Eloise Hill is a Bay Area nurse, writer, and psychic who has been in love with the Tarot, and all things metaphysical, since she picked up her first deck at the age of eighteen. In addition to giving intuitive readings, she teaches private and group classes on a wide variety of subjects including Thoth Tarot 101, Candle Magic For Muggles, and The Womanly Art of Tea Leaf Reading. She is the author of The Eight of Pentacles, the first book in the Eileen McGrath Tarot Mystery series, set in and around Oakland, California and inspired by her thirty-plus years as a psychic/Tarot enthusiast. The second in the series, The Queen Of The Barley Moon, will be available in Spring 2013.
I frequently warn my clients about self-fulfilling prophecies and with good reason; when asked at the age of three, what I wanted to do when I grew up, I announced to my parents that I was going to “tell fortunes”. My family lived in rural Virginia at the time, in the Bible Belt, and while this disclosure was greeted with something less than enthusiasm, it did mark the start of my future career(s) as a psychic, teacher of the tarot, and mystery writer whose amateur sleuth uses her own intuition and knowledge of the Tarot to help solve crimes.
The origins of the Tarot are murky, with theories placing its inception in ancient Egypt, with nomadic Romany tribes, in a thirteenth century Italian children’s game and in playing cards commonly used in China in the 1330s. What is known is that in the mid-1400s, the Tarot (named after the Italian card game, tarocchi) began appearing throughout Europe—and most notable in Northern Italy—in a variety of forms distinct from the traditional fifty-two-card deck. It gradually evolved into a set of twenty-two trump cards bearing allegorical images, accompanied by four fourteen-card suits. The trump cards became the basis for the Major Arcana while the four suits, or pips, and their corresponding court cards became the Minor Arcana.
The seventy-eight cards were initially used for magic tricks and games, but, in 1770, the first book of cartomancy was published by Jean-Baptiste Alliette and both traditional decks and the Tarot began to emerge as tools for fortune telling. Over time, the art work and ranking order of the trumps changed to reflect different locales, cultures, and the predominant beliefs and events of the times, i.e., Christian art, cards addressing the rigors of the Black Plague, cards depicting Europe as the center of the world, cards glorifying successful military campaigns, etc. Hand painted packs, lettered in gold leaf and limited to the very rich, gave way to mass-produced, printed versions and, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Tarot continued to grow in popularity among all classes as a source of entertainment and instrument of divination.
In the early twentieth century, Arthur Waite, a Christian mystic and occult scholar, reinvented the Major Arcana to reflect the spiritual movements of the time: portraying humankind’s downfall in the first half, and its ascent in the second half. This, combined with Jungian philosophy, opened the door to the idea that the universal symbols portrayed in the cards could be intuitively recognized by everyone and used as tools for self-exploration and transformation: a concept embraced by New Age practitioners, Neo-Paganists, therapists, and regular folk like you and me. The Rider-Waite deck inspired multiple reinventions of itself and other Tarots, resulting in offerings that range from the sublime to the deliciously ridiculous. My ever-expanding personal collection includes favorites like Aleister Crowley’s exquisitely rendered Thoth Tarot, Lerner & Phillip’s Baseball Tarot—with bats, mitts, balls, and bases representing the suits—and Moore & Fell’s Steampunk Tarot: a lush fusion of 19th century technology and romance.
Writing The Eight Of Pentacles gave me the opportunity to create my own Tarot cards and sprinkle them as clues throughout the series as a trail for my protagonist and readers to follow. I tinkered with a variety of combinations and finally settled on a medieval theme, because the Tarot dates from that time period, is a format enjoyed by Tarot enthusiasts, offers up a bottomless supply of rich imagery, and makes for a contrast to the setting, in modern day Oakland, California. The messages hidden in the cards lend my protagonist, Eileen McGrath, a unique take on suspect motive and an edge over the exclusively fact-based techniques employed by private investigator, Atticus Spencer, and homicide detective, Sgt. Daniel Burnette. And while not all Tarot readers are psychic and not all psychics utilize the Tarot, I wanted to provide my middle-aged, disabled nurse with a needed source of income, as well as a catalyst for her clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsentient abilities, and give my readers a glimpse into the intuitive mind in the process.
So, if autumn has you longing for a paranormal cozy, a page-turner to snuggle up to as the days grow short and the shadows grow long, or just a taste of the Tarot, I hope you’ll check out The Eight Of Pentacles. I predict you’ll like it.