The Celtic Cross is one of my favorite tarot spreads. I love its history, its tradition, its symbolism. I love how it offers a comprehensive overview of any question or situation. And now, thanks to “Beyond the Celtic Cross,” I’ve learned that the spread is even deeper and richer than I once thought.
I highly recommend this book to any student or teacher of tarot.
“Beyond the Celtic Cross” focuses on three techniques that can be used to add layers of meaning to a Celtic Cross spread: card counting, pairing, and elemental dignities. All three methodologies make excellent additions to any tarot reader’s toolkit.
The three systems are fascinating, too. They’re based on ideas and theories that were first developed by the Golden Dawn, the secret society that designed the decks most of us use today. I like that connection to history, and I like the layers of meaning that counting, pairing, and elemental dignities can add to a reading.
The three procedures aren’t simple — but that’s why they take a full-length book to explain.
In fact, if you’re interested in the techniques, you should break out a tarot deck and replicate the reading in the book with your own cards. If you follow along with the illustrations and the explanations, you’ll feel like you’re taking part in a tarot intensive or an experiential workshop on the subject.
In that regard, “Beyond the Celtic Cross” reminds me of New Thoughts on Tarot: Transcripts from the First International Newcastle Tarot Symposium, featuring Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack.
Most of “Beyond the Celtic Cross” is based on a tarot reading and email exchange between Paul Hughes-Barlow, a British tarot scholar, and Catherine Chapman, an up-and-coming tarot blogger. I expected a lively dialogue, which the book delivers.
The exchange between the two, however, is surprisingly intimate. It involves a subject that comes up in almost every tarot reading: Catherine’s search for love and romance.
I liked that a lot, too. Even though I was reading a book, I felt like I was a privileged bystander, listening in on a private conversation.
That aspect reminded me of the written correspondence between Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris, as they collaborated on the Thoth tarot. Paul and Catherine’s dialogue gives the book an immediacy that’s missing in most other tarot works, and it brings what could otherwise be a dry topic to life.
I’ve always thought of Paul Hughes-Barlow as a serious, scholarly man, because I only know him through his website. Reading his interactions with a student in “real time” gives us a refreshing glimpse of his real personality. As readers, we also get to experience his teaching vicariously, through Catherine— who, in the end, helps communicate his message. It’s the best of both worlds.
It was also interesting to observe how two experienced tarot readers could explore a personal question with a professional detachment — and it was gratifying to note how the focus of the reading shifted along the way, from Catherine’s search for someone outside herself to a better understanding of herself. That part rang true to life, too.
Catherine was especially forthright and honest in her approach. It took a lot of courage for her to bare her soul through an ongoing email exchange — and it took even more courage for her to publish the results. The story that unfolds, however, only proves that the personal truly is universal.
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A note about my tarot reviews: I review books and decks by authors I admire, on subjects that intrigue me. I don’t accept free publications for review, I don’t solicit free books in order to sell them later for cash, and I don’t use reviews to promote my own products or services.