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cover artI have been a fan of tarot cards since college when my roommate introduced me to them. At the time they were for divination, telling the future, revealing one’s relationship to a question or situation and how things might turn out if nothing about it is changed. I never actually believed the cards could tell my future, but I couldn’t deny that sometimes they told me things I knew but didn’t want to acknowledge. Plus, I loved the art on the cards and how it conveyed so much information without words. For many years my sister would gift me with a new tarot deck at Christmas and it was always fun to do a New Year’s reading with the new cards. One year she sent me a blank deck, ones on which I could make my own art. The deck is still blank. Perhaps someday I fill find the courage and inspiration to draw on them — a garden deck perhaps, or something bookish?

When the publisher offered me a copy of The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin, there was no way I could pass it by. Crispin, whom you may know from the long-running and recently ended Bookslut, has given tarot readings for years with creative projects as the basis for interpretation. The Creative Tarot is her book of advice on how to use the cards to foster creativity, to help you start — or abandon — a project, to help you find direction or break through obstacles. Because tarot is all about storytelling to begin with, using the cards as a guide to creativity is a brilliant idea.

Crispin begins the book by answering some big questions right off. Why would I want to use tarot cards? Are they for fortunetelling? Does someone have to give me a deck? How do I use this book? And then she has a great section on the history of the tarot which I found extremely fascinating as I have not come by a better or more comprehensive and trustworthy history than hers. Admittedly I may not have looked for a history all that hard, but still.

I was happy to learn that the art of the Rider-Waite deck, the one most people will be familiar with, was done by a woman, Pamela Coleman Smith. Of course in the 1880s when the Rider-Waite deck came into being, it ends up co-creator Edward Waite and the publisher of the cards get the credit and Smith’s name gets dropped out and disappeared. Many people assumed that Smith just drew what Waite told her to, but recent scholarship suggests that Smith created the art herself based on Waite’s research. And in many ways, Smith’s art turned out to be groundbreaking and standard-setting for all future decks. This information made me love my Rider-Waite-Smith deck even more, especially since I have a tattoo of the strength card on my leg.

After the introductory material comes the heart of the book. Crispin takes up each card and provides a two to three page analysis of the card within a framework of creative activity and ends with recommended materials to help you further explore the meaning of the card. There are usually three or four recommendations that might be art, film, books, music or drama. Cripsin also looks at each card’s placement in the deck as a whole as well as its number and suit.

Finally, the book ends with a few spreads Crispin has found most useful in asking questions about creative projects. And she offers advice on how to approach learning the cards and practicing readings. It also gave me the idea that it might be fun now and then to pull a card at random from the deck and use it as a writing prompt or meditation.

I have read a number of books like this one over the years, and I have to say Creative Tarot ranks up there among the best ones I have read. If you are looking for a source of inspiration or something to help you through creative projects, a deck of tarot cards it turns out can be a really useful tool and The Creative Tarot is a great guide to how to use them.