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


Kaplan, Aryeh.  (1990).  Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
• Rev. Ed. (1997).  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877288550.  xxvi + 256 pp. + appendices, endnotes, index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Advanced  TG
(Cabala – Jewish)
The heart of this extraordinarily insightful and erudite work is Kaplan’s translation and extensive commentary on the the Sefer Yezirah (q.v.).  The author presents the original Hebrew, his concise translation, and detailed exegesis.  Citing numerous, well-documented Jewish authorities, he sheds valuable light on possible meanings of each passage of this often mysterious and obscure text.  Essentially, Kaplan views Yezirah as “a meditative text, with strong magical overtones” and finds support for his position in early Talmudic traditions and elsewhere.  Topics addressed in detail also include alternate translations, the Sephiroth, mystical and esoteric interpretations of the Hebrew alphabet (including multiple astrological correspondences), and application of the alphabet for meditative and magical purposes.  The author notes that scholars have often interpreted Yetzirah in ways different from his, and implies that they have failed to penetrate the text fully.  However, he fails to explain exactly why his interpretation better captures the meaning of the text.

Kaplan, Stuart R..  (1978).  The Encyclopedia of Tarot: Volume I.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 0913866113.  xvi + 346 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This large-format, profusely illustrated title is an invaluable reference guide to Tarot decks and their history from the early fifteenth through twentieth centuries.  The author, president of U.S. Games Systems, a major publisher of Tarot decks, cites and quotes from numerous early documentary references to Tarot and regular playing cards.  Referencing many illustrations, he discusses the Visconti-Sforza and other early hand-painted decks in detail.  He also presents numerous printed cards from the earliest to the recent, from traditional to trendy, those used for gaming and those used for esoteric purposes.  The author even briefly discusses how to use the cards for divination.  In the weakest part of the book Kaplan uncritically summarizes many unsubstantiated legends concerning the origins of Tarot so that some sound almost like fact.  The book includes an extensive annotated bibliography.  Volume two of this encyclopedia was published separately (see next title). 

Kaplan, Stuart R..  (1986).  The Encyclopedia of Tarot: Volume II.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 0913866369.  xiv + 504 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This large-format, profusely illustrated volume is an invaluable reference guide to Tarot decks.  The author explores the cards and their history (from the early fifteenth through nineteenth centuries), and discusses Visconti-Sforza cards which were discovered after publication of his The Encyclopedia of Tarot: Volume I (see preceding title).  He profiles selected members of the Visconti and Sforza families, and artist Bonifacio Bembo, to whom many of the Visconti-Sforza cards are attributed, and examines in detail early symbolism, sequences, and titles of the Trumps and Fool.  Other subjects include Tarot cardmakers and the identification of Tarot cards.  Kaplan also presents a wide variety of other pre-twentieth-century decks not referenced in volume one, and an extensive annotated bibliography of works, likewise not referenced in the earlier volume.

Kaplan, Suart R.  (1970).  Tarot Cards for Fun and Fortune Telling: Illustrated Guide to the Spreading and Interpretation of the Popular 78-Card 1JJ Deck of Muller & Cie, Switzerland.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 0913866024.  95 pp. + biblio.; illus.; hardcover.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
Kaplan provides brief, generally clear divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed) and directions for a few of spreads.  However, his divinatory meanings are sometimes skimpy and dated.  In addition, the book is very weak with regard to traditional Western Esotericism or Occultism.  Each card is illustrated from the 1JJ Tarot Deck.  Although the author wrote the book with this deck in mind, he unfortunately has virtually nothing to say about its history.

Kaplan, Suart R.  (1972).  Tarot Classic.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 0913866172.  xv + 203 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
Kaplan provides brief, generally clear divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed) and directions for a few of spreads.  However, his divinatory meanings are sometimes skimpy and dated.  The author presents a short history of Tarot with illustrations from a variety of historic decks, including Tarot Classic, and concisely relates the cards to Cabala and other aspects of Western Esotericism or Occultism.  However, he uncritically presents some legends almost as though they are fact, and has little to say about the history of Tarot Classic, the deck for which he wrote the book.

