book by Anonymous
written in French by a Russian ex-patriot living in London, 1967
Review by Jean-Michel David
(originally written in 2002 in light of the new release of the book)
As the Robert Powell 1985 translation of this book has just been published for the third time, I thought it timely to write this brief review which cannot, in my opinion, do the book justice. As Powell writes in his own review, the book ‘is truly a magnum opus‘.
I have the 1993 edition published by Element Books, which has no introduction, nor afterword nor index – unlike, from what I have been told, the newly released (Penguin-Putnam) Tarcher 2002 publication. Still, the manuscript I have has 658 pages of solid, clear and wide-ranging text.
The book is divided into twenty-two letters from the Unknown Author (UA) to his readers (‘UA’ is an appellation becoming increasingly common when referring to its author, and reminiscent of the Martinist ‘Unknown Philosopher’). Such ‘letter’ style is not unusual, and is found in some classic Russian and mediaeval Christian texts – for example The Cloud of Unknowing (Penguin Classics).
The UA clearly comes from a Christian perspective, but not one which would be expected from the exoteric church – though I have been informed that the current Pope has a copy of the German translation of the work!
Each letter truly is an exegesis of one of the trumps, with the final letter making implications for the minor. Though the author clearly refers to the Marseille deck in the text, he also states (p 260)
The twenty-two Cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot being an organism, a complete whole, it is not a question of diverse and disparate origins of particular Cards, but rather of the degrees of their evolution or transformation. For the Tarot, also, is not a wheel, a closed circle, but rather a spiral, i.e. it evolves through tradition and … reincarnation
Reading the book is certainly a journey – not because it takes the reader along well traveled paths (which it does, being firmly grounded in tradition) – but because the reader is lead far and wide to a very diverse and broad range of other authors – some well known, such as Drs Steiner or Jung, others not as well, such as Dr Carton or Prof. Mebes.
The classics are also extremely well interweaved, and relevant quotes from such important esoteric, spiritual and hermetic texts as the Kore Kosmu, the Bible, the Zohar, the Vishvasara Tantra, the Hermetica (amongst others), as well as quotes from Wirth, Origen, Papus, St Teresa, St John of the Cross, as well as those previously mentioned (Steiner et al.) are carefully selected and artfully placed.
Of Tarot’s history, the UA states (ibid.)
The authors who saw in the Tarot the ‘Sacred Book of Thoth’ (Thoth = Hermes Trismegistus) were both right and wrong at the same time. They were right in so far as they traced back the history of the essence of the Tarot to antiquity, notably to ancient Egypt. And they were wrong in so far as they believed that the Tarot had been inherited from ancient Egypt, i.e. that it had been transmitted from generation to generation subject to minor iconographic changes.
Further details of the book are also available at www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk
This book, when not long out of print, fetched up to $200 on the second-hand market — such is its desirability. For all serious Tarot enthusiasts, and for all aspirants walking the Occidental Spiritual paths, I would recommend it without reservation.
This work ranks amongst the classics of mysticism, gnosis and magic – the three pathways into Hermeticism. In my opinion, it is the most masterful book which utilises the trumps of the Tarot as tools to enter spiritual dimensions.