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


Waite, A.E..  (1924).  The Holy Kabbalah: A Study of the Secret Tradition in Israel.  London: Westfriar’s Press.
• Republished (1996).  London: Oracle Publishing.  ISBN 1861960026.  xxv + 560 pp. + appendices, index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
3 Stars Advanced  TG
(Cabala – General)
In this lengthy study, which is Waite’s major statement on Cabala, he makes a good faith effort to survey Jewish Cabala, and to present and comment upon its fundamental ideas.  He documents his understanding of its history, literature, major interpreters (e.g., Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria) and impact on Christian scholars (e.g., Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, and Agrippa von Nettesheim) and “The Secret Tradition” (Esotericism).  He discusses important traditional texts, including the Sepher Yezirah (q.v.) and Zohar and ideas central to them, including the Sephiroth and Shekinah.  Ultimately, Waite justifiably rejects many positions taken by Lévi, Papus, Mathers and other occultists, including their notions that many esoteric practices or institutions (e.g., goetic magic, alchemy, astrology, Freemasonry, and, to a lesser extent, Tarot) were firmly founded on or integral to Jewish Cabala.  On the other hand, he argues unconvincingly that the Shekinah symbolizes, first and foremost, the sanctity of sex.  This and similar conclusions are questionable; Waite lacked expertise in Hebrew and had to rely on secondary sources.  Sometimes he is long-winded and casts a pall over his own ideas.

Waite, A. E.  (1909).  (3rd Ed.).  A Manual of Cartomancy and Occult Divination.  Originally published under the author’s pseudonym, Grand Orient.
• Republished (no date).  Kila, MT: Kessinger Publishing.  ISBN 1564594343.  xii + 249 pp.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Beginning  T
This title describes numerous methods of divination, including brief instructions for use of Tarot (Major Arcana only) and regular playing cards.  Other methods include The Oracle of Human Destiny, The Golden Wheel of Fortune, and The Book of the Secret World and the Higher Way to Fortune.  Additional topics include astrology, numerology, finding lucky numbers with dice, determining lucky and unlucky days, the influences of precious stones, and interpretation of dreams.  Although this version of the book is durable and readable it is a photocopy.

Waite, A. E.  (1911).  The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition Under the Veil of Divination.  London: Rider.  This title has been republished numerous times (for only one example, see immediately below).
• Republished.  (no date).  New York: Barnes and Noble.  xii + 316 pp. + biblio.; illus.; hardcover.  The following review is based on this version. 
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
Some Tarotists consider this seminal, well-known title the definitive guide to Rider-Waite-Smith decks; if you use one of them, you will eventually want to explore this challenging work.  In it, the author relates Tarot to Occultism or Western Esotericism, including his understanding of Christianity and Cabala, and provides divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  However, be forewarned: newcomers often find it confusing and ambiguous.  Sometimes Waite only hints at important ideas and doctrines, which underlie his and Pamela Colman Smith’s deck specifically and Tarot generally; understanding his oblique references often requires patience and previous knowledge of Occultism or Western Esotericism.  Although Waite’s understandably dated history of Tarot contains errors, for its time, it was remarkably accurate.  The book is illustrated with the popular Rider-Waite-Smith designs.

Wang, Robert.  (1978).  An Introduction to The Golden Dawn Tarot: Including the Original Documents on Tarot from the Order of the Golden Dawn with Explanatory Notes.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877283702.  143 pp. + biblio., appendices, index; illus.; softcover.
3 stars Intermediate  TTT
This title is as an introductory handbook to the author’s Golden Dawn Tarot deck.  Wang very briefly traces the history of the cards with special emphasis on the role played by the Golden Dawn, an influential organization of occultists active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and relates Tarot to Cabala and astrology.  Of equal importance, the title includes major excerpts from the Golden Dawn document Book “T” – The Tarot (q.v.).  These detailed excerpts present selected significant aspects of the order’s approach to Tarot (including descriptions of cards, divinatory techniques and meanings, and its relationship to astrology and Cabala).  Each card from the author’s deck is illustrated.