King, Francis.  (1970).  Ritual Magic in England: 1887 to the Present Day.  London: Neville Spearman.
• Rev. Ed.  (1989).  (With new title.).  Modern Ritual Magic: The Rise of Western Occultism.  Bridport, Dorset, Great Britain: Prism Press.  ISBN 1853270326.  192 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TG
Essentially, this title is a brief survey of Western or Hermetic magic from the late nineteenth through twentieth centuries with emphasis on England.  After a quick look at seventeenth-century Rosicrucianism, King discusses the impact of the French magus Lévi on nineteenth-century Rosicrucian Masons in England, and describes the founding of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (1865).  He presents in modest detail the history and flamboyant personalities of the influential magical order of the Golden Dawn from its founding (1888), through its growth and expansion, crises and decline in the early twentieth century, and successor organizations (including the Builders of the Adytum [BOTA]).  He discusses the impact of Crowley on magic and his leadership role in multiple magical orders, and examines briefly the work of Austin Spear and growth of contemporary witchcraft (Wicca).  For the most part, King appears to know his subjects and sources well; however, the book is weak with regard to detailed documentation.  Additionally, the author occasionally dwells too long on sensational anecdotes, often ignores or mentions only in passing important developments outside England, and says little about the impact of New Age thought and spirituality.

Kliegman, Isabel Radow.  (1997).  Tarot and the Tree of Life: Finding Everyday Wisdom in the Minor Arcana.  Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.  ISBN 083560747X.  xxv + 219 pp.; illus.; softcover.
2 stars Beginning  TTT
This author presents a brief, simple overview of the Hermetic Cabala and relates it to the Minor Arcana.  She discusses each Arcanum in detail with special emphasis on the Cabalistic Tree of Life and imagery from a Rider-Waite-Smith deck with which each is illustrated.  Kliegman presents not so much divinatory meanings as lessons which each card may hold, especially regarding everyday life.  However, sometimes her attempts to relate specific cards to Cabala are superficial and forced; she rarely references the copious Cabalalistic literature, including the works of Waite, who designed the deck she consistently references.  Additionally, her occasional references to Tarot history are riddled with errors.

Knight, Gareth.  (1991).  The Magical World of the Tarot: Fourfold Mirror of the Universe.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877288739.  iv + 204 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Beginning  TTT
This excellent book is a methodical introduction to reading and meditating on Tarot cards.  It is one of few titles which integrates intellectual and intuitive approaches to learning Tarot.  Like many introductory books, this one explains each card in fair detail (including brief divinatory meanings).  However, the author also recommends methods for meditating on the cards, including vivid visualization, to understand them in a personal, intuitive manner.  Knight also explores the basics of divination (including a few spreads) and addresses common concerns of new students in a question-and-answer format.  He closes with suggestions for advanced study.  The book is meant primarily to be used with a Tarot de Marseille (from which come many of its illustrations), but may be adapted for use with other decks.

Kraig, Michael Donald.  (1988).  Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts.  St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
• Second Ed. (1998).  St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.  ISBN 0875423248.  xvi + 509 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Beginning to Intermediate  T
This popular title is an excellent introduction to the practice of Western or Hermetic magic.  Drawing heavily on the teachings of the Golden Dawn, Crowley, and others, the author lucidly explains the basic principles and philosophy underlying magic, including Cabala, the Four Elements, the Astral Plane, varieties of magic (e.g., White, Black, Grey, high, and low), and, to a lesser extent, he discusses Neopagan magic.  He explains in detailed step-by-step fashion how to begin to practice magic, including meditation, pathworking, affirmations, visualization, construction and use of props, and basic rituals (rites of banishing and invoking, Crowley’s solar adorations, tracing sigals, charging talismans, goetic evocation, and selected uses of Enochian texts).  He even devotes a chapter to sex magic.  Unfortunately, the author occasionally fails to explain clearly the history and deeper meanings of some procedures and texts.  Kraig strongly believes in the value of studying Tarot for purposes of divination and meditation and suggests how to integrate it into one’s magical practice.  Although he dismisses many unsubstantiated legends about the cards, his history of Tarot is often inaccurate.  Unfortunately, some significant topics are missing from the index.

