Circle Network Book Review: Esoteric Tarot - Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala by Ronald Decker 312 page paperback with line drawings Published by Quest Books Price: £14.99
The author, Ronald Decker, has provided detailed historical research, comparisons with various early decks and their uses. Ancient texts are explored: we visit China where dice with pips, such as dominos, become paper cards with pips; via Persia, India, Russia and even consider possible links to Mongolia. The life and works of the Hermetic teacher and tarot designer, 'Etteilia' (Jean-Baptiste Alliette) is provided along with the information that Casanova forbade the use of the cards and threw them on the fire because they revealed
his debauchery. Card meanings as they pertain to Cabala are also provided along with a general compendium. We touch upon Pythagorean mysticism, talismanic magic and astrological functions called 'lots' (held by El Bagetella, the Juggler who begins a journey of initiation from man to sage, such as was described in Apuleius's spiritual quest 'Metamorphosis'). We read that Hermetic philosophy uses images, numbers and symmetries for astrological, arithmetical and mystagogical purposes, all related to the tarot.
I think the contents of the book adds to the tarot interpreter's understanding of present day readings and will improve interpretation. I found there was greater substance in the older interpretations, of character, risk factors, effort and reputation, for instance, the Juggler could be considered as 'risk, test or experiment', and that this demon has dispensed our lot in life. The Fool with 'divine madness' encouraged by the Sun God, Apollo, had irrational behaviour which may have suggested the gift of prophecy.
It is a scholarly book with a very extensive bibliography. It is ideal reading for tarot devotees and those who wish for an in-depth understanding of academic and practical aspects of the tarot.
Ronald Decker resides in Kentucky and holds a BA in fine art from State University College at Buffalo and a Masters in painting from the University of Cincinnati graduate school. He has taught art and art history and until his retirement, he was curator of antique cards at The US Playing Card Company. He has studied Tarot cards in public and private collections throughout the world. Other books written or co-written by the author include 'Art and Arcana', 'History of the Occult Tarot' and 'A Wicked Pack of Cards'.
Reviewer: Wendy Stokes www.wendystokes.co.uk