Wang, Robert.  (1983).  The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877286728.  xviii + 262 pp. + appendix, endnotes, index; illus.; softcover.
4 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This excellent title comprises a solid presentation of Tarot, especially as it relates to the Hermetic Cabala, astrology, the Golden Dawn, and the work of Waite and Crowley.  After a clear introduction to Cabala, the author, often citing well known Tarotists, discusses each card in detail and frequently focuses on subtle esoteric issues (including Cabalistic and astrological correspondences, Occult or Western Esoteric philosophy, and analysis of symbols on cards from selected decks).  However, he also includes divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation).  Considering the complexity of the subject, the author’s writing is generally lucid.  The title is illustrated with cards from a Tarot de Marseille, the Thoth Tarot Deck, a Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the author’s own Golden Dawn Tarot, and other sources.

Westcott, W. Wynn.  (March, August 1891; April, 1893).  (Three articles concerning Cabala, titles unknown).  Lucifer, VIII(43), VIII(48), XII(68).
• Collected and republished (1997).  The Kabbalah of the Golden Dawn.  Edmond, WA: Holmes Publishing.  ISBN 155818368X.  36 pp. illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Beginning  TG
(Cabala – Hermetic)
This booklet comprises articles which provide a brief, simple introduction to selected aspects of the Hermetic Cabala, especially as taught by the Golden Dawn, an influential group of esotericists active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It necessarily barely skims the surface because of its brevity.  Westcott, a co-founder of the Golden Dawn, presents a sketchy history of Cabala and very briefly discusses the Sephiroth and Paths connecting them and the Tree of Life.  The author strives to show that Cabala is closely related to the “Secret Doctrine” (i.e., Esotericism in general) and the teachings of the Theosophical Society.  These articles, originally lectures delivered to this influential society dedicated to Esotericism, are of historic importance; however, they are skimpy and dated.

Williams, Brian.  (1994).  A Renaissance Tarot: A Guide to the Renaissance Tarot.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 088079545X.  ix + 171 pp. + biblio., references, index; illus.; softcover.
3 stars Beginning  TTT
This title is a handbook to the author’s Renaissance Tarot; regular users of this deck will benefit from it.  Of equal importance, it is , in part, a brief, readable, and generally accurate introduction to Tarot history with special emphasis on the cards’ origins during the Italian Renaissance.  The author explores Tarot from the perspectives of allegory, mythology, symbols, and narratives.  He examines each Major Arcanum in detail, frequently referencing illustrations from early decks, Renaissance art, and other sources.  Unfortunately, he fails to summarize his findings cogently to provide a meaningful interpretation of Tarot as a whole.  The book illustrates each card from the author’s deck and he explains them in modest detail.  To a lesser extent, Williams discusses reading cards, suggests divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed), and explains a few spreads.

Wirth, Oswald.  (1927/1985).  The Tarot of the Magicians.  York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.  ISBN 0877286566.  214 pp. + endnotes, biblio., index; illus.; softcover.
Originally published as Le Tarot: Des Imagiers du Moyen Age.
4 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TTT
This title by the well known French-speaking Swiss occultist, Wirth, examines the twenty-two Major Arcana in detail from a traditional Occult or Western Esoteric perspective.  In effect, the book comprises an excellent and accessible summary of how traditional French Occultism or Esotericism significantly impacted Tarot from the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries.  Wirth relates the Majors to color symbolism, the Hermetic Cabala, astrology, Hermetic philosophy, Freemasonry, and much more.  Illustrations include Wirth’s rendition of each Major, which he explains in detail.  He also explores divination by Tarot and presents brief divinatory meanings for each Trump and the Fool.  Unfortunately, in his brief history of Tarot, he repeats unsubstantiated myths with little criticism.  Because Wirth did not consider the Minor Arcana part of the esoteric Tarot, he does not discuss them.

Wood, Robin.  (1998).  The Robin Wood Tarot: The Book.  Dearborn, MI: Living Tree.  ISBN 0965298418.  ii + 240 pp. + appendices, biblio.; illus.; softcover.
3 Stars Beginning  TTT
This title is a companion to the author’s popular Robin Wood Tarot deck.  Most regular users of it will value this book.  Wood, a committed Wiccan (practitioner of modern witchcraft), is at her best when she explains the artistic details of each card.  She also suggests brief key words or phrases, divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation only), and lessons which the cards may hold.  To a lesser extent, she explores spreads, doing readings, and Tarot ethics.  She also relates the cards to the Neopagan Wheel of the Year.  On the other hand, her brief history of Tarot is mediocre; she makes significant mistakes and often presents unsubstantiated legends almost as though they were fact.  Her writing is readable and generally clear but unpolished and sometimes monotonous.  Each card is illustrated from the author’s deck; for some, early rough sketches are also reproduced.


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