by T Susan Chang and MM Meleen
Publisher by Llewellyn
RRP: Available in paperback, on Kindle, or as an audiobook (this review refers to the paperback edition – RRP £26).
I first came across Susan Chang and Mel Meleen when I started listening to their podcast ‘Fortune’s Wheelhouse’ a couple of years ago. I must admit though, the podcast quickly lost me! They talked about things like sephiroth, aleph, and kether, that I only vaguely recognised as being ‘something to do with Qabalah’. However, this did spark an interest in me to learn more about the esoteric roots of the modern tarot, and I have been very much looking forward to reading this book to consolidate my burgeoning interest.
My first impression of this book is that it is a huge tome – one that you need to lay on a table to read as it’s too heavy to hold comfortably for long! It is weighty and serious looking, containing charts and tables of information and long entries on each card. However, it is well structured and logically laid out making it easy to locate information, although it’s probably not a book you will want to read cover-to-cover. So, lets dive in…
First up, the book is presented in black and white and is illustrated using several different decks. Unfortunately, as explained in the introduction, Chang and Meleen were unable to use images of the Thoth tarot due to limitations in the license. This is a real shame as I think the book would really have benefitted from the inclusion of the Thoth images, especially as the sections on each card contain a discussion of Thoth symbolism. However, this was beyond the control of the authors, and they do make a good job of including illustrations of other decks, some of which are based on the Thoth.
A short introduction is followed by main sections on the Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, Court Cards, a conclusion, and finally a section of Tables and Diagrams. There is also a reading list included for further study, as well as a bibliography of the references the authors used and an index of art credits for all the illustrations used.
Following an introduction to each section of the Majors, Minors and Courts – which includes discussions of the golden dawn titles, elements, astrology, and qabalah as they apply to each section of the tarot – there is a chapter for each card. These chapters are similar in length for majors and minors and contain similar information. The table shows the sections contained in each chapter. A synopsis of correspondences for each card appears at the start of each chapter. The further sections, such as ‘astrology’ and ‘symbolism’ then delve deeper into the associations outlined in the synopsis.
|Synopsis||Card number; astrological signs and dignities; Hebrew letter and meaning; the path on the tree of life; colour scales in the four worlds; and themes and keywords||Dates (based on the astrological decan in 2019-20); astrology; element; decan; Picatrix image and significations; Agrippa image and significations; Sephira; colours; associated majors; associated minors; themes and keywords||Element; astrology; star group; dates; associated majors; associated minors; Sephira; Tetragrammaton; I Ching; Geomantic figure; Golden Dawn crest; themes and keywords.|
|Astrology||Yes, plus element||Yes, plus element||Yes, plus related decans|
|Mythology||Yes, plus alchemy||Yes, plus time of year||No|
There is certainly a lot of information covered here and, as alluded to by the ‘further exploration’ sections for the Major Arcana, there is still more to be discovered if you are so inclined. My favourite sections are the ones which discuss mythology, probably because my knowledge here is slightly better than that of astrology and qabalah and that allows me to see the associations and potential meanings more quickly. The mythology section is also of interest because it contains information not often found in other books on the tarot. For instance, there is a discussion of how both the Egyptian Ma’at and the Greek Themis may relate to the Justice card. Much of the mythology referenced in these sections is Greek, but there are also references to other mythologies such as Egyptian, Sumerian, and Arthurian legends.
Overall, I would say that this is a book for the serious tarot enthusiast. It covers a lot of ground in a systematic manner, but at the same time I don’t think it is particularly beginner friendly unless you are already well versed in astrology, qabalah, and mysticism. I will definitely be using it in conjunction with other books and studies, and I’m sure that, as I return to it over the years, I will get increasingly more out of this comprehensive book as my knowledge and understanding grow.
Reviewed by Fran