Review by Solandia
The Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail is an academic thesis focusing on the links between the historical trump cards of tarot and the medieval legends of the Holy Grail.
Margaret Starbird, who is also the author of two other books on a similar theme of the Sacred Feminine in Christianity, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail, and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine, has spent years researching the stories of the Grail. One day, she stumbled upon a book on an unfamiliar topic but with familiar symbols, and a fascination with tarot and its links with the Holy Grail began.
Starbird believes that the Grigonneur deck contains the oldest examples of tarot trumps, and thus has exhaustively searched the remaining cards of this deck for historical clues and evidence of their association with the Grail heresy. The centre of the book contains several pages of full colour plates, photographs of the Grigonneur trumps. Today, there are only 16 of these trumps extant, and missing from the modern major arcana line-up are the Star, the Hermit, the Wheel of Fortune, the Empress, the High Priestess, and the Fool.
In the book's text, Starbird corrects some of 'speculative and false' notions about tarot's origins, and puts forward her theory, based on historical evidence, that the original trumps of the Grigonneur tarot deck were a "visual catechism". That is, a tool for communicating the message and preserving the traditions of the Church of the Holy Grail, at a time when the overt activities of their faith were suppressed as heresy by the Catholic Inquisition. According to Starbird, the Grailists believed that 'Jesus was married, that his wife and child found political refuge in Gaul, and that his bloodline, the sang raal of the royal house of David, survived in Europe'.
Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail is comparatively short, just 74 pages long, as it was written as a university thesis. It is comprised of chapters on the Sources of the Tarot, the history and background of the suit symbols, Origins of the Tarot Trumps, which debunks popular myths of the origins of tarot and links the cards instead to medieval 'instructive' decks used as an aid to memorisation. It has a strong scholarly style, which sometimes hinders its readability, but on the whole is a persuasive look at the purpose and influences on early versions of the major arcana.
Kate Hill (also known as Solandia) is the founder and editor of Aeclectic Tarot, and has reviewed more than 200 decks over the years.