Review of The Tarot Activity Book by Andy Matzner

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The Tarot Activity Book by Andy Matzner was first published in 2013 but has recently resurfaced in a surge of popularity. I speculate that it might be attributed to the recent rise in interest for the intersection of tarot and psychology and use of tarot in life coaching. That particular facet of tarot practice is on trend right now, so perhaps that’s why there’s this collective revisit of Matzner’s treasure trove of a book.

Matzner is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, life coach, adjunct professor, and published author. His other works include Male Bodies, Women’s Souls: Personal Narratives of Thailand’s Transgendered Youth and The Buddha Diet: A Guide for Creating a Positive Relationship with Food and Eating. You can read Matzner’s full biography and background here.

By the way, I also came across the podcast interview of Matzner on psychology, self-care, and the tarot. The theme of the podcast is centered on the intersection of tarot and psychology. You can listen to it here, on The Hermit’s Lamp podcast.

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The Tarot Activity Book is an indispensable resource to be included on any tarot enthusiast’s bookshelf and I maintain this stance for several reasons. The prompts in the book help you to build relationships, not just a relationship with yourself, relationship with others if you work through the exercises collaboratively in a group setting, but also your relationship with any particular tarot deck.

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One of my favorite uses for this book is to follow a handful of the exercises with a newly acquired tarot (or even oracle) deck that I want to connect with better. Although maybe not shadow work per se, many of these prompts are incredible for personal reflection and rumination, so they’re great to incorporate into your private journaling, especially if you’re trying to wrap your head space around a particular situation.

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Book Review: Going Beyond the Little White Book by Liz Worth

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Going Beyond the Little White Book: A Contemporary Guide to Tarot was published in 2016 and is one of the best and most readable Tarot 101 books I’ve come across. It’s the book I’d give my sister, along with a tarot deck, if she asked me for a book that will teach her tarot.

(True story: Actually I gave my sister a copy of my own book, Holistic Tarot, but she never touched it and now it collects dust. When I called her out on that, she defended herself by saying she just wanted to know what the Three of Cups means when she pulls it for a question about a guy she’s dating and she isn’t out to earn an advanced doctorate degree in tarot or become the next great tarot master. Ergo, a more palatable and practical guide to the tarot is needed, such as Going Beyond the Little White Book.)

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Going Beyond the Little White Book is by Liz Worth, a Toronto-based author, tarot reader, and astrologer. She’s also published previous works of nonfiction (specifically on the Toronto 1970s punk scene), fiction, and poetry. Worth brings that command of language to explaining how to read tarot. It’s incredible. She’s such an incredible writer and it’s a treat to have someone like her teach tarot in a comprehensive, meaty, yet easy-to-read, user-friendly manual.

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Book Review of Shamanic Astrology by Lucy Harmer

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When I cracked open the front cover of this book, I didn’t even know what shamanic astrology was. I didn’t even know spirit animal signs were a thing. So that’s where I’m coming from as a book reviewer– not a place of knowledge or expertise, but the place of a beginner and how this book might serve the beginner.

Shamanic Astrology: Understanding Your Spirit Animal Sign by Lucy Harmer (North Atlantic Books, 2009) introduces the twelve spirit animal signs of the Native American medicine wheel and how these animal signs correspond with our date of birth. Prominent public figures in the metaphysical community, such as Judy Hall (The Crystal Bible) and astrologers Derek and Julia Parker, Dr. Steven Farmer (Earth Magic and Animal Spirit Guides), Vicki Noble, creator of the Motherpeace Tarot, and so many more have thrown their positive weight toward Shamanic Astrology to give their endorsements.

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The book is delightfully comprehensive. An introductory chapter acquaints you with shamanic astrology, the medicine wheel, and both the solar and lunar cycles. Then Harmer dives into the background of how spirit animals are interpreted, i.e., seasons, cycles, winds and directions, elements and clans, metaphysical correspondences, life paths, etc. Each of the twelve animal signs are covered, starting with a profile chart, description of personality, key metaphysical correspondences and influences, and then general insights into that sign’s luck– career, money, health, and then love. In the love section, compatibility with the other animal signs is provided. Shamanic Astrology closes with advanced material on the medicine wheel and the lunar calendars.

Now let’s take a look at the twelve spirit animal signs. Later in this review, check out Table 2.10 from Shamanic Astrology, which outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the twelve spirit animals.

Table 1.1 from Shamanic Astrology. Click image for closer viewing.
Table 1.1 from Shamanic Astrology. Click image for closer viewing.

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Review of Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford (North Atlantic Books) is one of those reference tomes every holistic healing practitioner will want to have in the personal library. I’ll be reviewing the Third Edition published in 2002. It was first released in 1993 and since then, over 500,000 copies have been sold and no wonder.

Click image to enlarge.
Click image to enlarge.

Healing is well-organized, which is a prerequisite for any reference book. He begins where every holistic healer using traditional Chinese medicine would begin: covering Qi vitality and the binary of yin and yang, which he then expands on to cover hot/cold temperaments; interior/exterior physical conditions; and diagnosing for excess versus deficiency.

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Review of the Gaian Tarot

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A deck that taps into earth consciousness like no other deck, the Gaian Tarot is the much talked about, beloved, and exceptional deck borne from the genius of artist and writer Joanna Powell Colbert.

The Gaian Tarot was initially self-published by Colbert in 2010, and then it’s popularity convinced Llewellyn to publish it in 2011, and then somehow mysteriously, it went out of print. Copies of the deck were going for outrageous prices all over the interwebs as folks clamored to get themselves a copy of this beloved deck. Now, be happy all my friends, because the Gaian Tarot is back in a new published version by Schiffer Publishing and I’ve got to say, Schiffer has done a remarkable job with Colbert’s work.

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Here’s an interesting point about this deck. At least four professional writers I am connected with use the Gaian Tarot for creative writing. One writes women’s fiction, one writes metaphysical books, one writes literary fiction (with a collection of short stories that has won prestigious book awards), and one is a bestselling author. Only one of them– that I know of– subscribes to a pagan-based spiritual path, and the only reason I mention that is to showcase the diversity and versatility of this deck. I don’t know if it was ever intentionally meant to become a “writer’s tarot deck,” but that it certainly has!

Be sure to read about Colbert’s creative process for the deck here. From what I could gather, Colbert works with mixed media. The inspiration for each Gaian Tarot card image begins with photographs– with one single photograph as the main focal point. Then a photographic collage is used for the background. Layered, the deck image is created. Then Colbert transitions into working by hand. The photographic collage becomes a line drawing and colored pencil sketch, and the final colored pencil sketch is cleaned up digitally.

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Let’s try a reading for you. Left to right above, the cards represent Mind, Body, and Spirit respectively. However, you’re to choose only one of those three cards. Which would you like to divine upon today? About your Mind, your Body, or your Spirit? Left, center, or right-most card? Remember your selection.

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Here I’m lifting the idea of the “Mind, Body, Spirit” spread from the accompanying guidebook comes with instructions for three-card readings.

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A Year in the Wildwood by Alison Cross

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This is my review of the book A Year in the Wildwood by Alison Cross, and this won’t be a review of the Wildwood Tarot deck, though of course I’ll make reference to the deck while I comment on the book. Cross has published a thoughtful, explorative, and detailed guide to the Wildwood Tarot deck, a favorite and popular deck among tarotists today, especially those with a pagan persuasion. The e-book came out on Amazon Kindle earlier this year, 2016, and I am lucky enough to receive a copy for review.

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Throughout this post, please feel free to click on the screenshot images of the e-book for an enlarged view.

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Review of The Psychic Healing Book

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The Psychic Healing Book by Amy Wallace and Bill Henkin has been around since the late 70s, with several updated editions released over the decades. This one is the 25th anniversary updated version. Psychic is a cult classic. It’s one of those oft-cited New Age books you hear a lot about. So it was high time I read it for myself.

First, a few interesting updates in this 25th anniversary edition. Wallace explicitly notes that she wishes she could rewrite the book and not mention spirit guides. “[I]f I could do it differently today I would rewrite or delete entirely the chapters pertaining to the use of spirit guides. I have come to believe that spiritism leads to many mishaps and disappointments, and I would prefer not to even dabble in it.”

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She also talks about ch’i kung (or qigong) and chakras, and how qigong should be used to strengthen the lower chakras before a practitioner tries to work with the sixth and seventh (or third eye and crown) chakras.

Henkin also offers fascinating new information. “When we use our psychic abilities we enter the same hallowed grounds of the mind or soul that give rise to creativity and psychosis.” I love that line. It’s worth reading over a few times.

Psychic is an easy to read 208-page classic on developing psychic ability. It’s a practical how-to guide formulated after the teachings of Wallace as she learned them from her psychic teachers. Much of it, I found, is in direct line with the spiritual pedagogy of the Berkeley Psychic Institute, a school for psychic development that’s been around since the 70s, on a street in downtown Berkeley I frequently walk on.

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A lot of ground is covered in this book, though the authors skate across the surface of these subjects. Animism, Spiritism, the chakra system, the astral body, color healing, auras and reading auras, karma, dream interpretation, contacting spirit guides, ESP, and future telling are all covered, albeit in a few succinct paragraphs per topic. The book is therefore a starting point, not a treatise.

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Psychic also covers practical training for developing psychic healing abilities. Whether they work or not, I’m not sure since I can’t report on any successful personal results, but I will say it’s comprehensive in its articulation of how to train yourself in the ways of psychic healing. Specific exercises are provided, visionary techniques, and personal success stories provided by the author on how these exercises and techniques will hone your psychic healing abilities.

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For me, it was a fascinating read and I believe one must be open-minded to many perspectives of the woo.

In the spirit of learning many perspectives, The Psychic Healing Book is an incredible read and worth investing in for your personal library.

If you’re intrigued about a course like Psychic Ability 101, then get this book. It’s practical, full of exercises and training techniques, covers a lot of ground and inspires further reading of the individual topics covered, and most importantly, is written in accessible plain English. Wallace and Henkin also offer fascinating personal accounts and stories of psychic work at play.

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I’ve heard of this book many times over before finally getting a copy and reading it for myself. Funny enough, I didn’t know it was published by my publisher, North Atlantic Books. The Psychic Healing Book is considered a New Age cult classic and even when you flip through the pages of the book, the aesthetics and design of it is reminiscent of books from the 70s and 80s. If you count yourself a psychic or are interested in honing your inner psychic, then get this book. It’ll easily become one of your favorite go-to resources.

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FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received The Psychic Healing Book from North Atlantic Books for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the book.

Book Review of the Chrysalis Tarot Companion Guide

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I reviewed the Chrysalis Tarot deck by Toney Brooks and Holly Sierra earlier this year and now I’ve got my hands on the incredible companion guidebook. For so long tarot readers have been pushing for a companion book to the Chrysalis Tarot deck and now we’ve got one. This 216-page book by U.S. Games is a must-have for anyone who works predominantly with the Chrysalis.

The creator of the deck Toney Brooks opens the Introduction with a backstory of how the deck was conceived and the grueling yet spiritual process of creating a tarot deck. In his own words:

This companion book to Chrysalis Tarot details a mental and spiritual journey of resonating frequencies. Tarot refers to this journey as the hero’s journey, a catchall phrase that has been a feature of humanity’s stories since the time of Gilgamesh nearly 5,000 years ago. In our own time, the whole of humanity is embarking on an epic journey of self-discovery and a collective re-examination of values and priorities.

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The guidebook is subdivided into two parts. The first part is general, addressing spiritual theory, creation myth, and the interplay between mythology and psychology, and how both are woven into the Chrysalis Tarot. Part One covers Papa Legba, Gaia, Merlin and the Holy Grail, Tarot and Magic, and so much more. Part One was an incredible read for anyone interested in the woo.

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Part One is mostly authored by Toney Brooks, where we’re covering the theoretical premise of tarot reading. He associates the word “magic” with “synchronicity” and defines both as “meaningful coincidences in life that cannot be explained.”

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In Part Two, the illustrator Holly Sierra’s voice comes through in first person when you see the italicized passages. We get to hear from the artist about her perspective when she created the art for Chrysalis. Part Two is a practical guide to reading tarot and more specifically, interpreting the 78 cards of Chrysalis. Here, we also learn that the deck creators do not recommend reading with reversals when using the Chrysalis. The deck is intended to be read with upright cards only.

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Part Two is well-organized and comprehensive. Each card is covered over the span of several well-detailed pages, in both creator and artist’s point of view. You get both. You get the backstory for how each card came to being. You also get the reasoning behind the imagery and symbolism and, for the Majors, the archetypal attributions that had left many confused in previous years. Now all of it is illuminated and explained.

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Those with a contemporary sensibility of New Age spiritualism are going to fall in love with this companion guidebook and find it indispensable when working with the Chrysalis Tarot. Brooks and Sierra have a New Thought new consciousness point of view when it comes to spirituality that is resonant with modern perspectives blending mythology and psychology, following the paths of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. The penetrating perspective of Brooks is balanced out by the soft, whimsical, and poetic art of Sierra. It’s no surprise that the Chrysalis Tarot has been the recipient of many tarot awards.

The companion book to the Chrysalis that Brooks and Sierra have produced is a well-written documentary of how this deck came to be, of the mythical and psychological basis of tarot, and a final thesis that encourages the belief in magic. Altogether a beautiful book that is sure to please.

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FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received the Chrysalis Tarot Companion Guidebook from U.S. Games for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.

Book Review of the Foundations of the Esoteric Traditions

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It’s no secret that I’m one of Christine Payne-Towler’s biggest fans and the Tarot of the Holy Light (THL) is my personal reading deck. While I may not reach for the THL for readings I do for others (though those who’ve gotten readings from me know that from time to time, I do), it’s almost always the first deck I reach for when reading for myself. So naturally, I eagerly awaited both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the companion texts that go along with the THL.

I reviewed the THL deck here (first edition of it) and Volume I of the companion text, Tarot of the Holy Light: A Continental Esoteric Tarot here. This will be my review and overview of Volume II, Foundations of the Esoteric Traditions, pictured above alongside the newest version of the THL deck, which I also have. Wherever you all seem to think my smartness is, multiply that by one thousand and that’s Christine Payne-Towler.

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Foundations begins by explaining why the THL focus is on Jacob Boehme, a seventeenth century occultist. Boehme’s works are said to have heavily influenced later Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and Martinists, and then the early esoteric tarot deck by Etteilla. While Volume I was a study of each individual card from the THL, Volume II takes us back to the source theoretical principles behind the THL. What was the purpose behind conception of the THL deck? What are the foundational gnostic premises that the deck is built upon? In fact, what are the foundational gnostic premises that all esoteric tarot decks to come are built upon? These are the questions Volume II explore.

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Volume II provides interdisciplinary instruction on various esoteric theoretical models from Western mystery traditions and ultimately synthesizes it with the continental tarot deck. This is the kind of book you sit at a desk to read, because you have pen and paper ready for notetaking.

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Since I am not well-learned in Western mystery traditions or the Kabbalah, this was slow reading for me, but wholly enjoyable slow reading. I loved how Payne-Towler compels me to explore the Kabbalah further. Alchemy and esoteric astrology are also explored in detail and depth.

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If you work with the THL deck, then you must have this book. If you don’t work with the THL deck but possess an active interest in Western esotericism, then get this book with or without the deck, because there’s so much in here that will enrich your own metaphysical studies.

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Payne-Towler does enter with a distinct religious point of view and I don’t think the THL books are intended to be strict, objective scholarly research. There’s a great deal of scholarly research in here, but pulled in such a way to support a very clear religious thesis. For me, I don’t mind that at all, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

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Anyone with occult leanings who want to study the Western mystery traditions should have a copy of this book in their personal library. This is just one of those incredible, rich texts that I cherish having access to.

Foundations of the Esoteric Traditions is 260 pages of Western theosophic exploration keyed to the incredible THL tarot deck, though it’s not an operation manual the way Volume I was. Here, Volume II is a treatise that explores the roots, foundation, and backstory of the mystery traditions that the deck and, beyond the THL deck, esoteric tarot in general is founded upon. Foundations will deepen your pool of knowledge. In many ways, this book is about teaching you how to think, and how to process information found on a tarot deck through the filters of Western occult history.

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Volume I and Volume II are both self-published and can be ordered at Christine Payne-Towler’s site, Tarot University. Also be sure to check out the new version of the THL deck. I have both. To be honest I prefer the earlier version, but the new version is more functional. It’s easier to shuffle, easier to transport around with you, and all around more practical as a user-friendly deck. The earlier deck is more of a collector’s item and for someone with my size hands, forces slow shuffle and meditation. With the new deck, I can shuffle faster. Anyway, go check out Tarot University.

Reading Spiritual Balancing by Diana Burney

Spiritual Balancing by Diana Burney

I’m currently reading Spiritual Balancing: A Guidebook for Living in the Light, which was just released February 16, 2016. It’s by Diana Burney, who is also the author of Spiritual Clearings (2009). Both books are published by North Atlantic Books, who also publishes my books. Spiritual Balancing falls into the category of New Age spirituality and alternative medicine. It explores energy healing and reads like a 21st century manifesto on self-engaged spirituality.

Spiritual Balancing, as it is packaged and presented, seems to diverge from my normal trajectory of metaphysical reading, but I couldn’t help but find this book to be well-written, organized, and most important of all, practical.

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