A common question when starting to read tarot concerns which books are best for a beginner, and having been in that situation myself (although many moons ago), I thought I would share my top 5 books I would recommend to anyone starting on the tarot journey. Before I do that, a small disclaimer regarding my choices:
- First and foremost, if you are beginner, allow yourself to deepen your intuition by describing a card in your own words, before reading a book on it. Learning to read tarot is not about memorising keywords or phrases: it is about allowing your own intuition to find a voice through the medium of the cards.
- I have chosen the list below from my own library, and as my own library does not contain every book on tarot ever published (contrary to my wishes, may I add), the choices I offer are representative of that. In saying this, I am fairly conservative in my book selection, preferring to support authors that have earned their credentials in the tarot world: there are a plethora of beginner’s books out there, and in my opinion most just reiterate what has already been written by those before them.
- There are many tarot decks that come with accompanying books, and often you can purchase these as a set. In many cases, the books are a great source of knowledge and information to both tarot in general, and to the specific deck. Examples that come to mind include: Druidcraft, Byzantine, Haindl, Mythic, Gaian, and the Baba studio decks.
- These are not in depth reviews, rather a quick summary of each book, and if you are interested in any of them, a quick internet search of book reviews should provide further guidance. Also, this is not a sponsored post.
In no specific order:
Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
This is a tarot classic, originally published in 1980, with a revised edition in 1997, and still a favourite among many tarot readers including myself.
While it is not a light read (nearly 350 pages), it is certainly an excellent resource for those who want to take their tarot knowledge a lot further than a few keywords and phrases. Rachel gives the Major Arcana the depth it requires, often with cultural, mythological or historical context.
Reversed meanings are provided for all cards, and the third chapter includes information on readings, including sample spreads and readings.
Tarot for a New Generation by Janina Renee
First published in 2001 by Llewellyn, what I love about this book is that in addition to providing a key summary for each card, it also gives a number of possible meanings commonly encountered.
So, for example, for the 2 of Pentacles, the book outlines the following key meanings with a description for each:
- Activities and lifestyles
- Relationships and responsibilities
The appendices at the end give a detailed list of significator card examples for each card, as well as a detailed “Use of colour” list that outlines colour correspondences for the colours found in a tarot deck.
Tarot Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
This is more of an encyclopaedic approach to the tarot, listing the historical meanings of each Major Arcana card, with an in-depth analysis that expands further on the work done in her Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom. It’s over 450 pages long, so a great resource to refer to for readers of all levels.
I particularly like that the minor arcana is given considerable more insight in this book, with a detailed introduction that links the symbolism and meaning of numerology and the elements – this is key to understanding the minor arcana, in my opinion.
I particularly love the spreads she offers for each for each Major Arcana – these are fun to do and I have found them to be very insightful.
21 Ways to read a tarot card by Mary Greer
I include this book due to its relevance to my first bullet point highlighted at the beginning of this blog post, namely:
First and foremost, if you are beginner, allow yourself to deepen your intuition by describing a card in your own words, before reading a book on it. Learning to read tarot is not about memorising keywords or phrases: it is about allowing your own intuition to find a voice through the medium of the cards.
As such, this is not a cookbook of tarot meanings and keywords for each tarot card. Rather, the book outlines 21 ways or methods you can use to deepen your understanding of each card. Greer outlines the goals of her book as:
– To expand the ways you obtain information from a card
– To deepen personal insights
– To evolve an individualised reading style or technique
Some of the ways listed by Greer include traditional methods such as numerology and symbols, but the book encompasses much, much more: metaphor, meaning, dignity, embodiment to name just a few. There are two levels of exploration for each way, apprentice and adept, with set activities listed under each.
I recommend this book for its original collection of approaches to working with any tarot card, approaches that allow a reader to let the card speak via the various methods listed, rather than impose a set of learned keyword on a card.
Tarot for Yourself by Mary Greer
Last but not least is another gem from Mary Greer, showing the first edition published in 1984 (left). There is a more recent 35th anniversary edition published in 2019. The subtitle for the first edition is A workbook for personal transformation, whereas the 2019 edition has A workbook for the inward journey, both which summarise it concisely. My observations below are from the first edition that I have in my collection.
The book explores key themes of tarot reading, such as devoting a whole chapter to the Celtic Cross (with example), court card personalities, becoming conscious of what you create, healing, and much more. There are plenty of exercises to try and suggested questions to ask of the tarot. For example, the chapter on Becoming conscious of what you create (image below) offers a spread on your birth chart mandala, your horoscope spread, and using a crystal pendulum in your readings, all with detailed, thoughtful explanations and guidance – this should give you an idea of the versatility and breadth of the book.
As noted at the beginning of the post, this is by no means a definitive guide, however I do believe the books listed serve as an excellent foundation for anyone wishing to explore and learn to read the tarot, either for themselves or for other people.