Tarot Outside the Box
Tarot Outside the Box is by Valerie Sim, creator of the Comparative Tarot list and method. Her book, suitable for beginners to advanced readers, emphasises the use of different decks and Tarot as a creative tool.
By Valerie Sim · Book · Published by Llewellyn
Review by Lorena B. Moore
This is one of Llewellyn's "Special Topics in Tarot" series that the publisher recommends for intermediate to advanced students who are already familiar with the basic tarot deck structure and card meanings. But I am happy to recommend this book to beginners, particularly those who are intrigued by Tarot images but are put off by the occult connections or worried that they won't be "doing it right" if they don't memorize card descriptions.
This book is a creative journey through the "sacred game" of Tarot that offers the encouragement (or even permission) that many people need to simply enjoy the cards. Beginning or advanced readers will develop and deepen their intuitive and intellectual relationship with the cards as they explore several different decks in the same reading or exercise. The spreads, sample readings, and creative exercises use cards from a wide variety of decks, including some modern self-published "nontraditional" decks. The sample card descriptions are delightful. They artfully blend a description of the image, the deck creator's interpretation, the author's take on the card, and the card's relationship to the question or exercise. The sample readings are exploratory journeys with the author as a skilled guide who offers constructive suggestions without asking the querent to do all the work. They lack the tortured self-absorption that I often find discouraging in "self-help" Tarot reading methods. I especially like the section on the comparative one-card reading, since I use this myself and tend to prefer small spreads. My detail-oriented mind was fascinated, and would happily have visited the Nine of Cups from another dozen decks! There are plenty of interesting large spreads here too, each with its own challenging twist on the comparative method. There is room enough here for the most experienced Tarot student to branch out and become more versatile.
The discussions of elemental dignities and astrological correspondences are very brief but elegant and informative. Although I don't usually use them, I found these sections useful when doing comparative readings with certain decks. The section on Resources is a nice mini-lesson on different approaches to reading and learning Tarot. Along with the extensive bibliography, it is a great resource for students who want to choose books that fit their interests and learning style.
The book emphasizes using the Tarot as a creative tool, and offers ways to relate to very different types of decks. The thread of storytelling runs through every chapter, and there is even a complete CT story as an appendix - a gift for the Tarot reader or querent who wants to do something creative but doesn't have a clue how to start. This book may do what no deck has been able to accomplish: crack the preoccupation with the human figure that permeates so much Tarot reading and perpetuates the idea that the RWS is the only "real" Tarot.
As a scientist and naturalist, I know that observation, comparison, and contrast lead to greater understanding, and that diversity is Life. TAROT OUTSIDE THE BOX is a celebration of Tarot diversity and imagination that is a joyful, lifegiving offering to individuals and the Tarot tradition in general.
Lorena B. Moore is a geologist, artist, and creator of the Ironwing Tarot, a self-published deck that was released in December 2004. She has also created several cards for collaborative decks on the Comparative Tarot e-list.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Tarot Outside The Box is part of the Llewellyn "Special Topics In Tarot" series. In her foreword, Tarot Wise Woman Mary K. Greer talks about escaping the rules and opening yourself up to creative thinking and learning. This is something that Mary's books have always done, and is a tradition that Valerie Sim continues in a very engaging way.
While I was definitely looking forward to reading this book (Valerie's writing is always first rate), I did have to pause over the title. Taking Tarot "outside of the box" is a phrase that I have seen cropping up from time to time on various e-lists, but I was also aware that a very good friend of mine had a site that was worded very close to this. In the end, I decided that both ladies are heading in the same direction - opening up Tarot to all that it can be - and that all was well with the Western World.
