Review by Solandia
"The primary joy and responsibility of my occupation has been to serve as a conduit for Tarot. The Encyclopedia is the culmination of this endeavor. In future years, I hope that someone will look at the Encyclopedia the way I look on each tarot deck that comes my way - as a world of knowledge and wonder." - Stuart R. Kaplan, March 2005
Stuart Kaplan and Jean Huets have put together a very impressive fourth volume of The Encyclopedia of Tarot. It contains entries for 850 different Tarot decks created or published since 1990, and accompanied by over 11,000 card images that have been released or created since the third volume was printed -- and is one large and heavy tome!
The cover of the book shows the High Priestess from the Golden Tarot, the Hermit from the New Palladini, and the Princess of Arrows from the Lover's Path Tarot. Inside, the tarot card images are almost wholly black and white, with just sixteen pages of colour plates. A number of mainstream decks - from the Greenwood to the Halloween to the Kazanlar to the Spiral - have been reproduced at their full size (the few that have been scaled down to fit on the page have the percentage of their original size marked).
The encyclopedia entry for each deck lists the name of the artist(s), and author if the booklet was written separately; the publication date and publisher (or creation date if unpublished); a basic description of the deck's inspiration, structure, medium, and back design; and often quotes from the artist from their deck's companion material. There is often also personal commentary of the cards by the artist or author, explaining their choice of media, expanding on the imagery and explaining their interpretation, which is a most interesting addition.
The book is divided into the following chapters:
I - Unpublished Tarot Decks
II - Published Tarot Decks
Section: The Rider-Waite Tarot
Section: Tarot Decks from Japan
III - Antiques and Ancients
Section: The Tarot of Marseilles
Section: The Ancient Egyptian Temple
IV - Tarock Packs
Does Tarot Work?
The Unpublished Tarot Decks are not what I'd necessarily call unpublished, but has been defined for the purpose of the book as decks that are available to only a handful of people. Very limited edition decks have been included in this chapter; such as the International Icon Tarot, Mary-El and Tarot of Timeless Truth. A few other decks have made it into print since the book was written: the Adflatus Tarot (published in 2005 as the Revelations Tarot by Llewellyn), and oddly, the Tarot of the Dead (also published by Llewellyn in 2004), included in this section, I assume, because of its independent earlier release.
The published decks are categorised as decks that have been printed and distributed in quantities that make them readily available. The bulk of the published decks in the book are from the Stuart and Marilyn R. Kaplan Collection of Tarot Cards and Playing Cards, with some other contributors - Laurie Watts-Amato, particularly for her information on Japanese Tarots - and the Tarot Garden, who enabled the authors to obtain many other unusual decks. This is by far the largest section of the book, listing decks from the Adrian Tarot to the Zukunfts Tarot. There are also inset boxes with lists of theme decks, such as animals, Celtic decks, or those made with computer graphics.
The Rider-Waite Tarot section in the middle of Chapter II, is, not surprisingly, devoted to Rider-Waite reproductions and recolourings, from the Original Rider-Waite Tarot Pack to the Glow in the Dark Tarot. 'Tarot Decks from Japan' lists over one hundred Japanese (and Chinese) decks, many of which are based on anime and manga characters or series. These are often majors-only, 22-card sets, and only a handful of them were familiar to me (I have a lot of new decks to track down!)
The chapter on Antiques and Ancients display decks and reproductions originally printed before the 20th century: such as the Visconti-Sforza, the Mantegna, and the Etruria Minchiate. Its first sub-section focuses on the Tarot of Marseilles and its many variants; the second is titled The Ancient Egyptian Temple and is a 'pictorial history of decks based on ancient Egyptian symbolism'. There's no evidence for an Egyptian origin for the Tarot, but Egyptian-themed decks remain popular and numerous.
Tarock decks are Tarot-related, but are used strictly for gaming rather than divinatory or other individual or spiritual pursuits. The major arcana are printed with large numerals and do not feature the usual archetypal images, containing also a Joker card instead of a Fool card. An example of a Tarock deck is the Philatelique Tarot.
'Does Tarot Work?' is an article by Allen Stairs of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, discussing whether the Tarot 'works' - or, can it be used to accurately predict the future. I liked his comparison to predicting the weather:
"Under some conditions, we can make extremely accurate predictions of the weather. Under other conditions, our predictions are not very good at all. ... The conditions of a tarot reading are similarly chaotic and changing, and the instrument itself, the tarot deck, is not one hundred percent precise. Life and the world are simply too complicated for that."
The Annotated Bibliography at the back of the encyclopedia lists books, manuscripts, films, sound recordings, and magazine articles - over 1500 listings - that deal with Tarot, playing cards, or have had an impact on Tarot from the 18th to the 21st centuries. Websites were not included as they were considered too ephemeral. (As I run a website that has been online at the same address for more than seven years - I do take a little exception to that decision!)
I really enjoyed browsing through so many familiar and unfamiliar decks -- I never knew there was a Christmas-related Tarot - the Christmas Arcana - or that there were so many other decks by Australian artists. I did notice a few small spelling errors or typos in the book while reading it, mostly in artist or author names - Riccardo Minetti spelled as Menetti, Gaylan Winter of the Vision Quest Tarot instead of Gayan, for example - but given the massive scope of the book, a few small errors are entirely understandable.
Each of the four volumes that comprise the Encyclopedias of Tarot is complete in themselves - there is no repetition of material. These books are absolutely essential to have in the library of any collector or enthusiast. Though, a warning -- you will want to spend a lot of money on tracking down the beautiful, rare and unusual decks that decorate its pages.
Kate Hill (also known as Solandia) is the founder and editor of Aeclectic Tarot, and has reviewed more than 200 decks over the years.