The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
Charles Williams
Sphere, 1975

The theme of this novel by Charles Williams is the mystic power vested in the Tarot cards. The author died in 1945 and during his lifetime his work was not widely known, but first editions of his books have now become collectors’ items and his public has increased to such an extent that some of his novels have now been reprinted seven times.

Few authors possessed a more profound knowledge of the occult than Charles Williams. He wrote several works on religion and theology. His seven novels were, therefore, far from being ordinary thrillers, yet some passages in them are tremendously exciting; for example, in this book, the great storm conjured up by magic with the intention of murdering a man.

The story opens at the home of Mr. Coningsby, a pompous, sour, unimaginative Commissioner in Lunacy. With him live his sister Sybil – whose name is in keeping with her wisdom and serenity – and his pretty young daughter Nancy. The latter is engaged to Henry Lee, a young barrister with gipsy blood.

Mr. Coningsby has just been left a fine collection of old playing cards, with the request that on his death he should leave them to the British Museum. So, although he is not the least interested in the cards and would like to sell them, he feels that he must not do so.

Among the packs there is one of Tarot cards, which Henry Lee recognizes from descriptions of it as the original, lost for many centuries. He is intensely anxious to get hold of it because his grandfather has made a lifelong study of the subject and believes that it holds the answer to many questions that still baffle Scientists. Henry persuades the Coningsby family to spend Christmas at his grandfather’s fine old house in the country, and it is there that a most gripping series of events take place.

In the text the author, evidently not wishing to labour his story, gives the meanings of only a few of the Tarot cards. As it may interest some leaders to know them all, I list below the whole series as given in my serious study of the occult, The Devil and All His Works.

  1. The Juggler, representing the will of God, the Creation and the quickening of life.
  2. The High Priestess, representing duality and virginity.
  3. The Empress, representing beauty and pregnancy.
  4. The Emperor, representing material things and worldly authority.
  5. The Pope, representing sacred things and spiritual power.
  6. The Lovers, representing innocence, love and the union of opposites.
  7. The Chariot, representing exaltation and the passage of the spirit towards beatitude.
  8. Justice, representing the achievement of equilibrium.
  9. The Hermit, representing puberty and hidden light.
  10. The Wheel of Fortune, representing karma and a building up towards one’s destiny.
  11. Strength, representing the discipline that leads to ecstasy.
  12. The Hanged Man, representing the release of the waters of life.
  13. Death, representing resurrection.
  14. Temperance, representing change and transformation.
  15. The Devil, representing the dominance of pride, ambition and lust.
  16. The Tower Struck by Lightning, representing bitterness, collapse, violence and destruction, imprisonment or death.
  17. The Star, representing intuition, hope and bliss.
  18. The Moon, representing the breaking of the hymen and also the darkness of the womb.
  19. The Sun, representing the light of true intelligence.
  20. The Day of Judgement, representing aspiration from base to higher things.
  21. The World, representing joy and release from earthly existence.

The last card, the Fool, corresponds to O, which contains all qualities yet has none; and it represents divine madness.