dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

hi, I am new here altho` I have been reading and enjoying the posts for some time.
I have a question : what were Michael Dummetts ideas about tarocchi appropriati?
did he see it as a "legit" part of the gaming history of tarot or did he just ignore it as an anomaly?
I cant remember reading him commenting on it.
any ideas?

phil gaveshi

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

The index of Game of Tarot gives the following pages for tarocchi appropriati: 99, 317l, 339l, 389r-390l, 406. Assuming you do not have the book,here is some of this, omitting his footnotes. If you need them, I can put them in:

On p. 99 I don't see the term, but he writes
The poet Matteo Maria Boiardo (1441-1494) designed a special Tarot pack, with non-standard suit-signs and trionfi subjects, with verses to be printed on the cards; Pier Antonio Viti (c. 1470-1500) wrote a commentary on these verses, describing a special game that could be played with Boiardo's pack, and adding that many other games could be played with the cards, including all those that are accustomed to be played with the ordinary ones, that is, with ordinary Tarot cards.19 From all this it is apparent that in the fifteenth century the use of the Tarot pack in card play was regarded as the primary, indeed the only, purpose for which the cards were made; nowhere is any other purpose mentioned or hinted at.

In the sixteenth century, there are many more literary references to tarocchi; once more, whenever there is any indication of the use of the cards, it is always for play. In 1522, a satirical poem concerning the conclave which elected Adrian VI described the cardinals playing tarocchi.20 In 1526, Francesco Berni published a poem in praise of the card game of Primiera, with a commentary in which facetious remarks are made about the game of tarocchi.21 In 1534 Rabelais included tarau in the long list of games played by Gargantua; Book V (1564) mentioned tarots, with dice, cards and chessmen, as instruments of play.22 At the time of the conclave of 1549-50 which elected Julius III, another poem was written in imitation of the earlier one, again describing the cardinals playing tarocchi.22 In 1550 Flavio Alberto Lollio published a poem of nearly 300 lines, the Invettiva contra il Giuoco del Taroco (Invective Against the Game of Tarocco), in which he derided and abused the game, although confessing that he had earlier been a keen player 24 nowhere in the—course of this piece of ridicule is there any mention of any use of the cards for fortune-telling or for any purpose other than card play. This is again a work in which, had any such practice existed, we should have expected such a reference; for, when mockery is the objective, fortune-telling is an easier butt than any game...
On p.389 I see:
It may be that those who first devised the Tarot pack had a special purpose in mind in selecting those particular subjects and in arranging them in the order that they did: perhaps they then spelled out, to those capable of reading them, some satirical or symbolic message. If so, it is apparent that, at least by the sixteenth century, the capacity to read this message had been lost. There are many references to tarocchi in sixteenth-century
Italian literature, in which their symbolic potentialities were exploited, but always in an obvious way: no hint survives that any more arcane meaning was associated with them. 'What else', asks Flavio Alberto Lollio in his invettiva contra il Giuoco del Taroco, 'do they signify; the Popess, the Chariot, the Traitor the Wheel, the Hunchback, Fortitude, the Star, the Moon, Death, Hell and all the rest of this revolving bizarrerie, save that this man [the inventor of the game] had an empty head, full of smoke, caprices and idle tales?' Lollio, of course, had no interest in making much sense of the Tarot trumps; but he could hardly have written in quite this vein if
there was generally acknowledged to be some particular interpretation to be placed on them...
He talks about tarocchi appropriati using this term on pp. 389-91:
The remaining two sources known to me are examples of the curious form of verse fashionable in [390] the sixteenth century and known as tarocchi appropriati. We have already come across one example of this form, namely the Germini sopra Quaranta Meritrice, in which the Minchiate trumps are used. In a poem of this kind, a set of people is described by associating each of them with one of the trump subjects from the Tarot pack. In some cases, the trumps are not arranged in any particular order, and these poems are of no help to us; but, in two of them, the trumps are arranged in sequence. One of these is an anonymous poem first published by Giulio Bertoni in an essay on 'Tarocchi versificati' in 1917;3 it describes the ladies of the court of Ferrara, and is dated by Bertoni to between 1520 and 1550, more probably nearer the later date. I shall refer to this as 'the Bertoni poem'. The other is a poem that has been attributed to Giambattista Susio (1519-1583), an attribution that has been contested. The poem has never been published in full, but excerpts are given by Ridolfo Renier in his essay 'Tarocchi di M.M. Boiardo' of 1894;4 it concerns the ladies of the court of Pavia, and may have been written about 1570.
Here, of course, other sources, those which name the trumps without arranging them in order, become useful. One such is a set of five sonnets on the Tarot trumps by Teofilo Folengo (1491-1544), a Mantuan author of macaronic verses; these were included in his Caos del Triperuno, a work published in Venice in 1527 under his pseudonym Merlin Cocai.5 Another is Pietro [391] Aretino's Le Carte Parlanti, published in Venice in 1543; and a third is Lollo's Invective already mentioned, published in Venice in 1550. There are also two other tarocchi appropriati, both concerning cardinals at a conclave: one relates to the conclave of 1522, which elected Adrian VI and the other to that of 1549-50, which elected Julius III.6
On p. 406:
As for the Bertoni tarocchi appropriati, they relate to the ladies of the court of Ferrara.
Ferrara was, of course, one of the principal centres where the game of Tarot was played in the early period, and very likely the birthplace of the game; the Bertoni poem provides incontrovertible evidence that the type B order prevailed there.
That leaves us with the type C order and the Cary tarocchi sheet,- no. (24) of Chapter 4. Susio's poem, which is our only source for type C orders in Italy, concerned the ladies of the court of Pavia.21,,,
There follows more on the use of that poem in establishing the C order.

