The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination Paperback – Mar 17 2005
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*Starred Review* This may be the best book ever written on that deck of cards decorated with mysterious images called the tarot. Dozens of books provide sketchy information on the cards' history and evolution before turning more discursive on how to interpret them. Place inverts that formula. Well-researched, entertainingly written chapters begin the book with information on where the tarot comes from and how it gained so much prominence as a tool for divination. Far from developing from deeply magical sources, as many have claimed, the tarot was originally just a deck of cards used for playing games. Even at the start, however, those games included some fortune-telling. Over the course of centuries, the cards' lore was enriched by thoughtful practitioners who added cards, elaborated their meanings, and connected their imagery to mythology and dreams. At the beginning of the twentieth century, an inspired young artist, Pamela Smith, drew upon her occult training and her own visions to create the now classic Rider-Waite deck. In a comprehensively researched and passionately argued chapter, Place restores Smith to her rightful position as the genius behind the deck. That Place also offers excellent guidance to actually reading the cards makes the book that much more appealing, as a how-to as well as a why-bother. Patricia Monaghan
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Straight up: I find it more than a little amazing that, after an abundance of time, discussion, and scholarship, some very common myths about Tarot still prevail. Haven't we gotten over the idea that Tarot came from the gypsies, or that it originated in Egypt as a pictoral representation of Thoth's teachings? These Tarot myths remain common today (and are often perpetuated by ill-informed authors). Hopefully, this book will help put them to rest. Place convincingly disproves these theories, but (and this is important) carefully notes what is valid and worthwhile about the occultists' perspective.
The real cream of this book comes not from the debunking (after all, Place is not the first author to set the record straight), but in his analysis of what Tarot truly is. This book is the only book available today that explores Tarot as it was intended by its creators, based on the influences and symbolism prevalent at the time of its creation. As someone long steeped in (and quite fond of) occult/Golden Dawn style Tarot practices, these insights are new and exciting approaches to Tarot. I get to be a beginner all over again! For devoted Tarot nerds like me, this is very good news.
Some folks might be put off by Place's style -- he doesn't allow much room for disagreements. Indeed, ordinarily such confidence would get up my nose, too. But his arguments are so convincing, and presented with none of the customary arrogance of many with strong opinions on magical topics, that I'm inclined to overlook that. His sincerity and love of his subject shine through every step of the way.
Place rounds out the book with solid sections on meanings and divination. He examines the Waite-Smith deck for his meanings section, drawing strong interpretations from the artwork (you might learn an interesting fact or two about the symbolism employed by Waite & Pixie here). His approach to divination is his alone, and is quite liberating in its use of symbols, intuition and card placement rather than strict interpretations of memorized meanings. He provides plenty of examples to make sure that you get the gist of his techniques.
All in all, this is a sane, thoughtful, and (most importantly) useful approach to Tarot. It is now firmly on my short list of most recommended Tarot books, for beginners and advanced alike. Not to be missed.
I suppose I sound like I'm gushing, here, but the book really is that good!
Not this one! Bob Place's _The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination_ is a frank, meticulously researched, and enormously satisfying look at the origins and applications of Tarot. While the book embraces mysticism (Place, for example, reveals his own work with the Tarot was initiated by a symbolic dream), its primary focus is on the card illustrations, the symbolism of the Tarot, and the rich heritage of myth and magic that lie at the heart of both.
Place's clear, concise writing style makes his practical and mystical histories of the Tarot - the first two major sections of the book - a pleasure to read. Few books on the subject of the Tarot offer so much information in such an approachable format; these chapters should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in the cards.
Why do the images on Tarot cards intrigue some and frighten others? As Joseph Campbell often pointed out, we live in a mythically illiterate society; signs and symbols immediately recognizable to viewers a few hundred years ago now, in our ignorance, strike us as mysterious and spooky. Beginning in Chapter 4, "Interpreting the Major and Minor Arcana," Place does his part to dispel mystery rooted in ignorance and reconnect the reader with the genuine myths and mysteries referenced in the details of each card.
Chapter Five, at first glance, appears to be little more than Place's notes on the popular and familiar images from the Rider-Waite Tarot. This would be disappointing, as dozens of other books have covered this territory in great detail already. In this chapter, however, Place does much more than recycle tired traditional meanings; instead, he often reveals the sources that likely inspired many of the Waite-Smith illustrations.
As an artist, Place has a unique perspective on the art of the Tarot; his vision, though, also embraces the deck's remarkable ability to serve as a divinatory tool. Near the end of the book, Place suggests a number of ways the reader can use the cards as a mirror of the soul - a means of connecting with information beyond that offered by linear awareness. This adds an important dimension to the book, revealing how the historical and mythological information found in earlier chapters can be applied to "make Tarot work."
Here, at last, is a book that presents the facts and the fantasies that feed our growing fascination with these bright little cards. Place's book is the perfect companion for anyone interested in the art and application of Tarot.
First off, it's true that the author does a fantastic job of describing the actual history of the Tarot. He is undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable writers on that subject. That is why I give the book three stars instead of one. If your only interest is history, then this book is exactly what you need. The title of the book, however, is "The Tarot: History, Symbolism and DIVINATION" (emphasis mine). If your primary interest in the Tarot is its wealth of symbolic spiritual and psychological insight, then you are likely going to be quite disappointed by this. If you think that the cards should ONLY be interpreted in the way that was originally intended by the first Tarot Deck creators, then there is much here that is worth consideration. Personally, I believe that the cards, at least those of the Waite-Smith Deck, contain a LOT of valuable symbolism, much of which is simply dismissed by this author as inauthentic. SO WHAT if these other meanings were not exactly what was originally intended? That does not detract from their value!
The divination part, which comprises about half of the book, is where it falls apart terribly. His insight into the cards is incredibly shallow for someone who has studied their history so thoroughly. For most of the Minor Arcana cards he offers only five or six sentences. Also, the divination system that he presents, always using three cards in various combinations, all of which depend upon which direction the figure on the card is facing, is odd to say the least. It is original in that it is unlike any other system I have ever come across, but again it lacks substance and depth.
If you are interested in divination or even just in the RICH symbolism offered by a standard Tarot deck, you would be much better off with Rachel Pollack's "Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom" or with "Spiritual Tarot" by Echols, Mueller and Thomson. If history is your thing or if you just want to impress your friends with how pedantic you can be, then by all means, get this. Personally, I don't feel that knowing the history of the cards is important to understanding their symbolic or divinatory significance, and I didn't find a single fact in this book to be USEFUL to me in giving readings.