on 2 May 2005
Review: The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination
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.
on 5 April 2011
I've been reading Tarot cards for over 20 years, and recently decided to expand my repertoire and knowledge a further few notches, so opted for this book.
Robert M. Place has written an immaculately researched account of the origins and symbolism of the Tarot. In the first section, we are given a tour of early Renaissance Italy, France and Germany, an introduction to card games and a grounding in Neo-Platonism, Pythagoras and Hermeticism, plus a whole lot more. By the end of this section, the reader has a good idea of what each of the Major Arcana cards represents, it's symbolism and context in the deck.
In the next section, the Major and Minor Arcana cards are also explained, somewhat briefly, in the context of the Waite Smith deck. I personally don't use this particular deck, but one quite similar to it, so the explanations were not totally appropriate to me, however I still learned a lot from this section also.
I agree with another reviewer that the exercises at the end of the book are very helpful, and can recommend this book to newbie novices and long-term old-hands alike. I also agree that it's such a refreshing change to read a book which doesn't rely on conjecture and cliches, but does seem to have been thoroughly researched and professionally edited. Place's love of his subject and erudition shine from every page.
on 10 October 2012
This is a great book for beginners and experienced tarot readers. The history of the Tarot is presented clearly and sensibly - unlike other books I have read in the past. One can see how the occult interpretations came later in the Tarot's history and yet how these philosophies hark back to the beginnings of Hermeticism. The reader is introduced to the cards in a very intuitive way, which is how the actual reading section is delivered.
A truly excellent book that will inspire the newer reader and allow experienced readers to go much further with their interpretations.