Mystical Origins of the Tarot.

The title of this book by Paul Huson is kind of odd. It suggests to me some sort of BS pseudo-historical narrative along the lines of Court de Gebelin’s theory about how the Tarot was created by ancient Egyptian priests trying to preserve the secrets of the Universe. This is odd, because the book itself is a work of legitimate historical research – there is nothing “mystical” about the origins of the Tarot, and Huson never tries to make it seem so beyond the title page. I suspect it’s tongue-in-cheek, like his earlier work on the Tarot called The Devil’s Picturebook (I have not read that one, but am assured there is nothing but wry humor behind its provocative title).

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The subtitle, “From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage,” is perhaps a better indication of the content. Ancient to modern is quite a chunk of time to cover, but Mystical Origins does it, tracing the evolution of the Tarot as we know it today from its mysterious beginnings (which, while long ago, are not exactly ancient, at least not as ancient as the Egyptian priests).

Books like this one are necessary precisely because the origin of the Tarot is so mysterious. In the 1800s theories like de Gebelin’s could catch on, not only because they seemed to make enough sense on the surface and because occultists wanted to believe them, but because we really didn’t know any better until fairly recently. Many Tarot books perpetuate false or only partially true “histories”. These books are perfectly fine in other respects, but they simply are not good resources for historically-verifiable information.

Now, this is the Tarot we’re talking about here, not recently declassified government documents or freshly-discovered tablets of Linear A or anything like that. Whether they’re used for gambling or fortune-telling, cards are not exactly the sort of thing generally taken seriously by academic types, historians or otherwise.* As such, books about the Tarot are not usually concerned with meeting academic criteria. Shoddy history is to be expected, and anyway, why does it even matter?

Well, it does and it doesn’t matter. The Tarot does not require a history lesson to be used or enjoyed. Furthermore, the aura of mystery surrounding the Tarot is a major attraction for many folks, myself included, and mystical histories only add to that aura. I’ve said it before, these legends add to the flavor of the cards, illustrating their hold on the imagination. The mythic connections are very real, despite not being based in empirical fact.

However, I believe that myth and history are not mutually exclusive, and just as myth enriches our metaphysical experiences with the cards, history enriches the experience on a much more practical level. Context is key in understanding any spread, and history is just a lesson in context on a grand scale. Through historical research, we can better understand the cards themselves, what they were, where they came from, who made them, and how they became what they are now. This information may not be immediately applicable when using the cards, but it strikes me as foolish to invest in the Tarot as I have without understanding what it really is. It pleases me that Huson’s book, and others like it, are available as a counterbalance to all the “woo” out there.

But I digress. Mystical Origins isn’t the only book backed by historical research, and it may not be the best out there, but of what I’ve read, it provides the most thorough history, and on the whole I think his interpretations of it stand on sound reasoning. He asserts that the historical mystery of the Tarot can be boiled down to three questions:

1. What is the source of the suit symbols?
2. What is the source of the trumps?
3. When and why did people begin to use the Tarot for divination?

The first chapters attempt to answer these questions. The suits are thought to have been derived from the Persian Mamluk cards after they were introduced to Europeans in the 14th century. At the time, these were primarily used for trick-taking games. The playing cards became the Tarot in the following century, when the trump cards were added to the pack. The imagery of the trumps is medieval in origin, drawing from many sources, most notably from religious dramas of the time. The earliest ones were hand-painted for nobles, but they remained devices for gaming. It wasn’t until a long time afterward, in the 18th century, that the Tarot was established as a tool for divination and the occult by Etteilla and his contemporaries. By this time, the Persian and medieval European sources of the cards had been forgotten, and so it was hypothesized that they originated in Egypt.

Mystical Origins is often touted as a Tarot history book, and it certainly is. The first few chapters make up the historical overview beginning with the Mamluk and concluding with the occult developments of the late 1800s – early 1900s. This isn’t the whole book, though; in fact, it’s barely a third of it. The remainder of the book focuses on the actual cards of both the Major and Minor Arcana and on reading techniques, all of which builds upon the previous material.

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From the DFW Tarot.

