There are also some interesting suggestions on how to use ideas they liked to help in interpreting tarot readings. Suggestions vary from spread ideas to colour interpretations. Although I found the suggestion of using the Majors as cues for a fairy oracle based on some of Waite’s other writings a bit pointless, as there are plenty of good fairy decks and the connections seemed somewhat contrived.
However, the idea of using the ‘swish’ technique in reading tarot cards is an interesting one. This is a technique Pixie used in her art, which the authors attribute to NLP, though I believe it was used in hypnotherapy even earlier. You visualise your question clearly, then stuff it down in one corner of your inner eye, turn over a card, and then let the question spring up again to superimpose itself on the card image. This is a way of tapping into subconscious processes, and certainly the book portrays Pamela as deeply intuitive.
For instance, there is also a chapter on her synaesthesia: the fact that she “saw” and was able to paint music! The authors suggest some music that she might have listened to when painting particular images, based on her description on how she “saw” the music of Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy and other composers.
The book also contains a section on the Kabbalah, explaining how the tarot minors map onto the kabbalistic Tree of Life. This is a very useable and easy to follow explanation, which can add an interesting dimension to readings. And given the evidence of Waite’s interest in the Kabbalah, the link to this deck and the idea of these being secrets placed within the cards is nicely supported. Less believeable, perhaps, is the assertion that Pamela “was able to intuit a connection to the underlying structure of theTree of Life through the titles and concepts of the cards…”
As well as the personal details on the two creators of the Waite-Smith deck (and the authors explain and justify why they don’t call it the Rider-Waite or even the Rider-Waite-Smith), the book includes a chapter on how to start reading tarot. While the basic premise is a good one – using keywords based on suit and number – the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. My first complaint is that they say you only need to memorise fourteen words, then go ahead and give eighteen keywords (to also cover the Courts). Secondly, straight after this sensible suggestion they then include a spread where they advise the reader to memorise reams of ‘magical’ lines to say as they are performing the reading! While some might enjoy this version of Waite’s Rosicrucian Spread, the placement of the suggestion seems a little ridiculous.
There are a few instances where a firmer editorial hand would have benefitted the text. Another example is one anecdote about Crowley’s dislike of Waite which is told twice within just a few pages of one another. And as well as the fourteen keywords that were actually eighteen, in the Kabbalah chapter the authors mention there being eleven sephiroth (which is true), but then only talk about ten of them for the next 26 pages, never naming or explaining the eleventh!
However, in many ways all that I’ve mentioned so far is almost beside the point. The bulk of the text, and the most interesting from many perspectives, is the breakdown of the cards. In this the authors look at traditional ways to read each card, and this section could be used by a beginner to come to an understanding of the tarot. Beyond this, though, the authors also go into detail on many cards: exploring the influence of the theatre on Pamela’s renditions, especially of the Minors. This is where the bulk of the “secrets” lie, and where there is truly original, fascinating material. Explanations of how the posture and costume of characters, and additional objects or animals, suggests particular actors or characters, especially from Ellen Terry’s troupe and from the plays of Shakespeare. This information adds a whole new dimension to the understanding of the cards.
Overall, this book has some really original material. It offers many reading ideas, a wealth of different approaches to the tarot, and the wonderful, detailed explorations of all the cards, layering in this extra theatrical information. While giving sufficient detail for someone to learn the tarot from this book alone, it’s greatest strength is probably in the new insights it offers to even those who have explored the tarot personally and academically for decades. There is something here for everyone.
If you would like to read this book for yourself, I have a copy to giveaway. To enter, all you have to do is sign up to my newsletter in the box on the right, and leave a comment on this post. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, then you just have to comment 🙂 Good luck!