The Fool’s Journey: The History, Art, & Symbolism of the Tarot
The Fool’s Journey: The History, Art, & Symbolism of the Tarot is one of the best resources for understanding the Tarot’s mystical symbolism. It includes an up to date history with Place’s latest theories on the origin and meaning of the Tarot trumps as they relate to Renaissance art and mysticism and includes color illustrations of the Fool and 21 trumps from key works from the Tarot’s over 500 year history with comparative illustrations from the Renaissance, from alchemical texts, from ancient Egypt, and from occult sources.
The work is based on, The Fool’s Journey, the 2010 Tarot exhibition at the LA Craft and Folk Art Museum that drew record attendance and was praised in the LA Times. The 8.5″ by 11″ book includes color illustrations from the hand-painted 15th century Visconti-Sforza Tarot, from the earliest Italian printed deck, the oldest Tarot of Marseille, The first occult reference to the Tarot, the first occult Tarot, the first modern popular Tarot, the first New Age Tarot, and examples from popular modern designers including works by Paulina Cassidy (the Paulina Tarot), Chatriya Hemharnvibul (the Fenestra Tarot) , Evan Lee (the Twilight Tarot), Ciro Marchetti (the Legacy Tarot), Thalia Took (the Alphabet Tarot), and Patrick Valenza (the Deviant Moon Tarot). It also includes all of the trumps from Place’s Annotated Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a deck that he completed for the exhibition, and all of the trumps from Place’s Alchemical Tarot, with an extensive discussion of their alchemical symbolism.
By comparing Tarot decks from every century, from the 14th to the 21st, the mystical theme that is expressed in the cards is illuminated, and the evolution of its symbolism can be studied. The Fool’s Journey is designed to bring appreciation of the Tarot and its mystical tradition to a wide audience. It is also designed to replace false notions about the Tarot with real history and insight. It views the Tarot as a visual conversation between artists, mystics, and occultists that has been ongoing for over 500 years. This is an essential resource for anyone interested in the meaning of the Tarot cards.
“Today I got in the mail Robert Place’s beautiful “The Fool’s Journey” book. It is a gorgeous, quality treasure trove of pictures, history, and gorgeous metaphors. Robert is truly an icon of our time. This book is pure genius.”
I am truly experiencing a “Slap myself on the forehead!” moment here! Why, one might ask. From January 24th to May 10th Robert M. Place curated an extraordinary exhibition of Tarot art, originated at The Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles (www.cafam.org). For heavens sake – it was there for months, on “my” coast, curated by someone that I highly respect, and I didn’t take the time to go? Lesson learned – this will not happen again!
We are very graced that Robert Place put together an absolutely amazing book that shares, through text and photo’s, the story that was (and is) this extraordinary exhibition. The book is available in digital format and in print. I am reviewing the digital version, but have the print book on my “short, short” list! Early (very early!) Christmas present to self, perhaps. J
I would like to start out talking about something that everyone basically ignores – and that is the name of the publishing company. Place is independently publishing this work through his publishing company, Talarius Publications. Being curious (much better than being nosey!), I asked him where that name came from. The logo that he uses is that of Hermes winged sandal. (Hermes being the psychopomp who leads the soul to the otherworld, and also acts as the guide for poets and mystics.) Talarius is the name given to this sandal.
There is no one better than Robert Place, in my opinion, to curate this exhibition. He has an artists eye, combined with a scholar’s wisdom, and brings to the Tarot world the best of the best. In his forward Place notes that this exhibition was designed to focus on modern occult and divinatory Tarot as it is popularly known in American culture. He then goes on to discuss Tarot’s background, and its beginnings as a trick-taking game.
He paints a picture of the 21 Trumps as expressing the mystical allegory of the Tarot – the “Fool’s Journey”, as it were. The Fool’s Journey of the Tarot is a spiritual progression. The story of this exhibition is that of the “Fool’s Journey” of bringing appreciation of the Tarot and its mystical tradition to a wide audience. It also carries the purpose of replacing false notions about Tarot with real history and insight.
