-edge, it does provide clear and unambiguous information which is relevant to our rapidly changing times – because, yes, tarot books do become dated and divinatory meanings in particular can become outmoded. If you are serious about learning tarot then Angelo Nasios’ Tarot Unlocking the Arcana is a superb starting point.