Tarot ReVISIONed by Leigh McCloskey
Review by Diane Wilkes
Oddly, for an image-based medium like tarot, we don't have much in the way of coffee-table books. You know, the oversized books that we place attractively on a coffee table to show our cultural bona fides as well as our interests. Leigh McCloskey has filled that gap nicely with his new book, identically titled to his Tarot ReVISIONed deck. After reading the book, I am fairly convinced that the Tarot ReVISIONED is his companion deck to the book by the same name, but it is so much more. While the book does focus on examining each card and its symbolism in detail, every card is part of a greater philosophical undergirding that McCloskey wishes to share with the reader.
After a basic introduction of tarot and occult/metaphysical/philosophical principles in general, the book consists of 22 chapters. Each forms an introduction to the Major Arcana card under discussion, beginning with the quote that appears on the card (twice!). In it, McCloskey addresses the astrological and Hebrew letter assignment and its meaning within the context of the card. He then offers a full and rich explication of each symbol and its meaning in McCloskey's rendition of that Major card. As coffee table books often are, Tarot ReVISIONed is studded with illustrations. All of the Major Arcana cards are displayed in large format as a group, then, before every chapter, not one but two more illustrations of the specific card under discussion are depicted, the first smaller than the second.
McCloskey describes the Magus in a way that expresses his view of the tarot, as well, "This multiple reading of one image expresses why in the study of symbolism and tarot one must learn that symbols are alive with a plurality of meanings. They are not intended as singular statements but rather as tools which reveal hidden layers meant to evoke the creative imagination into telling its own story. The language of symbolism is the voice of the Magus." He focuses on the links to Thoth-Hermes, but also its inextricable intertwining with the High Priestess card. "He teaches creative receptivity and conscious intention the key to accepting divine impress and inspiration." McCloskey claims that both the Magus and the High Priestess express the urge for no thing (divine will) to know itself. He assigns the Magus to Beth, not Aleph, and gives no reason or even an indication that there are other ordering systems
McCloskey suggests that learning the language of the High Priestess requires an understanding of "one's feeling, intuitive, and sensual nature." Normally, the sensual nature is associated more with the Empress than the High Priestess. He also stresses the importance of personal experience, not something I normally relate to this card. I suspect he is focusing more on the lunar rulership than the archetype of the High Priestess--this paragraph makes me think more of the Moon card than Trump II:
"Encountering the unconscious aspects of the High Priestess has sometimes been called, "the dark night at the soul," suggesting the experience of normal consciousness interrupted by unexpected and turbulent intrusions from unknown areas of the psyche. This can feel akin to madness because one suffers the dissolution of certainty. An individual's sense of self is confronted in ways that strip it of its learned defenses."
McCloskey sees the Magus and the High Priestess as "the first couple," as opposed to a match between the High Priestess and the Hierophant. The Empress "completes the first trinity of the Tarot," symbolizing "the divine potencies of the Magus and the High Priestess made manifest." The author sees the Empress as symbolizing the subconscious, an attribute that is often ascribed to the High Priestess.
McCloskey also makes connections between the Empress and Emperor, stating, "The Emperor is the initiator, that which the Empress holds in potential, the Empress ignites, sets into motion." At the same time, he brings in the astrological significance: "The Sun is in exaltation in Aries" and the Hebrew letter Heh (attributed to the Emperor) meaning "wind-door." He makes the connection between Daleth/Door (the Hebrew letter assigned to the Empress). Yet, when he talks about the Emperor introducing Wind to the Door (Daleth/Empress), he ignores the fact that the astrological attibution, Aries, is fire, not air. Hence, the reader might wonder how all these attributions mesh, or if, in fact, they conflict.
The connections between cards don't end with the two couples (Magus/High Priestess and Empress/Emperor), which McCloskey claims share the same energies, with the difference being that the second couple manifests on an earthly plane. "The Hierophant, Key 5, conjoins the conscious will of the Emperor, Key 4, with the unconscious imaginative generative powers of the Empress, Key 3. The Lovers represent the active pursuit of the marriage of Sun and Moon under Mercury."
