MASTERING WITCHCRAFT was my first book. I wrote it in 1969 as a hands-on guide for the would-be witch or warlock. It was not a "Wiccan" handbook.
The CATHOLIC HERALD originally appraised the book in its 1970 review as a "genuine vade mecum" to the craft, although I don't think this was necessarily meant as a compliment. Actually as many of the witchcraft practices it deals with date from a time long preceding Christianity, it falls under the heading of paganism rather than Satanism.
But, as various reviewers have noted, I don't pull any punches, so be warned! MASTERING WITCHCRAFT eschews the usual Wiccan ethics, although it does share some common ground with Wiccan subject matter, as I drew from many of the same sources in the Folklore Library at University College London that Gerald Gardner did.
Maybe just because of this eclecticism, MASTERING WITCHCRAFT has enjoyed a wide readership over the past 41 years.
A Descriptive Review from THE CAULDRON A PAGAN FORUM (c)
Hello, there. At this site you can find information about me, my views and opinions, my books, a link to a movie and television database with information about my work in these media; also links to a variety of other sites or pieces of information that I find interesting, significant, useful or fun.
I've also added excerpts from some of my books - to give you a hint of where I'm coming from if you're new to them.
There's an e-mail address too, if you want to comment on my books, although the time I spend on my website is extremely limited, so I'm afraid you probably won't get a reply. However, I do enjoy getting feedback from my readers, so I thank you in advance if you do choose to send me a comment.
Lo Scarabeo has published my tarot deck, DAME FORTUNE'S WHEEL, available in the US as well as Europe. (see links below).
In DFWT I have illustrated all 78 cards, both majors and minors, using the traditional meanings for the minors first recorded by Etteilla and his School. The designs for the majors are inspired chiefly by designs from the Marseilles and Estense decks. (And for the record, nowhere is there any allusion to Romani tribes or Atlantis...)
Some keen eyes may also notice that Lo Scarabeo changed the design of the box from blue to red at some point prior to publication. I'm not sure of the reason for this, but I like it anyway. I mention it only to save the prospective buyer from unnecessary confusion, as the old blue version may still appear on the net here and there. In any event, the cards within are still the same.
I have provided an extended LWB to help explain the deck and its symbolism, and it may be currently viewed on the tarotreaders website that can be reached by clicking on the link just below this.
The extended LWB for Dame Fortune's Wheel Tarot may be read here.
Dame Fortune's Wheel Tarot review from Aeclectic Tarot:
"Produced to the high standard enjoyed by all LS Tarots, Dame Fortunes Wheel is a rare example of a deck that throws light upon a much ignored part of tarot history whilst being exquisitely attractive and easily readable. Indeed it could be said that this is a significantly important tarot deck, it is a bold illustration of serious tarot scholarship. One is given the impression while using it that this could have been the pattern for all modern tarot decks had the Golden Dawn and Waite never stepped forward to exercise their current strangle hold over the Anglo American tarot world. Every tarot reader, especially those who are exclusively familiar with the RWS, should at least look at these cards; both to see where tarot has come from and where it might have gone had things been different. In a sense it is an illustration of the fragility of that which we call tradition. The Etteilla minors, once the corner stone of tarot divination and still popular in Europe, have become almost forgotten in the English-speaking world. Huson and Lo Scarabeo are to be commended for bringing them back to current attention in such an accessible way."
From the Preface of MYSTICAL ORIGINS:
I have been intrigued by playing cards since I was a toddler, when I came across my first deck and laid them out around the pattern of the rug on the living room floor. I can recall my fascination at the time with these magical symbols: What did they mean? Who were all these interesting, colorfully dressed people? Who was the most important?
Then I discovered the tarot. I drew my first set of tarot trumps (the twenty-two mysterious cards that distinguish a tarot deck from a standard deck of playing cards) on file cards when I was fourteen years old, painted my next complete deck when I was twenty; a third set when I was twenty-six, and a fourth when I was thirty. I guess you could say I was obsessive. [I have since completed my fifth, DAME FORTUNE'S WHEEL TAROT, published by Lo Scarabeo -- see above.]
But I am not alone in my obsession. Despite the many attempts to elucidate them, tarot cards have remained one of history's enduring puzzles. What do those enigmatic cards really mean? What mysteries, if any, do they conceal? I think I'm accurate in claiming that until the publication of this book, they have succeeded, quite literally, in concealing certain types of mysteries for around five hundred years.
