Author: P. Scott Hollander
Paperback, 384 pages
Publication date: April 1995
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There are hundreds of different Tarot decks and, at times, it seems that there are hundreds of Tarot books for beginners. There probably aren't that many books, but if you are new to the Tarot and trying to select a book or two to help you learn to read the cards, it can certainly seem like there are that many to choose from. The late P. Scott Hollander's book, Tarot for Beginners: An Easy Guide to Understanding & Interpreting the Tarot, is apparently a popular choice as over 100,000 copies have been sold since it was first published in 1995.
Hollander's book begins with a brief description of the history and use of the Tarot and then jumps right into the cards. Each card in the Major Arcana is well-described with at least three pages of written material describing the appearance of the card in general terms as this book is not deck specific, the esoteric meaning of the card, and the meaning of the card in readings. Black and white pictures of each card in at least three decks accompany the text.
The second part of the book covers the Minor Arcana. This portion begins with two fairly long chapters on the general meaning and interpretation of Minor Arcana cards. Then each card is described. If the book falls down anywhere, it is in the descriptions of the individual cards of the Minor Arcana. Most cards only receive one or two pages of specific meaning and reading information, and half of that is usually taken up by pictures of the card. The court cards are generally well-described, but the pips often seem a bit short-changed.
The final -- and shortest -- part is on reading the cards. The basic principles are stated and three spreads are presented with a brief sample reading given for each. The first spread is the Celtic Cross (called the "Ancient Celtic Method" here) and it is described in fair detail. The second spread is a 5 card Major Arcana only spread. The third is a 7 card spread designed for yes or no questions. These two spreads are not given nearly the detail that the Celtic Cross spread is given.
I really like the fact that multiple tarot decks are used in this book. The ones used in this thirteenth printing are the Universal Tarot, the Buckland Romani Tarot, the Legend Tarot, the Nigel Jackson Tarot, the Witches Tarot, and the World Spirit Tarot. This demonstrates the wide variety of card symbolism found in Tarot decks. Given the large number of Tarot decks on the market, this is an excellent practice for a beginner book. The days when it was safe to assume that beginners will be using a Rider-Waite deck are long past.
I can see why this book is popular with beginners. It is well-written and enjoyable to read. The large number of decks used in its illustrations is a definite plus. However, I'm bothered by the somewhat skimpy information on the individual Minor Arcana cards. The two introductory chapters on the Minor Arcana somewhat make up for this, but I still suspect that many beginners will find themselves wanting a second book with more complete information on the Minor Arcana. Therefore, I can't recommend Tarot for Beginners: An Easy Guide to Understanding & Interpreting the Tarot as a stand alone book for the complete novice. If one is willing to buy a second book with more complete information on the minor arcana, however, this book is a fine introduction to the art of Tarot reading.
Reviewed by Randall