Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot: 22 Keys to Understanding Its Symbolic Imagery, by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone
Weiser Books, 1578638186, 304 pages, November 2023
As tarot pioneers in America, Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone founded The Tarot School in 1995 and first published this material in 2008. Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot: 22 Keys to Understanding Its Symbolic Imagery combines the curriculum of many classes that they taught to thousands of students. This book presents a treatise on many of the symbols in the popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck. It is arranged in a series of seven chapters, each of which shares information on three or four of twenty-two symbols from the deck. You can learn more about the Amberstones and their school at www.tarotschool.com.
The Amberstones state the following about this material in this book:
“We’ll be using the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery as our benchmark, but the information in this course should be transferable to any deck you care to use. We think it will also give your intuition a lot of additional material to work on.”1
The Rider-Waite-Smith deck was my first tarot deck, and I was excited to investigate this book by these master teachers. In addition to sharing imagery for the twenty-two symbols, they also share exercises and spreads throughout the book to make the most of the information.
I decided to peruse the book, get myself familiar with the symbols, and then put it to the test. I looked back at a three-card reading I did for myself to see how the enhanced symbology would inform or accentuate the message. I chose a reading I did a few months ago with the general question: “What do I need to know today?”
I drew the King of Pentacles, Three of Swords, and Six of Wands. My own guidance from the reading can be summarized as: Although I may mourn losses, I use patience and determination to achieve my goals and meet victory and success.
After reviewing the Amberstones’ information for each card, I learned the following:
- King of Pentacles: “The armored foot of the king of pentacles is a hint of the full armor hidden from sight by his robes. It is a symbol of the public servant who guards the well-being of his Kingdom despite his apparent personal opulence.”2 Next, the authors take the reader on a “Contemplation of the Symbol of Armor.”3 This simple exercise invited me to ponder a question regarding how I might use armor to defend myself and was quite revealing.
- Three of Swords: For this card, I investigated the symbol of clouds. First, I had never noticed that there are three clouds on this card. Second, the authors share that clouds are “potent symbols of change.”4 Also, clouds can bring obscurity, depression and disaster, as well as divine support and potential.5
- Six of Wands: One of the cards that features a horse or horses, the Six of Wands has always represented success to me. Once again, the authors shared an exercise, “The Journey of the Horse.”6 This mythical meditation invited me to experience the world as a horse and it was truly magical!!! Then, the authors share the message of this card:
“Here again, we have the white terrestrial horse that carries his rider from the past into the present and toward the future in the world of human events. Because the intent of this card is to picture victory, the horse is white to symbolize nobility, triumph, and the mildness of perfect surrender to the rider’s will.”7
I have never seen the Six of Wands in quite this way!
With the additional symbology from the Amberstones, I now summarize the guidance from my previous reading as follows: Even though disaster might come, I have Divine support and take good care of myself as I transcend my past and travel to the sweet success of my future.
I really love the extra layer that the imagery provides!
Next, I reviewed all of the information on my favorite card in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck: The Star. I learned that “the simple lesson of the eight-pointed star is the feeling of beauty and perfection that rewards the completion of an inner journey.”8 Did you know that the eight-pointed star is found on only two cards in the deck? The Fool and The Star. The authors also share information on the pool, which in the case of The Star, represents “the great pool of spiritual awareness that we explore by meditation.”9
Throughout this chapter, the authors share information on the other types of stars on cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, as well as ideas for spreads and meditations. I will return to the spread called “The Pool, Moon, and Star”10 later for guidance.
The book is very well constructed, with information on the symbols and then representative cards that feature the symbols. They worked with the original printing plates of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and Ruth Ann highlighted a different part or parts of each card to call attention to the specific symbol being discussed. This technique is very helpful!
In the Appendix, the authors lay out exercises and spreads for each of the seven chapters. This enables the reader to find a particular spread, meditation, or practice, without going page by page through the book. They also include an eight-page Index where you can find everything from every mention of angels (or archangels!) to every Major Arcana or Minor Arcana card mentioned in the book. These tools are very helpful for the novice and experienced tarot professional alike. For this reason, as well as the conversational style in which the authors share the information, I feel that this book would benefit any level of tarot reader. In fact, for the new reader, this book is a great textbook for learning more about the esoteric symbols of tarot.
I plan to use many of the spreads for work with my clients, as well as utilizing the information on imagery to add depth to my own daily readings.
Perhaps Tarot Master Rachel Pollack said it best on the back cover of Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot:
“For years, Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone’s deep work on the symbols and esoteric traditions of the Rider-Waite-Smith cards has been a legend, the learning and inspiration available only to their students. This book is useful in the deepest possible sense.”11
PJ Spur is an author, intuitive, spiritual mentor, astrologer, and hypnotist. She does tarot & oracle card readings, natal chart readings, grief coaching, and relationship healing. She also has hosted a weekly “Coffee & Cards” event with her Soul Compass Community for the past four years. Her book Navigating Grief with Grace is available on Amazon. Learn more at www.dearpj.com