Valerie addresses what I saw to be a major flaw in this book, the paucity of card scans, in a section in the front of the book entitled "Permission To Use". The issue being that she was not able to gain permission from certain publishers to use scans of their cards. What I found surprising (and disheartening) was that she indicates that some of the publishers did not even feel the need to respond to her query. We are all aware that at times this world lacks in grace, but this rather takes the cake! Even more credit needs to go to the major publishers (such as U.S. Games, A.G. Muller, Lo Scarabeo and Llewellyn Publications), and the indies (such as Julie Cuccia-Watts (Ancestral Path Tarot, Ma'at Tarot), Arnell Ando (Arnell Ando deck), Marie White (Marie-El Tarot), Ellen Lorenzi-Prince (Tarot Of The Crone), Ed Buryn (William Blake Tarot), and the Ordo Templi Orientis (Thoth Tarot). )
I am going to take this issue a bit farther. It could be thought that with a limited number of scans, this book may be difficult to work with. That just isn't true. Not everyone will have multiple Tarot decks. Some people reading this book may not even have one Tarot deck (although I do see this as an intermediate level book, in that you really need to have the basics of Tarot down to work it). Some people may not have Internet access to see the cards online. There are enough scans to get the general idea of what is going on. If a Seeker wanted to work with this technique, and had only one deck, then inviting a friend (or a group of friends) over to share decks and play with the Tarot would be a very fun thing to do! I think what I am trying to say here is to not take a small obstacle and build it into an insurmountable one!
Finally - we get to talk about the book! There are several specific sections here, and they are important enough that I am going to list the table of contents (something that I do not generally do in a review), and then talk about a few of the chapters. From the book (1):
Foreword ... XI
Acknowledgments ... XV
Permission To Use ... XIX
Introduction: About Me ... 1
One: The Comparative Tarot Method ... 7
Two: Combination Tarot ... 47
Three: Reading Practice Without A Querant ... 55
Four: Interactive Readings ... 63
Five: Elemental Dignities ... 73
Six: Original Spreads ... 85
Seven: Creative Writing With The Tarot ... 117
Eight: Conclusion ... 127
Appendix A: Collaborative Story ... 129
Appendix B: Resources for Further Reading ... 159
Bibliography ... 165
What most people may be looking for in this book is Valerie's approach to the technique of Comparative Tarot. Before Valerie began her e-list, this technique, while being used on an individual basis, was not widely discussed. More than likely, readers actually had different names - or no name at all - for what they were doing. Now there is a very active e-list, and even those readers that are not actually on the list understand the concept of Comparative reading.
The Comparative Tarot method is a relatively simple one - set out the cards from one deck for your reading, interpret them, then draw the same cards from one or more different decks and see what new messages come through. See if the first message is strengthened, or if the second deck adds depth by taking the reading in a slightly different direction.
This is a marvelous way to get to know a new deck, or to bring greater understanding to a question or issue. It also takes the reader away from the "sameness" of their usual reading deck, and expands their horizons. By involving the Seeker actively in the reading (by getting their response to the symbols on the cards, which will be different for each deck), the reader allows them to find their own answers from within.
Valerie give several sample exercises, with interpretations. Even without scans, the exercises are easy to follow (Valerie goes into depth on the symbolism that she is using for interpreting each card). Several decks (among them the Ancestral Path Tarot, the Fey Tarot, the Shapeshifter Tarot the Mary-El Tarot, and the William Blake Tarot) have individual cards discussed. This really is quite a fun section to go through in this book! There is also a sample Comparative reading presented, which is well worth going through. One of the things I liked about this section was that the readings and exercises were kept to three cards, which makes it very easy to get one's own decks out and play along!
Another Tarot technique that Valerie addresses is Combination Tarot. There are many ways that this can be done - one of which is by taking one card each from several different decks, then making a story out of them. Another way is to draw cards from one or more decks for the positions that are being a little difficult to interpret. You can also choose to draw cards from a non-Tarot oracle to add depth, or clarification, to a Tarot reading.
Valerie also covers interactive readings (readings where the reader gets the Seeker actively involved in the reading - which is not my preferred style of reading, but it certainly does open things up!), and reading with Elemental Dignities. I like the Elemental Dignity approach, and I feel as Valerie indicated in this section - that when an element is absent in a reading (of four cards or more), that this is an area that needs to be looked at. I like to think of it as the "way out" - that consciously bringing this element into the Seeker's consciousness will help them balance things out.
At the back of the book we have original spreads (we have to have spreads!), and an innovative short story written using the Tarot by several members of the Comparative Tarot e-list. This is an interesting technique, where one person starts the story, then passes it on to the next person. The writing is lively, and fun, and I got to "meet" up with some of the people that were members of the Comparative Tarot e-list when I was there.
I liked this book - it is well written, presents several Tarot techniques that are fun and creative, and is an excellent resource for someone looking to become more familiar with a new deck, or a reader looking to add some pizzaz to their readings.
Footnotes: 1. ibid IX
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer.