Review: Tarot & Magic by Donald Michael Kraig

I pulled this book out of my collection of books. Sometimes you come across some strange and interesting titles and “Tarot & Magic” by Donald Michael Kraig is one of those curious titles. Often books on tarot are very focused on methods for tarot reading. This book however attempts to look at different ways to use the tarot deck.

First a few words about the author. Donald Michael Kraig was a tarot master and practicing occultist. He was the author of the popular “Modern Magick – Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts” which is a really good introduction to Golden Dawn-style classical magick. In that book he also ties together tarot practice and the kabbalah and gives some cool exercises you can do with tarot to try and gain a deeper understanding of the cards.

That is a really good book, which comes highly recommended. When I say highly recommended, it means that it is a good introduction. Not that I necessarily agree with everything that is written there, but it is a good starting point of doing your own studies and could help you to spark that interest.  Plus that if you have an interest in tarot it will be adressed there. Many books on the occult choose to ignore the tarot completely.

As that book is not exclusively about the tarot, he also wrote the book “Tarot & Magic” which is an attempt to put the tarot into a magickal context. My version is the first edition, second printing from 2003. Originally I think it was released back in 2002.

What I like about this book is that it is very different from most other books about the tarot. It does not focus on card meanings or tarot reading at all. This one is purely about tarot and how it more specifically relates to magical practice. It says that it is intended for those who already have some experience with the tarot and magic, but honestly, it is not all that complicated. Maybe it would be good to have a general idea about the tarot, but it is not so complex that any in-depth knowledge is required. A basic understanding of the cards should be more than sufficient and anything more than that can be developed through studying.

In total there are nine chapters covering nine very different topics. Unfortunately, that is also the issue I am having with this book. It is only 175 pages long and some chapters are more interesting than others. Those chapters that are interesting could have been more in-depth and when you read it, you will only feel that you have scratched the surface. I suspect that this was also the author’s own intention as there is a chapter dedicated to “Tarot and Magic – continual evolution” which encourage people to experiment on their own and develop their own methods.

And when I say that some chapters are more interesting than others, I also find that to be one of the problems with this book. There are a whole lot of very different ideas in here and you will not like them all. Normally, I would say, that is not an issue when reading a book as it usually stays on one topic. Tarot & Magic doesn’t. If you are interested in Ceremonial Magic, you are not interested in reading about Wiccan tarot spells. And a Wiccan is probably not interested in reading about kabbalistic pathworking or ceremonial magic spells. The book would probably benefit from a little bit more focus and go a little bit more in-depth on certain topics instead of trying to appeal to practioners of every kind.

The result is that I find 3 chapters really interesting, a couple chapters are okay and the rest are largely irrelevant. Chapter 4 called “Dancing the Tarot” was my anti-climax and nearly made me put the book down, but I am glad I didn’t. The book is only 175 pages long to begin with and with so much content that will not be relevant to you, there is not all that much you will find to be of any substance.

There’s also a bibliography for further reading, which is great, but it is not sorted after the chapters, so it can be a little bit difficult to understand which books are relevant for the topics you are interested in.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book. After having read it I sit back with a feeling of wanting more. It will spark your curiosity, it will drive you to have a go at it. And I suspect that was also the main goal of the author writing the book. In the closing comments of the book he even writes “If you are a Tarot reader now, learn to use the Tarot for magic and share your techniques with your clients. Also share them with other Tarot readers. Start websites and magazines with ideas for doing Tarot magic. If they are modifications or additions to what I have presented here, fine. If they are new and different concepts, even better.”

My closing comment is that it is an affordable book with some interesting ideas. It is nowhere near as good as his book “Modern Magick”, but if you take it for what it is, and don’t expect it to give you a full intoduction into tarot magic, and can accept that it will only will present you with some ideas, that you will need to work on and develop yourself, then this can be a good book to pick up at an affordable price. I suspect  that after “Modern Magick” a lot of people would have expected something different, but Tarot & Magic isn’t a new “Modern Magick” on the subject of tarot magic. It is still a decent book on the subject though.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

 

TarotAndMagic

First Edition, second printing 2003 paperback edition

Tarot books – my short list

There is certainly not any shortage of books about the tarot and it can be difficult to navigate in the market and find the right ones. I have therefore picked three books that I think will get anyone a long way as a tarot reader.

The first one is “Holistic Tarot” by Benebell Wen. It’s a comprehensive book which covers everything from tarot philosophy, ethics. card meanings to various spreads with real life examples. It’s well-structured and easy to understand due to Benebell Wen’s pedagogical nature. This one is a tome and it is full of information. You can either read it from start to finish or you can use it more as a book where you look up certain chapters of interest to you. The best is probably to do both, because it is a lot of information and it can be difficult to take it all in at once. It’s simply a fantastic and well researched book and if you only can get one, this would probably be the one to get. It also has notes with references in case you want to check out the source material on your own.

The second book is “The Tarot and the Magus” by Paul Hughes-Barlow. It’s also a very good book, but this one only talks about the Opening of the Key (OOTK). It is one of the more advanced tarot spreads and would be a good book to pick up when you are getting comfortable with the cards and you have an interest in the OOTK. The OOTK is my favorite tarot spread by far, because it doesn’t force the cards into a pattern with pre-determined meanings. When you learn the OOTK, you learn to create a narrative with the cards and to interpret the meanings intuitively. The downside is that there are some rules to remember for how to create those narratives and that is why this book is handy.

It discusses card pairing, card counting, aspected and unaspected cards and elemental dignities (this is a great alternative to reversed cards). Most of the time, you will probably not need all of it for a tarot reading, but it definitely adds something special to your arsenal. If you compare it to Benebell Wen’s “Holistic Tarot” you will only find the first operation of the OOTK in “The Tarot and the Magus” though, but that is described  so well and in here that it is still worth it to pick it up if you are interested in learning OOTK. There are also some differences and variations between the two. It is recommended to read one chapter at a time as there is quite a lot to take in.

There are also some really weird chapters in there that I don’t really see much relevance of, but those can be skipped or just read by those who are curious. First and foremost I like his book for how he explains about the first operation of the OOTK. I have checked out some of his videos on Youtube where he speaks about the occult and various spirits, but that wasn’t my cup of tea at all. For that I have other sources that I prefer.

It’s impossible not to recommend “The Book of Thoth” by Aleister Crowley. At least if you have any intention to learn the Thoth deck. It’s full of information, but don’t try and read it from start to finish (I did and put my first copy in the bin). The text is quite difficult to follow, particularly  for us who aren’t native English speakers. It’s better to use it as a book where you look things up from time to time or else it might throw you off and you just end up putting it away. Take your time with it, look up what you need to look up and you will be rewarded eventually. It will require from you that you are willing to research from other sources as well.

And remember tarot is not only tarot, so it is well worth it to read books on other topics than tarot.

-Thus spake the Night Spirit

 

Tarotbooks

The Mystical Qabalah – an excellent book for an introduction to the Qabalah. Plus it will make your life with the Book of Thoth a little easier.