Tarot Awareness: Exploring the Spiritual Path by Stephen Sterling
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

This book reminds me in many ways of Amber Jayanti's Living the Tarot, which the author refers to in Tarot Awareness throughout the text and in his bibliography.  The author uses the B.O.T.A. deck to illustrate his writings on the Major Arcana (the Minors are illustrated with the Universal Waite) and offers some of the same attributions (Alchemical Element, Astrological Correspondence, Hebrew Letter), but those are minor similarities.  The heart of Sterling's book is based on his spiritual studies and his application of same to the tarot.  However, Jayanti focused her book on the Major Arcana; Sterling covers all 78 cards, though his emphasis is also on the Majors.

Part one is titled "An Introduction to the Lay of the Land" and encapsulates Sterling's spiritual beliefs and approach to the tarot.  It also contains a relaxation exercise which he suggests the reader use prior to meditation (this is titled "Relaxation Exercises" but there's only one offered).  He recommends the use of a tarot journal to be used in conjunction with the book, and directs the reader to transcribe his dreams into the journal with an eye to the tarot exercises and meditations done prior to sleeping.  He also suggests that the reader create a "personal mission statement" and gives ideas and questions as an aide in the formulation of this statement.  There is also a brief chapter introducing bare-bones astrology and its relevance to tarot.  His attributions are traditional and a bit simplistic: "The sign of Leo, the self-assured and authoritative lion, makes potent use of the dramatic energy of Fire.  He says, "I will."  Charismatic and tireless at his best, vain and domineering at his worst, the Lion's roar commands attention." 

If you were an astrological novice, you might think Sterling had formulated the Leo statement "I will" (he offers one for each sign).  These have been around forever (I have no idea who originally penned them), but this is only one example of information Sterling sprinkles throughout the text that isn't original, yet not attributed.  As I read the book, I noticed these with a modicum of alarm. 

The last chapter in part one is The Fool: The Life-Power Manifesting.  This begins our detailed look at the Major Arcana.  For each card, including The Fool, we are given the following:

Alchemical Element
Astrological Correspondence
Hebrew Letter
The Inner Atmosphere
The Challenge
The General Atmosphere
Guided Visualization
...in a Reading (Upright/Reversed)

Some of these are self-explanatory, but I include an excerpt below of the ones that aren't.  Sterling also includes a section on "Other Symbols in the Fool" but does not do so for the other Majors.  Perhaps, like me, he felt this section was too similar to Jayanti's writings to be successful.  He also provides a diagram of the Tree of Life and discusses where The Fool begins his journey through the Majors.  He doesn't reference the Tree of Life again in his discussion of the Majors.  The chapters on the Majors are also inconsistent in terms of the placement of the sections--i.e., sometimes the Guided Visualization comes before the General Atmosphere, sometimes after.  All of these combine to give a slightly uneven beginning, but I noticed the book becomes more consistent.  This looks like an editing issue to me.

Part Two is titled "The Major Arcana--Portals to the Inner Landscape" and is divided into three sections:

The Seven Modes of Consciousness--The Magician to The Chariot
The Seven Universal Laws--Strength to Temperance
The Seven Levels of Spiritual Unfoldment--The Devil to The World

Part Three is "The Minor Arcana--Consciousness from the Garden to the Battleground."  The description of the Minors is abbreviated in comparison to the Majors.  Each card is broken down into these areas:

Astrological Correspondence
Keyword or Phrase (or Basic Trait, in the Court Cards)
Major Obstacle
...in a Reading (Upright/Reversed/Strategy)

The last section, Part Four, is "Tarot in Practice--Reading the Cards".  This is the most accessible--and interesting--section in the book.  The author matches each Major with different Minor Arcana cards and describes possible interpretations.  I only wish the author had made it clear that these are not the only way to interpret these cards together.  He then offers "Other factors to consider in a reading".  These include two (or more) of a number or suit in a reading, and subject areas such as "Advice" or "Opportunities" and cards you can identify with them (i.e., Advice: The Hierophant, The Hermit, Six of Swords, Kings of each suit).  The next chapter contains a pre-reading meditation, a prayer for centering, a six-card Yes-No spread, The Celtic Cross Awareness Spread, which is similar to other Celtic Cross Spreads you have come across, but uses some different terminology, the Star of David spread, the Tree of Life Spread, and the Astrological 12 Houses Spread.  All spreads are illustrated with at least one sample reading.

There is a Bibliography and an index.

I am a great believer that the Bibliography of a book often tells you a great deal about the book itself.   Conspicuous by their absence are Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack, two authors who tend to concentrate on using the card's imagery as opposed to brute memorization.  In their books, a traditional, rigid, and purely predictive approach gives way to a more playful, creative methodology of reading cards.   I often find the author limiting and limited; his take on reversals: "A very negative attitude toward the issue in question; unfulfilled expectations."  There are so many other ways to look at reversed cards, and his is consistently negative (or a simple opposition to the upright interpretation). 

There is a hectoring, admonishing tone to some of his writing--a "Don't-give-in-to-your-natural-sloth, but-work-towards-the-free-will-of-the-Magician" mentality.  His astrological attributions often follow an anachronistically negative, anti-female (or yin) bias: he says of the High Priestess who is ruled by the PMS-wracked Moon, "When the raw sensations of the body make their demands, and you let the Magician's ideal aspect withdraw, then the Priestess turns into a banshee with a whip.  "I want it!" is the resultant cry."  The Empress, ruled by Venus, is idealized--and, of course, pregnant and in the garden where she belongs.  

