Paul Huson’s early book on Tarot, “The Devil’s Picturebook: The Complete Guide to Tarot Cards, Their Origins and Their Usage” the award-winning book on Tarot cards initially published in 1971 – explores the magical and mythological imagery of the famous deck.
During my first few years at University, my best friend and I spent many an hour in the small town of Edison, outside of Bakersfield, rummaging through the shelves of used books. It was either there, at Sam’s Used Furniture & Antique’s (“We Buy Junk and Sell Antiques”), or the fabulous used bookstore on the main drag of Bakersfield, Dusty Tomes, that I lucked upon a used copy of this book.
I was already familiar with the Paul Huson‘s name (from Mastering Witchcraft), so there was little question of me buying the The Devil’s Picturebook, even at the outrageous price of fifty cents or whatever it was that I paid for it. (If it was that much, it probably was Dusty Tomes, I don’t recall ever paying that much for a book at Sam’s unless it was a hardbound edition, and those were usually a dollar.)
Published in the early 1970s, it brought history, interpretation and esotericism together in an understandable, enlightening and entertaining manner, unlike many other tomes on Tarot that I had read to that point – Arthur Waite, S.L. Macgregor Mathers, I’m looking at you. This was much closer to my other then-favorite Tarot author, Eden Gray, about whom I’ll have more to write about in a few days.
Over the years, I’ve referred back to it many times, and recommended to my own students, and, of necessity more than a few times, purchased additional loaner copies while holding on dearly to my original. I was saddened, when, as such things go, copies of it became rarer and scarcer, and as they did, more expensive.
The book itself is presented in what feels like two segments, with a brief introductory section that includes a short forward and a glossary of tarot terms. It shows how the book was meant to be a thorough overall, well, Complete Guide – as the title states, of the tarot. Books such as this were rare in the 1970s, and now many spend a lot more words to say the same thing. Huson summarizes these easily and handily.
Following that introduction, Chapter 1 consists of what feels like a chatty, mildly informal conversation of a sort where Huson discusses some basics, such as acquiring your first deck and tips on getting familiar with it. Moving on to Chapter 2, which covers the then understood origins of the Tarot and where it came from. Some of these theories have been updated and revised over the decades since this book, and are included in Huson’s more recent volume Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage. This mode continues through the next couple of chapters.
Beginning with Chapter 5, however, is where we shift gers, and move on to the main course of this book: an in-depth discussion of the symbolism of the individual cards only of the Major Arcana and then some general divination meanings. It is the history of the symbolism that is the treasure. This is the meaty stuff which is often overlooked and left out in the “Little White Books” that now come with most decks these, in place of separate books designed and written around each specific deck..
While the book does ramble, it often feels that Huson is perhaps reminiscing with you, particularly in the earlier chapters as he goes through the history, the lectures and lessons he was given when he was first learning the Tarot
While Huson has written other books on the Tarot, including the recent Dame Fortune’s Wheel (which book and deck I highly recommend!), I will always have a fondness for this particular tome from Abacus Books.
[Note: links in this review go to Paul Huson’s website and to his works on Amazon.com; I am not an affiliate of Amazon, nor do I receiv any remuneration from them for lins to their website or content. These are simply links for convenience.]