The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot - A Review

The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot – A Review & Follow-up

The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot - A Review

The other week, I shared my impressions of the book The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot: The Cathar Code Hidden in the Cards by Russell A. Sturgess. I was still reading it at the time, so I promised a follow-up. I have completed the book and can now discuss

Only the Major Arcana is covered card by card in this book, though the creation and history of the Minors are briefly discussed. The minors are also assigned their traditional Elements.

Historical Interest and Accuracy

Those truly interested in the history of the Cathars may be surprised to learn that the book talks at least as much (possibly more) about the Gugliemites and the Beguines. The Gugliemites are of interest because of the direct link with the Visconti family of Milan. As you may know, the Visconti family commissioned one of the oldest still existing Tarot decks.

I enjoyed discovering these links but the links between the teachings of the Gugliemites and the Cathars are rather flimsy.

Hence, the premise promised by the title of the book doesn’t really hold up for me. That said, the amount of research that has gone into proving the links between the Tarot, the Visconti legacy and the Gugliemites is impressive. I have been left with no doubt in my mind about its accuracy.


There are similarities between the teachings of all the spiritual movements of the Middle Ages. This is especially true with regard to the emphasis on the Holy Spirit and female religious pioneers. However, the question remains for me: Where is the evidence that the Tarot has its roots in Cathar teachings?

Where it really fell apart for me was when the author (out of the blue) came to the conclusion that The Magician must be Hermes and the lady in the Strength card must be Hekate. Sturgess doesn’t even bother trying to justify how this might fit in with the teachings of the Cathars, which is probably just as well.

As a former Pagan and someone who spent a lot of time getting to know Hekate, I can assure you that she has no place at the table of the Cathars. Nor is she a good fit with any of the Christ-based teachings of the Middle Ages.


Sturgess presents many interesting thoughts about each of the cards. For some of the cards, the arguments about links to Cathar beliefs are stronger than for others. He also talks about how they fit together as a system for spiritual development. The groupings made by Sturgess are helpful and have already proven useful to me.

For instance, understanding how The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers and The Chariot can represent the themes of power, wealth, love and fame respectively is useful when we want to examine attachments that were formed in childhood.

In spite of the author associating The Magician with Hermes (I would go with the Logos), I respect his views on the grouping of The Magician and The High Priestess for differentiated consciousness in ‘Heaven.’ This makes so much sense, as does his role of The Empress as the Mother of The Fool (differentiated consciousness on Earth).

There is also much to learn from looking at Justice, The Hermit (time) and The Wheel of Fortune as agents of consciousness evolution.

The Dark Night of the Soul

Strength, with its leonine theme of courage and entering the gates of mystery through the heart, resonates as well. It would have resonated even more strongly without a reference to Hekate (no need!). The cards following Strength (The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance and The Devil) represent the Dark Night of the Soul according to Sturgess and for this, he makes a solid argument.

The final grouping is all about gradually freeing ourselves from all forms of attachment. Only then can we be reborn as Christed beings. I particularly gained a lot from the discussion about the Judgment card. It helped me better understand the concept and purpose of the sacred wedding chamber.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail is discussed in this book. However, I can’t claim to understand the author’s thoughts about it. Maybe I just have a block when it comes to the Holy Grail. He goes into the Arthurian legend but does not explain fully how it connects to the teachings of the Cathars. I may just have to reread the book to see if I can ‘get it’ on a second read.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I would recommend this book to anybody interested in Tarot history, spirituality, history and medieval mysticism. It has certainly informed my contemplative practice and would probably be helpful for divinatory purposes as well.

What’s missing for me, are suggestions on how to work with the cards for spiritual pathworking, contemplation or divination. Perhaps there will be a second book with a more practical orientation?

love raven liora

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