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Tarot and Divination Cards: A Visual Archive by Laetitia Barbier

Turning the pages of this book is like wandering the corridors of an enchanted castle where the walls are lined with over-sized images of tarot and fortune-telling cards, art from previous centuries, and the occasional surprise from contemporary popular culture. Barbier’s infectious joy and delight in all things cartomantic shines on every page of this wondrous book with the same energy and creativity she brings to her tarot classes on the Morbid Anatomy platform.

This book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia. It’s a collection curated by a connoisseur who’s eager to show us what she finds beautiful and fascinating. The 400-page book is packed with six hundred years of cartomantic tools, from the earliest tarot cards, to antique French playing cards, fortune telling cards found in chocolate bar wrappings, Alouette decks, Minchiate, Spanish playing cards, and iconic French oracle decks like Grand Etteilla and Lenormand.

We start our visual journey with an impeccable history of tarot. There’s nothing here to make a history nerd cringe. Mundane facts shimmer in Barbier’s charming Parisian voice.

Each trump card gets an eight-page treatment, beginning with a full-page reproduction of a work of art that resonates with the card, followed by over a dozen examples of historic cards and related art. It’s like seeing the card reflecting layered imagery in multiple mirrors simultaneously.

Barbier’s meditations on the suit symbols of the minor arcana and her brief interpretations of each card are poetic and thoughtful. They gave me new images that enrich my associations with the bare-bones Tarot de Marseille pips. Each suit gets four double-page spreads with nearly two dozen illustrations including many unusual playing card decks: transformation cards, French oracle decks educational decks, and decks with themes such as myth, heraldry, and vegetables.

The Cartomancy and Divination section comprises 130 pages that document early attempts to find allegories and moral lessons in playing cards.

As in the section on tarot suit cards, it begins with a discussion of the imagery and allegories in each pip symbol. Then Barbier gives a brief interpretation of each pip and court card based on French cartomantic traditions and her own experience and intuition. The section is densely illustrated with 19th century fortune telling cards.

Prominent French cartomancers get a short chapter each:  Etteilla, Mademoiselle Lenormand, the Tarot Astrologique of Georges Muchery, and several others, all illustrated with at least a dozen examples of their cards. The only non-French deck is the Eye of God printed in Prague in the 1860s.

The short modern tarot section contains a small selection of deck creators, many of whom Barbier knows personally. She has been deeply engaged with their decks and tells stories of her first encounter with the creator and the cards, and gives background on their process and inspiration. The section starts with Emi Brady’s linocut cards illustrated with North American flora and fauna. The Dust II Onyx deck creator is Courtney Alexander who describes herself as “black, fat, queer, and divine.” The Finnish duo known as UUSI is represented by three decks, the Pagan Otherworlds, the Eros Garden of Love deck where phalluses abound, and the mysterious black and gold Materia Prima deck. There are many more little known original decks in this section.

Let’s end with Barbier’s views on card reading:

Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate tarot as more of an Orphic art form than a fortune-telling tool. … It also is a trickster art form, because the cards aren’t here to tell the truth. They shed light on one of many truths that needs to be heard, seen, and made real for an instant.

This is a book to savor slowly. A book to pick up when you need an infusion of beauty and magic.

The heavy, glossy paper gives intense, saturated color that draws you into the images. At nearly four hundred pages, the book is a true door-stopper at a very reasonable price.

The book was published simultaneously in English and French and is available on Amazon in the US and France.

Get a copy signed by Laetitia on a lovely book plate at the Morbid Anatomy gift shop.

At this same link you can see many more images of the inside of the book.
While at the Morbid Anatomy website, check out Laetitia’s tarot classes. I’ve taken several and they are always high-energy, creative and inspiring.

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