Book Review: The Creative Tarot

The Creative Tarot:  A Modern Guide To An Inspired Life, by Jessa Crispin

Although I tend to find myself being at least somewhat interested in the history of esoteric matters and their often neglected importance in history and culture, I tend to find writings that promote the esoteric to be far less enjoyable to read than they are instructive in a certain mindset that I do not happen to share.  One of the qualities that is in general shared by those who delve into various esoteric matters is a belief that human beings have within them some sort of divine spark or some sort of divine powers of intuition that can transcend rational thought and that can be tapped into via various mystical means.  These particular approaches combine a sense of discipline which requires a study of the tarot and the meanings of its cards with a sense of freedom that tends to allow for flexible or multiple interpretations, the better to keep them being pinned down and thus viewed as unreliable.  This author does a better job than most at presenting the tarot not only as some sort of mystical guide to insight, but also examining how it is that artists (especially writers) have used the tarot as inspiration for their own creativity.

This book of more than 300 pages not surprisingly spends most of its time talking about the particular cards of the tarot deck and their supposed meanings, yet it does so in a way that frames this discussion in a context that begins with a a discussion of the history of the tarot as well as the divisions of cards into two categories of major and minor arcana as well as four suits (swords, cups, wands, coins) that are tied to the four elements of air, water, fire, and earth.  After introducing the categories, the author discusses the major arcana cards in a particular numerical order:  the fool, the magician, the high priestess, the empress, the emperor, the hierophant, the lovers, the chariot, strength, the hermit, the wheel of fortune, justice, the hanged man, death, temperance, the devil, the tower, the star, the moon, the sun, judgment, and the world.  After that the author talks about the minor arcana individually, providing a narrative of each card in the various suites from Aces to nines, and then the pages, knights, queens, and kings after that.  After that, the author closes with some spreads that create structure, and then a look at how to do a reading before the author concludes.

I was not surprised with a great deal of the folly that one finds in this book, from the desire to make up a narrative that is a nearly universal human tendency (and one I certainly share) when one is dealing with nonsense, the misguided trust in human intuition and the sacred feminine ridiculousness that is so common in a great deal of contemporary (and historical) mysticism.  What genuinely surprised me, though, was the way that the author pointed out how it is that tarot reading has inspired people creatively, whether it was (as is the case of Calvino’s writings) explicitly commented upon or whether it was subtly embedded into the framework of the story, in that the reading provided structure to creative thinking.  While I would not personally tend to think of using a tarot reading as a way to break through writer’s block by providing a ready-made narrative structure, it is certainly the sort of prompt that has proven to spark creativity in other writers in the past, which is baffling but interesting at least.  By the standards of books on the tarot, which is admittedly not a very high standard in my own estimation, this book does provide at least some interesting discussion of how the tarot can help inspire our own creativity in problem solving and writing, and that is worth something.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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