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Tarot Fundamentals is an innovative and wonderful book. Its physical attributes include a hard cover, full color throughout, 640 large pages, and an incredible interior layout. The content will blow your mind (I'll write a lot more about that shortly). The presentation of the content is beautifully executed, due largely to the efforts of Sasha Graham who took on the Herculean task of synthesizing Lo Scarabeo's years of content. This is the first in a three-book series; the second volume will be called Tarot Experience and third volume will be the Tarot Compendium.
The content was originally generated for something called "Partworks," which is popular in Europe but not in the US. It is a serial/magazine series that comes with an item. For the tarot Partworks, the magazine came with half of a deck (the other half came with the following month's edition). When I've traveled in England, I've purchased knitting Partworks that came with a magazine and yarn and needles for a specific small project. Lo Scarabeo's Partworks content was generated by several authors, including myself and Giordano Berti, Tali Goodwin, Sasha Graham, Marcus Katz, Mark McElroy, and Riccardo Minetti. The work was done as "work for hire," which meant that Lo Scarabeo owned all this material. The material was only ever published in Italian.
Lo Scarabeo decided it was so good that they would compile the information and offer it in English. They could have just kept the material in magazine form, bound together. But they wanted to make something really, really special. To do that, they needed someone willing to organize it all, edit it so that it all flowed together as one voice, and write the transitional and introductory material. Sasha Graham, as I mentioned, took on the task and carried it out magnificently. She understood the vision of the book to be something "beautiful to look at, a pleasure to peruse, and yet full of essential information." Her writing and deft editing ties the material together and does it with style; her writing is often creative and dreamlike but always grounded in core tarot, well, fundamentals!
The volume begins with exploring the cards themselves, one by one. Almost three hundred pages are devoted to this task, with each Major having four pages and the Minors and Courts getting three. Included in the card sections are (there is some variance between Majors, Minors, and Courts, making the content most suitable for each section): Essential meanings, Symbols, the history of the card, traditional meanings (upright and reversed), extended keyword lists, associations and correspondences, lessons, alternate names, ideas to explore to learn more, and more. There is a main image for each card (from the Universal Tarot) plus a variety of other images from other decks with keywords or phrases highlighting the various aspects depicted in those images. This section is so juicy and inviting that even well-seasoned tarot readers can surely learn something…or be reminded of something they forgot they knew!
In addition to the card meanings, there are other chapters that cover:
Each chapter is rich in real and useful information that is presented in words and infograph-style illustrations and other visual methods. These 640 pages are anything but monotonous or boring. The amount of work and thought put into this almost equals the work and thought put into the actual words. Together, they create a book that is worth far more than the sum of its parts.
Sprinkled throughout the main content are smaller articles on relevant topics, such as the four categories of divination and various hats tarot readers wear (roles such as philosopher, art historian, scholar, mystic, etc.). Longer articles include: how to select a deck, how to build a tarot library, the process of meeting a new deck, basic symbolism, and a variety of ways to interpret a single card.
The Readings chapter includes spreads and sample readings, how to ask good questions, and how to read for yourself.
Techniques includes a fascinating method called Balancing the Spread, journaling tips, intuitive readings (pros and challenges), negative cards, and unmatched illustrations (when the card art doesn't match the meaning) and how to deal with them.
The History chapter will delight anyone who has always wanted a clear overview of tarot history, esoteric history, and modern tarot history. If you want just an overview, the timelines are wonderful. If you want more, there are in-depth articles on many aspects of tarot history including articles dedicated to the history of the most influential decks.
Lo Scarabeo funded this project through Kickstarter. It was a revolutionary move, for a traditional publisher to use a vehicle usually reserved for independent publishers. However, because they wanted to create something superb and not just "cost effective," they gave it a try. The experiment was worth it. The end product is probably the one best single book I've ever seen on the subject, a book that includes beauty, practicality, and craftsmanship.
In Kickstarter, it is traditional to include "extras" if certain funding goals are reached. Part of the extras Lo Scarabeo offered included extra articles. The goal was reached and the extra material included. These articles are not just plopped onto the end of the book, but are as thoughtfully designed and presented as the rest of the book. To be honest, I was prepared to be blown away by the book. However, when I paged through to the end, I actually gasped at the Additional Content section. I think you will be blown away, too.
In case you haven't guessed by now, I recommend this book for anyone, whatever their interest in or experience with tarot. There really is something for everyone. Because it includes the experiences and study of so many different people, it is well-rounded and extremely comprehensive. And did I say beautiful? Because it really is so beautiful.
Barbara Moore (Saint Paul, MN) has studied and read tarot since the early 1990s. She wrote the bestselling Tarot for Beginners and more than a dozen other books, and she has contributed to many bestselling tarot kits, ...