Hello, witches! Since I’m always harping on about learning your history and checking your sources, I thought I’d help folks get a head start by compiling some source material.
To that end, I’ve started a Dropbox folder with a stash of historical texts on witchcraft, magic, and related topics. Nearly everything I’ve managed to find so far is public domain (thank you Project Gutenberg), with the exception of a very thorough herbal grimoire I found online some years ago and a book of witchcraft from the 1970s that appears to be out of print.
I will be continuing in this vein with future texts that I find. Everything will be public domain or cited to the source that it came from, in PDF format. I will NOT be including PDFs of any book currently in circulation with a copyright linked to a living author or estate. The point of this folder is that everything in it should be free for sharing and open use as research materials.
Below is the initial list of titles. I tried to include as many as I could find, with a focus on some oft-cited classics. I will be adding new texts as I find them.
A Collection of Rare and Curious Tracts on Witchcraft and the Second Sight, by David Webster (1820)
A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718, by Wallace Notestein (1909)
British Goblins, Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, by Wirt Sikes (1880)
Curiosities of Superstition, by W. H. Davenport Adams (1882)
Daemonologie, by King James I/VI (1597)
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats (1888)
Irish Witchcraft and Demonology, by St. John Drelincourt Seymour (1913)
La Sorcière, or The Witch of the Middle Ages, by Jules Michelet (1863)
Lives of the Necromancers, by William Godwin (1834)
Magic and Fetishism, by Alfred C. Haddon (1906)
Magic and Witchcraft, by Anonymous (1852)
Modern Magic, by M. Schele de Vere (1873)
Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics, by Richard Folkard (1884)
Practical Psychomancy and Crystal Gazing, by William Walker Atkinson (1908)
The Devil in Britain and America, by John Ashton (1896)
The Discoverie of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scot (1594, 1886 reprint)
The Extremely Large Herbal Grimoire (date unknown, internet publication)
The Golden Bough : A Study of Magic and Religion, by Sir James George Frazer (1890)
The Illustrated Key to the Tarot, by L.W. de Laurence (1918)
The Magic of the Horse-shoe, by Robert Means Lawrence (1898)
The Mysteries of All Nations, by James Grant (1880)
The Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy, by Charles John Samuel Thompson (1897)
The Superstitions of Witchcraft, by Howard Williams (1865)
The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut by John M. Taylor (1908)
The Wonders of the Invisible World, by Cotton Mather and A Farther Account of the Tryals of the New-England Witches, by Increase Mather (1693, 1862 reprint)
Witch Stories, by E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn) Linton (1861)
Witch, Warlock, And Magician, by W. H. Davenport Adams (1889)
Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, by John Gregorson Campbell (1902)
Witches’ Potions & Spells, ed. by Kathryn Paulsen (1971)
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that these texts are (with few exceptions) more than a century old, and may contain depictions, references, or language that are outdated and inappropriate. The point of including these documents is to provide access to historical texts for research and reference. Inclusion in the collection does not equal unconditional agreement with or wholesale approval of the contents.
Take everything with a grain of salt and remember to do your due diligence!
Happy Witching! -Bree
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A Brief History of Tarot
I'm seeing a lot of questions about the origins of tarot going around again, so I suppose it's time to make a Post With Sources. Because from what I'm seeing, a lot of y'all are pulling from some bad information.
I've seen some of the discourse on tarot with regard to the decolonization discussion, but unfortunately, it often veers in the wrong direction. The discourse seems to focus on whether it should be a closed practice because of the Romani/Roma connection, but the origins of this idea are a misnomer.
Tarot cards originated in 15th-century Italy as perfectly mundane playing cards for a game called tarrocchi appropriati. Players would draw cards and use the thematic associations of the artwork to write short poems about each other. The cards were also used to play a trionfi or trumps style game similar to bridge.
The cards later became popular as fortune-telling devices in the 1780s. At this time, standard-suit playing cards (hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades) were already being used for playful divinatory party games that were taken about as seriously as a middle school game of M.A.S.H.
Mystical origins for the pictures on the cards were first suggested by Antoine Court de Gébelin in 1781. The first official divinatory meanings were assigned to tarot cards by Jean-Baptiste Alliette in 1783. The deck was later revised by Mlle Marie-Anne Adelaide Lenormand, Jean-Baptiste Pitois, and Arthur Edward Waite of Rider-Waite fame to become the version we know today. The suit cards became the Minor Arcana and the trumps or wild cards became the Major Arcana.
From there, card-reading became a popular party game and tarot decks were indeed used by Romani/Roma people to tell fortunes. Since most people wouldn't hire them for "honest" work, they had to make money by busking, doing odd jobs, and trading on whatever skills they had, including knowledge of tarot cards and their "mystical" reputation. As mysticism and tarot decks faded from popular mundane use, the Romani/Roma people carried on using them. Eventually, this was the strongest...and only...association that remained in people's minds.
(And if you need an example of how quickly this can happen, just look at how long it's been since Rick Astley's biggest hit has been associated with anything other than internet memes.)
This supposition was only strengthened by the writings of modern occultists such as Éliphas Lévi (who reinforced Gebelin's claim of an Egyptian origin and introduced the idea of Hermetic Qabalistic associations; both ideas rooted in colonial exoticizing of other cultures), Raymond Buckland, and two of the three founding members of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Aleister Crowley also wrote extensively about tarot and it's "ancient" mystical associations in his works and texts related to his self-created system Thelema, including the creation of the Thoth deck.
All of these ideas filtered down through modern pagan and New Age practices as part of the literature on the modern witchcraft movement, but so few authors bothered to look into the mundane history of the cards that their proper historical origins were often overlooked in favor of more mystical explanations. Yes, including their supposed genesis among the Romani/Roma, and all the superstitions pertaining thereto, i.e. your first deck must be a gift, and so on.
In short, cartomancy through tarot is an open practice, the tarot cards themselves are mundane objects that originated on gaming tables, it was never exclusive to one group or tradition, and the only reason we think it first came from some secret sacred practice of the Romani/Roma is because the scholarship that the New Age movement pulled from for their ideas on tarot was done by a whole lot of Western White Guys with imperialist mindsets. (The reductive/racist thought process of the day was basically, "Well, the Romani/Roma allegedly come from Egypt, and Gebelin said the card designs do too, so there it is!")
I also encourage reading of the Wikipedia articles on Tarot and Tarot-Reading, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the same. I know these aren't the end-all-be-all of resources, but they do trace the history of the cards and the parties involved with the changing conversation on their design, origins, and deeper meaning. It's worth noting that many texts discussing late 19th-century occultism are now in the public domain and can be found on Project Gutenberg, if you're interested in seeing how ideas and views about tarot progressed over time in the words of the occult scholars themselves.
It's also worth noting that scholarly speculation on the supposed origins of a practice do not always constitute historical fact, no matter how often they're repeated. (See also: Bede and Eostre.)
So what does this mean for modern tarot users?
It means if you like a deck, you don't have to wait for someone to gift it to you. It means you're not stealing anything if you read tarot, even if you ask to be paid for your readings. It means bad information disseminates faster and more easily than good information, largely because it's shorter and easier to fit into performative agendas. And it means we still need to do our homework when it comes to the history of witchcraft.
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