“Origins of the Tarot” Book Review
Origins of the Tarot – Cosmic Evolution and the Principles of Immortality
by Dai Léon
2009, Frog Books, Berkeley, CA
Reading “Origins of the Tarot” was a body-mind-spirit resonance of Bliss with the Beloved for me. It is a rare book that touches so profoundly into the heart of our individual and collective soul.
For years I have been researching and reading books that traced the history of Tarot, but none so far had touched upon what I knew were the deeper esoteric roots of the major arcana beyond medieval and Renaissance Europe that informed what I call “The Sacred Journey of the Soul”. I set upon my own search for material on the “Hero’s Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell, the alchemical transformation explored by Carl Jung. Looking to books on Eastern Philosophy, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism confirmed my sense that there was a relationship between Tarot and the Great Traditions of religion and philosophy.
“Origins of the Tarot” is a complex and comprehensive treatise on Eastern influences and their relationship with Western philosophy and religion, leading up to and deeply formulating what we now call Tarot. In essence, it traces the non-dualistic roots of Tarot from Europe, back to the East, along the Silk Road, and beyond.
For those interested in the history of philosophy and religion, this is the equivalent of a college-level course with its expansive details. It traces a complicated confluence of crossed and criss-crossed influences from Indo-Aryan “shamanic cultures” to ancient Greek philosophy and myths, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, and Celtic culture, including the metaphysical concepts of alchemy, tantrism, and Eros.
My Tarot History poster, version #2, traces the lineage of influences, updated and expanded, based on this book.
At it’s heart, this work is a philosophical study following the weaving of dual and nondual, what I call “Unity”, values as they stream together, influencing, sometimes repelling, each other throughout our history of evolution as intelligent beings.
Tarot enthusiasts will find this is to be a radically different interpretation of the basic template of our modern Tarot’s major arcana. Yet, knowledgeable scholars of Tarot will recognize these deeper roots and how they informed the pre-Renaissance sequence and power of each Tarot Trump, or Triumph. When seen through the wisdom of nondual values as they move through the hierarchy of stages toward immortality, this preeminent template of Triumphs constitutes an amazing model of evolution, our spiritual potential reflecting back to us through the visual archetypes of the Tarot.
This movement toward our spiritual potential is the most powerful argument and I suspect the reason for the creation of this impressive labor of love, as found within its title “…Cosmic Evolution and the Principles of Immortality.”
For some folks Léon’s writing style may be circuitous, dense and difficult to follow. On the surface, it does not appear to apply a linear outline, but topics are well-rounded discussions of major concepts with their multiple influences. I particularly appreciate his vast knowledge, extensive references, and precise vocabulary.
This is a must read for any serious student of Tarot wisdom.
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