Each card is briefly discussed in terms of its historical symbolism, followed by its divinatory interpretations by Tarot masters throughout the ages, with a final suggested interpretation from the author. The chapter on reading is especially interesting. We get Huson’s personal advice on card reading, and although he expresses some opinions that I’m sure are disagreeable to some, I thought much of it was quite wise. Then he provides several spreads and methods, from very simple to very advanced, all taken from historical sources. The entire book is illustrated with line drawings by the author, and in them one can recognize the roots of much of Huson’s own Tarot, Dame Fortune’s Wheel, which was published a few years after Mystical Origins.

In conclusion, this book is not only a fascinating history of the Tarot, but it is a thorough and excellent handbook for cartomancy with the Tarot, and a good divinatory reference for historical and occult packs, from the Visconti to the RWS and virtually everything in between.

~~~

*Occult Tarot may be a different story, but the first rule of Occult Club is don’t talk about Occult Club.

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A Thoth Study Guide.

Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo Duquette sets out to help the reader do exactly as the title says, and it does it well. Certainly, I continue to learn more about the Thoth every time I take it out to use, but prior to reading this book, I knew almost nothing, and can’t imagine how else I might have progressed. I could see from the outset that this was an especially complex pack of cards, but beyond that my eyes were closed. This book opened them to a whole new world.

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That’s the Princess of Disks on the cover.

My first introduction to the Golden Dawn brand of the occult was in a book called Portable Magic, which I’ll write about in more depth at some other time. It was an excellent introduction, looking back, providing me with a base familiarization of Kabbalah and astrology. These are vital subjects to know if you plan on delving seriously into the world of the Thoth or any Golden Dawn-based Tarot. Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (henceforth abbreviated UACTT) examines these things and more, in far greater detail, while still remaining perfectly accessible to a novice. While Portable Magic made a fine primer, it wasn’t until I read UACTT that I could honestly say I began to comprehend the occult Tarot.

Of course, Mr. Crowley’s Tarot isn’t precisely the same as the Golden Dawn’s, but as a one-time member, he certainly derived much of his Tarot from their template. To understand his version of the occult, you must first understand theirs. DuQuette’s book addresses this, and is split into two parts: an introduction aptly titled “Little Bits of Things You Should Know Before Beginning to Study Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot”, which takes up about a third of the book, followed by “The Cards”, which is, obviously enough, about the actual deck.

In the first part, we learn about Mr. Crowley the person, the Golden Dawn, Lady Frieda Harris and the nature of her work on the cards, Crowley’s notions about the “Aeon”, the Rose Cross on the card backs and all its secrets, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, color symbolism, and the “Holy Guardian Angel” that each of us has according to the teachings of Mathers and the Golden Dawn. All of this is essential background information, required if one hopes to really understand the Thoth Tarot as its creator intended it (don’t try to take it all in at once and hope to internalize it, though. Multiple readings are recommended). I was exposed to so much occult stuff at once while reading these pages for the first time that I thought my face might melt off. It is well written, conversational, entertaining, and incredibly informative. Interspersed throughout are quotes from Mr. Crowley and Lady Harris, some of which are quite entertaining themselves. The author, who is clearly very knowledgeable, makes light of a rather heavy and confusing subject, and he attempts to dispel common misgivings about Crowley, the occult, and the Thoth Tarot as he goes, although whether or not he did a good job there I couldn’t say, as I really had no misgivings myself when I approached the deck.

Before dealing with the cards proper, DuQuette starts the second part with a discussion of general Tarot structure, followed by the astrological and Kabbalistic attributions of the Major Arcana, highlighting the differences between the Thoth and the Golden Dawn model. Each Major Arcana card is then examined in fair detail (about two or three pages per card).

Then we are introduced to the Minor Arcana, and the four Aces are explained, followed by the Court Cards, and then the small cards, complete with convenient charts for astrological correspondences. Every single card, Major and Minor, is prefaced with its Golden Dawn title, any relevant astrology, a brief description of the original Golden Dawn card, any relevant Kabbalah, colors used, and a quote, all laid out for quick reference.

After the chapters about the cards, we get a run-through of Mr. Crowley’s method of divination, and a list of all the cards in the pack alongside their intended divinatory meanings. The final chapter is a glossary of Thelemic and Tarot terms.

Not only did I learn (a lot) from UACTT, it was fun to read. DuQuette writes with a sense of humor, and that’s very refreshing, particularly when reading about a subject as dense as this. Another thing about this book that I appreciate is, despite its thickness, it has very convenient lists and charts of anything you might need in a pinch. UACTT combines the joy of reading a good long book with the ease of use of a simple guide (well, you’ll still have to flip through many pages to find the “convenient” stuff, as they are not all in one place, but I think it’s worth the trade-off).

Now, if one really wants the authentic Thoth Tarot experience, he or she needs to acquire a copy of the Book of Thoth, which is the official companion to the cards, penned by Mr. Crowley himself. This book, however, is anything but accessible to the average reader. UACTT works as a middle man, if you will, between the student of the Thoth Tarot and its infamous creator. I would very strongly recommend this book as a prerequisite to Crowley’s own, unless you’ve got very big intellectual britches.

