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


O’Neill, Robert V..  (1986).  Tarot Symbolism.  Lima, OH: Fairway Press.  ISBN 0895369362.  front + 392 pp.; softcover.
4 stars Advanced  TTT
In this provocative and scholarly title, O’Neill explores what the Trumps and Fool may have meant to those who first created and used Tarot cards during the Italian Renaissance.  Turning to the ideas and culture of this period, he examines Tarot through the lenses of art, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, ancient mystery religions, Ancient Egypt, Hermeticism, Christian mysticism and heretical sects, Cabala, alchemy, numerology, astrology, and the Art of Memory.  He argues, and often persuasively, for a syncretic interpretation of the cards, which is well grounded in the moral and aesthetic values, sentiments, and knowledge base shared by many educated men and women of the Italian Renaissance.  In the process he sometimes discards popular myths for which he finds little or no evidence.  Unfortunately, the title lacks illustrations.  In addition, it lacks a bibliography and an index, which is surprising given the book’s frequent academic tone.  However, chapter endnotes provide significant documentation for readers who require it.

Ouspensky, P. D..  (1913/1976).  (A. L. Pogossky, Trans.).  The Symbolism of the Tarot: Philosophy of Occultism in Pictures and Numbers.  New York: Dover.  ISBN 0486232913.  ii + 63 pp.; illus.; softcover.
Originally published in Russian as a chapter in the author’s A New Model of the Universe: Principles of the Psychological Method in Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion, and Art.
2 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TTT
The author, a renowned Russian occultist, very briefly discusses the importance and nature of symbolism in Occultism or Western Esotericism, and introduces Tarot from this perspective.  He views the cards as a summary of the Hermetic sciences, including Cabala, alchemy, astrology, and magic.  The heart of the work, however, is his sequence of short, dream-like meditations on each of Major Arcanum.

Ozaniec, Naomi.  (1994).  The Element Tarot Handbook: An Initiation into the Key Elements of the Tarot.  Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element.  ISBN 185230488X.  viii + 167 pp. + appendix, glossary, endnotes, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
3 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TTT
The author describes the structure of the Tarot and its symbols and images, and briefly explores the cards (especially the Major Arcana) from the perspectives of Jungian psychology (including archetypes and mandalas) and Occultism or Western Esotericism (including Cabala and what she terms initiation).  The title also includes meditations on the Major Arcana, discusses divination (albeit very briefly), and suggests short exercises for exploring the cards.  Because the book is modest in length and includes significant introductory material, the author’s exploration of complex topics is sometimes simplistic.

Ozaniec, Naomi.  (1999).  The Illustrated Guide to Tarot.  New York: Sterling Publishing.  ISBN 0806971320.  127 pp + index; illus.; softcover.
1 star Beginning  TTT
This brief book is a poor introduction to Tarot.  It is visually attractive and includes handsome color reproductions of cards from a wide variety of decks and other sources.  Sadly, however, the reader cannot trust the picture captions; betraying poor editing, many of them are wrong or missing.  Relying on them, a beginning Tarotist could easily purchase a deck only to discover upon opening it, that it is the wrong pack.  The author and editor should be ashamed of the themselves.  Ozaniec briefly discusses the historical roots of Tarot, how to choose a deck, and the language of symbols; however, her treatment is skimpy and frequently superficial.  The bulk of the book is devoted to short explorations of each card, including sketchy divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  Ozaniec also presents a few spreads and other ways to use Tarot (visualization, meditation, and healing).  Buy the book for a beginning Tarotist whom you don’t like.

Papus (pseud. of Gérard Encausse).  (1889/1910).  (A. P. Norton, Trans.; A. E. Waite, Ed.).  The Tarot of the Bohemians: Absolute Key to Occult Science. (3d ed.).  London: Rider.  Originally published in French as Le Tarot des Bohémiens: Le plus ancien Livre du monde
• Republished.  (1970).  North Hollywood: Wilshire Book.  xv + 347 pp. + index; illus.; softcover  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Advanced  TTT
This historically important title comprises a challenging, in-depth look at Tarot by one of the great French occultists and magi of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Papus relates the cards to the Cabala (especially Tetragrammaton), astrology, numerology, theogony, androgony, cosmogony, and more.  He also briefly (and condescendingly) discusses divination by Tarot.  With regard to Tarot’s history, his views are generally unreliable and frequently characterized by unsubstantiated legends.  In addition, Papus’ style and manner of presentation are often turgid and confusing.  A prior knowledge of Tarot and Western Esotericism or Occultism will help one to understand and better appreciate this complex work.  The book also includes brief contributions by Oswald Wirth and F. Ch. Bartel.  Illustrations are from a Tarot de Marseille, Wirth’s rendition of the Major Arcana, and other sources.

