Instant Tarot | Book review

16 May 2017

There are so many tarot books, especially for beginners, that you have to come up with something special to even be noticed. In my book you need to at least improve on existing top titles or show me a trick I haven’t seen before. The latter is exactly what Instant Tarot, Your complete guide to reading the cards* proclaims. Are they really and if so: is it worth your $$?

Authors Monte Farber & Amy Zerner aren’t newbies when it comes to tarot, but with this book they say that ‘finally, the mysteries of the tarot are unveiled for beginner and experts alike with nothing to memorize’. Instant Tarot should enable everyone to read virtually any tarot deck. It was then surprising that the book uses (images and meanings from) the Waite-Smith Tarot. I think anyone who also reads for example TdM will now scratch their heads – outcomes for the same cards tend to differ to the extreme when comparing the two type of systems.

No more studying
A few other things Farber & Zerner’s method promises are: no longer studying tarot books or memorizing cards, you don’t have to learn the positions of the Celtic Cross (if you were planning on using that spread. Instant Tarot’s CC does have 11 cards though and is slightly different from what I know as ‘standard’). And, most importantly, Instant Tarot makes sure you will never again have to figure out what a card says, regardless of the position it falls in.

According to Instant Tarot their diagram shows you position for position what each of the 78 cards means. And they say their book makes sure the spontaneity of the reading is no longer slowed down and you can better use your intuitive ability. These are quite some promises and big words. So, how does it work and how much truth is their in these words?

The Celtic Cross that's used in Instant Tarot. It differs slightly from the CC I use and have seen online, but in its core it works the same.

The Celtic Cross that’s used in Instant Tarot. It differs slightly from the CC I use and have seen online, but in its core it works the same.

How to parts
Instant Tarot has 3 parts, all based on ‘how to’: 1-card readings with example questions, 3 card readings with example questions and spreads (3, very well known, like PPF, Mind/Body/Spirit) and like I said before: the Celtic Cross, where they advise just the one question and write you’ll grow into other type of questions once you’re more experienced.

I love the fact they proposed good questions. A fact that many beginner books overlook is how to come up with a decent question and the fact that the Q should be leading in the A ;-). By starting with that, Instant Tarot creates an understanding for beginners they otherwise might not have had.

The question is step 1. For example question D: What should I keep in mind as I try to [enter your goal]? Step 2: shuffle the deck and pick a card. Say I draw 6 of Wands. Question D is always linked to Position 4 ‘Your Foundation’, so in the pages for 6W I check the paragraph with nr 4 and there I have my answer.

Tests & Limits
The same for 3-cards. The question leads you to 3 different numbers to read for each of the spread-part. I tried doing this for a 3 card storyboard TdM reading where I kept the 1 position (since in a line of 3 you don’t have spread positions, but you combine) and that actually was an interesting experiment. However, a beginner would then have the issue of bridging the cards, since being able to apply meaning to position or combination is something that is actually something they try to take out of your hands in Instant Tarot.

I did a few readings and they all work, also the Celtic Cross (CC). If you follow the diagram to the letter you can read the cards, no problem. Indeed: no learning required, nothing necessary. At its most: reading glasses ;-). Personalizing the question for 1& 3-cards is possible, but only in the way that you stick to the core of the question (f.e. change the type of goal when a goal is mentioned). You can’t ask a totally different question like “What can I do to develop my tarot reading skills”, since that question isn’t in the book. That’s where you would have to use the CC.

Bridging some cards, the importance of reoccurring numbers, the combination of past and future in the CC, lots of the same suit…this isn’t mentioned, so you won’t be able to use it. 

That is one of the issues I had with Instant Tarot…it does not go very deep. And that also has to do with the meanings and especially the mentioned keywords per card. With several cards the keyword came back in every single answer, and with some to the extreme.

Like the 8 of Swords, which was called Indecisive and every position gave me: due to indecision, because you’re indecisive etcetera. That led to very generic meanings, instead of in-depth perceptions of the card based on their position and question. This is most likely the biggest ‘danger’ when working with diagrams and prefabricated meanings, anyway. That’s not to say there wasn’t good material in the book, but in some cases it is surely lacking – and since this is your entire basis of reading the cards that is a big no-no for me.

Instant Tarot authors

The authors of Instant Tarot, Monte Farber and Amy Zerner. No newbies when it comes to tarot.

