The Bookworm’s
Guide to Tarot
By James W. Revak


Idel, Moshe.  (1988).  Kabbalah: New Perspectives.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.  ISBN 0300146995.  xx + 271 pp. + extensive endnotes (118 pp.), biblio., indexes; softcover.
4 stars Advanced  TG
(Cabala – Jewish)
The author identifies, documents, and scrutinizes two major trends in traditional Jewish Cabala: the theosophical-theurgical and the ecstatic.  According to Idel, when the Cabalist explores God from the theosophical-theurgical perspective, he views the Divine within the context of the complexities and dynamism of the Sephiroth, interprets His commandments in a mystical manner, and may use techniques, including ritual and mizvot (good deeds), to induce a state of harmony between the Jewish community and the Divine.  By contrast, when the Cabalist explores God from the ecstatic perspective, he uses techniques, e.g., meditation on Hebrew letters or Divine names, to personally experience God and has as his ultimate goal, mystical union with Him.  Related topics explored in this academic study include other selected mystical techniques, hermeneutics, Cabala as culture, and, to a lesser extent, Jewish Cabalistic magic and Cabala’s influence on general European culture.  Unfortunately, this book lacks a bibliography; however, the numerous endnotes document the author’s sources.  A prior knowledge of Jewish Cabala, perhaps from Gershom Scholem’s Kabbalah (q.v.), will help the reader to appreciate better this work.

Innes, Brian.  (1976).  The Tarot: How to Use and Interpret the Cards.  London: Macdonald.  ISBN 051764651X.
• Republished (1987).  Crescent Books.  ISBN 051764651X.  88 pp. + biblio.; illus.; hardcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
Most of this short book is devoted to surveying the Major Arcana, which the author briefly explores from occult and other perspectives.  His treatment includes examining the cards with respect to Cabala and astrology, and presenting a history of both regular playing and Tarot cards.  However, the history is skimpy, dated, and often inaccurate.  The book also addresses divination, giving meanings for all cards (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation only); however, they are sketchy.  A strength of this large-format book is its attractive illustrations, mostly from a variety of decks.

Irwin, Lee.  (1998).  Gnostic Tarot: Mandalas for Spiritual Transformation.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 1578630304.  vii + 342 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
The author presents Tarot from a “gnostic” perspective, i.e., in his commentary, he emphasizes spiritual transformation, illumination, and meditation, relating the cards to both the outer natural world (macrocosm) and the reader’s inner awareness and spiritual awakening (microcosm).  Generally, he presents Tarot as a sophisticated tool for spiritual growth, rather than writing yet another book which presents the cards as a tool for purely psychological work or fortune-telling.  Irwin comments on each card in fair detail, providing keywords (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed), and specifically gnostic interpretations.  The author presents a few spreads and a brief history of Tarot. Unfortunately his history contains significant errors, misconceptions, and sometimes presents legends almost as though they were fact.  Each card is illustrated from the Ravenswood Tarot and a Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Jayanti, Amber.  (1988).  Living the Tarot: Applying Ancient Wisdom to the Challenges of Modern Living.  San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press.  xvi + 309 pp.; illus.
• Revised Ed. (2000).  Ware, Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wordsworth.  ISBN 1840225130.  ii + 411 pp. + appendices; illus.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TTT
The author, committed to the teachings of the esoteric organization Builders of the Adytum (BOTA), explores in detail how the reader can relate each Major Arcanum to his/her everyday life.  She cogently discusses the Arcana from philosophical, spiritual, and psychological perspectives, including what she terms the four gateways of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and wisdom.  However, she clearly emphasizes exploring practical lessons implied by the Arcana.  For each, she provides divinatory questions, relates personal experiences of herself and her students, and suggests practical ways to learn and integrate its wisdom of into your everyday life.  However, sometimes her observations and suggestions are simplistic and repetitive.  Additionally, she occasionally pontificates, confidently presenting BOTA’s interpretation of Cabala as though it was the only one.  Each Arcanum is illustrated from the BOTA Tarot Deck.  The author does not discuss the Minor Arcana. 

Jorgensen, Danny L.  (1992).  The Esoteric Scene, Cultic Milieu, and Occult Tarot.  New York: Garland.  ISBN 0815307691.  xii + 241 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.
4 Stars Advanced  TTT
This book is a fascinating, generally sympathetic, academic study of the esoteric subculture during the 1970s in the U.S., with special emphasis on Tarot and Tarotists from a sociocultural viewpoint.  The author’s findings are based on field research which he conducted while working as a professional card reader in southern California.  In this book he explores the esoteric scene, occult theosophies related to the cards, the social milieu of Tarotists and other occultists, their social networks, and his learning to read Tarot.  Jorgensen concludes that Tarot is an organized system of socially created knowledge which is subject to human interpretation and serves as the basis of such practices as divination.  However, he reports that he is unsure that the Tarot can predict specific events in a scientifically observable way.  The book is meticulously researched and well documented.


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Copyright © 2001 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  Version 2.0 (8/10/01).