Tarot Outside the Box by Valerie Sim

Review by Sandra A. Thomson


If you would like to order this book, click here. 


Once upon a time there was a woman who found suddenly that she had acquired several decks and that she loved all of them; wanted to use all of them; and didn't want to have to choose between them.  To facilitate that, she birthed a technique called Comparative Tarot.

At least in my imagination that's one way that Valerie Sim could have stumbled on the idea for the many creative ways in which she uses more than one deck in her tarot work.  Actually Sim only credits herself with naming and teaching a technique that was already starting to be used by other Tarotists—not that she knew this at the time.  I think, however, that through her consistent and creative experimentation with different ways to use more than one deck, the name of this modest "mother" of an extensive Comparative Tarot e-list will be forever linked with the Comparative Tarot technique.  No one will deny this after reading Tarot Outside the Box.


To read Sim's book is the equivalent of attending a graduate seminar with the Dean of the College of Comparative Education.  And why a "college" of comparative education?  Because Dean Sim not only explains the technique, she gives many different examples of the various ways you can use more than one card to expand or to give more depth to your tarot readings, and includes many readings with different spreads—both short and long; nothing eludes her—and with different decks.  The book is not only about comparative reading, however, although that is a large part of it.  It explores exactly what Sim says, ideas and exercises to challenge your imagination and to help you continue looking outside the box.


Her first exercise looks fairly simple.  After all, we are dedicated newbies in this graduate department (we can do this!), and while we have committed ourselves to the study of the tarot (Tarot Pages), we don't yet realize what she knows that we don't (Tarot Knights are so cocky, don't you think?).  So, using a three-card spread, she amplifies on the original card's meaning by using two other decks.


The assignment for next week's seminar?  Pick a card—one-card only (yikes!)—and present your understanding of that card.  Well, we're graduate students, after all.  How hard can a one-card reading be?  Yeah, sure. (P.S. Can I see your notes?)  If you're like many of my past students, you stick with your "comfort deck" (another term coined by Sim for your favorite, warm, fuzzy, trusted-friend deck) and maybe a couple of others.  Sim elaborates on, and digs into the meaning of, her first card, the Nine of Cups from the Universal Waite deck, by exploring explanations for the same card from 20 different decks.  Now, your challenge.  Dig deeper and choose another 20 decks; after all, Dean Sim has done the first 20 for you.  Probably the easiest ones, wouldn't you say?  Well, maybe, if you consider, the Blue Rose Tarot, the Ma'at Tarot, the Shining Tribe, The Tarot of the Crone, and the Wheel of Change—to name a few—as easy decks.


Think you've mastered that?  Okay (Gasp. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm in the wrong seminar), then try "combination tarot," where you can get what Sim calls "a second opinion."  Comparative Tarot amplifies specific cards, Combination Tarot gives multiple opinions or voices (different cards from different decks, sometimes supplemented by items from different kinds of oracles) regarding a question.  In her poetic way, Sim explains: "Comparative Tarot is the harmony—deep, rich, and melodious—whereas Combination Tarot is comprised of individuated solos in which all parts are clearly discernible and distinct."


While some (not me) might disagree with her simplification of elemental dignities, I adore her expansion of the Celtic Cross spread so that you draw three cards for each position and read them with regard to elemental dignities in addition to their own meanings.  Well, we'll probably all have to enroll in next semester's seminar with Dean Sim to get skilled at that.  Personally, I've already signed up.


The book also contains a full chapter on original spreads designed by her and those of her students who preceded us.  One chapter, called "Creative Writing with the Tarot," tells of a variety of ways to use the Tarot for various literary creations (stories, poems, limericks).  Anyone who has worked with the Tarot for any length of time knows how much fun this can be.  If you're not sure, the appendix of the book contains an extensive collaborative story compiled by various members of the Comparative Tarot e-list.  One of the most fun Tarot summers I've ever had was when a group of us spent our days creating similar stories.  Those people in that group certainly had some weird ideas, but they advanced my thinking about cards exponentially.


Although Sim and I do not always agree on the way to read (for instance, I have dropped "future" as a position name from my spreads because it still reeks too much of fortune-telling for me, and use instead "possibilities" or "potentialities"), she is one of the most skilled and creative readers I know.  If you don't learn something about how to improve your reading style from this book, or find a new technique with which to experiment, then you likely are a dead Tarotist, and probably will have trouble getting "out of your box" anyway to read this latest in Llewellyn's Special Topics series.  Draw the Judgment card immediately for assistance.  Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.


If you would like to order this book, click here. 


Tarot Outside the Box by Valerie Sim
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide

ISBN #: 0738702773


Sandra A. Thomson's specialties within the tarot world involve using the tarot for shadow or psychological work (having been a psychologist in a former profession), and to address weight issues.  She is currently the president of the American Tarot Association, and lives, breathes, and dreams tarot.

Review © 2004 Sandra Thomson
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes