Review: Tarot Beyond the Basics

I like tarot. I like astrology. So when a book comes along promising to tell me about tarot and astrology together, I get all excited and read it as soon as possible. This was how I connected with Tarot Beyond the Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Meanings Behind the Cards by Anthony Louis. While the book and I weren’t a perfect fit, I learned a lot from reading it, and there are parts I want to study further, and that’s pretty good in my experience.

Tarot Beyond the Basics by Anthony Louis

First off, this is not a beginner’s book.* In fact, I wondered if the astrology had gone beyond what could overwhelm someone who only knew the tarot. Louis invites the reader to skim the chapter on astrology and come back later to reread it if it gets to be too much, and I suspect the reader new to astrology will have to do just that. That said, I appreciated the amount of material he included on the decans. I’ve picked up some information about them from my own astrological studies, but I run into them more often in tarot than astrology. Several other tarot books I’ve read mention the decans, but Louis goes into more depth about why they mean what they mean. For instance, I’ve known for years that the Ten of Swords is matched with the Sun decan of Gemini, but since the Sun and Gemini aren’t an unusually nasty combination in astrology, I’ve never understood why it was paired with one of the tarot’s more alarming cards. Louis provides that explanation. This is inspiring me to look up more of these associations and try to puzzle out their meanings. Louis also demonstrates using the tarot to add detail when interpreting a natal or horary chart, and I’ve definitely got to try that technique at some point.

I’ve been fascinated with the four elements since childhood. This was magnified a bit a few years ago when I learned about the qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry) and how they combine to form the elements. Now, matching the elements to the court cards is fairly standard, but in this book, Louis writes about the court cards with both the elements and the qualities factored in. He devotes an entire chapter to this, so there’s no way I can summarize it adequately in a paragraph, but I’m hoping that studying this will help me get a better grasp on these cards, whether they’re representing people, situations, aspects of my own personality, or whatever.

Other chapters focus less on looking at how other systems interact with the tarot and more with aspects of the tarot itself. Louis has included in-depth discussions of the Celtic Cross spread, reading reversals, and the role of intuition in readings. That last chapter concludes with a survey of other ways to read the tarot besides intuition. We’re often taught that the intuitive approach is the “right” way to read the tarot (let go of that LWB!). I’m not planning to drop that approach any time soon, but I think practicing some of those other methods would be good. Indeed, I suspect that’s what I’ve been doing while learning how to read Lenormand cards.

No, some parts just didn’t interest me as much. Louis has a good long chapter on numerology, and that’s definitely useful when you’re working with the Minor Arcana, but numerology has never been one of my favorite systems, and I found myself skimming this chapter more than most. Ditto for the chapter on the Major Arcana. And even though I generally like Louis’ writing style, sometimes I felt like some points had gone past explanation and were being belabored. Plus, the book hit one of my pet peeves: no index. You can only get away with no index if you have a detailed table of contents, and Tarot Beyond the Basics doesn’t. Aargh!

This isn’t the only book that moves beyond the basics of tarot, of course. Corrine Kenner’s Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac (my review) does an excellent job of explaining, uh, tarot and astrology. Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings is almost 500 pages of numerology, symbolism, and historical meanings in addition to new spreads. Nor are they the only ones. But at this point there’s room for more, and Tarot Beyond the Basics is worth adding to your “advanced tarot” bookshelf.

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*There are many excellent books for beginners out there. One happens to be by Anthony Louis as well: Tarot Plain and Simple.

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