Tarot Fundamentals | Review

5 January 2016

Tarot Fundamentals coverPrecious few books were so eagerly anticipated as Tarot Fundamentals. Unless you count one of the installments of the Harry Potter series… But I am pretty sure that in the Tarot community Tarot Fundamentals gave J.K Rowling a (relative) run for her money.

Over a thousand eager readers backed the – for a publisher quite remarkable and sometimes criticized* – Kickstarter campaign, so that Lo Scarabeo could print their ‘labor of love ten years in the making’. And then came the waiting. Most of the Kickstarter pledgers have gotten their copy now and the book is up for pre-order, ready to be released for retail in the beginning of February 2016.

With authors like Giordano Berti, Marcus Katz and Barbara Moore many might wonder if they should have supported the Kickstarter to begin with, or at least purchase a copy now. If you are one of those people, keep reading!

Excellent quality
Those that do pre-order or buy later on will, first of all, get their money’s worth when it comes to the price/quality ratio. The look and feel of this book is amazing. I’ve rarely – if ever -seen books for this price that come with a hardcover, in relief and are this big: 640 glossy full-color pages. The book is embellished with Erik C Dunne’s Tarot Illuminati High Priestess, has the title Tarot Fundamentals in silver lettering and the High Priestess holding a scroll with the names of the authors. Nowhere will you see anything else of the Illuminati deck in this book, but as a cover it works wonders. You won’t overlook this one in your book case.

Tarot Fundamentals bookThe book begins with a story. Editor Sasha Graham leads the reader into the journey of The Fool, with a look at Tarot City and a carnaval on the streets to boot. It shows anyone interested in tarot how diverse or close to daily life these 78 cards are. It is a nice opening for the publication. Not only does it link tarot to storytelling, but it makes you hungry for more.
After the introduction the reader gets an explanation to what follows and how to read the ‘key’ provided, the interpretation to the cards. Tarot Fundamentals really starts with the cards section. It is the biggest part of the book and this shouldn’t be surprising considering it is a beginners volume on tarot. And well…78 cards take up space.

Each card, whether Major Arcana, Minor Arcana or Court is supplied with a large picture, keywords, a small story with a fitting title, symbols, correlations, traditional interpretations and a lesson/learn more section. I particularly like the lesson part, seeing that in recent years tarot has become a lot more than just a divination tool. This lesson and solution-oriented reading material is supportive of the fact the cards are more often than not used for personal growth, advice and empowerment.

Court card diagram

Court card diagram in Tarot Fundamentals

I also like the strategy/behavior/attitude diagram for the Court cards. Learning, creativity, receptiveness and potential are the four markers in which to place a king or page for example. It reminds me of a course I once did on management & leadership and how every student was placed on a similar square/scale based on their dominance or consideration. It gives, in this case, an excellent overview of how to interpret any court in your spread or how to link certain persons to the cards.

I am not a fan of the two larger keywords above every card image. Not only is there a more diverse section with keywords already, but they tend to be a little too ‘standard Waite-Smith’ like. Which is, by the way, a thing potential buyers should realize. If you are thinking of starting your journey with a Tarot de Marseille deck or Thoth this might not be the book for you. Sure it is still useful and there are overlaps in meanings in all the systems, but this book definitely focuses on Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) type decks and reading with scenics. If you are a Thoth-adept that might not be the way to go then. The choice however, is logical. The deck by Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite is still the most used and widely known deck and is considered to be excellent for beginners. So obviously the decks inspired by it are too. Not everyone agrees with that statement, but it is a simple fact that most courses use the RWS and not Thoth or a Marseille type deck.


Most books only use one deck, this volume has ten reference decks


Tarot Fundamentals Temperance card section

The Card Section of Tarot Fundamentals. Here shown the first page of Temperance. On the left page you can see a diversity of decks, used for the Death card.

