It’s been a long time since I was really excited and intrigued by a new ‘how-to’ book on reading the Tarot. Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot—The Open Reading is a book I just have to share with you. Ben-Dov describes the Tarot as a work of art, through whose details a full range of human experiences can be revealed. First, the book features the Marseilles Tarot deck—a deck that’s gaining greater interest and appreciation among English-speaking Tarotists. This deck is pre-occultized, as the images are not modified to conform with esoteric systems. While not identical to early 15th century decks, it expresses a folk tradition that dominated for at least three hundred years (out of the nearly 600 year history of Tarot) and is still the major style found in much of Europe. Additionally, Ben-Dov has created what I believe to be the most elegant restoration of the classic Conver Marseille deck available (see below). This process aided him in his close attention to detail in the cards.
What has been notably missing in English Tarot literature are good, non-Waite-based meanings for the four suits. You need look no further. The focus here is on reading the cards through the scenarios one perceives when looking at the images. For the Majors, Ben-Dov says the possibilities are open. Nevertheless, he points out valuable interpretive perspectives derived from symbolic, historical and mythological associations, many of which I found both original and obvious (once-stated)—in other words, extremely helpful as kick-starter phrases for the cards. Through comparison and contrast of visual details he demonstrates how the cards relate to one another. Emphasis is on a therapeutic approach, rather than being predictive or proscriptive. Providing an excellent introduction to practical reading skills, he stresses developing familiarity with psychological practices, for which he specifically recommends Irvin D. Yalom’s outstanding guide to interacting effectively with clients, The Gift of Therapy.
Previous authors stressed one of three approaches to the Minor pip cards: 1) a straightforward transfer of the Waite-Smith Minor Arcana meanings to the Marseille deck, 2) a memorized meanings often derived from Etteilla, or 3) a personal synthesis of number-plus-suit meanings for each card. Ben-Dov bases his Minor Arcana explications on the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, emphasizing visual cues in the cards along with number, which make their arrangements ‘sensible,’ and therefore easy to learn and build on. His descriptions of the thematic progression within the Major and Minor suits provide an immediate handle on each. In keeping with his therapeutic approach, the Court Cards represent attitudes and characteristics of the querent rather than other people, although there’s nothing to stop you from applying them to others. I only wish that Ben-Dov had included sample readings utilizing the Minors like he did for the Majors, as his examples were so insightful.
Spreads are kept simple, with some innovative approaches to working with both Major and Minor suit cards that are well-worth trying out. His instructions for creating your own spreads gives you an infinite palette of deeply meaningful options to choose from.
I have two pet peeves: Ben-Dov completely ignores the first two hundred years of Tarot’s history when he describes the Marseille Tarot as the ‘genuine model’, with the ‘true order’ for the cards, saying it offers, “the most faithful and accurate representation of the ancient Tarot symbols.” The oldest decks (15th century Italian) are quite different in style, and there were several different orders for the cards in its first century. It would be better to describe the Marseille-style decks as the most long-lasting, consistent design (which is not to be scoffed at). My second pet peeve involves misunderstandings of the Golden Dawn system of Tarot reading, resulting in minor errors that are not centrally relevant to this work. Personally, I think he should have left out his few Golden Dawn references or listed the differences in an appendix.
Overall, this book offers fresh, practical instructions for reading the Marseille Tarot that will give you a great appreciation for the details and special characteristics of the deck that first inspired tarot divination. Additionally you will gain lots of valuable insights into the reading process itself.
Note: Yoav Ben-Dov has generously made his deck and basic interpretations freely available for use for non-commercial purposes via the Creative Commons concept – http://www.cbdtarot.com/download/