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A History of the Occult Tarot: 1870-1970 [Paperback]

Ronald Decker , Michael Dummett
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Dec 2013
When the Tarot pack was invented in Italy in the early 15th century, it was simply a pack of cards, used for playing games. Esoteric interpretations of the pack date from late eighteenth-century France, and were confined to that country for a hundred years. Nowadays, however, the cards are used throughout the Western world and not only for fortune telling; for real believers they are a key to secret knowledge of the meaning of life. Practised by secret groups such as the Order of the Golden Dawn, by magi such as Aleister Crowley, the 'Great Beast', and by psychics such as Dion Fortune, the occult interpretation of the Tarot pack is a worldwide phenomenon with countless devotees. The roots of the whole modern Tarot mystique lie in theories propagated by the occultists studied in this history. Tarot occultism is a significant part of modern social history. The first part of the story was told in "A Wicked Pack of Cards" , which traced its origins in France. In "The History of the Occult Tarot" the authors bring the story up to date, following its progress in other countries, especially Britain and the United States.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 379 pages
  • Publisher: Duckworth Overlook; Reprint edition (31 Dec 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1468308599
  • ISBN-13: 978-1468308594
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 17.3 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,612,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'... entertaining and enlightening... Watkins plays Aubrey to the many remarkable personalities who populated old Fleet Street, defining this lost world through a series of splendid pen portraits.'- Matthew d'Ancona, Sunday Telegraph; 'This short book is the finest account of journalism I have ever read. Literate members of the public should by it because it is the wittiest book of the year. Undergraduate students of media studies should buy it without fail, for there is more practical information in it than in a hundred lectures...'- Brian Walden, Literary Review; 'I chuckled over every page of this splendid book, the genius of which lies in the detail...'- Peregrine Worsthorne, Independent on Sunday; 'A hilarious read.' - Robert Blake, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year; 'A Short Walk Down Fleet Street... is an incomparable portrait of a particular era and way of life, and is impossible to recommend too highly.' - Peter Oborne, Sunday Express --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Alan Watkins was born in 1933 and educated at Amman Valley Grammar School and Queens' College, Cambridge. He has also published The Liberal Dilemma, Brief Lives, Sportswriter's Eye, A Slight Case of Libel, A Conservative Coup, The Road to Number 10 and, jointly, The Making of the Prime Minister 1970. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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It was in France that Tarot cards were first incorporated into the theory and practice of magic. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tarot through Time. 27 Jun 2007
As a serious student of the tarot for over thirty years I approached this book with a high degree of expectation and some trepidation. Too often historical examinations of the tarot cards have concentrated soley upon their early development in Italy during the 1440s. To my mind there always was a strong argument for pursuing its development onwards from that time - for the modern tarot bears little relationship to its fledgling beginnings.

During the intervening centuries the tarot has developed in three distinct ways. Firstly, the interprational meanings of the cards has altered as modern society and the human psyche has matured, secondly the astrological, numerological and symbollic associations have been altered and redefined; and thirdly the actual pack design has changed significantly with hundreds of different 'themed' tarot decks now in publication.

The authors have dealt soley with tarot developments with an occult or mystical framework. They have traced the development of the tarot up to the point where the Golden Dawn integrated it so deeply into their philosophy', from which most modern understanding of the tarot has developed, and then onwards to the 1970s through the work of such occultists as Gareth Knight and Eden Gray.

On the way our understanding of the cards have been subject to a wide range of influences. Indeed there hardly seems to have been an occultist since the days of Wescott and Mathers who have not tried to put their stamp on the cards. Some have been successful in making their particular sets of associations and occult relationships stick whilst others simply seemed to have tinkered around with the tarot with little real understanding of their function.
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware the modernist agenda re. Tarot 16 Feb 2008
This book asserts that until the 18th century and the vagaries of Court de Gebelin the tarot had no 'occult' associations. Actually if we trace the tarot back through its Mamluk incarnation in medieval Egypt and even further back via its diffusion by the Mongols and spread along the Silk Road as the art of paper-making was transmitted into the Muslim world, back to China of the 7th century where woodblock printed cards generically term P'ai were used, we witness their origin during the 6th century BC in methods of shamanistic arrow-divination in Korea, where strips of silk inscribed with symbols and images were attached to arrows and used by shamans in prognostication. Eventually the arrows were no longer used but only the narrow oiled silk 'cards' which were in 9 card suits of various beasts, birds, stars etc each with a singler court card of a 'general'. These passing northward into China became the printed money-suited cards which spread estward into Persia and Egypt and eventually into Europe, the ancestor of tarot and playing-cards as Dr Stewart Culin demonstrated. Not to mention the use of tarot in divination and magical practises in Europe pre-dating Decker and Dummett's construct such as among 16th century Venetian sorceresses as recorded by the Inquisition and noted by the historian Ruth Martin. Paul Huson's 'Mystical Origins of the Tarot' also provides a much more rounded picture of tarot and cartomancy from a historical perspective.

It's more instructive I think to see how the tarot was derived, via a long and fascinating process from shamanistic divination practises in eastern Asia and that divination was, in fact, an integral aspect of the cards right from their beginning.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than you might expect 16 Mar 2005
By Bruce Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very impressive book. My initial impression was that this would be another competently researched book on tarot & it's history, I soon realised that it is a lot more. This is one of the most concise histories of modern westen occultism that I have found. Even though it's not broad in scope the leval of detail is impressive. The history of Tarot is thorogh & well presented but the background on Occult orders was unexpected. Groups like the Golden Dawn & the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor are covered with enough detail to merit this being rated as a good general history of Occultism. The Church of Light & Manly Hall are treated with good biographical essays on the central characters. Even though I have been reading about these people & groups for many years I learned much new information here.

This is not a "how to" Tarot guide book but just as it says, a history. It establishes the personalities, places, & groups necessary & goes on to develop the story better than I have see it done elsewhere.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent must-have reference. 13 July 2011
By Christopher Marlowe - Published on Amazon.com
An excellent reference volume. A little too much time is spent on the explanation of Kabbalah and ceremonial magic for my liking - would like to have read even more biography of folk like Madeline Montalban and Rolla Nordic - but this is just a personal quibble. Dummett and Decker (particularly) are to be congratulated on their efforts. This book is a must-have for all serious tarot enthusiasts.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars and, at times, snarky 29 April 2012
By Vintage Erotica Tarot - Published on Amazon.com
I can't really add to the other 5 star reviews of this book. Yes, it is a must-have reference. Yes, you will learn things about tarot and 18th-Century France that you never knew you wanted to know. I just want to add that I thoroughly enjoyed a few snarky comments as the authors disproved one baseless assertion after another.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great History For Tarot Students, Those Interested In The Cards 11 May 2014
By Chris Stoner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great history of the tarot and how it has been used by different occult societies and practitioners. There are other histories that address how the cards developed and the progression of the decks and the games they were used for, but this book does a great job of tracing the use of the tarot by occult practitioners.

This book has an academic focus and can be fairly dense reading - definitely not a beach read! But if you are willing to work with the text, there is a great wealth of interesting and useful information that can be wonderfully informative and also give you insights into your own practice with the tarot.

It's not a "must-read" to be a practicing tarot reader, but for those who like to research the history of their "arts," this is an excellent resource.
3.0 out of 5 stars Why don't these guys like Dion Fortune? 12 Sep 2014
By Casca - Published on Amazon.com
This is a comprehensive survey of Tarot cards from 1870 to 1970. Also provided is considerable information on many occult groups of this period. It is helpful that lesser known individuals and groups are covered. Serious Tarot students will find the information valuable. I am puzzled by the authors’ lopsided picture of Dion Fortune. They write her The Mystical Qabalah ‘contributes nothing to the theory of Tarot.’ Well, it’s about Kabbalah, not Tarot ( though they both overlap). In the late 1930s Dion had three exceptional occult novels published: The Winged Bull, The Goat Foot God, and The Sea Priestess. They authors dismiss these as ‘occult romances.’ These novels make a significant contribution to occult understanding. In each one a man and a woman undertake occult rituals to invoke god forms such as Pan and Isis. One gets the impression Decker and Dummett are not occultists.They say Dion became 'extremely fat.' Why make this comment? I don't recall them remarking on the weight of anyone else in the book. Dion Fortune was one of the leading occultists ever.
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