Book Reviews,  Reviews

Book Review: Bringing the Tarot to Life

Review by Mick Frankel

In this thought-provoking book, Scott Martin has used his experience as a theatrical director and acting teacher to put together a book of exercises designed to help you get to know the Tarot cards better.

There are 25 journaling exercises and 32 theatre exercises – lots of ideas to work with. The journaling exercises are for individual work whereas the theatre exercises are for groups. There’s a third section which gives meanings for each of the 78 cards using the Llewellyn Classic Tarot deck.

The card meaning section has one page for each card. There are two paragraphs, one giving the card’s qualities, the second a reversed meaning.

With so much material, this isn’t really a book to be read from cover to cover. It’s more of a reference work that you can dip into when you need inspiration for a fresh way to gain insight into your Tarot cards.

The overriding theme of the journaling exercises is to choose a card and then think about placing that card in some kind of everyday context. For example, in “Please Take Your Seat” the author asks you to think about where you like to sit in the cinema and then consider where various Tarot cards might choose to sit. This type of thing isn’t for everyone. I know that for some Tarot readers, a question such as “Where would the Three of Wands like to sit in the cinema?” doesn’t have a great deal of meaning. For others though, this approach gets you thinking about the cards in new ways.

Scott Martin doesn’t seem to view the cards as archetypes which cannot exist on Earth, but rather as qualities that can definitely be embodied and placed in various situations that we find ourselves in.

Although, the descriptions of the exercises are brief – sometimes little more than one page – they contain a great deal of material to work with. For example, “The Name Game” asks you to list all 78 cards with two spare columns alongside each card. In the first spare column, you write the name of a person that reminds you of the card and in the other column, the qualities that the person and the card share. It gets you thinking and if this sort of thing sounds appealing to you, then this is your kind of book.

The next section of the book is called “Tarot Theatre Games”. These are designed for groups of people and some of the exercises incorporate ideas that come from Stanislavski and Method Acting. Here’s an example called “The Interview”: Two players are chosen to be the interviewer and the interviewee (the card).  The one being interviewed chooses a card. The interviewer asks questions but not about the picture on the card. Sample questions are given such as, “What is your dream job?” and “What do you like to do in your spare time?” After about ten questions, the group then guess what the card is.

Most of the exercises in the book end with a small “Reflection” along these lines, “Discuss what insights you’ve gained from this exercise? With an open-minded group, this sort of game could be enjoyable and useful but it’s not for everyone. Still, I can imagine a session along these lines led by someone with some acting experience at say, a TABI Conference.

Some of the ideas don’t sound that promising. For example, “The Machine Of Tarot” asks one player to choose a card and start to move as if the card were a machine by making, “a simple, repetitive movement in place.” Another player then joins in making physical contact and doing their own movement, adding a sound. This continues until there’s a machine based on the initial idea inspired by a Tarot card. I spoke to a friend of mine who is an actor and she was familiar with this kind of exercise from drama school and from teaching children. She showed me the book “100+ Ideas For Drama” by Anna Scher & Charles Verrall (first published in 1975). Sure enough, the mime and movement section includes something called “Machines”. The exercise starts like this, “One member of the group starts making a repetitive machine-like action… Others are picked on to join in, one by one, adding their mechanical actions to the machine.”  It seems reasonable to assume that Scott Martin has adapted tried and tested ideas from theatrical training into this book on Tarot.

In the journaling section, the author’s examples are sometimes a little negative. For example, “Tarot Free Writing” asks you to select a card, think about it and then write ten to fifteen lines just letting your ideas flow. Scott Martin’s example is based on the Ten of Swords and begins, “bathed in blood, stabbing pain, body dying…” Another similar exercise, this time based on the Two of Wands includes, “I have become an immovable, paralyzed force.” He’s a Cheerful Charlie alright.

If you tend to think of the Tarot cards more as archetypes and you’re interested into meditating on the images to deepen your understanding, I recommend Gareth Knight’s book “The Magical World Of The Tarot” which can really help to open your heart and mind to the cards.

This book is more for someone who has some background in drama or who is quite open to the idea of having a go at representing the Tarot cards in everyday situations. Scott Martin has done an excellent job in collecting so many exercises and if you’re willing to give them a try, you’re sure to have fun and gain lots of insight as well.


Author: Scott Martin
Published by Llewellyn

Review by Mick Frankel

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