Review: Tarot Spells by Janina Renee – 3.5/5

Tarot Spells by Janina Renee. 1994. Llwellyn. 3.5/5 – Meh

Warnings: None except very slight “negative energy will come back to you” mentioned once.

A good book and accessible for everyone. Reads as light ceremonial or ritualistic but can be easily adapted. However, poor formatting, uninspired card choices, and cookie cutter (and sometimes boring) spells leaves me wanting more. Excellent for inspiration however and worth adding to a collection of spell books. The 2001 version might rectify many of these problems.

I was picking up some requested books at my local library when I spotted this much battered 1994 Llewellyn book near a bottom shelf. I don’t know how I missed it before but I almost thoughtlessly tossed it on top of my growing pile of books for the week and called it a day.

I didn’t read it that week though. Life happened and I ended up renewing it with another  book online. Which was a bad idea. Whenever I go to the library’s online site, I end up requesting books so I kind of accidentally requested around fifteen fairy tale anthologies at the same time. Oops. Even then, I didn’t get around to reading this until the morning it was due back. I’ll be honest: It’s because the book was uninspiring to look at. I saw walls of text and card images when I flipped through it and the 90s style cover in dull brick red. Yawn.

The day before I read this I had just finished reading from cover to cover Tarot Beyond the Basics by Anthony Louis (which, by the way, I highly recommend for intermediate to advanced tarot card readers). The author was mentioned by name in Anthony Louis’ book so I my enthusiasm for the book skyrocketed.

First, let me explain a thing. I’m not one to combine my divination and my witchcraft practice, as I’ve explained. So up until now I’ve typically ignored spells that use tarot cards in them. I’m not sure why I’ve started to explore them now but I’m still incredibly cautious about using tarot cards in spells. I think I’d feel better if I had a deck of cards explicitly bought or created just for magic instead of divination but that hasn’t happened yet. But that’s just me. Lots of people use their tarot card for magic. (By the way, these tarot card spells can totally be used with other deck styles if you’re more into oracle decks or Lenormand styles).

Like every spell book ever, this book starts off with a little bit of and background information. And I do mean little; it’s all of 15 pages. But that’s not a bad thing at all! A small introduction on tarot is made followed by a short chapter on how “tarot magic works”. The books claims that the spells are designed to be positive, even the ones that are designed to counteract enemies. While I am pro-curse, I can totally get behind curses that aren’t harmful but still get the job done. (This begs the question “is a curse still a curse if you don’t harm anyone but it still works against someone?)

Magic here is defined as “using the power of the mind to nudge probabilities” (page 2) and is further explained by using the “plane of thought” belief system. This system typically works in the Universal Conscious beliefs and essentially can be boiled down to ‘your thoughts can subconsciously affect others’. Later on page 8 the author advises that you don’t think or brood on the spells after casting them because magic works best when left to the unconscious mind. That’s not a system I work in but it’s far more approachable then other magic systems.

What I love is that the author did not define magic as this universally. The author explicitly states that there are many ways to define magic and the definition provided was a working definition for the purposes of this book. The author even gives suggestions on what you can do if you don’t believe in magic. I am all about that.

In the itty bitty ethics section (page 3) there’s a rundown of what magic cannot do or should not do, in the author’s opinion. The first is that you’re planting suggestions in other people’s heads so asking them to do something distasteful is less likely to work. Essentially, you cannot turn them into a slave. The second addresses why magic doesn’t give you an “unfair advantage” against others – a controversial topic that still pops up today. The last one is that thoughts are vibrations so if you use negative or harmful spells, you’re projecting negative emotions. It is further explained that negative emotions cling to you so you’ll magnetically draw that “bad luck” back at you. The reverse is also true, the section finishes.

The rest of the opening goes into step by step breakdown of what you may find alongside the spells such as card layout, meditations, affirmations, and actions needing to be taken. It’s very clear cut. However, these things are presented as separate from the card portion of the spells when, in fact, they  need to be used in conjunction. While the spells don’t ask the ridiculous and can be adjusted very easily, there’s a very simple flaw that comes across clearly: the spells are cookie cutter and boring.

