A Beginner�s Guide
to Learning Tarot
By James W. Revak

BOOKS (continued)


If you are seeking books which are advanced, have worked your way through some of the aforementioned ones, or already enjoy a knowledge of Occultism or Western Esotericism, you may wish to explore the following titles.

Cover from The Book of ThothThe Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians (Red Wheel/Samuel Weiser, ISBN 0877282684) by The Master Therion (better known as Aleister Crowley), first published in a limited edition in 1944, is a challenging, advanced discussion of Tarot, especially the Thoth Tarot Deck, designed by Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.  The book, best used with this deck, relates the cards to numerology, astrology, Cabala, I Ching (the classic Chinese oracle), mythology, Thelema (a philosophy-religion founded by the author), the teachings of the Golden Dawn, and much more.  Crowley, renowned mystic and magus, presents each card in significant detail, frequently focusing on traditional Occultism, complex esoteric issues and philosophy, and, to a lesser extent, divination.  If you use the Thoth deck, you will eventually want to explore this extraordinary title.  The book includes numerous illustrations from Thoth and Tarotists widely consider it the definitive guide to it.  Finally, regardless its subtitle it is 287 pages long.

Illustration (above): Cover from The Book of Thoth (copyright � 1944 Ordo Templi Orientis).

Cover from The Pictorial Key to the TarotThe Pictorial Key to the Tarot (Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition Under the Veil of Divination) (Red Wheel/Samuel Weiser, ISBN 0877282188; U.S. Games Systems, ISBN 0913866083) by A.E. Waite, is considered by many Tarotists to be the most authoritative book on RWS decks, designed by Waite and drawn by Pamela Colman Smith.  Unlike virtually all other guides to these decks, it explains them from Waite’s perspective – not someone else’s.  If you use a RWS deck, you will eventually want to explore this challenging work, which relates Tarot to traditional Western Esotericism, Christian mysticism, and Cabala, and provides divinatory meanings for each card (upright and reversed).  However, know that newcomers often find it confusing and ambiguous.  Sometimes Waite, a renowned esotericist, only hints at important ideas and doctrines that underlie RWS specifically and Tarot generally; understanding his oblique references often requires patience and previous knowledge of mysticism, Western Esotericism, and Waite’s other writings.  First published in 1910, it is illustrated with with the famous RWS designs.  Significant excerpts may be found in Villa Revak (see Tarot Divination: Three Parallel Traditions). 

Illustration (above): Cover from The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.

Cover from The Qabalistic TarotThe Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy (Red Wheel/Samuel Weiser, ISBN 0877286728) by Robert Wang, is a solid presentation of Tarot, especially as it relates to the teachings of the Golden Dawn and the work of Crowley.  The author frequently focuses on traditional Occultism, complex esoteric issues and philosophy, and, to a lesser extent, divination.  He presents a good introduction to Cabala and, with astrology, relates it to Tarot.  Considering the complexity of his topics, Wang’s writing is clear and direct.  First published in 1983, it is illustrated with cards from a Tarot of Marseilles, The Thoth Tarot, a RWS deck, the author’s own Golden Dawn Tarot, and other sources.  However, his insights are best applied to Thoth, his own deck, and, to a lesser extent, RWS.

Illustration (above): Cover from The Qabalistic Tarot (copyright � 1983 Red Wheel/Samuel Weiser).

Cover from A Wicked Pack of CardsA Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (St. Martin’s, ISBN 0312162944) by Ronald Decker, Thierry DePaulis & Michael Dummett, is a meticulously researched history that details the early documented use of Tarot for divination and exploration of Occultism or Western Esotericism, especially in France from the late 18th- through early 20th-centuries.  The authors discuss such leading Tarotists as Gébelin, Etteilla, Lévi, and Papus.  However, they are are not committed to using Tarot for divination and related activities, and are often highly critical of those who are.  Nevertheless, if you have an interest in the history of the cards, this is a “must-read”.  Published in 1996, the book is illustrated with cards from historic decks and other sources.

Illustration (above): Cover from A Wicked Pack of Cards (copyright � 1996 Decker, Depaulis & Dummett).


Do you want to learn even more about Tarot books?  Visit Villa Revak’s The Bookworm’s Guide to Tarot, an annotated bibliography that includes over one hundred reviewed titles.

This guide continues with recommended decks . . . click here.

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Copyright � 2002 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  (12/10/02).