Valentin Tomberg was born on March 11, 1900 (February 27 in the Old Russian Julian calendar) in St. Petersburg, Russia. His parents were Lutheran, the mother was a Russian and the father an Estonian of German origin, he was an official in the Tsarist government. As an adolescent, Tomberg was drawn to Theosophy and the mystical practices of Eastern Orthodoxy. In 1917 he was initiated into Hermetic Martinism by Prof. G. O. Mebes. He also discovered the works of Rudolf Steiner. In 1920, Tomberg fled with his family to Tallinn in Estonia, where, searching for his mother who had left the house, he discovered her with her dog tied to a tree, both shot by revolutionaries. Tomberg worked as a nurse at a hospital, in a pharmacy, on a farm and in the Tallinn Central Post Office. He studied languages and comparative religion at the University of Tartu in Estonia.
In 1925, Tomberg joined Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society. He married Maria Demski, a Polish Catholic, in the early 1930s; they had a son, Alexis. During the 1930s, Tomberg, then in his 30s, published his original occult research in a number of articles and lectures, which made him a controversial figure in Anthroposophical circles. As a result of the controversies, in 1938 the Tombergs were invited to move to Amsterdam. In 1940, however, he was asked to withdraw from the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands as well, by its chairman Zeylmans van Emmichhoven, due to his being too controversial.
He was active in Dutch anti-Nazi resistance by hiding allied pilots and parachuters. Tomberg and a Russian friend, the poet-philosopher Nikolai Belotsvietof, allegedly approached the leader of the Christian Community, Emil Bock about creating a new ritual focusing on Sophia, but were rebuffed. He then joined the Russian Orthodox Church in the Netherlands but left shortly thereafter, as its leadership turned out to be sympathetic to National Socialism (i.e., Nazism).
Towards the end of World War II, Tomberg received a Ph.D. in Jurisprudence from the University of Cologne, where he had moved in 1944. He studied under Prof. von Hippel, who became a personal friend. His thesis was published as Degeneration and Regeneration in the Science of Law, followed by the thesis Peoples' Rights as Humanity's Rights in 1946. Around this time, he converted to Roman Catholicism.
Shortly after the war he helped founding a community college in the Ruhr area. In 1948, however, he moved to England, where he became a translator for the BBC monitoring Soviet broadcasts during the Cold War. He retired early, to Reading near the River Thames in 1960, where he worked on the manuscripts for his main work, written in French and entitled Méditations sur les 22 arcanes majeurs du Tarot (Meditations on the Tarot in English).
He died on a holiday in Majorca. Two weeks later his wife and collaborator Maria died as well. A Dutch or German rough translation of the manuscript to Méditations sur les 22 arcanes majeurs du Tarot was circulated in the Netherlands against Tomberg's intentions a year before his death, but was only formally published in 1984.
Tomberg's major written works were published posthumously. They include:
- Lazarus, komm heraus: vier Schriften (Come Forth, Lazarus), a study of Christian mysticism, written in German and published in 1985, ISBN 3-906371-08-5. Translated as Covenant of the Heart and published in English in 1992. Also published as Lazarus, come forth! Meditations of a Christian esotericist on the mysteries of the raising of Lazarus, the Ten Commandments, the Three Kingdoms, and the Breath of Life. ISBN 1-58420-040-5.
- Méditations sur les 22 arcanes majeurs du Tarot (a study of the Tarot of Marseilles) published anonymously in French in 1984 (with a foreword by a Catholic theologian and priest Hans Urs von Balthasar), and in English as Meditations on the Tarot in 1985. ISBN 1-58542-161-8.
- Christ and Sophia: anthroposophic meditations on the Old Testament, New Testament, and apocalypse, Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks, 2006. ISBN 0-88010-565-8.
- Degeneration und Regeneration der Rechtswissenschaft, Bonn: Bouvier, 1974 [German]. ISBN 3-416-01032-9.
- Le Mat itinérant. L'amour et ses symboles. Une méditation chrétienne sur le Tarot. Edition établi et présentée par Friederike Migneco et Volker Zotz. Luxembourg: Kairos Edition 2007[French with German translation] ISBN 978-2-9599829-5-8.
- John Michael Greer, The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. p 488. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003. ISBN 1-56718-336-0.
- Valentin Tomberg - Leben, Werk, Wirkung, Band 1.1: Valentin Tombergs Leben von 1900-1944, Eine Biographie von Liesel Heckmann [German]. ISBN 3-907160-77-0.
- Valentin Tomberg - Leben, Werk, Wirkung, Band 1.2: Valentin Tombergs Leben von 1944-1973, Eine Biographie von Liesel Heckmann & Michael Frensch [German]. ISBN 3-907160-82-7.
- Valentin Tomberg - Band II: Werk, Edited by the Ramsteiner Kreis, Trier [German].
- Private conversations with Prof. Jur. Dr. Martin Kriele, Tomberg's literary heir.