I've been offline again having my computer worked on by a friend. In the meantime I did a lot of reading and then, at the library, writing the draft of another long post. But first, I respond to Steve's helpful post.
The GD didn't need to infer it, they would have found it in Agrippa's 'Occult Philosophy' (Book 2, on the scale of the number 10), which was major a source for many of their attributions. Neither were they (the plant/sephiroth attributions) limited to the GD, the same can be found in the cabalistic texts of the French esoteric schools (e.g., Qabalah by Papus).
Pico, Reuchlin and Ficino were among Agrippa's sources, and Paulo Ricci's translations of the SY and Portai Lucis, and he was also a friend of Paulo's brother Agostino Ricci, court astrologer and cabalist. He gave lectures on Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico in 1509, and underwent his occult studies under Johannes Trithemius, to whom he presented his early draft of 'Occult Philosophy' in 1510. He continued his occult studies in Italy where he resided for seven years between 1511 to 1518:
Thanks, Steve, for referring us to Agrippa. Yes, that is obviously where the Golden Dawn got its planetary attributions, including Bina as Saturn. Agrippa had even been translated into English, no need to know Latin. Now the question is, where did Agrippa get them from? Pico, as I said in my post, had Saturn as Hod and Bina as the Fixed Stars. I am not aware of planetary associations in Reuchlin or Paulo Ricci. I did not know about Paolo's brother, and I have not checked Harmonia Mundi
or Pico's nephew. That would be worth doing.
In the Middle Ages, Jews as well as Christians seem to have had nothing but negative associations for Saturn. Trachtenberg, in Jewish Magic and Superstition
, says (p. 252):
...tables were set up delineating the fields of influence of the heavenly bodies. Saturn governed poverty, wounds, illness death; Jupiter, life peace, joy , wealth, honor sovereignty; Mars, blood, the sword, evil, war, enmity envy, destruction; Venus, grace, beauty, passion, conception, fertility; Mercury, wisdom, intelligence, learning, trades and occupations; the sun, daily activities and sovereignty; the moon, growth and decay, good and evil.
Then under life expectancy, people in a house governed by Saturn get 57 years, compared to Jupiter's 79, Mars' 66, Venus's 22, the sun's 77, etc. (p. 253). The low number for Venus, I would think, is due to the death rate in childbirth. I suspect that the elevation of Saturn to the sphere of Binah was due to Ficino's influence on Alemanno.
Until such time I am shown otherwise, I conclude that Agrippa's source, either directly or through an intermediary, was most likely Alemanno or one of his students. Were the Laurencin in Turino by any chance of Jewish descent?
Your excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/agrippa-nettesheim/
) was of interest, too, for its remarks about Lazzarelli, author of the Crater Hermetis
His [Agrippa's] only citation of one of the major medieval Cabalistic treatises, Sefer Zohar, a book that he could not have read since it was not available in Latin, is lifted out of Crater Hermetis.
I am not aware of any citations from the Zohar in Crater Hermetis. If so, that is interesting. As far as I know, Lazzarelli in that work only cites the Sefer Yetzirah, famously confusing it with Eleazar of Worms' Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah
, in a passage he would probably have gotten from Alemanno. [Added later: for that matter, I cannot see any citation of the Zohar in Agrippa either. Tyson in his notes cites that book in explaining some of Agrippa's text, but not in a way that pinpoints it as his source. The translation of the Zohar Tyson quotes is invariably from Waite or Mathers.]
Now here is something else to chew on, namely, a post focusing on that passage in Eleazar.
ALEMANNO, THE SEFER YETZIRAH, AND THE TAROT
The reason I started focusing on Alemanno in the first place was that he seems to have written something having to do with Eleazar of Worms' commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah and somehow shared it with Lazzarelli.
I find in Idel's works only one passage in Eleazar's writings being cited by Alemanno. This is the famous passage where Eleazar gives a "recipe" for the creation of a golem, a magical anthropoid helper. It is the same passage that he, Scholem, and Hanegraaff have also related to Lazzarelli--similar idea, similar wording--leading to the hypothesis that Alemanno and Lazzarelli knew each other, c. 1470.