He also connects the cards through their astrological associations, so, for example, the Lovers and the Hermit are connected to the Magus, who is attributed to the planet Mercury. Gemini and Virgo are the astrological associations for the Lovers and the Hermit respectively, and both signs are ruled by Mercury. For some reason, I never made these connections and I look forward to exploring them more deeply. He also points out other astrological connections, such as Keys 4-7 (assigned to Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer respectively) making an astrological square. He perceives the cards from Death to the Tower as paths of initiation, with the Tower being the Great Test. Within those paths, he describes Temperance as the time of the Dark Night of the Soul, which I don't completely buy into; I have always seen the Moon in that way.
I have never understood the Cancer attribution to the Chariot (I can give reasons for the assignment, but have never been truly satisfied with this one!). I enjoyed many of McCloskey's explanations for the different attributions and was hoping he would illuminate this for me, but alas, I remain unsatisfied. Despite the strong Golden Dawn influence, the author/artist assigns modern planets to the trumps, as opposed to the elements, which leads me to think he weights astrology slightly heavier than tradition.
All of the descriptions are heavily rooted in the astrological and planetary attributes, sometimes to the detriment of the more far-reaching potentialities of each archetype, I think. But McCloskey has absorbed all of the Golden Dawn assignments to each card, and I must say that he explains the information in an interesting, accessible manner. He also covers the kind of intelligence assigned to the card, as well as the esoteric function, along with the attributed Hebrew letter, its meaning, and its relevance to the card.
Even though McCloskey's attributions and linkages between cards are steeped in traditional esoteric material, his interpretations are not always established ones. For example, "The Hierophant leads one away from generalized thinking and understanding by reminding one that all is energy." I doubt whether all of the Viscontis--or Waite, for that matter--would concur.
Sometimes I just take pleasure in the way the author shares his insights. He says of the Lovers, "This archetype represents the ideal of perfected balance between the power of acute discrimination and the creative imagination." Other times, though, I find his verbiage overwhelmingly fulsome, such as in this comment in the chapter on the Chariot, "Tradition has given the approbation of "ring-pass-not" to the compression and containment surrounding different properties of mind." If you are scratching your head, take comfort: you are not alone.
He quotes from sources as divergent as Jung to Browning to Whitman. I especially loved his association to the Hermit with the Browning line from the poem, Andrea del Sarto ("Ah, but should a man's reach not exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"). That's always been one of my favorite lines, and I like thinking of it in conjunction with the Hermit's quest for sacred knowledge. Another great quote which McCloskey associates with the Devil is "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it"--which makes sense, as he sees the Devil, as "created by thought," a "potent phantom."
As I mention in my review of the deck, the card images are quite different from traditional Major Arcana and often one will confuse the images without knowing the titles. In his book, McCloskey explains the difference between his version of Strength with more traditional representations. His "reVISIONing" depicts "the dual nature of the lion; it is wild and dangerous, but also regal, representative of the King of Beasts, with a noble and elevated nature."
The construction of the book occasionally seems redundant. As I mentioned earlier, there are multiple versions of each card, and the quotation McCloskey cites at the beginning of each chapter (that is also on the back of the card) also appears on a page before each chapter, so you read it twice before you begin the general text. In addition, in between McCloskey's chapters of the Wheel of Fortune and Justice (numbered 11 in this deck), there is an illustration of a wheel with the words "Begin/Finis." It must refer to the Wheel and not, as I first thought, separate the trumps into two even and separate halves, because I-X are only ten cards, and there are 12 more to come, not an even number. McCloskey sees Justice as the "central position in the tarot." Interestingly, the goddess he likens to Justice is Dike (and Themis), and never mentions Maat.
I found the handsome book illuminating and compelling and expect to return to it time and again for insight into the Major Arcana. Unfortunately, the paperback version is $85 and the hardcover edition is $125, and while it is helpful to see the cards in the larger format the book provides, I wish it was more affordable to the masses, as it not only is an invaluable companion in understanding the deck's symbolism, it offers a real VISION of the Majors, even if one were not using the author/artist's images.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tarot ReVISIONed has been released in a smaller paperback for $12.95. You can purchase a copy here.
You can order the book here and peruse the author/artist's website here.
Text cited © 2004 Leigh McCloskey
Review and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes