Many of the works listed here are not, technically speaking, works on the Tarot or even on esoteric studies per se, but they all relate to the various processes of individuation and transformation that have enlightened the mind, and engaged the spirit, of humankind over the centuries; and each in its own way has contributed something of value to my appreciation of the “world beyond”, which in turn has better informed my understanding of the Tarot deck. They are grouped here by subject:
Anonymous: Meditations on The Tarot (Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1985). A 650-page tour de force through 2,000 years of Western civilization as symbolized by the cards of the Trumps Major, with an emphasis on Christian mysticism in general, and Catholic christology in particular. (The book’s subtitle is “A Journey Through Christian Hermeticism”.) Its concepts might be a bit too abstract for the novice, but those with a background in Western mysticism will find it engaging and insightful.
Butler, Bill: Dictionary of the Tarot (Shocken, New York, 1975) is a handy “one-stop” reference guide containing the traditional divinatory meanings of the cards as interpreted by over a dozen of history’s most renowned Tarot scholars. Great for beginning to intermediate readers who are still learning to “memorize” the cards, and who want to see how the “experts” sometimes agree—and sometimes disagree—on their meanings.
Case, Paul Foster: The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of All Ages (MacCoy, Richmond, Virginia, 1947) and The Book of Tokens: Tarot Meditations (Builders of The Adytum, Los Angeles, 1989). Of all the old-school (i.e., born in the 19th Century) Tarot scholars, Case could arguably be called the most knowledgeable and perceptive of the lot. Both of these volumes are slim, but The Tarot contains a treasure-trove of insight and useful information on every page, and Tokens’ inspired poetic musings are meant to be cherished.
Connolly, Eileen: Tarot: The Handbook for The Journeyman (U.S. Games Systems, 1987). Connolly’s work has been taken to task by some traditionalists for taking “the edge” off some of the cards (with “Death” renamed “Transition” and “The Devil” recast as “Materialism”, her deck has been called “Tarot for people who are afraid of Tarot”). But there is no doubt that some of the cards in the deck do contain disturbing images that can seem threatening to us until we become better acquainted with the cards, and her multivolume writings—for beginners and experts alike—have earned their place in the canon. There is also little doubt that many Tarot decks that have arrived on the market since she published her deck have borrowed liberally from her softer, Arthurian-style design aesthetic.
Crowley, Aleister: The Book of Thoth (Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1969) and 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings (Weiser, 1973). There isn’t much to be said about Crowley that hasn’t already been written. He was a polarizing figure in his own day, and even today his name evinces both affection and revulsion within the Tarot community. One thing that is not in dispute, however, is his encyclopedic knowledge of the various schools of esoterica and how they related to the Tarot. If I could only recommend one book to this end, it would likely be 777, which offers an abundance of riches to aspiring Tarot students. I’ve been reading the cards for close to 40 years, and I still frequently refer to this book.
Douglas, Alfred: The Tarot (Penguin, London, 1972). Notable among the works in the Tarot canon by being one of the first—if not the first—to draw a parallel between the cards in the Major Arcana and the stages of individuation—of psychic self-realization—that are chronicled in Jungian depth psychology. It has since been eclipsed by works of other Jungian scholars, but a groundbreaking treatise nonetheless.
DuQuette, Lon Milo: Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (Weiser, 2003). A thoughtful and straightforward concordance to Crowley, whose writings can be confounding to the layman at times.
Gad, Irene: Tarot and Individuation (Nicholas Hays, York Beach, Maine, 1994). A well-informed survey, with an emphasis on kabbala, alchemy and Jungian psychology. With hundreds of quotes culled from the works of C.G. Jung, this book might of the most comprehensive explanation of the cards as living symbols of personal transformation.
Gray, Eden: A Complete Guide to The Tarot (Bantam, New York, 1972). A mass-market best-seller when first published, it was the first book on the Tarot that I—and, I suspect, many Tarot students of my generation—ever read. Just about everyone I knew in high school had a copy of it. Brief and to the point, and still a satisfactory overview for the beginner.
Greer, Mary K.: The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals (Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota, 2002). From one of the most insightful modern-dayTarot scholars, an indispensable resource for students who wish to incorporate reversed cards into their readings. Most other interpretive works in the canon devote but a few lines per card to reversed meanings, but this one delves into reversals in much greater detail.
