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Once upon a time in a far away land, an American heiress named Mary Wallace Shillito lost her beloved sister. In her grief she wandered the world until she came to the Salève mountains of France where she fell in love with the exquisite view. She vowed to build a sanctuary there and dedicate it to her sister. Several years later she met Assan Faride Dina, a part-Hindu part-French native of the then-British island of Mauritius (which lies off the southeast coast of Africa). He was an astronomer and engineer with an interest in Assyriology and occult metaphysics. They married and together built Le Château des Avenières, which they decorated with sphinxes, mythological figures, grottos and underground pools with the symbol of Mercury.

But, the most magnificent and mysterious room of all was the chapel, in which the walls were covered with mosaic tarot cards in the tradition of the Tarot de Marseille while blending in the occult mysteries of the Oswald Wirth Tarot.

Take a journey through this magnificent occult chapel where you can view all 22 Major Arcana and read the stories of Mary Shillito and Assan Dina here. You may also want to visit the website of the Hotel Le Château des Avenières where you can schedule a stay and visit the chapel. Personally, I’m dreaming of the day when a tarot conference will take place there. Is anyone willing to off-set some of the costs of such a fabulous event? Let me know. I also found some mentions of the the Chapel here Schwaller de Lubicz by H. Dossier and Emmanuel Dufour-Kowalski.

First, I need to be forthcoming and let you know that despite my 1,000+ collection of tarot decks, the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) Tarot is my all-time favorite (not that I don’t like and use many others). I’ll talk about the reasons another time. Now I just want to offer up this tidbit of publishing history.

This deck, first published in December 1909 simply as “Tarot Cards,” was available more-or-less continually from 1910 until 1939 when Rider appears to have ceased publication. This may have been because of the WWII bombings when paper was scarce and the printing plates destroyed. French and Italian decks had never been easily available in England as such imports were heavily taxed. The Waite-Smith Tarot Cards were not officially republished until 1971 when the publisher/importer Waddington Playing Card Co Ltd. and U.S. Games, under a license from Rider & Co., jointly began publishing a version printed by A. G. Mueller in Switzerland.

I was always curious why such a popular deck was out-of-print for so long, until I came across this autobiography by one-time London bookseller Albert Meltzer called I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels (Oakland CA: AK Press, 1996) and online here. As Meltzer tells it:

One of the minor curiosities I found when bookselling [he owned a bookstore on Gray’s Inn Rd.] was that one was constantly asked for tarot cards. For years these had been illegal — the ‘devil’s bible’ — and imports were banned. Any pretext that it was ‘only a game’ was dismissed by Customs. Tarot readers lined up at Bow Street every Monday, to be fined with the prostitutes, palm readers and graphologists (the latter have since blossomed out as forensic scientists).

Then the post-war Labour Government abolished the Witchcraft Act in 1946 [the actual year was 1951]. It was a favour to the journalist Hannen Swaffer* who had campaigned in the mainstream press for the Labour Party for years but refused an offer of the Lords. He merely asked for political relief to be given to the spiritualists. They were banned under the Witchcraft Act, and it was such medieval nonsense one could not amend it so it was abolished and so incidentally dream interpreters, psychics, tarot readers and soothsayers were legalised. Thus Britain emerged officially from the Dark Ages. . . .

It was in order, therefore, to import Tarot cards but they were taxed ‘as a game’. For years it had been insisted they were not a game. If they were religious appurtenances even of witchcraft, now legal, or at least not illegal, they could not incur tax. I tried fighting the Customs on this, but with no success. I could never afford to sue them, but tried to persuade the main importers, John Waddington, to do so. They, however, preferred paying tax and having it kept as a ‘game’. It is curious how this nonsense upset the police. The bookshop was actually raided to see if I had imported Tarot cards and not paid tax on them. The police were quite apologetic. When I explained about the Witchcraft Act they were not sure if I was being sarcastic or not. Neither was I.

So, from 1939 until 1951 (the year Pixie Smith died) it appears that fortune-telling cards were considered, in England, to be illegal under the Witchcraft Act, and no one was willing to take this issue to court. After 1951 and until the late sixties they were probably simply thought strange and old fashioned. The gap was filled for a while by Rolla Nordic who issued her own version of a Marseille tarot. Then, some old works on tarot were republished, and new works began to appear in the United States.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., University Books began publishing its own version of the deck in the early sixties (followed by Merrimack and Frankie Albano’s Tarot Productions), ceasing when U.S. Games started enforcing a copyright in 1971. Read my discussion of the 1969 Tarot Renaissance here.

