Monað modes lust mæla gehƿylce ferð to feran.

The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History, and Symbolism - Barbara G. Walker Barbara G Walker is the sort of woman you imagine probably dances around her garden at midnight, naked, daubed in her own menstrual blood and wearing a tiara made of wheat. I find her very endearing, in a sort of 1980s west-coast-US kind of way. Her bibliography is neatly divided between what you might call ‘feminist spirituality’ books (mostly to do with supposed pre-modern matriarchal goddesses), and, strangely enough, knitting designs, which apparently are classics of their kind.

This book, and the accompanying deck, belong to the former group (although if she came out with a knitted tarot, I would definitely get it). I used to use tarot cards quite a lot, and this was my deck of choice. Not that I believe they allow you to predict the future – that would be mental – but I do find them a useful way of ‘mind-mapping’ big decisions when I'm in some confusing situation. They're an entertaining free-association tool.

Among tarot aficionados, this deck is notoriously little-used, most people finding it too dark, too uncompromising, too explicit, too woman-centric – basically all the reasons I like it so much. All the cards have these very stark, archetypal designs which I find extremely appealing, and every one seems to be about SEX! or DEATH! or SEX AND DEATH! For instance:


To give you an idea of her rambling, wise-woman, feminist-hippy, amiably nonsensical approach to interpretation, here's her take on the princess of wands, on the far right up there:

The Philistine name for the fish-tailed White Goddess was Atargis. Her Syrian name was Astarte. Her Babylonian name was Ishtar. At Der she was called Derceto, “Whale of Der,” the great Fish-mother who swallowed the phallic god Oannes, prototype of the biblical Jonah. Even Judeo-Christian Scriptures admitted that Jonah's whale was female, and he spent three days in her “womb” (not stomach) prior to his rebirth. The myth of the swallowing was really a sexual allegory. The fish was a common symbol of the yoni […blah blah…] that ubiquitous castration figure ever apparent in men's dreams and myths: the vagina dentata […blah blah…] power of the female over the male […] well-known principle in psychiatry that both sexes fantasize the vulva as a mouth [… etc.]

As you can probably see, she takes a slightly cavalier approach to comparative mythology, but the results are often weirdly productive and provocative, or at the very least morbidly fascinating.

Her particular brand of proto-Wiccan gynocentrism is unfashionable these days, but I find it very appealing and actually rather creatively stimulating. But it's hard to review this objectively. I must have had this deck since I was 15 or 16 (although I don't think I got the book itself till several years later), and a lot of the images in here are almost a natural part of my thought process now. Which is perhaps a little concerning.


Currently reading

Emir Abd El-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam
Gustavo Polit, Eric Geoffroy, Ahmed Bouyerdene
Progress: 70 %