~~~

78 Degrees of Wisdom.

It seems like every day I find more and more opinions that disagree with mine, but I still maintain that the Rider-Waite-Smith is the best deck with which to learn Tarot. Of course, if someone has a specific deck in mind that he or she connects with, by all means, my opinion (or anyone else’s) doesn’t matter a bit – always go with your own gut. But if a person wants to get into the Tarot, and they have no prior knowledge, and they have no opinion about which deck they’d like to start with, then I think the Rider is the way to go.

I feel this way for many reasons, not least of which is that there are more books published about the RWS than probably any other version of the Tarot. Someone who wants to learn with a Marseille or a Thoth has far fewer resources at their disposal than one who studies with the RWS or one of its derivatives, and fewer still if they want to go in a different direction.

Which brings me to my next recommendation: Assuming the RWS was selected as the learning deck, which is the book to study alongside it? There are countless options out there, and I’ve admittedly read only a very small number of them. However, without a doubt, the best book I have read on the RWS (one of the best Tarot books in general, really), and one that I’ve referenced many times on this blog, is Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom.

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This book was originally published in two volumes, one for the Major Arcana, and one for the Minor, but now you can purchase them as a single book. At 354 pages, 78 Degrees is sizable for Tarot literature, although not remotely the heftiest on the market. Even so, the first thing I should clarify is that this is a book, not a cheat-sheet. I heartily recommend it, but it’s certainly better suited for my fellow readers than it would be for someone looking for a quick RWS reference.

78 Degrees is generally considered a classic in the world of Tarot literature these days, and I’d have to agree. Along with two or three other Tarot books in my library, this one forms part of the bedrock of my understanding of the cards.* It is well-written, fun to read and educational, showing a broad understanding of psychology, mythology, the occult and symbolism as they relate to the Tarot.

The book is split into three parts, the first of which is about the Major Arcana. It begins with an introduction, in which we are introduced to the Tarot, its origins, some occult elements, and the theory of archetypes, and then Waite’s version of the cards, which constitute the focus of the remainder of the book, all rounded up with a discussion about divination and what it means in relation to the Tarot. We are then given an overview of the basic patterns underlying the Major Arcana, before diving into the cards themselves. Each card is allocated several pages, in which its meaning is thoroughly discussed according to the themes set out in the intro.

The section on the Major Arcana is divided into three parts of seven cards each (the three septenaries). Pollack puts a lot of emphasis on these groupings, suggesting that each represents a stage of personal development. Cards I through VII are under the heading The Worldly Sequence, the following seven under Turning Inwards, and the final cards under The Great Journey. These titles are indicative of the sorts of trials and triumphs to be found within each septenary.

