The Tarot Companion:
An Essential Reference Guide
Book by Tracy Porter Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this book, click here.
Calling your book "an essential reference guide" is throwing down a gauntlet, so to speak. You're making a blatantly bold claim. Synonyms for essential are "indispensable" and "vital."
One would hope that an essential reference guide would be accurate. The opening sentences of the book immediately remove that possibility for Tarot Companion:
"It is not known where and when the Tarot came into existence, but some believe that it originated in ancient Egypt and was brought to Europe by the Rom, or Gypsies, as they traveled to Europe from India...Because the Tarot was devised using principles of the Cabala, astrology, and numerology, it is possible that philosophers of the day chose to encrypt esoteric secrets into the cards because of religious intolerance."
Talk about your weasel words. "Some believe..." and "it is possible" not only equivocate, but equivocate nonsense. I could as easily (and correctly) write: "Some believe Tarot originated in Atlantis in 450 B.C." or "Because the tarot contains the color green, it is possible that extraterrestrials chose to encrypt their Martian messages because of E.T.-intolerance." These sentences are just as accurate as Porter's. The belief that tarot originated in ancient Egypt is speculative at best, and there is absolutely no evidence that tarot was devised using principles of "Cabala," astrology, and numerology. Nor do we know of any "philosophers" who created the tarot. Give that woman a copy of the Tarot-l History Information FAQ now, please.
While many authors have made similar errors when fulminating on tarot history, it seems particularly egregious in a book that is trumpeted as a reference guide. The thing that most concerns me about Tarot Companion is that tarot novices who don't have the good fortune to be on Tarot-l and aren't privy to O'Neill's Tarot Symbolism or D, D, and D's Wicked Pack of Cards will soak up Ms. Porter's words like sponges and then expunge this effluvia on a new generation of potential tarotinteressienteres.
The cover of the book shows cards from the very attractive Sacred Circle Tarot. One of the more substantial sections of the book (32 pages) is devoted to tarot symbolism--in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. That's not the only example of bait-and-switch we discover in perusing this book. For the record, though, I far prefer Bob O'Neill's "Sources for the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols"--and it's free.
The book is divided into 14 chapters. Most titles are self-explanatory:
Traditional Tarot Meanings
Chapter Two: The Makeup of the Tarot
Chapter Three: The People in the Tarot
Chapter Four: Combinations in Spreads
Chapter Five: Timing and the Tarot
Chapter Six: The Symbolism of the Tarot
Chapter Seven: Numerology and the Tarot
Chapter Eight: Elemental Astrology and the Tarot
Chapter Nine: Astrology and the Tarot
Chapter Ten: Cabala and the Tarot
Chapter Eleven: I Ching and the Tarot
Chapter Twelve: Runes and the Tarot
Chapter Thirteen: Color and the Tarot
Chapter Fourteen: Chakras and the Tarot
The meanings in Chapter One are predictive and dogmatic. An example: "When The Chariot appears in your spread, don't give up because all of the hard work you have invested will soon pay off. The Chariot also often relates to travel, usually in the form of journeys via cars, buses, and trains." Planes don't count, I guess. They have wheels, too, so I can't explain their exclusion. More disturbing is the admonition given when the Four of Swords shows up: "Nothing must be done for the time being because further guidance will be given later." I've got some guidance to suggest...don't buy this book. Then you can act in a pro-active manner about whatever you must.
Chapter Two briefly covers the structure of the tarot. Chapter Three assigns types of people in your life to the Major Arcana. An example: "As a person, The Moon is very illusive. At times, The Moon can be insincere, so the querent must watch carefully for any deceit." Not only is this description repetitive, it is banal and restricting, as is this method.
Chapter Four has two parts. The first covers the possibility of one to four cards of the same number in a reading. For example, "When three cards of a particular number or court appear in a reading, a group of three or more people is likely to get together and discuss the subject. The outcome of this discussion is likely to have an impact on the outcome of the situation." I have never read anything like this before, and I wonder whether Ms. Porter devised this method herself or found it in one of the tarot books she recommends (more on that later). The second part lists and defines specific numbers or courts found together in a reading: "Three threes in a reading often warn of lies and deceit. People may be involved in gossip and things may not be exactly as they appear."
