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The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination

The Tarot is one of the few books that cuts through conventional misperceptions to explore the Tarot deck as it really developed in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Europe-not, as some would suggest, in the far reaches of Egyp-tian antiquity. Mining the Hermetic, alchemical, and Neoplatonic influences behind the evolution of the deck, author Robert M. Place provides a historically grounded and compelling portrait of the Tarot’s true origins, without overlooking the deck’s mystical dimensions.

Indeed, Place uncommonly weds reliable historiography with a practical understanding of the intuitive help and divinatory guidance that the cards can bring. He presents techniques that offer new and valuable ways to read and interpret the cards. Based on a simple three-card spread, Place’s approach can be used by either the seasoned practitioner or the new inquirer.


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2 comments on “The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination

  1. an instant classic This is, without a doubt, one of the best books on Tarot that I’ve read in a long time. It’s also a much-needed work in light of prevalent Tarot thought.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!

  2. Practical and Mystical – A Perfect Union! Too many books on Tarot begin with old wives’ tales (“The Tarot was created by the ancient Egyptians and carried throughout the world by Gypsies”) or dubious advice (“All decks should be wrapped in silk cloth and smudged with sage once a month”).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.

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