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


Mann, Sylvia.  (1966).  Collecting Playing Cards.  New York: Crown Publishing.  201 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.
3 Stars Level  T
(Playing Cards)
This is one of few English-language books about collecting playing cards (including early Tarot).  The author identifies and uses numerous illustrations to define standard suit-systems and playing card patterns of Europe, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Germany, the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Switzerland.  She continues with nonstandard patterns of Europe, including, briefly, fortune-telling packs.  The author suggests ways to obtain and identify noteworthy cards and organize one’s collection.  She discusses early Tarot decks which were used for gaming purposes (e.g., the Tarot de Marseille); she does not discuss Tarot decks created specifically for esoteric purposes.  She presents a brief history of cards; however, it is understandably dated.  Unfortunately, her treatment of cards outside Europe, including the New World, is skimpy.

Masino, Marcia.  (1987).  Easy Tarot Guide.  San Diego: ACS Publications.  ISBN 0917086597.  xvii + 237 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
3 Stars Beginning  TTT
This title provides a sound introduction to divination by Tarot. The author discusses each card briefly, including its imagery, symbolism, and interpretation (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  To a lesser extent, the author explores choosing and phrasing questions, the Celtic Cross spread, and keeping a Tarot diary.  Each lesson is followed by a brief quiz which the reader may complete to monitor his/her progress.  On the other hand, the book is weak with regard to traditional Occultism or Western Esotericism.  Each card is illustrated from a Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Master Therion, The.  See Aleister Crowley.

Mathers, S. L. MacGregor.  (1888).  The Tarot: Its Occult Signification, Use in Fortune-Telling, and Method of Play.  London.
• Republished.  (1993).  (New subtitle).  The Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading Cards.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877287546.  i + 85 pp. + biblio. by ed.; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
This brief work by a co-founder of the Golden Dawn is almost certainly the first published English-language treatment of the esoteric Tarot.  The author devotes most of his attention to utilization of the cards for divination.  He provides very brief key words and phrases for each one (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed) and suggests a couple of layouts.  However, some of the key words and phrases are dated and probably no longer popular with the typical Tarotist.  Mathers very briefly discusses the cards from a Cabalistic perspective, gives rules for playing the game of Tarot, and presents a very short history of the cards.  However, his history is dated and often includes unsubstantiated legends as though they were fact. 

Mathers, S.L. MacGregor.  See also Book “T” – The Tarot.

McIntosh, Christopher.  (1972).  Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival.  London: Rider.  ISBN 0091122716.  224 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TT
(Biography, Magic, Occultism or Western Esotericism)
After a brief introduction to the beginnings of the French occult revival (including Martine de Pasqually and Mesmer), the author devotes a significant portion of this well documented study to an objective and generally sympathetic biography of the nineteenth-century magus, Alphonse-Louis Constant, better known by his pseudonym, Eliphas Lévi.  He describes Lévi’s colorful career as clergyman (he served briefly as a Catholic deacon), political radical, artist, and occultist.  McIntosh rightly argues that Lévi, despite his sensationalism and other faults, was a key figure in modern occultism.  He documents how, by his activities and writings, he spearheaded the modern revival of magic as a spiritual path and significantly influenced the development of Tarot.  The author succinctly examines other prominent figures of the occult revival, including Wronski, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Péladan, Stanislas de Guaita, Oswald Wirth, Papus, and J.-K. Huysmans.  Unfortunately, the book is brief given the breath and complexity of its subject; therefore, the author’s portraits sometime lack detail and richness.

Moakley, Gertrude.  (1966).  The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family: An Iconographic and Historical Study.  New York: The New York Public Library.  115 pp. + biblio.; illus.; hardcover.
4 stars Advanced
In this scholarly title, the author traces the history of the Visconti-Sforza deck and what the Trumps and Fool may have meant to the original owners and the Renaissance mind generally.  Carefully documenting her sources, she attributes most of the cards to the artist Bembo, dates them to the mid-fifteenth century, and corrects selected prior misconceptions about them by Leopoldo Cicognara and others.  She discusses the Visconti-Sforza, the family for which the cards were made, including its role in the politics and culture of the Italian Renaissance.  The author analyses each Trump and the Fool in detail, frequently relating them to the cultural milieu of the time, including processions called triumphs (celebrated by Petrarch and other Renaissance Italians) and festivities related to carnival.  Breaking new ground, Moakley set a high standard for the study of Tarot history.  Although her theories have sometimes been challenged and Tarot history has advanced in recent decades, her book, to a significant degree, holds up well.  All cards from the Visconti-Sforza deck are illustrated.

