Just read up the preface and skimmed a little bit of the bibliography and illustratins. The first thing that struck me was the date. I know it’s pure coincidence but 1918 is a date that has been on my mind so much during the pandemic because this publication came out the year of the Spanish Flu and WWI.
One charateristic of the Tarot that he mentinoed was a “harmony of meanings” in the symbolism of the cards. I think this is a quality that makes the Tarot so appealing, even to beginners, like myself. Many of the symbols are familiar (Western religion and Familiarity gives people a sense of comfort and competence. After all, the goal of divination is to find meaning where there is mystery. The symbols are related by the history of the symbols and their historical references but also some beliefs of the era among sects. It’s making me look at the Tarot a different way. More like an artifact of the mystical beliefs of the late 18th and early 19th century, not to mention a fascination with all things Egyptian that led to the Egyptian motifs in the decorative arts of the period, that coincided with a fascination with mysticism, seances, mediums, etc. That’s partly what makes the deck “so 1918” I think.
Anotther cultural reference he alludes to was all the tension that existed between believers of mysticism and the public exposure of charlatans that undermined those beliefs from the late 19th to early 20th century. So, that’s a historical context for his book, too.
But even though it appears in many ways to be an artifact of it’s time, I suppose the Rider Waite deck is also timeless because some of those symbols (Death, the Devil, arch angels, kings and queens) that were chosen (and were also found on some earlier decks, I understand) are long ingrained in Western art and literature, so that to this day people recognize those allegories. It’s just now, reading this, I see so much more of these symbols! The deck is def. less mysterious to me than it was.
I think what is so interesting about this book is that it provides a context for the deck by naming specific influencers, such as famous Theosophists of the day, and organizations central to its development. That is where I am so grateful to Wikipedia to understand his references. A pity he did not name the artist, Pamela Colman Smith but referred to her as the lady artist. Ah, well.
As I read this, little bits of French history I learned in college (I was a French lit major) started trickling back to me, so I started cross referencing it with some background reading and the history of the Tarot usage in 18th and 19th century France. Most of this is Wikipedia checks I am fascinated with his reference to the Albigensians but it makes sense, considering he and Waite were Rosicrucians, more or less, being against the idea of a Pope, I believe. If they related to the Albigensian cause/plight then the crusade-like illustrations and ALL the symbolism basically knocking the Pope off his throne (Death Card, Tower Card, Hierophant, etc.). Hmm!
I personally believe religions have more in common than they do not and have great respect for the Catholic religion. But realizing the point of view for the deck, and learning Rider Waite was one of the founders of this sect, I pulled out my Rider Waite deck and now many of the symbols that were chosen are starting to make sense as they refer to Christian ideas and the Rosy Cross tenets (including anti-papism). For instance, the 7 of cups (which are clearly chalices). He doesn’t make mention of this in his description of the card, but if I had to guess, that image is a person being confronted or tempted with representations of the Seven Sins. Could that be righ? Now of course I recognize the host on the Ace of Cups card. But I only recognize the Christian references. I don’t know anything about the Kabbal, Masons, etc. and their symbols. I hope I learn abut the origin of symbols like the pentagram, wands, etc. and why they were selected.
What I am understanding so far is that symbolism was of the greatest importance to the author both in conveying the tenets of their sect, in providing allegories that people would recognize (providing a sense of affiliation), including Christian symbolism, and providing a point of reference for what people were intended to divine. The images were carefully selected and intended to convey specific messages in addition to individual interpretation. It’s going to be so interesting to learn what messages they were trying to convey to their adherents and the general public in 1918. In other words, my just buying a set of cards and going with my gut would not have been enough for the founders. They expected people to study and use the cards in a specific ways.