Next is the Minor Arcana. As with Part One, we are started off with an introduction expounding upon the themes and patterns to be covered in the following pages. These are by and large very similar to what is covered in the first part, with a little more emphasis given to things like Kabbalah and the elements, as well as a discussion on the nature of Smith’s renditions of the Minor Arcana versus those of historical or (overtly) occult packs. We then move along to the cards themselves, this time divided into four sections according to suit: Wands, Cups, Swords, and then Pentacles. Each section begins with the King and descends to the Ace. Substantially less space is given to each card in this section compared to the Major Arcana (usually about a page or two), but everything is still adequately covered. At the very least, it surpasses anything else I’ve read on the Minor Arcana.**

The final part is about reading with the cards. We are once again given an introduction, this time about the psychology of divination and Tarot, with a lengthy discussion about “common sense” and the value of lessons learned with the cards.

The bulk of Part Three is in the section about types of readings. In particular, Pollack presents us with the Celtic Cross spread, which is the best explanation of the spread that I’ve yet read; the “Work Cycle” spread, which is Pollack’s own invention and riffs on some of the patterns learned in the Cross; and a Kabbalistic Tree of Life spread. The entire book is wrapped up with a chapter on how to use readings and a chapter on what we learn from readings, both of which are fascinating and insightful.

~~~

*78 Degrees is the best RWS book. Lon Milo DuQuette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot is my go-to CHT reference, and Paul Huson’s Mystical Origins of the Tarot is an excellent resource on historical Tarots. Hajo Banzhaf’s Tarot and the Journey of the Hero is another phenomenal book, and I think the title says it all. Of course, I have read many other very fine books on the Tarot, but if I had to name what I consider to be my “essential reading” list, it would probably be these four.

**Such a shame. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about the Major Arcana, and this blog absolutely has more material by far about it; but the Majors cast quite a shadow, and the Minors are certainly worth an entire book in their own right.

The Complete Book of…

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, so I thought I’d publish a quick book review for the sake of keeping this site somewhat active.

First thing’s first: the title of this book is beyond stupid – Complete Book of Tarot Spreads. Not only is this a lie (I’m aware of many spreads that are not in this book), it’s the type of title that smacks of phony marketing ploys which would normally drive me away.* This is compounded by the subtitle “Includes 122 Layouts (!)”. I haven’t counted them, but if everything in this book is included in that number, then it’s a bit of a stretch, because there are several “spreads” that are really only one card, and several more that are better classified as “exercises” than proper spreads for divination. This title is meant to draw in suckers.

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I actually really like this book.

However, when I saw this in the bookstore, I flipped through it out of skeptical curiosity, and found that, in spite of the title, the content of the book seemed honest and practical enough to be genuinely useful to me. It helps to know (for me, at least) that this book was originally published in German with the title of Tarot Praxis, which translates to “Tarot Study” or “Tarot Practice.” It seems that it’s only in America that publishers feel the need to try and dupe people into buying things, as if we consumers weren’t intelligent enough to make a decision without a radical promise of some sort of exponential pay-off (I realize I may be overreacting slightly to this title, but I so resent the commercialism in this country – stop talking at me like I’m a fucking jackass!).

And it’s true, this book does offer more than just spreads – it offers practice, as well. It’s comprised of three sections, only one of which focuses on actual layouts.

The first section is called “Practicing Tarot”, and it consists of all kinds of handy and helpful advice for the modern Tarot reader, laid out in quick and easy chapters. There’s no history or exposition about the occult or the “woo” factor. The deck pictured on the cover is the RWS, but the book itself does not focus on any single version of the cards. It also tries to dispel many antiquated myths about Tarot reading, such as the idea that one cannot and should not read for him or herself. This book is cut-and-dry practical Tarot and nothing more. The language is somewhat terse, but it gets the job done, like a no-nonsense book should do (it is good, but by no means is it “complete”).