Each and every spell caters to this format. Sometimes there’s a tiny deviation where you’re asked to do something different but it’s always the cards + meditation + affirmation. The affirmation is really the verbal portion of the spell. It’s wordy and somewhat ceremonial – you’ll need to change it if it’s not your bag of tricks.

I think part of the uninspiring feel is that there’s no foundation behind why the cermonialism is in place. Why this lengthy affirmation instead of a simple sentence or chant? I also kept forgetting why the cards were placed as they were because the layout places weren’t labeled. Since the were rarely more than three cards you could use the spread intention + action + result each and every time. If you did that however, the card choices sometimes make less sense. It’s a bit bewildering.

In addition to the cookie cutter repetitious set up being kind of boring, the actual format of the book leaves something to be desired. The spells are multiple pages each and written in paragraph form. I find spells are like recipes – they’re better in steps rather than paragraphs. It’s not the worst format I’ve ever seen but I often felt like the spells were “burying the lead” so to speak. Spending a little time to spruce up the format to something truly attractive could have done wonders for the book. Since my version was the 1994 version, I’m not sure if this happened in the newer version.

What I liked best is the reasoning WHY certain cards are used. The Moon, Star, and Magician are used to to promote creativity (page 40). The Moon was selected for “creative potential of the unconscious mind”, the Star “stands for inspiration from inner planes”, and The Magician represents “the individual’s ability to realize these potentials”. This is especially useful if you’re an intuitive reader and want to use cards that might not traditionally have a particular meaning but the card represents that to you personally.

However, that’s also somewhat the flaw. I found that the author uses rather traditional meanings behind the cards so sometimes a spell might call for  a series of cards but not the ones I’d normally suggest. For example, in the success for new businesses spell (page 64) the cards used are the Magician, Ace of Wands, and Sun. Why not have the Nine of Pentacles for luxury as the result card? Or the Six of Wands for victory and acknowledgement to get customers to notice you? Or the Nine of Cups for wish fulfillment and satisfaction? The Eight of Pentacles for steady clients of the Six of Pentacles for getting a business loan could also be used. It’s almost as if the author wanted to keep the spells very simplistic rather than dive deep into the meaning and wealth of power behind the cards.

This isn’t to say that the book isn’t worthwhile. It is. The spells might be uninspiring in formation or card selection but if you’re familiar with spells or tarot card meanings, you can easily adapt and adjust the spell to suit you far better. For most people, this is probably an excellent source of spells. I’m just picky and want everything.

The breadth of spells varies. There’s spells for addiction, inspiration, help getting away from a bad environment, fitness realization, winning a job and numerous others. Divorce settlements, for cheerfulness, for conceive a male child, for agricultural success,  to restrain a malicious person, and so on. There’s lots of spells in the book. There’s a half a dozen spells to help animals (lost pets, endangered species, helping animals in potentially abusive situations). There’s even all purpose spells – a category that is much forgotten but much needed in spell crafting. It covers a wide variety of spell types so it’s useful for all ages and people. While the spells might be cookie cutter in format, they cover all areas of life.

The book ends with several fairly standard appendixes such as gemstones or candles. There was one on choosing a significator. I feel like this should have been a chapter because some of the spells ask for a significator. There’s also two appendixes on preparation and accessories for the spells. I don’t mind that these were appendixes because they’re very ceremonial and ritualistic and it kind of breaks from what the author was saying before. No magic card slingin’ while eating Cheetos and reruns of Supernatural in your PJs I guess. I didn’t find these spells so magically intensive that you would probably need to break out the robes and good incense. To each their own I suppose.

Overall, the book is solid. It does what it’s suppose to do and doesn’t spout bullshit or lies. It’s accessible for everyone but has a slight ceremonial or ritual flair to it so if you’re a folk magician like me, you’ll probably be doing a lot of adjusting. However, due to the poor formatting, cookie cutter spells, and questionable card choices for the spells themselves, I finished the book surprised but somewhat disappointed. It was like a tarot deck guidebook that reads little better than a Little White Book. It has so much potential but it kind of just falls to the wayside.

In the end the question is, would I buy this? Yes. The spells might be a bit boring but they’re excellent for inspiration and that’s how I typically use spell books anyway. Would I pay full price for it? Probably not. I wouldn’t mind paying full price for it but I’ll be checking the used book stores first.