The theme of the golem--in medieval Christian writings the homunculus--is one that also appears in Florentine art at that time, notably in Baldini's (active from 1477, died 1487) engraving of Hermes Trismegistus, his Hermetic equivalent of Eleazar. Here is the relevant detail (from my post at viewtopic.php?f=14&t=566&start=70
Before Baldini, the same picture was in the Florentine Picture book
, probably by Finiguerra (died 1464), http://www.chronologia.org/rare/florent ... C00741.JPG
(which I get from http://www.chronologia.org/en/old_books ... icle2.html
, 4th row, 3rd picture). And after, the
Grand Ettella" II and III's Magician card, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WnpEK4wALpk/T ... /15all.jpg
. Related to these depictions is Pico's 10th thesis on magic (quoted in Idel, 2011, p.182, from Farmer, Syncretism in the West
ALEMANNO AND ELEAZAR OF WORMS
What man the magus makes through art, nature made naturally in making man.
does one use the Sefer Yetzirah
to do such a thing as create an anthropoid who can do wonders? Idel deals with this topic, including Alemannno's contribution, in chapters 20 and 21 of Kabbalah in Italy
(http://archive.org/stream/MosheIdelKabb ... y_djvu.txt
). A quote specifically from Eleazar of Worms' Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah
is in Alemanno's Collectanaea
a notebook of quotations from others with occasional comments of his own. To this particular quotation there are no comments; so Idel pays attention to what precedes and follows it. It differs slightly, but not significantly, from the quotation from Eleazar that is in Alemanno's book The Golem
(p. 56 at http://books.google.com/books?id=WqFkSK ... &q&f=false
). Idel says that Alemanno's version is "fuller" than that in the manuscripts of Eleazar, which are probably "deficient" (p. 424, n. 69).
Eleazar tells the Kabbalist to make a body from some virgin earth in the mountains and then pronounce the letters in order, permutated with the divine name IHV (YHVH in Alemanno's version, as given in Idel p. 253); these are 221 "gates" ("221 or 231" in Alemanno). Eleazar gives a table, Idel says without describing it (p. 56). Trachtenberg in Jewish Magic and Superstition
1939 (p. 85):
The formidable nature of the project is apparent from the merest glance at the twenty-three folio columns which the very involved combiantions of letters occupy. the "recipe" takes 23 folio pages of Hebrew text.
Eleazar also mentions, in the part Idel quotes, that in the Sefer Yetzirah the letters are associated with the limbs of the body. This makes sense, in the creation of an anthropoid. What is being done is the intellectual vivification of the body already shaped from earth, by vivifying its limbs. The first 11 letters create the golem, and the last 11 letters destroy it, Idel says in Golem
, p. 58f (not in Google Books; I also read it somewhere else, but I can't find it at the moment).
ALLEMANO AND ABULAFIA
Abulafia elaborated on Eleazar's recipe, and there is a relevant quote from Abulafia's Hayyei ha-'Olam ha-Ba'
in Alemanno's notebook on the folio just before the quotation from Eleazar. Here Abulafia seems to be opposing what must have been a popular conception in Sicily about golem-making, that the Kabbalist made a body that moved and did one's bidding (p. 239f, Idel's brackets):
The deed that is greatest of all deeds is to make souls, [this being] the secret: "And the souls they made in Haran" [Genesis 12:5]. l8 God has made man, literally, "in the likeness [bi-demut] of God He made him" [Genesis 5:1]. And this deed is, according to our opinion, the culmination of all good deeds. Therefore, every wise person ought to make souls much more than he ought  to make bodies, since the duty of making bodies is [solely] intended to make souls, and thereby man will imitate his maker, since the prophet said on the issue of the deed of God: "But the spirit and the soul which I have made should faint before me" [Isaiah 57:16]. This is the reason why the wise person, who comprehends something from the intelligibilia, must hand down as a true tradition what he has comprehended in accordance with his strength. 19
18. Genesis 12:5 occurs in several instances in the context of creating a Golem, especially in R. Eleazar of Worms' Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. See Idel, Golem, p. 56.
19. Abraham Abulafia, Hayyei ha-'Olam ha-Ba', Ms. Oxford, Bodleiana 1582, fols. 5a-b, in the edition of Amnon Gross (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 50-51.