Huson, Paul: The Devil’s Picturebook (iUniverse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2003). First published in the 1970s, this work was notable for its detailed history of the Tarot, and of occultism and witchcraft as well. More relevant, perhaps, to Tarot students who are also devotees of Wicca and/or paganism, the book’s interpretations of the Major Arcana are frequently novel and provocative, and the book is also praiseworthy for its plethora of spreads.
Kaplan, Stuart R.: The Encyclopedia of Tarot (U.S. Games Systems, 2006). Just as every household deserves a good encyclopedia, so every Tarot student should own this massive, two-volume opus that is the go-to historical reference work in the Tarot canon. Nothing else approaches its level of scholarship.
Levi, Eliphas, and Waite, A.E. (translator): Transcendental Magic in Doctrine and Ritual (Rider Press, London, 1896). The groundbreaking opus that expostulated at length the connection between the Major Arcana and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Some of its explanations of ceremonial magic may seem a bit cryptic —and even off-putting—to the beginner, it is still one of the most perceptive and eloquent works in the Tarot canon.
Nichols, Sallie: Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey (Weiser, 1980). One of the earlier Jung-Tarot volumes, and still one of the more thoughtful and inspiring ones.
Papus: The Tarot of The Bohemians (George Redway, London, 1896). Published the same year as Transcendental Magic, this was one of the first Tarot works to draw connections between Tarot and other esoteric fields, in particular the kabbalistic study of gematria. One of the must-have “core” works in the canon.
Regardie, Israel: The Golden Dawn (Llewelyn, 1971). This seminal work of ceremonial magic covers so much more territory than simply the Tarot, but the subject occupies a sizable portion of the volume, and is a must-have on the matter of spread interpretation.
Pollack, Rachel: Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom. (Weiser/Redwheel, 2007). Originally published in 1980, this might be my personal favorite of all of the books on this list. Brilliant insights leap off of nearly every page, and in fact, this is the only book on this list (that I can think of) ever to point out physical details on some of the cards that I had never noticed before—even after handing the cards for decades. Of all the new-school (born in the 20th Century) Tarot scholars, Pollack is, for my thinking, the smartest of them all.
Sadhu, Mouni: The Tarot (Allen & Unwin, London, 1970). After Eden Gray, this was one of the first Tarot books I ever read. Unfortunately, it was a little like a six-year old trying to play a Beethoven piano sonata after mastering “Chopsticks.” For advanced students, however, an excellent overview of kabbalistic principles as they apply to Tarot, and of the use of the Tarot in ceremonial magic.
Waite, Arthur Edward: The Pictorial Key to The Tarot (U.S. Games Systems, 1971). We would be remiss if we failed to include the “godfather” of the Minor Arcana on this reading list, though his own interpretations are at times canny, cagey, puzzling and even self-contradictory.
Wang, Robert: The Qabalistic Tarot (Weiser, 1983) and The Jungian Tarot and Its Archetypal Imagery (Marcus Aurelius Press, Columbia, Maryland, 2001). Qabalistic Tarot might be the best short-form (relatively speaking) survey of Tarot and Kabbala. Wang manages to pack within 250 pages information that more loquacious authors require hundreds of pages more.
Weston, Jesse: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge University Press, London, 1920). Not a book of Tarot per se, but this landmark mythological work from 1920 offers interpretations of some of the deck’s images through the lens of Arthurian grail myths. Worth the read.
Barnstone, Willis: The Other Bible (Harper Collins, New York, 1984). A massive anthology of “alternative” scriptures including the Zohar, as well as works of Jewish Pseudepigrapha and excerpted Essene and Gnostic documents discovered at Qumran and Nag Hammadi. Essential.
Berg, Rav P.S.: The Essential Zohar (Crown, New York, 2002) and The Energy of Hebrew Letters: The Quantum Story of the Original Alphabet (Kabbalah Publishing, Los Angeles, 2010). Berg, for many years the spiritual head of the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles, renders complex cosmology in simple layman’s English. His works are a joy to read.
Cohen, Abraham: Everyman’s Talmud (E.P. Dutton, New York, 1949). One of the first, and still one of the best, one-volume survey of the Rabbinic texts written for a contemporary non-Jewish audience. Heavily footnoted and dense with abbreviations, its scholarship is impressive, but not at the expense of its readability.
Fortune, Dion: The Mystical Qabala (Weiser/Redwheel, 2000). First published in the 1930s, this may be the first English-language Kabbala survey work authored by a woman—who, along with Case, can be touted as among the best and brightest esotericists of her generation.