On p. 100 he also talks about a riddle whose answer is the game of tarot:
In 1576 Pierre de Larivey Champenois composed and published a riddle to which the solution was le ieu du Tarot (the game of Tarot).27
27 Champenois continued, in 1576, the translation made by Jean Louveau in 1560 of a book of riddles by Giovanni
Francesco Straparola, published in-France as Les facetieuses nuits; however, some of Champenois's material is not in the original, and this includes Night XIII, Tale 7, the enigma of which the solution is le ieu de Tarot.
I do not vouch for the total accuracy of these transcriptions. In another thread (Dummett and methodology) I was typing out so much of it that I put a few chapters in OCR form, to save some work. It also aids in searching for terms. But the computer does misread things occasionally, and I may have missed a few things proofreading it.

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

thanks mikeh.

it seems that dummett didn't really have any idea whether the appropriati-type games were invented before,after or at the same time as the trick-taking games?

I had the idea that maybe gamers and gamblers hi-jacked the original genteel poetic parlour game deck of tarrocchi for their own purposes in the 15th century, just as the occultists and fortune-tellers later hi-jacked the gaming deck of French tarot for their purposes in the 18th century.
does anyone know whether there is any concrete evidence to refute such an idea?

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

thetarotist78 wrote
it seems that dummett didn't really have any idea whether the appropriati-type games were invented before,after or at the same time as the trick-taking games?
It seems to me, from the dates of the appropriati he mentions, that he's pretty sure they came later.

thetarotist78 wrote
I had the idea that maybe gamers and gamblers hi-jacked the original genteel poetic parlour game deck of tarrocchi for their own purposes in the 15th century, just as the occultists and fortune-tellers later hi-jacked the gaming deck of French tarot for their purposes in the 18th century.
Andrea Vitali at the beginning of one of his essays (http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=111) says this:
Tarot was a game of memory which included the marvels of the visible and invisible world and gave the players physical, moral and mystical instruction. In fact, the series of cardinal virtues - Strength, Prudence, Justice and Temperance - recalled important ethical precepts; the series of human conditions, including the Emperor, the Empress, the Pope, the Fool and the Juggler, recalled the hierarchy to which human beings were subject; and the series of planets (Stars, Moon, Sun) suggested the celestial forces that subjugated human beings - above which the Universe was conceived to be held by God.

But tarot soon lost this didactic and moral aspect, which already at the beginning of the 16th century was little understood. They were then considered no more than a game. Consequently the iconography of the figures changed according to the popular tastes of the regions where Tarot was used. Only at the end of the 18th century was the philosophical meaning of tarot rediscovered. Basing themselves on totally esoteric premises, however, the new interpreters gave birth to a new use of the game: magical and divinatory.
But I don't know if Andrea is right about a contrast between pre-1500 and after. I can't see that Dummett would have agreed with Andrea's pre-1500 account.

If you look at History of Playing Cards websites, you will see accounts of card games generally being played by children and families early on. Also clergy, except when it was forbidden. Whether that means that higher-stakes tavern gambling of the addictive, self-destructive sort, but profitable for others, occurred much less early on (i.e. before 1440), I can't say.. It probably depends in part on how cheap the decks were, because they would have gotten worn out quickly in a tavern.

Tarot seems to have been socially acceptable, including for families, most of the time, except by the Franciscan and Dominican preachers and their followers, at least until the Council of Trent, maybe longer, in fact more socially acceptable than other card games, as long as the bets were low. "Genteel" does not necessarily exclude "hijacked by gamblers", if you are thinking of it purely as a game, without a "didactic and moral aspect".