By this reference to the handing down of tradition, it would seem that for Abulafia the most important "golem" is the transmission of certain vital knowledge from master to disciple. The "soul" is not someothing that all of us have at birth. This is clear, Idel says (p. 241), in another of Abulafia's works
The soul is a portion of the Divinity, and within it there are 231 gates [Yesh R'al], and it is called the 'congregation of Israel,' which collects and gathers into herself the entire community, under its power of intellect, which is called the 'supernal congregation of Israel,' the mother of providence, being the cause of the providence, the intermediary between us and God. This is the Torah, the result of the effluence of the twenty-two letters. Know that all the limbs of your body are combined by the combination of the forms of the letters with each other. 21
21. Abraham Abulafia, Sefer Sitrei Torah, Ms. Paris, BN 774, fol. 155b. See also Idel, Golem, p. 98.
Idel explains that the "congregation of Israel" is the Agent Intellect, an Averroist concept for "the cosmic spiritual power that governs the major processes in the sublunar world, in which all the forms are found". For Abulafia, pronouncing the letters brings down the divine energy from the Agent Intellect and also, from another point of view, elevates the Kabbalist. The golem is vivified on that level, which is where it gets its power to work magic and predict the future. The energy goes first into the Kabbalist and, in the act of speaking, out into the golem.
Notice that in what I just quoted, it is the Kabbalist's own limbs that are being combined in the uttering of the permutated letters. I would think that in pronouncing the letters the Kabbalist might also be associating them in his imagination with his various body parts, visualizing them from having memorized the relevant part of the Sefer Yetzirah. This spiritualizes the Kabbalist's own body as well as that of the golem.
Idel goes on to say that although Abulafia does not oppose the creation of something material, what is important is the creation of the form, demut
we may infer from his formulation in the passage from Hayyei ha-'Olam ha-Ba' that the creation of an anthropoid that is a moving body, which is soulless, is — spiritually speaking — a meaningless activity; and in any case it is evidently inferior to the creation of the intellect of the mystic himself, by his reception of the intellectual influx as the result of the combination of the letters or the spiritual direction of his  masters. If nevertheless, the creation of the creature and the appearance of the image are posited at a higher level than the perception of the influx, which is a spiritual creation, it seems that we must understand the vision of the creature and image as basically a spiritual experience.
The anthropoid is then an intellectual or spiritual product, a kind of spiritual alter-ego of the Kabbalist. If so, then for the golem to be at the highest level, the person must be as well, at that moment. Idel says of Alemanno's view (p. 245f):
ALEMANNO AND ASTRAL MAGIC
A perfect Golem may, therefore, be created by a perfect man who is in a state of perfect mystical union, namely in a state of union with the  Divine Intellect. ... The paramount importance of the contact between the mystic and the divine intellect is reminiscent of a view of Abraham Abulafia discussed above, that the process of creating a creature is preceded by the reception of the influx of wisdom. In both cases, intellectual perfection is considered a prerequisite to the creative process.
Another element in Alemanno's amplification of Eleazar comes in a quote that he wrote in his notebook just after the one from Eleazar, allegedly from "Claudius Ptolemaeus" (p. 253f), along with an Arab commentator's remarks. These speak of how talismans bring down the efflux of the stars of which they are talismans. In a marginal comment, Alemanno writes,
...This is the secret of the world of the letters; 77 they are forms and seals [namely talismans] [made in order] to collect the supernal and spiritual emanation as the seals collect the emanations of the stars...
77. The phrase "world of the letters" is characteristic of Alemanno's thought, and it stands for a world lower than that of the sefirot and higher than that of the angels. See Moshe Idel, "The Epistle of Rabbi Yitzhaq of Pisa(?) in Its Three Versions," Qouetz Al Yad, n.s. 10 (1982), 177 n. 89 (Hebrew). It reflects the influence of R. Jacob ben Jacob  ha-Kohen, Abraham Abulafia, and Reuven Tzarfati. See also chap. 11 in this volume. This reification of language is part of the structure of thought that seeks to attribute magical powers to language, and is part of Alemanno's elevation of magic over mental contemplation.
In the footnote, "Rabbi Yitzhaq" is a son of the da Pisa of Lorenzo de' Medici's day, Idel tells us elsewhere in the book, and so probably one of his pupils. Reuven Tzarvati ("France" in Hebrew) is a another Kabbalist who wrote about golem-making.
