Tarot Tips by Ruth Ann Amberstone and Wald Amberstone
Review by Diane Wilkes

Some of the best new tarot books have been published in the Special Topics in Tarot series by Llewellyn. My personal favorites are Mary Greer's Tarot Reversals, which I use as a primary source for card interpretations, Nina Lee Braden's Tarot for Self-Discovery, Teresa Michelsen's Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads, and Donald Michael Kraig's Tarot and Magic. I consistently learned (or continue to learn) new things from all of these books, and value them highly.

I was a bit concerned about how I would feel about Tarot Tips by Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone because I consider them both friends--yet I wondered how valuable a book could be that, for the most part, recapped free material from newsletters I had already read the first time around.

These fears have, for the most part, been assuaged--but I must say that I don't think this book belongs in a series for advanced readers. The majority of this book is really written for beginners. It offers material on protecting, cleansing, clearing, and shuffling your deck, as well as court cards, reversals, and yes-no spreads, which is about as basic as you can get. This is not to say that there isn't some more unique and advanced material herein, but there's really not enough of it to be considered as a book for advanced tarotists. Had the authors included material about the only-mentioned Elemental Array, Court Card Personality Array, The Hidden Face (doesn't that sound intriguing to the Plutonic folks in the room?), Couples Mandala and the Personal Tree, this would have been appropriate for the Special Topics series...and a juicier book. Perhaps that material will be included in Ruth Ann and Wald's next one...we can but hope.

What is included in Tarot Tips? The book's sections are as follows:

Foreword by Mary K. Greer
Decks, Cards, and Card Handling
Interpretation and Meaning
Reading Techniques
Spreads
Other Things You Can Do With Tarot
Ethics
Afterword
Appendix I - Recommended Books
Appendix II - The Tarot School Story
Index

The material, much of it originally published in the Amberstones' free Yahoo newsletter, Tarot Tips, is well-organized, well-presented, and often quite innovative. The section entitled "Interpretation and Meaning" is a bit deceiving, though, because it doesn't provide card interpretations, per se. Personally, I think this is a good thing--there are more than enough books that contain such interpretations, and they are often rather subjective. The information herein is more general and more practical in nature, such as how to use context to provide meaning, how to work with card combinations, and so forth.

One example of inventiveness concerns using "strategic capability" with the tarot. Ruth Ann's answer (excerpted below) was creative and thought-provoking. I love the concept of "secret paths" (okay, I admit to being a trifle Plutonic!) and the Esoteric Function exercise is terrific and will be new to most readers. And while the Esoteric Function is mentioned in one of the Tarot Tips newsletters, the esoteric function of each of the Majors is not--but you can find that information in the book.

Sometimes the authors allude to a tarot technique or feature, such as elemental counterchanges or the esoteric function without providing the original source or even much information. Elucidation of these would not have taken up much space and would be helpful to most readers, and would have made the book more of a "Special Topics" type of book. Teasing is fine for the High Priestess, but less appropriate with a book of this nature. 

On the other hand, numerous questions I've seen recently on Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot, about such things as getting a client's energy into the reading when doing one by telephone and card interpretation methods, are asked and answered in this book. This is evidence that many readers will find Tarot Tips a valuable resource, as these concerns are clearly relevant and even universal in scope (to tarot readers, anyway!).

Another issue addressed is "drawing a blank," which the Amberstones answer in the same way I've heard Rachel Pollack respond--which is to ask the querent what he thinks and feels about the card. However--and I don't want to sound arrogant or insensitive--but in over 30 years of card reading (and almost 30 years of reading the tarot), I never have drawn a blank, so I disagree with the following statement: "Ask anyone who's been reading for twenty-plus years and they'll tell you it happens from time to time--even for them." I spent a few months learning the cards themselves, and had to look up some card meanings during that short time, but I could always figure out what the card meant in the context of the reading from the book definition provided. I think it's appropriate and beneficial that this is addressed; I simply don't concur that it applies to everyone.

At the end of the book, a section entitled "Heretical Musings" speaks of not becoming overly dependent on the tarot, asking it questions about everything in one's life. My response: "Hear, hear!" This doesn't sound heretical to me, but offers wisdom that can be summed up thus--while you can use the tarot in many productive ways, don't be used by it.

This book provides excellent hands-on advice for the reader; however, I vigorously disagree with the response in  two of the tips.

The first is in the area of Tarot Ethics, a section that I was pleased to see the Amberstones include in the book, since many new readers have never considered them (I always teach this subject to my beginners' class). Tip 73 contains a story about a distraught woman who had just had a biopsy wanting to know about the results. The author writes: "I drew three cards face-down and turned them over one at a time. I did it fairly quickly so all three got turned over before she could express a reaction. The middle card was Death. The woman did not wait for an explanation but ran sobbing from the table. She read the card herself." While I wasn't there, this story suggests that the reader did not show much empathy for the querent, who was obviously in need of preparation and reassurance. It might not have been the best time to even attempt a reading of this nature. In fact, if one is going to do health readings of any kind, the question must be posed so that the reader is not giving medical advice, for reasons of liability (as well as ethics). (If the reader is also a physician, that's a different story.) Additionally, the technique used shows a lack of sensitivity and/or comprehension that there are some cards that might unnecessarily terrify the querent.