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

given the thinness of written evidence for what would have been in any case verbal games at that part of tarot history,does that neccesarily mean that the trick taking games preceded other forms of games such as appropriati,mnemonic games and even "didactic and moral" ones?
seems unlikely to me.
dummett seems against any speculation about those kind of games,prefering to believe that the tarot images were just standard iconography of the time.i guess he may have done that because he felt if the door was open to those kind of games, the occultists and fortune tellers would rush in on it!
the fact that dummett was a devout catholic does rather go against him re. retaining 100% rationality in the face of occultism!
indeed,if I`m honest,i find the idea that a philosopher who was famous for his philosophical works on "truth" was a devout catholic,which organisation has been shown to be serial impeders of the truth in cases of heinous crimes commited by themselves. (and that's not even mentioning so-called doctrinal `truths` such as virgin births, risings from the dead,sun going round the earth and the existence of `god` himself) quite instructive as to how lost in space in human terms philosophers,with their "great minds" living in the ivory towers of their seats of learning can be!

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

As far as I know, Dummett's critics never found his faith to have influenced his philosophical ideas (do you know otherwise?). He seems to have kept the two parts of his life separate. On the other hand, his Catholicism no doubt informed his passion for social justice.

His religiious beliefs are also absent from his handling of Tarot history. He certainly didn't like occultism, and that may be part of his personal beliefs, and it may indeed have informed the passion that gave him the energy to exhaustively investigate occultist myths and dispense with them. But it was the evidence itself that destroyed them, not Michael Dummett's personal beliefs. The evidence really speaks for itself, although thanks to him we, his followers, can now say there is a "foundation" to the study of Tarot history. The Game of Tarot is the cornerstone, even the keystone, of everything we do now.

For tarocchi appropriati, the earliest evidence of it is the late 15th century, in the Ferrara court (if I remember correctly). Texts in this genre begin appearing in the 16th century.

There can be no doubt that the game of Triumphs was invented to be a trick-taking game with a permanent, rather than temporary, set of trumps. The fact that it is a type of cards, in various grades and prices, among other kinds of cards, is enough to show that they were used for play just as they are today. The Borromeo fresco in Milan, from the mid-1440s, shows a group of five people playing such a game; Ugo Trotti, in 1456, says that the best form of the game is with four players, in two partnerships.
thetarotist78 wrote: the fact that dummett was a devout catholic does rather go against him re. retaining 100% rationality in the face of occultism!
indeed,if I`m honest,i find the idea that a philosopher who was famous for his philosophical works on "truth" was a devout catholic,which organisation has been shown to be serial impeders of the truth in cases of heinous crimes commited by themselves. (and that's not even mentioning so-called doctrinal `truths` such as virgin births, risings from the dead,sun going round the earth and the existence of `god` himself) quite instructive as to how lost in space in human terms philosophers,with their "great minds" living in the ivory towers of their seats of learning can be!
It doesn't seem interesting at all, let alone necessary, to speculate that the set of trumps was invented for tarocchi appropriati (the name itself showing its derivativeness). It is even less interesting, and actually repulsive, to gratuitously begin bashing Dummett because you hate the Catholic Church.

Either argue with the ideas, expand on them or give a substantive critique, or remain silent. Ad hominem is not only a logical fallacy, but a cheap way to argue. I promise you I won't respond to trollery of that nature. If you find I don't respond, you'll know where I stand. If you continue in this vein, whether others want to play your game or not, I may have to put on my administrator's hat.

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

hi ross,
let me try and get this more clear.
I greatly appreciate dummetts efforts at establishing some reality in a tarot world that had been overrun by the largely insane ideas of the occultists.
nevertheless,i find it fascinating that a man who described the occult tarot story as something like the most complete historical fraud ever perpetrated(maybe you have the actual quote) should himself,despite his own intellectual clarity,prcision and logic subscribe to an organisation,the catholic church which has perpetrated,and violently foistered many more damaging falsehoods on humanity through its teachings and actions (and still continues today) than ever a bunch of whacked-out occultists managed.
dummett converted to Catholicism nearly 5 decades before the church pardoned galileo!!
and he complained how occultists still hung on to their discredited beliefs!
it`s strangely comic.
what fascinates me is how could such a methodical logical mind countenance the bizarre beliefs and practices of the catholic "teaching" which, in the light of day,are way, way more weird and nasty than anything the occultists came up with.
it`s an odd anomaly for a man determined to get to the historical truth behind the bizarre beliefs of occultism,is it not?
if all this is a bit too ad hominem for your taste,what to do?
historians,like everyone are part of history,they don't stand outside it,much as they might wish to.

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

... :-) ...
welcome to the forum, tarotist

... most of the early Tarot History plays in Catholic countries ... maybe one could accuse it as a Catholic game, cause it contains a pope, and not a Jupiter, mostly.
Brave protestants played Karnöffel and Calvinists in Geneve prohibited Tarot ... possibly also Karnöffel ... ?

Wiki says:
Conversion to Roman Catholicism

In 1944 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and remained a practising Catholic. Throughout his career, Dummett published a number of articles on various issues facing the contemporary Catholic Church, mainly in the English Dominican journal, New Blackfriars. Dummett published an essay in the bulletin of the Adoremus Society on the subject of liturgy, and a philosophical essay defending the intelligibility of the Catholic Church's teaching on the eucharist ("The Intelligibility of Eucharistic Doctrine" in William J. Abraham and Steven W. Holzer, eds., The Rationality of Religious Belief: Essays in Honour of Basil Mitchell, Clarendon Press, 1987.)

