One of the greatest expressions of archetypal imagery must be the cards of the tarot deck. Devised in the fourteenth century as easily recognisable symbols for a series of card games, the fantastical images of these cards have, over the past two hundred years acquired a complex symbolic overlay. he original images, which may have originated from contemporary mnemonic systems such as those described by Frances Yates, have been developed and exploited by a long line of mystics and occultists to the extent that many of them now have little if anything in common with t he historic designs.
Rachel Pollack looks at over seventy modern tarot decks, analysing them from historical, artistic and 'functional' viewpoints. She divides them into a number of groups, examining those which have been constructed as a form of artistic expression, such as Salvador Dali's famous 'Universal' tarot, as well as those which are intended as an expression of occult, esoteric and philosophical systems.
There is a section on tarots which illustrate the myths and legends of various cultures, from Norse and Celtic, to Native American and Maya. Of particular interest is her selection of women's tarots. This is an increasingly important facet of the development of the modern esoteric cards. The idea of the tarot and its imagery has proved particularly appealing to many feminists, including a number of otherwise sceptical women parapsychologists. It is not immediately apparent why this should be so other than a cultural identity with 'wise women' and 'fortune telling', although I suspect that also the generally positive images of women portrayed in the decks may be a factor: 'strength' for instance is traditionally depicted as a female figure as are the cardinal virtues shown on t he cards.
Rachel Pollack's detailed commentary on the decks she analyses is pertinent, and she does not hesitate to criticise the poor standard of artwork that marrs some otherwise well thought-out designs. Nor does she allow a sympathetic understanding of the esoteric aspects of the cards to obscure the more mundane (if no less intriguing} historical and cultural background. The book is lavishly illustrated in colour and black and white and will be of value not only to practitioners of the esoteric tarot, but to collectors and card historians.
- John Rimmer, from Magonia 33, July 1989.