The Tarot: The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards

First published in 1972, The Tarot: The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards has been reprinted in 2007. More than just a companion book for the Sheridan-Douglas Tarot, it delves deeper in to the history and esotericism of the Tarot.

By Alfred Douglas · Book · Published by Sheridan-Douglas Press

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

"The Tarot - The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards" was first published in 1972, and works in conjunction with the Sheridan-Douglas Tarot. I word it this way, because calling it a "companion book" seems to lesson what it really is. Alfred Douglas is an occultist, and student of Madeline Montalban, a highly regarded occult scholar and teacher. His body of work also includes "The Oracle of Change: How to Consult the I Ching", and "Extra Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research".

In 2006 the "Sheridan Douglas Tarot" deck was republished, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time, to acquire a copy. I was very happy (even relieved, as I am a huge proponent of book/deck sets!) to see that the accompanying book was republished in 2007. Aside from correcting a few printers errors, altering the descriptions of the colors of the Major Arcana cards, and removing a specific phrase relating to Aleister Crowley and the "Thoth Tarot", the book has been left intact. This in itself is a gift, as we are allowed to look back in time and see the author's thought process through the existing cultural bias.

Douglas presents a short preface on what the Tarot is, including a chart listing the titles for the Major Arcana in Italian, French, and English. This is followed by a section on the origin of the Tarot cards, which includes a charted timeline that covers the period of 1275-1463, and addresses the appearance of playing cards and the Major Arcana.

The section on symbolism is an interesting one, as it addresses trade routes, Gnostic influences on medieval thought, and on the themes in the Major Arcana, as well as the various sources of Tarot imagery. Included in this section are scans of the Major Arcana from a typical 18th century Tarot deck, trump cards from a French "Tarot de Marseilles" deck circa 1900, and cards from a modern Italian Tarot deck. There is a great deal of "incidental" information in this section that caught my interest, such as notes on the Art of Memory, the game of Triumphs, the four Grail Hallows (sacred objects), and the four Treasures of Ireland.

Douglas describes the journey of individuation that is the Major Arcana, discussing the place of each card in turn, and the two types of individuation that comprise the journey (inner and outer). The cards are presented with black and white scans, a discussion of the card, and their upright and reversed meanings. There is something in his presentation that I have never seen before, and that is the presentation of the Fool at both the beginning and the end of the cards, with the first presentation based on the journey to come, and the second presentation based on a journey completed.

In the section on esoteric Tarot, Douglas addresses the work of Antoine Court de Gebelin, Eliphas Levi, and the members of the Golden Dawn. The charts presented in this chapter include Levi's associations of the Tarot Trumps and Hebrew Letters, the Tree of Life, and the Golden Dawn correspondences for the Major Arcana, Hebrew Letter, Path on the Tree of Life, and Astrological Attribution.

In the section on esoteric Tarot and the Minor Arcana, Douglas address the Court Cards and their association with the Divine name (Yod-Heh-Vau-Heh), and their esoteric titles. For the Pips (numbered cards), he lists each card and its esoteric title.

The presentation on the Court Cards includes a black and white scan, a paragraph on the traditional appearance of the figure, along with upright and reversed divinatory meanings.

The presentation of the Pips includes a black and white scan, with the upright and reversed divinatory meanings.

At the end of the book there is a section on reading the cards, with a nine card spread that appears to be a permutation of the traditional Celtic Cross spread; a thirteen card circular spread which functions as a twelve month spread, with the thirteenth card in the middle, representing the coming year in general; and a seven card Horseshoe spread.

In the section on meditation and the Tarot, there is a listing of each of the Major Arcana cards, along with the esoteric title and a description of the card.

The final chapter addresses the game of Tarocco, and how it is played. What a great way to enter into the spirit of the Tarot from its early times!

I love working with this deck, and I find the book to be of great value. Yes, the subjects it addresses have been covered in greater depth since its original printing, but as a representation of its time, and of the depth and breadth that Tarot can be, this book carries great value. It introduces the major players, and definitely gives one a place to start their own studies!

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer.

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