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I try to keep abreast of Tarot as it appears in fiction but somehow I missed this one: The Holy by Daniel Quinn (2002). The entire book is the playing out of a Tarot reading, made explicit by full-page illustrations of Rider-Waite-Smith cards that introduce book sections.

The central what if is, “What if the God of the Bible was not the only God, and what if the “false gods” referred to in the ten commandments actually exist?” We can extend this to ask the questions: Who are they? and What do they want?—questions the author leaves only partially answered.

This is a Fool’s journey, cross country, undertaken by several different people, at first independently and then with converging stories, all foreseen in the Tarot reading that becomes explicit only as the tale evolves. Quinn is known for his philosophical novels, starting with the highly regarded Ishmael, for which he won the half-million dollar Turner Tomorrow Fellowship. Quinn is an original thinker whose process has been described as “seeing through the myths of this culture” or “ripping away the shades so that people can have a clear look at history and what we’re doing to the world.” It’s interesting that despite the centrality of the Tarot reading and Tarot illustrations in this book, the Tarot content is hardly ever mentioned and never discussed in the reviews I’ve read.

Synopsis: Sixty-plus year-old private detective Howard Scheim is hired by an acquaintance to discover if the “false gods” of the Bible really exist. In agreeing to discover if he can even undertake such an inquiry he interviews several people including a journalist, a tarot reader, a clairvoyant and a Satanist. Meanwhile the Kennesey family is undergoing upheaval as husband David decides to walk away from his job, his wife and his 12-year old son, Tim. Tim and his mother go searching for David and, when Tim becomes accidentally separated from his mother, Howard stumbles upon him and offers to help Tim find her. As it turns out both David and his son Tim are being courted by amoral, non-human “others” who plan to “wake up” humanity because their blindness is creating havoc. These “others,” who refuse to define themselves, are trickster beings, neither evil nor benevolent, who have existed far longer than homo sapiens. They have been known to enchant those humans who look to the physical world rather than to a transcendent being to benefit them.

The Celtic Cross Tarot reading shows Quinn to be knowledgeable about Tarot consulting. References to people named Case (P.F. Case authored an influential Tarot book) and John Dee (magician to Elizabeth I), as well as a road named Morning Star Path (a Golden Dawn offshoot was called the “Stella Matutina” or morning star) makes it clear that Quinn is referencing modern occult lore.

Tarot reader Denise starts by explaining that the first card in Howard’s reading indicates the predominant influence in the subject’s life. Howard draws the Seven of Swords and Denise asks Howard to tell her what it is about, explaining this is not her usual way of working but, “If I proceed normally, you’ll think I’m slanting it.”

He describes a thief stealing swords for a battle who has overlooked something (two swords left behind).” Denise summarizes it: “You’re getting ready for a battle and you’re overestimating your own cleverness and underestimating the strength of your enemy. You’re overconfident and you think you can’t be hurt in the enterprise you’ve planned. . . . The reading will center on the conflict you’re preparing for.”

The Seven of Swords is crossed by the Two of Pentacles: “The pentacles represent grave extremes: the beginning and the end, life and deah, infinite past and the infinite future, good and evil. Nevertheless, the young man is dancing.” Denise says he takes the situation too lightly.

The card above him is the Eight of Cups: “At best, you can hope for a strange journey, an adventure into darkness.”

The frontispiece illustration is that of the Seven of Cups, appearing in the reading in the environment position: “A man is disconcerted by an array of tantalizing apparitions of love, mystery, danger, riches, fame, and evil. Illusions will bedevil you. You’ll be pulled in many directions, and your choices will be confused.” Perhaps this is the underlying theme of not only this book but other works by Daniel Quinn: Humankind is bedeviled by the illusions of culture and civilization so that our choices are confused, centering on all the wrong things. Quinn has one of the characters quote Plato’s The Republic: “Whatever deceives can be said to enchant.” Adding, “Anyone who shakes off the deception shakes off the enchantment as well – and ceases to be one of you [a homo sapien].” The Holy, p. 260.

I’ve left out most of the interplay about the cards, and I won’t reveal more of the story as I hope you will explore this book for yourselves.

