Book Review: “The Contemplative Tarot” by Brittany Muller
A Divine Devotional
I have a story to tell if people would allow me the indulgence (as usual). When I was a teenager, I got a deck of tarot cards for my birthday. Accompanying this gift was another present: a book on how to read the cards and tell fortunes. I was excited! Now I could see into the future and tell people what was going to happen to them, and maybe charge a pretty coin for the pleasure. Well, as it would happen, things didn’t turn out that way. I was terrible at telling people’s futures. I quickly realized that if I wanted to get any good at offering any divine interpretations, I would have to memorize what all 78 cards in the deck would mean to have any inkling of how to read into it. Suffice it to say, that deck quickly gathered dust — I think its fate was that it was consigned to being placed in one of my parents’ yard sales, though I’m not exactly sure. So you could imagine my cynicism when Brittany Muller’s The Contemplative Tarot crossed my writing desk. The book purports that reading the tarot deck can be a therapeutic experience and, what’s more, the tarot deck has links to Christianity. Imagine that. I just couldn’t believe it!
However, having now read this book, I can contend that it may prove to be very useful to some readers and may be a resource that they can consult again and again. The book looks at all 78 cards of the tarot deck and offers ways of looking at each card in a way that Christians can meditate on each. Thus, each chapter is broken down into a reproduction of an image of the card being talked about, an applicable Bible quote, Muller’s ruminations on what each card might mean, and a series of prompts for the reader to think about as they gaze at the card in their hands. The neat thing about The Contemplative Tarot is that you can read it in order — and it has the line of a narrative arc to it, almost making it a little novel in some ways — or you can simply shuffle the deck you have, pick a card, and then flip to the corresponding chapter to read more about it. Muller also offers a brief history of tarot at the beginning of the book, and while I had wished that this aspect might have been a little more drawn out for neophytes to tarot such as me, it was fascinating to learn of tarot’s origins in 15th century Italy as a card game, and how it evolved into first a divination tool of the occult in France and then England before becoming more of a therapeutic tool in the past decade of the 2000s.
I can’t comment on the therapeutic nature of the book in the sense that I no longer have a tarot deck to play with — so I’m not sure if Muller’s suggestions to pick a card and journal about it, or pick a card and then pray over it, actually have any currency or might work for people. However, I was impressed by the interpretations the author has for each of the cards — to summarize how 78 cards may correspond either to the Bible or historical figures such as Joan of Arc, St. Francis of Assisi, and John the Baptist was intriguing to me. This is the type of book that you can’t rush through and finish in one sitting — rather, The Contemplative Tarot asks you to sit with the book and think about your relationship with the images that are presented on each card. The author is a Catholic, so she writes from her personal experiences, but Protestants and other Christians need not fear that the book might be inaccessible to them. Thus, while Muller talks about concepts such as the belief in a heaven or hell, she does so in a way that doesn’t push a certain agenda. (She seems to be rather open to a plurality of ways that one may approach and come to understand God.) Readers may also be interested in knowing that the images selected come from the Smith-Waite deck, but Muller notes that any deck can be used for the exercises based on her readers’ comfort level and familiarity with tarot.
All in all, I found The Contemplative Tarot to be a book that offers Christians a great deal of food for thought — or at least a new way to approach and look at the tarot deck from a religious as opposed to an occultist lens. Readers may be hungry to devour this seemingly new and novel approach to tarot, though, again, this is a book that requires a deal of patience to sift through. There’s quite a bit to unpack, and there are enough questions asked at the end of each chapter to stimulate a lot of personal reflection. This was, in the end, the kind of book that I wish I still had a tarot deck kicking around to more actively participate in the reflections that Muller draws us towards. The Contemplative Tarot is a deeply meditative read and one that represents a good investment for those who have an interest in the subject matter. I did find some of the explanations to be rather long-winded, but perhaps this is the point: tarot is something that the reader or practitioner (at least in a therapeutic sense) needs to think hard about, and any sort of divination about the self may not be easy to come by. So, if you need a little theological handholding and are new to certain Christian concepts and personalities, this would be the perfect book for you. I know that, for myself, I might need to give my parents a call and see if that tarot deck that I had as a youth might be still kicking around somewhere in the attic of their home. I sure hope so. I could use a deck to work through a stellar work such as this in the future.
Brittany Muller’s The Contemplative Tarot: A Christian Guide to the Cards was published by St. Martin’s Essentials on September 13, 2022.
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