This brings me to another issue I had with the book: there is a lot of talk of Swamis and God, but the Goddess is never mentioned.  I have no problem with older books not referring to Her, nor books that are by nature focused on one religious worldview.  But if you are going to talk about Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions, it does seem exclusionary not to mention the Goddess, when so many Pagans are also tarot readers.  Maybe not even so much exclusionary, but oblivious to the demographics for this book.  I would have thought Llewellyn would be particularly sensitive to this issue.  

I think Sterling frequently uses three words when one would do nicely and hangs out a little too much in the ether--unlike Jayanti, who, through real-life examples, makes the spiritual accessible.  On the other hand, I can imagine others finding his book of use to them in their tarot journey, in particular the guided meditations and prayers.   While the idea of a tarot journal is hardly new, it is one I always endorse, and Sterling actively and frequently encourages the reader to begin and use one.   This would also be a good book for those tarot enthusiasts who are actively uncomfortable with a non-Christian perspective.

If I had to rate this book, I would call it average--better than many, but not a must-buy.  

Tarot Awareness
Stephen Walter Sterling
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
ISBN#: 1567186769


The Inner Atmosphere: "The fire of Spirit ignites; the element Air and the power of the Life-Breath in expression.  It is Spirit innocent of experience.  Guilelessness.  Consciousness ready for increased awareness."

Statement: "I am the Fool, and the Life Force limits itself in me, descending; it is my business as a manifestation of this Power in the Physical Plane to ascend from one level to the next.  I am a ray of light forever unfolding through the realms of existence.  I am the seeker on the path, and I am you who read these words."

Quotation:  "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." (1 Corinthians 3:18)

The Challenge:  The ego must avoid careless thinking and ill-considered behavior.

The General Atmosphere of the Fool (abridged)

The Zero, as the ancient adepts asserted, was the great Nothingness before manifestation.  The Qabalists, medieval Hebrew mystics, speak of the Limitless Light (Ain Soph Aur, in Hebrew).  Zero is a glyph for Spirit, the source of "beingness," pure consciousness and the essence of will--the energy that is aware of itself.  The Zero is idea before manifestation., "the circle without circumference", the infinite center without a point.  It is the absolute expression of the power of love and wisdom moving through the four Planes of Existence.

Tarot calls this Zero the Fool.  He can be understood from many angles, one of which is consciousness before the moment of conception.  The ancients chose to portray him as a carefree youth about to step off a precipice.  In fact, one of the most important questions Tarot asks in the atmosphere of the Fool is, "After he falls off the cliff, where does he land?"  The answer is, "Into waiting human hands--as he takes his first breath."

The Fool in a Reading

The ability to "read" the cards is an extension of Tarot Awareness enhanced by meditation and study.  Much more will be said of what the ancients called "divination" in Part Four, but for now we will concentrate on some short-hand phrases for particular cards that can trigger meanings--should you decide to read for yourself and/or others.

The more you become familiar with the intricacies of the cards, the more you will have a "feel" for the vibrations associated with the atmosphere of each card.  And for a more rounded reading you should also be aware of proximity, that is, how the meanings of other cards appearing in the reading affect the card in question.

If the card is Reversed, the Fool can be looked at from another angle, even negatively:

Meditation on the Fool (abridged)

In the midst of chaos we experience in the world, taking time out to disengage our consciousness from the "thousand things" becomes crucial if we ever hope to reconnect with out natural state of spiritual inner bliss.  In his aphorisms, Patanjali says, "Sickness, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, sloth, craving for sense pleasure, false perception, despair caused by failure to concentrate and unsteadiness in concentration: these distractions are the obstacles to knowledge."

Before beginning the sojourn through the deck of Tarot cards, it is highly beneficial to first meditate on the meanings and imagery presented by the Fool.  Certain spiritual, emotional, and intellectual responses will be evoked as the consciousness becomes acclimated to the terrain of the Inner Landscape illustrated in the Tarot cards.

It is important here to recognize the fact that there is nothing miraculous about the cards themselves; rather, it is the connection that our consciousness makes with the ancient meanings that brings on the "magic."  As a result, meditation should be approached in an attitude of humility and a desire to know the truth about oneself in relation to the Holy Presence, within and without.    Tarot meditation can dislodge long lost transgressions and weaknesses (other items also in that bag at the end of the Fool's wand), and examining the contents of consciousness can at times be unsettling.  It is highly beneficial for the seeker, however, to trust in the idea of personal redemption and the grace brought on by ultimate awareness.  This is what Jesus of Nazareth spoke of in the Beatitudes when he said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  (Matt. 5:8)

The Fool's Invocation

I am a ray of light
in search of myself...
My head aloft,
I wander the Earth,
a Fool.
I chose to come here--
in a timeless
moment of forgetfulness,
and I must refine my vision
as I walk this Path of Return.
But the precipice yawns before me.
I can fall into this gaping chasm...
but I know that Thy hand will steady me.
May I always remember my Divine Origin,
a pure Spirit
forged from Thy Holy Fire:
poised, vigilant, awake--
I am now ready to overcome the obstacles
that Thou must put before me.

Click here to read an interview with Tarot Awareness author, Stephen Walter Sterling.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Text 2001 Llewellyn Publications
Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes










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