The idea for this book began life as a revision and update to The Devil's Picturebook, a tarot book I wrote some years ago. But as I reread each chapter of Picturebook, I realized with somewhat mixed emotions that so much new light had been shed on the history of the subject since I wrote it that if I did write anything at all -- and there was plenty to write about -- it would have to be an entirely new venture.
Unlike Picturebook, in which I speculated broadly on the tarot's possible associations to medieval and Renaissance myth and magic, my aim here is not merely to provide another "how-to" book on cardreading. Rather, I propose to track each symbol in every card of the deck, in both so-called Major and Minor Arcanas (the trump cards and the suit sign cards) to its actual historical origin, and then explore how its meaning in divination evolved from this source, if in fact it did.
In the thirty years since I wrote Picturebook, my views on the tarot have changed. Tarot, moreover, has expanded from a subject of interest only to playing-card enthusiasts and occultists to one of worldwide appeal, having gained a considerable amount of academic attention and an enormous presence on the Internet. There you can find an amazing plethora of tarot Web sites, chat rooms, and information resources promoting lively, well-informed, and often diametrically opposed points of view: historical, psychological, Hermetic, divinatory, feminist, postmodern, you name it. Furthermore, a vast collection of books on tarot has now become available. However, although the mysterious cards have arguably become part of mainstream culture -- the art of tarot reading recognized as, at minimum, a technique of psychological exploration and the cards themselves finally anchored in an assured historicity by the books of British philosopher Michael Dummett and others -- there still remain shadowy areas from which three questions of enormous importance loom unanswered.
• First, what was the origin of the suit card symbols, and what did they stand for?
• Second, what was the source of the trumps, and what was their original import? They were not simply conjured out of thin air.
• Third and lastly, when and why did people begin using the cards for divination -- that is, as a means of acquiring spiritual guidance or discovering hidden information?
As we shall see, all the evidence available today suggests that the trumps were added to an already existing game of fifty-six playing cards during the middle of the fifteenth century, and for their subject matter drew on imagery readily recognizable by the card players of the time. However, knowledge of that symbolism was quickly lost by the average card player, which allowed for regional changes to creep into the design of the cards as their use in gaming spread throughout Europe. Nonetheless, the archaic and suggestive imagery used in the trumps and court cards resonated with that part of people's psyches from which dreams and visionary experience spring (designated by the pioneering psychologist Carl Gustav Jung as the unconscious mind). This mystical quality may have led naturally to the evolution of the cards as a divination tool, if indeed the trumps were not initially adapted from a preexisting divination device -- a notion I shall examine in due course.
Michael Dummett, who is opposed to what he regards as the misappropriation of the tarot by occultists, doubts that the images depicted on the trumps taken as a set contained any special meaning to their earliest users, inasmuch as they were standard subjects of medieval and Renaissance iconography. I, on the other hand, for the very same reason, believe the trumps to have been pregnant with meaning from the start, their symbolism drawn from the world of medieval drama, of miracle, mystery, and morality plays, with a hint of Neoplatonism evident here and there, which lent itself very readily to esoteric uses such as divination. Furthermore, we shall see that the court cards in the so-called Minor Arcana spring from a heady brew of pagan and medieval myth, also handy for the would-be diviner. Moreover, as Dummett himself has so ably demonstrated, the symbolism of the four suit signs seems to have evolved from a source even older than that of the trumps, a source that I believe can be traced to the Persian Empire before the time of the Islamic conquest in 642 C.E. Consequently, they also carry definite meanings exploitable by the diviner.
This brings me to my last great unanswered question about the cards: when, and why, were they first used for divination? Today historical opinion favors the eighteenth century because many historians equate playing-card divination with "cartomancy,"a particular form of fortune-telling with cards that was introduced in the late seventeen hundreds. However, an older method of seeking hidden wisdom from playing cards existed as much as three centuries earlier. I contend that this early practice of drawing playing cards singly as lots to answer questions -- a type of divination known as "sortilege" and an ancient and wide-spread practice -- introduced the earliest use of cards for divination. Indeed, the French verb still used today for card reading, tirer (drawing, as in drawing lots), is a strong indication that playing-card divination had its roots in sortilege. The fact that the term cartomancy was invented in the eighteenth century to refer to a newly devised system of divination that made use of extended combinations of cards does not affect my argument.
In our search for the tarot's origins, we will explore a vast and fascinating world of arcane symbolism and a diversity of cultures, and we will witness how the human love of playing games melded with the equally human desire to probe the unknown. The introduction briefly describes how playing cards first arrived in Europe from the Middle East and how tarot decks developed for game playing, then became popular throughout Europe during the sixteenth and succeeding centuries. Chapter I explores the cultural origins and symbolism of the four suit signs; chapter 2 is a similar examination of the origins of the trumps. Chapter 3 is devoted to an account of the development of the tarot's use as an instrument of divination. In chapters 4 and 5, I offer an analysis of the first documented divinatory interpretations of the trumps and suit cards. The remainder of the book is addressed to those who wish to explore the tarot in greater depth: chapter 6 presents actual methods of reading the cards. Three appendices provide the most current information available about obtaining and viewing decks: appendix I details the variety of historical tarot decks that are available in facsimile; appendix 2 lets the interested reader know where he or she can obtain them; and appendix 3 indicates where the truly devoted tarot enthusiast can see the actual decks described or illustrated in the text.
Finally, a personal note about tarot divination.
Although I received an early training in the Western esoteric tradition, I don't advocate any particular method of tarot divination today, although I am more than willing to offer suggestions. I began reading tarot cards over forty years ago while I was studying with the Society of the Inner Light and later with a group that studied the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. From the experience I gathered during that time, I ultimately came to the conclusion that Dion Fortune's more casual approach to the cards was more effective for me than the rigidly formal method advocated by the Golden Dawn. As I see it, cartomantic rules and regulations have been cobbled together from a variety of sources, and I hold to the school of thought that the secret of successful divination lies within the diviner. Actually, I believe anyone who wants to read the cards is not only free to, but must evolve a personal method for himself or herself, for reasons I will make clear. If you have the talent, it will make itself known to you soon enough. However, if you take the art of tarot reading seriously (and expect others to), it might behoove you to know something about the actual historical roots of your chosen field.
Which, in a nutshell, is what this book is all about.
Copyright © 2004 Paul Huson
What reviewers are saying about MYSTICAL ORIGINS:
Spiral Nature, July 2007 -
"MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT is Huson's most solid work to date, and I highly recommend it to all serious students of tarot."
Kevin Filan, Mysteries Magazine, issue #12, February-April, 2006 -
"Huson's writing is unfailingly clear and his theses easy to follow...If you already have some knowledge of the various cards and some experience in reading, you will find Huson's scholarly analysis and deconstruction of Tarot mythology invaluable."
Rachel Pollack -
"A visionary new concept for deciphering the mystery of the tarot's origins and meaning."
Robert Moss -
"MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT will undoubtedly be a classic in the field of tarot studies."
Diana McMahon-Collis, Tabi Quarterly, December 2004 -
"MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT is clearly a stand alone book...A powerfully adept handling of the general way in which spiritual meanings and divination became associated with the tarot...The history of the tarot becomes an exciting adventure!...Like a good novel, hard to put down."
Sherryl Smith -
"Solid historical research delving into tarot's origins...I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in tarot's roots...If you ever wondered where our card meanings come from, Huson's comparison of divinatory meanings from various sources is a gold mine. For people interested in traditional cartomancy, this book is the best source we have in English for pre-Golden Dawn card meanings and spreads."
Bonnie Cehovet -
"Those who have the good fortune to read MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT are presented with a well researched, well written resource that allows them to follow the origins and development of tarot, including the background of the symbols on the cards...A book of great benefit, with the added bonus that it reads easily and is highly enjoyable!"
Paul Hughes-Barlow -
"For the first time in years I actually read through every description of every card, its history and development in a dance through the classics, the Bible, medieval ideas, right up to the Golden Dawn and A.E.Waite. Here, Huson does the reader a real service, listing the development of the divinatory meanings in chronological order, highlighting the contradictions between authorities, and identifying original sources...The most enjoyable and fascinating history of the tarot."
Nigel Jackson -
"The definitive study of tarot symbolism...A penetrating and rigorous process of historical analysis and thematic elucidation...Ranging with great erudition from Shia, Sufi and Magian symbologies, to Neoplatonic doctrines, medieval mystery-plays, 18th century cartomancers and scholarly art history, this packed study delivers such a veritable feast of fresh information and insight on the subject of tarot that beginners and veteran tarotists alike will find it a real treat to read and an indispensable resource for reference...This is very likely the definitive study on the subject. Highly recommended."
