Review by Bonnie Cehovet
This 1993 edition of "The Tarot", by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, is a revised and expanded edition of his original 1888 treatise. Mathers' stated purpose in this treatise was to present a brief history of the cards (relating to their earliest form, that of Tarot or Tarocchi), and to present enough information about the cards so that his readers could use the cards for fortune telling. His intent was also to introduce some of the Qabalistic and occult associations.
One of his first statements, while accurate, struck me as tremendously funny: he made a point to refute the idea that the first cards were invented to amuse King Charles VI of France. Mathers' thoughts on the origin of the Tarot are placed in line with those of Court de Gebelin, Levi and Etteilla, and that is that it has a Qabalistic-Egyptian origin. The history section is actually quite an interesting section.
Mathers gives a good description of the cards, starting with a chart that equates the names for the four suits in Italian, French and English, as well as to everyday playing cards (Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, Clubs). The Aces are set aside from the other numbers, and seen as they key to their respective suits. The Court Cards are listed as Fanti (or Valet) - Knave, Cavallo - Knight (or Horseman), Dama (or Reine) - Queen, and Re - King.
He notes that the Kings wear a cap of maintenance under their crown, while the Queens wear the crown only. The Queen of Pentacles and the Knave of Sceptors are the only figures seen in profile. He goes on to make several other comments about the Pips (numbered cards) and the Court Cards.
For the Major Arcana, Mathers presents a chart a chart associating the Italian, French and English titles for the cards with the Hebrew name and letter. He places Justice at VIII and Strength as XI. The Major Arcana are presented as short paragraphs (no scans) with a description of the card and upright keywords. He gives an example of how to read the twenty-two cards as one cohesive sentence.
In the next section, Mathers gives the upright and reversed meaning of each of the cards along with a black and white scan from the "Marseilles Tarot".
There is a section entitled "Special Insights", or special help for interpretation, which he acknowledging as coming mainly from Etteilla. We read things such as "Knave of Sceptres - Reversed: Notice between what cards the card falls, which will show whence it comes, and of what nature it is." and "Four of Cups: The following cards might show what the displeasure or anxiety was about, the preceeding cards, whence it originated."
In the section on reading the Court Cards, Mathers indicates that they may represent people ... especially the Kings and Queens. If the cards are used as significators, a male Seeker should be represented by the King closest to his complexion, a female Seeker should be represented the Queen closest to her own complexion. A youth or a young boy should be represented by a Knight, a very young girl a Knave.
Mathers presents three different spreads for reading the cards, as well as a template for using the cards as a game. At the end of the book Mathers says a few words about the occult and Qabalistic symbolism in the deck.
This is a wonderful book for someone who is interested in the history of Tarot, and/or interested in Mathers' place in it. It is not a book to teach the Tarot, and would be better understood by intermediate to advanced Tarot students.
© 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.