The Tarot Fundamentals, Tarot Experience, and Tarot Compendium volumes (referred to as TF, TE, and TC respectively in citations within this review) were conceived as a three-volume set by Lo Scarabeo to be edited and compiled by Sasha Graham. Additional editors and members of the editorial staff are listed inside each book. Each volume was initially funded by a separate Kickstarter campaign.
Tarot Fundamentals includes a long section (TF 19-292) dedicated to the 78 individual cards of the traditional Tarot deck. Each card's pages include pointers regarding symbols, traditional interpretations, keywords, descriptions, and lessons, as well as a number of illustrations. Large illustrations come from Roberto de Angelis's Universal Tarot (2003), a redrawn Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and ten additional reference decks chosen from Lo Scarabeo stock: Nefertari's Tarot (2000), Fey Tarot (2002), Pagan Tarot (2005), Manga Tarot (2006), Universal Fantasy Tarot (2006), Lo Scarabeo Tarot (2007), Tarot of the Dark Grimoire (2008), and Dark Angels Tarot (2010), Shaman Tarot (2010), Tarot of the Pagan Cats (2010). The order of decks seemed entirely random (TF 22-23), so I reorganized it here by date of publication using dates given on the aeclectic.net Tarot website. Three of these decks were created in part by the authors of Tarot Fundamentals: the Fey Tarot (2002) by Riccardo Minetti and artist Mara Aghem; the Manga Tarot (2006) by Riccardo Minetti and artist Anna Lazzarini; the Tarot of the Pagan Cats by Barbara Moore and artist Lola Airaghi; and the Lo Scarabeo Tarot (2007) by Mark McElroy and artist Anna Lazzarini. Giordano Berti and Mark McElroy are also major contributors to the book 1987–2007 Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story (2007). Next is a sprawling section covering a variety of topics related to how to read and use the cards (293-470), a Tarot History Section (471-568), and finally the Kickstarter add-ons or "Additional Content," including "Major Arcana Advice" with Lunea Weatherstone in which more advice is offered about the majors along with large illustrations of an unidentified deck; "Tarot and Social Media" with Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin listing the forms of social media active today, such as facebook, twitter, youtube, and so forth; "Talking Tarot" with Richard Webster about reading the cards; "Truth About Tarot" with Barbara Moore, also about reading the cards; and a "Tarot Glossary" with Sasha Graham. The use of "with," rather than "by," suggests that the individuals associated with each section are perhaps not, strictly speaking, the sole author.
Tarot Experience is more about the how-tos of Tarot reading and provides extensive directions for the new reader on how to understand and interpret the cards in relation to real world things, animals, birds, and so forth, as well as dreams. Much of this material seems intended for the beginner as another cheat sheet of card meanings is included near the end (TE 495-576) and the "Bonus Section" (TE 577-639) includes Tarot exercises spiced with biography, "with" Jeanna Matlin, Jaymi Elford, Robert M. Place, and Mary K. Greer. At the same time, however, it all seems to be about reading for paying clients. The section titled "Reading for Others (TE 297-420) and that on "Big Questions" (421-94) specifically address the details of Tarot reading as a business. Readers are given directions on spreads, timed spreads, differences between in-person and virtual reading, and how to prevent clients from wasting time on discussions that should be part of another appointment.
Tarot Compendium includes sections on Tarot correspondences and Kabbalah (TC 21-57), Alchemy (TC 58-83), Astrology (TC 84-199), and Numerology (TC 200-256), followed by another summary of card interpretations incorporating some features from these esoteric systems (TC 257-326). The rest of the book includes material that didn't quite fit the criteria for the "fundamentals" or "experience" volumes. Under "Structure of a Deck" (327-376) there is a description of Wirth's approach to Tarot and the Myers-Briggs co-relations with the court cards. "Advanced Techniques" (377-456) covers shadow work, free association, elemental dignities, and magic. Next is a section on professional reading (TC 457-484), one on advanced spreads (TC 485-538), and the additional content (TC 539-646) "with" Kim Huggens, Teresa Reed, and Nei Naiff, as well as a glossary.
