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Tarot of the Saints
by Robert M. Place

Tarot of the Saints - XVI - The Tower I received this deck in the mail on September 14, the day George W. Bush declared a national day of prayer and remembrance. I was shaken up that day, not only by the recent tragedy, the concern for family and friends in NYC, or the very real possibility of war that faced us all. I was shaken up by an emotional response I had to watching the days' services at the National Cathedral. I was moved by the words of Jew, Christian, Muslim. But something else took place, ... an instinctual urge to return to the religion of my early childhood.

I have never rejected Christianity. In fact, for quite a few years I was deep in study of ancient Christianity, Judaism, and Gnosticism; and Biblical language. Over time I simply moved away from it, as I delved into other religions. What I came to fully realize through the study of so many different traditions, is that they are all reaching for the same light, the same spirit. With this in mind, I can look at Christianity fairly and openly. Although I already understood that the repression and narrow-mindedness of some people, as well as the history of persecution, are not just reflections of the faith, I saw this again more distinctly through this receptive study of other religions. I can quietly roam the depths of Christianity, and find true mysticism and spirit there, again.

Tarot of the Saints is a perfect starting (or re-starting) point for this. Robert M. Place, with intelligence and skill, presents to us the great people of Christianity, those humans who gave their lives to a quest for God, and discovered the soul of God him/her/it-self. These are the men and women who endured torture, saw visions, performed miracles. They are the ones whose experiences so strongly embodied a Christian ideal, they were canonized as saints.

Who are the saints? Even though I grew up in a large Italian, Catholic family, I never had much familiarity with more than just a few of the saints. But it is easy for me to recognize their significance, their potency as symbols and guides. There are thousands of recognized saints, and they fit extremely well into the tarot. Their places within this set seem natural, almost as if the tarot were designed around their stories.

Tarot of the Saints - Four of Swords This set is a bit more academic than many others. Its research is obvious, both in the writing and in the extensive bibliography. The book opens with a discussion on the origin of the tarot that is comprehensive and interesting. It continues into a discussion of Christian mystics, Gnostics, and saints, that is equally comprehensive and interesting. The history nut in me loved these two chapters, and appreciated the more scholarly (though still very accessible) approach. The book then delves into the mystical nature of tarot, validating its place in history and in modern times.

The first reading I did with this deck was impressive. It was a few days after I received the set. The feelings I had had on the 14th about reconsidering Christianity had faded, or mellowed, a bit. It wasn't on my mind. But the reading drew them up again, placed them beneath a spotlight. Reading through the interpretations, I realized just how on target and effective this set can be for self-discovery, and for divination. The cards, and their written meanings, hit my personal experiences right on the head.

Each Major Arcana card receives three pages or so of explanation, historical fact (or legend), symbolism, and interpretation. These are, again, comprehensive and interesting. The court cards, which are Squire, Knight, Queen, and King, are adequately explained in one or two pages. The number cards, which usually have scenes, only receive a small paragraph of interpretation. This, I think, is one of the only weak points of the set. Beginners may have a hard time learning a full range of possible interpretations because of this limitation.

The cards are very finely illustrated. Normally I would not like this kind of artwork. It is literal, realistic, very straightforward. But the lines and shadowing give the images more than just visual form. The images, like the words in the book, succeed at being both scholarly and intuitive, teaching as well as moving.

Ties to a pagan past are brought up repeatedly and respectfully, and women are depicted in honorable and impressive roles. The criticisms that are often launched against Christianity cannot be launched against this set, which provides us with a clear, unobstructed view of the mystical truth of the religion.

This is an excellent set. It would likely be welcomed by those following a Christian path, and should be considered by those who previously rejected Christianity. I thank Robert M. Place for combining two of my all-time favorite subjects: ancient mystical Christianity, and Tarot. It makes for great reading (and readings!).

Tarot of the Saints - Ace of Coins Tarot of the Saints - VIII - Justice Tarot of the Saints - Knight of Cups

Card artwork by Robert M. Place

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Tarot review by Nellie Levine

Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing, reviews, and photography © Nellie Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2022