I was reading Ross's excellent blog post about Death and the number 13:
And the thought occurred to me, which trump was associated with Judas in the 15th century? The Hanged Man.Two particularly important discussions of the earliest evidence for the superstition are Hopper’s “Medieval Number Symbolism” (pp. 130ff.) and Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition (pp. 42-43). Lachenmeyer, writing in 2004, seems unaware of Hopper as a source, but like Hopper 80 years earlier, concludes that the superstition had its origins in the belief that Judas or Jesus was the 13th at the table in the Last Supper.
Which trump was number 13 before everyone started putting Death in that position? The Hanged Man.
What I think this means: the Hanged Man was added precisely in order to occupy that 13th slot.
It is otherwise hard to explain its presence in the sequence. It's not a traditional and ubiquitous allegorical figure, like Love, Death, Fortune, etc.; it's not a religious motif like the Last Judgment or the Devil; and it's not part of the "ranks of man" either. Yet it has a fairly prominent position, in the upper section of the trump sequence. Sure, you can come up with various explanations for why that makes sense allegorically, but none of them ever sound hugely convincing as a reason for adding it in the first place—they always sound like rationalizations "after the fact." They are certainly not as convincing as the idea that it was added because people felt a strong need to have something appropriately negative in that 13th position. We know from their later efforts to make Death the 13th trump that a lot of people definitely felt such a need.
In other words, it is difficult to come up with a convincing theory for why the Traitor would have been a natural inclusion in the allegorical sequence, but it is very easy to imagine that someone might have had the idea of filling the problematic 13th position with a card representing treachery, inspired by the association of Judas with that number.
And of course, Judas would have inspired not only the general subject, but also its specific depiction, as a Hanged Man. Not, however, hanged exactly in the way that Judas hanged himself, but hanged in the manner of the customary punishment for traitors, because a general allegory of Treachery fitted better in the allegorical sequence than a narrow depiction of that specific traitor. The designers of the sequence no doubt expected people to make the connection to Judas anyway, and as we know, people at that time generally did.
This has interesting further implications about the early trump sequence (this is where I start veering off toward my larger theory, but I'll do my best to restrain myself). First, if they needed to add the "Traitor" to occupy that slot, that almost certainly means that the Death card could not have been in the immediate vicinity of it at that time. The efforts people made later in seemingly every part of Italy to put Death in that position instead of the Traitor show us that people not only viewed Death as an appropriate occupant of the slot, but viewed it as a more appropriate occupant than the Traitor. So if the designers of the early sequence had felt able to move Death into that position, they surely would have. So where was Death at that time? Maybe it wasn't in the deck at all. But it is a very basic motif, and there is another explanation that comes more easily to mind: Death was where we would expect it to be if the early tarot sequence faithfully followed the Petrarchan Trionfi cycle, namely not only below Time but probably also below a distinct Fame card, which was probably in the deck at that time but which was removed at some later stage. Death would have followed closely after the Chariot, which, as we know, originally represented Petrarch's Triumph of Pudicitia. It is thus easy to see how the designers would not have thought it possible to promote Death to the 13th position if the trump sequence at that time was very much centered on the Petrarchan Trionfi cycle. The addition of the Traitor to the sequence thus becomes a strong argument in favor of the existence of an early stage in the deck's development where the trump sequence was much closer to the Petrarchan Trionfi, and provides further support for the theory that the earliest version of the tarot deck—or trionfi deck, to use the more accurate name for the period in question—was based directly on Petrarch's poem cycle.
This line of thinking also suggests that the Devil may not have been in the deck at this time either, or at least not anywhere near its standard position. If neither Death nor the Traitor were initially in the 13th position, then it would seem that the Devil would have been, or it would have been so close that it might have been easily placed there, and it seems likely that people would have felt less of a need to add a new figure to the sequence if such a negative figure was already in the 13th slot. So perhaps the Devil was not yet there. If it wasn't, then the Tower probably wasn't either, as the Tower seems to have been closely linked to the Devil; it certainly seems to represent God raining down destruction on something evil, and that hardly seems appropriate if the previous card in the sequence was Time. So the next card after Time was presumably the Last Judgment, and it's not hard to see why people would have felt that to be inappropriate for number 13. Or, if you adhere to the view that the original sequence had World below Last Judgment, then it would have been the World, and that trump also seems to have had strongly positive connotations, and so would also have been inappropriate. Personally, I think it's much more likely that the Last Judgment was in this position, not only because I adhere to the view that the World represented the "new world" of eternal life in heaven after the Last Judgment, as named and described in Petrarch's Triumph of Eternity poem, but also because the sequence works much better if the Traitor is followed immediately by Judgment.
Okay, I can't resist adding this last point: Another reason why I think the Last Judgment would have been there is because I think it was an integral part of the original Petrarchan Trionfi sequence. The way I see it, the Triumph of Eternity was represented in the deck by not one but two cards: Last Judgment followed by World. They are both there in the original poem, and 15th century illustrations of the poem sometimes depicted both of them, in that order: Last Judgment first, followed by the "new world" of the life everlasting.
An interesting implication of that, in turn, is that the first proto-tarot sequence would most likely have included seven cards representing the Petrarchan Triumphs. That creates a nice symmetry with the seven virtues. And the two together create a total number of 14.
Okay, I'm definitely going to stop there. But I could go a lot further, as I'm sure you can imagine...