Putting the Tarot to Work by Mark McElroy
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

Llewellyn has been publishing a lot of truly innovative and different books on the tarot in the last year or two. Putting the Tarot to Work by Mark McElroy is one of the best yet, both in terms of clarity and innovation. The book's target audience is for employers and employees, which is a rather large population, yet McElroy's book is also personally quite relevant--and I am neither (employer/employee). This causes me to wonder for whom the book would not be germane, since the button on the cover promises something the book delivers:  "Creative problem solving, effective decision making and personal career planning." Anyone out there have problems? Do you need to make good decisions? This book can help you with these needs, and much, much more.

Putting the Tarot to Work is decidedly non-occult in nature, and for those looking for mystical incantations or a method for contacting spirit guides, disappointment will invariably ensue. McElroy presents the tarot as "78 full time consultants for $12.95" (value, value, value), and expects those consultants to work effectively on this plane, never mind about the ethers. I think the author's aim is to demystify the tarot even as he debunks the stereotypes most tarotists abhor, so that the man in the grey flannel suit could read this book and think, "This could benefit me!" (Of course, said man might read it with a brown paper book cover, depending on where he lives and his line of work.) 

Mark's style is very much that of the corporate trainer that he was in another life (so to speak). First, he states the values/benefits for the reader (Top Ten Reasons to Buy the Book), and then proceeds to outline and cover the material in each chapter. At the end of each chapter, he synopsizes said material, reiterating the most important points. For those who are counting, that's three times the material is addressed, and all trainers know that people need to hear something new three times before they learn it.

Also in the vein of good trainers, McElroy gives hands-on exercises using the tool (in this case, tarot) at every stage, and provides an actual real-life example for each of them. While this can occasionally be repetitive for the experienced tarot reader, it enables someone who has never used the tarot to absorb everything this book has to offer without ever feeling lost or cast adrift. Considering that some of the exercises can get rather complex (and offer the reader, on any level, valuable and productive information), that's quite an achievement.

The chapters--organized much as a corporation presentation would be--are as follows:


Chapter One        Top Ten Reasons to Buy This Book

Chapter Two        Playing for Keeps -- This chapter explains why the tarot is such a cost-effective and fun (not to mention, portable) tool to use for business challenges. It also suggests how to position using this tool as work, and unexceptionable work, at that.

Chapter Three:     The Least You Should Know About Tarot -- This chapter gives a short history of the tarot, as well as defusing some myths and stereotypes about the tarot. McElroy suggests work-appropriate (G-rated) decks, explains the structure of the tarot,  and addresses some basic tarot techniques, such as keywords and reversals.

Chapter Four:      All Hands on Deck! -- This chapter is aptly named, as it is very "hands-on", offering a plethora of games that allow the reader to use the tarot as a brainstorming tool. These games serve a two-fold function--they teach the "player" to make personal associations with the cards and how to brainstorm simultaneously. Some of the games are employment-specific (ie., the Résumé Game and the Org Chart Game), others are not (The Movie Game, The Story Game).                          

Chapter Five:       Making Sense of the Message -- This chapter teaches the reader how to prepare for a brainstorming session, from phrasing the question to selecting an appropriate spread, as well as shuffling, cutting, dealing, and interpreting the cards. McElroy arms his reader with a panoply of techniques to interpret the cards , including describing, associating, personalizing, dramatizing, and referencing (investigating other people's card interpretations).                    

Chapter Six:         Basic Brainstorming with the Tarot -- In this chapter, McElroy shows how brainstorming with the tarot allows out-of-the-box thinking, as opposed to more-of-the-same thinking. He offers several techniques (the one card reading, "speed reading"--quickly going through the deck and making rapid associations, and WWFD (What Would the Fool Do?)--going through the Majors, one by one, and determining what each archetype would "do" in a given problematic situation). In addition to real-life examples of each method, there is a listing at the end of the chapter of each of the Majors, which addresses their "expertise" and their "attitudes."

Chapter Seven:    Seventy-Eight Steps to a More Satisfying Career -- This chapter focuses on using the tarot to enhance your career. Helpful layouts are provided, such as the Self-Portrait Spread that gives a snapshot of your career in the present moment, including your attitudes and your "blind spot," a concept I have integrated into my readings, because it is always so enlightening--and so necessary--to examine shadow areas. "Strengths and Opportunities"  and Goal Setting spreads are included to continue to illuminate the career path of the reader. McElroy also teaches techniques for using the cards as visualization tools (and talismans, too, though he doesn't use the word!).  As always, there are examples of each spread and real-life stories to illustrate all of the concepts explored.

Chapter Eight:       Reviews Worth Raving Over -- The "reviews" in this chapter refers to evaluations, and includes self-evaluation. Both the employee and employer's rôles can be made easier by using the tarot techniques and spreads McElroy proposes. Again, the author includes sample readings using each layout.

Chapter Nine:        Building Better Business Relationships -- This chapter focuses on how others see you, as well as what you can do to shape that perspective to suit your own vision of yourself. Additionally, McElroy shows you how to use the tarot to get a bird's eye view of your professional relationships, and analyze and improve any problematic interactions. He calls this a "network model" and, once you've created it, you can use it to channel advice via the tarot. (Needless to say, channel is my word, not Mark's!) There are spreads to glean information from past successes and examining difficult relationships--with sample readings, of course!

