Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review Wednesday: "Mystical Origins of the Tarot"

Title: "Mystical Origins of the Tarot"

Author: Paul Huson

Publisher: Destiny Books 2004

Content: 335 pages of content including appendix and index.

Once upon a time I read "Mastering Witchcraft" by the self same Paul Huson, and I fell in love. The style, the feel, the pacing, the content, ah love.. It wasn't just a great book on witchcraft that had immediately practical applications, it was well written! It was well arranged! It was wonderfully indexed! As an occult nerd and a book nerd, it was pure joygasm. It made me intoxicated with both the subject matter, and the author, so I went out and got myself a copy of his "Dame Fortune's Wheel Tarot", and "Mystical Origins of the Tarot".

I expected Mystical Origins to be a lot like the "Book of Thoth", or "Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot", is to the Crowley/Thoth deck. It totally wasn't. This book is not deck specific. It is not an extra extended little white book, though Mr. Huson does in fact have an extra extended little white book for free download on his website. This book as about The Tarot. (note the capitals)

It starts out with a decent sized history lesson stretching through the intro to the third chapter. It manages to be detailed and brief for the subject matter covered, if a little dry. Though if Tarot was one of my real focuses as a magician I am sure I would have had my face buried deep into the pages, licking the spine through the front. As I am not, I did find it a bit dry, and with less of the author's usual awesome pacing. But.. honestly, it's history. If you dig the period or culture history can be exciting, but if you aren't really into history can be interesting, but eventually it mashes into a mass of names and dates.

One really cool thing that I learned from the history lesson was that all of the Kabbalistic associations to the cards were not interpreted until rather late in the game. The origins of the cards have the suits as representing the four cardinal virtues, the court cards based on the nine worthies complete with queens representing their suits virtue, and the trumps based on medieval mystery plays. Kabbalistic additions were added later and cemented into place by the works of Papus, and of course the Rider-Waite Deck, and all of its many, many children.

Next follows a very detailed analysis of the cards, Pip, Court, and Trump, along with all of the many and some times contradictory and confusing meanings attributed to them, along with a rather well researched background for each. The Magician was once the lowly Montebank, street corner Juggler, and the Fool equally Holy Fool, and Madman Delinquent. For readers just starting out all the varied interpretations of a single card may be a bit much, but it helps you get a feel of the thing. When I say detailed, I mean it, the to chapters on the cards themselves take up over a third of the book. Weirdly, this I would study not in conjunction with a reading. More like a start to a meditation to get to know the cards better. There is almost too much information to go off of, and if looked at during a reading I would worry that I might lose the feel of Lady Fortune's hem.

In Divination work feel is almost half the battle. Meanings change by context, as the pattern unfolds before the Diviners eyes inspiring leaps of intuition, that may be helped with a few good questions, and maybe some cold reading. Even the best Diviner will sound vague if the stage is not set. (Incidentally, I've found those looking for readings for entertainment give very few details, and many times purposefully incorrect ones, while people looking for actual help tend to give an over abundance of details, but ymmv, dear reader.)

The last section is on the act of reading, giving spreads both simple and complex, as well as how to get to know your cards better to become a better reader.

As usual Mr. Huson gives lots of follow up resources on where to get cards, where to see the originals of famous decks, even more history, follow up reading, a bibliography, and of course the precious index. (Those of you who do not know why I am so fixated on the index, I doubt have tried to find a passage in a lengthy book without either an index or a book mark in that specific page. )

All in all if you are interested in Tarot history and development, or want to read Tarot seriously as either your primary oracle or as a professional Diviner, I would say it is worth a purchase. I wouldn't recommend the library for this one, as it has too much good reference in it for a once off read. It's not so much a book for a casual read, but even a casual read, I think, will have how you think of the cards shifting a little bit.

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