Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Deck Heads to Auction

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Sylvia Plath's personal set of tarot cards.

Among the many incredible Sylvia Plath lots currently on offer—letters, recipe cards, wedding rings—the author’s cherished tarot deck stands out. The pack of 78 colorful cards, made in Paris, come to auction within a larger collection belonging to Frieda Hughes, daughter of Plath and Ted Hughes.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

According to Sotheby’s, it was Hughes who initially “held the interest in the Occult” and introduced Plath to Ouija boards, crystal balls, and tarot. In one of the letters for sale, from mid-October 1956, she writes to Hughes, “...I meditated on the Fool and the Juggler….” Her interest appears to have prompted Hughes to buy her a tarot deck as a birthday gift that year, and this is thought to be that very same pack. A day after her October 27 birthday, Plath wrote to her mother about the cards Hughes had given her: “…your daughter shall start her way on the road to becoming a seeress & will also learn how to do horoscopes…”  

Mary Kurtzman has written that Plath used tarot to “order the sequence and content” of both her novel, The Bell Jar (1963), and her second and posthumously book of poetry, Ariel (although Hughes rearranged the poems prior to publication in 1965). Scholars continue to debate this idea. Plath’s poem, “The Hanging Man,” in Ariel makes the most direct reference to tarot, in this case, the card depicting a man hanging upside-down from a tree.

The auction ends on July 21. The tarot deck is expected to bring £4,000-6,000 ($5,500-8,300).

Three years ago, Frieda Hughes sent a batch of her parents’ books and literary memorabilia to auction at Bonhams, where Plath’s own signed copy of The Bell Jar and her mint green Hermes typewriter were among the top lots.