If you want to understand what motivates the “secret teachings of the Tarot” as characterized by the mid-to-late-20th century approach to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, it helps to look not only at the Anglo-American creators of that deck (Waite & Smith) but also at the hugh, but unacknowledged, influence of the uniquely-American New Thought movement and particularly William Walker Atkinson.

Those who have watched the video The Secret or read any of the works on the “Law of Attraction” by Abraham/Hicks and many, many others, may not be aware that this “think-and-grown-rich” concept is a direct descendant (with relatively little updating) of the 19th century American New Thought movement. It began, some say, with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), a practitioner of mesmerism or mental healing, and forms the basic tenets of the Unity Church and the Church of Religious Science. One of its branches drew heavily upon Theosophy and helped popularize Hindu yogic practices in the U.S.

One of the most prolific authors in the New Thought movement was William Walker Atkinson (1862-1932), editor of New Thought magazine, and author of Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (1906) in which can be found the basic tenets found in The Secret, including the use of positive thinking and affirmations. Atkinson used many pseudonyms, including Yogi Ramacharaka whose work Mystic Christianity features a chapter on “The Secret Doctrine” in which he quotes from Eliphas Levi and A.E. Waite. Here he reveals the mystical side of the “Secret”—that there is an Inner Teaching—from which organized religion has departed. This hidden spiritual message is

“the constant Mystic Message regarding the existence of the Spirit within the soul of each individual—that Something Within, to which all can turn, in time of pain and trouble—that Guide and Monitor which stands ever-ready to counsel, advise and direct if one opens himself to the Voice.”

Atkinson, through his hundreds of books and articles, taught that the “Key to the Mysteries” were methods to be used to listen to the still, silent voice within. He believed that “The Truth is the same, no matter under what name it is taught or who teaches it.” So, under his various pseudonyms, he presented it in the form of mystic christianity, hindu yogic practices, and hermetic wisdom, culminating in a book called The Kybalion by “Three Initiates,” outlining the seven Hermetic principles making up the “Law of Attraction,” which may in turn have been based on the Hermetic writings of Anna Kingsford who inspired the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

What’s interesting to us as tarot readers is the close ties that Atkinson’s brand of New Thought has to Tarot. The trail actually begins with Quimby’s belief in mesmerism, something in which Antoine Court de Gébelin also firmly believed (dying during a treatment by Mesmer himself). Then there is the obvious influence that Eliphas Lévi and A.E. Waite had on Atkinson who began as a mental healer and ended up as a promulgator of Hermetic and Rosicrucian Wisdom. Atkinson was also “Magus Incognito” who wrote The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, which includes a set of “seven cosmic principles” almost identical to those in The Kybalion. (Under the names Swami Bhakta Vishita and Swami Panchadasi, he wrote extensively on divination and seership.)

A couple of people found themselves drawn to Atkinson through their shared interests, culminating in several works. Both L.W. de Laurence (best remembered for plagarizing Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot and the RWS deck) and Paul Foster Case (founder of the Builders of the Adytum) moved to Chicago and collaborated with Atkinson (Psychomancy and Crystal Gazing was co-written with de Laurence). A well-established rumor has it that Case was one of the “Three Initiates” who wrote The Kybalion, using its principles as the basis of his Tarot correspondence course. Those who look for New Thought methods in this course will find them aplenty.

The whole concept of Vibration, made popular (if hackneyed) through the Hippie term “vibes,” is descriptive of the mental resonance experienced by those who use the Tarot, and especially by those who see the Tarot as a tool for deliberately making one’s life better rather than simply mirroring or predicting character and events. A reading of the above mentioned works will convince anyone of the direct connection between the modern American approach to Tarot and the New Thought movement.

Atkinson’s Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World is available here.

Added: Just found this comment by P.F.Case from his 1936 newsletter The Wheel of Life, in which he gave a list of “fellow builders” whose work he recommended to seekers: “Pioneers in the New Thought, like Helen Wilmans, William Walker Atkinson, Elizabeth Towns, Henry Wood and Judge Troward have all made valuable contributions.” Other recommendations include scientists such as Einstein and Jung; Manly Hall, Alice Bailey, and Marc Edmund Jones (astrologer).

The New Thought movement also deeply influenced the tarot perspective of Eden Gray, author of a series of books that made tarot reading readily accessible to the American youth of the 1960s and 70s (and are still popular today). See my bio of Eden Gray here.


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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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