Working my way through stacks of saved magazines and newspaper clippings, I reached a 1997 copy of Yoga Journal. It fell open to a centerfold that seemed for a moment like the very essence of serenity.
I had never heard of Charles Belyea, and despite the fact that I know quite a bit about Asian philosophical and religious traditions in general, my knowledge of Taoism was superficial at best.
But my interest was captured when I flipped to the next pair of pages. For whatever reason, my eyes fell on the lower right-hand corner, and this passage immediately stood out:
[The following is lightly revised text from Chapter 2 of my book The Tarot: Methods, Mastery, and More.]
Divination may be as old as humankind, but it has been little recorded and even less studied. We can only speculate about how it was practiced by our ancestors, or how well it worked. But we can, perhaps, better understand the process of divining — our attempt to understand the shape and meaning of events — if we turn to other primal phenomena: language, myth, and play.
“When we contemplate our origins,” writes Richard Leakey, “we quickly come to focus on language.”…
Not long ago, I attended a fascinating webinar presented by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Although the Beinecke houses some of the earliest Tarot materials, this event was focused on a different but roughly contemporaneous item: the beautiful, baffling Voynich Manuscript.
Just as a refresher — the Voynich is famous because it was written in an undecipherable “language,” accompanied by an assortment of drawings that are simultaneously familiar and very strange. The vellum manuscript now contains 240 pages, but there were originally at least 14 more. A few pages fold out to form larger displays.
About a third…
There are, of course, no right/wrong, better/worse ways to approach Tarot. Part of its fascination lies in the variety of ways it can become part of anyone’s life and thought.
I’ve written about that diversity in Ten Doors to Tarot, which I hope is worth a read for newbies, as well as veteran practitioners.
But precisely because there are many different approaches to Tarot, there is great value in thinking about your personal choices, how they fit together, and how they shape your Tarot practice.
In Connecting with Tarot, I shared a little personal history — including my most unforgettable Tarot experience: reading for hundreds (literally!) of strangers, over three beautiful summers spent as the resident fortune-teller for Scarborough Renaissance Faire.
I remember it just like the picture shown above . . .
For quite a while, I’ve been publishing text adapted from the first two chapters of my book The Tarot: History, Mystery, and Lore. The segments have come out at odd times, though, with other stories in between.
So now that this particular series is complete, I thought it would be nice to have an easy way to read through the whole thing. If you’d like to do that, here’s your itinerary!
What we know about Tarot’s earliest origins
From miniature masterpieces to a “modern” model
Some early philosophical and cultural backgrounds
Court de Gebelin — and how the Tarot cards…
Kabbalah is a form of mystical Judaism, and like the Tarot, it has a very strong visual aspect — summed up in a diagram known as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The structure is organized around a set of numbered circles known as sefiroth (“glowing sapphires”), each of which represents an aspect of God.
There are several discrete substructures within the Tree.
The whole idea of an “esoteric Tarot” had begun toward the end of the 18th century, seemingly out of the blue. In the main, it was a kind of fantasy — generated by a few men who were already steeped in misunderstood lore.
Among the most consequential figures were a gentleman scholar, Antoine Court de Gébelin, and an innovative cartomancer who styled himself Etteilla. (Catch up on their respective activities in Backgrounds and Inventions.) Like generations of occult enthusiasts, both men had been eager to possess special knowledge and promote grand theories. …
Recently I wrote several stories about meditation. And while looking through some related materials collected over the years, I found a few unexpected resonances with Tarot practice . . . .
For example, this passage from American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck:
Attention is the cutting, burning sword, and our practice is to use that sword as much as we can. None of us is very willing to use it; but when we do — even for a few minutes — some cutting and burning takes place.
All practice aims to increase our ability to be attentive, not just in…
For this episode of Tarot Notes, I wanted to share two stories about the Tarot as creative inspiration.
I. From a dream to a theory
Tarot attracts a surprisingly wide range of enthusiasts — including the noted historian and social theorist Theodore Roszak.
Roszak began his career with The Making of a Counter Culture (1969), an influential study that shaped our understanding of more than one generation. He went on to write such provocative books as Where the Wasteland Ends (1972) and Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society (1979). …