Book Review by Karen Hollis
"Confessions of a Tarot Reader: Practical Advice from this Realm and Beyond" by Jane Stern
Many of the real life stories that Jane Stern shares in her new book, Confessions of a Tarot Reader, mirror the dilemmas I, as a professional Tarot reader, have seen many of my own clients bring to the Tarot table. Selecting stories that will resonate with readers is a formidable task and one that Stern does well. The author thinks of herself as a "psychic Dear Abby" who draws upon "the wisdom of the tarot deck to give practical advice in every life situation." In 22 chapters, Stern offers stories about her clients, as they relate to the Major Arcana. Against the backdrop of the Bohemian Gothic Tarot deck, Stern uses the twenty-two Major Arcana cards as the basis for theme in each chapter. She relies on her experience as a fourth generation Tarot reader to create a witty, and readable and sometimes "tough love" narrative.
In the Introduction, "Welcome to Your Reading," Stern establishes her authority, and sets the reader's expectations, explaining, "a real tarot reading is intrusive, and - as with psychotherapy –few people want their lives laid bare for fun." This could not be a more accurate statement. I cheered when Stern told of her distaste for being billed as a "party psychic" or an "old theatrical witch in a turban." She referred to herself as a "clean reader," making clear that she is "not a witch" and she "does not dabble in the dark arts." Ms. Stern showed Chutzpah in telling her audience who she is and what to expect from her style of interpreting Tarot. However, her statement about the "dark arts" made me cringe. Many professional Tarot readers (and their clients) vibe to the wiccan spiritual path, and I don't think that all those who call themselves "witches" should be lumped in with those who "dabble in the dark arts." While Stern should be commended for the clarity with which she presents who she is for her audience, it seems written without regard for how her tone might come across to those reading her book. (No doubt, many will be followers of pagan or new-pagan traditions, who will find her statement off-putting). Perhaps, that is what Stern considers her strength and why we should listen to her. Her wit and charisma shine through every word, though. For some readers, it may be enough to get past the occasional off-putting remark, before getting to the evocative client stories.
The Bohemian Gothic Tarot deck used to illustrate the card at the opening of each chapter is, in my opinion, both beautiful and disconcerting. For instance, card number six 'The Lovers', depicts what looks like a scene from Dracula. A male vampire looking longingly at the neck of a female who is turning her head away from him as if to say, "leave me alone." Ms. Stern mentions she chose to use the Bohemian Tarot in order to link a client's personality to what the psychoanalyst Carl Jung calls our "shadow side." Unfortunately, Ms. Stern provides little explanation about the "shadow side" and how it applies in the client stories or to the cards that represent those stories. This is confusing for readers who may not be familiar with Jungian concepts. For those who are not familiar with the term "shadow side," Carl Jung defined the shadow self as those parts of ourselves that we fear, and for whatever reason, have repressed. It is what may be termed our dark side, filled with emotions and feelings that we do not wish to access because they are so strong. It is based within our subconscious, and is linked to our instinctive self*. Also, as a professional Tarot Reader I am confused about why she uses this deck to illustrate her book but she uses the Rider-Waite deck for her lectures on Tarot. Without such explanation, it appears that she uses this deck to fulfill an obligation to Baba Studio rather than illuminate, for the reader, the relationship between "shadow side," Tarot and the insightful self-help stories.
For each chapter, Stern lays the The Bohemian Gothic Tarot over life problems, card by card. However, Stern does not discuss the cards or the chapters in relationship to one another, which is the essence of a Tarot Reading. This is intentional because Confessions is not a "how to book" for the aspiring student of Tarot but summary of knowledge for the purpose of self-help. This summary of knowledge is gleaned from, and filtered through, Stern's personal study and understanding of Tarot. In some cases, her sharp wit and raw honesty is refreshing as she conveys the personal stories of tragedy and triumph from her clients' lives. However, in some chapters, Stern comes across as cavalier in writing about what has been "confessed" in the reading room. Because she has such a strong voice (albeit witty and straightforward), I sometimes felt it to be intrusive. This may be off-putting for some readers and perfectly acceptable to others. Readers will have to make their own call.
Although engaging in their own right, the "confessions" of others—if they do not apply to your life—do not a self-help book make. This book would truly fulfill its mission as a self-help book if the author, in addition to the stories, also offered concrete action steps or methods of self-inquiry for readers to reflect in their own life, or better yet, reveal their "shadow side." As it is, I liken Confessions to that of an inspirational book—stories of the Tarot that can teach, inform, enlighten, warn or entertain. For readers who enjoy the "insider's perspective," Confessions satisfies as a voyeuristic tour-de-force into the life of one sharp-minded Tarot reader.
Karen Hollis is a clairaudient intuitive and has practiced for over 25 years. Her work has encompassed the finding of missing persons as well as the investigations of local hauntings. She is proficient in remote viewing, palmistry, graphology and psychometry. She has lectured extensively and has taught both the Tarot and regular deck card reading courses. Readings may be done in person in her office in Rocky Hill or by telephone. Phone readings for her North American clients are done in the evenings only. Call 860-665-8024 to make an appointment for a reading.
The Bohemian Gothic Tarot Deck is available at the artist's website.