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Thursday, July 25, 2013

REVIEW: The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot

_About My Reviews_

The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot
by Johannes Fiebig and Evelin Bürger
Llewellyn Publications (April 8, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0738735795 / ISBN-13: 978-0738735795
216 pages; 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches

Related Web Site:
Llewellyn Publications

TOP LINE (formerly Bottom Line)

As most of you who are reading this already know, there are basically a bazillion books out there that claim to offer an understanding of the venerable deck known as the Rider-Waite-Smith. Early in my Tarot training, I had a mentor who constantly reminded me that the material in these books is the opinion of the author, i.e., what the cards mean to that particular person. I was also cautioned to be aware that the only one who could really speak authoritatively about what A. E. Waite intended was Waite himself (as in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite, Weiser Books).

In addition to the PKT, one of my main sources for information on the symbolism in the Majors of the RWS deck has long been Bob O’Neill's "Sources of the Waite/Smith Tarot Symbols," accessible online at http://www.tarotpassages.com/old_moonstruck/oneill/

A quick comparison with the entries in The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot reveals that O'Neill's approach is more scholarly. If you are looking for such an approach, The Ultimate Guide might disappoint you. The authors do not footnote their entries to indicate sources for their interpretations. Of course, we are told in the "10 reasons for writing this book" section that their writing is based on "the knowledge and insights which we have gained in the course of a quarter of a century in our work as tarot authors and in conducting seminars..." Nothing to sneeze at, obviously.

As long as you keep in mind that this book does not contain "the official meaning of each symbol and card as endorsed by A.E. Waite,"  I think you'll be fine. There's a lot to love about this book. including:

  • Layout and organization -- clear, clean, attractive
  • Content -- provides information while also igniting curiosity, creativity, and intuition
  • Thumbnail images of each symbol discussed in the book -- so no confusion about what is being interpreted

Here are a few pieces of advice/insight found in this book:

"An interpretation is only complete after it has led to practical consequences. . . The practical results are the only yardstick with which we can assess whether a given interpretation was 'right' for our personal situation."

"Don't over-interpret numbers. . . All-purpose statements like 'the 5 stands for a crisis' or 'a 6 always means harmony' are far removed from serious and dependable interpretation."

"An interpretation is plausible when it is coherent and makes definite sense to the observer -- so long as this personal evaluation is based on actual clues to be found in the image."

"Personal associations...are certainly part of reading cards, and they make the process of interpretation more colorful and concrete. But: by placing too much emphasis on personal notions and associations in tarot interpretation we run the risk of chasing our own tails and simply reinforcing the thinking patterns which we already have. That is why it is important to get to know both levels of interpretation -- personal associations and interpretation standards -- and to be able to keep them apart."

"The most important clues may be in the background."

"The color of the sky reveals a lot."


"Discover everything you ever wanted to know about the world's most popular tarot deck. The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot details the ten most important symbols on each and every card in the deck complete with hundreds of illustrations for easy use. In addition to an explanation of the symbols, each card is given a brief interpretation by topic. Writing in a convenient format designed for quick reference, European tarot authorities Johannes Fiebig and Evelin Bürger also provide tips, hints, facts, and lore to improve your reading right away."


Johannes Fiebig has been writing about the tarot since 1984. His fields of interest include the use of tarot and other symbolic languages as psychological tools. He lives in Klein, Germany.

Evelin Bürger founded the German occult publishing company Konigsfurt Verlag in 1989 with Johannes Fiebig. Her areas of interest include the intuitive use of the tarot, yoga, gardening, and art. She lives in Klein, Germany.

In addition to co-authoring The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot, Fiebig and Bürger are co-authors of the Complete Book of Tarot Spreads (Sterling / 1997) and Tarot Basics (Sterling / 2006).


This 216-page paperback book measures 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches. Body text is black, with blue subheadings. The glossy cover features the RWS Magician on the front  and information about the book and its authors on the back. The generous use of white space on the inside adds to the visual appeal.

Each card is given a two-page spread. On the right is the card number and title in burgundy followed by a summary of its meaning in italic black type. Centered below that is the image of the card, with various details/symbols numbered to match a key on the left-hand page. Below the image of the card is a one-line interpretation. Below that are subsections titled Basic meaning; Spiritual experience; As the card for the day; As a prognosis/tendency; For love and relationships; and For success and happiness.

On the left-hand page of each card's two-page spread the numbered symbols are titled, displayed via thumbnail image, and interpreted.

For example, beneath the title for I - The Magician is the following paragraph: "The card for uniqueness and singularity. You can do magical things too, and you will witness miracles. Every person is special and has his or her own individual claim on eternity. You, too, will achieve something that no-one else has ever managed before." Under the picture of the card are the words: "Make a difference! -- Don't be good, be great!"

The 10 symbols discussed for The Magician are magic wand; red mantle; white robe; wand, sword, cup, and pentacle; table with markings; roses and lilies; horizontal figure of eight (lemniscate); gestures of the arms; the serpentine girdle; and yellow background.


Within these pages, you will find the top ten most important:

  • Ways of using a single card
  • Tips and rules for interpretation
  • Facts about the tarot
  • Interpretations for each suit
  • Spread layout techniques

The Top 10 Spreads included in the book are:

  1. Three cards for the day
  2. The oracle
  3. A peek into the future - I
  4. A peek into the future - II
  5. The way ahead
  6. The star
  7. Living with uncertainty
  8. The way
  9. The way of desires
  10. The Celtic cross (one possible variant)

The Tarot and Astrology section (the last section in the book) contains a chart showing which cards are associated with each zodiac sign and each sign's ruling planet. Also included are the dates and ruling planets associated with that sign.

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, I hereby disclose that this product was provided by the publisher for free. Other than the occasional review copy, I receive no monetary or in-kind compensation for my reviews.  The substance of my reviews is not influenced by whether I do or do not receive a review copy.


  1. I guess it was time for another Understand the Rider Waite Book - but having done a Walk in the World of Waite/Smith myself I confirm what you said earlier in the review, that it is just the observation and opinion of the author - still from what you say here it still seems to be an interesting book.

    1. It's a lovely book and, as I said, very well organized and thorough, while still being a quick reference guide to the deck. I expect I will consult it when using or writing about the RWS cards.


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~ Zanna