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The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination Paperback – March 17, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This may be the best book ever written on that deck of cards decorated with mysterious images called the tarot. Dozens of books provide sketchy information on the cards' history and evolution before turning more discursive on how to interpret them. Place inverts that formula. Well-researched, entertainingly written chapters begin the book with information on where the tarot comes from and how it gained so much prominence as a tool for divination. Far from developing from deeply magical sources, as many have claimed, the tarot was originally just a deck of cards used for playing games. Even at the start, however, those games included some fortune-telling. Over the course of centuries, the cards' lore was enriched by thoughtful practitioners who added cards, elaborated their meanings, and connected their imagery to mythology and dreams. At the beginning of the twentieth century, an inspired young artist, Pamela Smith, drew upon her occult training and her own visions to create the now classic Rider-Waite deck. In a comprehensively researched and passionately argued chapter, Place restores Smith to her rightful position as the genius behind the deck. That Place also offers excellent guidance to actually reading the cards makes the book that much more appealing, as a how-to as well as a why-bother. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Robert M. Place is an internationally known visionary artist and illustrator. He is recognized as an expert on the Western mystical tradition and the history and philosophy of the Tarot, and his work has appeared in many books and publications. Place is also the designer, illustrator, and coauthor of the highly acclaimed Alchemical Tarot and The Angels Tarot. He has appeared on The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel and has conducted lectures and workshops throughout the country, including the Open Center and the Omega Institute in New York and the International Tarot Congress in Chicago. Place's work in precious metals have been displayed in museums such as the New York State Museum, the American Craft Museum, and the White House.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: TarcherPerigee (March 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585423491
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585423491
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is, without a doubt, one of the best books on Tarot that I've read in a long time. It's also a much-needed work in light of prevalent Tarot thought.

Straight up: I find it more than a little amazing that, after an abundance of time, discussion, and scholarship, some very common myths about Tarot still prevail. Haven't we gotten over the idea that Tarot came from the gypsies, or that it originated in Egypt as a pictoral representation of Thoth's teachings? These Tarot myths remain common today (and are often perpetuated by ill-informed authors). Hopefully, this book will help put them to rest. Place convincingly disproves these theories, but (and this is important) carefully notes what is valid and worthwhile about the occultists' perspective.

The real cream of this book comes not from the debunking (after all, Place is not the first author to set the record straight), but in his analysis of what Tarot truly is. This book is the only book available today that explores Tarot as it was intended by its creators, based on the influences and symbolism prevalent at the time of its creation. As someone long steeped in (and quite fond of) occult/Golden Dawn style Tarot practices, these insights are new and exciting approaches to Tarot. I get to be a beginner all over again! For devoted Tarot nerds like me, this is very good news.

Some folks might be put off by Place's style -- he doesn't allow much room for disagreements. Indeed, ordinarily such confidence would get up my nose, too. But his arguments are so convincing, and presented with none of the customary arrogance of many with strong opinions on magical topics, that I'm inclined to overlook that. His sincerity and love of his subject shine through every step of the way.
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Format: Paperback
Too many books on Tarot begin with old wives' tales ("The Tarot was created by the ancient Egyptians and carried throughout the world by Gypsies") or dubious advice ("All decks should be wrapped in silk cloth and smudged with sage once a month").

Not this one! Bob Place's _The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination_ is a frank, meticulously researched, and enormously satisfying look at the origins and applications of Tarot. While the book embraces mysticism (Place, for example, reveals his own work with the Tarot was initiated by a symbolic dream), its primary focus is on the card illustrations, the symbolism of the Tarot, and the rich heritage of myth and magic that lie at the heart of both.

Place's clear, concise writing style makes his practical and mystical histories of the Tarot - the first two major sections of the book - a pleasure to read. Few books on the subject of the Tarot offer so much information in such an approachable format; these chapters should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in the cards.

Why do the images on Tarot cards intrigue some and frighten others? As Joseph Campbell often pointed out, we live in a mythically illiterate society; signs and symbols immediately recognizable to viewers a few hundred years ago now, in our ignorance, strike us as mysterious and spooky. Beginning in Chapter 4, "Interpreting the Major and Minor Arcana," Place does his part to dispel mystery rooted in ignorance and reconnect the reader with the genuine myths and mysteries referenced in the details of each card.

Chapter Five, at first glance, appears to be little more than Place's notes on the popular and familiar images from the Rider-Waite Tarot.
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Format: Paperback
Other reviews here do a fine job of summarizing this groundbreaking work. I will just add why I am excited about Robert Place's work - all of it - and in particular this book. Personally, after 30 years of being drawn to Tarot but having a gnawing sense of doubt and questions, this book has made it all crystal clear and the study of Tarot fresh and fulfilling. On a larger scale, I believe this book will finally put divination back in its rightful place as a respected and fundamental tool for living life well - and that is whether it is used as a tool of study, a tool of meditation and reflection, or a method of divination. While the self help market has grown beyond huge, and has made remarkable advances in helping us poor seekers actually make tangible positive change - it still has a glaring omission in the area of the fundamental value of divination - when one looks at divination arts as a way to communicate with the unconscious mind. This is not the overtly obvious emphasis of Place in Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination but for me it is the underlying significance of this beautiful book.
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I am an avid student of the Tarot as well as an art historian and college professor. Robert Place's book is scholarly without being pedantic. His understanding of the way images influence their times and are, in turn, influenced by their times is admirable. His clear writing and jargon-free analysis (currently rare in academia)will delight all who love art and Tarot. I have enjoyed every page.
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If you buy one book on the Tarot, let it be this one. The first 175 pages are a little more dense than most popular books on Tarot, but that is because Place presents a history of the Tarot based on his wonderful ability to synthesize a wide variety of reputable sources on the Tarot. He has the mark of an intelligent, reliable writer: He tells the reader when there seems to be solid scholarly evidence for his assertions and ALSO has no hesitation in letting us know when, and how much, he is speculating in making other assertions. He dispels many rumors about the Tarot (as fun as some of these mysterious rumors may be!), but in the end, the real history is more fascinating than the rumors. His history in the first 175 pages touches on all decks up to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. THEN he turns to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. First he gives short bios of Waite and Smith, including explanations for how much each of them was responsible for certain aspects of creating the deck. And finally, he walks us through the cards of this influential deck, suggesting potential meanings and ways to read each card. You could jump to this section, but you will benefit from it most if you work your way through the impressive history. I'm actually blown away by how much Place covered in only 175 pages. After reading this book and looking at the keywords and associations in my popular books on Tarot, I can see how little credibility most of them have. It's as if most of the authors of popular books on Tarot just read a bunch of other popular books on Tarot and synthesized popular, unfounded impressionistic beliefs about the cards. You can do an impressionistic reading for yourself!

For the most part, I don't write many reviews on Amazon even though I do read them. I just feel very strongly about this book.
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