Parfitt, Will.  (1988).  The Living Qabalah.  Shaftesbury, Great Britain: Element.
• Rev. Ed. (1995).  (With new title). The New Living Qabalah.  Rockport, MA: Element.  ISBN 1852306823.  xv + 232 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Beginning  T
(Cabala – Hermetic)
The author briefly introduces the Hermetic Cabala from an intellectual perspective in easy-to-understand terms.  Of equal importance, he invites the reader to experience Cabala firsthand through numerous suggested exercises and thought experiments.  Simple exercises include relaxation techniques, numerous kinds of meditation, visualization, experiments with vocalizations, techniques for training the Will, methods for improving the imagination, and basic rituals.  He presents such topics as the Sephiroth and Paths which connect them, the Tree of Life, the Four Worlds, Hebrew letters and numbers, numerological analysis, the Qlippoth, the Shekinah, the Negative Veils (Ain Soph, etc.), and correspondences.  The author also briefly explains the Cabala from psychological and magical perspectives.  He even explores divination and how Cabala can be related to Tarot.  However, his treatment of Tarot is superficial; this book will not teach you how to read cards.

Payne-Towler, Christine.  (1999).  The Underground Stream: Esoteric Tarot Revealed.  Eugene, OR: Noreah.  ISBN 096730430X.  vi + xxx pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
2 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This title is extraordinarily uneven.  On one hand, the author, a Gnostic Christian, is at her best when she defines and contrasts multiple systems of correspondences between Tarot, the Hermetic Cabala, the Greek alphabet, and astrology.  On the other hand, she is at her worst when she attempts to present the history of Tarot.  Payne-Towler explains in detail, comments upon, and contrasts nine significant systems of correspondences (including those endorsed by the Golden Dawn and Lévi) and several versions of the Tree of Life.  Unfortunately, her history of Tarot is particularly bad.  She frequently presents legends almost as though they were fact, fails to provide adequate documentation, applies faulty logic, and apparently has an inadequate knowledge of recent research into the history of Western Esotericism.  She fails to present significant support for her principal thesis: that Tarot, from its very beginnings, methodically enshrined the teachings of ancient mystery traditions, Hermeticism, and Cabala.  Her writing is generally clear but sometimes unpolished.

Pitois, Jean Baptiste.  See Paul Christian.

Pollack, Rachel. (1999). The Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot.  Shaftesbury, Dorset, Great Britain: Element Books.
• Republished (1999).  New York: Barnes and Noble.  ISBN 0760714576.  185 pp. + glossary, biblio., index; illus.; hardcover. This review is based on this version.
3 Stars Beginning  TTT
In this large-format, visually attractive book, the author skims the surface of Tarot, touching on numerous aspects, including its components, structure, and symbols.  Although she presents sundry well known myths about the cards, her brief history of Tarot is generally accurate and reflects up-to-date research.  Pollack briefly explores how to read Tarot, providing divinatory meanings (albeit sketchy) for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed) and a few spreads.  She also relates the cards to Cabala in an easy-to-understand manner and suggests other uses for the cards and Tarot-related projects, including making your own deck, storytelling, meditation, magic, and working with what she terms personality, soul, and year cards.  The book is richly and colorfully illustrated from numerous sources, including a wide variety of decks from traditional to trendy.  The significant drawback to the title is its extremely basic and introductory nature; many users will probably rapidly outgrow it.

Pollack, Rachel.  (1980).
[1] Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part I, the Major Arcana.  Amsterdam: Uitgeverij W. N. Schors.
[2] Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: Part II, the Minor Arcana and Readings.  Aquarian Press.  See the author’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot.
• Collected, revised, and republished.  (1997).  Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot.  London: HarperCollins.  ISBN 0722535724.  xiv + 349 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
4 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TTT
This popular title comprises an insightful introduction to interpreting Tarot.  Breaking new ground and setting an example for many later authors, Pollack presents rich, down-to-earth discussions of lessons and wisdom which each card may hold.  Her gift for providing easy access to multiple layers of meaning relevant to many contemporary Tarotists has helped to ensure the success of this book.  The author also includes brief divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation). To a lesser extent, she explores reversed cards, card spreads, and how to do readings.  Her writing is lucid, fresh, and often richly evocative.  However, the book is weak with regard to traditional Occultism or Western Esotericism, especially as depicted in the Rider-Waite Smith deck with which each card is illustrated.  A few cards are also illustrated from other decks.

Poncé, Charles.  (1973).  Kabbalah: An Introduction and Illumination for the World Today.  San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books.
• Republished (1978[?]).  Wheaton Illinois: Quest Books.  ISBN 0835605108.  278 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TG
(Cabala – General)
This author makes a good faith effort to survey Jewish Cabala albeit sometimes from an untraditional perspective.  However, his use of numerous illustrations which depend from the Christian Hermetic Cabalas (including magic and Tarot) are simply misleading; they give the unweary reader the mistaken impression that they depict traditional Jewish Cabala.  The author presents a brief summary of selected traditional and mystical literature of the Jewish religion (e.g., the Sefer Yezirah [q.v.] and Zohar) and explores the basic nature and origins of the Cabala.  He continues with his views on selected Cabalistic ideas and doctrines, including Ain Soph, the Sefiroth and Paths connecting them, the Tree of Life, Adam Kadmon, numerological analysis, and the nature of the soul.  He concludes with observations concerning the importance and meaning of Cabala to the contemporary world.  Works in Hebrew are absent from the bibliography, which implies that the author lacks expertise in this language and may have relied on secondhand sources.


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