What Alemanno is saying is that as in the case of talismans, pronouncing the letters brings down the energy of their associated astrological entity, which in turn comes from the letters or names themselves, as the super-celestial divine entities that existed before the creation of the universe. Idel comments (p. 254):
Alemanno proposes here a Jewish version of magic based upon the assumption that there is a world higher than the celestial spheres and angels, consisting of the forms of the creatures and conceived as the "world of the letters," or according to other parallels a "world of names," while here below it is possible to collect the emanation expanding from that reified linguistic world by using Hebrew letters or names that function as seals and talismans.
Idel in footnote 77 puts the "world of letters" below the sefirot. However I would think that the "world of names" would be precisely the world of the sefirot. Both sefirot and letters are dealt with in the Sefer Yetzirah. Alemanno seems to acknowledge this qualification later in the section, when discussing the body of the golem, which now, in this account of astral magic, does not seem to require any earth, but rather "the crystalization of the specific combination of the astral forces, upon which a form, apparently originating from the superastral world, descends". He continues (p 256f):
Thus the influx coming from both the supernal letters, astral forces and superastral ones — sefirotic, for  example — constitutes the anthropoid. Other passages in Alemanno make it clear that the superastral plane is the realm of the sefirot, which are conceived of as the forms of the letters, which function as their matter, exactly as in the passage above. 92 Alemanno's sequence, starting with mental operations and ending with mel'akhah, "operation," makes clear that mental engagement precedes the concrete result.
92. See Alemanno, untitled treatise, Ms. Paris, BN 849, fols. 77a, 124b.
That the contrast is of the astral realm, of the astrologer, to the seferotic realm, of the Kabbalist, also seems implied by the following:
"The astrologer studies the movements and governance of the stars. In the same way the Kabbalist knows what will happen to people in the future by reference to the influence and efflux of the sefirot. This is in accordance with the activities and movements of those who perform the commandments and divine service. This method is superior to that of the astrologer." 30
About which Idel comments:
Thus kabbalistic study of the Torah is no longer seen as leading to preoccupation with the hidden processes of divinity. The Kabbalist, Idel says, has become a "superastrologer" who utilizes his knowledge to foresee the future. A similar conception is found in Pico's Theses, where we read: "Just as true astrology teaches us to read the books of God, so too does the Kabbalah teach us to read the books of the law." 31
30. Alemanno, Collectanea, Ms. Oxford, Bodleiana 2234, fol. 2b. For the medieval Jewish sources that influenced Alemanno see Idel, Absorbing Perfections, pp. 482-492.
31. Pico, Opera Omnia, p. 113: "Sicut vera Astrologia docet nos legere in libro Dei, ita
Cabbala docet nos legere in libro legis."
This quote from Pico, 11>72, is thesis number 900 in his book, the last one. By "book of God" (in the singular), Farmer tells us (p. 552), Pico means nature, including the stars, to which the Torah (as read by the Kabbalist) is superior; in fact it is what allows for "true astrology".
By predicting the future, it is not clear whether that means general trends, in the way a prophet would address the people of Israel, or information about what specific humans will choose. The latter would seem to enfinge upon free will. I assume that the predictions are the same as in astrology, i.e. "propitious" days, choices, etc. Also it is not clear how the sefirot connect to the stars. Is it as said in the Sefer Yetzirah, or something else, of which the correlation of Binah to Saturn is a part (which has a different correspondence)? And how do ten become twenty-two? This last, I think, was probably by way of how the sefirot were configured, with lines connecting them. The Sefer Yetzirah has one group of 3, one group of 7, and one group of 12. That would become 3 horizontal lines, 7 diagonals, and 12 verticals, resulting in 22 pairs of numbers from 1 to 10. But the earliest verification of that schema is in Cordovero, Safed, second quarter of the 16th century.
ALEMANNO AND ALCHEMY
Alemanno also has a quasi-alchemical way of describing the process (pp. 255f), this time in his own voice, in his Desire of Solomon
(written when he was in Florence with Pico). (That Alemanno took alchemy quite seriously is evident from his study program, which recommends "the books on alchemy by the philosophers called Turban [sic] Philosophorum" (Idel 2011 p. 341).) Materials from the four elements, in proportions corresponding to male semen and female menstrual blood, are combined and subjected to heat, resulting in the creation of a man. In the case of the recitation of the letters, the letters are the materials combined in the proper proportions, and the result is also a living creature, an animal or a man depending on how the elements are combined (p. 255):
..So is the thing according to the prophet who knows the plain meaning of the spiritual forces [peshutei ha-kohot ha-ruhaniyyot], 85 which correspond to the level of the elements in relationship to the forms that dwell upon matters; [the prophet] called them letters, 86 as it is explained in Sefer Yetzirah, and he knew afterward how to permute them and combine them with each other, in such a manner that an animal form or a human one would emerge in actu. This is a wondrous wisdom, unsurpassed, from which all the mighty wonders come..
The specific animal mentioned, from a biblical passage, is a "three year old calf". However Alemanno also speaks of the golden calf, which he holds was created by Moses in order to bring down divine energy. In this case a metallic material holds the energy and forms. Idel then comments (p. 256):
The combinations of the letters as discussed in Sefer Yetzirah are presented here as the key to understanding three apparently diverse issues: the creation of the world by means of letters, the attainment of prophecy, and the creation of the form of an artificial calf or a man.
I do not understand what letter combinations Idel is referring to as the "key to understanding". Looking in the Short Version (Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah
, 261ff), all I find are the six combinations of YHV, associated with the six directions and with six of the sefirot (I'm not sure which). So are they those, or are they the 22 letters whose combinations make up the Torah? Probably the latter. In any case, Idel finds the same conception in Lazzarelli's Krater Hermetis
--expressed, however, in a Christian and Hermetic framework (pp. 257-260; since it is all available online, I am not going to repeat it here). Many parts of Lazzarelli's wording correspond uniquely to Eleazar of Worms' account, mostly in the way it appears in Alemanno's Collectaeana
. And more amazing still:
Lazzarelli presents the whole process as the new, spiritual birth of Ferdinand, the king of Aragon. This spiritualization of the understanding of the Golem creation seems to be influenced by Yohanan Alemanno's implicit interpretation of the recipe of R. Eleazar of Worms, using the magical astral magic on one hand, and of the spiritual understanding of the significance of the creation of the Golem as it appears in ecstatic Kabbalah.
This spiritualization of the golem, as the soul being created in the king (Ferdinand of Naples, with whom Lazzarelli dialogues throughout the Crater Hermetis
) corresponds to that of Abulafia's Hayyei ha-'OIam ha-Ba'
, in the passage from that work (discussed above) that Alemanno had copied into his notebook just before his quote from Eleazar. This close correspondence suggests that the ideas inducing Alemanno to write down the quotes in his notebook come from the period around 1470, when Alemanno and Lazzarelli were both in the same places, Padua and Venice.
GOLEMS AND THE TAROT
Now I want to turn to the tarot. How could this procedure be extended to incorporate tarot cards? Cards didn't exist when Eleazar wrote his treatise, obviously, so they weren't needed then. But how would they even help? They do not depict body parts in particular or, for the most part, astrological entities. They seem not only unnecessary but distracting, because the images on them are from a different belief-system.
I can only think of one possibility, but it is rather crazy. Could a deck of cards, 22 or 36 or 52 or 78 (to list the most popular) itself be a golem? There are two difficulties.
(1) Not even the Golden Dawn mumbles 23 manuscript pages letter-combinations, or even 221 three-letter ones, before beginning a reading. But perhaps it only needs to be done once, when breaking in a new deck, and then it has to perform upon command, like Prospero's Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest
. But I have never heard of anything remotely like that with tarot.
Perhaps that's too extreme. Maybe only a simple ceremony is required, not too hard to master, because it is the system, constructed by people who are on a sefirotic level, that makes the deck a golem, not the person.
With the I-Ching, that it works would might be be the system, one pervaded by symmetry and wisdom. But some people say that the hexagrams have to be chosen in the historically correct way. That would be the golem-making ceremony, not as complex as Eleazar's but at least something. When a lot-book has you go through an involved procedure to arrive at a particular number corresponding to a certain verse, that is a kind of golem-making procedure, too. A lot book may not be as spiritual as Alemanno would like, but golems had other uses, and a spiritual message can be infused even there.
Before the cards are turned up in a reading, there is a set ritual to be performed, some of it by the reader and some of it by the consultant. That might count as a golem-making ritual.