Godwin, David: Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia (Llewelyn, 1994). For students of gematria, this is an essential reference work; a 650-page spiritual dictionary and “math book”; also included in the volume is a reprint of Sepher Sephirah, Aleister Crowley’s survey of gematria.
Halevi, Z’ev Ben Shimon: Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree (Weiser, 1989) and Psychology and Kabbalah (Weiser, 1994). Halevi has written extensively on Kabbala over the years, and his easygoing, plain-spoken prose style makes these volumes ideal for beginning to intermediate students.
Hammer, Reuven: The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible (Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1995). Pharisaic and Tannaitic commentaries on the first five books of the Bible. “Midrash is the enemy of fundamentalism,” the book’s cover notes remark, and the same is true for all the collected works of the Kabbala.
Kaplan, Aryeh: Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation (Red Wheel/Weiser, 1997). Translation and exegesis of the original Hebrew text (included in the book). As it relates the creation of the universe through the 22 Hebrew letters—the first things God created—is, in many ways, the foundational work of the Kabbala, and one deserving of years of study and reflection.
Scholem, Gershon: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Shocken, New York, 1946), On Kabbalah And its Symbolism (Commentary Classic, New York, 1965) and On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead (Shocken, 1997). Arguably the 20th Century’s preeminent—and certainly most famous—Kabbala scholar, whose English-language works introduced Kabbala to a wider, i.e., non-Jewish audience.
Boa, Fraser, and Von Franz, Marie-Louise: The Way of The Dream (Shambala, Boston, 1988).
Dourley, John P. (editor): The Psyche as Sacrament (Inner City Books, Toronto, 1981).
Edinger, Edward: Archetype of The Apocalypse (Open Court, Peru, Illinois, 1999), Anatomy of The Psyche (Open Court, 1985), Ego and Archetype (Penguin, Baltimore, 1973), The Aion Lectures (Inner City Books, 1996), The Bible and The Psyche (Inner City Books, 1986), The Christian Archetype (Inner City Books, 1987), The Eternal Drama (Shambala, Boston, 1994) and The Mystery of the Coniunctio (Inner City Books, 1994).
Grossinger, Richard: The Alchemical Tradition in The Late Twentieth Century (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1979).
Jung, C.G.: Aion (Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1959), Answer to Job. (Bollingen Foundation, 1958), Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Vintage Books, New York, 1961), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Bolligen Foundation, 1960), Psychology and Alchemy (Bollingen Foundation, 1968), The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature (Bollingen Foundation, 1966), Symbols of Transformation (Bollingen Foundation, 1956) and Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle Bollingen Foundation, 1960).
Neumann, Erich: Art and The Creative Unconscious (Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1959) and The History and Origins of Consciousness (Bollingen Foundation, 1954).
Von Franz, Marie-Louise: Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and The Psychology (Inner City Books, 1981), and Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Shambala, Boston, 1974).
Miscellaneous Mythological/Religious Studies
Aslan, Reza: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, New York, 2013).
Bloom, Harold, and Rosenberg, David: The Book of J (Vintage Books, New York, 1991).
Bloom, Harold: Omens of Millennium—The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams and Resurrection (Riverhead Books, New York, 1996).
Campbell, Joseph: The Masks of God (Viking, 1970).
Campbell, Joseph (editor): The Mysteries (Bollingen Foundation, 1955).
Crossan, John Dominic: The Historical Jesus (Harper Collins, 1991).
Eisenman, Robert: James The Brother of Jesus (Penguin, 1998), and The New Testament Code: Gospels, Apostles, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Konecky & Konecky, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, 2014)
Frazer, Sir James George: The Golden Bough (MacMillan, London, 1932)
Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, 1928)
Josephus: The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959).
Pagels, Elaine: Adam, Eve and The Serpent (Vintage Books,1988), Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Vintage Books, New York, 2003), The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage Books, New York, 1979) and The Origin of Satan (Random House, 1995)
Pennick, Nigel: Magical Alphabets (Samuel Weiser, 1992).
Robinson, James M.: The Nag Hammadi Library (E.J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 1978)
Rudolph, Kurt: Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (HarperOne, New York, 1987).
Tillich, Paul: A History of Christian Thought (Touchstone, New York, 1967)
Wilhelm, Richard: The I Ching, or Book of Changes (Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1950)
Zimmer, Heinrich: The King and The Corpse (Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1948)