In October 1987, one of his contributions to New Blackfriars sparked considerable controversy, when he seemingly attacked currents of Catholic theology which appeared to him to diverge from orthodox Catholicism and argued that "the divergence which now obtains between what the Catholic Church purports to believe and what large or important sections of it in fact believe ought, in my view, to be tolerated no longer." A debate in the journal over these remarks continued for months, attracting contributions from the theologian Nicholas Lash and the historian Eamon Duffy, among others. 1987 - Volume 68 New Blackfriars (Issue 809, 811)
Issue 809, 811
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/ ... 005/issues
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... x/abstract
They want money ... I personally am not interested enough.

We don't bother about the religious interests of our talking partners in the forum. Why should we bother about the religious interests of Michael Dummett?
And mostly (99.9% or so) we don't have anything to do with 20th century in our themes. If we meet old with a lot of strange actions in our studies, we usually don't avoid to criticize them, if there's something to say in this direction.

Well, there are not much persons in "old Tarot History". If we find someone with some ability in his field, we're happy and don't ask for other life conditions.

Re: dummett and tarrocchi appropriati

I have been thinking about thetarotist78's last two posts and Ross's replies. To be sure, ad hominem arguments commit a logical fallacy. But...

It is not unheard of that otherwise intelligent people are blinded by their attachment to one aspect of an institution, either from seeing other less attractive aspects at all, or from seeing their magnitude. For example, many people were blinded to the ugly side of Stalinist Russia by their perceptions of the injustices of capitalism which Stalin, his supporters and forebears articulated and the image that Stalinists in Russia and elsewhere projected. But if thetarotist78 thinks that Dummett's Roman Catholicism influenced his views on the tarot, he or she needs to find and argue for particular errors or misinterpretations that reflect a blindness to the less pleasant side of the Roman Catholic Church at that time.

So if someone thinks Dummett had an emotional blindspot, that is their opportunity to explore that area of tarot history more fully, with documentation. So here I go.

I do not see how his Roman Catholicism would blind him to seeing the tarot sequence as an expression of a Roman Catholic message of proper authorities, virtue, cosmic forces, and salvation, as opposed to merely a game. He even describes the three groups in just such terms,

However there is also the question of "occult meanings" in the tarot.


Dummett says in his FMR essay (I am quoting from my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=975&start=40::
The twenty-two trionfi were added to the pack so that a new card game could be played. For three and a half centuries, nobody had any idea of using the cards for other purposes. This is not to say that there was no occult symbolism inherent in the trionfi. The designs of many playing-card packs contain symbolism unrelated to the intended use of the cards, and the Renaissance was the high point for the occult sciences in Europe, which were respected by scholars and tolerated by the Church as never before or since. But any occultism in the iconography of the tarot pack was either widely overlooked or quickly forgotten.
Dummett does not elaborate. But from Game of Tarot we know what he means by "occult": kabbalah, alchemy, astrology, "prisca theologia", etc. Besides such esoterica, there are also the perfectly canonical texts of Plato and his followers, Christian and pagan, ancient and medieval. These in fact seem to me at least as likely.

When I first read that quote, I was so glad to see such acceptance of the idea of occult symbolism in the early tarot that I missed seeing how problematic it is in relation to the rest of the paragraph.

If there was occult symbolism inherent in some trionfi decks, how can he say that "nobody had any idea of using the cards for other purposes" than game-playing? Why would anyone go to the trouble--risking further attack from the preachers--of putting occult symbolism there, if it was just a game?

Also, "tarot appropriati" seems to me, as it does to thetarotist78, to be just such a non-gaming use. It is a derivative one, to be sure, but Dummett didn't say "initial use" or "primary use" here, but "only use". And as for "intended use", we have to ask, intended by whom? If the designs of the packs contained occult symbolism, then it would seem that the designers of those packs would have intended other uses, since such symbolism is unnecessary for playing the game.

Carlo Penco, in an article that Phaeded (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=992&p=14760&hilit=Penco#p14760) referred to recently (https://www.academia.edu/2442994/Dummet ... e_of_Tarot), sees Dummett's reference to "intended use" as applying the famous philosophical doctrine of Wittgenstein, "meaning is use" to tarot (actually, it was "For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language"). If the "intended use" of the cards was for the game, then any esoteric meaning put in the cards by the artist is not part of the meaning of the card. Penco is making an analogy between words and cards. Just as words derive their meaning from their role in sentences, and sentences from their use in human life, the cards only have meaning in their combination with other cards, in the context of the game. So the imagery has meaning only in so far as it enables the player to identify the card in the context of the rules of the game.

