The Thursday Newsletter (12.2)
Catching up . . . .
First—I’d like to welcome readers who signed up since the last newsletter! If you’ve just arrived, here’s a handy guide to some of the material already published and the browsing tools available. I hope you’ll have a look around.
Exploration Project usually comes along at least once a week, but it’s been a bit longer this time. December should be back on schedule. And next week’s newsletter will include a “big reveal” about my publishing plans for the Tarot-perfect year of 2022.
For this catch-up newsletter, I’m sharing some items linked (as usual) by serendipity. The connections began with . . .
Gertrude Moakley’s Preface to Papus . . .
Librarian Gertrude Moakley was among the earliest “exoteric” scholars to theorize about Tarot iconography—and her art-historical approach helped set the tone for Tarot research in the second half of the 20th century. (Here’s a refresher on Moakley’s major contribution.) But I’d forgotten that she wrote the Introduction to an English translation of Papus’ Tarot of the Bohemians, published in 1958.
I reconnected with this fact because I own a very tattered copy of that hard cover Arcanum edition (third printing), and I was looking at it to see whether anything in it was not included in later versions. It’s literally falling apart, so individual pages could be easily scanned.
As it turns out, Bohemians is available in several soft-cover editions, but based on a quick bit of research, it appears that many or most lack Moakley’s introduction. Also missing is Waite’s “Preface to the English Translation,” in which he summarizes his own thoughts about Papus, Tarot, and the occult tradition.
For her part, Moakley begins by explaining that “during the last 50 years the Tarot has had a growing influence on creative writers and students of analytical psychology.” She mentions the usual suspects (Eliot, Weston, Williams, Yeats, Ouspensky), and observes that “the followers of C. G. Jung are beginning to accept the Tarot images as mysteries agreeing with the archetypes of the collective unconscious.”
From there she goes on to discuss the relevance of occult traditions for a modernized understanding of Tarot: “The myth Papus helped to form needs to be supplemented by the work of art historians and psychologists, but it should not be discarded, any more than that analogous work, the I Ching, the wisdom book of the Chinese.”
So—basically—a concise snapshot of where serious thought about Tarot stood in the middle of the 20th century. But Moakley also included one item that surprised me:
As founder and leader of the spiritual-masonic Order of Martinists, Papus provided the Tarot with the large audience of initiates to which [The Tarot of the Bohemians] is chiefly addressed. The Order spread widely; it had lodges in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. During World War II, its French members successfully resisted the Gestapo's attempts to exterminate them. They even founded a new lodge to which the oracular Tarot gave the name of Bethel.
I’ve written a little elsewhere about Tarot in wartime Germany, and plan to look more deeply into that topic. But if I ever knew that French Martinists were among the many groups targeted by the Nazi regime, I’d forgotten. So today I went looking for more information—and ended up in . . . .
I’m not sure what keyword search landed me at the website of Prague Radio International, but that’s where I found a story that absolutely astounded me:
“The Czechoslovak occultist plot to kill Hitler by magic”
I hope you are immediately fascinated and want to read the story—it’s much too complicated to summarize. I can share this part, though, as a window into aspects of Tarot/occult history that are little known today.
Petr Kalač from the Documentation Centre of Czech Hermeticism explains:
If I were to describe how Hermeticism developed in the Czech lands, it is necessary to say that after the end of the First World War, the popularity of Martinism went down a little. However, with the growth of occultism, which blended hermetic and eastern knowledge, practitioners divided into two groups. One can be described as a more superficial tribe, which was focused on Spiritism. This fascination was the result of the fact that following the World War I many Czechs were looking to come into contact with their relatives who had fallen on the front.
Then there was a group of so-called ‘initiates’, people who went deeper into the philosophy. They started meeting in groups which studied Hermeticism. In 1920 the Free Association of Occult Workers was founded, which developed into ‘Universalia’ in 1930, a group that contained around 700 Hermeticism practitioners across the country during its heyday.”
Dr. Jan Kefer, the chairman of Universalia, translated many works on magic and mysticism, including those of Éliphas Lévi. He was also an accomplished pianist and well-known intellectual, who moved in the same social circles as noted Czech writer Karel Čapek.
As the German threat increased in the late 1930s, Kefer and several others reputedly undertook magical assassination attempts, with the knowledge of Czechoslovakia’s president. But as often happens in conspiracies, Kefer was denounced to the Germans by a rival occultist. Prior to that time, however, he was (allegedly) approached by the Gestapo to become Hitler’s private astrologer.
Because the history of esoteric Tarot has been so consistently connected with France, England, and America, it’s easy to forget that much also happened in other parts of the world, including Eastern Europe. But the next turn of serendipity took me back to the West—in fact, all the way to . . .
I feel very belated—but until today, I never knew that the distinguished scholar Erving Goffman was a serious card player who wrote a remarkable treatise on gambling. He proposed (as part of a complex discussion) that casinos are a field of “fatefulness,” where people abandon their customary sense of control and place themselves at the whim of destiny.
Goffman is widely regarded as the most influential American sociologist of the 20th century, and two of his books are considered classics in the field: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956, revised 1959) and Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974). Less well known—his lengthy essay ”Where the Action Is” (1967), which introduced a theoretical foundation for the sociological study of gaming.
And this wasn’t some academic construct, based purely on theory. At some point in the 1960s, Goffman (then a full professor at the University of California, Berkeley) took a job dealing blackjack in a Las Vegas casino. His experience and observations during this “field work” became the basis for an analysis that treated gaming as a valuable part of human culture.
As far as I know, Goffman had no knowledge of/interest in Tarot or divination—but several fascinating associations jumped out from what I read of his work. For one thing, his analysis sparked some new thoughts about the apparent origins of Tarot in the sphere of gaming. Viewed in the context of Goffman’s construct, that historical connection seems more deeply significant.
For another thing, I wondered if part of the reason so many people now insist that Tarot has nothing to do with “fortune-telling” stems from a reluctance to enter the sphere of fatefulness. If Tarot is only about self-care and personal growth, there’s no risk involved—no exposure to destiny.
Since I’m not personally intrigued by gambling, I never really thought about the fact that the very act of risking something on a “random” outcome is a way of testing fate. More to come on that realization.
For additional information about Gertrude Moakley, be sure and visit Tarot Heritage for Sherryl E. Smith’s appreciative overview. And if you’re interested in Goffman’s work on gaming, Dmitri N. Shalin’s “Erving Goffman, Fateful Action, and the Las Vegas Gambling Scene” offers a very readable introduction.
By the way—did you notice that today’s date is a palindrome? In fact, it’s palindromic whether written in mm-dd-yyyy format (12-02-2021) or yyyy-mm-dd format (2021-12-02), which is unusual.
As always, thanks for reading! Warmest regards, Cynthia