Tag Archives: Piers Anthony

Faith of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Faith of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony Faith of Tarot

This final volume of Piers Anthony’s science-fantasy adventure Tarot overtly ties it in to his “Cluster” novels (which I haven’t read). It supplies a fanciful historical origin for the tarot among the Waldensian heretics of the fourteenth century, as foreshadowed at the start of the first book. In this multi-chapter medieval passage, there is even a feint at the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, as the hero Brother Paul meets Abraham of Worms. But the augoeides doctrine does not appear in Anthony’s work, despite the persistence of “Love Is the Law, Love under Will” (sic, with impertinent capitals).

The solution of the “God of Tarot” conundrum comes three chapters before the end, leaving a long unwinding denouement to address the fates of the various characters. By the time the revelation arrives, it’s not much of a surprise, but I won’t spoiler it here. The further explication of various psycho-sexual motives (particularly for the Crowley-derived character Therion) were not terribly convincing, and the final resolution was perhaps too tidy.

I’m satisfied to have finally read these books, and I can recommend them for light entertainment. But they seem to pretend to a profundity that I think they lack. Each chapter is headed by a long epigraph, and these often set a tone of sage contemplation. There are metatextual references to medieval dream-visions and the chapter sequence is keyed to the tarot trumps. Perhaps it would be an effective “gateway” work for readers with no prior education in occultism, but its take on esoteric materials is very idiosyncratic and supports its own fiction better than it would any factual efforts. As evidence, the “Animation Tarot” variant (with its hundred-card deck of thirty trumps and five small suits) appears never to have been executed or published in the decades since these books were written.

Vision of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Vision of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony Vision of Tarot

This second volume of Anthony’s Tarot trilogy is mainly made up of episodes powered by the exo-planet’s mysterious “Animations,” providing a curious course in comparative religion. There are episodes treating Buddhism, Vodou (elliptically via syncretistic religion on an alien world), and the initiatory mysteries of ancient Egypt. A secular two-chapter arc focuses on the protagonist’s college, with a set of recollections of his student career and a return visit in the future. This pair of chapters seem to have been derived from Anthony’s own experiences at Goddard College, and they sit awkwardly in the future history that the books have provided so far.

Four out of the eleven chapters treat the history of Christianity, with an unusually perspicacious reading of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, a fair measure of “shaggy god story” in which Anthony’s hero strangely usurps the role of John the Baptist, and some not entirely faithful rehearsals from such visionary literature as Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The book’s hero is a liberal Christian with a strong streak of skepticism, and so this section of the book, as much as any, has him addressing his own religious preconceptions.

After all of that, I began to harbor doubts that there will be a satisfying development of the plot in the frame of Planet Tarot and its society. The Animation concept seems to be largely a device for Anthony to supply himself with a narrative sandbox for discussing social issues and history of religions. In a prefatory note, he writes, “this segment is unified around the social and religious theme,” so perhaps the resolution of the main plot in the next book will supply the coherence that the first two have lacked.

This book definitely had a few high points. The alien sexual ethics of the Nath were cleverly developed, and I especially enjoyed the ritual ordeals under the Sphinx at Giza. The Christian material was about equal measures of hits and misses, but I’m not at all discouraged from moving on to the third and final volume.

God of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews God of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony God of Tarot

I had known of this book since it was new on shelves in the 1980s, but my discouraging experience of the author’s Xanth series had put me off his work altogether. As time passed, my curiosity about the Tarot books increased, but they became scarcer. Finally stumbling across a cheap battered copy recently, I went ahead and read this first of the three books in this series. The author’s front matter is very clear that the “trilogy” is really a single work divided into three volumes for convenience of production and sales, and the text bears that out. There is nothing like a resolution of the larger plot at the conclusion of the book. God of Tarot was good enough that I went ahead and ordered an inexpensive copy of Vision of Tarot directly after finishing it, so that I wouldn’t lose the thread of the story. But it was just bad enough that I had genuine reason to worry that I would lose that thread.

The protagonist Brother Paul is an adherent of the Holy Order of Vision, a religious body on a future Earth that has been depopulated and energy-rationed into pre-industrial levels of technology, while most of humanity has departed into exoplanetary colonization efforts. He is very explicitly an octaroon identifiable as “black” to his colleagues, a point of occasional relevance to the plot. It is not reflected in Rowena Morrill’s cover art, which otherwise accurately shows a scene from chapter 7 of the book, with Paul confronting a dragon who represents Temptation.

The general plot concerns Paul’s investigation of strange phenomena on the colonized planet Tarot. The planet’s “animation zone,” in which thought-forms take on physical reality, seems to be Anthony’s science-fictional conceit for what occultists would call the astral plane. As he explores it, he encounters simulations of significant historical patrons, designers, and commenters on the Tarot, including Filippo Maria Visconti, Arthur Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. Anthony gets Waite’s diction just right, to the point where I suspected him of simply cribbing from Waite’s work for some of the dialogue. Crowley is not quite as spot-on, and is given misogyny as a disproportionate keynote of his character. Still, it is Crowley who becomes Paul’s principal guide in the animation zone.

The final section of the book is occasioned by Paul’s effort to know his True Will, as goaded by Crowley. The upshot is that he recovers a Phildickian, proto-cyberpunk sort of tale from his previously inaccessible memories of his life before joining the Holy Order of Vision. Thus the very end of the book takes place in narrative chronology before the beginning, and the reconnection of that knowledge to Paul’s dilemma on Tarot is left for later volumes. It seems that I will need to read further before reaching any real opinion on the merits of the work as a whole.