And like the I Ching, the tarot sequence might be pre-wired for wisdom in an orderly way. I see it as repeating a pattern that is found in many Western works of art, one version of the "hero's journey". Huck finds a kind of magic, or something, in its numerical configuration, something I don't quite understand. The Kabbalists, too, saw magic in numbers, counting the number of letters in a word or words in a verse and then looking for equivalences elsewhere in scripture. it was called gematria
(2) Assuming you've made the deck into a golem, there is still the problem of its "speech". The deck just sits there quite passively. Even if you construe the cards in the reading as its "words", it isn't the one "saying" them, it's the consultant who picks them out, blindly. One would have to say that somehow the deck, or something (e.g. a demon) puts a spell on the consultant so that he or she will pick the proper cards.
Then there is the problem of interpreting these "words". How does the reader know what they say? If you suppose some magical communion between the deck and the spread-reader, then why bother with the cards at all? The reader could just as well put his or her hands on the deck and let the cards speak through him or her without any "spread".
But perhaps that is too difficult; even Eleazar's golem speaks in Hebrew. The words of the deck-golem are the cards of the spread, perhaps arranged in some sort of syntax. But what is its language? From the perspective of the golem texts, it would seem to be the Sefer Yetzirah that gives the meanings, astrologically and anatomically (body parts). These are what the letters are connected to, and above them the sefirot. If the golem is on the same level of wisdom as his Kabbalist creator, then these will be known by both. It doesn't really matter what is on is on the cards, as long as there is some systematic way of correlating a card with a Hebrew letter. Since the trumps are arranged in a numerical sequence, even the Fool if it is zero, there is no problem. It is an easy code, known by all. The only question is whether alpha is low or high, and maybe where the Fool goes. The pictures merely serve as identifiers, if there are no numbers on the cards; they play no other role in the golem's speech. They certainly do play a role in the use of tarot cards, because, after all, the cards were created some time before to play a trick-taking game. But if they are in a sequence of 22, they also can be used as material for a golem.
Most people, of course, are not Kabbalist rabbis of the late 15th century. So there is the problem of adapting the system to non-Kabbalists. The Renaissance was nothing if not eclectic, as we are today. For people not steeped in Kabbalah, there would be the picture on the card and its place in the sequence. To understand the golem's speech, however, one would have to know the meanings of his words, i.e. the cards. This is familiar quadmire of "discovering the meanings of the cards".
Perhaps our golem speaks whatever language we do: if we are Crowlians, it speaks Crowley; if we're Catholics, it's holier than the Pope, and so on. There are different ways of connecting to the realm of prophecy; Hebrew and Kabbalah are just one.
On the other hand, perhaps it has its own language, or code. If not that of the Sefer Yetzirah, or if the reader doesn't know the Kabbalah sufficiently, without the patience to do all the right invocations first, how is one to discover it?
In our everyday world, if we don't speak someone's language or code, we make guesses based on what we can recognize from our own experience: the tone, the gestures, the context, similar words in our language, etc. and then hope the person will somehow let us know if we are right. In this process, gestures are the most important. Italians would know all about that; before the late 19th century, every part of Italy had a different dialect, so different that they could not understand each other very well.So they used gestures; Italy is famous for its gestures. Even today Italians "talk with their hands" more than other nations; they create pictures of what they are saying. We would do that in giving someone directions. If I'm in a museum near closing time, and a buzzer sounds, along with something incomprehensible in a foreign language, and I look bewildered while the guard glares at me, if he points straight ahead, and then to the left, I might be able figure out that he meant that to exit I should go straight and then left (I speak from experience here). Then if I actually got out with no further assistance, the guard would know I understood and might even look pleased with me. Is that how it works? But how does the deck make gestures and let us know we understood? Well, the pictures on the cards are something like gestures, and their context of use (mine and in the past) is something like my situation of being in a museum confronted by a guard. I need to know something important for my future actions in each case. (Here I assume that the deck wants to be helpful in its divinations.) If my understanding of the deck's message is in fact helpful to the consultant as a rule, given a particular question and the particular consultant, then maybe I've understood.
It may well be that one or more of these alternatives--cards as letters of the Sefer Yetzirah, or cards as pictures in a sequence, are in fact why people bother with cartomancy. If so, the deck might indeed be thought of as a kind of golem.
