There are some books that are required reading for the serious tarot enthusiast, and this list represents my top five foundational books on tarot – books that will provide a solid historical, symbolic and esoteric foundation for any student.
1. Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (available in English as Transcendental Magic), by Éliphas Lévi (Alphonse-Louis Constant)
First published in 1855 as Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, it became a foundational text for the French occult revival. It was translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite in 1896 as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual and gained wider recognition among English-speaking occultists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dogma et rituel became the first occult text to weave elemental, alchemical, astrological and planetary theory with kabbalah, the tarot and ceremonial magick, synthesizing the first wholly integrated system of magick. It served and continues to serve as the basis for much symbolism found in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, and various contemporary mystery schools. While lacking in historical accuracy, and allowing for many liberties taken with its symbolic integrity, Dogma et rituel remains an important historical work for this reason. Continue reading
Mastering the Tarot: Basic Lessons in an Ancient Mystic Art, by Eden Gray
Signet, 0451137191, 221 pp. (incl. glossary and index), 1971
In Mastering the Tarot Gray outlines eighteen simple lessons to begin one’s studies in the Tarot. Using the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for reference, along with the picture, each card has listed an interpretation, reversed meaning, a description of what it could mean in a reading, and description of the card itself.
Several spreads are included, but he does not go into much depth in regards to finding or creating others. Along with the descriptions of the spreads, Gray also provides sample readings to indicate how the cards may be interpreted in a real setting.
I do have a few slight criticisms. Gray does have a tendency to shy away from negative meanings, especially when they may portent physical death, as well as a few silly superstitions he holds about the cards. For example, in a section on caring for the card he writes: ‘In some mysterious way, the Tarot cards seem to be influenced by the vibrations of those who handle them’. Taken with a healthy teaspoon of salt, these are not too prevalent and may be overlooked to a certain extent.
Despite some of its shortcomings, this is one of the better books I’ve read that aims to self-teach beginners, and I would recommend this, along with a few others, as a useful book for the beginner’s Tarot shelf, especially those using the Rider-Wait-Smith deck.