*Slightly off-topic but to fill in some gaps in the quote above: In Great Britain, in 1951 the Fraudulent Mediums Act replaced the 1735 Witchcraft Act, which had increasingly been applied to Spiritualists and mediums. The last person to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act was Helen Duncan who in 1943, during a séance in Portsmouth, channeled a young man who told the gathering, which included his mother, that his ship had been sunk. The mother contacted the War Office asking for details. An investigation was launched into Duncan’s activities prompted by this revelation of top-secret information during war time. Supposedly the authorities became concerned that the medium might make pronouncements about the D-Day plans. Helen Duncan was tried and convicted in 1944, serving nine months in prison. The journalist and ghost-hunter Harry Price had investigated Helen Duncan’s ectoplasmic mediumship years before, and he claimed to have proven her a fraud. The British Society of Paranormal Studies and Duncan’s granddaughter recently have been petitioning the government for a pardon.

As a result of his own interests in Spiritualism and spurred on by the conviction of Helen Duncan, the popular journalist Hannen Swaffer (who was influential in and for the Labour Party), asked for restrictions on Spiritualism to be lifted as a reward for his services. To do so, the Government had to abolish the medieval Witchcraft Act. Three years later Spiritualism was officially recognized as a religion.

“I heard a distemperate dicer solemnly sweare that he faithfully beleeved, that dice were first made of the bones of a witch, and the cards of her skin, in which there hath ever sithence remained an enchantment that whosoever once taketh delight in either, he shall never have power utterly to leave them.”
—George Whetstone, The Enemie to Unthriftinesse, 1586.

In a 1519 Milanese edition of a 14th century Spanish romance poem called La Spagna Istoriata, the hero Roland tries to discover the enemies of Charlemagne via magic by making a circle and casting or “throwing” the cards (fece un cerchio e poscia gittò le carte). Ross Caldwell tracked down the evidence and discovered that this phrase appears in only that one edition. All others say: fece un gran cerchio e poi gettava l’arte (“he made a big circle and then cast the art”). Upon comparing several versions Ross came to the conclusion that Roland is using a grimoire. He has a book in hand, he makes the circle, “throws the art,” and in the next verse he starts reading (leggendo il libro). Whereupon thousands of demons, big and small, enter the circle. Ross thinks that the best reading for “gettava” is “threw OPEN” the book (of art), and that the 1519 reference to le carte probably signifies throwing open the “pages” of the grimoire. I mention this possibility here since the reference appears in several books as evidence of an early use of playing cards in magic, which may not be the case. However, in the 17th century painting below we do see playing cards being used in a magic circle—so it is not completely beyond the range of possibility.

Ruth Martin in Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice, 1550-1650 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989) tells of one Isabella Bellochio who in January of 1589 was “found guilty of being apostate from God.” It seems she so desperately wanted a faithless lover to return to her that she called on the Devil for assistance. Her housemaid testified that Isabella had burned a candle continuously in the kitchen “in front of a devil and the tarots.” Later the same year in another trial, a witch named Angela was accused of telling a client “‘you need to adore the devil if you want to get help,’ and she suggested getting hold of a tarot card.”

Marisa Milani, professor of the literature of folklore at the University of Padua, who did the original research in the Venetian Sant-Uffizio archive, claims this was a regular part of Venetian “martelli” (love magic): “One such ritual made use of the tarot cards, especially the one that portrayed the devil, which they would place next to a light until a certain time of day when prayers were addressed to it and formulas were recited.” Quoted in Margaret F. Rosenthal in The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth Century Venice (U of Chicago Press, 1992). Marisa Milani, wrote about these practices in Antiche Pratiche di medicina popolare nei processi del S. Uffizio (Venezia, 1527-1591) (Padova, 1986).

In 1622 Pierre de l’Ancre published in L’incredulité et mescréance du sortilege plainement convaincue (Paris) that one Jean Jordain made a pact with the Devil that was sealed by two playing cards: the 2 and 4 of Hearts. We are told that the Devil chose the two of hearts “to mark that he would not have two hearts to serve two masters.” The Two of Hearts was later destroyed, rendering the pact null and void. Del’Ancre defined cartomancy as “a type of divination certain people practice who take the images and place them in the presence of certain demons or spirits, which they have summoned, so that those images will instruct them on the things that they want to know.” (Thanks to Ross Caldwell for additional details.)

But the evidence is not just from court room records in Venice. Two 17th century works of art attest to the use of playing cards in witchcraft. “Depart pour le Sabat” by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) shows playing cards as part of a magical circle (see picture at top and to the right.)

Slightly more ambiguous is the 1626 engraving by Jan van de Velde in which a sorceress conjures demons while playing cards lay at her feet.

An accompanying text reads: “What evils Desire commands, in the small secluded place; who, by sweet incantation, overcomes the minds of the purest mortals, induces frenzy in everyone! But how quickly it slips by; Death overtakes brief life, brief delights. Laughing for a moment, in eternity suffering regret.” (Translation by Ross Caldwell.)

Before you condemn these women you might want to read “Marriage or a Career?: witchcraft as an alternative in seventeenth century Venice” by Sally Scully (Journal of Social History, Summer 1995). Scully postulates that “witchcraft was a role available to women for managing their lives, operating as individual players on the social stage. To call it a career option may not be anachronistic.”