But a sequence of cards might have more than one use (just as sentences can). Much of the imagery of the cards comes from religious art, whose use was to connect the soul with the divine and with how to serve the divine in this world. So-called "esoteric" associations to these Images, giving them esoteric meaning, had much the same function, but in the context of other texts than exoteric Christian ones. There was also the function of commemorating particular families and individuals. Images do not lose their previous functions just by being employed in a game. A sequence of them in a definite order invites us to contemplate their meaning, individually and in sequence, in other contexts outside of the game.

Whether "esoteric" interpretations (including Plato and Platonists) of the tarot sequence are "inherent" or simply additional interpretations, beyond the exoteric Christian symbolism, in the context of the times, I cannot say. They are not inherent in the Bolognese/Florentine decks that I can see; but some of the Milanese cards are another matter (for the CY, only Love's blindfold and the Chariot card). Whether they are "inherent" in the choice of subjects and the order chosen is hard to say. Their depictions, subjects, and oder certainly fit, more or less, numerous symbol systems known by humanist elites of the time.


I will go on. Another problem with the paragraph I quoted from Dummett is that if the "occult sciences" were "tolerated by the Church as never before or since", it might be wondered whether, when the Church became more intolerant later, people might have destroyed evidence, such as letters, so as to avoid the shame of having their ancestors' bones dug up and burned and being investigated themselves. For its part, the Lombard Inquisition destroyed its records in 1788 (see Ross at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&p=13698&hilit= ... ion#p13698), except in Modena and Reggio-Emilia; I notice that the Estensi still had some power there; and in fact during the time in question they seem to have seen to it that very unproductive Inquisitors were appointed, compared to the rest of the Lombard Inquisition's jurisdiction (see my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&p=13727&hilit= ... ena#p13727). However even there. it would have been a two-way street: don't provoke us, and we won't provoke you. For the rest of "Lombardy" (the Dominicans' jurisdiction was wide). It is only recently that this Inquisition's activities have been documented, at least in English, and then only for the first century of the early tarot, based mostly on Inquisitors' memoirs.

Is there any evidence of such suppression? In the Renaissance, the Church was not all that tolerant even of humanists in or connected with the nobility. Ficino came close to being in trouble for "Three Books on Life", and Pico and Reuchlin had much trouble. Poor Bruno was perhaps a signal that the Renaissance was now officially over. (Galileo was an anti-occultist, so I don't include his trouble.)

Also, there are plenty of hidden meanings in art of the time, and nobody wrote about them. They just wrote other things about these subjects. People were expected to use their heads, put two and two together, and maybe also two and three and whatever else they could find there. I do not even take Lollio's famous invective against the cards, professing ignorance of what they meant, as showing that the meanings had been lost. The exoteric meanings of most of the cards is obvious; they are commonplace images. He is more likely, I think, asking about esoteric meanings, and even inviting us to think in those terms in a humorous way.


I am not much interested in fortune-telling uses of the pack, but some people are. In Game of Tarot ch. 5 Dummett argues that cartomancy did not exist until the second half of the 18th century, of which Etteilla, who said in 1770 that he had been practicing for 20 years, is the first evidence.

I am not sure just what makes Etteilla a practitioner of cartomancy, but not those who wrote "appropriati" verses, especially Folengo, and those who used cards as auxiliaries to lot books. He seems to me a combination of the two.

What Folengo says (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Caos_Del_Triperuno) is:
Now, let us see firstly the chance or fortune of Giuberto; after that, I will recite the corresponding sonnet, where you will be able to consider that the said triumphs, singularly assigned by chance to each sonnet, are named four times, as you can understand with the help of the major figures: Justice, Angel, Devil, Fire, Love”
So these subjects have been drawn at random ("assigned by chance"), and then Folengo's persona introduces a sonnet suggesting dire consequences for Giuberto if he falls in love with a woman. There is even a quote from Seneca to make the moral clear:
The leader of all wickedness is woman; she is the cunning mistress of crime.

This is an "if...then" prediction, and not one that the monks would disagree with, but a prediction nonetheless, directed at a particular person. It is very similar to (although more misogynistic than) the kind of thing one found in a book of Neopythagorean number theory. All these did was to group different instances of practical wisdom under different numbers. The lot-books made predictions based on randomized numbers, often not of the "if...then" variety. Folengo uses the subjects of five cards to write his verses. Etteilla's simple spreads use seven cards randomly chosen to develop his predictions, each with a keyword. His predictions are partly "if...then", partly not. (Etteilla's follower "Julia Orsini" reduces the number of cards to 5. See my blog at http://thirdcahier.blogspot.com/2012/10/blank_3683.html)

What is the difference between a Folengian subject-title and an Etteillian "keyword"? I don't see any, for purposes of developing a narrative about a person's future. For that, the only difference is a broadening from "if...then" to include more or less vague predictions ("You could go to jail within three days..," etc.) along with the "if...then's" (If you are skillful, you will triumph over your foes). Folengo uses his imagination in his verses. Etteilla encourages his readers to use their imaginations in constructing narratives based on the keywords and information gleaned from the querent. Etteilla is simply a combination of lot books' pretensions to predict and Folengo's weaving of a cautionary narrative out of subject-titles. And Etteilla the moralist and psychologist is at least as present as Etteilla the seer (on psychology, previous link; on morality, see http://thirdcahier.blogspot.com/2012/10/blank_6344.html, on the virtue cards). It is not a big jump to combine the two; we are almost there already; and there is nothing that doesn't characterize either lot books or Folengo in Etteilla's method of reading ordinary cards.

