on 12 September 2011
Eden Gray was the stage name of Priscilla Pardridge, who was a renowned actress on Broadway for many years, before having a change of career. She became interested in the Tarot in the 1950s whilst working as a lecturer in the Science of Mind, and set up a bookstore and publishing company, selling Tarot cards and books, along with offering Tarot classes. As a result of her students complaining of the difficulty in understanding some of the books, Gray began writing her own books on the Tarot, including 'The Complete Guide to the Tarot' and 'Mastering the Tarot; Basic Lessons in an Ancient, Mystic Art'. Gray died in 1999, having earned the title 'Godmother of the Modern American Tarot Renaissance'.
Eden Gray's intention with this book is "I have....tried to present the ancient lore of the Tarot in a form that the beginning student can utilize....I have tried to put the meanings of the symbols and the interpretation of the cards in simple language, so that the beginner can easily take the plunge and begin to use the cards in divination and contemplation" (p. un-numbered 'Introduction').
Her book is simply structured in that she starts with a very basic introduction, followed by the presentation of, first, the Minor Arcana, followed by the Major Arcana. Then follows a chapter on spreads, and a final section about Tarot in meditation. There is also a Glossary of Symbols. However, the author's simple structure belies the quality and depth of the information contained in the book.
In Gray's brief history of the Tarot, she also looks at its influence on ".....recent scholars and philosophers" (p.17), including T.S. Eliot and W.B.Yeats. At the end of the Introduction, she states that the book is mainly about divination. Her expectation of what can be learned from a reading includes ".....answers to some of the important concerns of life.....a method for interpreting character and throwing light on the future.....revealing unconscious motivations, hidden fears and anxieties...." (P.13) "......and we learn from the Tarot some of the things we need to know to better order our lives" (P.14). It is apparent from this that Gray is keen to use Tarot for the purposes of analysis leading to personal development and a consequent greater satisfaction with life.
Moving on to the Minor Arcana, the author, using black and white images of the Rider-Waite Tarot for illustration, gives a description of each card, plus very brief upright and reversed meanings a la 1960s/70s mode. In her later introduction to the Major cards, Gray states that "They comprise a psychological study of man in his relationship to the world of the spirt and to the physical world" (p.145). This is accompanied by a paragraph about the power of the Tarot, thus - "With an understanding of the meaning of the cards....and....additional information, the student will be well on his way to understanding the great mysteries and wisdom of the ages" (p.146).
In addressing each of the Major cards, Gray gives a description of each one, a few lines about the symbolic meaning of it, and very brief upright and reversed meanings.
Following on from this is a chapter on divination, which she begins by addressing the reader's preparation. She then recommends learning the card meanings by rote, with very little reference to the use of intuition. She also goes on to say that "there are several packs of acceptable Tarot cards on the market at present" (p.197), in stark contrast with the ever-increasing number of decks available today. In keeping with the author's suggestion of rote-learning, she says that looking at the cards in a reading, one should be "checking with the meanings given in this book" (p.198).
The two spreads that Eden Gray offers are the Celtic Cross and the Tree of Life, both of which are accompanied by diagrams. Following her description of the Celtic Cross spread, Gray gives a sample reading, summing up that reading by stating the question asked, giving each card's position in the spread, a very brief interpretation of the meaning, and a few lines of the reader's comments about the card in relation to the question. There is a similar format for the Tree of Life spread (Gray's own version of it), presenting a general reading done for an absent client. In this reading, she simply makes the briefest of comments on each card, yet the spread being considerably more complex than the Celtic Cross spread, and requires at the very least a basic understanding of the Tree of Life. Gray writes to the client with a "brief summary of what the cards conveyed" (p.221). In contrast to this method, in this day and age, the absent reading would probably be conducted by email or telephone.
The final section of the book gives the reader some very interesting and useful instructions with regard to the use of Tarot in meditation, e.g. "Go deep within in meditation....and you will understand by direct intuition that which the Tarot only hints at......Prepare to pass through the beautiful gate of symbolism into the starry world beyond" (p.226) - stillness being something of which there is less and less as the pace of life becomes ever more frantic. Gray gives two example meditations, on 'Strength' and 'The Lovers'. The possible results of Tarot meditation are summed up thus - "You will begin to have a firm philosophy of your own, based on the eternal Truths so beautifully revealed in the Tarot. Your new philosophy will help you deal with people and life situations that you would have previously found difficult to handle. You will take courage from the fact that you are following in the footsteps of the wise men of all ages...." (p.229).
Throughout the book, Gray's passion, respect for and dedication to the Tarot come through loud and clear, and she has indeed fulfilled her intention. In my opinion, this is one of the best Tarot books of its time and is an absolute must of a read.