There are other Jewish magical alternatives. I do not find them in Idel or in Alemanno, at least not in Idel's presentation of him, but I do in Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition
. For one, there were Jewish lot-books. He says that they, like the Christian ones, were of Arabian origin, and are recorded mainly in Southern Europe and the Orient. Probably they were in Northern Europe, too. He adds (p. 217):
These works comprised sets of rules for finding answers to specified questions by means of the twelve signs of the Ziodiac, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, the names of the twelve tribes, animals, birds, cosmic phenomena, etc. 18
(I am not giving the footnote here because the many references apply to a long paragraph of practices, many of which do not apply to the sentence here.) Using such lot-books involved rolling dice, flipping coins, or other means of releasing the human will from determining the outcome. But why should one expect these to work?
Trachtenberg explains that God was thought to communicate warnings and encouragements by means of events in the physical universe (p. 209). He sends us dark skies to warn us of rain to come, for example. So also he gives us comets to warn of disasters, and conjunctions of favorable planets to tell us things look good; these last can be predicted ahead of time. It is a matter of knowing how to read the signs, from present signs to future events. And just as man has dogs that bark when strangers approach but not friends, God has angels who give us signs; it is only a matter of knowing how to read them. In the case of lot books, we have a procedure for enabling angels to give us particular signs for particular questions. Once we know what questions to ask and how to read the signs, we give the angels an opportunity to help us. They can use the letter code of the Sefer Yetzirah or they can use the pictures on the cards.
A problem is that there are demons as well as angels, beings who give us signs that are not to our benefit. Even if they do predict the future accurately, they are leading one down the wrong path. Here is where Eleazar of Worms comes in again. The context is a different kind of divination, in which children are asked to stare in a bowl of water or oil, or some sort of reflective surface, and say what they see (Trachtenberg p. 220)' this was done by Jews and gentiles alike. Some boys see nothing, but others see what looks to them like persons; they are considered to be people's "deputy angels", who can be compelled to look just like them; the Jewish writers called them "princes". They can be made to re-enact what the person has done; so if the child sees the "prince" stealing something, that means the corresponding person is a thief. They can also be made to say where the goods are hidden. Many rabbis cautioned that these figures were demons and not to be trusted; but not Eleazar (p. 222):
...Eleazar of Worms, however, insisted that they were angels, the memunim of celestial deputies, who could be compelled to appear in the shape of their earthly doubles by the proper invocations. The memuneh of a thief, summoned to show himself in a polished surface, thus gave away the identity of the malefactor, and re-enacted his acions at the time of the robbery. But R. Eleazar was not prepared to admit that the child actually beholds these "princes" in physical form, which was the view of one school of "philosophers." Other philosophers hold, he wrote, that these visions are hallucinations, with which demons and angels have the power to delude men. Still a third group maintains that the angels penetrate the minds of men and so shape their thoughts as to create a true picture, which, although it is not perceived through the senses, possesses nevertheless subjective reality. This last corresponds to his own view of the matter. 28.
28. See references at the end of note 25. [for this part, Eleazar of Worms, Hochmat HaNefesh, 16d, 18a, 20c, 28d, 29a.]
It is in this fashion that the angels help the tarot-reader, not directly by forming the pictures in his or her mind, but by means of the cards that they induce the consultant to pick.
There might be a modern equivalent of golems, angels, and demons, namely, the so-called unconscious mind. Our unconscious mind processes a vast amount of material taken in by the senses that does not come to conscious awareness. At night when we are asleep the brain processes even more, and we are even less aware. Some of it comes up as dreams, according to some psychologists. Since the unconscious takes in more material than our conscious mind, which is necessarily focused on particular ways of getting things done, the unconscious can sometimes suggest valuable perspectives that consciousness does not. For example, people go to bed with an unsolved mathematical problem and wake up with the answer, sometimes even given in a dream. So instead of an angel, we have the unconscious, who can speak to us in dreams, but now, after the invention of the tarot sequence, also in card-images.
Medieval Jewish dream-interpretation was a much refined art. Long handbooks were compiled, of which he says the most famous one was by Solomon b. Jacob Almoli, Salonica c. 1515, summing up the previous centuries. Of it he says(p. 238):
His book became very popular and in 1694 was translated into Yiddish, in which form it still has a wide circulation among the Jewish masses.