Irony & spontaneity
With this book I am indeed able to read certain kinds of spreads without ever having to study and they make that claim true for real (which is no mean feat). But…supposedly with Instant Tarot I no longer have to look up stuff in books or grab ideas from memory while I connect to the cards. Intuition will roam free, making me a better reader. But that is where the irony lies with Instant Tarot. Not only will one of those keywords be stuck in my brain at one point and continuously pop up, but for every position in a spread or in the CC I picked up THIS book to see what it said. As a user you’ll be so focused on the book-meanings it’ll definitely rob you from intuitive abilities surfacing and spontaneity. And when one of those meanings ‘felt’ too constricted (or wrong while using a TdM) as a beginner I would have had to pick up another book anyway.

I do think you’ll likely be able to use Instant Tarot with every WCS inspired deck, but not with every tarot deck. Try a Thoth, Marseille/Milan or a heavily themed deck and interpretations no longer resonate. With my TdM tests the 1-card already had a different nuance (victory versus harmony of ideals) and the more cards I used -and especially the more minors that showed up – the less the Instant Tarot diagram overlapped with what I ‘know’. Besides, the beauty of tarot reading is incorporating visual clues and letting your gut speak. While Instant Tarot claims it leaves more room for the latter it had the opposite effect on me. I was simply too busy flipping through the book to ask for its opinion.

Fun book
To be sure it wasn’t ‘just me’, I asked someone else to try this (still*) novel concept. She’s a tarot friend; quite an intuitive reader and also considers herself to be a relative beginner. She came to the same overall conclusion as I did: this is a really fun book for absolute novices who want to make a start understanding tarot, but anyone above that or wanting to grow/try new things will most likely be or become severely limited by Instant Tarot.

A group that’ll benefit from Instant Tarot for sure and perhaps always, is any type of gathering with friends, just like the blurb indicates. It might even be more interesting to promote this book to regular consumers as opposed to tarot readers who want to become professionals. I can totally imagine a hen party, a bachelor’s party or just a birthday where people pick up a Waite-Smith, do a reading and have loads of fun with it – and be blown away in the process.

A few examples of the questions for 1-card draws that Instant Tarot proposes. I like the fact this teaches beginners how to form a decent tarot question; one of the most important parts of reading.

A few examples of the questions for 1-card draws that Instant Tarot proposes. I like the fact this teaches beginners how to form a decent tarot question; one of the most important parts of reading.

Because, while there are for sure things I do not like about Instant Tarot – I personally think it is just too gimmicky and particular – the book does give you decent readings with what you can do. And also: instantly. While there are only 4 lines per card per position and it lacks a certain depth, you will end up with rather interesting and accurate readings. People who were once negative about tarot could gain a new perspective after having used this book**. What I don’t hope is that they’ll then think ‘anyone can buy a deck and start making money by reading a few paragraphs’. But that’s a different discussion.

Instant Tarot definitely is (still*) unique. I have never seen these diagrams anywhere. And despite limitations in personalization of questions and the proposed meanings, you WILL be able to read basic tarot within minutes. So the title of the book is aptly chosen. As for being interesting for tarot experts… I didn’t see anything that jumped out to me and I don’t even consider myself an expert, perhaps just a more advanced reader. I would be surprised if other advanced readers or long time professionals had any other experience.

Instant Tarot is a fun book. The concept works especially great in a party setting. As a beginners book it will throw you in the deep end with quite a decent life-buoy, which deserves kudos for sure. And maybe it’ll help getting newbies read bigger spreads faster. But if you eventually want to become a knowledgeable and intuitive good reader, I think you need to let go off this book sooner rather than later and start swimming.

NB*. Instant Tarot was originally published as The Instant Tarot Reader by St. Martin’s Press in 1997. This is an updated edition. Practically the same book in a different jacket. In some older versions it also included a tarot deck by Zerner & Farber.
NB2**. That’s why I was surprised they described tarot history in such a way people still can walk away with “Tarot has obscure Egyptian origins”. By now several historians proved the first decks came from Northern-Italy, early 15th century. The whole Gypsy/Egptian stuff is an esoteric myth made up by Court de Gebelin and later Etteilla some 300 years later after the first decks were made.

Buy Instant Tarot at Amazon
Buy Instant Tarot at Bookdepository

Author or artist Publisher Publication
Monte farber & Amy Zerner Red Wheel/Weiser Books May 2017

Wrap Up

Instant Tarot