So I’ve finished The Tarot by Richard Cavendish. I got it about a week ago–I ordered it from Amazon but wondered why it took two weeks to get here. Once I got it, I read the mailing label and it came from the UK. So that explains that.
I got the hardcover edition for the princely sum of $7 including shipping. Technically, it was free, as I redeemed points on My Coke Rewards for a free Amazon gift card. So that was a definite bonus. My copy is considered to be in ‘good’ condition, though honestly I’d classify it as ‘very good’ as the only real wear other than slight yellowing of the pages was a few minor tears in the dust jacket that I repaired. It’s available in softcover too, but this book is also out of print to the best of my knowledge. If you want a copy, I suggest you get one as soon as you find one in a condition that’s to your liking.
So the content page is this:
SECTION ONE – History
Origins and Legends
The Universal Key
SECTION TWO – Interpretation
The Twenty Two Trumps
SECTION THREE – Divination
The Cards and Their Meanings
Layouts and Readings
Notes to References in the Text
The introductory section that introduces the history of the cards is quite an entertaining read. It goes into some depth about them and explodes some of the myths that have grown up around them.
The overwhelming majority of the book is the second section that deals with the 22 Trumps/Major Arcana. He goes into quite a bit of detail about the symbolism of each card, which is both entertaining and useful. Unfortunately, the pip/Minor Arcana cards don’t get the attention of the 22 Majors. They never do. *shakes head* I honestly, though, would buy this book for this section alone. The part on meditation is actually fairly brief. Then again, there’s not much one can say when it’s an experience unique to each individual, so I had to consider that, too.
The third and final section is what most people will buy this book and Tarot cards for, and that is divination. He explains briefly the suits and each card’s meaning within that suit. He also includes brief descriptions of each of the Majors and how they can also be used in divination. After this, he gives several spreads and practice readings to try. I’ve been reading cards longer than a good number of you have been alive, and I always find sections like this useful. Some of the meanings are not the ‘traditional’ ones, necessarily, but that’s not a bad thing. They seem to stick very close to the ones Eden Gray gives in her books much of the time.
Another real strength of this book is the illustrations. It’s lushly illustrated throughout with both black and white and colour plates. Quite a few historical decks get decent representation here. As for ‘modern’ decks, this book was originally published in 1975, so a lot of the decks current readers may use obviously weren’t designed or published yet. But if you like looking at various historical decks, this book is also worth it for the plates of those alone.
There weren’t many flaws I could really find with this. One big one, though. is that some of this material has been superseded by newer work. That happens and there’s nothing that can be done about this. Another is an issue with Cavendish as an author. Evidently he’s still alive and kicking and in his 80s, God bless him. But I have some of his other works like the Encyclopaedia of the Unexplained: Magic, Occultism and Parapsychology, 1974 and The Black Arts and one thing I do NOT like about him is his fawning admiration of Crowley. Aleister Crowley is probably not someone I would have liked very much–I probably would have beaten the crap out of him before I turned him in for stealing–but he *did* have some good ideas that seem quaint now, but were way way ahead of their time in their day. Knowing this, I’m surprised the Thoth deck wasn’t really represented here. Anyway, know that Cavendish is a Crowley fanboy and take everything he writes about Crowley in that light. If you do so, you should be fine with this and his other works.