The list of thanks to people involved with this book read like a who’s who of the Tarot world. Some of these people I have been graced to have either met or worked with – or both. The world of Tarot is an amazing world, filled with incredible people who are willing to share their wisdom unconditionally with others. Kudos to all of you!
There is a well written section on the history of the Tarot, and some of the misconceptions that have come down through time. One point comes out right in the beginning – Tarot is connected to ancient mystical, Neoplatonic and Hermitic beliefs about the nature of the soul. Place discusses early Tarot decks, who they were created for (in general, moneyed, or royal families), the area they originated from and the artist/illustrator. He also talks about existing examples of these decks, and where they are currently being housed.
Imagery in the Tarot is very important. Throughout this text Place has included full color graphic charts, beginning with a chart showing the traditional suit symbols for four-suit decks in Western European countries. I have a personal interest in the different ordering of the Trumps, so I appreciated the chart comparing the Bologna/Order A, Ferrara/Order B and Milan/Order C series.
In discussing Tarot imagery, Place notes that it is important to understand the ancient view of the cosmos, and its mystical significance for the individual. The seven planets were thought to be the soul centers of the cosmos, with corresponding centers (chakras) located along the human spine. Place notes that this is the probable source for the seven virtues and the seven vices. (There is an eye-catching graphic of the Seven Ancient Planets as the Seven Soul Centers – food for though all on its own!)Plato’s three-fold concept of the soul – the Soul of Appetite/Desire, the soul of Will/Spirit and the Soul of Reason is also presented.
The decks included in this exhibition are printed decks that were in popular use from the 15th century to the 21st century, focusing on the Fool and the 21 trumps. The decks included were chosen because they represent pivotal points in the history of the Tarot, and because they allow us to view the evolution of Tarot symbolism throughout the centuries. These decks are: the Monde Primitif, the Etteilla a Jeu de la Princesse, the Waite-Smith Tarot, the Aquarian Tarot, the Alchemical Tarot, the Alphabet Tarot, the Twilight Tarot, the Fenestra Tarot, the Paulina Tarot, the Deviant Moon Tarot , the Legacy of the Divine Tarot, the Annotated Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, the Tarot of Ferrara and the Tarot of Marseilles. (Note: the Tarot of Marseilles refers to a style of Tarot, rather than to a specific Tarot deck.)
Place presents each of the Major Arcana Trumps (The Fool and the 21 Trumps), through text and imagery. He has included images from modern decks, as well as reproductions from older decks, such as the Monde Primitif and the Etteilla a Jeu de la Princesse. This is an absolutely incredible opportunity to not only see a discussion of each of the Major Arcana Trumps, but to see an in-depth range of comparisons between decks. This is a quality of work normally only seen between historians or researchers, presented in a manner in which all levels of Tarot students will be able to enjoy it, and learn from it.
The sheer amount of cards presented in comparison in this book is overwhelming, to say the least. The quality of the reproductions is clear, full color, and just … amazing! I do so wish that I would have taken the time to see this incredible exhibit! I would have wanted the book anyway – it is research quality, and beyond “nice to have” as a Tarot reference.
One thing that I neglected to mention – each card section opens with a full page, full color representation of the card (from the Annotated Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery). There are notes right on the card naming the symbols within the card. For example, for the Magician the notes are: lemniscate, wand, crystal ball, dagger, secret fire, magic circle, coins, 3 X 7 = 21, and the annotation that the sum of opposite sides of a die is always seven. Around the edge of the card we see written: (left hand side) There are twenty one possible combinations of two dice and twenty one trumps. (top) The Magicians wand, held above, is creative and active. (right hand side) The Magician’s crystal ball held below is passive and divinatory. (bottom) The Magician gestures “As above do below”.
I just finished reading “The Fool’s Journey”, and am sitting here absolutely transfixed. This is an incredibly powerful work, and will touch its readers on many different levels. This was a project (the exhibition and the book) whose time had come, and which was executed with the greatest of poise, grace and mastery of subject. Many thanks to Robert Place, and to all of the artists involved in this project. What you were willing to share has made a difference, and will continue to do so.
I do want to mention that the book is available in digital format, as well as hard copy. Secret – once you see the digital copy, you will lust after the hard copy!