Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, by Rachel Pollack
0722535724, 354 pp (incl. bibliography and index), 1980, 1983, 1997
Previously, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom was comprised of two volumes, one tackling the major arcana, and the second the minor; this revised edition helpfully combines them into one hefty tome.
After a brief history lesson, Pollack begins to explore the major arcana in depth, guiding the reader along the Fool’s Journey. She compares and contrasts cards from several decks for many of the cards, drawing on a rich mythological background from various sources, Christian, Hindu, the quabalah and occult significance. Brief histories of the cards are described, also giving a divinatory upright and reversed meaning for each.
With the minor arcana, Pollack focuses on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, as it was among the first to use pictures of people in the cards in addition to the weapons. She takes direction primarily from Waite’s description and interpretation of the cards, while giving upright and reversed meanings.
Pollack also describes how to give a reading, outlines several spreads, including the familiar Celtic Cross, giving sample readings with each. She goes into more depth than most other works previous to it as she describes how to use Tarot, psychological readings, in meditation, spreads as mandalas, etc.
With Pollack’s clear, concise manner and style, it’s not surprising her Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom is likely to be found among the books of any Tarot enthusiast – and rightly so. Whether using the Rider-Waite-Smith deck or one of it’s variations, this book is likely to be an invaluable tool to any student.
The Complete I Ching: The Definitive Translation, by Master Alfred Huang
Inner Traditions, 502 pp. (+ glossary & index), 1998, 2004
I Ching is a system of guidance (I wouldn’t call it divination, even though many do), and I definitely wouldn’t refer to it as fortune telling) which I first encountered over 30 years ago. At the time, it was one of the “divination” systems that was gaining in popularity. I found it not to be my style, so I put it aside. I learned Tarot, a bit of astrology, some rune lore, and a variety of other systems.
Imagine my surprise when this book appeared (unasked for) in a shipment of books for review. It seemed as if I was fated to re-explore this system. Having added three decades of life experience opened me to some of the subtler meanings of the trigrams (3-line portions of the total figure) and hexagrams (complete 6-line figures).
The author himself refers to it as a book of divination, but I feel his (Chinese) perception of divination is far removed from that of the average Westerner. He sees it as divine guidance, whereas most Westerners see it as predictions, thus my reluctance to use the word “divination”.
This translation, from a Taoist Master, is the most extensive treatment of the subject I have ever encountered. I have a couple of other translations in my library, but they lack the depth of understanding and insight this book provides. It is not an easy book to read and use, but that is to be expected. Contrary to popular belief, not all systems of guidance are susceptible to being simplified and made easily accessible.
Master Huang has provided some very workable shortcuts to arriving at the proper answer to any question, but getting there is only the smallest part of this procedure. There is no substitute for dedication and study. Once you know where to look for guidance you must still determine how it applies in your case; what action(s) you should undertake (or avoid); how to view your current situation and its eventual outcome.
Obviously, this is not a book to be read straight through. It is, in the strict sense, a reference book. Although Master Huang failed in his original intent to keep this book small, the quality of the work is so exceptional that it is hard to find fault with it. It is conceivable, barely, that a better rendering of this work from ancient Chinese into modern English may come along. But, in my opinion, if you wish to learn this system, this book will be an indispensable aid to your education. There is such a wealth of information contained in this book (each page contains the hexagram being discussed and the ideograph of the name, so there is no confusion) that it is hard to overstate the usefulness of this work. The commentaries are clear, with references which may be unfamiliar to the Western reader explained simply, and there is additional data provided for each diagram which, while not part of the classic I Ching, will be of benefit to those who wish to go a bit beyond the standard. This it is of use and benefit for both the novice and the more experienced user.
The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination: How to Cast the Diloggún, the Oracle of the Orishas, by Ocha’ni Lele (B. Stuart Myers)
Destiny Books, 0892818107, 2000
This is an extremely specialized book on an extremely specialized topic. The Diloggun is a divination method which, until the publication of this book (as far as I know), was handed down only within the Santeria community, and even then with restrictions firmly in place.