Leland, Charles G..  (1899).  Aradia: Gospel of the Witches.  London: D. Nutt.
• Republished (1996).  Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing.  ISBN 0919345107.  xv + 98 pp. +  appendices; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 StarsIntermediate  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
In this brief title the author reports on the purported survival of an ancient witch cult in nineteenth-century Italy.  Principally relying on the testimony of an Italian peasant woman, who identified herself as a member of the cult, the author describes the cult’s mythological origins (which is closely associated with Aradia, the daughter of Diana) and its practices and rites (including meetings or sabbats, conjurations, and spells).  The author, a collector of folklore, often quotes the poetic invocations and chants of members of the cult, presenting them in Italian and English translation.  He also relates narratives or folk tales associated with this group.  However, the author presents no reliable evidence for his claims, and most modern anthropologists have long rejected this work – and rightly so  – as a fraud perpetrated by him or his informant.  Nevertheless, the book possesses rustic charm and has inspired many Neopagans, especially Wiccans (modern witches).

Lévi, Eliphas (psued. for Alphonse-Louis Constant).  (1860/1913).  (A.E. Waite, Trans.).  The History of Magic: Including a Clear, and Precise Exposition of Its Procedures, Rites and Mysteries.  London: Rider.  Originally published as Histoire de la magie, avec une exposition claire et précise de ses procédés, de ses rites et de ses mystères.
• Republished (no date).  Kila, MT: Kessinger.  ISBN 1564594041.  xxxvi + 525 pp. + appendix, index; illus; sofcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  T
This title surveys, albeit often unreliably, the history of magic, especially in Western Europe.  The author recounts the origins and development of magic in the ancient world and in light of Christian revelation.  He covers the Middle Ages, (the Knights Templar, Albertus Magnus, Raymond Lull), the Renaissance, ( Trithemius, Agrippa von Nettesheim, the Rosicrucians), the eighteenth century (Freemasonry, Martinism, Saint-Germain, Cagliostro, Etteilla and Tarot, and Mesmer), and the nineteenth century (e.g., Wronski and Pierre Vintras).  Unfortunately, this sprawling work is poorly organized and documented.  The author frequently presents unsubstantiated legends almost as though they were fact; his writing is often characterized by factual errors, sensationalism, and lack of documentatoin.  Despite its subtitle, the book is not a practical guide.  Although this version is durable and readable it is a photocopy.

Lévi, Eliphas (psued. for Alphonse-Louis Constant).  (1854, 1855 / 1910).  (A. E. Waite, Trans.).  Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual.  Chicago: The Occult Publishing House.  xxiv + 400 pp. + appendix, index; illus.  Originally published in two volumes as: Dogme de la haute magie (1854) and Rituel de la haute magie (1855).
• Republished (no date).  Kila, MT: Kessinger.  ISBN 0766102971.  xxiv + 400 pp. + appendix, index; illus.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  T
This title comprises Lévi’s major statement on magic.  Thanks, in significant part to it, the magus helped to popularize and reform magic as respectable spiritual path.  Although the author devotes only a modest portion of his book to Tarot, what he wrote has had lasting impact, e.g., his system of Tarot-Cabala correspondences and descriptions of the symbolic content of the cards.  He explores such other topics as the macrocosm and microcosm, magical equilibrium, alchemy, the Astral Body and Light, astrology, magical tools, evoking spirits, and black magic.  However, he provides little in the way of practical, detailed rituals, and his style is sometimes confusing, turgid, and dated.  One must read this book carefully and cautiously; the author is prone to ambiguity, sensationalism, and factual error.  Still, it is a seminal work which inspired many later magi.  Although this version of the book is durable and readable it is a photocopy.