It is true that Etteilla has an absurd theory of Egyptian origin with which he justifies his method. But the method itself does not depend on any of that, nor does Etteilla in most cases even try to make it appear so. It is just fitting keywords into narratives according to certain rules and techniques. Whether it was done with regular playing cards first or with tarot cards first is hard to say. It would seem to me that since the trumps did have one-word titles that were played with in narratives, the extension to number cards would have come later. With the Sola-Busca number cards, it would have not have been hard to extend this practice to create other meanings suggested by the figures on the cards, as well as the symbolism of the numbers themselves (known by educated people). It is true that court cards also had titles, and these titles were given symbolic significance of a sort in sortilege, at least in Spain at around the same time (see Ross Sinclair Caldwell, "Origine della Cartomanzia', in Il Castello dei Tarocchi, ed Andrea Vitali. pp. 163-176; I will give examples later in the post). But these were of the "age, sex, and station in life" sort, useful for interpreting in terms of actual people, less so of abstraction such as we see in the triumph.

Dummett makes much of his inability to find anything suggesting cartomancy before 1750 apart from simple sortilege, (Actually, evidence in England from 1727-30 suggests that today he would likely have said 1700; Mary Greer has a whole series of quotations from before Etteilla's 1770 book, all from the 18th century). I attach other significance to the paucity of evidence. It may have to do with an upsurge in the political power of literal-minded religiosity in that period. The combination of prophecy about the future, with the exercise of imagination, spoken as though coming from outside of oneself and perhaps with an invocation of divine aid, smacked to the Church of chicanery at best and black magic at worst. All you have to do is read the New Advent Encyclopedia's article on divination (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05048b.htm) to see that the Catholic Church considered and still considers divinatory card-reading and all divination to be fraud, not merely human but also the "fraud of the Father of Lies". The latter would require strong methods. As for the period of the early tarot, it says
Sixtus IV, Sixtus V, and the Fifth Council of Lateran likewise condemned divination. Governments have at times acted with great severity...
It gives no modern examples of governments, but I have no doubt that they did so, erratically but often enough. The Church, too, wasn't afraid to use its power.

So before we make definite statements about what lack of documentation shows, we have to take into account laws and other sanctions regarding fortune-telling, the suspicions of further misdeeds if one admitted knowing anything, and the threat of new laws pertaining to games with the pack. There was also the confessional. One never knew who was going to name names and give details to the priest. Then there would be hell to pay. So going to a fortune teller would be a secret affair. I doubt if even a fiction writer would write about details not part of common rumor. If would be as if a fiction writer today wrote a story that tallied in key details with details of a terrorist crime that were known only to the police; except that in those days there were fewer safeguards against demonizing abuse of power.

Dummett says nothing about the effect of such sanctions on documentation. He quotes laws showing that the game of tarot was not prohibited, but that is not the point. What is relevant are laws and other negative consequences regarding fortune telling with cards. Dummett does not mention Etteilla's tale of the three individuals who were arrested and put in prison for fortune telling with cards in 1751-53 Paris (if he missed it in Etteilla, Wilshire tells the story, too). Caldwell cites the arrest in Strasbourg in 1759 of 2 women and 8 men on charges of card-reading. Before 1750, Etteilla said, the practice of card-reading in France was unknown. That part certainly agrees with Dummett! But what did the average person know? Prohibitions do not only dissuade practices; they also dissuade the revealing of practices.

Here I cannot resist another quote from Folengo, in the discussion of his third sonnet:
TRIPERUNO: Dear master, in this sonnet you often play the mute.
LIMERNO: It was always valuable.
LIMERNO: Truth...
TRIPERUNO: To confess?
LIMERNO: On the contrary: to be silent.
LIMERNO: To avoid hate.
TRIPERUNO: Hate would not be important, if it was not followed by persecution.
LIMERNO: So a bit for the mouth was invented.
This interchange ostensibly relates to the previous sonnet, which is critical of the Emperor and the Pope. But the criticism there is a perfectly safe one, clearly stated, that they aren't fighting the Turks enough. The interchange would seem to be making a more general point.