The second section is entirely about the layouts. There is little by way of explanation here; just pages upon pages of various spreads. This section is also divided into chapters, categorizing the spreads within to better facilitate easy look-up for any given situation. There are a few large and complex spreads here, but for the most part they are fairly simple, even to the point of being a bit generic at points. I’ve played with many of these spreads so far, and for the most part, I like them. As with the first section, they get the job done, and if they don’t for some reason, at least they provide basic templates for spread shapes and questions that can easily be tweaked by the individual. While not at all “complete” (yeah, I’m going to keep harping on that), this section is decently comprehensive, so that most of your everyday sorts of issues (and even some that go beyond the everyday) can be sorted out with its help, no problem.

The final section is called “Tarot & Astrology”, and is the shortest section by far. That’s pretty self-explanatory, I think, and most of this section is made up of various charts for astrological correspondences (the basic template used here is that of the Golden Dawn). It’s very convenient for quick reference, and this is the only section of the book that talks about anything that’s not strictly Tarot cards. Considering that, of all the systems applied over the years to the cards, astrology is probably by far the most common, this was a thoughtful addition to the book on the part of the authors.

I’ve been using this book a lot lately, and overall, I think it’s very good. It can probably be used with success by beginners and advanced Tarot readers alike.** In Germany, another use of the word “praxis” is to denote a rigorous practice test designed to help students pass the Abitur, which is essentially the equivalent of the SATs here in the US (albeit much more academically intense than our sad excuse for a college aptitude test – man, do I sound condescending. I guess I’m still fired up from my commercialism rant. It’s true, though, what I say about the SATs). With that in mind, this book is basically just a Tarot study guide, and as such, it is very well done.

But doggone-it, it is not complete.

* Anything that’s labelled “complete”, or “ultimate”, or worse yet, “the only (insert subject here) book you’ll need” always raises doubt in my mind. As a guitar player, I’ve seen many, many “ultimate” guides and “complete” books of tricks that promise virtuosity overnight. It’s total bullshit, and I’d never spend my money on it. Tarot cards are admittedly a bit different than musical instruments, and it seems that, although the literature available is overflowing with these sorts of titles, they do often have content in them worth reading. I just wish the publishers would dispense with these titles that are nothing more than empty promises. As good as some of these books really are, none of them could ever truly be “complete.”

**For the record, on the scale of Beginner – Intermediate – Advanced, I consider myself at the time of this writing to be somewhere in between Beginner and Intermediate as far as skill with card reading is concerned. So no, I can’t actually say with certainty that advanced readers would get something from this book, but I think it’s pretty good all the same.

Tarot Journals.

Ask anybody in the online Tarot community, and they will undoubtedly extol the benefits of keeping a trusty Tarot Journal. In many cases, this is the very second thing to be recommended to the Tarot newbie, only after the Tarot deck itself.

If this isn’t your first rodeo, chances are you’ve already got a notebook (or several) set aside for your own Tarot musings, and if not, it’s probably because you just can’t seem to keep up the habit of a journal, and not because it just never occurred to you. Judging from the books and forum threads and blogs I’ve read, it’s a fairly widespread practice.

Is journaling really all it’s cracked up to be?

Well, I can’t deny that it helped me when I was learning what the cards mean. It makes sense. Writing helps to reinforce what you’ve learned, which is why we take notes during a class. It also gives you a hard copy of what you’ve learned, so you can go back over it later on and further reinforce your memory.

Writing in general is a helpful way to organize your thoughts, work them out, and put them into words, which is something many people actually struggle with more than they’d probably admit (or perhaps even realize). Again, you also have the added benefit of being able to go back over what you’ve written afterwards, allowing for editing and revision to make sure everything’s coherent. I am a huge proponent of the written word as means of communication.

Yes, the ability to write is something we can blissfully take for granted in this day and age, and when it comes to something as complex and abstract as the Tarot, writing your thoughts down can be all the difference between an ever-deepening understanding of the cards and a stagnant repertoire of cookie-cutter definitions.

