The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish by Teresa C. Michelsen
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

I pride myself on occasionally spotting a trend or recognizing an obscure artist before the rest of the world. I fell in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen long prior to the release of Born to Run. In the world of basketball, I observed at least a month before the Philadelphia sports media that Charles Barkley was pulling down more rebounds than Moses Malone. And, to my credit, I described Teresa Michelsen as an up-and-coming tarot author to watch long before her first book, the excellent Designing your Own Tarot Spreads, was published. 

Having recognized Michelsen's considerable talents for years, however, did not prepare me for this, her newest book, The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish. I have long recommended Tarot for Your Self by Mary K. Greer as the primary book for novices who prefer an interactive and individual approach to the tarot and Joan Bunning's Learning the Tarot for those who prefer something more concrete and Rider-Waite-Smith deck-specific. I never expected to replace either of them in my pantheon of great introductory tarot books. But Teresa's Complete Tarot Reader offers the best of both those worlds, along with a textbook structure that provides an organized format for learning. It is, in my opinion, the most important tarot book for beginning readers to be published since Tarot for Your Self, and it is destined to be recognized as the classic that it is. (Remember: you read it here first.)

The only other tarot textbook from a mainstream publisher that I am familiar with is Marcia Masino's Easy Tarot Guide, which was published almost 20 years ago. Being neurotically conscientious, I re-read it before I began writing this review so that I could compare the two books. There really is no comparison. While Masino's book is equally well-structured, it is completely based on RWS imagery (and therefore useless for anyone using Thoth or another non-RWS-style deck). In addition, the meanings provided by Masino are finite--limited and limiting. I wrongly believed that was a necessary defect born of the structure of a textbook. Ms. Michelsen's combination of logical structure with questions that allow for personal and individual image-based interpretations has convinced me that the textbook format does not have to stifle creativity or necessarily demand rigidity.

While I don't possess Michelsen's organizational skills, I will attempt to synopsize her approach and the contents of this book and hope to achieve her clarity. Instead of recycling card meanings and reading methods, this book guides the reader into developing intuitive skills using tarot-specific techniques, integrating psychological, mythological, astrological, numerological, and other underpinnings to create proficiency and depth. (I would have normally used the word "regurgitating" instead of "recycling"--see what a good influence the author is!)

While tarotists of all levels will gain from this book, Michelsen takes nothing for granted in terms of prior tarot knowledge. She begins the text with suggestions on choosing a deck and encouragement to begin a tarot journal. In both cases, as throughout the book, her voice is one of a knowledgeable guide who invites the new reader to trust himself to make his own choices and value his intuition. She then provides various exercises for the reader to explore the cards before introducing any traditional meanings or correspondences. This not only allows the novice to begin to trust her instincts, if she's using a journal, she'll always have a record of her initial card interpretations.

Only after that trust is established does Michelsen begin providing card specific information. She begins with the Minor Arcana, addressing suit and numerical correspondences and elemental associations. Even here, she mixes information with creativity so dextrously that the reader absorbs the data painlessly. While some like to think that only memorization can etch facts into our brains, I heartily disagree. I tend to remember what I've learned via fiction longer and more accurately than I do information I've studied for a specific purpose.

Court Cards are next on the agenda, and here again Michelsen begins with establishing personal connections and then introduces the reader to elemental and astrological correspondences, along with using the cards in readings for others, as well as him- or herself.

Michelsen leaves the Major Arcana for last. While I teach the cards in the exact opposite order, I recognize the author is moving from least to the most complex, which makes a great deal of educational sense. The fact that I am considering adopting her format instead of my own long-established one expresses the level of esteem in which I hold the author and this book. In this section, the author takes the reader on a "journey" that incorporates mythology, astrology, and history, all the while offering exercises that allow the reader to walk on his own path alongside her.

The next section of the book encompasses features and factors of reading for others, as well as yourself. Again, Michelsen assumes no prior knowledge of tarot-specific ethics or sensibility, yet even a reader with years of experience can profit by clarifying personal guidelines. While I don't always "agree" with the author, I honor her thorough but concise approach to the various issues she explores as much as I do her insightful exercises. One example is her approach to timing, an area I prefer to leave alone in terms of the tarot. Yet I totally approve of the panoply of techniques Michelsen provides the novice reader to try and assess for himself.

