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Monday, December 11th, 2006

Time Event
4:53a
Very nice ...
As opposed to most of the books reviewed in this space of late, I only recently (in the past couple of weeks) bought this one. I'd been surfing through Amazon's "Recommended for you" listings and noticed it. Now, I've read a good deal of the "Fourth Way" material, and have another half a dozen books by Ouspensky on my shelves, so I was surprised that I had never encountered (so that I'd noticed) his book on the Tarot, from either my readings of his writings, or my readings of material dealing with the Tarot.

So, I was very pleased to find that P.D. Ouspensky's The Symbolism of the Tarot: Philosophy of Occultism in Pictures and Numbers was quite a special little book. Now, I'm using "little" advisedly, as it is only 63 pages long, but it is quite an eye-opener. The first quarter of the book is Ouspensky's essay about the Tarot, and his discussion there is one of the clearest and most cogent of any that I've encountered (if bearing the "theosophical" slant of his age). I've always admired Ouspenksy's writing, as he takes the time to make sure that his readers are following what he's meaning to communicate (which is a highly unusual stance for most "metaphysical" authors!), and that's certainly evident in this essay.

The bulk of the book, however, are meditations on the Major Arcana. It appears that Ouspensky was working with the Rider-Waite deck, as his descriptions hew closely to these images. The cards are "read" in an interesting order ... starting at either end and alternating as he worked towards the middle (I, 0, II, XXI, III, XX, etc.), which corresponds to how he posits these archetypes being used in ancient mystery schools.

I was fascinated to discover things, via his descriptions, that I had never noticed in decades of familiarity with these cards (as an example, the re-appearance of the towers from The Moon card in the background of the Death card), and found his "character development" imagery (that the Magician, the Fool, and the driver of the Chariot are all the same person at different stages, and that various women represent the unveiling of Nature and/or the Goddess through the mystical quest) very compelling.

Again, the combination of the discursive essay with the progressive meditations on the various cards ended up being quite a satisfying expression. Frankly, it almost seems out of character for Ouspensky to be dealing with something on this level, so it also has that "look for what seems out of place" element to it. This is hardly a standard Tarot book, but is more aligned to the sub-title "Philosophy of Occultism in Pictures and Numbers" embodied in Ouspensky's take on this one esoteric subject.

The present edition of Ouspensky's The Symbolism of the Tarot is a Dover 1976 reprint of the 1913 original (with the addition of the cover being a fold-out that is printed both sides with copies of the Rider-Waite deck's Major Arcana, so that the reader can "follow along"), and is still in print for a very minimal $4.95 cover price ... although I picked it up for a buck via one of the Amazon new/used vendors. At this price, everybody with an interest in mysticism, the Tarot, or Ouspensky should definitely have this one in their library!


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