These books appear to have been not only a follow up to 1987–2007 Twenty Years of Tarot: The Lo Scarabeo Story (2007), but also a response to U.S. Games's four-volume Tarot Encyclopedia. The first of the unsigned entries titled "Letter from the Publisher" on the page facing the table of contents in each volume of the Tarot Fundamentals / Experience / Compendium set refers to the "part Encyclopedias" that Lo Scarabeo has been publishing in Europe for years as a primary source of material (TC 6). The second and third letters explicitly refer to the three-volumes as their Tarot Encyclopedia (italics included TE 8, TC 8). Where the U.S. Games Tarot Encyclopedia is a treasure house of historical articles (by named authors), bibliographies, and deck images that was designed to be affordable, accessible, and useful to scholars, collectors, and artists, as well as the generally interested public; Lo Scarabeo clearly sought the support of the general public interested in Tarot-reading as a practice (via Kickstarter) insofar as their volumes focus on how-tos, business, and correspondences, particularly esoteric correspondences.
The objective of winning popular appeal may have informed the decision to ask Sasha Graham, a former B-Movie actress turned successful Tarot diva, to work for them as editor and compiler for the project. Graham's book Tarot Diva: Ignite Your Intuition Glamourize Your Life Unleash Your Fabulousity! was published by Llewellyn in 2011. Her next book is 365 Tarot Spreads (Llewellyn 2014), followed by 365 Tarot Spells: Creating the Magic in Each Day (Llewellyn 2016), and others. Graham tells the story of how she came to be hired by Lo Scarabeo in the very first paragraph of Tarot Fundamentals: on some unnamed date, Barbara Moore, of Lo Scarabeo, called to invite her to the task of sorting through the "years worth of Tarot texts, articles and information written in both Italian and English" that the publisher had acquired and "compile it into something useful" (TF 8). Graham further explains that "[m]uch of the information has been adapted from previous texts" but she "sandwiched" in some of her own original work (TE 11). She names a couple of entries, but otherwise, there is no way to distinguish her work from that of other authors.
Graham was hired, but nothing is said about whether or not the other authors were paid for specific content, contributions, or by future percentages of royalties. With the exception of the "Additional" or "Bonus" content at the back of each book, attribution of specific authorship is exceedingly rare in all three volumes. Possibly, some are the authors of the articles posted on Llewellyn's website: https://www.llewellyn.com/journal/index.php. However, readers of these articles are encouraged to repost them only on condition that they include the unedited article in its entirety, author's name, article title, the copyright year to Llewellyn Worldwide, and a live link to the website.
Clearly, not all of the material in Tarot Fundamentals / Experience / Compendium came from Llewellyn's website. For example, the section on Myers-Briggs co-relations with Tarot court cards (TC 347) is essentially that of Linda Walters (recorded as such in Mary K. Greer's Understanding the Tarot Court). One of the lists of "Tarot Constellations" (TC 253) is a fairly direct copy of that in Mary K. Greer's Tarot Constellations (first pub. 1987), including not only the cards but the naming of the relevant "principles." I have no idea if either of these authors agreed to the use of their material in the Lo Scarabeo volume (Walters is deceased), but whether they did or they didn't, it seems strange to me that they are not credited. Every single book in this set is thick with headings, subheadings, stock photographs, charts, diagrams, and lists: how hard would it have been to add authorship to the page designs?
This lack of attribution is the most important failing of the entire enterprise. Perhaps undiscriminating readers happy with internet sources ripped off from those who actually researched primary sources or developed techniques and published books (or blogs for that matter) will be thrilled, but why would anyone else be? This issue isn't one of intellectual or academic snobbery, it is about giving credit where credit is due. Even if a publisher determines endnotes and bibliographies to be obstacles for its intended audience, names can be attached to larger ideas and associations. Something, after all, should distinguish a major publication like this one from the average Tarot blogger who applies a few stickies to a few articles in books published by actual researchers and then writes an article claiming the information as the product of their "own research" without credit to their sources. Certainly, the Tarot world is more than a little post-modernist insofar as the identification of originality can rely on almost indistinguishable differences or alterations. Even so, I spotted those two significant borrowings as I casually rifled through the pages of each book immediately after unpacking them. That makes me wonder how many more I would find if I actually went source hunting.