No doubt you have picked up that the author has a step-by-step, least-to-most-complex format, so you will not be shocked to learn that the last section of the book is entitled "Intermediate Reading Techniques." Here is where Michelsen covers reversals, elemental dignities, and timing techniques. The closing chapter, interestingly enough, is where many authors begin: Interpreting Tarot Readings. This is also where many potential readers end before they begin, because things haven't been broken down in digestible form...and the Celtic Cross, omnipresent in every Little White Booklet, overwhelms them to the point that the deck gets pushed into a back drawer, possibly forever.

Surprise, surprise--the author suggests you begin with smaller spreads and then lengthen them once you have mastered the smaller sized ones--and then gives you a list of things to consider when you do both kinds of readings. The individual who has read what has come before feels prepared and confident to do all of them--even if she hasn't done every single exercise.

I believe any novice can learn to read the tarot using just this book (and a deck). And by "learn," I don't mean merely be able to give a simple reading, but truly begin to plumb the depths of the tarot and recognize and integrate the many gifts and facets the tarot has to offer. Practice and experience will refine the reader, but there is no other book that 1) so clearly provides a structure for an individual learning experience and 2) allows you to use any tarot deck in order to have that experience and 3) synthesizes hands-on exercises so seamlessly with traditional and unique informational material. While the book title (The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish) is fallacious (no book could completely contain everything about the tarot), it comes damn close.*

The one advantage Marcia Masino's book has over this one is that the novice reader can look up answers to check on his or her own progress. I wish that Michelsen could have done something similar, but the open-endedness of her exercises results in individual and differing answers. One way to have assuaged the fears of the less confident readers would have been to provide sample answers from other beginners, with the caveat that each person's answer would naturally be different in numerous ways. My experience has shown me that new readers want to know they're not "doing it wrong" and need more specific and concrete assurances and repetitions that they have the right and the responsibility to make most of their own tarot-related choices.

Even so, this will absolutely be the textbook I assign for every beginner's class I teach in the future and the first book I've seen since Tarot for Your Self that has gotten me this excited, in terms of what it can mean to beginners. The difference is that Tarot for Your Self was my entree into the world of tarot--and opened up a fresh perspective that paved the way for a book like The Complete Tarot Reader. Michelsen's book could not have been written without the existence of Tarot for Your Self and what it has wrought. In the spirit of these two books, I am grateful that tarot novices now and in the future have both options available to them.

*  The title was not the choice of the author, but the publisher.

The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish by Teresa C. Michelsen
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN#: 0738704342

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


(From Overcoming Reader's Block)

Try Alternative Approaches

We get used to reading cards a certain way, and forget that there are many different levels on which each card can be read. One of the main causes of reader's block is relying too much on a particular idea or keyword that you have assigned to the card, which may not fit every situation. Sometimes it helps to quickly run through all these levels again, and remind yourself of alternative meanings and approaches to reading that card. There are at least five levels on which a card can be read, one of which may provide the key you need for the reading:

Pictorial. Look carefully at the picture on the card, forget about your normal interpretation of that card, and read it very literally. Imagine the client is in the card, preoccupied with their question--what is she thinking or doing? What is happening to her? Is there anything about the scene depicted in the card that could shed light on her question?

Symbolic. Review the colors and symbols that you see--for example, red usually means passion and action, green may mean growth and fertility, water stands for the subconscious mind, twin towers are gateways, etc. How do these recognizable features interact with what is happening to the client in the card? A boat traveling over water may mean a relatively safe journey across the subconscious mind. Pay attention to any details that stand out--like whether the water is calm or choppy and what this might say about the client's state of mind.

Keywords. If you have a tarot journal in which you wrote keywords for each card, go back and look at all the different keywords you wrote. Often we write down as many as we can think of at first, then tend to narrow it down to a few that we use most often in our readings. If you look, you may find some you have forgotten about, which are appropriate to the situation. You may also want to try looking up the cards or symbols in your tarot books or on-line, to get other perspectives and ideas.

Suit. Think about the suit of the card all by itself. Ask yourself whether is it appropriate to the question or what it might say about how the client is approaching the question. For example, if the client asks about love and receives only Pentacles in her reading, this alone gives you information you can use in the reading--she may be actually preoccupied with work or not feeling a strong emotional attachment in her relationships.

Number. Also, think about the number of the card and reflect on its numerological meaning with respect to the question. What stage of the cycle does this number represent and how does that influence the interpretation? Sometimes there is a message in the reading that has more to do with repetition of a certain number (or suit) than with the individual cards. A group of reversed fours, for example, might indicate an unwillingness to leave a safe and stable situation, leading to stagnation and lack of opportunities for personal growth.

Excerpt 2005 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page 2005 Diane Wilkes