Repeal of the Witchcraft Act


I just found this odd detail in a book published on the internet. It explains why there was a scarcity of Tarot decks in England (except for the RWS deck) pre-70s. Unfortunately he never seems to mention dates except for the date of repeal. [Also note the reference to Waddington's, which was both a deck publisher & importer.]

From Albert Meltzer’s anarchist autobiography, _I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels_:

“One of the minor curiosities I found when bookselling [note: he owned a bookstore on Gray’s Inn Rd. for about 5 years] was that one was constantly asked for tarot cards. For years these had been illegal -- the 'devil's bible' -- and imports were banned. Any pretext that it was 'only a game' was dismissed by Customs. Tarot readers lined up at Bow Street every Monday, to be fined with the prostitutes, palm readers and graphologists (the latter have since blossomed out as forensic scientists). Then the post-war Labour Government abolished the Witchcraft Act in 1946. It was a favour to the journalist Hannen Swaffer who had campaigned in the mainstream press for the Labour Party for years but refused an offer of the Lords. He merely asked for political relief to be given to the spiritualists. They were banned under the Witchcraft Act, and it was such medieval nonsense one could not amend it so it was abolished and so incidentally dream interpreters, psychics, tarot readers and soothsayers were legalised. Thus Britain emerged officially from the Dark Ages. . . .

“It was in order, therefore, to import Tarot cards but they were taxed 'as a game'. For years it had been insisted they were not a game. If they were religious appurtenances even of witchcraft, now legal, or at least not illegal, they could not incur tax. I tried fighting the Customs on this, but with no success. I could never afford to sue them, but tried to persuade the main importers, John Waddington, to do so. They, however, preferred paying tax and having it kept as a 'game'. It is curious how this nonsense upset the police. The bookshop was actually raided to see if I had imported Tarot cards and not paid tax on them. The police were quite apologetic. When I explained about the Witchcraft Act they were not sure if I was being sarcastic or not. Neither was I.”

Mary K. Greer


that's fascinating, thank you for that link


I found the whole thing delightful. Although I did not know the history of it all, the wry humour was just great. Talk about goings on ! Thank you.