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


Sadhu, Mouni.  (1962).  The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism.
• Republished (1974).  North Hollywood: Wilshire Books.  471 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Advanced  TTT
This title is as much an encyclopedia of Western Esotericism or Occultism as a discussion of Tarot.  The author, clearly indebted to traditional nineteenth-century esotericism and writing in a challenging, dense style, presents numerous topics organized as lessons around each Major Arcanum.  Subjects include numerology, astrology, Cabala, archetypes, the astral plane and body, ceremonial magic, Christianity, mental concentration, meditation, consciousness, death, egregors, the elements, initiation, nature, the pentagram, spirits, will-power, and many more.  On the other hand, sometimes the association of subjects to given Arcana appears arbitrary.  Occasionally, subjects are so diverse, detailed, and removed from Tarot in the strict sense that the book lacks a natural, well articulated structure and clear theme.  The author does not discuss the Minor Arcana.

Saint-Germain, de, Comte C. (pseud. of Edgar de Valcourt-Vermont).  (1901).  Practical Astrology: A Simple Method of Casting Horoscopes.
• Republished (1969).  Pomeroy, WA: Health Research.  ISBN 0787305529.  257 pp.; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Intermediate  TT
As the title implies, this book’s principal topic is astrology.  However, the author discusses Tarot to a significant degree.  Specifically, he briefly explores the symbolism of a deck commonly called the The Saint-Germain Tarot, which has been published as The Egyptian Tarot Deck by U.S. Games.  He suggests brief divinatory meanings for each card (Major and Minor Arcana, upright orientation); however, they are skimpy and dated.  In addition, his system is idiosyncratic; users of it may have difficulty communicating with other Tarotists. On the other hand, regular users of the deck may find the book helpful.  With regard to astrology the author focuses on an unorthodox system which is similar to Paul Christian’s, requires no ephemerides, and includes Tarot correspondences.  All cards are illustrated from The Saint-Germain Tarot.  Saint-Germain is the author’s pen name; neither he nor the deck have anything to do with the legendary European adept of the same name active in the eighteenth century.

Scholem, Gershom.  (1974).  Kabbalah.  New York: Quadrangle. 
• Republished (1978).  New York: New American Library.  464 pp. + endnotes, indexes; illus.; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Intermediate  TG
(Cabala – Jewish)
This seminal title is an important modern study of traditional Jewish Cabala.  Although some of its findings are dated, it remains generally reliable.  In it, Scholem, a renowned Jewish scholar, discusses numerous aspects of Cabala, including its history, principal ideas, influence, and major personalities.  The author presents the story of Cabala from its beginnings in Jewish esotericism and mysticism through modern times, and explores its basic concepts, including God, creation, the Sephiroth, evil, the soul, pre-existing worlds and cosmic cycles, and exile and redemption.  Scholem discusses the impact of Cabala on both Judaism and, to a lesser extent, Christianity, and draws brief portraits of major Cabalists (Azriel Gerona, Abraham Miguel Cardozo, Moses Codovero, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, Isaac Luria, and others).  Numerous other topics include the Torah, the Sefer Yezirah (q.v.), the Zohar, chiromancy, demonology, gematria, the Golem, Metatron, and Samael.  Although the book lacks a single bibliography chapters often end with their own.  The author is unsympathetic to Hermetic Cabala and Tarot.  He considers Eliphas Lévi, Papus, and Crowley charlatans.

Scholem, Gershom.  (1960/1965).  (Ralph Manheim, Trans.).  On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism.  New York: Schocken Books.  Originally published as Zur Kabbala und ihrer Symbolik.
• Republished (1996/1965).  New York: Schocken Books.  ISBN 0805210512.  sviii + 104 pp. + index; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
4 stars Intermediate  TG
(Cabala – Jewish)
The author explores selected topics with regard to traditional Jewish Cabala, including its place in Jewish mysticism, its mythological aspects, Cabala-inspired rituals, and the Golem.  Scholem begins by examining the relationship between religious authority and mysticism within Judaism, noting that mysticism sometimes supports authority and at other times opposes it.  He continues with an exploration of basic principles underlying Cabalistic interpretation of Torah and how Cabala, as a carrier of myth, runs counter to the mainstream of Ancient and Medieval Jewish theology.  Finally, in a fascinating chapter, he examines the notion of the Golem (an artificially or magically created man) and the Sefer Yezirah (q.v.) as magical tool.  Unfortunately, the title lacks a bibliography, but the author documents his sources well in footnotes.  Although Scholem occasionally bogs down in details, this book will still reward many students of Cabala.

Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer Yetsirah, etc.  See Sefer Yezirah (immediately below).

Sefer Yezirah [The Book of Creation].  (Probably first written during the third through sixth centuries; earliest extant MS dates to the tenth century [?]).  Numerous published versions, some with extensive commentary, are available, including Areyeh Kaplan’s Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation (q.v.).  The following discussion concerns the Sefer Yezirah in general.
4 Stars Advanced  TG
(Cabala – General)
This brief, enigmatic text, which is the oldest of Cabalistic works, has greatly influenced Jewish, Christian, and Hermetic Cabalists from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, to today.  Originally composed in Hebrew and sometimes attributed to Abraham, its central subject is mystical knowledge and speculation concerning God’s creation of the world from a linguistic perspective   It introduces the Cabalistic notions of (a) the Thirty-Two Paths, which comprise the ten sephiroth (numbers as manifestations of the Divine) and twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and (b) the 231 Gates, which comprise combinations of Hebrew letters.  Through them, the text asserts, God created all things, including the world, year (i.e., time), and soul (including the human body).  The text also describes correspondences between Hebrew letters and seasons of the year, elements, zodiac, and parts of the body.  However, some of the correspondences are imprecise or ambiguous.  Some scholars and users (including Jewish ones) of this seminal text have also approached it as a gateway to magic and meditation.  New students of the Sefer Yezirah will find a reliable commentary invaluable to their understanding of this challenging work.

Shephard, John.  (1985).  The Tarot: Cosmos in Miniature the Structure and Symbolism of the Twenty-Two Trump Cards.  Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Great Britain: Aquarian.  ISBN 0850304504.  125 pp. + biblio., index; illus.; hardcover.
Advanced  TTT
The author argues that the early Tarot was a card game which depicted the Universe as understood by many educated people of the Renaissance.  Specifically, he argues that the sequence of Trumps was a cosmograph founded upon astral mysticism, which pictured the grades of the cosmic hierarchy or, what he terms, the steps on the ladder of being.  He analyses sundry early Tarot decks, especially the Visconti-Sforza, and relates them to astrology, Petrarch’s The Triumphs, and especially the so-called “Tarocchi of Mantegna”.  Despite the soundness of some of his basic observations, his attempt to show that the Trumps are based on a specific, fairly complex astrological structure is generally unconvincing.

Simon, Sylvie.  (1986/1988).  (Kit Currie and Sean Konecky, Trans.).  The Tarot: Art, Mysticism, and Divination.  Apparently originally published in French by Editions Fernand Nathan.
• Republished (1986/1991).  Tronto: Promotional Reprint.  ISBN 0886659949.  118 pp. + biblio.; illus.; hardcover.  The following review is based on this version.
2 Stars Beginning  TTT
This title comprises an introduction to Tarot with special emphasis on explaining the symbolism of the Major Arcana of the Tarot de Marseille.  For each Major Arcanum, Simon also provides sketchy divinatory meanings – for regularly and “badly placed” cards.  Unfortunately, she fails to define clearly her expression “badly placed”.  For the Minor Arcana, she also provides sketchy meanings.  The title briefly explores Tarot from Cabalistic, numerological, artistic, and literary perspectives – albeit sometimes superficially and haphazardly.  A strength of this large-format book is the many lavish color illustrations which help to tell the story of Tarot and, to a lesser extent, regular playing cards.

Simos, Miriam.  See Starhawk (immediately below).

Starhawk (pseud. for Miriam Simos).  (1979).  The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess.  San Francisco: Harper & Rowe.
• Tenth Anniversary Ed. (1989).  San Francisco: HarperCollins.  ISBN 0062508148.  x + 263 pp. + appendices, biblio., index; softcover.  The following review is based on this version.
• Twentieth Anniversary Ed. (1999).  San Francisco: HarperCollins.
3 Stars Beginning to Intermediate  TG
(Religion and Spirituality – Neopaganism)
Starhawk, a major contemporary exponent of Wicca (modern witchcraft), presents a broad introduction to this religion, including many practical exercises to begin to experience it.  She cogently explains significant aspects of the worldview shared by many Wiccans, e.g., shamanic perception of the universe as “swirls of energy” in an “ever-changing sea”, the annual cycle or Wheel of the Year, initiation, organization by covens, magic and ritual (including tapping one’s unconscious or intuitive self, creating sacred space, and trance), and worship of the Goddess and her consort, the God.  Suggested exercises include chants, meditations, spells, rituals, and such practices as casting protective circles, raising the “cone of power”, and celebrating sabbats (seasonal festivals).  When the author discusses the history of Wicca she unfortunately blurs the line between fact and myth, relies on questionable anthropology and archeology, and interprets the past in a simplistic, subjective manner.  Sometimes her views on history, society, and spirituality are so extremely feminist, that they may alienate readers with less extreme views.