Although I have had readings done for me in the past, this book has helped to open up the experience. Had it been available twenty years ago, I’m sure I would have gotten even more from my first readings. I’m not sure about the wisdom of providing this depth of information to those not associated with the religion. One needs to be immersed in the culture, in my opinion.
The author intends this book as the introductory volume in what must ultimately be a much larger exploration of the subject. No one volume can truly give the information, background, stories and accessory data which make the reading of the shells such an intense experience. He speaks from experience, rather than theory, which is the only way to explain this complex system.
This book is aimed at followers of the Lucumi faith. While it is possible for others to use this method of divination, it seems to me that an immersion in the culture and belief system is an integral part of the experience. There is much more to this system of divination than the mere words on paper.
It is important to realize that this system of divination relies not on psychic ability, but upon a set of living, growing traditions. This way of communicating with the universe relies on proper forms of address, proper attitudes of respect, and proper interpretation of the responses received. Pronunciation of the invocations and prayers is expected to be correct; rhythm is important; reverence is paramount. This is not a system to be used in a frivolous manner. If you want to know if your lover is true to you, get out your Tarot cards. If you want an overview of the major influences in your life, this may be the system for you.
The prayers are given in the traditional language of the Lucumi, as is proper and traditional. Some of the information contained in them needed to be fine-tuned (assuming you know which orisha is your parent). If that is unknown, generic prayers are given.
Those who never been exposed to the Lucumi religion, and specifically to diloggun, will probably find the procedure confusing. It is far more involved than most commonly used system, takes far more preparation for the readings, and is far more exacting in the procedures to be followed, and the sequence to be adhered to. Do not even consider learning this system if you are at all impatient. There is much to be memorized, and perfected, before one is competent to use this system.
This book is best used as an adjunct to learning at the knees of an experienced practitioner. I would go so far as to say that this is the only practical way to learn this system.
The first 54 pages of this work lay out the groundwork which needs to be carried out for each reading. This is the smallest part of the book, yet it is vitally important. There are no shortcuts in the diloggun system. Once this section has been absorbed, it is time to move on to the possible results.
There would be little point to discussing this part of the book, as it makes far more sense to see it as a teaching tool (which it is), and not as something to simply read.
This book concludes with samples of readings; a short list of mail order sources of supply (unnecessary if you live in or near a large city); a thirty page glossary which, while not extensive covers all the basics; three pages of suggested reading (with comments on some of the more “popular” treatments); and an index.
This book should be considered as a start of a library devoted to the divinatory systems used by the Lucumi. There are several other volumes which should be included in such a library, and this author has promised to produce at least some of them.
This is not a book intended for the general reader, who might find themselves either confused, or bored, or both. Rather, it is intended for a relatively specialized audience. For that audience, however, it is one of the best, clearest, explanations of that divinatory system I have ever been exposed to. If you are very interested in learning about the diloggun system of divination, this book will provide you with an excellent start on the path.
Witching Stones: For Divination, Magic & Spells, by M. A. Madigan & P. M. Richards
Kit: Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738701947, 157 pp. + 35 stones and pouch, 2003
The Witching Stones kit includes a book, small velvet pouch, and thirty-five divination ‘stones’ painted with symbols familiar to neo-pagan witchcraft. In the preface Madigan and Richards explain that the kit is intended for novices, or those new to the Craft. They use the words ‘witch’ and ‘pagan’ interchangeably, while at the same time acknowledging that not everyone may see it that way (I don’t). But as they note, ‘no one tradition can be said to be more correct than any other’ and mention that they have ‘tried to draw from as many sources as possible’, further stating that ‘in cases where conflicting information was gathered, [they] attempted to provide as many differing viewpoints as seemed appropriate, without becoming overly confusing’.
The book contains a purification/banishing ritual to cleanse the ritual space, as well as a blessing for the stones. Several different divination layouts are presented ranging from simple to more complex draws.
Each symbol is discussed in alphabetical order of the symbol name, with a bit of history detailing what each symbol represents and its divinatory meaning. There are no reverse meanings, and there is no blank or ‘wyrd’ stone, as the authors point out ‘these stones are not just are not just another set of rune stones’. Instead each symbol has a past, present, and future meaning associated with it, depending on where it falls in the layouts offered in the book.
