Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Magical Life and the Tarot

A major esoteric publishing event has just been brought to my attention which I have not had the opportunity to check out myself, but the publishers speak very highly of it. It is in the form of a 562 page book entitled THE BOOK OF ENGLISH MAGIC by Philip Carr-Gomm and Sir Richard Heygate and published by the long established and respected firm of John Murray. If the title should sound somewhat parochial to world wide readers, (let alone our Scottish, Welsh and Irish cousins), then two statements in the book seek to justify it: “England has fostered the greatest variety of magicians in the world” and “there are now more practicising wizards in England than at any other time in history.” Anyhow details are freely available at

Qualifying I suppose as an English magician myself and having had to do with a few in my magical life, good, bad and indifferent, I am now in the process of reviewing what it was all about in an autobiography I propose to call “A Magical Life”. There seems to be something of a virus going around of an autobiographic nature just now, as a couple of other close colleagues of mine, of a certain age, (steaming up to the age of 80), are also apparently at the game. At least it may allow us to get in the first word (or in another sense the last) before the biographical vultures gather to pick over our remains.

Actually I find it a most educative and rewarding exercise. It has caused me to realise a lot about myself (and other people) that had not been apparent before in the cut and thrust of life’s battle. And possibly what effort I put into this exercise may make things a little easier when I actually enter the Judgement Hall of Osiris to be weighed in the balance against the feather of Maat. At least I shall have some of my answers and justifications prepared.

One thing that has come to me has been the importance of the Tarot in my life. I had more or less forgotten that I had written three books on it over the years - A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism then The Treasure House of Images (aka Tarot and Magic) and finally The Magical World of the Tarot.

The first was a somewhat traditional approach when I was still learning my trade, aligning it with the Spheres and Paths of the Tree of Life. This appeared in 1965 although it had been written by 1962 along with a set of Tarot cards, The Gareth Knight Tarot, designed by Sander Littel, that had to wait until 1984 before being rescued from oblivion by the great Tarot card collector Stuart Kaplan. The correspondences are those favoured by the Golden Dawn, which are certainly not the only ones possible, but in my experience have served me very well over the years in formal Qabalistic studies, both theoretical and practical.

The Treasure House of Images or Tarot and Magic developed out of a workshop I did in 1984 at Hawkwood College, where I sought to show its possibilities as a system of magical images in ritual work. I had then realised it to be a system in its own right that did not necessarily have to be tied in to the Qabalah. Although I did conclude with an extended path working that more or less followed Tree of Life lines, and which came to me first as a children’s story for grown ups, called Granny's Magic Cards. For the textbook I cut out all the kid’s stuff, (although, as with Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice, some of it contained teaching not easily rendered by other means). Eventually I did publish the original, in 2004, with evocative illustrations by Libby Valdez, but what with one thing and another it turned out to be a very limited edition, no more than 100 copies, so any who have it can rest assured that they have a considerable rarity, worth a pound or two on the second hand market. It has since been issued on disc in PDF format by Ritemagic but alas without the illustrations. It remains, however, a work that makes my hair stand on end at certain points.

The most recent book, The Magical World of the Tarot, developed out of a course that I wrote and marketed in the late 1980’s before releasing as a self study book in 1991. This was a bit of a con in a way, insofar that in the guise of teaching how to use it as a divination device I was really encouraging students to use their own magical imagination to make contact with the fount of wisdom behind the Tarot, rather than simply mugging up “meanings” in a shallow intellectual fashion. Whilst many casual readers might have found this a bit demanding, if followed through it paid handsome dividends, and one of the reader responses that I treasure most was from a sergeant in the US Marines who wrote in to say how much he had been helped by it in the vicissitudes of life.

The method was not quite so demanding perhaps, as getting people to design and produce their own Tarot cards, but that is the way I trained students in the Gareth Knight Group. Each and every one had to design and produce their own Tarot before they could regard themselves as having passed beyond the Lesser Mysteries. However, not all are called, or cut out, to be serious esoteric buffs, although it remains probably the best way to learn about Tarot, ourselves, and the inner worlds in general. We all have a Tarot within us, so why not let it come out?

Now in my latter days I still find increasing wisdom coming through the Tarot, and in this respect I have been much impressed with a book called Meditations on the Tarot which is also a profound exercise in revealing just what the Hermetic and Platonic traditions are all about.

It was, and is, anonymously authored, but we all know who it is! And one can also see why he decided to remain anonymous. It was so that the book could speak for itself. The more so, as some of his earlier work, before he reached the maturity of this one, had become somewhat controversial amongst guardians of the party line of his previous affiliations. But all who are pioneers have to pay this price. And I still bear scars of my own in this respect!

