Two more books for my Tarot Library. I’m beginning to delve into some heavier reading.
Here’s the first one:
Wirth, Oswald. Tarot of the Magicians: The Occult Symbols of the Major Arcana that Inspired Modern Tarot. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC., 2012. First published in French in 1927 as Le Tarot, des Imagiers du Moyen Age.
I’m already well into this one. It’s fascinating and a very historically important look at the occult functions of a Tarot deck. Oswald Wirth was working with the Tarot at the same time the Golden Dawn was using its now famous occult Tarot methods. Wirth’s methods are different. They deal with much of the same stuff (astrology, Cabbalah, etc.), but Wirth had a different idea of how these ideas fit into the Tarot. He reworked the Marseilles-style Major Arcana to better fit with his ideas.
Wirth was much more straightforward in his writing than his contemporary occultists Aleister Crowley and Arthur Waite. Granted, Waite still felt bound by his oath of secrecy despite Crowley having already published the Golden Dawn’s secrets, and Crowley was just the kind of guy who seemed to like the way his own convoluted voice sounded, but the both of them are confusingly verbose in their prose. I enjoy reading them, but it’s like reading a puzzle at times, and it’s refreshing to me that Wirth doesn’t really mince words. That’s not to say he doesn’t delve into deep and complex esoteric matters; he does, but rather than making it even more complex to discourage the uninitiated, he has the goal of education, and tries to facilitate that with his writing.
Of course, the trade-off here is that Wirth is sometimes just plain dry. I don’t really mind it personally, but I know that can be a bore to some.* It should also be kept in mind that this book was originally published in the late 1920s by a man who was already well along in age by that time. It’s just not going to grab modern readers who find themselves discouraged by language which seems archaic to their sensibilities.
Anyway, without going into too much detail of the specific contents, I will say that this book appears to be organized into three basic sections. First is the introductory material in which Wirth explains where and how he came to use the symbols he uses. This includes a brief description of alchemical, astrological, and cabbalistic principles, theories of occult initiation, as well as basic things like shape, number, and color symbolism. Of course, as I’ve already noted, none of these things are used in quite the same way that the Golden Dawn used them. This is a totally different system for using the Tarot that just happens to draw from the same sources.
Second is a card-by-card description of each card of the Major Arcana as Wirth redesigned it. That’s pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t talk anymore about it here. Last is a section which includes methods of using the cards for divination. There is more than that, but I am still currently working my way through the second section, so I don’t really know what the last section is really all about aside from divination. I look forward to getting there, though, because unlike other haughty occultists, Wirth does not appear to look down on divination but rather seems to have a certain respect for it.
Overall, I really enjoy this book so far, and I find it very useful in terms of adding another dimension of understanding to the Tarot. I do not have a Wirth deck, but his influence can be felt in some of my other decks (most notably the Medieval Scapini). And being interested in history as I am, I find this book to be an important installment in the historical chronicle of the Tarot.
The other book I haven’t yet begun to read, but it promises to be interesting, if nothing else.
Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Tarcher/Penguin, 1985 (originally published in French in 1980).
At over 650 pages, this anonymously written work is the longest book I have on this subject. I have not yet cracked its spine, so I can’t really give much of a review. From what I can gather, it is one religious (Christian) man’s thoughts and meditations on each of the 22 Major Arcana from a Marseilles-pattern deck. It’s arranged in 22 letters addressed to his “dear unknown friend,” us the readers. After briefly flipping through the pages, it appears to go very in-depth into each card. The title suggests an angle of Hermeticism tinged with Christianity; it was penned in 1980, which is fairly modern, and I expect this to have an impact on the contents. I am eager to begin reading this one, but have decided to wait until I’ve finished reading Wirth’s book first, so I can give it my full attention. I have a feeling it will require it.
Perhaps once I’ve read it, I’ll provide an actual review.
Both of these titles will be added to my library shortly.
*Then again, if we’re comparing Wirth’s style with Waite’s and Crowley’s, I don’t know if I can really say it is any more dry than the others, especially Waite’s. The only real difference here that I can see is that Wirth is aware of the dryness of his work and doesn’t really care to try and cover it up. He even directly addresses the reader on several occasions, one of which he encourages him or her to strive to continue on in spite of the dryness of his work, because that is the way it must be to prepare one for the study required to really learn the Tarot, or to “make it speak”, as he says.