Review: Donald Tyson's 1-2-3 Tarot: Answers In An Instant

The biggest failing of Donald Tyson's 1-2-3 tarot: answers in an instant is the silly, misleading title that makes this book look like it's tarot for dummies. For years I have passed this book over with that unmistakable air of superiority that I get whenever I pass through the new age section of the bookstore.  The publisher's decision to make this look like a dubious "instant tarot" type of product could only have backfired because when you read the book what you discover inside is a relatively complex system of divination that is highly original but a little technical, even fiddly. If you were hoping to come away with something that would teach you how to flop down some cards and read tarot intuitively in ten minutes you may well be disappointed. While this book ostensibly uses the tarot to divine, Tyson has in fact devised something else quite marvelous and deep.

It may well be a truly western I - Ching. To get the most value from this book you need to let go of your dearly held tarot beliefs and focus instead on language. This is because his system privileges the word over the image, and as such you spend most of your time flipping through the book constructing sentences and paragraphs from his brilliant linguistic deconstruction of the tarot. You then interpret these sentences in relation to your question. Once you accept the fact that 1-2-3 tarot: answers in an instant is neither instant nor "tarot", strictly speaking, your mind is blown open by the potential that this oracle holds.

It has deep structure. He has mined the Golden Dawn meanings of the cards and created an elegant, sometimes bafflingly accurate oracle system. As mentioned, I am reminded of linguistic oracles such the I-Ching, or the Diloggun and its 'parent' system Ifa. And like these oracles it doesn't only provide auspices for your questions, it uncannily produces useful philosophical and moral strategies for relating skillfully to your world and your question. Perhaps it is the Tao of tarot?

"But I already find useful philosophical and moral strategies when I read the cards", I hear you say. Yes, but those tips you pull out of your ass. These, on the other hand, have been distilled from industrial-strength victorian cabala.

Again, this is about the magic of words. This is not to say the pictures and visual cues in the cards don't add to it, they most certainly do, and this is part of the genius. But they do so within the structure of the system. One of the reasons that geomancy and horary astrology, for instance, are such accurate tools of divination is because they have a deep interpretive structure. With this text Tyson uncovers a similar sort of deep structure in the tarot.

The system is really best used when reading for yourself in a quiet contemplative way. Unless of course you were to memorize all the tarot sentences and their subsidiary positional sentences, which, though not impossible, would be quite a feat. Mortals will need to flip through the book to use the system, which makes it less conducive to reading for others. This is not to say that it won't bring value to your regular readings. In my opinion his exposition of the cards in combination with his remarkably poetic and profound tarot sentences is one of the most coherent, pithy and systematic collations of the underlying wisdom of tarot I've seen. Your understanding of the cards is only going to get richer and more subtle as you use his system by yourself, which in turn will make you a better reader for others.

If you are willing to shake up your tarot routine you may well be pleasantly surprised by what you find in this text. I know I was...