Review by Kim Huggens
Imagine this: you’re one of today’s youth picking up a Tarot deck for the first time, eager to learn in a manner that you have become accustomed to. You want engaging, hands-on, immersive, instant, exciting and visual learning methods; you want to see results straight away; you want to be enthralled by a subject and not distracted by something more interesting. Imagine also that you are an experienced Tarot reader with many years of study to your name, perhaps a book of your own published on the subject, and you’re a teacher of this arcane art yourself. You want to be excited about Tarot once again; you want your passion rekindled, you want something new and innovative, interesting and challenging, revolutionary and life-enhancing. Can one Tarot book offer all of this? Can it cater to the entirety of the spectrum of knowledge and experience? If it’s Tarot Face to Face, by Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin, yes.
Tarot Face to Face does not appear, at first, to be a large book, being smaller in page count and size than a great number of other Tarot books on the market. Yet it contains within it more vastness of material and opportunity for learning than nearly every other Tarot book I have read. This is the kind of book you can return to time and time again, and it will keep giving and giving over the years. It also cannot be taken in during a single sitting, nor all the ramifications of the exercises and lessons digested at once: this book needs plenty of time for you to play with it, explore it, try various parts of it out, and put into practice what is being taught, although you will be able to see results straight away. Of course, this might not sit well with those who lack patience or who want to be spoonfed Tarot knowledge… but if something is being spoonfed then I wonder if it counts as knowledge at all…
Split into ten chapters, Tarot Face to Face starts with the basics… no, not the card meanings, nor even the difference between Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, nor even how many cards there are in a Tarot pack. Instead, chapter one (“Face to Face with your Deck”) teaches the reader the essential skills and methods necessary to give accurate and life-changing readings from the get-go, without the need for lots of complex and time-intensive memorisation of card meanings or occult symbolic systems. Skills that many experienced readers use unconsciously, such as bridging, pinpointing, and navigating are explained, demonstrated, and highlighted through hands-on exercises for the reader to practice, which teach us how to actually perform a reading. Isn’t that something? These are the barebones of any reading, yet their conscious teaching has been lacking in a vast array of Tarot books over the decades. They may even sound complicated here, out of context, but Tarot Face to Face shows that they couldn’t be simpler, and follows them up with methods that can form a core of Tarot interpretation, such as key phrases and keywords and how to use a spread. Once we’ve got these under our belts (or been made aware of our prior usage of them if we are more experienced readers), we move onto… nope, still no card meanings here for us to memorise…
So, what exactly can a Tarot book teach if it’s not going to give us card meanings or tell us what the cards mean? Well, it teaches you everything that’s far more important. It teaches you how to use Tarot to engage with life, how to use it for life-enhancing and creative techniques, how to use it to explore your own spiritual journey, your relationships, the world around you, your inner self, your subconscious, your language, your programmed preconceptions, your ideals and dreams, your waking life and your dreaming life… It shows us how to create unique, on the spot spreads for a question using “Clean Language”, how to find our own Tarot voice, how to examine the details in card images to reach truly oracular moments, how to explore a card in-depth with the “Exquisite Corpse” technique from the Surrealist movement, how to pinpoint the heart of a question, how to come face to face with a client, how to cope with a mind blank, how to create oracular sentences, play games with the cards, embark on shamanic journeys with the cards, lucid dreams with the cards…
Sound overwhelming? Not at all. It’s all split down into easy to manage chunks and chapters, with plenty of wonderful exercises in every section to get your teeth into, and it’s presented in a friendly, open and engaging manner with plenty of anecdotes and real-life experience from the authors. In fact, it is these practical exercises that are the real heart and soul of Tarot Face to Face, and they are as useful for teaching beginners the necessary techniques and approaches as they are to helping advanced readers learn new aspects of themselves and the Tarot, and shake themselves out of old, staid habits. There are some truly revolutionary exercises in here that are not just good one-offs for making the point of the chapter, but are to be revisited over and over again to glean more new information, or to be used as part of a reading, or as a game with other Tarot enthusiasts or interested parties. What’s more, these exercises bring the reader into the ultimate goal of the authors’ own brand of Tarot: “…to engage life, not to escape it.” Techniques such as Gated Spreads, for instance, build upon traditional shamanic methods to undertake journeys using the cards as a guide over a certain period (say, a week), with an eventual goal at the end that is life changing and deeply moving (Chapter 6: Tarot for Engaging Life). All of the exercises place the power in the hands of the one performing them, encouraging activities such as consciously choosing cards from the deck to use, rather than drawing them randomly, or offering ways of using the cards to regain hope, power, and possibility where it has been lost (in Chapter 3: Facing the Questions”).
All of this boils down to a book that has a brilliantly solid approach to teaching Tarot to beginners, starting with the most necessary skills and methods and taking the reader right through to exploring their Tarot interest further in the world, whilst at the same time offering plenty of material to excite and inspire experienced readers. If you’re looking for a Tarot book to get you thinking and reading the cards a little differently, Tarot Face to Face will excite you again, inspire you, return you to a state of avid learning and passion, and make you want to get out your Tarot deck instantly and start using its many wonderful techniques and exercises. Nearly all of these exercises can also be performed with friends, partners or in a group, making this a perfect Tarot teaching tool or workshop tool. It uses many different decks to illustrate its examples, so can be used in conjunction with any chosen deck the reader is using, regardless of the tradition it comes from. The only recommendation I would make that seems to be missing from the book is that a more experienced reader may find it more helpful to use the book in places with an unfamiliar or new Tarot deck, as some of the exercises feel stunted by the instant responses that a familiar and well-known deck can elicit from us.
There’s no more I can say about Tarot Face to Face without taking away the joy of letting you discover it for yourself. It will take you on a journey of discovery, both of Tarot, and of yourself, and of the world and others around you. It will surprise you (it’s not often that you read the following in a Tarot book, “You will require ten helium balloons, easily available from most party supply shops, ten stamped postcards, and a “throwaway” tarot deck…”) It will certainly change your perception of the possibilities Tarot can offer, and it will probably change your life if you let it. Let it. You won’t be sorry.
Note: as of completing this review, Tarot Face to Face has achieved the #198 position in September 5th 2012’s top selling (out of 8,000,000!) books. Now there’s something.
Kim Huggens is the author of Tarot 101: Mastering the Art of Reading the Cards (Llewellyn, 2010), and co-creator of “Sol Invictus: the God Tarot” (Schiffer, 2007) and Pistis Sophia: the Goddess Tarot (forthcoming, http://pistissophiatarot.com). She is also the author of the companion book for the forthcoming Tarot Illuminati by Erik. C. Dunne (Lo Scarabeo, 2013.) Kim is a professional Tarot reader with 18 years experience studying the cards, and is always looking for new and innovative approaches to Tarot.