Tarot Symbolism
Dr Robert V. O'Neill, prior to his retirement, was a senior research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, specialising on ecological theory. In his professional career he has over 240 publications, including a number of books. Dr O'Neill has also been awarded a number of prestigious awards.
Robert O'Neill has contributed to not only TarotL, until a few years ago the largest online discussion groupt for tarot, but also has made many of his essays written post the publication of this book available on Tarot.com. Included therein is his smaller booklet, in pdf format, Catharism and the Tarot.
With regards to Tarot, his interest was first ignited by his encounter of the cards in the 1950s. Since that time, he has worked on approximately sixty decks (which remain unpublished).
He has also presented at two International Tarot conferences in Chicago under the auspices of the then International Tarot Society. His statistical analysis of aspects of tarot imagery has also been published in the Journal of the International Playing Card Society.
 Publication details
Fairway Press: ISBN 0895369362 (out of print)
 date of publication
Fairway Press: 1986
Fairway Press, Ohio, USA
ATS: Association for Tarot Studies, Melbourne, Australia
When first published in 1986, this book certainly didn't get either the profile nor distribution it deserved. It has since become a classic that addresses various aspects pertinent to the history and development of tarot.
Apart from the introductory, review and concluding chapters, the fifteen chapter headings display much of the various nuances arising during Tarot's emergence:
3. The Italian Renaissance
5. Gnosticism and the Mystery Religions
6. Egypt and the Hermetic Tradition
7. Christian Mysticism
8. Heretical Sects and their Influence on the Tarot
9. Renaissance Art and Sources for the Tarot Images
10. Kabbalah and the Tarot
11. Alchemy and the Tarot
12. Numerology and the Tarot
13. Astrology and the Tarot
14. The Art of Memory
It is a book with a focus on the history of Tarot which seeks to go beyond various post-Tarot appearance discourses, unveiling the various impulses alive at the time of its emergence. In each case, whether it be Hermetic, Alchemical, Astrological, Kabalistic, Christian or Heretical considerations, O'Neill importantly indicates how each of these, though undoubtedly not sole ancestors to the images of the Major Arcana, form part of the important syncretic trends of the renaissance - whether this be the early 13th century Pyrenees renaissance or the more spectacular form it found in Florentine Italy a couple of centuries later.
Though O'Neill provides much historical substrates and observations, it is really his own syncretic and eclectic blending of these various considerations which make the book both so unique and charming. Since 1986, much of the possible further research indicated has remained unfulfilled - though the task is immense and requires expertise in such disparate fields that, I suspect, until Tarot becomes more formally academically acceptable, it will remain the task of those with the deep interest, passion and academic merit shown by O'Neill to continue these important researches - now at least supplemented by the more recent complementary works of the like of Little, Filipas, Jensen, Greer, Decker, Depaulis and Dummett.
To give an idea of O'Neill's style, his discussion of Ficino in the central chapter on neoplatonism states that 'the contemplation of a symbolic image was not simply an intellectual exercise. Use of the image was effective in producing an effect since the image "focussed" the power of the Divine Idea' (p113).
O'Neill clearly and repeatedly argues between the historical game-only type research and the excesses of the mytho-cum-historical reflections: Tarot arose during the eclectic culturally rich syncretic early renaissance.
In the book, Robert O'Neill does not hesitate to provide numerous reflections by which to further investigate especially the rich images of the trumps. For example, he seemingly is strongly convinced the images reflect dualistic heresy. This was taken up in his later essay Catharism and the Tarot. As to his Kabalistic considerations, his comments regarding the importance of the newly Christian-discovered Kabbalah, and its importance in the world of renaissance syncretism, makes these influences highly probable.
His footnotes - or rather chapter-end notes - are extensive without being overwhelming.
O'Neill has indicated in a well written book the social milieu's importance of neoplatonism, astrology, alchemy, numerology, Kabalah, heretic dualistic thoughts, hermetic considerations, Egyptian, Greek, Pagan, heretical and Christian views and how each and all these were sought to be, in myriad ways, integrated by the syncretic impulse of the new consciousness arising during the 15th century.
 Author's comments (if available)
 Author's website (if available)
Robert O'Neill does not have a website, but many of his later essays are at Tarot.com