Editorially speaking, the entire set has a lot of other much smaller problems that could easily be resolved in future editions. Graham can write—at least the sections she has attached her name to suggest that she can—so perhaps the problem was in job descriptions and in the sheer number of cooks involved. Regardless of whose job it was to do what, if all the fonts and stock photographs were an attempt to hide all the typos and grammatical peculiarities, it didn't work. All three books are marred by a myriad of minor issues, some of which are undoubtedly by-products of producing a series of large volumes over an extended period of time. To name some of the most obvious: the extra content is called "Additional" in Tarot Fundamentals and Tarot Compendium, and "Bonus Section" in Tarot Experience. The "About Sasha Graham" section in Tarot Experience (5-6) is written in the third person; that in Tarot Compendium (5-6) is in the first person. Design issues like the lack of paragraph indents and spacing and proofing oversights like the missing "s" on the word minutes (TE 141) are distracting and annoying.
Attentive readers may also wonder why there is a diagram incorporating Myers-Briggs acronyms in Tarot Experience (TE 80) when the Myers-Briggs correspondences are not introduced until Tarot Compendium and why esoteric correlations are given for the minor arcana in Tarot Fundamentals and none for the trumps? Aren't the esoteric correspondences supposed to be in Tarot Compendium, after the introduction of the relevant symbolic systems? The Alchemy section in Tarot Compendium has several references to a listing of sources or bibliography that isn't there, although this section does have the only endnotes to be found in the whole set (TC 82-83). None of these or the other inconsistencies, typos, etc., are individually crucial to the quality of the books, but taken together they are quite distracting.
Different questions arise in conjunction with the endless stock photographs. Some do serve a purpose in that they assert the real-world context of things that have been etherialized as part of the esotericist's tool kit, as do the photos of a mechanical typewriter and computer keyboard with Hebrew letters. Most, however, are, at best, there to create a fashionable ambiance familiar to those who have already joined the Tarot "community" and as guidance to beginners wanting to join this club; at worst, they are page filler. Half as many would have served far better and allowed the cards and often charts and diagrams to stand out as the core substance that they are. Even those useful items, however, have presentation issues: I had to use a magnifier with my reading glasses to identify the cards in one of the circular charts (TC 176).
Another problem is the near exclusive emphasis on Lo Scarabeo decks. It may be obvious why the publisher replaced the Rider-Waite-Smith deck with their own Universal Tarot by Roberto Roderigo in the Tarot Fundamentals introductory section, in spite of the confusion it brings to the subject; but there is no justification at all for the complete lack of full Rider-Waite-Smith cards in the historical section on that deck. There not a single full Rider-Waite-Smith card in that section—not one—just a fragment of the Sun, part of the left half of the 2 of Cups, and the 10 of Wands cropped on the right and on the bottom just above the figure's knees (TF 551-558). The section on Rider-Waite-Smith and alchemy is illustrated by a single image detail of the Magician, cropped so that neither of the Magician's hands or most of the objects on his table is visible (TC 76). Many other cards are presented in details, but only Pamela Colman Smith's artistry seems to be treated so crudely. The section on the Thoth Tarot and alchemy isn't even illustrated with the Thoth Tarot; it is replaced by the Liber T Tarot (TC 77-79).
Does that mean that Tarot Fundamentals / Experience / Compendium is not worth adding to your collection? In many respects, the set fulfills Lo Scarabeo's apparent ambition to counter U.S. Games's four volume Tarot Encyclopedia with something equal but different of their own, and like the actual Tarot Encyclopedia, Lo Scarabeo's three volumes are quite affordably-priced, particularly given the high quality of the covers, paper, and colour imagery throughout. Even so, historians and scholars won't have much use for this set because of the lack of sources. Experienced card readers who already have libraries may find it redundant; others may find there are a lot of tips and tricks they can make good use of. True beginners may find the set a good place to start if they take the time to work through it all, although I personally don't think true beginners have any need of directions on how to read Tarot as a business and might actually be discouraged by that emphasis. Collectors are the real audience for this set, collectors who revel in buying and savoring all the new shiny Tarot objects on the market. All three books are indeed marvellous, albeit in the way that an old-fashioned cabinet of curiosities is marvellous: full of wonders, small and large, that are likely to enchant and fascinate for decades to come, in spite of the defective cataloging.
—Review by Emily E. Auger
Edited and compiled by Sasha Graham
Lo Scarabeo, 2015, 2016, 2017
$39.35 per volume