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The Armchair Tarot Reader: Free Download

“The Armchair Tarot Reader” by Laura Pensar is a quick-start guide for those interested in bringing the Tarot into their lives. The free booklet covers:

  • Getting Started. Instructions for a “Daily Focus Draw” practice are included to help you begin gaining the benefits of working with Tarot from the start!
  • Brief history of Tarot and explanation of its structure to help you learn the card meanings more quickly.
  • Index of card meanings. Quick and simple reference to use as a starting point for your Tarot study.
  • Advice for seeking a professional reader.
  • Learning to read for yourself.
  • Caring for your deck, a brief glossary of common terms, and background information about myself and my shop.

“The Armchair Tarot Reader” is a reference to introduce you to the Tarot and help you start working with your deck in a simple and peaceful way.

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And your little book too…!

I don’t know the history of the LWB (little white book) but I really want to.

LWB’s are the small booklets that come inside the box with the cards of most Tarot and Oracle decks. LWB’s range from a single sheet of paper folded pamphlet-style to complete mini-books with forwards, essays, and an appendix!

The size of the card deck and the packaging costs are probably the biggest factors in determining how much information can be included. The insert that fits with a large Tarot deck can naturally have more written information than one that fits with a poker-sized deck. How thick the booklet is determines how deep the box for the deck will be. Seemingly small changes in size can lead to large changes in price! If the difference between a 20-page booklet and a 30-page booklet adds a $1.00 increase in cost to each deck… that’s a significant loss in potential revenue for those 10 extra pages. (Bear this in mind as you pull out a microscope to read your LWB.)

LWB’s can feel a lot like the cryptic instruction manuals that come with electronics and appliances. For decks which have been published in multiple countries the same information will be printed again in one or more languages. And because they are trying to communicate the most information possible in as few words as possible… you get the difference between:

Branch: a limb, to split


Branch: (noun) a part of a tree that grows out from the trunk or from a bough / (verb) of a road or path, divide into one or more subdivisions

See how just a few words can make a huge difference? If you weren’t familiar with the word “branch,” its use as both a verb and a noun would seem disconnected and confusing. But in the second fuller definition the extra explanation about the limb being part of a tree growing out from the main trunk gives “branch” (the verb) a context. You have a fuller understanding of “branch” from the second example and could more easily interpret the appearance of “branch” in your reading.

LWB’s are a bridge. Do not expect too much of your LWB, but don’t take it for granted either. Think of it a lot like a pocket foreign-language dictionary or Google Translate: very handy in a pinch, can really help out in certain situations, gives you quick reminders etc; but sitting down with it to do serious work or have a complex and natural conversation…? It’s frustrating, incomplete, and clunky. They cannot be complete. And technically no book ever could be.

LWB’s are a fascinating insight into the decks they accompany in many ways. Who wrote the book? Is it by the artist themselves? A historian? A cartomancer? Are the deck designer and illustrator one person or separate? What year was the book published? What did they include? Is there information  about the artist/designer? Is there information about the history of Tarot? Is it actually historically accurate? What keywords do they associate with each card and how universally accepted are those interpretations? Are they leaving out major keywords commonly included in other books? If so, why? There really is a lot to investigate with the LWB.

I’m going to start digging and see what I can find on the origins of the LWB. What was the first deck that was actually marketed as a divinatory tool to people who didn’t already know how to use it that way? And why? I’ll also be revisiting and reviewing the LWB’s in my own deck collection. Understanding how the LWB’s attempt to distill the vast language of Tarot down to a few simple words can help you better read and interpret the cards.

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Respecting the Cards

“What are people’s opinions on trimming Tarot decks? I’ve done it to my main one and I think it looks pretty good.”

Someone asked this question in one of the Tarot forums I browse regularly. My stomach turned when I read it. I asked him to clarify, “Why trim? To remove the border?” He said, “Yes, they had a white border before.”