Chapter Five covers an area that tarot novices are always interested in: timing. Ms. Porter has an answer for them. "If card numbers 2,3,7, or 9 appear immediately before or after a card from the Major Arcana, a conjunction occurs. This conjunction should be interpreted separately from the initial reading...If more than one conjunction appears in a spread, these two configurations should be interpreted separately, because in all probability they refer to separate events." Huh?
While you're puzzling over that, let me jump ahead to Porter's timing system. The Two of Wands = 2 Days; the Two of Cups = 2 Weeks; the Two of Swords =...you were going to say two months, weren't you? No, that would make sense. Two of Swords = Four Weeks, and the Two of Pentacles = Two Months. For the Threes, replace the twos with threes. But the Sevens and Nines are a different breed of number altogether. No matter the suit, all sevens = Seven Days. No matter the suit, all nines = 28 Days. Got that?
Porter never explains why and how the timing works, just that it does. Actually, that seems to be her modus operandi throughout the book. The Astrology, Runic, and I Ching correspondences are given without any explanation or elucidation. I fail to see how they would help someone who is ignorant of these other forms of divination. Conversely, anyone who already has a working knowledge of Astrology, Runes, and the I Ching will form their own correspondences. Ergo, I find them utterly pointless (as opposed to essential or indispensable).
Elemental Astrology and the Tarot is Porter's brief take on Elemental Dignities, though she never refers to them as such. Paul Hughes-Barlow's site on the subject is much more helpful. And, like Bob's work with R-W-S symbolism, it's free.
Cabala and the Tarot does at least briefly correlate the Minors to the Sephiroth, but the mere information that Kether is associated with the Aces (or Ones, as Porter calls them), along with a brief description of Kether, isn't particularly helpful to the tarot--or cabala--novice. Porter also describes the 22 Pathways, but simplistically and briefly: "Pathway 0 connects sephira Kether with Chokmah. The energy of The Fool combines wisdom with creativity to provide new beginnings, unconditional love, and sometimes even a choice that needs to be made in this life."
Color and the Tarot is a bit more helpful, as even the most novice tarot readers are familiar with color, and can easily connect the meanings of colors to the cards. Even here, though, Porter's approach is somewhat idiosyncratic: "Lavender is a calming color that is approachable and puts others at ease. When we are tense due to the stressors in our lives it is useful to meditate on 8, Strength to help maintain harmony during difficult times." The color of lavender doesn't appear in the Strength card in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
Chakras and the Tarot contains a concise description of the chakras. Porter then provides various Major Arcana card correlations to each chakra. While I have no problems with her assignments, I see many other possibilities for each.
In the Appendix, Porter offers some brief instructions on doing readings. Some of these are quite good (and, ironically, somewhat contradictory to her approach throughout the book). Even here, though, Porter's dogmatic tendencies shine through. Significators are the court cards with their astrological correlates, though she also provides some Major Arcana significators: The Magician is a young man, the High Priestess, a young woman. In "When to Perform Another Reading," she dictates, "There are other times when the reader will find it necessary to perform an additional reading. If a spread of ten cards or less contains more than four cards from the Major Arcana, the reading should be discontinued and a new one begun, using only the cards from the Major Arcana." Sez who? Sorry, but Ms. Porter lost her position as authority a long time before we get to the Appendix. She also includes two paragraphs on using a Tarot Journal (which boil down to "good idea") and various spreads.
Finally, we get to the Recommended Reading section of the book, wherein we are led to tarot classics like Nancy Shavick's The Tarot, The Tarot Reader, and Traveling the Royal Road, not to mention The Wheel of Destiny by Patricia McLaine and Eileen Connolly's Tarot Handbook for the Journeyman. No doubt this explains Ms. Porter's grasp of tarot history, or lack thereof. Other recommended books are Ask Your Angels and The Angels Within Us and Discover Numerology.
While I have already recommended the Tarot-l History Information Fact Sheet for Ms. Porter, I will add that she might want to go a bit further in her tarot readings than A.E. Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Eden Gray's Mastering the Tarot, and the aforementioned tarot books before she frolics with cherubs and chakras. Then Tarot Companion might be what its subtitle suggests, and I wouldn't have to sound like such a dyspeptic snob when reviewing it.
If you would like to purchase this book, click here.
Review and Page © 2000 Diane Wilkes