Lewis, James R. (Ed.).  (1996).  Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.  ISBN 0791428907.  vi + 406 pp. + index; softcover.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopagan)
This title is a fascinating collection of brief articles, frequently but not always, academic in tone, concerning many aspects of Neopaganism.  Topics include characteristics of emerging “nature spirituality” (including Wicca or modern witchcraft), types of Wiccans and other Neopagans, magic (generally and as metaphor), ritual (generally and as folk art), the history of Neopaganism (an examination of facts versus myths), the reconstruction of Ásatrú or Germanic or Norse religion, Christianity and Neopaganism in relation to each other, ethics, and literature reviews.  The articles are by committed Neopagans, who typically explore their religious path in an intelligent, frank, and well disciplined manner; most articles are well reasoned and documented.  Together they give the reader an insightful overview of present day Neopaganism.

Lotterhand, Jason C.  (1989).  (Arisa Victor, Ed.).  The Thursday Night Tarot: Weekly Talks on the Wisdom of the Major Arcana.  North Hollywood, CA: Newcastle.  ISBN 0878771476.  xxv + 349 pp. + glossary; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This excellent book comprises highlights from approximately 220 public classes concerning the Major Arcana conducted by the author over several years.  Lotterhand, commited to the teachings of the Builders of the Adytum (BOTA), explores each Arcanum in depth from a Western Esoteric or Occult perspective, with special emphasis on the Hermetic Cabala.  He also explores the cards from the vantage point of current events, psyschology, and Eastern religion and philosophy.  He easily gives equal time to discussing practical lessons held by the cards, and how individuals may integrate and apply their wisdom to everyday life.  He typically presents his views in a personable, down-to-earth, conversational manner.  However, too often he fails to identify clearly the authorities which he cites and to explain why they deserve our trust.  Similarly, he occasionally pontificates, confidently presenting BOTA’s interpretation of Cabala as though it was the only one.  Each Arcanum is illustrated from the BOTA Tarot.  The author does not discuss the Minor Arcana.

Louis, Anthony.  (1996).  Tarot Plain and Simple.  St. Paul: Llewellyn.  ISBN 1567184006.  ix + 296 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Beginning  TTT
Louis provides generally clear, detailed, fairly comprehensive meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed) in this guide to divination by Tarot.  The meanings, which are concisely expressed, are, nevertheless, especially rich, up-to-date, and insightful for purposes of contemporary divination.  Some of the categories which the author uses for them are: key words and phrases, situation and advice, and people.  To a lesser extent, he explores card spreads, reading the cards, and relationships between Tarot and astrology and numerology.  The author’s writing is lucid and generally on target.  However, the title is weak with regard to traditional Occultism or Western Esotericism.  Each card is illustrated from The Robin Wood Tarot.  Strangley, however, Louis does not specifically comment on the symbolism of this deck.

Luhrmann, T.M..  (1989).  Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England.  Oxford, Great Britain: Basil Blackwell.
• Republished (1991).  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  ISBN 0674663241.  x + 356 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Intermediate to Advanced  T
(Magic, Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
Luhrmann, a trained anthropologist, who thoroughly immersed herself and participated in the contemporary milieu of magic (the “Western Mystery Tradition”) and modern witchcraft (Wicca) in England, explores this world in this fascinating, generally academic study.  She describes in rich detail the magical worldview (including, briefly, astrology and Tarot), common practices (meditation, visualization, ritual, use of symbolism), how participants justify their behavior in the face of sceptics, and how they come to accept beliefs which outsiders may find outlandish or irrational.  Among her many insights, she concludes that practitioners are “searching for powerful and imaginative religious experience, but not for religion per se”, and accept their beliefs through “interpretive drift”, i.e., a slow, often unacknowledged shift in their interpretation of events.  However, a significant number of practitioners might disagree with these findings.  More generally, the author argues that anthropologists should assume as little as possible about their subjects’ thoughts and actions, and strive to describe accurately their subjects’ experiences and activities, and how subjects interpret and rationalize them.


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