Chapter Ten:          Planning Perfect Presentations -- This is one of my favorite chapters, and one I've used with constructive results. It was a natural for a corporate trainer, of course, to include a chapter on making presentations! This one gives specific techniques and layouts for creating a talk that will be successful--because it focuses on the audience and their needs, as well as your strengths and personal gifts. It even includes "The Presentation Pyramid" taught to the author by his 9th Grade Speech Class teacher--but with a tarot twist.  As always, there are spreads and sample readings to assist your understanding.

Chapter Eleven:      Seeing the Future -- No, this isn't the "fortune-telling" part of the book. Instead, it's a short section that explains that, by using the tarot in the pro-active way that McElroy proposes, you get glimpses of your own future, as well as the tools to shape that future in the form you desire.

Appendix A offers wonderful, but brief, card interpretations with a business slant. I am curious as to why McElroy chose the keyword "mentor" for the Empress, as opposed to the Hierophant. I loved his idea of holding a retreat and/or a sabbatical for the Hermit. Appendix B provides a listing of tarot decks that would be most appropriate to use in a business setting (he misses the Hudes, which has almost no nudity). Lastly, there is a list "For Further Reading" for those people who are inspired to learn more about the tarot.   

Clarity, specificity, and accessibility are hallmarks of good corporate trainers, and McElroy must have been one of the best, based on the presence of those attributes in Putting the Tarot to Work. Repetition, alas, is another hallmark, and that is also evident in this book, too, which is beneficial, I suppose, for those who didn't get the message the first or second (or third) time around. I found it slightly annoying, but then, when I've been in trainings and heard particular information repeated ad nauseum, it irritated me then, too.

In some ways, this book brought to mind McElroy's fellow Llewellyn author, Christine Jette's, style of writing, in terms of its organization, deliberate step-by-step methodology, and the engaging personal voice. Both authors also have a very open, non-didactic approach to the tarot; McElroy frequently writes, "If your answer differs from hers, congratulations..." Like Jette, he constantly validates the individual's interpretation, whether or not it is aligned with his own.  Additionally, Jette's Tarot for the Healing Heart has card interpretations from a healing perspective, and McElroy's book includes one from a business perspective.

What stands out for me in this book are two things. The first is its breezy humor and tone--it's so damn readable that you learn without conscious effort. The second is the multitude of valuable exercises and processes that readers on every level can use and re-use, gleaning profitable information about themselves and their lives, as well as their careers. As I re-read this paragraph, I had to laugh at the words I unconsciously used--valuable and profitable. The cover of this book advertises the fact that this is not a book geared for readers who solely honor the concept of the tarot's mystique and occult nature, disdaining any other use of the cards, but this book would past muster with a bottom-liner in the corporate world, as well as winning the respect of a "spiritual" type like myself.

Putting the Tarot to Work had me itching to get out my cards because the spreads are both nuanced and practical--a rare combination. This book is wonderful for beginners, and offers even the most seasoned readers new possibilities. I truly believe any evolved person would find a great deal of value (there's that word again!) in this book, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Putting the Tarot to Work by Mark McElroy
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN#: 073870444X

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

You can read another review of this book here.


Encountering the Cards

One morning, your boss stops by your desk.  In his arms, he carries a stack of brightly colored boxes -- new software packages, sealed with shrink-wrap.

He plots one on your desk. "We're requiring everyone in the office to learn to use this program.  No money for training, so you're on your own!"

As he walks away, what do you do?

A few of you -- and you know who you are!  -- tuck the box in a desk drawer and go on about your business.

Some of you methodically open the box, remove the CDs, place them to one side, inventory the various booklets and collateral material, and actually pause to read the "Read Me First" instructions printed on canary yellow paper.  After following the installation instructions to the letter, you take the manual home and read each section.  The next day, you step through the tutorials, in order.

Those of us who have lives, however, toss the in-box material to one side, slap the CD into the drive, step through the installation process on the fly, and plow ahead.  We learn by tinkering and experimenting.  We bring a real project to the table and explore how the program impacts its completion.  Handed a new tool, we test it by putting it to work.

in my experience, people respond to brainstorming with tarot cards the same way they respond to new software.  Some people dismiss the potential benefits of using tarot as a creative tool. If given a deck, they peek at a card or two, but ultimately stuff them in a drawer. Unable (or unwilling!) to see practical applications, they move on to other things.

Others -- usually out of a need to be "right" or "correct" -- seek out an authority (often, the first Tarot book they find). They spend a great deal of time reading, studying, and memorizing card meanings.  They spend more time poring over a card's description in a book than they do exploring the card itself.  After a period of initial excitement over the cards, these people sometimes exhaust themselves.  For some of them, the work involved in getting to know the 78 cards and all their potential combinations becomes overwhelming.

Still, others jump right in.  Curious by nature, they unwrap the deck, fan out the cards, and start relating to the images and symbols right away."Look at that hat!  Why are some cups  on this card  turned over?  What do these dogs mean?  This picture reminds me of my mother!  I tried to tell the future with these yesterday, and it didn't work!"

I understand the strategy of the first group -- they need to understand the practical benefits of a tool before adopting it.  I understand the motives of the second group -- they want to know as much as possible about a new tool's potential before they "get behind the wheel."

I wish more people, however, understood the value of the approach the third group adopts -- an approach rooted in "play."  Anyone in business (especially business for themselves!) knows the importance of practicality and preparedness, but so few understand the value of play!

Experience convinced me: to get the most out of your first brainstorming sessions with the Tarot, you have to play with the cards.  That's right --play.  Mix them up! Shuffle them!  Look for cards that appeal to you.  Try a game or two! My advice to all newcomers: set aside the rules, hoping your mind, and invest at least half an hour in creative play.

Excerpt © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide
Review and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes