Tarot Tells The Tale

Originally the Ask Knighthawk column, now a book of entertaining and educational readings. James Ricklef clarifies the reading process through 22 three-card readings for characters from history and literature. While this edition is now out of print, the book has been revised and reissued as Tarot Reading Explained.

By James Ricklef · Book · Published by Llewellyn

Review by Solandia

Tarot Tells The Tale guides you through more than twenty permutations and variations on a three card reading, each creatively written as though for famous people and personalities from history and literature.

James Ricklef brings the Tarot alive in this book adaptation of his Ask Knighthawk column - essentially Dear Abby, Tarot style - which first appeared in the newsletter of the American Tarot Association. The readings in Tarot Tells The Tale follow the same format as the original column and are presented in letter-and-answer format.

There are twenty-two three-card readings (numbered 0 to 21), followed by one ten card Celtic Cross spread (titled 'Woman Ponders Proposition from King of Siam', the letter ostensibly written by Mrs. Anna Leonowens). Examples of the far from unfamiliar situations are...

  • Looking for Mr. Right (Cinderella)

  • Teacher Ponders New Position (Aristotle)
  • Scientist Fears Return Home (Albert Einstein, writing from England)
  • Woman Ponders Move to Paris (Gertrude Stein)
  • A Perilous Flight To Freedom (by Daedalus, the father of Icarus)
  • Man Suspicious of Brother (Abel)
  • And, The Girl Just Wants To Have Fun...
Are my little dog Toto and I ever going to get away from this God -forsaken farm? My aunt and uncle are two of the most boring people on the face of the earth. They never let me have fun. Why am I suck here? All I want is a little excitement. Is that too much to ask?

Yours truly,

Each entertaining letter is addressed to Knighthawk, from a writer who is recognisable by name or from the details in their letter. Knighthawk then writes back, giving a helpful and ethical synopsis of a three-card reading. He includes images of the cards (illustrated by cards from the Sacred Rose, Universal, Universal Waite, Aquarian and other 'standard' Tarots) and an explanation of the three cards. Next, Ricklef steps out of character for the comments section and highlights areas of interest in the reading, insights and clarifications for the benefit of the reader.

The twenty-three readings are bracketed by a wealth of densely packed practical, how-to Tarot info and Ricklef's own card interpretations. In the prelude, he gives tips on reading and how to handle different types of questions, devotes several pages to Tarot ethics; court cards; the variations and gradations of reversed cards; and numerological and elemental associations. The back of the book has Ricklef's take on the 78 card meanings, plus a useful cross-reference chart in the appendix that lists each Tarot card and which of the character readings it featured in.

Knowing the stories and often the outcomes of the people and their stories makes these Tarot readings far easier to deconstruct and understand. Ricklef reframes the characters' questions, addresses ethical issues, and shows us in action the reading principles he espouses to us in theory earlier in the book - and makes it entertaining. Tarot Tells The Tale is an invaluable addition to the bookshelf for the beginner or intermediate reader intent on improving their Tarot reading skills.

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

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

I remember when James first began his "KnightHawk" readings - three-card readings done for characters from history, myth and fiction. Quite frankly, I rolled my eyes when I first heard about the readings - I thought it was a unique hook, but a bit too "cutesy". Then I actually read some of them (they appeared in the ATA newsletter, as well as various other Tarot-related newsletters), and found them to be very well done, entertaining, and a wonderful way to introduce beginning Tarot readers to the concept of a storyline (as opposed to reading individual cards).

"Tarot Tells the Tale" goes far beyond being a mere collection of three-card readings (as interesting as that would be). James has broken the book down into three sections: "Preludes" covers numerological and elemental associations, court cards, finding card meanings, reversed cards, rephrasing the question, three-card spreads, pulling it all together, and ethical considerations. "Three-Card KnightHawk Readings" includes 22 readings, keyed to the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. "A Celtic Cross KnightHawk Tarot Reading" presents a reading, and explanation, using the Celtic Cross spread.

Appendix 1 (Comments on the Seventy-eight Tarot Cards" ) covers each card of the Tarot, with an appropriate quote, keywords, comments on the cards energy, and advice on how the card can be worked with.

Appendix 2 (Card/Reading Cross Reference) lists all of the cards that appeared in each of the readings, and the readings that they appeared in.

The "Bibliography and References" section lists, books and references to where the readings have appeared previously.

The "Prelude" section is a gift to all Tarot students, whatever their level. In discussing numerology, James makes a point of showing how the numbers flow into/build upon each other, as well as presenting their general significance. He discusses how the energy of the numbers shows up in the mechanics of real life, which translates very easily into the "story" of the reading being presented to the Seeker. He does the same thing for the nature of the suits, so that Wands are growth and energy, as well as passion; Cups are reflective and nourishing, as well as flowing; Swords can be weapons or useful tools; and Pentacles relate to safety and security, as well as finances and grounding. The Major Arcana become the "fifth suit", the suit of Spirit.

Court cards become quite interesting when one considers that they carry not only psychological nuances, but that they also carry the energy of their suit and rank. This "suit and rank" stuff becomes an "Aha!" experience when applied to ranking within work or group situations. James also discusses associative meanings for the Court cards, such as Kings and Queens being men or women in the Seeker's environment that are older than they are, while Page's can be seen as a male or female in the Seeker's environment that is younger than they are, with Knight's becoming the Seeker's peers. That should open up quite a few readings! As for the card meanings, James advises studying the meanings developed by others as a way of developing/determining your own meanings.

Reversed cards are broken into the "Five D's": Diminuation, Delay, Denial, Dark Side, and Direction. Reversals are invariably tricky territory, in that they are what they are due to the interaction with the cards surrounding them. Even a small help with identifying them becomes a big help! (I was also impressed with the presentation of a "Reversal Cube", which worked with projection vrs internalization, external blocks vrs internal resistance, and diminution vrs delay.)

The discussion on questions was also very well done, covering how to phrase/rephrase a question; how to move away from "fortunetelling" questions; how to work with timing; how to work with Yes/No questions; rephrasing "should" questions so that the Seeker is empowered, rather than giving up his/her power; third-party questions rephrased to reflect the Seeker's needs; and avoiding questions essentially requesting professional advice (legal/medical/financial).

Now we come to the heart of the book - three-card spreads, and their many variations (Temporal; Levels of Being; Background, Problem, Advice; Progression; Yes/No; Choice; Sandwich; and Miscellaneous spreads). This section shows the reader how to develop their own three-card spreads, and would certainly help to develop a reader's confidence!

One last thing before we get to the readings themselves, and that is the section on the necessity for each individual reader developing their own working set of professional ethics. There is enough information here, presented in a very lucid fashion, that the process of creating a personal Code of Ethics flows quite easily.

I very much enjoyed the readings presented in this book. They begin with a "Banner Headline", the deck that was used for the reading, the question (some of which are quite funny, when you think about the history behind the character doing the asking!), the response, and commentary on the response (a "heads up" as to why each card was read in a certain way). Not everyone will agree with all of the readings, which is their prerogative. If you follow the reasoning in the commentary, it will help even the most seasoned reader break through blocks that they did not even know existed in their own readings.

"Tarot Tells the Tale" is a wonderful teaching book, as well as a highly enjoyable read! The section on the Celtic Cross reading is a fine example of this - breaking down the ten card reading into smaller groups of 2-3 cards that add great depth, as well as alternative ways of explaining the story to the Seeker, who may have become a bit overwhelmed by seeing that many cards in front of them (or perhaps they got stuck on one card and were not able to mentally move past it).

If you haven't read this book yet - go find it! There is something here for everyone!

© 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.

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