In the pages of this book, Valentin Tomberg reveals much of himself, as well as of the tradition, strung out on the convenient structure of the Tarot Trumps. In this the book becomes a magical device in itself and means of communication between the planes. Highly recommended, if you are ready for it.


charlotte.cowell said...

Dear Gareth,

I am administrator of the Meditations on the Tarot online group. One of our new members recommended your very interesting blog to us - I'm looking forward to reading more!


Anonymous said...

Dear Gareth,

Tomberg was of course a former Anthroposophist, who had his own vissions/revelations/teachings/guidance. wWhich caused other Steiner folk to criticise him & treat him as an imposter/presumptive/parvenue etc. So he left & became RC instead. Of course we accumulate as we go, even after conversions or just moving on to other things. What he got before did not leave him, only altered somewhat. Do you think his Catholocism tends to overshadow or eclipse overmuch his obviously very genuine & deep perceptions & conclusions from his lifetime of Steiner & other occult work? Personally I found him sometimes sounding as tho he were afraid his own Bishop might be looking over his shoulder & had the need to always reassure of his orthodox bona fides. Like he does about "no conflict/opposition between the 'chruch of peter' & 'church of john'". Not to diminish everything else in his book, only that this dynamic seemed to me to be in there, distracting- at least for me- his own personal wisdom. But here I reveal my own prejudices regarding churches of all kinds, where the hierarchy & dogma all too often eclipse the otherwise living faith & living sacramental vehicles of grace. but thats my conflict dichotomy in Christendom. I grew up RC myself & still value the Mass & Liturgy & hymns & incense & sacraments & Gothic cathedrals etc etc. The aethetics of sanctity have a profound effect. And Christ is real, a living being, however one cares to define him. Whether God or man or both or angel or elevated demi-god or saint or prophet or bodhisatva, following his path & teachings strike me as what really matters, not theology, fascinating as it can be to wander into those thorny pastures sometimes. Your thoughts abt these matters wd be most appreciated. Congrats on your autobiography & generally continuing work in writing/blogging etc. Long life & good health to you, sir. Take care.
Best, Frank Donnola

Gareth Knight said...

Couldn't agree more Frank. I find Tomberg a bit irritating at times but there is real hermetic gold in there if you can stand his almost obsessive clutching at catholic orthodoxy. Can quite understand how some anthroposophical stalwarts found him an irritant, but he adds another dimension to the good Rudolf. And one much needed. GK

Philip Carr-Gomm said...

Dear Gareth,
Thank you for mentioning 'The Book of English Magic'.I found a marvellous quotation in your History of White Magic, which is featured on its own separate page to introduce our book's final chapter. Your work is also mentioned of course, and books listed. In addition there is an appendix listing biographies and autobiographies of English magicians. It sounds as if we'll be able to add some more titles to a 2nd edition!
Many thanks for all your fine work over the years. We met ages ago when I invited you to speak to the Esoteric Society in London.
With all good wishes,
Philip Carr-Gomm

Gareth Knight said...

Dear Philip,
Thanks for your kind remarks. Yes I remember the gig very well. I think I spoke about Dante whom I had recently discovered. Found your organisation of the time very impressive, and no doubt you have gone from strength to strength. I am intrigued about the quotation, and seem to find myself quoted quite a lot, although often can't recall having written or said it. I recall Dion Fortune's remark that she once picked up a book in idle moment and thought it quite good - only to realise that it was one of her own! I think this likely to happen to compulsive scribblers! Regards, GK

Pedro Luiz said...

I also find some aspects of Tomberg's work hard to accept, such as his defence of the Crusades and the general superiority of the Catholic Church over other religions. However, sometimes I wonder if this was not a kind of "ludibrium", a strategy to transmit deep esoteric ideas to people in the Church who wouldn't read his book otherwise. The truth is that Meditations on the Tarot has reached many Catholics and other Christians - there is even a picture of the late Pope John Paul II with a copy of the book on his table. Granted, not all Catholics accept Tomberg's ideas; some, for instance, reject him outright due to his defence of reincarnation. Now, for Western Occultists, Tomberg offers an important reminder of the richness of the Christian Tradition and a sobering measure of real spirituality, warning against the perils of psychic inflation. All in all, I think he's a very positive influence to both Occultists and Catholics, and his book is a real treasure.
Now, Mr. Knight, I understand that Tomberg lived in England. Did you ever met him?