While working on painting the cards, I’ve also been researching and writing about them as I create the images. I’ve had my Marseilles deck since I was a teenager in school, fascinated by the mysterious pictures that emerged from the brightly coloured cardboard covering, but not prepared for the amount of study it takes to really understand what lay behind their origins in the neo-Platonic Renaissance. Finding texts about the cards that are carefully researched and that rely on legitimate sources is pretty hard, because the cards have become so aligned with cartomancy that they have almost entirely been swallowed up by the divinatory sub-culture, but there remain a few writers whose work is really worth spending some time with on the quest to understand how the cards evolved from the tarrochi of the Visconti – Sforza family decks to the Marseilles decks and on into the popular occult decks of the twentieth century.
I’ve been reading and enjoying Decker and Dummett’s History of the Occult Tarot, which traces the influence upon the tarot of late 19th Century Victorian occult groups and their fragmented remains in the 20th Century, when the Golden Dawn collapsed and was succeeded by numerous organizations that used the deck as a structural key to their understanding of the universe.Â
As an interpretive text from a Rosicrucian point of view, i.e. a Christian hermeticist’s approach, the Anonymous Meditations on the Tarot is unbeatable. The Anthroposophist turned Catholic Valentin Tomberg was actually the author of this lovely text, whichÂ provides beautifully prepared commentary on the tarot with multiple sources from mystics of all kinds. HeÂ makes up for his occasional lapses into evasive interpretations that avoid issues that may be uncomfortable to a Christian reader by offering delightful meditative journeys into his personal exploration of the arcana of the major trumps. These journeys may not be the best interpretations of the cards themselves, but they are a truly worthwhile exploration of the mind of a particularly well-studied hermeticist.Â
I would also recommend his 1996 book, “A Wicked Pack of Cards”, for the earlier history of occult Tarot, its origins in the 1780s and its development in the second half of the 19th century. Eliphas Levi (1856 IIRC) really laid the groundwork for occult Tarot in his “Dogme et rituel de la haute magie”. For the earlier, pre-esoteric history of Tarot the best source remains Dummett’s “The Game of Tarot”, 1980.
Tomberg is excellent, a “fireside” book with rich musings on each card.