We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Review: The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings

If you don't know about her, you should.  Brigit (Biddy) Esselmont has been a professional tarot reader for fifteen years and has been an online presence in the tarot community for many of those years as well.  I first remember encountering her on the Aeclectic Tarot Forums back in 2004 and was impressed with her meticulous skill for developing workable tarot spreads that weren't just new arrangements of the same old positions.  I mean, seriously people, you can arrange the cards into a different shape, but if the position meanings are the same as all the others, what's so different about this new spread?  Biddy's spreads are worked and re-worked and tested until she's satisfied they are entirely useful.  Her talent is in no way limited to spreads. With Biddy's newly released e-book, "The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings" Biddy has condensed so much of  her work into a very usable and useful handbook.

Tarot is such a vast subject and the meanings of tarot cards are, in some ways, infinite and variable, that it can be quite a challenge to present a volume of tarot card meanings without rambling on and on and going off on various tangents.  Biddy presents her card meanings in such a clear, concise manner while stating at the beginning that the book is not meant to be a "be-all and end-all" to tarot card meanings and that tarot cards often take on different meanings depending on the reading.  It is called a "guide" for that very reason.  It is called the "Ultimate Guide"and I don't feel it disappoints in that regard because it is very comprehensive.  But Biddy had to place some limits on the virtually limitless topic of tarot.  The guide uses only the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  While the majority of tarot decks are based in Rider Waite imagery, the other systems such as Tarot de Marseilles and Thoth, while similar, do have their own meaning associations that differ from the RWS.  The book would have become unwieldy had she attempted to incorporate all systems and meanings.  As it stands, the book is very well organized, and it's clear a great deal of thought went into how to make it accessible and easy to consult.

This kind of reference is beautifully suited to an e-book format.  There are links within the book that will take you directly to Biddy's website, email, Facebook and Twitter pages, too.  She gives a brief introduction to tarot numerology, reading with reversals, and reading tarot combinations before going into the card meanings themselves.  Printable reference charts for the Major and each suit of the Minor Arcana are included.  In fact, the entire 336-page guide is printable, either by ordering a hard copy from lulu.com or by taking the file to a local printer.  They can even bind it for you if you like.  I do a lot of my tarot study online, so an e-book format is perfect for me.  Biddy honestly thought of just about everything.  She's very thorough and supremely efficient and these qualities are clearly evident in her work.  I can appreciate that kind of OCD-perfectionism when it benefits the user.  The guide sells for $29 and while many e-books are cheaper, they are also, well, cheaper.  Biddy's attention to detail and comprehensive approach yields a very user-friendly and quite handy reference for novice and expert alike.

There is also a companion workbook in which Biddy encourages you to basically create your own Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings!  It is formatted just like her book only you have the task of working with the cards and allowing your own intuition and study to speak and journal what these cards come to mean to you.  Brilliant!  Together the Guide and Workbook are $38.50.  If you do well with workbooks and appreciate the pre-formatted design, it's well worth the extra $9.50, but if you don't think you'll use it, don't buy it.  Once again, Biddy knows her audience and has created a product that is customizable to anyone's individual preference. 

Of course, I always "test drive" products that I review.  Biddy includes some bonuses at the end of her book which include suggestions for 3-card readings.  I randomly chose one and will use her guide to interpret the reading.  I have been experiencing some frustrating roadblocks at my work.  I have been trying to interview for other positions outside of my department and my efforts have resulted in a big, fat nothing.  So, I chose: Where You Stand Now/What You Aspire To/How To Get There for my spread.


Where I Stand Now:  Using Biddy's keyword chart, the 10 of Swords means: back-stabbed, defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss.  I can immediately relate to much of this given how I am perceiving my current situation at work.  I do feel where I am is a dead-end and every effort I have made to change my situation thus far has been met with defeat.  One of the quotations used for the 10 of Swords gives me some hope: "Many a man has finally succeeded only because he has failed after repeated efforts. If he had never met defeat he would never have known any great victory." --Orison Swett Marden  In Biddy's more descriptive text, she speaks of acceptance of endings, and while my job has not ended (so far!) I was given some news on Friday that clearly told me that it was indeed a dead-end job, that I had virtually no hope of moving upward within my department.  I spent the weekend feeling very sorry for myself but determined to make some changes.  Unsure what those changes will be, however, I am still in this 10 of Swords place, feeling defeated and a little betrayed but resolving myself to this situation. She writes, "The Ten of Swords is about letting go and accepting your current circumstances.  You no longer resist change but allow it to happen, even if it causes some initial pain and hurt to you.  You accept that there must be change in order to facilitate renewal, and you allow it to occur rather than fighting it."  Yes, indeed, by the end of this weekend, I am able to say I am there. 

What I Aspire To:  Biddy's keywords for the 7 of Pentacles are: Vision, perseverance, profit, reward, investment.  Hell to the yeah! I aspire to a job where I have a vision, and I don't mind persevering if there will be profit, and reward, but not in a position that has no potential to yield anything.  I want to invest in something that has promise. The most applicable quote under this card is: "Progress however, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step." -- Samuel Smiles.  See, I understand that.  And slow progress is good, but none is not.  In her general definition, Biddy talks about this being a card of long-term goals and of putting forth efforts in areas that look promising rather than into efforts that clearly will not pay off.  No one is looking for a quick win here, so this card and her definition is very apt.  I simply want my efforts to be rewarded and to apply myself where I will see and reap those rewards.  

How To Get There:  Biddy's keywords for the 5 of Swords are: Conflict, tension, loss, defeat, win at all costs, betrayal.  Hmmmm.  Could tarot be telling me that I'm not going to get where I aspire to at my current place of employment?  Possibly.  Meanwhile, I can use the energy of this card to keep trying to "win."  Not at all costs, of course, but to not be satisfied with "losing."  Surprisingly this quote struck the strongest with me in this situation: "You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates." Richard M. Nixon, of all people.  In this case, Biddy's card meaning specifically for work and finances nailed it, I think.  She writes: "In a work reading, the Five of Swords suggests that you have to operate within a very competitive, dog-eat-dog environment.  Hostility, tension and conflict are high, so you must look out for your own interests and needs, otherwise you will not succeed."  Bam. Right on it.   Clearly, I need to invest my time into looking for work outside my current environment, possibly outside the company itself, in order to invest in something that will ultimately yield reward.  While I remain there, I need to get serious about actively looking out for number one or I'm doomed to lose out time and time again.

Keep in mind, too, that for this trial run reading, I have only used very abbreviated portions of Biddy's card meanings.  They are extensive and cover not just the general meaning of each card but also its application to Work & Finance, Relationships, Personality Types, Spirituality, and Well-being and Health.  For my topic, I focused on her General and Work & Finance categories.  Did I say this guide was comprehensive? It's also not what we often derisively call a LWB or Little White Book, the small pamphlet that is included in many tarot deck boxes with basic, generic, keywords and meanings for each card.  This guide is genuinely helpful, by itself, in rendering an accurate and useful reading.  I didn't even add my own personal, intuitive commentary on this reading and with the guide alone was given valuable insight into my current situation. 

You can, if you like, view a sample of The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings.


  1. Thank-you so much for a wonderful review of my newest eBook. I am thrilled that you found it useful and that it helped provide the insight you needed for your personal Tarot reading.
    Warm regards, Brigit (Biddy)

  2. Greetings:
    From my perspective, this example shows the problems that come about when readers attempt to assign meanings to the card positions in spreads. Often the card meanings don't make a lot of sense within that context, and then the reader attempts to force it to fit, and the reading can easily go off of the rails. Perhaps a better approach is just to look at the cards and let them tell the story.........7 of pentacles is about reaping what you have sewn (for good or for ill). This is shown by the adjacent cards. The 5 of swords tells that you have been fighting a losing battle, and the 10 of swords tells that you have hit bottom. So here you are (7 of pentacles), reflecting on what you have created at work. Now, sooner or later you will need to do as any good farmer does, and that is to planet new seeds. So, the next question (and the topic for another spread) is "do I plant new seeds were I am or do I move onto another location?"

  3. Anonymous5:26 PM

    I've been dabbling for a while, still not very good, but gave the 3 card spread you used a try regarding my inability to get motivated and lose the weight that is really bothering me right now. Seven of pentacles, 4 of pentacles reversed, and king of swords reversed.

    The way I read this is that right now I'm doing too much planning, and I need to start putting those plans in action. I want to be in control (of my eating, of my health, of the disorder I've created by ignoring my needs.) but I need to focus less on the eating, health, and control, and more on personal relationships, loving the people in my life instead of worrying about whether or not they're thinking about how fat I am. King of Swords reversed confuses me (I'm really confused by reversals in general.) but to get where I want to be, once again, I need to stop thinking about what to do and take action. It's time to do the exercising I know I should do, eat the foods I keep planning to eat, etc...

    All of this is kinda a "no duh" thing except the insight about loving the people in my life more and not focusing so much on my weight. That was a light bulb moment, but will still be difficult for me to shift my thinking.



  4. Hi John :) Left to my own devices I might have read the three cards similarly to your interpretation. I would immediately see the swords flanking the pentacles card in the middle and a need to focus on that center card for my insight, because clearly the surrounding environment sucks. Can I actually expect to sow reward out of such a scene? Not to mention, just looking at the positions of the figures, clearly the 5 of Swords guy does not have the best interests of the 7 of pentacles guy, he looks like a back-stabber in wait. The positional places weren't bad, though, because recognizing the competitive environment in the 5 of Swords helped explain why my interview/job seeking efforts have so far yielded minimal results. Too many people going after the same positions. Too many conflicting interests as well. I feel spreads have their place in tarot, I will still use them if they suit a situation, many tarotists love them. Others, like you, are far more comfortable without them. Some beginner readers feel the need for such structure and definition while they gain more confidence with the cards.

  5. Hi Jen,

    Well, first the reversed 4 of Pents tells me you aspire to let go of the weight. Pentacles are the physical and material and have a lot to say about our bodies. 4 Pents upright indicates a withholding, a sit still and don't do anything attitude, whereas a reversal can indicate the opposite or an obstacle. So yeah, I think becoming more outward in a physical way rather than inward. King of Swords reversed may suggest getting OUT of your head and approaching the task in an irrational way, such as throwing out the logical and embracing the illogical, forget expert advice, do what intuitively feels right.

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. Anonymous1:34 AM

    Yeah, getting out of my head. That is always tricky. :-) Thanks.

  7. Anonymous9:53 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Biddy's good. I've been waiting for a meat world copy, though. Doesn't printing a book at Lulu or Staples cost a lot of money? In any case, it's good that you've given Biddy some recognition. She's been helpful in my tarot education. Considering the quality of her work, I've always been surprised she's never found a hard copy publisher and, actually, that she isn't famous.

  9. I've never had a book printed at either place myself, so I don't know the cost. I am, being more a Type B personality, always impressed with Type A's like Biddy. She's so thorough! :) So organized! All the ducks in a row! :)

  10. Wonderful blog btw! I was looking for something in the way of a new tarot book. I have a few and they cover the basics. I need something more diverse to read. the more info the better thats for sure. not all decks are created equal and i think most people interpret cards differently at least i know i do.

  11. Hi Candy,

    I think this guide is a good resource. It's not, and doesn't pretend to be, the be-all and end-all of interpretations. Besides, no guide can read the cards for you. I find guides like these help the new reader, of course, but also the seasoned reader when they may be stuck and need some fresh insight on a card. I've been known to look up card meanings in those situations and find it jump-starts my own intuition in those moments.

  12. I've frequented Biddy Tarot many times and I'm in full agreement with you, Brigit knows her stuff! I remember doing a reading using a spread of hers to answer the question "what do I really want?". The answers it gave me was surprisingly accurate and actually touched on something I'd considered on a subconscious (i guess) level and never fully admitted to myself.


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