The Devil's Picture Book by Paul Huson Review by Michele Jackson
I try not to write about out of print books, but someone on Tarot-l recently stated that they saw this book used and wanted advice as to whether it was worth getting. I had the book, but had not read it. I decided to pull it out and take a look. As I started reading, I quickly found that this was not your usual Tarot book. To begin with, almost half of the book is devoted to a meandering discussion of witchcraft, alchemy and mythology. Even the sections on the cards themselves are liberally sprinkled with folklore and spells.
The book starts with a short forward which includes a glossary of tarot terms. Chapter One: Reading the Cards discusses some basics, such as acquiring your first deck and tips on getting familiar with it. It also provides a set of brief divinatory interpretations. Twelve spreads are provided ranging from the simple to the very complex. Finally, the rules for the game of "Trumps" is provided and the game is encouraged as a method for becoming familiar with the deck. Chapter Two: Where did the Tarot Come From? provides a history of the cards. Huson provides several theories, and then begins discussing the religious climate of the 14th century, when the cards first appeared. The influence of Christianity, including heretical sects, Masons and Gnosticism are discussed. Chapter Three: Tarot Sorcery is a brief history of magick, both before and after the appearance of the cards. Famous magicians from Merlin to Mathers can be found in this chapter. This is also the chapter where Qabala, and the Tree of Life are presented. Chapter Four: The Old Religion, describes how symbols from Pagan religions made their way into the Tarot deck. Chapter Five: The Devil's Picturebook discusses the individual cards of the Major Arcana in detail. Each card is discussed in terms of its symbolism. The symbols are traced back as far as possible with interesting anecdotes, mythology, folk stories, poetry, excerpts from historical documents and spells, including one used to ward off the plague, and one for invisibility, thrown in along the way. This chapter is a mixture of conjecture and historic fact, with the result being an entertaining read. There is a one or two paragraph divinatory interpretation provided at the end of each card's section.
This book was written in 1971. Huson is one of the authors found in Bill Butler's Tarot Dictionary. His interpretations are fairly traditional, but by the time you get to them at the end of each section, you will have been given so much interesting information and food for thought about the card, that they seem anticlimactic. The book tends to ramble off topic at times, as the author gets wrapped up in some interesting bit of history, but it moves along briskly for the most part, and I doubt that the reader will be bored.
If you should see this book used, snatch it right up. It provides a unique glimpse into influences on the Tarot that are rarely covered in other books.
NOTE: The book is now available via IUniverse.
In contemporary tarot decks Fortitude, or Strength, as it is also known, is usually presented as trump number eleven, falling between the Wheel of Fortune and the Hanged Man. The fifteenth century manuscript Sermones de Ludo* on the other hand, lists it as trump number nine, between the Chariot and the Wheel of Fortune. Similarly the manuscript places Justice at the end of the line between the Judgment (Resurrection) and the World, as opposed to its present day position between the Chariot and the Hermit, as card number eight.
Florentine Minchiate decks do otherwise. Often they simply gather the four cardinal virtues together between the Lovers, which figures as trump number five, and the Chariot, trump ten. Temperance first, Fortitude second, followed by Justice and finally, the Wheel. Apparently the order in which the moral lessons were learned did not particularly matter.
I shall adopt the Minchiate's procedure and gather the cardinal four together. This will enable me to deal with them at the same time, for they interrelate considerably.
Fortitude in modern packs, portrays a woman either wrenching open or forcing shut the gaping jaws of a lion (see Figure 47). This is the conventional medieval representation of that virtue. The figure may be that of the nymph Cyrene, a devotee of the chaste Moon Goddess Artemis. The Sun god, Apollo, saw the girl wrestling unarmed with a lion one day, and taking a fancy to her, spirited her off in his chariot to North Africa after speedily consulting the wise centaur Chiron on the advisability of the match.
*Op. cit. Sermones de Ludo Aliis (fifteenth century illuminated manuscript in the collection of United States Playing Card Co., Cincinnati, Ohio), fol. 205-9
The Devil's Picturebook, pg 177
Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson