Document Type

Open Access Article

Author Biography

Jesse R. Erickson is the Astor Curator of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library and Museum. Along with Sarah Werner, he is co-editor of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. He worked previously in a joint appointment as Coordinator of Special Collections and Digital Humanities and Assistant Professor in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Delaware. He served as the Vice President for Programs for the American Printing History Association from 2017 to 2019 and has served on the editorial boards of the University of Delaware Press and Birmingham City University Centre for Printing History and Culture’s journal, Publishing History. His research specializations are in ethnobibliography, alternative printing, non-canonical textuality, Black print culture, and the transnational publishing history of the works of Ouida.


This article examines deep-seated relationships that inextricably bind the material makeup of divinatory card decks to their multifarious literacy functions. Unpacking the deceptive underlying complexities in these objects requires both an ontological analysis of their multicultural rootedness and a speculative exploration of their propensity for memetic adaptation. The concept of “reading” cards as textual objects has typically existed on the fringes of Western literacy paradigms. In reality, however, considering the rather commonplace use of pedagogical objects such as alphabet cards and flash cards, the practice of reading cards should be recognized for its considerable role in literacy instruction. In looking at visual elements and sources shared between playing cards and the tarot—specifically, those that combine to form their visual lexicon—this article provides a contemporary survey of how, through its derivatives, the materiality of tarotological print cultures create diverse acts of reading. Discussed are card symbolism, the alchemical amalgamation of visual allegory, allegorical textuality in esoterica, and the transchronological hybridity in these cards as a counternarrative to illusory models of ethnic purity in European material culture.

(In the issue section "Beyond the Book")