[Before starting this review, let me clear up a few misconceptions about tarot. Tarot is not magic. It does not tell the future. It is not anti-Christian or some form of devilry. It is not a religion (though it can be used in conjunction with prayer, if you’re the praying sort, the way any activity can). Tarot is a set of cards that tell a series of stories, and they are used much in the way of meditation or talk therapy or brainstorming. Despite media usage, tarot isn’t mystical. It’s a way of organizing one’s thoughts, of seeing patterns, of clarifying ideas when your brain is too jumbled. The “messages” seen in tarot have nothing to do with spirits, but with your brain interpreting a visual puzzle to your specific situation. There is no right or wrong, and tarot doesn’t tell you what to do. Tarot only helps you to tell yourself what to do.]
Back in September, Jason bought me the Raven’s Prophecy Tarot deck, which came (like most tarot decks) with a book of instructions. This, however, wasn’t just a short, concise list of definitions. Stiefvater wrote a whole book, explaining the tarot in a way that follows a kind of internal narrative arc. She uses tarot as a way of storytelling, which of course appeals to me immensely, as a fellow storyteller. In October, I used the deck for the first time, using a new-to-me spread for the first time, and Stiefvater’s way of seeing tarot completely revolutionized the way I understood these cards. I knew that when I had time to devote to study, I would be reading the full book.
Illuminating the Prophecy is essentially an instruction manual written by a novelist, and it reads that way. As Stiefvater discusses each of the 78 tarot cards, she doesn’t just hand out a random list of meanings. She explains the card’s position in the circle of events that it inhabits. She discusses the artwork and the process behind the artwork. She links cards to each other, makes connections and cross-connections. She cracks jokes and tells stories and makes each card a real thing.
Imagine trying to memorize 78 different card meanings, especially when each of those 78 cards has a separate reversed meaning and the meanings are generally disconnected from the artwork, so there are no visual cues, and (mostly) disconnected from each other, so there are no patterns. I’ve been studying tarot for 15 years, and still every time I read a spread, I had to refer back to the little instruction booklet for certain cards. There was a disconnect between me and the cards, between the cards and their meanings, between the cards and other cards, between the cards and the full deck.
Now, though, with literally one read through this manual, I know exactly what every card in the deck means, how they all relate to each other, and all the patterns that repeat in concentric circles throughout the deck. I no longer need to look at the manual to read spreads. After one read through the book! Furthermore, each card is so alive and nuanced that I can easily look at a spread and see how they all link after laying the cards out. It has become easier to see the patterns in front of me, and so gaining clarity is far more effective. It’s the difference between reading a dry and poorly-written book about a subject you love and discovering an illuminating and well-written book on the same subject. No matter how hard you tried to read that first book, you could only glean so much about the subject. That second book, though, taught you the foundations of everything you needed to know. I spent fifteen years on the old, dry, poorly-written book. This was the gem.