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.