Helen Pilinovsky -
"One of the most comprehensive overviews on the topic that I have ever encountered...Scrupulously researched...I recommend the volume highly for both scholarly enthusiasts and beginning tarot-readers."
Eric K. Lerner, Ashe Journal Vol 4, Number 1, 2005 -
"MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT stands out as a supremely useful reference book...The fact that Huson looks for lucid interpretations based on historical precedent goes a long way to bringing tarot down to earth...Huson by being clear eyed in his approach to tarot provides a worthy foundation from which one can begin a journey toward higher truth. Ironically, his lucid scholarship...may truly provide a mechanism for mystical levels of attainment for his readers."
From the introduction to HOW TO TEST AND DEVELOP YOUR ESP:
Because it is fairly typical of the kind of discovery you can expect to make about your own powers, let me tell you of an experience I had at a lecture in New York.
"If you're going to take parapsychology seriously," Dr. Osis had said in his gentle Finnish accent, "then you should know how it feels to take one of Rhine's card-guessing tests."
Karlis Osis is a former pupil of J. B. Rhine, the man considered by many to be the father of modern parapsychology. Osis himself is director of research for the American Society for Psychical Research, one of the more important scientific research groups in the psychic research field today.
A groan went up from the assembled ASPR members, many of them students like myself. We all knew what lay ahead. Dr. Rhine's tests had helped gain scientific credence for the phenomena of ESP back in the 1930's and 1940's. They are of great interest to the researcher but become increasingly boring to the subject of the experiment-stultifying if pursued to any great length, which unfortunately is the only way one can obtain statistically significant results from them. As psychics Eileen Garrett and Basil Shackleton once complained, there is nothing like forced-choice tests (as they are now called) for reducing an ESP sensitive buzzing with impressions to a block of insentient wood. The one redeeming feature of the test is Rhine's famous deck of cards designed especially to test ESP: five sets of decorative, cabalistic-looking symbols-star, circle, square, cross, wavy lines-which lend a touch of imagination to a game that quickly grows dull.
But Dr. Osis insisted, so we dutifully wrote in our special ESP test forms the symbols of the cards we felt were being turned up by someone in another room. I was not sure what I was supposed to do. The best I could think of was to keep telling myself enthusiastically that I would get a good score.
Nobody was more excited than I when I did. Out of twenty-five calls I had guessed ten correctly. That may not seem very impressive to you, but to me it sounded like a lot, although my excitement dampened somewhat after Dr. Osis explained the scoring method. Out of twenty-five calls using a deck of five sets of five symbols, the chance expectation was five correct guesses. In plain English, after discounting your first five hits, you start winning. So I had chalked up five ESP hits? Maybe, said Dr. Osis, maybe not. In an abbreviated test like this, you couldn't tell. Statistics need quantity to be meaningful, and this was merely a demonstration run.
Notwithstanding the disclaimer, however, he headed in my direction when the meeting broke up. One of the things you find out about parapsychologists is that they tend to keep an eye open for potentially high-scoring ESP subjects.
So, several days later I found myself sitting in Dr. Osis's New York office with a pad of blank paper before me, a pencil in my hand and my eyes screwed shut as I gazed into inner space. Two rooms away Dr. Osis opened the first of three previously prepared envelopes, scrutinizing the picture it contained and, I presume, endeavoring to beam his impressions of it in my direction.
"You can try closing your eyes and watching the pictures that form behind your eyelids," he had suggested earlier. I stared. Finally, out of the murk, shapes did begin to emerge. I seized on one gratefully. A black square object, was it? The afterimage of my pad of paper perhaps? I couldn't be sure. I got it in my head that it was a black swimming pool-rather an odd thing, when you come to think about it. I started to sketch it.
When I signified completion of my first drawing, Dr. Osis opened the second envelope. On closing my eyes I saw a spiny blob with a smaller blob attached to it. Ah, a cactus, I thought. I scribbled a sketch of my impression. When I shut my eyes to receive the third and last telepathic volley, I observed with irritation that the cactus shape was still there behind my eyelids. I waited for it to go away, but it didn't. It melted somewhat and finally turned into a statue of some sort. My first thought was Chinese soapstone. No, I decided, it was more like a Madonna and Child statue. I drew a Madonna and Child.