Ok. So I know that I preach that Tarot cards are literally images printed onto thick card stock. However… the idea of taking a blade to my cards or ANY cards, for that matter, is upsetting. (*This is not to say that I’m opposed to altered decks. But there is more to an “altered deck” than simply cutting off part of your card.)

My first reaction as a card designer… “Oh NO! Those borders are there for a reason!” For most contemporary decks, the artists are the ones making the call to include a border on their cards or not. Think of it like the difference between tacking your photo straight to the wall or framing it nicely under glass with a mat. The white (or whatever color) border is there as a way to present the main image. If you’re unconvinced… take a doodle you’ve done and frame it like you would a treasured work of art. I guarantee, your doodle will suddenly take on a little more importance.

White borders on playing cards also help protect the image. Unlike most art on paper, we actually touch cards. We handle them a lot! Those borders help extend the life of the main image. It protects them from the wear-and-tear of our hands and shuffling. When you shuffle cards (even gently) it stresses the ends of the card stock. Think of a paperback book after it has been taken on and off the shelf for several years… the corners and edges fluff up a little bit, get nicked, and gather dirt.  Very often the borders are white because the core of the card stock itself is white, which means it will show less wear if there isn’t a contrast right next to the edge. Distance between the edge of the card and the pigments of your main image is a good thing for your cards.

When I mentioned this question of “To cut or not to cut?” to a fellow Tarot reader, she looked horrified and also said she felt sick to her stomach. She said, “That’s violent. ‘I don’t like the way my pinky finger looks… let’s hack it off!'” She felt that it’s disrespecting the deck. I completely agree.

While Tarot cards are a tool… they are a tool for a job that I take seriously. When I read cards for someone, I’m helping them do self-awareness work. As part of that job I create sacred space for myself and my clients. I carry my work deck with me at all times; here’s how I create that sacred space no matter where I am:

  • I leave the box at home, but I wrap the deck in a large silk scarf buffering its edges and corners. Then I tuck it into a double-lined velvet pouch which adds an additional layer of padding. This does two things. First, it protects my cards as best as possible while keeping them usable and portable. A small steel box would get really annoying to carry everywhere really fast. Second, the silk and velvet make it feel nice. I’ve spent a little extra on these accessories for my tools because I feel they are important and I love my job. So while bubblewrap and a sandwich bag might be equally effective at protecting my cards… how seriously could you take me if I presented my work this way?

  • I wash my hands before working with my cards. Obviously this helps extend the life of the cards by keeping them as free from dirt and oils as possible. Hand washing is also a very common aspect of many rituals. It helps establish a mindset that this is something I want to treat kindly; that I want to pay attention to.
  • I lay a cloth under them before I spread them on a table. This keeps them clean. It also sets a space where the cards can be considered together. So while I’m often giving readings on cluttered tables out in public, I’ve still designated a space for the reading simply by laying a cloth down. Like the framing and matting analogy I mentioned earlier.

  • The decks that get used most I clean with a special fanning-powder mixture I’ve made. (That’s my concoction there in the glass container on the bottom shelf of the cabinet.) I use the powder to help clear dirt from the surfaces and maintain the smooth finish. I did my research and found the safest powder to use for the cards themselves and infused it with various scents. This helps my hardest used decks feel clean. And having clean tools in a sacred space is important to keeping that space sacred. Dirt is truly just a distraction when we want to be focused.

  • My decks are stored in a specific cabinet. When I’m not actively using them they go straight back to their cabinet. My decks don’t get lost or accidentally damaged this way. I also keep those little silica gel packets in there with them to help control the moisture.

When we treat the objects we use in meditative practice with a certain reverence and care, it helps us treat what we are doing (important self-awareness work) with reverence and care.

As a reader, your cards are your connection to your client. And you should respect your clients. If you read for yourself… your cards are a vehicle for a conversation with yourself. YOU should be respected!

So if you feel that you just absolutely can’t live with the border on your deck and you STILL want to cut it off… (sigh) do so carefully and make sure that you treat your cards with care and respect in every other possible way.