This is one of those places when you really remember when Trachtenberg was writing, just before 1939. With the book, people could interpret the angels' messages about their future. Trachtenberg says that even though it came from Salonica, the Northern European writings covering dream interpretation, like Eleazar's Hochmat HaNefesh
, were similar (p. 238). Some of what Trachtenberg summarizes seems quite arbitrary; some of it seems to come from outside influences, pagan or Christian; some of it reflects prejudice (e.g. against women and animals); and some of it is psychologically astute. Dream symbolism was considered as a kind of ad hoc sign language, as people might use who spoke different languages (p. 235f). It was important to distinguish significant from insignificant dreams and details within dreams, and not to apply the interpretations mechanically, but to fit them to the person's situation and character. If one had an ominous dream, one way to neutralize its prediction was to act it out in real life (further refined, this is a common anxiety-reduction technique today); e.g. if one dreamed of carrying a bird at one's bosom and then having it escape and fly away, then to keep one's child from dying (the interpretation) one had to carry a bird and let it escape out the window (p. 244f). Fasting and then thinking positively about the dream was also recommended, as was reciting bible verses suggested by the dream-images (pp. 244-248). In a way, these dream manuals are a predecessor to modern dream analysis books, especially of the Jungian variety.
There is a problem, however. The unconscious presumably constructs the dream images from the perspective of the totality of the person's experiences, compensating for the poverty of the person's necessarily focused perspective when awake. However the card-images are chosen without the person seeing the fronts of the cards. How could the unconscious know what cards to select in order to express the perspective it wants? For the unconscious to process something, the person at least has to have taken in the information. But from the backs of cards it can get nothing.
I can think of two types of answer. One is to say that there is a kind of charge on the card uniquely communicating the picture and its message even when the person can only see the back, and that charge draws the person unconsciously to the right card. It has this charge because of the standardized imagery in it, from a long history of collective use. We can't measure that charge, to be sure, but it's there all the same.
The second approach is to say that the unconscious works acausally through what Jung calls "synchronicity". Nothing causes it to pick a particular card. It works on a different level, beyond the experiential categories of time, space, and causality. That is the Jungian equivalent of a level beyond the stars, in the realm of the sefirot. In a recent article (unfortunately still only in Italian) Andrea Vitale has developed in his way both these ideas, in relation to his own experience and the psychological literature (http://www.letarot.it/page.aspx?id=467
). There is also a nice set of Conclusiones
in Pico's 900 Theses
, the section on magic (Farmer p. 501):
9>16. That nature that is the horizon of eternal time is next to the magus, but below him.
9>17. Magic is proper to the nature of that which is the horizon of time and eternity, from whence it should be sought through the modes known to the wise.
9>18. The nature of that which is the horizon of temporal eternity is next to the magus, but above him, and proper to it is the Cabala.
That is a properly enigmatic trio of sentences.
However the right cards are chosen, there remains the problem of how to interpret the cards thus chosen. Is it only their conventional meaning? In the dream interpretation manuals, the images' interpretation was usually different, in greater or lesser degree (the more important the dream, the more different) from that of the image (p. 239) :
wheat signifies peace...barley, atonement for sins; laden vines, his wife will not miscarry; white grapes are a good omen; black grapes in season are good, but out of season they indicate he will soon be praying for mercy; ...a white horse is a good omen; a red horse is bad, he will be hounded and pursued; a donkey, he may be confident of salvation; ...if he dreams he has lost his property, an inheritance will soon come his way; if he is on a roof, he will achieve greatness; if he is descending, he will be humbled", etc.
Eleazar of Worms is similar. Here are a few: "if a man dreams he has a pain in one eye, his brother will fall ill"; "if he sees a king, or a wedding celebration, or any celebration, he will soon be a mourner; dividing meat means a quarrel; fire in an oven signifies evil events; snow in summer a fire" and so on. As with Freud and Jung, the manifest and latent meanings were often (in important dreams) different. But it depended on the dream. Some dreams merely depicted conscious concerns of the dreamer of the day before and so were as straightforward as they were insignificant It took an expert to know how to draw the proper distinctions, and good interpreters were paid accordingly.
In the Renaissance, paintings achieved their dream-like effect by being enigmatic; yet in most cases plausible solutions to the enigmas have been found. The tarot sequence has been said both to be an enigma and a hodge-podge. A Kabbalist would have opted for enigma. If Kabbalists could interpret dreams, they might be qualified to interpret tarot images, too. But how would that have been possible, given all the Christian symbolism on the cards? There are some 15th century clues I intend to explore in another post.