Jonathan Allen is an artist, writer, and curator at the Magic Circle museum in London, who rediscovered Austin Osman Spare's Tarot deck in the museum's collection in early 2013. Spare (1886–1956) was an English artist who enjoyed considerable popularity in his youth, earned a reputation for eccentricity in middle age, and fell into relative obscurity by the time of his death. His large oeuvre consists of art nouveau–influenced symbolist drawings and book illustrations that are now regarded as important precursors of surrealist automatism. He also wrote a number of obscure and, in the opinion of this reader, largely incomprehensible occult treatises of limited appeal but, thanks to digitization, of easy availability. The importance of this aspect of Spare's work lies in the effect of his interest in magic, specifically in the use of sigils, on his theories of art, specifically the theories that informed the creation of his Tarot deck.
Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare was published through the support of Mark Pilkington, the director of Strange Attractor Press. It is the first full-length study of Spare's Tarot, complete with full-color reproductions of the entire deck (except the now-missing Strength card, which is represented by a black-and-white photograph), a transcription of the meanings that Spare assigned to the cards, and multiple arrangements of some of Spare's cards to demonstrate the complexity of their visual and interpretive interconnections, as well as numerous comparative and historically relevant illustrations. These elements alone, combined with Allen's introduction, make Lost Envoy a must-have for serious students of Tarot and cartomancy, and historians of art and the occult. [End Page 186]
The illustrations are supplemented, however, by an anthology of short essays, the contents of which orbit two historically significant articles—also reprinted in the collection—that pertain directly to Spare's Tarot: Arthur Ivey's "Tarot Cards and a Pack in the Magic Circle Museum" and Austin Osman Spare's "Mind to Mind and How, by a Sorcerer." Ivey was the curator of the Magic Circle museum (founded 1905) for many decades. His contribution first appeared in the organization's publication The Magic Circular in November 1969. Allen reviews and explains the significance of various points in Ivey's article in "A Gift of Fortune." Spare wrote "Mind to Mind" in 1950–51 in the vain hope that it would be published in the London Mystery Magazine. "Mind to Mind" was included, along with Spare's instructions for his "Surrealist Racing Forecast Cards," in Gavin W. Semple's Two Tracts on Cartomancy by Austin Osman Spare (1997).
In his contribution to this volume, "A Work for Artists," Semple points to Alphonse Louis Constant (aka Éliphas Lévi) (1810–1875), Gérard Encausse (aka Papus) (1865–1916), MacGregor Mathers (1854–1918), Oswald Wirth (1860–1943), and popular books on cartomancy, particularly What the Cards Tell (1896), a work by an unknown author publishing under the pseudonym "Minetta," as principal influences on Spare with regard to his work on Tarot. The role of popular authors in the history of cartomancy and Tarot tends to be overlooked where high-minded esotericism is a priority, and I found the care with which Semple demonstrates the likelihood of Spare's use of Minetta's book entirely to the point and very refreshing. Additional close study of Spare's interest and use of Tarot is provided in Phil Baker's "'His Own Arcana': Austin Osman Spare and the Borders of Tarot." Baker is the author of the justly lauded biography Austin Osman Spare: The Occult Life of London's Legendary Artist, which includes a foreword by Alan Moore (2011, 2014). The anthology is rounded out by Helen Farley's brief history of Tarot, much of which is drawn from Stuart Kaplan's well-known, multivolume Encyclopedia of Tarot (1978–2005), and her astute comparative notes on some of the cards. She also provides comparative...