A couple of people have asked me how I defined “modern” in my post on the 1969 Tarot Renaissance. Stephen wrote in the comments: “In my humble opinion I would have put “modern tarot” renaissance as a part of the age of enlightenment… say late 1700’s onward to the 1920’s…(Etteilla, Gebelin, Levi, Crowley and Case) and building up to A E Waite’s pivotal anglo-american deck.” And Shawn said, “I’d love to know how you define/distinguish “modern” Tarot from it’s ancestry.”

I tend to think of modern as being within the last hundred years or so – within the memory of those who are still living. I’m aware there is one school of thought that puts anything since the “Middle Ages” into the modern category—but a 600-year span makes the term practically meaningless. I suppose a better term would have been “contemporary,” although we’re almost 40 years past that.

I could say that 1969 marks the 20th-to-early-21st century Tarot Renaissance. And, that it’s defined by a continuing growth and development of tarot involving the creativity of many people, deck sales in the millions, and broadly affecting the culture in many countries around the globe. To me a “renaissance” is a creative force in the culture as a whole—affecting a multitude of cultural forms.

Can anyone point to a single year prior to 1969 in which 18 to 20 new tarot decks and/or books were produced—or even half that? Or, how about a span of many years in which an average of a dozen or more tarot works came out every single year as they did from 1969 on?

Prior to the 1960s, the best we can find is one new tarot work every few years or even decades, with the exception of 1888-89 when there were three works in two years, and the mid-1940s when three or four works were produced over several years but with very few in the decade prior to or after that.

Certainly 1781 (the birth of the occult tarot), 1854, 1870, 1888/9, 1909 and 1945 are hugely significant dates and turning points in tarot history, but these are the works of individuals in single years, not mass-movements. They didn’t directly affect the creative output of a large segment of the culture until we come to the 60s and especially 1969, when there was a popular groundswell that has continued to grow and spread.

There were around twelve new works in 1970, fourteen in 1971, nine or ten each from 1972 to ’74, seventeen in 1975, and so on. The effects could be seen throughout the culture: in poetry, painting, collage, sculpture and art installations, movies, television, theatre, fiction, comics, psychology, and even fabric, clothing and jewelry design.

Something happened to tarot since the late 60s and 70s that is vastly different and more creative then anything that had happened before, and across a much wider range of human experience.

I may not have all my terms right, but I’m trying to get some understanding of what happened. Keep the comments coming.

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