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Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage

A profusely illustrated history of the occult nature of the tarot from its origins in ancient Persia

• Thoroughly examines the original historical source for each tarot card and how the cards’ divinatory meanings evolved from these symbols

• Provides authentic 18th- and 19th-century spreads and divination techniques

• Reveals the divinatory meanings of the cards as understood by diviners in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

The origins of the tarot have been lost in the mists of time. Most scholars have guessed that its origins were in China, Egypt, or India. In Mystical Origins of the Tarot, Paul Huson has expertly tracked each symbol of the Minor Arcana to roots in ancient Persia and the Major Arcana Trump card images to the medieval world of mystery, miracle, and morality plays. A number of tarot historians have questioned the use of the tarot as a divination tool prior to the 18th century. But the author demonstrates that the symbolic meanings of the Major Arcana were evident from the time they were first employed in the mid-15th century in the popular divination practice of sortilege. He also reveals how the identities of the court cards in the Minor Arcana were derived from a blend of pagan and medieval sources that strongly influenced their interpretation in tarot divination.

Mystical Origins of the Tarot provides a thorough examination of the original historical source for each card and how the cards’ divinatory meanings evolved from these symbols. Huson also provides concise and practical card-reading methods designed by the cartomancers of the 18th and 19th centuries and reveals the origins of the card interpretations promoted by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and A. E. Waite.

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3 comments on “Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage

  1. The definitive study of Tarot symbolism Where Paul Huson’s 1972 work `The Devil’s Picture Book’ presented a rich melange of broad speculations regarding the emblems of Tarot, his new book `Mystical Origins of the Tarot’ approaches the subject along entirely different and decidedly radical lines, challenging preconceptions and removing layers of fanciful superimposition which have hitherto obscured Tarot’s roots. He subjects the images of traditional Tarot to a penetrating and rigorous process of historical analysis and thematic elucidation employing an approach which can best be described as `symbolic archaeology’ – the results are quite remarkable. The research brought to bear on the origins of the enigmatic cards is impressive, thorough and original: for instance the four suits signs of the Minor Arcana are painstakingly traced via the surviving decks of Mamluk Egypt to the heraldic symbols denoting the Four Virtues and the four Mazdean castes of ancient Persia. An important paradigm-shift in understanding is achieved via the author firmly locating each of the figures of the Major Arcana in the beguiling world of popular religious dramas, mysteries and miracle-plays in the High Middle Ages – he even provides examples of their speeches from the original dramas. The chapter on the Major Arcana in this context is as illuminating as it is convincing. Furthermore Paul Huson goes deeply into the traditions underpinning the cartomantic significance of each card, giving the divinatory rundown from Pratesi’s Cartomancer of 1750 to A.E. Waite in 1910 along with his own suggested keywords for readings. One surprising turn-up for the books transpires when the author locates the direct source of the Golden Dawn Decanic system of the Minor Cards in the section on the 36 Decan images in Book II of the Arab grimoire called the Picatrix. The 16 legendary personages identified with the court cards likewise opens up fascinating points of symbolic comprehension. The sections on practical cartomancy will be found invaluable by both beginners and seasoned users of the cards: a great deal of utile information and insight is imparted which will facilitate practise. I especially like the techniques for `linking’ the cards.The above gives but an indication of some of the absorbing contents of this inspiring book. In its own way the research it unfolds is as compelling to follow as a detective story as the author indefatigably tracks down the emblematic minutiae of Tarot symbolism to their archaic and mediaeval originals. Ranging with great erudition from Shia, Sufi and Magian symbologies, to Neoplatonic doctrines, mediaeval mystery-plays, 18th century cartomancers and scholarly art history this packed study delivers such a veritable feast of fresh information and insight on the subject of Tarot that beginners and veteran tarotists alike will find it a real treat to read and an indispensable resource for reference. It is illustrated throughout with a wealth of examples of card-images, allegorical emblems and images skilfully executed by the author. This is very likely the definitive study on the subject. Highly recommended.

  2. Paul Huson has done it again! Mystical Origins of the Tarot is a wonderfully researched history of the Tarot. Mr. Huson gives the reader a fascinating look into this ancient science and for the novice it is a “must have” volume. Beautifully illustrated, the cards are presented and defined with colourful historical facts. The various”spreads” are explained with clarity and simple easy to follow directions. In my first attempt at a “layout” the divination which appeared made perfect sense to me. This is a very special gift for anyone interestd in the Tarot.

  3. Really interesting Paul Huson explores the roots of the symbolism of the tarot in this excellent volume. From Mamluk cards, to triumphal parades to medieval dramas, he shows how the symbols in the tarot grew out of visual images that would have been familiar to all in their time and place. In his sections on card meanings, he cites interpretations from Etteilla, Mathers, Waite, and the Golden Dawn, which are fascinating to compare. This is a very valuable book for anyone interested in the history of tarot.

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