Advanced Tarot: An In-depth Guide to Practical & Intuitive Tarot Reading, by Paul Fenton-Smith
Blue Angel Publishing, 0648746829, 556 pages, May 2021
The next time someone asks me for a book recommendation about reading tarot, I am hands-down suggesting Advanced Tarot: An In-depth Guide to Practical & Intuitive Tarot Reading by Paul Fenton-Smith. I keep wanting to refer to this roughly 3.5 pound book (yes, I weighed it on my scale because I was curious) as a “tarot bible” because it is one of the most all-inclusive guides I’ve ever read on reading tarot cards. Even as a professional tarot reader for nearly a decade, I am gleaning pieces of wisdom from this book, rejuvenating my skill set, and incorporating new perspectives into my readings.
Within this book, Fenton-Smith has crafted a handy and resourceful guide to the entire tarot deck for beginning or deepening one’s practice. While this may seem like his magnum opus, he is already quite the renowned author and teacher who has been sharing his practical insights for over forty years. In 1985 he created the Academy of Psychic Sciences and has been teaching for decades on topics such as palmistry, astrology, clairvoyance, and hypnotherapy in addition to his work with tarot. Needless to say, Fenton-Smith has a large repertoire in a variety of metaphysical topics, and it clearly shines through in Advanced Tarot.
What immediately stood out for me with this book is the way all the information is organized and presented. Pages four through twenty-one feature the striking imagery of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, sorted into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana suits. I absolutely loved looking through all the images: though I know them by heart, it’s always pretty to see them all lined up next to each other. I liked the way it was arranged by suit so one can see the storyline within the Major Arcana and get a visual of all the cards in a suit together. As I gazed at the images, I thought how helpful this would be to a beginner just familiarizing themselves with the cards to have this for references.
Now here is where we get into the heart of the book, which at 556 pages you can imagine there’s a lot to absorb. The first 176 pages of the book are dedicated to the art of reading. Fenton-Smith addresses many topics that I feel other tarot books gloss over or neglect to include, such as answering yes/no questions, giving distance readings, what to do when more clarity is needed, and how to read well under pressure. I think what I enjoyed reading about the most is Fenton-Smith’s acknowledgement of the limitation of tarot:
“It is important for a tarot reader to resist the temptation to override the free will of a client. Professional readers predict the future, detail the past and illuminate the underlying causes of events but they don’t dictate what a person should do. Everyone has free will in choosing a preferred destiny.”1
In this beginning section, Fenton-Smith also includes a variety of different layouts. For each one, he gives immense clarity about the position and meaning of each card. It was very easy to follow along with the spreads, and many were ones that I had not tried before. My favorite was the horoscope spread, which is a 13-card spread to give insight into different areas of life and the year ahead based on the house placements in astrology. I loved how he was able to translate the house system into an information tarot spread, perfectly blending astrology and tarot. Additionally, there is information on how to create one’s own layout, which is beneficial for those who are ready to try this out.
What I liked most about this introduction section is all the examples Fenton-Smith supplies. I always enjoy hearing about others’ experiences as a reader, such as what clients ask and how the reader handles the different questions of the client, which he has provided in spades. Reading how he interpreted the cards in his layouts, or handled the self-denial or conflicting feelings emanating from his client, really helped me to think about how I can handle situations more skillfully.
This method of teaching through example also really resonated with me because it built a sense of relationship between Fenton-Smith and me, the reader. It was as though his wisdom was streaming through in all these stories of the experiences he’s had, and I for one very much appreciated being on the receiving end of this storytelling, intently seeing it in my mind’s eye and learning vicariously through him. It’s something used through the entire book that remains useful as we enter the next section of delving into card meanings.
Now, keep in mind we’re only about a fifth of the way through the book at this point – and so much has already been shared! The heart of the book is what comes next: the Minor Arcana, Court Cards, and the Major Arcana. For each and every card, Fenton-Smith provides a predictive meaning for a general reading, career layout, relationship question, and health query. I cannot even begin to express how helpful it is for a specific message to be provided for all these domains, especially health which has been the focus of my questions recently, and had me searching for guidance in other books.
Not only is Fenton-Smith’s interpretation provided for upright cards, he provides just as much information of every card reversed as well. This is yet another humongous bonus to this book, which greatly sets it apart from (and above, in my opinion) other tarot books. And let me tell you, he does not skimp on his interpretation. Each card’s description is detailed, clear, and immensely accurate from the readings I’ve done so far.
In the tailend of the book, Fenton-Smith offers guidance on becoming a tarot reader. Then there are handy reference charts for the meaning of cards in combination, the Minor Arcana upright, and the Minor Arcana reversed.
One thing I like a lot about the way the cards’ meanings are presented is the organization of the Minor Arcana. Rather than going by suit, Fenton-Smith categorizes the cards by number. Beginning each section of the cards, such as The Nines, he provides an overview of what the cards represent. For instance, “The nines in the tarot represent a period of reflection before a final commitment in a goal or purpose.”2 From there, he explains how the message shows up in each of the suits, which provides an interesting compare and contrast between the suits of each number.
For a seasoned tarot reader, it may seem a book like this may not be useful, but I don’t think that assumption could be further from the truth. There’s something reassuring about reading someone else’s viewpoint, particularly when doing a reading for oneself, in order to maintain objectivity and openness to the cards. I also enjoy reading Fenton-Smith’s definitions because they make for good journal quotes and prompts as I log my readings.
Another way I’ve benefited from the book is through doing readings with my husband, who only knows a little bit about the card meanings, and reading the descriptions to each other for discussion after we pull a spread for an inquiry. The book seems to be a leveling ground for us to communicate about the reading, rather than me having to interpret the cards for him, which has been very useful in making some recent decisions. It facilitated a sense of teamwork between us, as well as a stronger connection to the messages coming through the cards.
Overall, Advanced Tarot is a worthy investment for readers, both novice and expert, that is sure to be of great use. Fenton-Smith has packed so much wisdom into these pages that it in many ways reminds me of a tome. However, his direct, relatable, and practical writing style make the information accessible and able to be integrated into one’s reading with ease. As I’ve already said, I highly recommend this book to all tarot readers. I certainly plan on directing everyone to it with the praise that it is a wonderful, foundational book on tarot for those looking to take their readings to the next level.
Alanna Kali is an astrologer, numerologist, and pioneer spirit that loves to explore life through the lens of depth psychology. She has a passion for studying the humanities and social trends. Her academic work is centered upon reuniting body, mind, and spirit through eco-psychology. She loves reading, spending time in nature, and travel.