Having said that it was refreshing to see that Lo Scarabeo and/or the writers chose to show not just one deck close to RWS, but several examples. Most books only use one deck, this volume has ten reference decks from the collection of Lo Scarabeo. I think it is excellent that any budding tarot reader comes in contact with several themes and varieties. In this case even ‘darker decks’, next to fantasy or cats. It shows them what is out there and what could fit them as a reader.
For us more advanced readers it is simply a way of adding decks to that ever growing wish list…or maybe that is just me.

Tarot Fundamentals wouldn’t be the first in a row of three books (later editions will for example incorporate the use of Kaballah) if this one didn’t focus on “How to read tarot”, ranging from how to shuffle, what kind of spreads to use or even a multitude of rituals. Followed by chapters on Readings and Techniques (how to meditate, read mainly symbols et cetera).
 Becoming overwhelmed? Well, it is a lot to take in, and the book even offers a complete overview of Tarot History with loads of pictures. It is concluded by quite interesting additional information on tarot by the writers. All in all, it is a massive project.

Tarot History timeline in Tarot Fundamentals

One of the timelines in the chapter Tarot History of Tarot Fundamentals.

Symbology page Tarot Fundamentals

How to read a tarot card based on the symbology.

I won’t tell all the details, because I think that everyone buying and receiving Tarot Fundamentals should get the opportunity to be surprised at every corner. I was.
 I have been reading for several years, but for me this book is a joy to have. I can honestly say that I wish I was a novice and could start my journey with this volume. There are many good authors and ditto books on tarot, but this one incorporates so many things and in such a wonderful package that I would recommend even intermediates or advanced readers to check if they can afford a copy.

If you’re not a native English speaker some parts might be a little harder to understand. It is quality writing but that in itself usually brings a wider variety of (key)words and explanations with it. It obviously has some (esoteric) jargon too. But I would not be surprised if Tarot Fundamentals gets translated into Dutch, French and/or German in the future. (Count me in as an editor when that Dutch version happens, by the way.)

Conclusion: must-have!
Maybe over time I will find more things that I don’t like. I realize I am very positive, but hey; it happens! I haven’t been able to spent a lot of hours with the book, eager to get my review out. But it is clearly a book to learn from, next to an enjoyable read with a lot of full-color material.

Tarot Fundamentals bag

Tarot Fundamentals has its own tarot bags. Pretty sure these will come available too. It currently houses my Large Thoth deck.

But okay, I would not be a reviewer (and editor for most of my professional life) if I didn’t mention this one thing: there are *a lot* of typo’s in the book and with some I wonder how they could slip through (‘challange’ is immediately red underlined in my document). It is a blemish on an otherwise great addition to the ever growing library of tarot study books.

It is a learners encyclopedia that very much focuses on solution-oriented readings and I am pretty sure everyone will get something out of it. The title fits. For me it will probably be a good reference or an edition I can take out of the cupboard when I am stuck on a meaning – yes that can still happen -or even want to look up history or a new technique I might not have used yet. And those ruddy courts, still a pain in the *** for many readers, get a lot of attention in a very useful way.

Sasha Graham and Lo Scarabeo did a tremendous job on balancing all these different writers and their work. They created a compilation that feels complete and has ‘one voice’. Must-have for beginners!

Author or artist Publisher Publication
Giordano Berti et al. Lo Scarabeo February 2016

NB. Please forgive the bad quality of the homemade images.
NB2* At one point administrators of several online tarot communities had to do their utmost best to get discussions back to the actual book, instead of Lo Scarabeo-bashing. The publisher was criticized for using a platform designed for (normally) ‘hard working entrepreneurs who otherwise stand no chance’. Apparenlty it invoked some suspicion or even paranoia why one of the ‘big 3’ would issue a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter. I on the other hand see no reason why bigger companies should not use it (so did Barbara Moore). Without the crowdfunding it stands to reason that either the book would never have been published or if it would have, definitely not in this version (hardcover, full-colour, several well-known and popular authors).

Wrap Up

Tarot Fundamentals