Essence of the Tarot: Modern Reflections on Ancient Wisdom, by Megan Skinner
New Page Books, 1564147487, 222 pp. (incl. bibliography and index), 2004
Essence of the Tarot begins promisingly as Skinner describes reading the cards: ‘Using cards comprised of images and symbols, the Tarot makes an invisible world visible…The Tarot is a visual medium that stimulates the imagination.’1 Further noting that ‘Imagination is the capacity to visualize the non-physical. In discovering and mastering the Tarot, imagination and intuition go hand in hand’.2 Unfortunately, it focuses far more on the imaginary aspects, than anything particularly concrete or useful.
Skinner notes that ‘understanding the cards requires a certain amount of technical and historical knowledge…A foundation of knowledge is important, for it is from this foundation that we master the complexity of the cards’.3 Yet despite these words the historical section seems somewhat superficial, drawing more on the myths of the Tarot’s origins than what is documented of its known history. She does acknowledge the vagueness of its origins, but also states that, for her, the myth of the Egyptian origin is the most compelling, which casts further doubt on her statements noted above. There also seem to be an overabundance of vague pretends ‘in ancient times’. To Skinner, it seems, everything is ancient, as if this somehow lends authority.
While she’s certainly no historian, the section on ‘modern reflections’ does give an interesting look at how Skinner views her clients through the cards, offering a personal touch.
However, it’s not terribly clear why it has been broken up into these two sections, ‘ancient wisdom’ and ‘modern insights’. Both use examples from times past and present moments, though the latter seems to have more anecdotes from Skinner’s personal experience reading the cards for her client, focusing solely on the Major Arcana.
A modest selection of spreads are offered, some I found rather neat, it’s nice to see some variation on the three card and Celtic cross spread traditionally found in books of this type.
Ultimately, this book has its moments, but they are few and far between; this wouldn’t be first on my recommended reading list.