Top critical review
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Interesting and aesthetically pleasing , but lacking clarity .
on 7 August 2012
This book is widely regarded as a definitive work on Tarot , accompanying as it did the original designs for the 'Rider-Waite' Tarot. The author explains some of what went into the designs and as such it is the only truly authoratitive account of the origins of this partiular deck ( and similar derivative decks);this was among the first decks to have pictorial illustrations for each and every card , and many other decks use the same symbols today . Arthur Waite himself came up with or refined the content of all the cards in the deck , and supervised the designs which were drawn and coloured (at least as prototypes for printed versions) by Pamela Coleman Smith.
All this makes this seem to be an ideal book to learn about tarot from , but unfortunately the case is not so simple . The main problem with the book is that it is all written from A.E Wate's rather antiquated and lofty point of view . Waite himself was an early member of the Golden Dawn , a Victorian society which has been alternately scandalised and glamourised largely due to the reputation of its most notorious member , Aleister Crowley . The truth about the Golden Dawn is that it was largely composed of scholarly members of the 'upper classes' , generally educated in private schools , who were probably slightly rebellious and expressing this though an interest in 'the occult sciences' . For this reason much of what they wrote about was based upon scholarly studies of subjects such as Egyptology and the like ; in other words their 'occultism' is underpinned with an elitism , both of a social and intellectual nature .
This is the problem with this book. Particularly in the descriptions of the 'Majors' or 'Trumps' the author is very unclear about many of the meanings , and tends to make multiple references to little known 'occult lore' as if expecting the reader to be an expert on the subject .
For those who are knowledgeable about 'occult traditions' this is a very useful guide to the intricacies of the cards, but for the 'beginner' or casual reader curious about how to use or read the Tarot it is over scholarly , too obscure and written in a very awkward and old fashioned style .