The collection of papers in this historic two-volume set contains a kaleidoscopic view of tarot from a contemporary viewpoint. As Rachel Pollack states in her Foreword, “I am pretty sure [it] could not have been produced as recently as ten years ago.” (p xxvii). The material accrued from a call for papers for the 2008 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) conference. The manuscripts passed through numerous academic peer reviews. There are 29 papers by 23 authors and scholars. To close the six-year gap between collection and publication, there are 2014 postscripts to update author and article information.

The papers reflect a post-1980s viewpoint that “substantiate, revise, and expand on earlier research and creative representations.” (xxxvii) There’s an immense diversity in the topics represented, including insights into the cards, tarot history, cultural impact, uses, effects, explorations, methods, viewpoints from readers and observers, artists and experts. Another form of diversity is displayed in the philosophic, existential, psychological, occult, cultural, commercial, literary, and even quantum relationships with tarot theory. 

The articles are organized into topical categories. Volume 1 contains Part I: History and Innovation (9 papers). Volume 2 contains Part II: Tarot in the Arts (4 papers), Part III: The Art in Tarot (6 papers), and Part IV: Special Topics and Primary Sources (10 papers). The range of contributions corralled into these four topical headings is truly astonishing. There are scholarly analyses, sections of dissertations, historical analyses, as well as autobiographical papers from tarot deck creators, insights into poetry and literature based on tarot symbolism, and articles about tarot decks based on historic and literary sources. Articles present overviews of tarot’s relationship to the feminist and neo-pagan cultural movements, and historic revivals.  “Tarot in Culture” provides a receptacle for keenly developed ideas on a more advanced level.

Tarot In Culture makes it clear that as a tool of divination and an occult repository, the tarot is like the Minotaur, a disowned scion of a royal family that grew to maturity alone in a labyrinth. By all accounts, the Minotaur was a fearful monster. But its evolution, hidden, and shame-filled and misrepresented, actually obscured the Minotaur’s true role as an amalgamation of history, culture, and art. Society has casually and unthinkingly dismissed the tarot as a cheesy fortune-telling device, as a tool for scammers, or conversely as something that offers perfect answers. Little attention has been devoted to tarot’s role as a game, as a bell weather for artistic trends and social mores, and as a protean warehouse for philosophy, esotericism, culture, psychology and the human development movement. People see what they want to see – a monster, a threat, a hybrid, or a special vessel of an ingenious daemon.

These volumes are a milestone in tarot history. The tarot has emerged as a tangible and viable avenue for self-knowledge in mainstream culture. Like so many other facets of esotericism in Western culture – paganism, symbolic glyphs, magic, and the occult – this collection of papers reclaims tarot from its shabby categorization as an undesirable aberration at the fringe. The papers boldly establish tarot’s place as a irreplaceable reflection of the five hundred years of cultural development and the integration of evolving and reclaimed wisdom.

Tarot In Culture is very highly recommended to students of the tarot, to multi-disciplinary scholars of the humanities, and to cultural historians. It’s a must-have reference for tarot teachers. This is a unique collection of material to be savored for its breadth and depth. Ms. Auger deserves a special accolade for her dedication and persistence in overcoming obstacles to publication.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Edited by Emily E. Auger
Valleyhome Books, 2014
Lulu: hardcover – V1 $38.28, V2 $41.31; paperback – V1 $24.38 (364 pg), V2 $25.88 (474 pgs).

Kobo: ebook – V1 $10.99, V2 $14.99.
For a more detailed list of contents, see: emilyauger.weebly.com/tarot-in-culture.html

 

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