I have known Thea Wirsching for a few months and my respect for her intellect and deep knowledge of tarot and astrology and their place in American History continues to amaze. Her advice and her singular project entitled the American Renaissance Tarot was one of the guides and inspirations for our own Ufology Tarot. She recently gave a fascinating lecture at the Philosophical Research Society about the esoteric roots of Edgar Allan Poe.
We talked about her path to her doctorate in English and her dissertation on the hermetic and the occult roots of American culture, particularly in the 19th century. In academia, she pointed out, “the occult is transgressive” and “conjures up the devil” for many, which made her degree more difficult to accomplish. She said that academics often “do not allow the subjects studied the dignity of their beliefs” and we talked about how this might be changing.
Thea mentioned the African American occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph and his influence on Aliester Crowley and that he quite possibly authored the first vampire novel. He was part of a very real and important brand of American hermeticism that influenced occult movements worldwide, and was disseminated through fiction and writers such as Melville, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman and ended up in the teachings of Theosophy and the practice of Spiritualism (which itself was an American phenomenon which spread worldwide.) These authors and others, as well as significant figures from American history play important roles in the American Renaissance Tarot deck and book.
She emphasized that while U.S. history is filled with triumphs and horrors, that we must look at the negative as well as the positive in order to make peace with it and change for the better.