The Esoteric Scene, Cultic Milieu, and Tarot
By Danny L. Jorgensen
Garland Publishing, 1992, 269 pages, illustrated, ISBN 0815307691,
- A Review by James Revak

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

The Esoteric Scene, Cultic Milieu, and Tarot is a
fascinating, disciplined, and relatively sympathetic study of the
esoteric subculture during the 1970s in the U.S., which includes an
in-depth report on Tarot and Tarotists from a sociocultural viewpoint.

Jorgensen observed and experienced the world of Tarot as an "insider"
and describes it, in this book, in terms used by Tarotists.  His
findings are based on field research which he conducted during the
1970s when he worked as a professional card reader in a community in
southern California (which he calls "the Valley").

The author holds a doctorate in Sociology from The Ohio State
University and was serving as an associate professor in the department
of religious studies at the University of South Florida (St.
Petersburg) when this book was published.

Jorgensen presents a fine albeit brief overview of the history and
components of esoteric culture.  He views the world of Tarot as
located in a "social scene" which he describes as an esoteric, ,
and cultic milieu, which "consists of common themes (esoteric and
knowledge) and means (social networks, study groups, cults,
sects, movement organizations, confederations, published literature)
whereby participants structure and organize their experiences and

In the subject community he found that the milieu included a wide
variety of individuals who identified themselves as witches,
magicians, s, etc.  The esoteric community to which they belonged
comprised a loose collection or network of seekers, clients,
practitioners, businesses, etc.  Some of the groups associated with
the community were described as New Age/New Thought, s/Witches,
New Religious Movements, White Spiritualists, and Black Spiritualists.
On the other hand, "Gypsy fortune-tellers" were excluded from the

The author found that psychic fairs, which were organized by the
esoteric community, were extremely important for those who were
practitioners (e.g. Tarot readers); participation in them was critical
to establishing and maintaining one's reputation and securing income.

The author rejects the idea that reading Tarot is reducible to
defective reasoning or mere superstition.  Instead, he views it as an
organized system of socially created knowledge which is subject to
human interpretation and serves as the basis of such human practices
as divination.  On the other hand, he is unsure that the Tarot can
predict specific events in a scientifically observable way or, more
generally, that magic "works".

In his understanding of Tarot readings, he emphasizes the
sociocultural point of view and finds that participants often follow
"scripts" during which readers and querents often negotiate the
meanings of cards.  In short, for better or worse, he eschews the
spiritual or supernatural aspects of divination and concludes that
"the meaning and sense of practices like tarot divination are
produced and sustained by societal members through a complex but
otherwise ordinary process of social interactional negotiation."

The author also discusses in detail how he became a professional card
reader and explores theosophies in relation to the Tarot, how
to interpret cards, and the future of esoteric culture in a postmodern

I recommend this book to readers who want to learn about the
sociocultural aspects of the esoteric scene from the point of view of
an "insider".  I also recommend it for those who want to understand
better how sociocultural theories may help to explain the popularity
and effectiveness of Tarot and how it is used by readers and querents
to structure their worlds and give their lives meanings.  On the other
hand, I would *not* recommend it if you are seeking profound spiritual
insights into Tarot, seeking explication of the supernatural, or
dislike academic literature.

Partial Table of Contents
1. Observing and Participating in the Cultic Milieu . . . 3
2. The Esoteric Scene in America . . . 29
3. The Esoteric Community in the Valley . . . 53
4. Confederated Networks of ists . . . 77
5. Becoming a Tarot Diviner . . . 103
6. The Tarot . . . 129
7. Theosophies of the Tarot . . . 163
8. Interpreting the Tarot . . . 195
9. Esoteric Culture and a Postmodern World . . . 227

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

JAMES W. REVAK  -  San Diego, CA, USA  -

This page is Copyright 1999 by Michele Jackson