Media Review: Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen

How I Found Holistic Tarot

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I read a lot of tarot blogs. As I’ve said countless times, tarot is holistic. It incorporates so many practices and aspects of the human experience and the universe’s effects on the human experience, and thus it is important that we look at them all when taking a part and understanding the tarot. Because of this belief, I believe that it is important to read as many perspectives of the tarot as possible, and thus, I read the blogs of many talented readers and listen to some fantastic podcasts.

One that I came across recently was the blog of Benebell Wen. Her blog is jam-packed full of deep and useful information, but it led me to the purchase of her book. I had actually seen her book on Amazon and wasn’t really sure if I wanted to invest the money on it—and then I read her blog and knew that it was probably worth way more than what Amazon was charging.

About Holistic Tarot

The book arrived in the mail, all 874 beautiful pages of it. I devoured it in a week, and then read it again, slowly, taking notes, annotating.

It’s been reviewed by so many amazing people in the tarot field including Corrine Kenner, Chic and Tabatha Cicero, Mary K. Greer, Barbara Moore, Elizabeth Hazel, and so many more (in fact, the first six pages are filled with reviews), and is published by North Atlantic Books.

The meal of a book covers the history of tarot, in all its theoretical origins and the actual records that are available. It talks about the many theories of how and why it works, including looking into what is called the Forer Effect:

Psychologist Bertram R. Forer contended that no mater how vague or overboard a personality description is, individuals who are told that such a descriptions pertain to them will, for one essential reason or another, believe it and adjudicate it as highly accurate. The concept is related to subject validation, a cognitive bias that occurs when information is presented to an individual with the representation that such information is personally tailored (p. 18).

And the theory of Synchronicity:

Generally, we understand that events happen in relation to one another because of cause and effect, the causality principle. Around 1930, psychologist Carl Gustav Jung proposed a second explanation of events. When two or more events seem to be related but cannot be adequately explained by cause and effect, the theory for how and why the events occur together is synchronicity (p. 16).

These are just two of the explanations she outlines regarding the theories of the how and why of tarot.

The book goes on to give detailed understanding of each card in the Rider-Waite deck, including spending more time on the card reversals than I find most books do. After providing a description of each card, the meanings behind it, as well as a comparative guide with other card, Wen goes into description of the Court Cards and ways to take them apart to get to know their character, as well as how to choose them as a signifier card.

Of course, these are all classing characteristics of almost any tarot book in general—providing the history, card meanings and descriptions, how to choose a deck, and a few spreads. But the difference is the space that each of these sections takes up. Wen takes the time to really delve deep into each category, and pull out the details that are often overlooked in many tarot books, and breathes new understanding into them.

Furthermore, she takes the time to go into detail of different aspects of the cards from their numerological standpoint, what it means if there’s a number or a theme recurring throughout a reading, the colors of the sky in the Rider-Waite cards, the positions of the clouds, and the elements. There is ample information on the elements within the cards and how they react with other elements.

Elemental dignities are the series of complementary, conflicting, and relational energies between the four classic elements that make up the physical, spiritual, and emotional planes of our existence….To deepen an understanding of a spread, look at the elemental dignities at play…Applying elemental dignities analysis to a tarot reading helps identify the precise points of imbalance in a Seeker’s life or situation. (p. 437).

As this is a holistic look at the practice of tarot, Wen also gives an introduction to the I-Ching, and its divinatory usage, and how it can be applied to the tarot.

Yin and yang were derived from the single cosmic, infinite energy that connects the universe, qi. Qi is the life force within us and it is also the collective life force that connects and binds all living beings to one another. One theory for why tarot and other divinatory tools work is qi gong, or the mastery of the qi life force for haling or esoteric uses (p.379).

This is only the first half of the book.

The rest of the book is dedicated to the practitioner learning how to read for themselves, creating the right environment for reading, the importance of meditation, ethics, personal growth, looking at the Marseille and Thoth Tarot styles, starting a professional tarot practice, and then an absolute abundance of information and tools in the appendixes (120 pages of additional information on numerological systems, journaling templates, astrology, quick keywords for tarot cards, and so on).

That she gives a whole chapter on the ethics of tarot reading I think is a selling point. With so many budding readers in the world at the moment, and divination itself becoming not only a growing interest but a means of living, it is important to instill the ethics of the practice:

First, do no harm. It is better to refuse to do a reading for a Seeker and do nothing to help that Seeker than to intervene, preform an irresponsible reading, and cause them more harm than good. When there is a risk of a greater injury and the chance of benefit to the Seeker is slim, do not perform a reading (p.559).

My Favorite Parts

There are two things that I have to say really make this book unique: the promise the title keeps and that it is more than what is between the covers.

The book is called Holistic Tarot for a reason. Not only does it look at all the different mannerism of the cards, and each card can be taken apart and divided by different aspects, but it looks at it culturally, and combines Eastern and Western philosophies, which there is such a lack of in the tarot community—at least, in a Western tarot community, I can’t speak for elsewhere.

The author includes references to the I-Ching, and uses the concepts of yin and yang to give greater depth and understanding to the cards, and also provides different ways of looking at and using the cards. She reminds the Western reader that there are far more contributions outside of the Western sphere that should be explored in order to gain a fuller experience.

The second thing I love about this book isn’t just the book, but Benebell Wen herself, and how she shares her information. If you’re an avid reader of my blog, you’ll have seen me share her blog entries before, but she also has a YouTube channel that is also worth checking out (more on all of her awesomness in a minutes). However, her website is especially worth checking out as she provides FREE PDF lesson downloads to accompany the book. These downloads are not just for the beginner, but have different levels and exercises for the beginner, the professional, and those who are hovering in the middle.

About the Author

Benebell Wen is a lawyer, and as if that doesn’t take up enough of her time, she also blogs prolifically, has her own YouTube channel, on which she produces tarot-related lessons and promotions, and self-publishes and reps her own decks (which, if you know anything about the self-publishing world, it is a lot of hard work and time to market yourself).

She’s about to re-release her newest version of her tarot deck The Spirit-Keeper Tarot. The Book of Maps is free PDF downloadable book that goes with it, and walks you through the lessons of the tarot and ways to meditate and color in the deck itself.

She is also the author of the Tao of Craft, a book on creating Fu talismans. ‘Fu talismans are ideograms and writings typically rendered on paper and empowered by means of invocations, ritual, and transferences of energy, or Qi,’ says her page on the book. It has also been praised by John Michael Greer, the author of The New Encyclopaedia of the Occult.

Her webpage is also rich with information on astrology, numerology, Feng Shui, and her blog is just beautiful to read as well.


If you are a serious tarot student, this book is essential, no matter the level you’re at. Including Wen’s content, in any form, is essential.

I read the book cover to cover, then immediately went back to the beginning and read it again, slower, taking notes and annotating as I went. I plan on reading the book yet a third time, though with the incorporation of the PDFs available.

The subtitle for the book is An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth.

Tarot is both of those things: integrative and a tool for personal growth. Those things should both be at the forefront of the mind as they delve into the cards. If you yourself are not growing, then how can you, as a reader, help others to grow? By understanding your own growth, you can assist people on their own journeys.

So yes, please, no matter if you’ve been studying and practicing tarot professionally for 30 years, read the book. There is so much that can be learned from it.


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