~~~

I remember when I first embarked on the quest to learn the Tarot (really not all that long ago). I was armed with only my Radiant Rider-Waite deck, its accompanying instructions booklet, and my copy of S.L.M. Mathers’ treatise on the cards. Little did I know what I was getting into at the time.

I was content to just wing it for a while, but as I started to really begin to understand what I was doing, it dawned on me that it was going to be tough to keep things straight in my mind. I used a small Moleskine notebook a relative had given me, and began to copy down the meanings of each card. It really did not take long at all until this little notebook was filled up with meanings, thoughts, spreads, and various other little tidbits of personalized Tarot stuff; before I knew it, my collection of both books and cards had expanded and I needed a new place to write my thoughts down, preferably one a bit larger than the Moleskine.

So I started over with a much larger (and cheaper than Moleskine) notebook. That one remains largely empty, however, and it’s only occasionally that I’ll add to it.

So that’s it? All this in favor of journals, and I don’t even keep up with my own?

Yes, and no. For one thing, I must admit that I am horrible at keeping journals. I love writing, but my journals rarely seem to stick. I’ve got many more partially full notebooks than I’ve got totally full ones. But in this particular instance, I stopped regularly writing in the notebook in favor of writing here. This site is my Tarot journal now, and it has been for a year.

I get far fewer hand cramps this way.

But even though I no longer keep a physical notebook as a repository for my musings, I do keep a couple of Tarot notebooks on hand that serve different purposes.

The one I use the most regularly is very similar to a typical journal in that I date the entries, but instead of recording my nebulous thoughts, I record my readings. I write the spread name, deck used, question asked, and any other relevant preliminary information (such as a runecast or helpful ritual), and then proceed to copy down the cards as they appeared in the spread, as well as any particular insights I have at the time. This allows me to go back and revisit readings I’ve done in the past. If I’m traveling with a Tarot deck, this is the notebook that will accompany me.

I also keep a notebook in which I copy down spreads that I’ve come across in my studies and liked. Most come from books, but some come from Tarot forums or other blogs, and I’ve got a couple in there that were made up by myself or my friends. Spreads are the only things that are written in this journal, and it sits on my shelf as a personalized index for me to peruse when I want to do a reading, but am not sure exactly which spread I feel like using.