Murray, Margaret A..  (1931).  The God of the Witches.  London: Samspson, Low, Marston. 
• Republished (1931).  New York: Oxford University Press.  ISBN 0195012704.  197 pp. + endnotes, index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Intermediate  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
This is the second of two books by Murray about witchcraft as a purportedly ancient religion.  In this title she briefly traces the history of what she calls the “Old Religion”, throughout Europe and the Near East from prehistory, through the Middle Ages, to relatively modern times.  This anthropologist briefly discusses aspects of this pre-Christian religion, including its deity (the Horned God), connections between witches and fairies, its organization (including covens), its rites and ceremonies (admission, covenants, dances, magic, spells), its seasonal festivals (sabbats), the position of the witch in society, and the sacrifice of the “divine victim”.  The author’s interpretation of her sources is controversial; most modern anthropologists rightly reject her central thesis: witchcraft is an ancient religion which survived into modern times.  Nevertheless, this book and her The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (see directly below) have inspired many Neopagans, including Wiccans; some even accept Murray’s thesis as fact.

Murray, Margaret A..  (1921).  The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.  Oxford, Great Britain: Clarendon.
• Republished (1996).  New York: Barnes and Noble.  ISBN 0760700591.  237 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
This is the first of two books by Murray about witchcraft as a purportedly ancient, pre-Christian religion.  Referencing many historic sources (chiefly British), this anthropologist discusses in detail many aspects of Western European witchcraft, including its God (which may incarnate as a man, woman, or animal, and was sometimes called the Devil by non-witches), admission or initiation, its assemblies (sabbaths and esbats), and its rites and ceremonies (paying homage to the leaders of the cult, dancing, feasting, sacrificing the “divine animal”, rain-making, and ensuring fertility).  She also discusses its organization by covens and use of familiars.  The author’s interpretation of her sources is controversial; most contemporary anthropologists reject her central thesis: witchcraft is an ancient religion which survived into modern times.  Nevertheless, this book and the author’s The Witch-Cult in Europe (see directly above) have inspired many Neopagans, including Wiccans; some even accept Murray’s thesis as fact.

Nichols, Sallie.  (1980).  Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877285152.  xv + 385 pp. + endnotes; illus.; softcover.
3 Stars Intermediate
The author analyzes the Major Arcana in detail from a personal perspective, drawing upon psychology, mythology, literature, art, contemporary events, and more.  She gives her readers much food for thought; her insights are often compelling and lucidly explained.  However, they are also sometimes unconvincing, poorly documented, and reflect a mediocre grasp of Tarot history.  Additionally, despite the book’s subtitle, Nichols only occasionally discusses the cards from a strictly Jungian perspective.  The book also explores divination by Tarot – albeit very briefly.  A strength of the book are its illustrations, which are drawn from diverse sources, including Tarot decks, artwork, and contemporary photography.

Noble, Vicki.  (1983). (With a forward dated 1994).  Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess Through Myth, Art, and Tarot.  New York: HarperCollins.  ISBN 0062510851.  xi + 249 pp. + endnotes, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Beginning to Intermediate
This book is extraordinarily uneven.  On one hand, it serves as an excellent guide to the Motherpeace Round Tarot by Noble and Karen Vogle; regular users of this feminist or matriarchal deck will almost certainly benefit from this book.  On the other hand, its analysis of history and society is simplistic, flawed, and poorly documented.  Noble’s views are, to a great degree, based on dubious research and unsubstantiated legends.  Far too often she sees the world in black and white terms.  Specifically, she preaches that patriarchy is evil and responsible for virtually all humankind’s significant problems, while matriarchy, including Goddess spirituality, is good and humankind’s only hope for a better future.  With regard to the Motherpeace deck, the author presents an illustration of each card and explains it in detail from cultural, mythological, and especially feminist perspectives.  She also suggests divinatory meanings implied by each card.  Vogle briefly discusses how Tarotists may read the cards on their own or in groups or use them for what she terms “creating a new mythology”.


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