Marco Benedetti and myself in a conversation moderated by Justin Michael. We talk about tarot’s Italian origins and show off lots of decks from our collections. Here’s a chance to see historic deck facsimiles, as well as Marco’s recreations of rare Italian decks.
This is a kick-off video to Justin’s Tarot Through the Ages series. He’s got some interesting things coming up that will introduce a new audience to tarot’s roots. Be sure to check out Justin’s Titans of Tarot series where he interviews luminaries like Robert Place, Vincent Pitisci, and Rachel Pollack.
Here’s a Youtube video of Justin Michael and myself in conversation a few months ago. In the first 30 minutes, I talk about my 50+ years involvement with tarot and how our understanding of tarot history has evolved. This is interspersed with personal experiences that led to my somewhat irrational antipathy toward esoteric and kabbalistic tarot.
In the second half, I show off my deck collection, especially decks by artisans who have revived obscure historic decks, like Yves Reynaud, Marco Benedetti, Sullivan Hismans, Pablo Robledo, Giordano Berti, and Il Meneghello (Osvaldo Menegazzi). In some cases, these decks only existed as printed sheets or photos in magazines.
Be sure to check out the rest of Justin’s channel. He has interviews with tarot luminaries like Robert Place and Rachel Pollock as well as reviews of TdM and other historic decks.
One of the most exciting events in my twenty years of collecting historic decks occurred in 2017 when Sullivan Hismans (Tarot Sheet Revival.com) introduced the Budapest Tarot. He meticulously recreated a very important fifteenth-century deck that only exists in museum collections as partly damaged uncut sheets of cards. This limited edition of 250 decks sold out quickly and has become a favorite reading deck of the lucky few who own one. Hismans just released another edition of 450 Budapest decks with some changes that I’ll illustrate below. But first, I want to put the deck in its historic context. Read more
For the first and last time on this blog I’m reviewing a deck by a DFO (Dead French Occultist). I usually run out of the room when someone starts in about Kabbalistic associations with tarot (it’s a personal hang-up). But I know a gorgeous deck when I see one. Marco Benedetti’s gold foil edition of Wirth’s 1926 deck is pure magic. Read more
Acquiring this hard-to-find deck inspired me to get acquainted with Valentina Visconti and learn about the chapter of her life depicted in these cards.
In 1389, Valentina set out in a magnificent procession from Milan to France to meet her husband Louis, Duke of Orléans, brother of the mad king of France, Charles VI. They had been married in a proxy ceremony two years before, but meeting in person was delayed while Valentina’s father, the Duke of Milan, scraped together her extremely expensive dowry. The procession stopped in the town of Asti to spend five days enjoying the Palio (horse races). Read more
Another beautiful edition of The Cartomancer just arrived in my mailbox. With a new owner, Arwen Lynch, the magazine has become even more eclectic. This issue contains thoughts on shadow work with tarot, plus articles on divination with tea leaves, Lenormand decks and playing cards. I was very happy to see several pages of tarot art in rich colors on a black background — a tradition in each issue. Read more
Sigismondo Malatesta, bad boy of the Renaissance, gave us our first documented evidence for tarot. Researcher Franco Pratesi discovered a note in a Florentine account book dated September 16, 1440 saying a deck of naibi a trionfi had been sent to Malatesta that was beautiful, expensive and decorated with his arms. In 1452 he surfaced again in connection with tarot. Bianca, the Duchess of Milan, sent a note to her husband Francesco saying Malatesta was asking for the trionfi cards that were made in Cremona. Read more
Waves of shock and grief are rolling through a large segment of the tarot community in reaction to the announcement that www.tarotforum.net will be shut down as of July 14, 2017. Since 2002, Tarotforum has been one of the largest and best-moderated communities on the internet. When Tarot_L on Yahoo shut down over a decade ago, Tarotforum became my go-to place for tarot history. I’m greatly relieved to learn that the forum will still exist in read-only form, so we won’t be losing its huge storehouse of information. Read more
Are you ready for immersion in the electrifying atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Paris? Etteilla, Cagliostro and de Gebelin flourished in this era of scientific marvels, crackpot inventions and magnetic healing. Pseudo-science, alchemy, astrology, and fantasies of the Golden Age swirled about uncritically in the public mind. In this atmosphere, stories of golden tablets under the pyramids inscribed with ancient wisdom didn’t seem the least bit implausible. Read more
At least three times in the past few weeks I’ve heard people refer to “the hairdresser Etteilla,” mindlessly repeating disinformation that Eliphas Levi and A. E. Waite rather viciously spread about the founder of modern tarot. Etteilla-bashing hit its stride in the mid-19th century when Eliphas Levi published statements like:
Etteilla or Alliette, an illumine hairdresser, exclusively engrossed by his divinatory system, and the emolument he could derive from it, neither proficient in his own language nor even in orthography, pretended to reform, and thus attribute to himself the Book of Thoth.
This illuminated hairdresser, after working for thirty years, only succeeded in producing a bastard set, the Keys of which are transposed, so that the numbers no longer answer to the signs.
The writings of Etteilla, now very rare, are obscure, wearisome and barbarous in style.
Generations of authors have mindlessly parroted Levi without bothering to learn about the man behind the slander. Read more
Click History for an illustrated story of Tarot's invention and development. The Cartomancy section teaches you how to read with historic decks. For an in-depth exploration of each trump card look in the Iconography section. The Blog has short articles on tarot books and decks, tips on card reading, and tarot in art and fiction.