Finally, I also keep a Tarot calendar, upon which I expounded in a previous post. This notebook is specific to only a couple decks, and works more as a home-made reference tool than as a journal, but I keep it with the others and so figured I’d mention it here, too.

~~~

I do think a journal is a valuable tool to the Tarot-er, beginner or otherwise, and if I never started this blog, I’d surely have gone a long way in filling up that second notebook by now. I wrote this post because I think that this topic is an important component of my Tarot practice, right next to the books I read and the cards I use. It’s not a subject that warrants regular updates, but for the sake of completeness, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to share a little about how I approach Tarot journaling.

Do you keep a Tarot journal? More than one? Is it really as widespread as books and blogs and forums would have the novice believe? Do you agree that it is a good habit to get into? Let me know with a comment, if you feel so inclined.

A Perpetual Calendar.

The Book of Days is a hard-bound calendar that I picked up recently. It’s very nice, with thick pages that withstand lots of ink, and it’s decorated with full-color and captioned images from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. This book is different than your average one-and-done calendar in another way, too: the days of each month are numbered, but are not assigned a weekday. This means that this particular calendar is not meant for a single year, but rather to keep track of yearly events regardless of what year it actually is. It’s marketed as a perpetual calendar to keep track of all the birthdays, anniversaries, and various other momentous occasions that take place from year to year, but I don’t care about any of that. I got it because I had in mind a better use for it: the Tarot.

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I was looking for something like this to replace the crummy old datebook in which I’d previously recorded the suggested dates for each Wildwood Tarot card (if you’re unfamiliar with the Wheel of the Year and how the Wildwood relates, you can check out my post about it here). Using green ink, I went through each page of the calendar and wrote down each card from the WWT on its respective date.

It occurred to me partway through this endeavor that I have at least one other deck with cards that can correspond with dates on a calendar: the Thoth Tarot. Using the astrological attributions for the court and small cards given in DuQuette’s book Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (which is far more user-friendly than Crowley’s own book and includes handy charts with exactly the information I needed for this project), I sat down and wrote the cards into their respective dates alongside the Wildwood (using black ink this time to more easily differentiate between the two in my calendar). I’ve yet to tackle the issue of the Major Arcana, although I plan on working through them shortly.

The result is now I have a perpetual Tarot calendar, simultaneously keeping track of the Earthly Wheel of the Year and the Heavenly Wheel of the Zodiac, and there’s still plenty of room left over should I find another Tarot that can similarly relate to a calendar.

Now it’s a simple matter for me to look up the date and find the cards of the day. It’s a fantastic way to get to know my cards on a more intimate level, or to focus my thoughts for each day. With the Wildwood, I’ve experienced great spiritual insight already by using it like a calendar, albeit sporadically, and this will only better facilitate that. I’m interested to begin to use the Thoth in this fashion, as well. And I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it would be interesting to draw a card from a third deck at random (a daily draw) and see how it relates to the WWT and the CHT cards of its day.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this on here in case anyone else found the idea of a Tarot calendar interesting. Fair warning, though: it’s meticulous work, and it can be somewhat tedious flipping through pages and writing down each card on its date. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, because it’s very easy to screw up. Trust me, I know from experience.

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I found masking tape to be an adequate solution for my blunders. There’s enough showing through to remind the jackass writing to PAY ATTENTION to what he’s doing in the future.

 

The Tarot: A Short Treatise…

In 1888, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the soon-to-be founders of the famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, penned a pamphlet entitled The Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading Cards. As it happens, this slim volume was also the very first book on the Tarot I ever owned, prior even to my first pack of cards.

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At the time, I was only aware of the Tarot insofar as Jimmy Page used it to illustrate Led Zeppelin IV. My curiosity had been piqued, yet many months passed before I began to actually learn anything about it. I took my first conscious step towards the Tarot one day when I found the above book in a local metaphysical shop in which I was browsing. Knowing next to nothing about the Tarot (or, for that matter, just how many books on the Tarot actually exist), I bought it, thinking it would be a good primer.

Considering the eventual influence the Golden Dawn’s occult attributions would come to have over the Tarot as we know it today, the content of this book is incredibly plain. There is very little in the way of hints that Mathers was on the verge of kickstarting a revolutionary wave of Tarot study. In fact, from what I can figure, most of this pamphlet is actually very derivative. The section on the history of the cards seems to be taken mostly from Court de Gebelin (*cough*egyptianmystics*cough*), and the sections on reading with the cards seem to have come mostly from Etteilla. There isn’t really anything wrong with this, except that neither of these sections are entirely accurate; nor even are they all that interesting to read, which is largely due, I think, to the haughty writing style of late nineteenth-century English occultists (you know what I mean if you’ve ever cracked the spines of Waite’s or Crowley’s books).

Indeed, Mathers had a lot going on behind the scenes that he hid quite well in this book (I had absolutely no idea whom I was reading when I got it, and was taken by surprise much later when I first began to learn about the Golden Dawn and Mathers’ role in it). This book is aimed at the general populace, the unenlightened masses, not the would-be initiates of secret Hermetic orders. This is made clear by the inclusion of trick-taking game rules side by side with rules for traditional Tarot cartomancy, as well as the fact that common Marseille-pattern cards are used to illustrate. Oh, there is a brief chapter that mentions the possibilities of occult connections, but it obscures rather than elaborates upon them. I sure as shit didn’t know what he was going on about when I first read it, anyway.

Would I recommend this book?

To the general Tarot enthusiast? Probably not. To the occult Tarot enthusiast? Again, not really. To the historical Tarot enthusiast? Maybe, although there isn’t much in this small book that can’t be learned elsewhere. To the beginner, like I was when I first found it? HA! Fat chance I’d recommend it to past me, now that I’ve got the benefit of hindsight.

And yet, despite the off-putting nature of this book, it did not deter me from continuing to study the cards. If anything, it left me dissatisfied but with enough of a kernel of curiosity remaining that I was actually all the more intrigued by the cards after reading this relic. It’s not a bad book, just unnecessary and a little outdated given all that’s currently available on the subject.

I certainly will never get rid of it. It’s so small and unobtrusive that my bookshelf has no problem accommodating it, not to mention the nostalgia factor of it being my first-ever Tarot book. And it can be handy as a quick reference of TdM keywords, for both Major and Minor Arcana. It’s a book I wouldn’t buy if I didn’t already own it, but since I do own it, I appreciate it for what it is. This unassuming little volume came at a crossroads in the history of the Tarot, the cusp of the swell that would come to bring the likes of the RWS and CHT to the shores of Etteilla and the TdM. And I think that’s kinda cool.