It should be noted that Isabella Bellochio was a staunch Christian who, in calling on the Devil to obtain her desires was merely “giving the Devil his due”—she knew she was doing something wrong in trying to coerce another to fulfill her own desires and so recognized this as the Devil’s work in his role as the lord of base, material desires. As Guido Ruggiero explained in Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage and Power at the End of the Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 1993), it did not signify for Isabella that she  rejected Christ for the Devil. “I never understood”, she claimed, “that one had to pray to or honor the Devil but only that one must light a lamp to him in order to have that which one desired, that is in this case my lover. Thus I did not light it with the intention of worshiping or praying to him, but with the intention that my lover be made to come.” In a sense it was an honest acknowledgement that, in the context of Christianity, whenever you try to achieve your own desires at the expense of another you are doing the Devil’s work.

See also this report by Ross Caldwell on Spanish cartomancy and witchcraft from at least the 16th century – here.

Chicago Public Radio “This American Life” features a 12 minute audio essay “Act Two: Bar Car Prophesy” in which

Writer Rosie Schaap tells the story of how she ingratiated herself into the adult society of the Metroliner commuter train bar car as a teenager. She would cast Tarot card prophesies for riders, in exchange for beer. This was fun and made her feel grown-up, until the cards showed her something she wasn’t really ready to see.

Listen to the free streaming audio here. This episode starts at minute 22:00 (that magic tarot number!); the tarot material at minute 25:00.

Rosie Schaap is an editor and writer at Guideposts, an inspirational magazine started by Norman Vincent Peale.

Is there any “true” way to lay the cards? Probably not. But here is the first tarot spread to appear in print. It is in an article by le Comte de M*** (Mellet) in Court de Gébelin’s Le Monde Primitif (1781). The spread instructions were followed by a sample interpretation—the dream of Joseph in the Bible. I decided that such a simple but powerful layout deserves to be brought back “into play.” Try it out for yourself.

The layout is best accomplished by two people working together, who have divided the deck into two stacks so that each has one of them:

Person 1 — the 56 Minor Arcana
Person 2 — the 22 Trumps (Major Arcana).

Each person takes their stack, shuffles it, and then simultaneously goes through the stacks card-by-card as follows:

Person 1: Turns the cards of the Minor Arcana over one-by-one while counting Ace, 2, 3, 4, … Page, Knight, Queen, King (use the court card names from your own deck), and continue counting with the Ace. Any card which has the same number or rank as that named is to be set aside. That is, if when counting 5, you turn over a 5 of any suit, that card is selected and put to the side.

Person 2: Goes through the Trumps at the same time, putting down a card each time Person 1 does so, but without turning it over. When Person 1 puts a card aside (because the number and the card matched), Person 2 takes the card he/she put down at the same time and turns it face up next to Person 1’s card to form a pair. When Person 2 has gone through all the Trumps, he/she picks up the reject stack and continues to put them down in the now-reversed order.

The process ends when Person 1 runs out of Minor Arcana cards.

Interpret the resulting cards as pairs.

oldestspread025.jpgFor example, in the first reading I did with this spread, the result of the count was:

Ace of Pentacles — Lovers
Ace of Cups — Sun
Three of Cups — Death
Knight of Wands — Star

These cards had an incredible feeling of power about them. My partner in the reading immediately said, “It’s all about the deaths!” and I realized he was right. We had just found out about the deaths of three people we knew (Three of Cups plus Death). Three incredible people—each making the transition (Knight of Wands) to another world in their own way. They were being shown to us as Beings of Light (the Sun) starting a new phase of existence (the two Aces). I was awed by the beauty of their souls that radiated out from these cards as if reborn in the spirit (the Sun). It was good to feel that they were with loved ones (Three of Cups and Lovers), and it seemed to me that they were riding (Knight of Wands) towards their highest destiny (Star). I took it as a message to us from the other side, saying that they were all right and just where they should be. (Deck: The Albano-Waite Miniature Tarot Cards.)

Although many tarot practitioners apply a Jungian psychological approach to their tarot work, there’s been a question as to whether Jung himself knew anything about tarot. In fact he did, and he would have liked to explore it more deeply but for a lack of hours in the day. Here are some of his references to the cards, although his tarot knowledge, especially of its history, was sorely lacking. Update: I’ve added brief notes by Jung on the Major Arcana here, and on “clouds of cognition” at the end of this article. carljung1.jpg

On 16 September 1930, Jung wrote to a Mrs. Eckstein:

“Yes, I know of the Tarot. It is, as far as I know, the pack of cards originally used by the Spanish gypsies, the oldest cards historically known. They are still used for divinatory purposes.”

[Jung was not always right: Current historical research does not support an original use of the cards by gypsies, nor were tarot cards the oldest known. The ordinary playing card deck (with many variations) preceded tarot by approximately 50 to 75 years. Tarot appeared first in Northern Italy roughly around 1440.]

On 1 March 1933, Carl Jung spoke about the Tarot during a seminar he was conducting on active imagination, demonstrating that he was a little more familiar with these images than we would have thought from just the preceding letter. This is a transcript of his actual spoken words:

“Another strange field of occult experience in which the hermaphrodite appears is the Tarot. That is a set of playing cards, such as were originally used by the gypsies. There are Spanish specimens, if I remember rightly, as old as the fifteenth century. These cards are really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individuation symbolism. They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind. The original cards of the Tarot consist of the ordinary cards, the king, the queen, the knight, the ace, etc.,—only the figures are somewhat different—and besides, there are twenty-one cards upon which are symbols, or pictures of symbolical situations. For example, the symbol of the sun, or the symbol of the man hung up by the feet, or the tower struck by lightning, or the wheel of fortune, and so on. Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment. It is in that way analogous to the I Ching, the Chinese divination method that allows at least a reading of the present condition. You see, man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious to the meaning of an actual condition, because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and15-xv-diable.jpg the condition of the collective unconscious.
“Now in the Tarot there is a hermaphroditic figure called the diable [the Devil card]. That would be in alchemy the gold. In other words, such an attempt as the union of opposites appears to the Christian mentality as devilish, something evil which is not allowed, something belonging to black magic.”

[from Visions: Notes of the Seminar given in 1930-1934 by C. G. Jung, edited by Claire Douglas. Vol. 2. (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCIX, 1997), p. 923.]

In The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (CW, Vol. 9:1, para 81), Jung wrote:

“If one wants to form a picture of the symbolic process, the series of pictures found in alchemy are good examples. . . . It also seems as if the set of pictures in the Tarot cards were distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation, a view that has been confirmed for me in a very enlightening lecture by professor [Rudolph] Bernoulli. The symbolic process is an experience in images and of images. Its development usually shows an enantiodromian* structure like the text of the I Ching, and so presents a rhythm of negative and positive, loss and gain, dark and light.” [*a Greek term used by Jung to mean ‘things turning over into their own opposite.’]

Dierdre Bair recounts in Jung: A Biography (Little, Brown, 2003, p. 549) that in 1950 Jung assigned to each of the four members of his Psychology Club an ‘intuitive, synchronistic method’ to explore. Hanni Binder was to research the Tarot and teach him how to read the cards. They determined that Grimaud’s Ancien Tarot de Marseille “was the only deck that possessed the properties and fulfilled the requirements of metaphor that he gleaned from within the alchemical texts.” Hanni Binder’s work amounted to very little as can be seen from her report preserved at the Jung Institute in New York. The group disbanded around 1954.

What was behind Jung’s attempt to gather all this material? Marie-Louise von Franz recounts in Psyche and Matter (1988) that toward the end of his life:

vonfranz.jpg“Jung suggested investigating cases where it could be supposed that the archetypal layer of the unconscious is constellated*—following a serious accident, for instance, or in the midst of a conflict or divorce situation—by having people engage in a divinatory procedure: throwing the I Ching, laying the Tarot cards, consulting the Mexican divination calendar, having a transit horoscope or a geomantic reading done. If Jung’s hypothesis is accurate, the results of all these procedures should converge. . . . [*a Jungian term meaning ‘the coming together of elements in the unconscious so that they form a consciously recognizable pattern of relationships.’ Christine Houde adds, “The constellated material is activated in the psyche of the individual where it attempts to erupt into the field of experience.”]

“[This investigation would consist of] studying an incident (accident) by the convergence . . . of a multitude of methods, with the help of which we could try to find out what the Self “thought” of this particular accident. . . . The generally rather vague formulations of divinatory techniques resemble these “clouds of cognition” that, according to Jung, constitute “absolute knowledge.”

Von Franz further explains that Jung’s “clouds of cognition” represents an awareness on the part of our conscious intelligence of a far vaster field of information, an “absolute knowledge,” within the collective unconscious. These images, on the part of a “more or less conscious ego,” lack precise focus and detail. Thus, the realization of meaning has to be “a living experience that touches the heart just as much as the mind.” She continues:

“Archetypal dream images and the images of the great myths and religions still have about them a little of the “cloudy” nature of absolute knowledge in that they always seem to contain more than we can assimilate consciously, even by means of elaborate interpretations. They always retain an ineffable and mysterious quality that seems to reveal to us more than we can really know.”*

On 9 February 1960, about a year before he died, Jung wrote Mr. A. D. Cornell about the disappointing end to his grand experiment:

“Under certain conditions it is possible to experiment with archetypes, as my ‘astrological experiment’ has shown. As a matter of fact we had begun such experiments at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, using the historically known intuitive, i.e., synchronistic methods (astrology, geomancy, Tarot cards, and the I Ching). But we had too few co-workers and too little means, so we could not go on and had to stop.”