While the ideas represented in the symbols are explained in a neo-pagan paradigm, neo-paganism is not explained or discussed in much detail outside of a brief description of the Threefold law, and the Wiccan Rede. As noted, there are numerous books that do this already. The history of the symbols themselves is rarely discussed and it would have been interesting to see when and where each symbol originated from.
Toward the end of the book a selection of spells, divided into two sections, one for ‘Simple Spells’ and another for ‘Advanced Spells’ using the stones.
However, the ‘stones’ themselves are not in fact made of rock or even clay, but plastic. I don’t equate the magickal properties of rock and oil myself. Those with a preference for tradition may like to simply buy the book, as it is available to purchase separately at a fraction of the cost, and simply make one’s own stones. It might be fun for someone who wants to try something a little different.
Cards of Alchemy, by Raymond Buckland
Kit: Llewellyn Publications, 0738700533, 199 page book + 50 cards, 2003
Do not let the title fool you, or cause you to pass this deck by. You don’t need a working knowledge of alchemy for it to make sense (although that certainly wouldn’t hurt). Anyone, even someone with no knowledge of the subject of alchemy can find guidance within the contents of this deck and book combination. I would NOT recommend that you pick up the deck without the book, although you may simply want to get the book.
This is not a deck of cards for divining the future in the way of a standard Tarot. It is designed, by one of the more prominent figures (in my opinion) in the modern American Pagan/magickal community, to be a system of transformation for an individual.
The cards are unique in several ways. First, they are designed to be read horizontally, rather than vertically. Next, the symbolism on them is totally unlike any other deck. While still divided into “suits”, there are five suits of nine cards each, and five “Wild Cards”. Rather than elemental associations (which are reserved for the “Wild Cards”), the suits are assigned to various areas of human life (love, health, wealth, protection, and power). Each of the suits is divided into three sets of three, each set of which relates to a “degree” or level of experience. These levels are “Puffer” (Novice), “Initiate” (Experienced), and “Adept” (Master/Teacher)/. These grades are NOT related to magickal or Craft training, but are references to life experiences.
It is the intent of the creator of this deck to generate thought rather than to provide answers. In this it is more akin to the I-Ching than the Tarot. Because of the significant difference between the symbolism in this deck and that in a Tarot deck, of any design, I would recommend that you keep the book handy while working with this deck.
There are a number of layouts illustrated and explained: a four card spread called the “Star Cross”; a five card spread called “The Path”; and a seven card layout called the “Buckland Seven Star” spread. Each of these is thoroughly explained, as well as what the appearance of one (or more) “Wild Cards” in a reading means. The “Wild Cards” are similar to the Major Arcana cards in their influence.
There are a couple of paragraphs devoted to the use of this deck in standard Tarot layouts and as a divination tool for yourself or others; but this in the form, it appears to me, of an afterthought. The primary purpose of this deck is for inner development and knowledge and I would recommend that, at least in the beginning, that is what you restrict it to.
The major illustrations on each card are drawn from a wide variety of alchemical texts spanning nearly a millennium (from the tenth through the nineteenth Centuries), even though the additions by the author (the suits, grades, keyword, astrological balance, and stone of destiny) are modern. Each card is nicely illustrated, clearly drawn, and well laid out. The colors are pleasant and evocative.
The author has redrawn images from ancient texts. If he has modified them (an he does so), he tells you how they differ from the original illustrations. The major change he has introduced in many of them is in the use of colors and, occasionally, the deletion of some of the wording which appeared in the originals.
The designs on the “Wild Cards” is slightly different, as is to be expected. Each of them contains two separate illustrations, an elemental association, a keyword, and a ruling planet.
Also included are cards illustrating, and explaining. Each of the layouts (illustrations are on one side of the card, with the explanation on the reverse). There is also a card illustrating the “degrees” on one side (with a brief description of what each means) and the suits on the reverse side (identifying each and showing the area of life it is associated with.
If you are willing to experiment with the information contained in this set, and are willing to be honest with yourself, this set should help you towards a deeper understanding of yourself and your relationship to the external world.