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Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot Review and Giveaway

SecretsW-SOver the past couple of weeks, my evenings have seen me curled up on the sofa with the Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot (Llewellyn, 2015) rather than a novel.  The comparison to a novel is not an idle one.  Although the book is certainly factual, it looks at both personal and fictional stories, and is a fun and interesting read.
For one thing, it has biographical sections on both Pamela Colman Smith and A. E. Waite.  These give details of their lives that shed insight on what influenced and inspired them.  This personal look into the people behind the deck is fascinating.  These sections are also illustrated with lots of images taken from Pamela’s work outside of tarot, as well as photographs of places she visited that may have been used as references for landscapes in the tarot cards she illustrated.  While not necessarily ‘secrets’, these chapters bring the two creators of the deck to life.

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.

SecretsW-SBackThe 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!

34 Responses to “Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot Review and Giveaway”

  • This does sound interesting. I would like to have a go at it, and if I win it, I will review it on my blog and give it away again. 🙂

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  • Besides the minor flaws you’ve mentioned it sounds like a good read. So I would love to enter the giveaway

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    • It certainly has its pros and cons, but enough good stuff to be worth it. You’re in, Ellen 🙂

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  • Is the information about the influence of the theatre in positions on the cards etc based on facts ? Or mere supposition ?

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    • Well, at least one of the authors claims to have been guided directly by Pixie’s spirit 😉 However, more objectively, I’d go with very well-referenced supposition.

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  • I have held back on this one as the title put me off. Your review has opened the window a crack, though. I’m less interested in the esoteric aspect and more interested in Pixie’s artistic process and evolution as an artist and woman.

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    • Hi Rose, I’m not sure if they go into more detail on Pixie’s artistic process than, for example, the book that accompanies the centennial edition. Still, I enjoyed the discussion of what inspired her in life, the landscapes, the theatre and the people, and how these show up in her art. You’re in 🙂

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    • Well, now you’re in with a chance of getting it for free, Debbie 🙂 I’ll post the winner next Friday!

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  • As I read this review I realized that I have an attitude to overcome……….and winning this book just might do the trick!! Excellent review, Chloe. Really gives a feeling for the pros and cons with the pros to the fore!! Thank you! Would love to win this read!

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    • Ha ha, Cat, I had an attitude to overcome in reviewing it, too! They accidentally sent me two review copies. One went to a TABI reviewer, and I agreed to review the other. Then another distributor sent me a third copy, hence the giveaway. Due to my attitude, there were bits that annoyed me. Overall, though, the material won me over 🙂

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  • Katalin Patnaik

    It sounds very interesting! I would like to join Carla in her decision: if i win it, after reading and reviewing it I would give it away. It could be the beginning of an interesting journey for the book! 😀 maybe leave a iece of paper for names in it….

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    • That would be a fabulous journey, Katalin. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you 😉

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  • Great review, Chloe – it’s always good hearing the minuses as well as the pluses. I particularly feel drawn to Pixie’s theatrical background and the input that came from it, and would love to be in the draw. I think the idea of reading the book and passing it on is brilliant, I’d be up for that! 🙂

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  • I just downloaded a sample of this book two days ago. Haven’t started reading it yet but your unbiased review makes it sound quite tempting.

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    • Well, perhaps you’ll get a chance to read the whole thing for free 🙂 Good luck, Bev!

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  • Donna

    I like the sound of some elements of the book you mentioned in your review. The technique used by Pixie interests me. I therefore would like to have a chance of reading it and seeing what it is like. Blessings x

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  • Sezo

    Great to see a balanced review of a book by these authors.
    Great insights! I definitely want a copy now!

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    • Had to work at making it balanced, as I had an attitude to start with. Still, as I say, there’s some really interesting stuff in there! 🙂

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  • This “swish” method is quite fascinating to me and something I definitely want to look into further, it feels somewhat similar to what I do when I am cutting the deck to do a reading (I say cutting, but it’s more sliding through the cards). Anyway, very very interesting indeed.

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    • They don’t go into a huge amount of detail on this swish method, for that you might be better off with a book on hypnotherapy (where I learnt about it) or NLP. Still, it’s just one of many interesting tidbits in there 🙂 You’re in, Kelly!

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  • Hmmmmm… Reading with the ‘swish’ technique sounds an awful lot like ‘reading the gap’ – a technique I developed and blogged about several years ago on Tarotize.com.

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    • As I say, Lisa, it’a a technique I learned in hypnotherapy, and which also exists in NLP. I guess everyone does it slightly differently, and every way will give good results 🙂

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  • Great review, thank you Chloe. Count me in. This was on my ‘do I/don’t I buy? List. Now I’ve read this it’s definitely a Do! Sounds interesting and I know the authors do extensive research as well as using intuitive methods. I’d like to find out more and share it with my meetup group.

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    • Well, Mary, I’m sure if you don’t win the giveaway there’ll be some clickety-itus! Either way, I wish you luck, and hope you find some useful material for your meet-up 😀

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  • Ravenna Rose

    Thank you for your review and for the giveaway, dear Chloe. I do love Rider Waite Smith tarot deck and I am fan of Pamela Colman Smith. It will be a great read, for sure. 😉 Blessings.

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    • Hi Alison, it is an interesting read, overall. Sadly, the giveaway is now closed – I announced a winner in this morning’s post. Wishing you a good weekend 🙂

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