Eden Gray at the ’97 International Tarot Congress, dressed as the Sun, standing between Mary Greer as the Hermit and Barbara Rapp, organizer of the Los Angeles Tarot Symposiums.
Eden Gray (born June 9, 1901) began life as Priscilla Pardridge, Chicago debutante and second cousin to Princess Engalitcheff, wife of the Russian vice counsel. Still in her teens, Priscilla decided to become a stage actor. Despite her family’s owning Chicago’s Garrick Theatre (as well as a major department store), her father “snatched her from the footlights,” so she took a menial job in another department store. Before long she slipped off to New York where, at nineteen years of age, and without her parents’ knowledge, she married fellow-Chicago poet, novelist and screenwriter Lester Cohen (who wrote the screenplay for Of Human Bondage among others).
Adopting the stage name, Eden Gray, from 1920-1933 she was in a series of Broadway plays, including Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, at New York’s Empire Theatre in 1928 (photo on right). She also performed supporting roles in three movies, being best known as Pamela Gordon in the 1925 film Lovers in Quarantine, and appearing as late as 1942 with Ronald Reagan in King’s Row (despite only a fleeting glimpse of her at a window in the film, she and Reagan shared an interest in positive thinking and astrology). In addition to all this she took a several year trip with her husband, which he described in his book, Two Worlds: An Account of a Journey around the World. During World War II, she put her acting career on hold to become a lab technician with the Women’s Army Corps.
After living in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, Paris and London and working in radio and on the London stage, Gray moved back to New York. She earned a doctorate of divinity degree from the First Church of Religious Science and then lectured and taught classes in Science of Mind. Gray also got to know librarian Gertrude Moakley who, since the early 1950s, had been researching tarot’s origins in Renaissance Italy (see bio of Moakley here).
Eden Gray ran a bookstore and publishing company called “Inspiration House,” one of the few places where a person could buy tarot cards and take tarot classes in the late 1950s and ’60s. Her customers complained that the available books were not easy to understand, so she spent weekends in the country coming up with a more accessible way of approaching the cards.
Eden Gray self-published her first book, Tarot Revealed: A Modern Guide to Reading the Tarot Cards in 1960 to which she applied her “New Thought” perspective (see my earlier post here). She followed up her first success with two more tarot books: A Complete Guide to the Tarot (1970) and Mastering the Tarot: Basic Lessons in an Ancient, Mystic Art (1971). All feature graphics by her artist son Peter Gray Cohen. These books have remained continuously in print and are still among the best-selling tarot books today.
My personal favorite is Mastering the Tarot, as the card meanings are the richest of the three, and it gives practical demonstrations of interpreting the cards through sample readings. Lesson 18, “The Use and Misuse of the Tarot,” is a small gem of “New Thought” philosophy and positive thinking applied to the cards. Gray advises:
“So watch for the pitfalls when you read the cards; recognize how very suggestible everyone is—and then go ahead and use the cards for good. . . . Give those for whom you read encouragement to strive for their highest ideals. The seeds you plant can blossom into lovely flowers of accomplishment.”
Along with various editions of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (de Laurence, University Books, Albano-Waite, Merrimack, U.S. Games, Inc.), Eden Gray’s tarot books formed the main impetus to the hippie adoption of the Tarot as spiritual guide for navigating a world-turned-on-its-head, leading directly to the booming Tarot Renaissance that began in 1969 and continues to this day.
It was Eden Gray to whom we owe the term “Fool’s Journey,” appearing as the title of the Epilogue in A Complete Guide to the Tarot. She explained:
“The Fool represents the soul of everyman, which, after it is clothed in a body, appears on earth and goes through the life experiences depicted in the 21 cards of the Major Arcana, sometimes thought of as archetypes of the subconscious. Let each reader use his imagination and find here his own map of the soul’s quest, for these are symbols that are deep within each one of us.”
In 1960 she had already alluded to the idea, saying that the Fool “must pass through the experiences suggested in the remaining 21 cards, to reach in card 21 the climax of cosmic consciousness or Divine Wisdom”—an idea that resonated deeply with the hippies—and that Gray probably picked up from A.E. Waite who wrote about the “soul’s progress through the cards.”
In 1971, Gray moved to Vero Beach, Florida, where she focused on her art and spiritual ministry. She was a member of the Vero Beach Art Club and Riverside Theater and Theater Guild. In the 1990s several people contacted her about her earlier work in tarot, including Ron Decker and Janet Berres of the International Tarot Society. Berres honored Gray at their third International Tarot Congress in 1997 in Chicago with the Tarot Lifetime Acheivement Award. It was here that Eden Gray learned to her great astonishment just how truly revered she was for her seminal tarot books.
(I received this bronze statue of the Hanged Man created by Eden Gray (see right) from Barbara Rapp at the Los Angeles Tarot Symposium for recognition of my work in tarot. Read about it’s significance while writing my Tarot Reversals book here. Read more about Eden Gray here.)
This adventurous, pioneering woman, and “Godmother of the Modern American Tarot Renaissance” died peacefully in her sleep at 97 years of age, on January 14, 1999 in Vero Beach, having driven herself to the hospital following a minor heart attack.
Her books (with first publication date):
- Tarot Revealed (1960)
- Recognition: Themes on Inner Perception (1969)
- A Complete Guide to the Tarot (1970)
- Mastering the Tarot (1971)
- The Harvest Home Natural Grains Cookbook with Mary Beckwith Cohen (1972)
- The Harvest Home Fresh Vegetables Cookbook with Mary Beckwith Cohen (1972)
- Marbling on Fabric with Daniel and Paula Cohen (1990)
You can hear her briefly in this replay of a Long John Nebel talk radio program from New York in 1964 (thanks to Kim). Be warned that she only gets in a couple of sentences in a show totally dominated by Walter Martin who wrote an anti-cult/occult book from a Christian perspective. Supposedly she appeared on other Nebel shows but I can’t find them on the net.
Just found: Eden Gray as “Angela” in The Firebrand,1924-25. She played the model of the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. The play was described as: “a modern farce masquerading in the trappings of the Renaissance, or a comedy of the sixteenth century “jazzed up” to delight a 1925 audience.” You can also see another photograph of her here.