I usually turn down requests to write reviews, because I am very picky.. Okay, some might even say jaded… And I would hate to hurt the feelings of any Tarot friends or colleagues.
But when I was asked to say a few words about Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot, one glance through its contents made it irresistible. I am couldn’t wait to have a copy in my hot little hands!
Benebell’s encyclopedic treasure is 874 pages and a hefty 3 physical pounds, but carries tons of meticulously researched information and inspiration. My esteemed colleague, James Wanless, has declared it “the only guide you need to have” and I admit, I can understand such a sweeping endorsement.
Holistic Tarot is as vast as it is deep, and is a thorough guidebook to all things that most matter to Tarot people. In short, it is a magnificent achievement.
Not only does Benebell tackle the card-by-card meanings in depth, she offers a useful methodology for learning them. Her chapter on “Allaying Fears and Offering Theories” alone is nearly worth the price of the book.
But there is so much more.
You’ll find topics that are rarely included in most introductory books, or else are quickly glossed over. Benebell has written in-depth chapters that examine how to choose a deck, best practices for keeping a journal, how to shuffle and draw, all about significators, the court cards, the reading set and setting, and so much more.
Outstanding stuff! (Although I would love to quibble with her about a couple of her opinions, preferably over a companionable glass of wine or two).
But then it turns out that the first half of so of the book is only setting the stage for the unique brilliance of this masterpiece.
East Meets West
Her title regarding “holistic” Tarot comes from her point of view that the modern use of the Tarot can be a beautiful blending of spiritual and even secular traditions.
She has produced an alchemical wonder, mixing to perfection the Western magickal traditions, in which the Tarot is steeped, with a number of core precepts rooted in Asian philosophy.
The result is a unique, pragmatic way of approaching the cards. The Tarot’s rich European esoteric symbolism happily marries some of the most accessible (to Westerners) Taoist, Buddhist, and Hindu ideas. With this hybrid approach, the Tarot becomes an exquisite precision tool that can enhance the quality of our lives.
For example, Benebell demonstrates how the Chinese concept of Qi (sometimes spelled “chi“) is a readily available component that we can learn to work with, in order to augment how we engage with the cards for insight and wisdom.
She also adds a generous helping of modern psychology and builds a powerful case for the growing movement to incorporate the use of the Tarot into psychiatry, as well as other mainstream counseling and healing practices.
As she notes, “I do not support fortune-telling and I do not believe in future-telling. My approach to tarot is not predictive. It is analytic. The signs and symbols of the cards facilitate retrieval of information from the unconscious and move it to the forefront of the conscious plane of the mind, which can then help us form creative solutions, present a different angle to a problem that we have been looking monotonously at, or offer the breakthrough that allows us to move forward. I call it ‘tarot analytics.'”
And Then … It Gets Even Better
She has long (but never tedious) sections that specifically tackle building a business practice, ethical considerations, using the Tarot around questions about love and professional development, and a piece that could have been the subject of a whole book in itself — using the Tarot to understand and build the quality of resilience.
The appendices are just as generous and comprehensive as the main chapters, and include astrological cross-references, court card profile tables, numerology, and Pythagorean numerology references.
I have already put Holistic Tarot to very good use, using it as a reference to augment and clarify some of the content in my own Tarot classes — some of which I have been offering for decades.
Its fresh approach, succinct and clear phrasing, and user friendly format are ideal for both my students, and for myself as a teacher who is always on the prowl for better ways of transmitting the importance and beauty of the Tarot.
Holistic Tarot might not be the only Tarot book you’ll ever need or want. But whether you are a newbie or an old hand, this is a profoundly important, even necessary reference for your collection.