Another email (Tip 50) begins with the following statement: "I have had people hate a reading and demand another one." It seems to me that this email "demands" this statement be addressed--no one has the right to DEMAND anything of the reader. If the reading is for pay, the querent should ideally receive a competent reading, but if the reader is incapable of that, demanding another reading would simply be more of a time-waster for them both. If the reader is capable, another reading shouldn't be necessary--and should certainly not be demanded. But the answer provided was simply to do multiple readings until they stop making sense.

While Ruth Ann wrote the majority of Tarot Tips articles, the introduction and other sections are written in Wald's voice (wherein he refers to Ruth Ann). Other times, Ruth Ann refers to Wald. This change of voice can be confusing, and it might have been better to stick with one or the other or use the generic "we."

The nature of the beast--Tarot Tips is a short book with quick hit answers--is its gift and its curse. I read the book in about two hours (and that's with note-taking for this review!). It is accessible and enjoyable reading, offered from two people with a great deal of practical, hands-on experience. However, the curse is that these authors, who also have a deep understanding of tarot and a unique approach to it, are limited in fully exploring in this book the more innovative approaches they have developed. I look forward to the next book, which will hopefully do so.

In the meantime, I recommend this book for tarot enthusiasts who want to become better, more knowledgeable readers.

Excerpt:

Tip 28 - Suits and Strategic Capability

QUESTION:

Further to your Tarot tip on "Suits and Creativity," I would like to ask whether you can address a slightly similar issue -- that is on the association between suits and "strategic capability." I'm not sure if this is a fair question to ask, because strategic traits are rather complex, be it military, business, or organizational strategy.

If I may elaborate a little, strategic capability is a mixture of insight, analytical capabilities, creative thinking, and leadership skills.  It involves the ability to define one's mission and vision in an organization, translate broad directions into specific goals and targets, and come up with an operational framework with which one can achieve one's targets within a specific time frame.  Not everyone has the ability and not all leaders are good at it.  I am just wondering if it is within the scope of the Tarot suits to address something of this complexity?  -- Peter

ANSWER:

Actually, Tarot is capable of addressing anything, anything at all.  Your question concerns just the suits.  Let me say first that the scope of your universe of strategy is too small.  For example...

There is social strategy, which is addressed by the issues contained in Cups.  Strategic considerations for Cups would include intrigue-- political, social, and familial.

There is a strategy of personal development, the development of talent, skill, and spirit. An example of this would be a talent scout in the old Soviet Union who would go around to every village and hamlet looking for children with the potential to be great at something -- athletics, dance, chess, you name it.  Having found such budding talent, the full resources of the state were strategically organized to develop that talent to its completion.  This is an example of strategy in the realm of Wands.

Another simpler example of Wands strategy can be found in any music teacher into whose care a talented child is placed.  The development of the child's skill, understanding, spirit, and discipline is an extended strategic act on the part of the teacher, involving insight, planning, mission, timing, etc.

In the world of Pentacles, of the solid and physical, imagine Michelangelo standing before an untouched block of marble, seeing in it the masterpiece that he would produce from it.  In his mind, he would attack the marble in just such a way, in just such an order, with just such tools, and at just such a speed.  The masterpiece could not be accomplished without this strategic process.

A more down-to-earth example of strategy in Pentacles can be found in the kitchen of a restaurant.  Think of how much planning, precision, organization, leadership and supervision, training, and discipline are required in the operation of a good kitchen.

Strategy in the Suit of Swords speaks for itself.  You already mentioned military, business, and organizational strategy.  These are the areas that everybody thinks of when they think of strategy. They probably involve strategy on the grandest scale, but, as you can see, the element of strategy can be found everywhere and in everything.

As with all other aspects of the manifest, visible world, it takes a mixture of all the elements in varying proportions to bring something into being.  This includes strategy, every kind of strategy.

I say this as a matter of faith because I've seen it work so many times in so many ways, and even where I haven't personally seen specific examples, I can imagine and describe them.

There is a magick for every suit.

There is a humor for every suit.

There is a philosophy for every suit.

The details of strategy in any given case, involving any suit or combination of suits, would be found in the numbers and Court Cards that compose the suit.  The more intimate and profound your knowledge of the relationship  between the numbers and the suit symbols, the better strategy you could produce.

What exactly are the strategic implications of the Ace of a given suit, for example?  I bet you could come up with something if you thought about it.  What about the 10s?  You can see where I'm going with this.

An arrangement of several cards of different rank and suit organized with a strategic understanding could probably describe any strategic situation.  In fact, my guess is that it could predict and manipulate  as well as describe.

However, to do this would require a remarkable blend of Tarot and strategic knowledge -- which I don't have.


Cited text 2003 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes