I got an unexpected gift in the mail when my pre-ordered copy of Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen arrived today. I was expecting a typically sized tarot book. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out of the shipping box!


Seriously, it was so thick I had trouble grabbing it out of the box. Which isn’t a complaint. This book isn’t typical in size, and doesn’t look to be typical in content — in a good way.

Finding New Books

It’s been a while since I bought a newly published cartomancy book. I think the last such book I bought new was Rana George’s Lenormand book. (I’ve looked at some “indie” books available on Kindle via amazon.com, which tend to run smaller or be focused on topics like business aspects.) There hasn’t been much new to catch my eye. The last time I bought a tarot book targeting an advanced audience, I found it disappointing since I was familiar with the techniques and approaches it described, having built my tarot style around them.

Last month, thanks to Josephine McCarthy, I discovered the blog of Benebell Wen. I had not seen the lovely Ms. Wen’s blog before, but looking through it I enjoyed the content enough to add to my blogroll. I saw she was a soon-to-be-published author. After reading the blog archives and looking up Holistic Tarot on amazon.com, it promised to be different enough that I pre-ordered it, which is a rarity.

Does Size Matter?

As I said, the first thing that struck me was the size of Holistic Tarot. It is 845 pages — without the index. Wow! My biggest book was previously the Zaliewski “Big Yellow Brick” (as I affectionately call it) which is around 640 pages. Here is a picture next to my Lo Scarabeo Tarot deck, for a visual reference:


It is impossible to provide a true review of a book like this without spending some time with it. Having received it today, I can barely do a preview. Looking at the first few pages, Ms. Wen states that her book pursues tarot as a spiritual tool for analyzing one’s life and seeking ways to improve it, rather than fortune-telling or divination. In skimming through the book, a couple examples look like they include aspects of what I’d call divination — such as how a decision made one month would turn out the next — and I saw the analogy of cards providing a forecast similar to a weather report.

The Author’s Approach

The author takes the approach that tarot works because the seeds of the future are sown in the present, and we reap what we sow; and that pulling details from the unconscious allows us to become creatively inspired and achieve breakthroughs in our actions or lives. I think Ms. Wen is making a distinction between what she calls an analytic approach that empowers the seeker (although I consider a “trending” of the seeker’s life to be divination), and frivolous fortune-telling that serves no purpose in moving the seeker forward in life.

If I misrepresent, I apologize; one can only do so much after briefly skimming an 845 page book. In any case, none of this is meant as criticism; it looks to be a healthy and well-rounded approach to card reading that many readers will relate to.

Content Overview

As a fan of the Opening of the Key (OOTK) spread, I was pleased to see that covered. It’s not a comm method, but it’s one I’ve always liked and I’m glad to see another person’s take. There is an option to use the Ba Gua instead of the Tree of Life for the final stage of the OOTK, which is intriguing. The book includes other aspects stemming from the author’s Asian heritage, such as a short section on Qi, and feng shui in the reading setup.

There is a bit of everything: tarot card meanings, reversals, astrology and the horoscope spread, reading for self, how to handle inappropriate questions, meditation, tarot as a professional business, journaling, spreads and analysis of a spread “landscape,” and even how to do a tarot grand tableau as inspired by Lenormand and classic playing card methods. There are suggested exercises to assist with learning.

I think this book is suitable for all levels, although it may intimidate the beginner due to its size. Ms. Wen is apparently aware of that, and has done her best to help the beginner and beyond by providing study guides to use in conjunction with the book at her website.

The more experienced tarot practitioner looks to be covered as well as the beginner. I understand the realities of publishers needing to target a large common audience, and I recently read an insightful article from Barbara Moore who said that the series of advanced tarot topics published by Llewellyn sold poorly. Which is shame because there were a couple of gems in that series. In this case, it’s refreshing to see a book where advanced readers can also find useful approaches, styles or inspiration.

Writing Style


A legal school diary — not this book

The writing looks to be high quality. Given that the author is a corporate lawyer, I’m not surprised. I imagine the skill to produce business and legal documents helped in authoring a book of this size. The writing style is articulate and intelligent. There are plenty of tables and diagrams to assist with presenting the information where appropriate. I suspect Benebell Wen has a lot of organizational talent that she made use of here. The book is built upon the Waite-Smith deck and its Golden Dawn heritage.


This book seems like one where I’m likely to start with topics of interest to me such as her approach to the OOTK and her Asian influences, and then go back to see what else is on offer to educate or inspire me. I look forward to exploring this book, although it may take me a while! If you are curious, you can read a preview and check out the contents of Holistic Tarot at amazon.com.

If you check out this book, let me know what you think — or about any particular gems you found — in the comments.