Dummett could find no reports in literature or other documents of "cartomancy" before Etteilla, meaning exclusive of simple sortilege. Without holding him to that precise date, as opposed to a couple of decades earlier, what interests me is when even cases of sortilege show up in documents during that period between 1440 and 1700.. In 1554 Spain it is reported in a letter by a Spanish jurist. Then there is nothing until 1616, a witch's trial. Then nothing until another witch's trial, 1631. In 1632 sortilege with cards is mentioned in a Spanish work of encyclopedic nature. After that, Caldwell says, it appears in similar trials until the beginning of the 19th century. One of Caldwell's examples, from 1648-49, is of a reading based on the significance of particular court cards to determine whether a man was being unfaithful. The spread was five lines ("mischio le carte e le dispose scoperte formando cinque file...", Caldwell p. 167). I do not know if this means five cards, five rows, or five columns. But the later practice with a five cards was to use the top row first, and then if you didn't get what you wanted, go to the next row, etc. (see my post on "Julia Orsini"). I do not know how public these details were. But at some point it apparently was part of general Spanish culture, since this type of sortilege even appears in a mid-17th century Spanish play.

The 78 year gap in Spain, 1554-1632 (or 94, from a philosophical dialogue in 1538, if we don't count a private letter) suggests to me a time of repression rather than of disinterest. And if more complex fortune-telling is not reported, is that because it did not exist or because it wasn't practiced by illiterate women within reach of the Inquisition, and reporting it in a public way would be revealing too much? Or it may be that the more complex type simply didn't get to Spain. Folengo was in Italy.

In Italy poems are published about a famous witches' spell, the "hammer". But only an Inquisition record then secret mentions an important prop of such spells, a certain tarot card (see Andrea's essay at http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=277#). Did these poets really not know about the role of the tarot card, or were they sticking to what it was safe to say, and unthreatening to their favorite game?

It is perhaps a fact about the geography of Piedmont, full of mountain valleys that had been settled for hundreds of years by "heretics" fleeing the Church's sanctions, that Etteilla's Alexis, he said, claimed descent from the Alexis Piemontese of the 16th century, who history says was called that because he was from Piedmont. Even the two very mild analyses of the tarot deck that we happen to possess from the 16th century come from that region--one only in manuscript, the other in a very small run. There is also the question of an early connection between Piedmont and Bologna. The Piedmontese tarocchi has Bolognese features. Bologna is where Franco's 1750 evidence of cartomancy came from, of a type not dissimilar from Etteilla's.

In 1620 England there is a book describing sortilege with cards; it is on Mary Greer's site quoted earlier. Then there is a gap until 1690, when a deck based on lot-books is published. I think at once of the rise of the Puritans and the English Civil War. Finally, people ignorant of the unpublished past (whatever it was) started producing primitive fortune-telling decks without negative consequences, and there was political stability (in England at least). It seems not unreasonable to suppose that some people might, with guarantees of anonymity and appropriate recompense, or a desire that something valuable not be lost, have then started talking about the traditions they knew, especially the very old and/or people about to leave the country (like Etteilla's Alexis). In England the readings get increasingly sophisticated.

On the thread about the Sola-Busca pips, I tried to give what I have thought are parallels between the SB and Etteilla's system for the number cards, 300 years later. It seems to me highly suspect that Etteilla, whose books are mainly a rehash of 18th century occultism with very little justification of the keywords on the cards (especially the suit cards), should at the same time have come up with such an inventive system of card reading, combining appropriate stimulus-words with intuition, apparently out of nowhere, a system which immediately dominated the field and continues to do so. That he could have developed his system from esoteric meanings of the numbers alone is just too dubious a proposition, given his apparent ignorance of any system for so doing combined with his apparent willingness to share what he knows.


Lacking direct documentation of such practices with cards before 1700--and now I want to include esoteric uses of the sequence generally, including contemplative ones--before the efforts of Church and State over such things waned, there is the matter of indirect evidence. Well, haven't I already been giving indirect evidence, Folengo plus sortilege (late 1520s), and evidence of the lack of a level playing field? One question is: what counts as indirect evidence. And what about events for which there is not even indirect evidence? On this general issue, it would not be surprising if Dummett's philosophical views did influence his tarot history methodology, positively or negatively, because "truth and the past" was a major philosophical preoccupation of his. It might have gone both ways, since his writing on tarot history was in part as an example of "statements about the past", justified and unjustified, that might offer clarifying examples for his philosophy. I do not know if anyone has examined this question. Given the technical nature of his philosophy, and his slightly shifting positions, it is a rather daunting task.I do know that some of his views are controversial; he himself said often that "by far the majority" of analytical philosophers hold the view he opposes. Since I tend toward the majority view myself, I'd like to understand his views on statements about the past and see whether they have anything to do with the methodology of tarot history. His books tend to be short, but unfortunately they have to be read many times to be appreciated, and there are several of them.

With Dummett, it has to be kept in mind that each time he writes, he approaches the problem afresh, putting aside what he wrote before. He says as much in his book Truth and the Past, p. x, explaining how that book differs from previous lectures, not then published. Although the context is philosophy, it seems to me that he would say the same about his writings on tarot:
I do not think anyone should interpret everything that a philosopher writes as if it was just one chapter in a book he is writing throughout his life. On the contrary, for me every article and essay is a separate attempt to arrive at the truth, to be judged on its own.
He clearly doesn't want his opinions to be cited chapter and verse as some sort of holy writ. He wants us to think for ourselves. Nor do people on this Forum take him in such a way; they freely reject what they find in his work to be unacceptable, as Dummett himself did. Hopefully Dummett improves on himself over time. Unfortunately his last book on the tarot remains in Italian untranslated into other languages. I hope that those who have access to it will continue bringing out his later thoughts when relevant. Meanwhile it behooves thetarotist78 and the rest of us to examine what Dummett says in English on topics of interest and controversy carefully and bearing in mind what he says on the same subject elsewhere.


Dummett does not in fact keep a sharp separation between his religious views and his philosophy. In Truth and the Past he has three pages discussing the implications of his theory for the believer, "of no interest for those who have no belief in God" (p.96). He is also forthright about discussing his religious views (under the rubric "theism") in a philosophical context. In The Nature and Future of Philosophy, where he has two chapters on religion, he says that discussion of God is traditionally part of what philosophers did, and rightly so (p. 43). (This book was published 2001in Italian translation, its English version is 2010.) However he insists that the duty of the philosopher is to follow the arguments wherever they lead, not to defend one's own religious views (p. 45). Whether he succeeds in this is another question; but it is his goal. In the chapter on ethics he is forthright in criticizing some of his Church's positions in his time and earlier.Most relevantly for us:
The confession of past wrongs done by Catholics organized in St. Peter's by Pope John Paul II went far to repudiate many acts that have besmirched the Church's history--the burning of heretics, the encouragement of anti-Semitism, the Crusades. But it was defective in attributing these wrongs to the actions of individual members and not to the Church as an institution.
He says that it is necessary for Catholics to distinguish between its actions that are "acts of such a human institution and those that flow from its divine founder or come under the protection of the Spirit". (p. 49).

He also criticizes the attitudes of intolerance and persecution, the disrespect for others' faiths, that "have disfigured the various branches of Christianity in the past" (p. 54). Of these he mentions "the memory of the capture of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade" as a possible grounds for the hostility of "Protestants" in Greece against Catholics. (I assume he is referring to to the sack of Greek Orthodox Constantinople.by the Crusaders.) But he sees signs of change "in our times... among some Christians", more so than with the followers of non-Christian religions (acts of violence by Hindus and Muslims) or with nonbelievers ("from their reaction to the Rushdie affair in Britain and from other manifestations of the hatred of Islam which infests most of Europe").

These last statements seem carefully worded not to compare the Roman Catholic Church with other groups who historically called themselves Christian. For whatever reason, he doesn't want to go there. Respect for others' faiths is not a new thing, but has been going on since before the first Nicean Council (although not by those he deems of his own faith), while demonization and repression was official policy at the Vatican considerably after the time of the early tarot. He mentions a shift happening at the Second Vatican Council, toward Jews and other Christians, but still not toward other religions. As I recall, freedom of religion was written into the U.S. Constitution in the 18th century. (For an example before the first Nicean Council, see Irenaeus's paraphrase of his "Gnostic" opponent in "Against all heresies," Book I, Ch. 7, at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103107.htm. The translation here is unfortunate, however, as it has the Gnostic attribute an "animal nature" to those who worship the Demiurge, i.e. Irenaeus's God; the word in Latin corresponding to "animal" is the adjective form of "anima", meaning "soul"; in Greek, these are the psychica, in contrast to the pneumatica and the hylica.)

I do not know why he singles out Muslims and Hindus. Their history, as reflected in their religious authorities, is more respectful toward others in this regard than that of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. For example, Islam's traditional teaching is to accord respect to all "people of the book". Besides official policy, to be sure, there is also the fear and demonization of others among believers/practitioners in every religion or lack thereof, and feelings by some that other religions, or all religions, are bad for people and therefore should be combated by means stronger than mere persuasion.

When he talks about British and European unbelievers as more prejudiced against Islam than Roman Catholics (or at least their Church), that seems a dubious claim. Surely "unbelievers" are not one group, like a Church. While some spokespersons for unbelief, such as Stalin, have advocated repression (and more), many others, such as Bertrand Russell, have not, The only meaningful comparison with unbelievers, since they are not an organized group, is with Christians in the same country en masse. I haven't found such a survey on the Web, but perhaps one comparing age groups is significant, which shows younger Britons significantly less negative toward Muslims than older ones (http://nottspolitics.org/2013/03/18/the ... rds-islam/). Statistically, younger Britons also identify less with organized religion than older ones (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/2013/british ... rvey-2012/). It seems to me that his prejudices are showing.

Note: In this last section, philosophy and religion, I made some changes the next day in the first paragraph, mainly the addition of an important quote from Dummett, which I had missed before.

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