The experiment proposed by Jung is discussed in the Journal of Parapsychology (March 1998): in an article titled: “The Rhine-Jung letters: distinguishing parapsychological from synchronistic events – J.B. Rhine; Carl Jung” by Victor Mansfield, Sally Rhine-Feather, James Hall. The authors conclude:

“Such an experiment fits our description of not being forced, controlling, or manipulating, but it presents its own difficulties. How, for example, can we convincingly show that the divinatory procedures in fact converge, that appropriate subjects were chosen when an archetype was actually constellated, that the data was taken without biasing the interpretation, and that other extraneous factors are not distorting the outcome? These problems are not insurmountable, but to do more than “preach to the converted,” this experiment or any other must be done with sufficient rigor that the larger scientific community would be satisfied with all aspects of the data taking, analysis of the data, and so forth.”


In 1984, Art Rosengarten (here shown with Tarot author, Eden Gray), as research for his doctoral dissertation, conducted an experiment very similar to the one described by Jung, in which he compared the tarot, TAT and dream interpretation. You can read about this experiment in his book, Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility. I think Jung would have been pleased.

So what are we to make of all this?

Though not a direct focus of his energies, Carl Jung, nevertheless, recognized tarot as depicting archetypes of transformation like those he had found in myths, dreams and alchemy, and as having divinatory characteristics similar to the I-Ching and astrology. Most of all, Jung believed a person could use “an intuitive method” to understand—through tarot’s reflecting the collective unconscious into a “cloud of cognition”—the meaning in a present, prevailing condition.

See Jung’s own comments on the Major Arcana here.

ADDED: Here’s another statement by Jung on “clouds of cognition,” from the chapter, “On Life after Death,” in Memories Dream, Reflections, p 308. He states that in the “space-timelessness” surrounding an archetype there exists a diffuse cloud of cognition that contains “primorial images with many aspects” or “a “diffuse omniscience” but no discrete contents (that is, subjectless). For cognition to happen these potentialities [my word] have to be brought into space-time coordinates. Reading this entire chapter is absolutely essential to getting at what Jung saw as the source material for divinations.

“As I see it the three-dimensional world in time and space is like a system of co-ordinates, what is here separated into ordinates and abscissae may appear “there,” in space-timelessness, as a primordial image with many aspects, perhaps as a diffuse cloud of cognition surrounding an archetype. Yet a system of co-ordinates is necessary if any distinction of discrete contents is to be possible. Any such operation seems to us unthinkable in a state of diffuse omniscience, or, as the case may be, of subjectless consciousness, with no spatio-temporal demarcations. Cognition, like generation, presupposes an opposition, a here and there, an above and below, a before and after.”

For a different take, here is a bit of an interview with Jung on alchemy and predicting the future: “We can predict the future when we know how the present moment has evolved out of the past.”

Eden Gray with Mary Greer and Barbara Rapp
Eden Gray at the ’97 International Tarot Congress, dressed as the Sun, standing between Mary Greer as the Hermit and Barbara Rapp, organizer of the Los Angeles Tarot Symposiums.

Eden Gray (born June 9, 1901) began life as Priscilla Pardridge, Chicago debutante and second cousin to Princess Engalitcheff, wife of the Russian vice counsel. Still in her teens, Priscilla decided to become a stage actor. Despite her family’s owning Chicago’s Garrick Theatre (as well as a major department store), her father “snatched her from the footlights,” so she took a menial job in another department store. Before long she slipped off to New York where, at nineteen years of age, and without her parents’ knowledge, she married fellow-Chicago poet, novelist and screenwriter Lester Cohen (who wrote the screenplay for Of Human Bondage among others).

Eden Gray 1928-Age of InnocenceAdopting the stage name, Eden Gray, from 1920-1933 she was in a series of Broadway plays, including Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, at New York’s Empire Theatre in 1928 (photo on right), and Doctor X on Broadway (see poster). She also performed supporting roles in three movies, being best known as Pamela Gordon in the 1925 film Lovers in Quarantine, and appearing as late as 1942 with Ronald Reagan in King’s Row (despite only a fleeting glimpse of her at a window in the film, she and Reagan shared an interest in positive thinking and astrology). In addition to all this she took a several year trip with her husband, which he described in his book, Two Worlds: An Account of a Journey around the World. During World War II, she put her acting career on hold to become a lab technician with the Women’s Army Corps.

Eden Gray Doctor X

After living in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, Paris and London and working in radio and on the London stage, Gray moved back to New York. She earned a doctorate of divinity degree from the First Church of Religious Science and then lectured and taught classes in Science of Mind. Gray also got to know librarian Gertrude Moakley who, since the early 1950s, had been researching tarot’s origins in Renaissance Italy (see bio of Moakley here).

edengray69x.jpgEden Gray ran a bookstore and publishing company called “Inspiration House,” one of the few places where a person could buy tarot cards and take tarot classes in the late 1950s and ’60s. Her customers complained that the available books were not easy to understand, so she spent weekends in the country coming up with a more accessible way of approaching the cards.

