Review by Bonnie Cehovet
Opening the cover of Ancient Mysteries Tarot is best done with an open mind and an open heart. Roger Calverley comes from a background of over thirty years spent on the spiritual path, including doing daily meditations and working with Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. For six of those years he traveled throughout India, Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East, painting and teaching. As with another noted Tarot author/artist, Robert M. Place (The Buddha Tarot), Mr. Calverley's journey began with an extraordinary dream.
The dream took place in early morning, in a state that Mr. Calverley terms "asleep, but not asleep". He was walking in the woods, and came upon a rocky granite hill. In the side of the hill is an opening, or grotto. In front of this opening sits a lady, wearing a veil and grey robes. As he stands silently in front of her, he hears the words "Sybilla sum" in his mind. She is telling him that she is the Sybil. She speaks again: "Intro ibo ad altari Dei" (I go into the alter of God.)
They descend into darkness - into a small, circular alcove that is dimly lit. There is an alter, with stone pillars on each of its four sides. On the alter sits a crystal orb that radiates light. The silence in the room deepens, and the realization comes that the room is lit by moonlight, not by sunlight.
Upon waking, Mr. Calverley went to look at his Tarot deck (which heretofore had not held a place of prominence in his studies). There she was - the woman in his dream was the High Priestess! His closest affinity with any of the cards in the Tarot was with that of the Fool. He understood that if he were to progress in understanding the Tarot, that it was as the Fool that he must approach the High Priestess.
Before going into the meat of the book, I want to share how Mr. Calverley defines the Tarot in this book, He defines Tarot as three things: (1) Waite's Tarot, and others like it; (2) elements that were part of the ancient Mystery School tradition; and (3) the material that he himself developed while writing the Ancient Mysteries Tarot Book and developing the Ancient Mysteries Tarot deck.
Ancient Mysteries Tarot is literally based on the ancient Mystery School traditions. Mr. Calverley does a fair job of painting a picture of the early history of Tarot - of the times and the people involved, and of how the Tarot came to be what it is today. The images that are portrayed in this deck are taken from the Mystery Schools of pre-Christian Egypt, India, Greece, Mesopotamia and Meso-America. (Aside from his background in art, Mr. Calverley is also a historian and amateur archeologist, with first hand experience of North American sites. This gives him the benefit of the "feel" of particular cultures, as well as the intellectual cultural knowledge.)
One of the first things that Mr. Calverley addresses is the people that inhabit the Tarot world. His feeling is that, for the most part, they do not understand the ancient roots of Tarot, nor its esoteric symbology. For this reason, the suits in this deck have been renamed to reflect their elemental attribution - Fire (traditionally titled Wands), Water (traditionally titled Cups), Air (traditionally titled Swords) and Earth (traditionally titled Pentacles or Disks). In this manner, the element is being addressed directly, rather than through symbolism. One of the things that bothers me about Mr. Calverley's way of thinking is that he places great import on stone - calling it the backbone of mother earth. In a sense it is - but this also lead to the imagery in the deck being heavily concentrated on the material stone, which to me did not allow the elements, with the possible exception of Fire, to come through as they should have.
An interesting note here is that Mr. Calverley was given an inner "push" to start the artwork for this deck while he was still finishing the writing for the book (yes - the book came first!). In researching the Ancient Mysteries Tarot book he had begun to collect Tarot decks that he felt to be in keeping with the earliest traditions of divination and initiation. He drew upon the resources he had gathered during his travels to illustrate the deck that would accompany his book.
One of his decisions in mapping out the Ancient Mysteries Tarot was to go back to the older tradition of not illustrating the pips - to include only the symbols for each suit. His feeling here was that Waite did the world a disservice by illustrating the pips. While it opened up Tarot for acceptance by the public, he felt that the illustrations gave only one of the meanings that each card held. In essence, this presented grave problems in interpreting the cards. Mr. Calverley feels that reading with symbols only is more demanding of the reader, that it requires them to access their full knowledge of the element represented and the esoteric quality of the card number. While there is some truth in this logic, we have to remember that when reading for others the Seeker, the person being read for, is the focus of the reading. If they do not connect with the card, if it means nothing to them, then they will have a difficult time interacting during the reading.
As to the degree of positive or negative qualities present in a card (i.e. how well or poorly dignified it is), Mr. Calverley looks at this as a function of the degree of ego involvement of the Seeker. I would say that this is a rather general statement, as our level of ego generally determines our thoughts and actions, and therefore determines t he circumstances that we find ourselves in, which is, in the end, what Tarot is all about.
For reference, Mr. Calverley has included a set of color scans of the Tarot Trumps in a separate section. The first thing that he does is take us on what he terms the "long journey", where the work of each of the Tarot archetypes is defined by the voice of the Sibyl. From the book:
"Magus! This is the work, this is the duty before you. The earth of your physical and practical life, the air of intellect, the water of creative and emotional power, and the fire of spiritual mastery, they are there before you on the table to work with. You must make yourself their master.
I will be there behind you as the seeing eye of the High Priestess, as the power of the Divine Mother. My insight, my intuitive guidance will be with you at every step. Never hesitate to enter the temple of stillness and see through my eyes and feel through my heart of tender care. Take care that you see beneath appearances to the hidden forces that shape them. Be guided by the wisdom of your heart, your feeling of what is right."
And so it goes, for each of the cards. Would that each of us have been able to have this chat with the High Priestess at the beginning of our study with the Tarot!
We are taken on a cook's tour of the Tarot Trumps, as we are given a short background on where the images on the cards were taken from (i.e. the Emperor is from a Greek statue of Poisedon). This section is titles the Twenty One Gates, and does something very interesting - it poses a question of the Seeker from the point of view of the Trump. I have seen this done once before, that I remember, and that was in Mary Greer's Tarot For Yourself, where she gives keywords, an affirmation and a question for each of the Tarot cards.
Now things become really, really interesting! Mr. Calverley has chosen personification as the vehicle through which he introduces the Tarot Trumps, and walks through their journey of enlightenment (the Hero's Journey). Each of the Trumps takes on the personality of their archetype, and they converse with the Seeker, who has taken the form of the Fool. Things can be said in this manner that would take forever to explain in a linear fashion - I truly enjoyed the journey that we are gifted with here. It acts as a wonderful template for someone wanting to craft their own personal journey. From the book:
"The Fool: Your robes tell me that you are an initiate. You are different from worldly-minded people, but that difference is one that they respect. If I had robes like your, perhaps my worth would be appreciated?
Priestess: The robes I wear signify the path I follow, and the progress I have made. Are you ready to live as I do? Have you chosen to walk the way that leads beyond all suffering, and to follow it to the very end?
The Fool: I have little practical experience in the world. Ido not know my own strengths and weaknesses. I do not see or feel my full potential. What I want, and how much I am willing to sacrifice, are still a mystery to me. The best that I can say of myself is that I am open and ready to learn. But I am not yet wise. I do not feel that I am in a position to choose or to follow a way that is difficult.
Priestess: You imagine that the short direct path which leads straight to the summit of the mountain is hard. And you think that the long wandering path that moves upwards by slow degrees is easy. You are content to wander along the byways of the royal road and to take your time. You risk losing your way because you because you have not yet discovered a deep enough hunger for light and truth. But to make a good beginning, you must be radically honest with yourself. Consider whether the short, direct route is truly more demanding than the long, wandering approach."
Each of the Trumps is addressed in this way, in turn. What evolves is a marvelous story that keeps one turning the pages, looking for the next scene, the next "happening". And the connections between the "happenings", the Trumps, are concise and clear. What a wonderful book this would be to study with a group of friends - or students!
In their turn, the pips and the sacred numbers that they carry are turned into story. From the book:
On the Court Cards:
"Priestess: Out of the power of One comes Two. This is the power of polarity, duality, the relation of opposites. It is the potential for both creation and destruction. The experience of otherness and individuality first comes into existence with the Power of Two."
Now we go through each of the elements, and combine the power of the numbers and the energy of the element. From the book:
"Magician: Now let us consider the Power of Five in the energy of Fire. What would you make of that?
Fool: First, I review the meaning of Five. This number brings in change, and the way that this change flows may be disruptive. There could be uncertainty and a need to adapt. There could also be stress and adversity. But it is a time to be alert and skillful in order to avoid mishaps. Challenges often teach us a great deal. Because this is situated int he energy of Fire, we could think of it as creative ferment, or artistic turmoil, or because Fire is a very energetic symbol, we could predict the possibility of a frenetic pace full of surprises and unexpected twists. Here, we have a testing of sorts. It may force one to choose how to react, what course to take, how to resolve imbalances or conflicts, or how to adapt to change. The Fire energy could make for hot tempers, so patience and discernment are called for. And the unexpected quality thickens the plot.
Priestess: We are doing well, We are halfway to the turning point of ten."
"Fool: Can you tell me the leaning of the court cards?
Priestess: A King is destined to rule, which means to accomplish something for the common good. This general significance becomes coloured by the energy of the four elements. For example, the King of Fire will show different characteristics than the King of Water.
A Queen, in general, represents the deep and inward meaning of her symbol, in contrast to the outwardly directed activity of a King. She brings a sense of caring, intuitive insight, inspiration and aesthetic refinement to the various concerns that come before her. Reverence, healing and the power of love come from the Queen rather than the King. She is more intimate and spontaneous than her royal mate, because she brings the personal touch to her various relationships.
The Knight stands for action and responsibility to others. Knights are concerned with individual power, ability, attainment and they have great capacity for energetic action. But ego may be fairly prominent in a Knight, and his activities are often coloured by a need to exercise personal will and individual initiative. Energy and ambition characterize the Knight, and while he is courageous, he might also be headstrong.
The Page loves to explore and study, because he still has a lot to learn, and he knows it. A Page performs what is asked without question, but bringing messages is what he does much of the time (when he is not studying). He is not yet fully informed of what transpires on higher levels such as that of the Queen, because he is still only an apprentice, a novice, a trainee. Still, the Page is eager to develop himself, he wants to search for deeper wisdom and to explore higher knowledge. Innocence and good will are his basic attitude, and oftentimes, he finds himself a herald of fresh beginnings."
Included at the back of the book is an appendix with five keywords for each of the 78 Tarot cards. They represent, in order, the levels of Spirit; Fire (will and energy; Air (mental); Water (emotional) and Earth (practical). From the book:
"The Fool: Purity, Adventure, Innocence, Openness, Freedom
Ace of Fire: Opportunity, A New Cycle; Inspiration & Initiative; New Ideas; Optimism & Enthusiasm; Initiative
Queen of Water: Creative Energy; Nurturing; Psychic Insight; Love and Deep Feeling (often Motherly); Sensual & Seductive Experience"
What I would have liked to see included in this book would be specific spreads oriented to the type of spiritual insight that this deck is geared towards. I would recommend this book to those who have already begun their Tarot studies, and at least have a basic understanding of the cards. Deck and book are also best used for more spiritually oriented or meditative/ritual type experiences, as opposed to reading on a divinatory level.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.