Sutin, Lawrence.  (2000).  Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.  ISBN 0312252439.  viii + 423 pp. + biblio., endnotes, index; illus.; hardcover.
3 Stars Intermediate to Advanced  TG
(Biography, Magic)
This biography of Crowley is generally sympathetic and well documented.  Although the author dwells too long on the details of his subject’s prodigious sex life, he otherwise typically avoids sensationalism and presents a balanced view of his subject.  He recounts Crowley’s life from growing up in a Christian fundamentalist family, through his career as a magus, to his final years in retirement.  He provides a wealth of detail, including fascinating and insightful accounts of Crowley’s controversial participation in the Golden Dawn, in-depth study of Eastern philosophy and religion, receipt of the The Book of the Law from a discarnate being, founding and promoting of the religion-philosophy Thelema, and publication of numerous significant esoteric works (including the too briefly discussed Book of Thoth and Thoth Tarot).  However, sometimes his discussion of Crowley’s literary output is sketchy and he presents inadequate support for his conclusions.  Although Sutin unflinchingly documents Crowley’s numerous faults, he convincingly presents his subject as a dedicated magus, profound mystic, and remarkable, if often misunderstood, figure of the twentieth century.

Tognetti, Arlene, Lenard, Lisa.  (1999).  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tarot and Fortune-Telling.  New York: Macmillan.  ISBN 0028627377.  xxii + 383 pp. + biblio., glossary, appendix; illus.; softcover.
2 stars Beginning  TTT
This title is an easy-to-understand introduction to reading Tarot cards.  For each card the authors provide brief analysis and divinatory meanings (Major and Minor Arcana, upright and reversed).  They also suggest brief exercises to help you to get to know the cards.  To a lesser extent, they explore how to use a few spreads.  The book answers questions commonly posed by new students and briefly relates the cards to spirituality, psychology, astrology, dreams, and numerology.  It also very briefly discusses a few other methods of fortune-telling.  Unfortunately, the book contains a fair number of factual errors, and is often flippant and superficial.  It is weak with regard to traditional Occultism or Western Esotericism and overly simplistic – even for many new students.

Tomberg, Valentin (published anonymously).  (1972/1985).  (Robert A. Powell, Trans.).  Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism.  Amity, NY: Amity House.  ISBN 0916349101.  x + 658 pp.; illus.; softcover.  Originally written in French; first published in German translation as Die Grossen Arcana Des Tarot (1972); published in French as Méditations sur les 22 arcanes majeurs du Tarot (1984).
4 stars Advanced  TTT
The author, inspired by the Major Arcana, expounds in detail and at length on what he terms Hermetic Christianity in this book of twenty-two chapters, one for each Arcanum.  As the title implies, he does not so much comment upon or analyze the cards in detail, as meditate upon them, using them as a springboard to explore theology, mysticism, Western Esotericism or Occultism, Nature Philosophy, Theosophy, Eastern philosophy and religion, and more.  Ultimately he views the Arcana, not as the door to occult sciences, which may disappoint some readers, but as as an aid to meditation, especially with regard to the Christian mysteries.  The book is challenging; the author thoroughly explores numerous complex philosophical, theological, and metaphysical issues.  A prior understanding Occultism or Western Esotericism, including esoteric Christianity, is helpful.  Unfortunately, Tomberg’s organization is sometimes lax and he often takes a long time to make his points.  Each Arcanum is illustrated from a Tarot de Marseille.  The author does not discuss the Minor Arcana.

Turk, Julia A..  (1997).  Navigators Tarot of the Mystic Sea.  Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems.  ISBN 1572810238.  236 pp. + biblio.; illus.; softcover.
4 stars Intermediate  TTT
This title serves as a guidebook to the author’s deck of the same name.  Turk explains each card, many complex, in fair detail.  She includes correspondences with Cabala, astrology, and the I Ching; keywords; brief poems; divinatory meanings; and general commentary on each card’s symbolism.  Her approach reflects the Golden Dawn, Waite, Crowley, mythology, Eastern religion and philosophy, contemporary popular culture, and other sources – all stamped by her strong, personal insights and unifying philosophy.  She is at her best when explaining the rich, compelling, and often untraditional, imagery found in her deck’s Major Arcana and how selected cards relate to each other and contribute to an overall narrative.  However, some readers may find her approach overly eclectic and her synthesis of disparate worldviews unconvincing.  Still, virtually any user of the Navigators Tarot will find this book invaluable.  Each card is illustrated from this deck.


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