Tarot: Get the Whole Story: Use, Create & Interpret Tarot Spreads by James Ricklef
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

James Ricklef, author of the excellent Tarot Tells the Tale, has written a new book that is similar to his first--and not in name only.  Both books focus on sample readings for famous people whom we know from history, myth, or fiction. In a way, the new book is the advanced version; the first book focuses primarily on shorter spreads, whereas Tarot: Get the Whole Story begins with small spreads but increases exponentially--the last few readings are eight to ten cards.

The first section focuses on creating spreads. It's a lucid introduction, but its brevity dictates that it be rudimentary at best. Fortunately, Teresa Michelson's excellent book on designing spreads is available for those who wish to learn more--I am bemused that the author doesn't mention it, since Michelson is also a Llewellyn author and her book is the benchmark on the subject. Be that as it may, Ricklef offers an innovative idea for creating a spread based on putting cards into a designated shape and using the synchronously-drawn cards as the basis for the positions and sources of inspiration. Tarot Tells the Tale's individual spreads are somewhat repetitive; this new book offers many new and different spreads, including alternate versions of some of the ones that are examined more fully.

The majority of the book, though, is comprised of sample readings for famous fictional and historical figures, much like the last one. We learn a bit about historical characters like Marie Antoinette and Pochahontas and have the opportunity to meet or revisit fictional and Biblical characters like Cathy and Heathcliff and the Queen of Sheba. We get to study readings from a sympathetic and clever reader who has mastered his craft. Unfortunately, though, the structure has changed from the relative simplicity of the first book. First, we have the letter from the querent and the reader's response. Then we have notes on the reading itself. Then we have notes on the spread, as well as possible alternates for the spread. I found myself returning several pages back to the reading while I was reading the notes on the spread and, while it's not confusing (Ricklef is a very clear writer), it is wearing to keep going back and forth. This book does not read as clearly as Tarot Tells the Tale for precisely that reason. Had Ricklef combined the notes on the reading with the notes on the spread, it would have been easier to follow.

While I admire Ricklef's style and abilities, as well as his sensitivity, occasionally he gives some very bad advice. In his reading for Hera about her spouse Zeus' frequent dalliances--and even rapes--of other women, he says in essence, "Can't you be more playful in the light of his multiple infidelities?" While I agree that one must focus on the querent, not an errant partner, my approach to a woman in Hera's wingéd slippers would not be to "lighten up."

While I didn't try all of the spreads in this book, I did do several of them and found them insightful. Spread collectors will find this book of value for the 32+ spreads alone, as they are versatile, thought-provoking, and useful. The reason I use the number 32+ is because Ricklef offers alternates of most of the spreads. Another of Ricklef's fortés is the way he clarifies "spreads within spreads," isolating sections within a spread for further illumination and examination of patterns.

Ultimately, my feelings about the book are mixed. The strengths of the book are the excellent reading samples and the selection of unique spreads, but the aforementioned structural flaw of the book detracts from its accessibility as an educational resource. I suspect that those who loved Tarot Tells the Tale (and I am one of them) will find this book somewhat disappointing, despite its similarity to the earlier volume--and the improved variety and complexity of spreads.

Tarot: Get the Whole Story: Use, Create & Interpret Tarot Spreads by James Ricklef
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN #: 0738703451

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


One day as I was working with the Lovers Card from the World Spirit Tarot, I was struck by its wealth of symbolism and the orderly manner in which those symbols are laid out in the card. The more I meditated on this card, the more I was inspired to create a spread for relationship readings based on its imagery.

To begin the process, I identified the essential symbolic elements of the card. Along its left side, running from top to bottom, we find a Chinese goddess named Kuan Yin, several roses, and a cherub pointing one finger up at the heavens and one down toward the Earth. On the right we see the demigod Pan, several lilies, and a cherub clapping his hands in delight. In the middle of the card, two lovers embrace under a radiant sun.

The next step was to consider what these symbols mean to me. To do this, I used my own understanding of their meanings as well as some guidance from the booklet that comes with the World Spirit Tarot deck. One figure whose symbolism was not immediately obvious was Kuan Yin, but the booklet's description of her as being "peaceful" worked well for this spread. Most of the meanings that I used for the other symbols are commonly known and accepted, but two of them bear some explanation. First, although lilies generally are seen as representing purity, the World Spirit Tarot booklet attributes clarity to them. However, considering that clarity can mean purity of understanding, I used it. As for the sun, there are many meanings associated with it, but its appearance and location in this card reminded me of the angel on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) version of the Lovers, which led me to see the sun as representing Divine Will.

The positional meanings for this new spread then grew out of my understanding of the symbols on this Lovers Card, and the shape of the layout reflects the arrangement of the symbols on that card. Indeed, this final step of arranging the positions was relatively straightforward except that I had a choice in the placement of the cards representing "The Other" and "Self." I deliberately put "The Other" before "Self" because doing so in a relationship is the best way to appreciate, nurture, and heal it.

The resulting spread...works well for readings about improving or healing a relationship. Note that it has a very positive slant, and the decision to use it is, of course, an intuitive call. If there seem to be fundamental or pathological problems in a relationship, another spread may be more appropriate or professional counseling may be recommended. However, if the problems do not seem that bad, or if the querent's question about her relationship is fairly general, this spread will facilitate a reading that will help bring it health, vitality, and harmony by focusing on what is right, beautiful, and beneficial about the relationship. And often that is what we really need to know or concentrate on about our relationship.

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