1-2-3 Tarot: Answers in an Instant by Donald Tyson
Review by Diane Wilkes

For some unaccountable reason, when I first noted that a new beginning tarot book, 1-2-3 Tarot: Answers in an Instant, was being published by Llewellyn, I saw the name "Donald" and thought "Donald Michael Kraig." A fan of Kraig's Tarot and Magic, I really looked forward to this book's release. When it finally arrived and I began leafing through the pages, filled with gibberish, I looked at the cover again and realized the book was authored by Donald Tyson.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I've read Donald Michael Kraig. I've participated in conventions with Donald Michael Kraig. And, sadly, Donald Tyson is no Donald Michael Kraig.

While I know there's a glut of books for beginning tarotists, I am convinced that there's always room for another good one. Perhaps something akin to Joan Bunning's very clear and helpful Learning the Tarot , but geared toward Golden Dawn decks in general (as opposed to the Rider-Waite-Smith), with a twist of Tarot for Your Self's experiential exercises. That could be yummy. I'm convinced that there are many other possibilities, and I look forward to reading them all.

I may not be sure what this good beginner's book will look like, but I know what it won't--a book that expresses the message, "You can learn tarot in seconds! Amaze your friends and astound your enemies! All you need is a working pair of hands to use my secret decoder!" It's insulting to tarot and the reader, whom, one assumes, could buy a Magic 8 Ball if he wanted a floating fortune cookie.

Nothing gets my reviewer's bile flowing like a lose-lose state of affairs. And this book is just that.

In the Introduction, entitled Tarot Made Easy (I bet the author was kicking himself that that book title was already taken), Tyson assures the reader that "There is no need to memorize the cards. It only takes a moment to look up the parts of each Tarot sentence in the tables provided at the back of this book...It really is as easy as 1-2-3."

And you thought I was making unfair Magic 8 Ball comparisons...

The book's structure holds some promise as a teaching and learning tool: Tyson breaks each card down into three parts--subject/verb/adverb. One of the better examples of this is the sentence for the High Priestess: Mystery/unveils/with wisdom. After reading the sentences for individual cards, Tyson urges you to regard them collectively by using three card readings (or triplets). You plug in the subject for the first card, the verb for the second, and the adverb for the third, and 1-2-3, you've got yourself a reading. Granted, the reading looks more like a fortune cookie, but instant mixes never taste as good as homemade.

Let's see how this system works with a hypothetical triplet. The cards are The Seven of Swords, the Four of Cups, and the High Priestess, so you have the sentence "Futility/wearies/with wisdom." Exchange the first two cards and you have "Luxury/annoys/with wisdom." Or exchange the last two cards: "Futility/unveils/with discontent."   The phrase garbage in, garbage out occurs to me...and you, too, I bet.

This technique has its merits. Monte Farber uses it successfully with his Karma Cards, which are akin to astrological flashcards, and it's particularly effective because of the natural division of thirds in astrology: sign, planet, and house. But with tarot, it doesn't seem to work--especially in the case of Tyson's phraseology. Ironically, the author makes his technique more complicated than it needs to be by using reversals that often twist his contructs into even more absurd and irrational sentences. Additionally, his use of taking the physical position of Court Cards into account means each one has three possible interpretations, depending on the position in the spread. Then again, the novice merely needs to plug in the book meanings (no thinking required), and the book contains a cute little table showing the positional meanings, so nothing gets too complex for our cute little heads to wrap around.

Tarot scholar Robert O'Neill frequently used the word "gobbledygook" to describe inconsistencies within the Golden Dawn system. I contend that Tyson has taken gobbledygook to another level--but in this case, rising to the heights isn't a positive.  Tyson's sample readings using this technique reflect this gobbledygook, making them unintentionally comical. My personal favorite is the yes/no spread, where a shy girl is advised to go on a date with a guy because in a yes/no spread, what really matters is the number of uprights versus reversals. Once we expand the reading, we discover that this guy regards the date as a kind of conquest and the date will end in an unsatisfactory way and will "result in the extenuation of her loneliness." But go she must--only one of the three cards was reversed.

Another spread custom-made for this triplet reading technique is the Triangle Spread--but the example is gibberish because of the obfuscatory nature of the language. My words can't do this book justice--only actual examples really express its true nature:

"To better understand the triplet of the final outcome of the question, [the querent]...constructs its extended composite sentence by collecting its three parts from the descriptions of the individual cards:

Decision imposed without appeal from a higher authority
assesses attainments critically in unsatisfied ambition
with equality determining truth from falsehood

The best part: that's the clarifying paragraph! Imagine if the querent was unfamiliar with the situation!

The Nine Card Layout is fairly straightforward (a past, present, and future spread with three cards for each position), but not only is the obscure wording distracting, the author also brings in information that has no basis in the cards/interpretations provided, which would be more confusing than educatory to the novice for whom the book is intended.

While the Universal Tarot by Roberto De Angelis is used to illustrate the book, Tyson states upfront that his interpretations will apply to all Golden Dawn-based decks. And one can tell by some of the interpretations that his meanings are based at least as much on Thoth as the RWS (Four of Cups - "Luxury wearies with discontent/Excess vexes with aversion"; Seven of Swords - "Futility annoys with conflict/Instability betrays with insult"). This makes some of his sentences inscrutable to those readers who are unfamiliar with Thoth and trying to see where Tyson gets some of his keywords by looking at the Universal Tarot images. But hey--sometimes fortune cookies are inscrutable, too. Why should the novice be able to buy a clue? (Note to Llewellyn: I know it's convenient to use the Universal Tarot in place of the US Games-owned RWS, but the more I see the Universal, the more I realize just how banal and annoying it is. The Robin Wood is a far worthier model, and hews almost as closely to the RWS.)

I found some of the spreads interesting, but creating my own Jane Austen Tarot sentences in my head, based on Tyson's technique, was the most valuable thing I got from reading the book. Then again, that little project wasn't actually in the Tyson book. Still, you might find it helpful to try this technique with a deck of your choosing--create a sentence for each card using the subject/verb/modifier structure. It helps you to clarify what you think is most important about the card in terms of its focus, its suggested action, and its style.

The good news? You don't have to waste a penny of your money buying this dreadful book to try it. I try to find positive things to say about every book, but Donald Tyson has achieved what few others have--made that modest ideal impossible.


Cited text 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes