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History of the Occult Tarot


Hi, everybody --

If anyone's interested in reading my review of this book, it's just been posted at Tarot Passages:

http://www.tarotpassages.com/occhist-lb.htm

-- Lee
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Thanks.

I didn't quite get the same tone that you did from the book---but I am thinking that was because I was more interested in details of the Knapp Hall. And the details of the Knapp Hall cards were at Ron Decker's insistence, so he probably had more to do with that section of the book.

Do you gain a sense from that particular area of the book that it was more similar to the tone of the Ron Decker interviews on Tarot Passages?

Just curious.

Mari H.
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Lee:

I'm inclined to mostly disagree with your review of "History of the Occult Tarot." I didn't find the authors' tone "unfailingly disapproving," nor did I note any tendency on their part to "lash out with satirical and ironic remarks." The portraits they offer of, for example, Manly Hall, Eden Gray, and Gareth Knight are respectful and sympathetic.

For example, in describing Gray's tarot reading technique, the authors contend that "...she was able to intuit the seeker's image of himself and thus predict events likely to proceed from that self-concept. At the same time, she recognized her great responsibility. If the seeker is susceptible to suggestion, he may accept a cartomancer's prediction, and subconsciously strive to cause its fulfillment." (p. 299)

Decker and Dummett call Gareth Knight "...a very relaxed exponent of the esoteric Tarot. 'The Treasure House of Images' contains an accurate history of the Tarot pack; Knight considers it important for occultists to know the true history of Tarot, and to be familiar with different early versions of the trumps." (p. 281)

Furthermore, even when discussing the significant work of people and groups with whom they disagree, the authors seem willing to give credit where it's due. In summarizing the work of the Golden Dawn, they say, "The Golden Dawn gradually elaborated a detailed and coherent system of magical theory and practice...In the course of elaborating these instructions, the Golden Dawn achieved a definitive summa of magical theory; that was its lasting accomplishment." (p. 96)

Your characterization of the book as an unrestrained attack on occultism and occultic approaches to Tarot might more aptly apply to their earlier work, "A Wicked Pack..." That book's stated objective was to dissipate, once and for all, the spell of foundationless speculation and the thick mist of ahistorical assertion under which Tarot history had labored for 200 years, and it succeeded. "A Wicked Pack..." did indeed adopt a thoroughgoing tone of (justified) sarcasm, and in it Decker, DePaulis, and Dummett stopped just short of accusing Eliphas Levi of fraud, and in Paul Christian's case did not bother to stop short, asserting that "(Christian) continued, as we shall see, to act on the assumption that to readers of books on the occult one might lie without disturbance to one's conscience." (p. 195)

True, some of the personalities dealt with in the new volume end up looking ridiculous. However, I think this is more their doing than the result of any attempt by Decker and Dummett to make them look bad. It would be difficult to read even a sympathetic account of the lives of S.L. Mathers and Aleister Crowley without coming to the inescapable conclusion that both were walking examples of the severest extremity of narcissistic personality disorder. It's also old news that Builders of the Adytum has for years avoided the subject of Paul Foster Case's personal life.

On the whole I didn't find this book as satisfying as the earlier one. It had little of the excitement and electricity that characterized the ground-breaking work of "A Wicked Pack...," and once the chapters dealing with the Golden Dawn were finished, "History of the Occult Tarot" degenerates into a rather weary recitation of personal histories interspersed with tables of cabalistic and astrological correspondences. Much of the weariness, I suppose, can be ascribed to the fact that most of these latter-day systems ultimately derived from the work of Levi, and the subsequent systematization and program of practical application which the Golden Dawn created out of Levi's rather disorganized body of ideas. Altogether, it shows the futility of attempting to construct an architecture of rigid correspondences involving disparate esoteric systems.

As for your complaint that the authors did not offer a counter-interpretation of the meanings of the trumps and the trump system, this was not their objective; the titles are "Origins..." and "History of the Occult Tarot." There is, however, a brief theoretical exposition of the meanings of the trumps on pages 44-47 of "A Wicked Pack..."
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The thing I found unsatisfactory about Wicked Pack --- haven't read the new one --- is that I've seen this sort of thing done much better.

Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon is a much more satisfactory book dealing with a similar subject --- specifically, the background of the invention of Wicca. He goes into the cultural history of the preceding decades in detail, moving through such influences as romantic literature, the Boy Scouts and similar outdoorsy movements, and the influence of the seriously flawed anthropological theories of Sir James Frazer, and shows how these literary and cultural sources ultimately produced a series of shared fantasies about goddesses and paganism.

Wicked Pack left me with many unanswered questions. Why was a fantasy about a book of ancient and secret wisdom particularly compelling in late eighteenth century France? Why did the fantasy lay relatively dormant, until the thread was picked up and modified further in the latter third of the nineteenth century? It wasn't like there weren't important cultural and political developments going on at the same time that Court de Gébelin published his fantasies. I could probably begin to frame a hypothesis about the origin of the tale, about Freemasonry, political liberty, and the desire for sources of ancient wisdom outside the established religious traditions. Likewise, the links between occult practice and what was going on in the literary and artistic world in late nineteenth century France is an interesting subject, one which needs to be covered for full understanding. But to ask the question "why a fantasy," and "why these fantasies, specifically" would require a broader treatment and a more sympathetic mindset than Mr. Dummett was willing to give them.
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Cool


I thoroughly enjoyed both volumes of, and as, history…which often is not as pleasant as we would like it to be.
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Dummett's 'down to earth' treatment of the occult


Tarot sure attracts a wide range of interests! Of course, there is the divinational side of the cards, and then the philosophical aspects. Regarding the origin of the cards, a wide variety of speculative "theories" abound, and also, there is a group with more of a historical bend who want only to discuss the history of the cards that can be documented. I believe Dummett falls into this category. I have this book on the occult history of the cards on order, but have not read anything from it yet. I am more familiar with his "Wicked Pack of Cards" book, though I cannot find a copy and have not read that. I have heard of the book because some Tarot aficiandos rely heavily on that book to *disprove* any occult origins to the cards.

IM[most]HO, I see occult origins of the cards, so the historical accuracy really leaves me cold. History is like science, and is only relative to the moment, and always mutable as new information becomes available. Well, most of the time. I read an interesting book called "The New Inquisition" by Robert Anton Wilson that discusses how the established belief system discredits new findings that are incongruent with their own beliefs. It's an interesting book.

We have changed our view of life and Nature since the advent of modern science during the Renaissance. How Nature functions has been reduced to an incredibly accurate series of laws. However, the question of WHY still cannot be approached by science.

Rudolf Steiner said in the first quarter of the 20th century that one day (soon) science and spiritual science will one day affirm one another. We aren't there yet, and do not have instruments that will measure the spiritual element of life, that will record spirit's imprint on the physical world. In a kabalistic sense, the spirit world exists in a finer, more ethereal world 'above' the physical level, making it's detection that much more difficult on the physical plane.

Whether the Tarot originated in Egypt, or were devised by the Templars, or wherever they may have come from, I find odd the belief that they just happened out of a deck of playing cards. I will be open to what Dummett has to say in his new book, and recall that it is wisest when one keeps one thoughts in the clouds, to also establish contact with the earth, and learn what you down here think of things. I'm sure Dummett's book will be grounding and down to earth, and from what I've read about it already, perhaps lacking in lofty ideals.

I'm looking forward to this reading experience.
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