Tuesday, July 04, 2006

REVIEW OF "THE TAROT: History, Symbolism, and Divination," by Robert M. Place

THE TAROT: History, Symbolism, and Divination

by Robert M. Place
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin; 2005; ISBN 1-58542-349-1

I first studied the Tarot over 30 years ago and have since read a great many articles and books on its history. Many of them rehashed the same information and a few presented something new or an intriguing slant on the old (at least to me, as I do not consider myself a Tarot scholar, just a passionate devotee). Place’s book is unique in his examination of the evolution of the Tarot symbols themselves. It was this aspect that drew me to the book and initially kept me captivated.

However, Place does not only cover the evolution of Tarot art/symbols, but goes into depth on the underlying philosophies that influenced these designs at any given time. After these chapters, he then examines the classic Rider/Waite/Smith deck’s evolution, making a good case for more important contributions to their design by the artist, Pamela Colman Smith, than she is usually given credit for. In the subsequent chapter, Place examines each of the Rider/Waite/Smith cards, which ultimately revivified the deck for this reader.

Place ends his book with a chapter on reading the cards and offers original layouts. In effect the book has by this point run the gamut from Tarot origins, to evolution, to a classic deck, ending in specific methods of use – effectively grounding the intellectual research in the practical use of the cards. This is an amazing accomplishment, especially as he does not give short-shrift to any of these areas.

Place’s scholarship is evident. He synthesizes information from art history, philosophies, and other Tarot scholars to offer a compelling picture of how the Tarot most probably evolved. I also kept recalling as I read that he has designed four Tarot decks (The Alchemical, The Saints, The Angels and The Buddha Tarots) with a fifth (The Vampire Tarot) soon to be published, and is therefore an artist himself. And what moved me literally from the beginning of the book was that his Tarot calling was presaged in a dream. (My three passions are dreams, poetry and Tarot. See my other blog for dreams and poetry; link at bottom of this post.) It is this combination of scholarship, artistry, and intuition that made the book such an intriguing and gut-trustworthy read for me.

This book is, in essence, a compact course on the Tarot, with an emphasis on the history of its art and symbols. It would be intriguing to people interested in art history of any kind. A person new to the Tarot could find it useful if starting at the chapter delving into the Rider/Waite/Smith deck card symbols and meanings, followed by the chapter on layouts, and then reading the rest of the book from the beginning. But most of all, I believe Place's book belongs in the Tarot library of every serious Tarot afficionado.

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Please see the top of the sidebar for my background with the Tarot and a recommendation to beginners.

‘til next time, keep enjoying The Tarot,


[aka: Patricia Kelly]

****If you wish to copy or use any of my writing, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”)**** SEE ALSO: Roswila’s Dream & Poetry Realm for some articles about Tarot.****


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