Divining Tarot is a collection of scholarly articles by Nancy-Lou Patterson about the writings of Charles Williams. Nancy-Lou Patterson (1929-2018) taught art history at the University of Waterloo (in Ontario, Canada) and was an active artist, poet and fiction author. She contributed numerous scholarly articles and book reviews to Mythlore magazine and Tolkien Journal. Editors Auger and Croft hunted for Patterson essays that focused on Charles Williams’s writings on the tarot. Since Patterson’s work was either published in older magazines or presented at conferences and printed in conference collections stored in only a few libraries, her work has lapsed into obscurity.  

Charles Williams (Sept 20, 1886 – May 15, 1945) worked as a proofreader for Oxford University Press, published his first book of poems in 1912, and joined Fellowship of the Rosy Cross and Salvator Mundi Temple, an offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1917, and published his first book of literary criticism in 1920. Williams developed a following and became a popular speaker, wrote numerous books that include occult novels, literary criticism, biographies, plays, and theological speculation. He joined the Inklings, the weekly literary group that included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, in 1942.

The three Patterson essays featured in this book are “The Triumph of Love: Interpretations of the Tarot in Charles Williams’s The Greater Trumps”, “The Jewels of Messias: Images of Judaism and Anti-semitism in the Novels of Charles Williams” and “Charles Williams” (a biographical essay). Each essay concludes with Patterson’s endnotes, which have been supplemented by the editors. The essays are flanked by extensive research materials, including the Foreword by Janet Brennan Croft, the “Introduction to “the Triumph of Love”” by Emily E Auger, editorial notes, appendices, bibliography, and an index.

Janet Brennan Croft’s Foreword explains that the Patterson essays are presented in chronological order. Readers unfamiliar with Charles Williams are advised to read Patterson’s “Charles Williams” biographical essay followed by Auger’s “Introduction”, which outlines Williams’s involvement in occult groups. “The Jews of Messias” gives a general view of Wiliams’s interest in tarot and the occult, so is an appropriate prequel to the lengthy “The Triumph of Love” essay. I found this to be eminently sensible and helpful advice!

Patterson gives details about Williams’s use of racial stereotypes in “The Jewels of Messias” essay from 1979. Rather than negative slurs, here Jews are romanticized for their connection to mysticism, magic, the Hebrew Kabbalah and its relationship to the tarot. Patterson enumerates instances of this in Williams’s seven occult novels.

“The Triumph of Love” (1974) is Patterson’s examination of the tarot-related content in “The Greater Trumps” by Charles Williams (1932). This essay digs deep into the origins of the Major Arcana and leans heavily on Gertrude Moakley’s proposed connection to the ancient Roman triumphal parade. Patterson explicates how Williams presents the Major Arcana as a sequence of triumphal “cars” (chariots or floats) with emphasis on the Fool and Love. Williams was deeply influenced by A. E. Waite; his Christian mystic perspective on the images is derived from that. The discussion delves deeply into the various historic orderings of the Major Arcana, with further subdivisions into Triumph groupings that relate to the themes within the Major Arcana (ie, Love, Death, and Eternity). The historic development of each card and its related core of divinatory meanings occupy the final section of the essay. Illustrations by Sue Beach printed with the essay in Mythlore are included in the book. There are also reproductions of cards from relevant historic tarot decks.  

The two appendices are [1] Nancy-Lou Patterson’s Tarot Collection, a listing of tarot books and decks, Images from this collection are included in this section. [2] Readings on Charles Williams in Mythlore, a listing of the papers published by authors other than Patterson in that magazine (issues 1 to 133) on Williams and his writings.                

Divining Tarot gives new life to the deserving work of Nancy-Lou Patterson, who should not be forgotten simply because she was active before the Digital Age made material like this so easily accessible on the web. This book also re-introduces contemporary readers to the work of Charles Williams. The degree of effort required to get this work published was mind-boggling! The editorial work is meticulous and required extensive research into Patterson’s sources. Numerous individuals contributed to this work by reading the material and suggesting corrections and improvements.

This book should be a part of every tarot scholar’s personal library for its singularly in-depth survey of the history of the Major Arcana in “The Triumph of Love” essay. High praise to both Emily Auger and Janet Brennan Croft for tackling this massive project and bringing it into the light!

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Nancy-Lou Patterson, edited by Emily E. Auger and Janet Brennan Croft
2019, Valleyhome Books
278 pages, Hardcover $30.89, softcover $28.03 at Lulu Books; e-book $9.99 (Canadian) from Kobo