Eden Gray self-published her first book, Tarot Revealed: A Modern Guide to Reading the Tarot Cards in 1960 to which she applied her “New Thought” perspective (see my earlier post here). She followed up her first success with two more tarot books: A Complete Guide to the Tarot (1970) and Mastering the Tarot: Basic Lessons in an Ancient, Mystic Art (1971). All feature graphics by her artist son Peter Gray Cohen. These books have remained continuously in print and are still among the best-selling tarot books today.

My personal favorite is Mastering the Tarot, as the card meanings are the richest of the three, and it gives practical demonstrations of interpreting the cards through sample readings. Lesson 18, “The Use and Misuse of the Tarot,” is a small gem of “New Thought” philosophy and positive thinking applied to the cards. Gray advises:

“So watch for the pitfalls when you read the cards; recognize how very suggestible everyone is—and then go ahead and use the cards for good. . . . Give those for whom you read encouragement to strive for their highest ideals. The seeds you plant can blossom into lovely flowers of accomplishment.”

Along with various editions of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (de Laurence, University Books, Albano-Waite, Merrimack, U.S. Games, Inc.), Eden Gray’s tarot books formed the main impetus to the hippie adoption of the Tarot as spiritual guide for navigating a world-turned-on-its-head, leading directly to the booming Tarot Renaissance that began in 1969 and continues to this day.

It was Eden Gray to whom we owe the term “Fool’s Journey,” appearing as the title of the Epilogue in A Complete Guide to the Tarot. She explained:

“The Fool represents the soul of everyman, which, after it is clothed in a body, appears on earth and goes through the life experiences depicted in the 21 cards of the Major Arcana, sometimes thought of as archetypes of the subconscious. Let each reader use his imagination and find here his own map of the soul’s quest, for these are symbols that are deep within each one of us.”

In 1960 she had already alluded to the idea, saying that the Fool “must pass through the experiences suggested in the remaining 21 cards, to reach in card 21 the climax of cosmic consciousness or Divine Wisdom”—an idea that resonated deeply with the hippies—and that Gray probably picked up from A.E. Waite who wrote about the “soul’s progress through the cards.”

Original Hanged Man Bronze sculpture by Eden GrayIn 1971, Gray moved to Vero Beach, Florida, where she focused on her art and spiritual ministry. She was a member of the Vero Beach Art Club and Riverside Theater and Theater Guild. In the 1990s several people contacted her about her earlier work in tarot, including Ron Decker and Janet Berres of the International Tarot Society. Berres honored Gray at their third International Tarot Congress in 1997 in Chicago with the Tarot Lifetime Acheivement Award. It was here that Eden Gray learned to her great astonishment just how truly revered she was for her seminal tarot books.

(I received this bronze statue of the Hanged Man created by Eden Gray (see right) from Barbara Rapp at the Los Angeles Tarot Symposium for recognition of my work in tarot. Read about it’s significance while writing my Tarot Reversals book here. Read more about Eden Gray here.)

This adventurous, pioneering woman, and “Godmother of the Modern American Tarot Renaissance” died peacefully in her sleep at 97 years of age, on January 14, 1999 in Vero Beach, having driven herself to the hospital following a minor heart attack.

Her books (with first publication date):

  • Tarot Revealed (1960)
  • Recognition: Themes on Inner Perception (1969)
  • A Complete Guide to the Tarot (1970)
  • Mastering the Tarot (1971)
  • The Harvest Home Natural Grains Cookbook with Mary Beckwith Cohen (1972)
  • The Harvest Home Fresh Vegetables Cookbook with Mary Beckwith Cohen (1972)
  • Marbling on Fabric with Daniel and Paula Cohen (1990)

You can hear her briefly in this replay of a Long John Nebel talk radio program from New York in 1964 (thanks to Kim). Be warned that she only gets in a couple of sentences in a show totally dominated by Walter Martin who wrote an anti-cult/occult book from a Christian perspective. Supposedly she appeared on other Nebel shows but I can’t find them on the net.

Just found: Eden Gray as “Angela” in The Firebrand,1924-25. She played the model of the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. The play was described as: “a modern farce masquerading in the trappings of the Renaissance, or a comedy of the sixteenth century “jazzed up” to delight a 1925 audience.” You can also see another photograph of her here.

Eden Gray as Angela in The Firebrand

It is assumed that tarot readers use either psychic or intuitive abilities. In fact, these are, almost always, among their skills. Querents usually come for a reading because they are looking for information outside the normal, rational processes for obtaining it. They want that “something extra,” even if it’s just entertainment.

What I want to query today is:

• Why are ‘psychic’ and ‘intuitive’ so often conflated into a single thing? (A web search on psychic + intuitive should convince you that the words often appear together to express the same thing.)
• As tarot readers do we know when we are using psychic rather than intuitive faculties and vice versa?

The terms psychic and intuitive actually describe two different processes that could be seen as opposite ends of a spectrum. One can even trigger another. By using both words together or interchangeably we attempt to cover all bases. Can we improve our skill in using these abilities? Yes. But it helps to differentiate between them— at least while developing them as skills.

Psychic is usually described as “extra sensory perception.” It accesses information beyond the reach of our normal senses. Thus, it is deemed paranormal; a sixth sense. The term psychic was first used by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion in the 1860s and, soon after, by the chemist William Crookes to describe the spiritualist medium Daniel Douglas Home. Originally it implied seership, prophecy or mediumship. Now it refers to a broad range of abilities including telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and precognition.

Psi research (parapsychology) has amassed enough evidence to convince all but a few of the most skeptical scientists, who have examined this evidence, of its existence. Even the CIA and then the military had what they called a “remote viewing” program from the early 1970s until 1995.

Intuition, on the other hand, is the completely normal functioning of human cognition. It is part of a bodily survival mechanism. It has been called gut feeling, a hunch, instinct or insight. It involves intelligence at work without conscious thought. Essentially it is the act or process of coming to direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring. With intuition we sense truth without explanations. Using unconscious forms of analogy and induction we instantly perceive connections and patterns. This sometimes results in a clear direction for action.

Both psychic awareness and intuition communicate to us through symbols, sensory feelings and emotions, which is one reason why they may be so hard to separate. With intuition, however, we can sometimes justify our hunches by backtracking and discerning sensory input and mental connections that only make sense after the fact. By contrast, with a true psychic impression a direct connection simply doesn’t exist, except, perhaps, when interpreting feelings and symbols in which the psychic impression can be cloaked.

I highly recommend two books for understanding and developing your intuition:

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker.

Gerd Gigerenzer is a director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. His research was a major source for Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. In Gut Feelings, he describes intuition as a judgment that appears quickly, whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of, yet is strong enough to act upon. “It ignores information, violates the laws of logic, and is the source of many human disasters.” On the other hand, as Gigerenzer shows, it can outwit the most sophisticated reasoning and computational strategies.

Intuitional skills can be learned. Gigerenzer explains how it often works through simple rules of thumb that take advantage of cognitive abilities, recognition memory, social instincts, and visual tracking.

Gavin de Becker, in The Gift of Fear, says, “Intuition is the journey form A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.” True, this book focuses on high-stakes predictions: how to spot subtle signs of danger to avoid violence. Yet, it is one of the best and most compassionate books I know that tells you how to recognize and when to trust intuition.

How do you tell the difference between fear that is true and fear that is unwarranted? “Intuition is always learning,” de Becker tells us, “and though it may occasionally send a signal that turns out to be less than urgent, everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Unlike worry, it will not waste your time.”

Intuition comes to us through emotions, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, anxiety and humor. De Becker’s “elements of prediction,” along with Gigerenzer’s “rules of thumb,” can help you make better decisions than just relying on reason alone.


Intuition can arise during a tarot reading in countless ways. One of these is when symbols in several cards suddenly seem to come forward and link together to reveal a repeating or developing theme. Everything else can appear to recede in the face of the insistence and aliveness of these symbols. In face-to-face readings, subtle clues from the querent—including things picked up from so-called “cold reading”—will echo meanings in the cards, creating a kind of resonance. Words said by the querent can ring with truth, especially when they match keywords for cards in the spread.

Tarot readers can become much more aware of when and how they access intuition in a reading. They can then help a querent recognize when the querent’s own intuitions have been activated and may contain valuable truths.

The picture above is an amalgam of four cards from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. Can you identify them?

I’ll write later about psychic development and another important ability in reading tarot, empathy.

rainbow-tarot-case.jpgWell, I think I’ve come up with just about my perfect knitted tarot bag design, although I’m still looking for the ideal yarn. My bags are fitted and have squared-off sides and bottom—you could almost call them cases rather than bags. Pictured are two versions in cotton. I think I’ll try a hemp yarn next as its slight stiffness might give a little more body to the case.

First I knit a sample to get the yarn’s gauge (using smaller needles than the yarn normally calls for). I determine the number of stitches to match the deck’s measurements plus about 1/8″ to 1/4″ for each dimension.

stainedglasstarotcase.jpgI knit the flap in seed stitch (Row 1: k1p1; Row 2: p1k1)* so it will lie flat. When the flap, including top edge, is long enough, I cast on enough additional stitches to knit the rest of the bag in the round with 5 double pointed sock needles. (Note: Plan on adding 1 or 2 stitches to the front and back needles as the seed stitch used on the flap is wider than stockinette stitch.)

Needle 1 = knit side stitches in seed stitch; needle 2 = front stitches in stockinette; needle 3 = side stitches in seed stitch; needle 4 = back stitches in stockinette (the back continues directly on from the flap). Optional: My needle 2 (front stitches) begin with 3 rows of k1p1 ribbing to keep the top edge from curling.

deirdretarotcase.jpgIn order to have a nice flat bottom I end the body with a purl row to define the edge. My bottom is stockinette with the purl side out. You want to be positioned to begin a needle 1 (side) row. Pick up the adjacent stitch from the back (needle 4) and purl together with the first stitch of needle 1. Purl until one side stitch remains on needle 1; purl it together with the adjacent stitch from the front (needle 2). Turn the work. Knit together the next stitch from needle 2 with the first stitch on needle 1. Knit the rest of the stitches on needle 1 except one. Knit this last stitch together with a stitch from needle 4. Turn the work. Repeat as above until you reach the other end of your case and meet the stitches on needle 3. Knit the stitches from needles 1 & 3 together using a Kitchener Stitch. (Note: you may need to turn the bag inside out in order to do the Kitchener Stitch. This is better anyway as the final row will have the purl side out.)

I then weave the beginning and ending tails of yarn to a center point on the front edges so that the tails become ties for securing the center of the top flap to the center bottom edge.

Happy knitting. All suggestions for yarns or improvements are gratefully accepted.

See the earlier version of my tarot case and links to other tarot bags here.

psychictarotreader2.jpgDo a Google search on the words ‘psychic + tarot’ and you’ll come up with 370,000 entries, the majority of which are professional readers advertising their skills. One person offers an “intuitive, psychic tarot reading.” Others list themselves as an “empathic, intuitive, psychic tarot reader,” a “gifted psychic reader,” and a “psychic medium who uses the tarot”. The claims are sometimes outrageous—“99% accurate psychic predictions,” “only the truth,” “world renown,” “specializing in reuniting loved ones,” and “love and money spells” to remove curses—all indicators that you should beware of what you’re getting into. One characteristic of a psychic tarot reading, it seems, is that you won’t find interpretations that come out of a book; instead these are “cosmic insights,” “channeled wisdom,” or clairvoyance. (I bought this statue when Tarot for Your Self first came out—to celebrate the day.)

Search on ‘intuition or intuitive + tarot’ and there are 385,000 entries. There are an additional 216,000 listings for ‘Tarot Reader’ that do not use the terms psychic, intuitive or intuition. And, 225,000 listings for either a ‘tarot consultant or counselor’ with all previous words eliminated. By contrast, a search on Tarot alone results in thirty-two and a half million entries.

Intuitive tarot, when the word ‘psychic’ has been eliminated, emphasizes listings for decks, books, articles and courses, but there are still plenty of ads for readings. These readers are somewhat more likely to advertise themselves as spiritual counselors or consultants (who might also practice Reiki or coaching or “down-to-earth guidance”). But descriptions still feature an aversion to interpretations found in books: “An intuitive approach to tarot reading places the power within,” while a book meaning “denies the power within.” Intuitive tarot involves “that gut feeling or first instinct that comes to you when you look at a card. . . . It is a gut reading more so than regurgitation of memorized definitions.”

Self-styled ‘tarot counselors’ (when eliminating the intuitive and psychic words) seem to have an altogether different vibe. They use tarot “as a therapeutic method and means for self-realization,” “for drawing out information lying deep inside,” and “for helping someone to clearly see a particular present situation.” Sessions are “designed to bring personal fulfillment . . . to assist and guide, to empower and uplift.” Book meanings are sometimes acknowledged as helpful for their depth, wisdom and guidance.

‘Therapeutic tarot’ or ‘tarot therapy’ seems to focus on healing modalities including massage and Reiki in addition to such counseling skills as “assisting you in reaching your goals [and to] gain clarity.” The querent’s projections (ascribing one’s own feelings, thoughts, attitudes or situation to another person or thing) are often described as a major method for determining the significance of the cards.

A search on ‘tarot + projection’ turned up an interesting report from Quirk’s Marketing Research Review called “Heart Maps and Tarot Cards” by Steven Richardson. It describes how tarot cards have been used to help medical doctors talk about the influence of marketing in their disease treatment decision-making processes:

“Tarot cards serve as unique picture-sort stimuli for images and archetypes (but are not used as actual tarot cards for readings, just for the symbolism). In this technique, ask physicians to thumb through the cards quickly and come up with ones that describe or dramatize how they personally feel about being a doctor in the practice of medicine as it relates to a particular disease state. . . . In another study conducted by [Myra] Summers, the tarot card technique was helpful in understanding doctors’ attitudes towards treating terminally ill patients (though Summers also does not use the cards as they are used in tarot readings). The technique revealed meaningful insight into the emotional distress a number of oncologists experience every day.”*

Notice how quick the author is to disassociate this use of cards from tarot readings. Yet, how many tarot readers would claim that such insights are precisely what they turn to the cards for?

I plan on writing much more on this topic, but will leave it for now. I encourage you to write in comments on your own thoughts on this subject.

*You can see a Power Point Presentation (ppt) by Pat Sabena and Nicole Sabena Feagin on their landmark research study using tarot, called “Getting Doctors to Spill their Guts” – 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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