"Which target pictures do you think correspond to which of your calls?" asked a smiling Dr. Osis after he checked the results.
I stared at the targets.
Envelope number one had contained a magazine clipping of a grim scene all too familiar to us then-the Kennedys' black limousine at Dallas, foreshortened and therefore roughly rectangular. I had drawn a dark square, but hardly a limousine. In any case it was probably only a complementary retinal afterimage of the yellow pad itself. But why interpret it as a black swimming pool?
Dr. Osis silently slid the contents of envelope number two toward me. It was a coffee ad. Again, it had been clipped from a magazine. A small girl perched on the rim of a giant cup of coffee, apparently about to take a dive into its black depths. A black swimming pool? That was one way of describing it. No-where, however, was there any suggestion of a cactus, or cactuslike, shape.
Envelope number three turned out to be a direct hit. It also supplied the answer to the cactus riddle. It contained a photo of my Madonna and Child statue, a colorful Mexican altarpiece surrounded by a massive aureole of spiny gold rays. I recognized the aureole as my "cactus" immediately. Somehow, like the idea of the black swimming pool, the shape of the aureole had leaked back and contaminated my previous impression.
A string of coincidences?
For me, that stretches the meaning of the word too far. Like many people, I have had experiences that seemed telepathic, even if not provably so. But here was a deliberate and careful attempt to exercise ESP that turned up provocatively accurate results, to say the least.
Taking measures to counter occult evil, from THE OFFERING:
Her eyes widened as the priest shuffled toward her between the blood-soaked diagrams with small unsteady steps.
He stood before her, swaying; his open palm thrust out, red and glistening.
`Derecho!' he wheezed in a voice dead and parched as the graveyard grass beneath her feet. She gaped at the straining face, for it suddenly seemed in the candlelight lined and withered and skeletal as an Egyptian mummy's.
`Derecho! Offering! Quickly!' came the hoarse command again.
Jerked out of her haze of horror, she pulled the bulky envelope from her coat pocket and thrust it out, as if contaminated. It was snatched from her and dropped beside the chickens, and now he was hobbling away to the tomb again.
Back went his head and up shot his arms, his crooked claw-like fingers scrabbling to clutch the darkness. From his lips burst a harsh shrieked gabble of unintelligible syllables, hurled into the night, heedless apparently of any ritual silence now, and the drumbeats fled before them like the panic-stricken patter of a fibrillating heart. Bone-wrenching spasms wracked his body now, as if a high-voltage current passed up from the cemetery earth through his thin straddling legs, torso, out along his shaking fingertips into the darkness above the tomb, and without warning Judith's heart too suddenly began to pound great sledgehammer blows and the palms of her hands to sweat icily. Waves of numbing cold seemed to be billowing from the direction of the tomb now. Something was approaching, every atom of her being suddenly screamed, something from out of the darkness so monstrous and appalling that the horror inspired by the appearance of the old-man personality within the priest faded to mere anxiety by comparison. To Judith's eyes it seemed that the candlelit fog above the tomb was thickening, seething, twisting, boiling, as this Something, quite alien and unnatural to our world, struggled with the air itself to emerge like a vast venomous spider from its place of usual concealment.
As if also aware of the Presence, the priest broke off his chanting, and the drums fell silent.
Slowly, painfully, the man fell to his knees, first the one, then the other, cringing in abject supplication to whatever it was that loomed invisibly above the tomb.
In the heavy awful silence, Judith heard only the dreadfully magnified thumping of her heart. She fully expected to see the twisted face of Eshu leering at her out of the mist above the idol, but there was nothing, nothing but the terrible, overpowering sense of evil that paralyzed her limbs and senses.
A faint jingling sound, followed by a scuffling noise, snatched her frantic gaze to her left.
The dark-haired acolyte was back, dragging the small white goat on its chain, and the pale youth got up and swiftly moved to help him with his struggling charge. Stooping, he seized a front and rear leg while his friend grabbed the other two, and between them they carried the now helpless creature upside down to the crooked cross and pitchfork diagram.
The priest rose to his feet and hobbled forward while his two assistants silently, ritualistically, swung the goat to the four corners of the compass. A curved knife had appeared in his hand - Judith caught the gleam of its blade as the young men carefully lowered their sacrificial victim over the devil's circle, still maintaining a tight hold of its legs. She closed her eyes and stopped her ears as the priest pulled back the creature's muzzle to expose the soft white throat.