Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

robert wrote: Thank you Ross. What about the "negative evidence"? What documents exist that do talk of divination from the period, and is tarot mentioned?
That's a tall order! There are lots of them, in fact all of them until the late 18th century. Councils, Churchmen and other legislators and moralists made many such lists starting from, I believe, the Council of Agde in 506.

I guess the most commonly cited negative source is Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, bk. I, chaps. 53 and 57. Chapter 57 is representative of the classic way of discussing divination, under four aspects matching the four elements.

Less schematic is someone like Pierre Delancre, who around 1600 lists scores of methods of divination, IIRC alphabetically.

Even mentions of "naipes" are rare, as a form of sortilege - it is only in the last few years that we have found them, the earliest of which is Martin Azpilcueta in 1552. Mary Greer has collected most of the known references to divination with cards at her blog, with nice pictures and full citations - ... ing-cards/

The point is that a reasonable person can believe that simple methods of fortune-telling, like "pulling cards", was used from the beginning. Evidence like Fernando de la Torre corroborates it - as long as we remember that the cards had meaningful writing on them - the meaning didn't derive from the images. De la Torre's method doesn't count as "pure cartomancy", which isn't attested until the early 17th century, in Spain, and there it still doesn't seem like there was a one-for-one correspondence with keywords for all the cards. Suits were bad or good, and the court cards represented people.

Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

I'd say there are significant reservations about


Is there some way to indicate that? So this process doesn't become, um, groupthink-ish?

robert wrote:
  1. Tarot was played as a game in the 15th century.
  2. Tarot was invented to play a game.
  3. The trump series originally had a coherent meaning.
  4. There are three families of orders for the trump series.
  5. Every one of the original orders has a coherent symbolic meaning.
  6. Not every tarot trump series has a coherent meaning.
  7. Tarot was created by adding a new set of cards (the Trumps) to a previously existing type of playing cards deck, made of pips and figures divided in four different suits.
  8. The game of Tarot was invented in the 1400s
  9. There is no esoteric, alchemical, kabbalistic, numerological, geomantic, astrological, heretical or magical narrative intended in the original set of trumps.
  10. A "standard Tarot Deck" includes 1 Fool, 21 Trumps, 16 Court cards, and 40 Pips equalling 78 cards in total.
  11. The trumps and the pips don’t share a common historical origin.
  12. The narrative of the early tarot is informed by orthodox religious motifs of the Roman Catholic church.
  13. The imagery and sequence of the trumps were influenced by Trionfi traditions.

Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

OnePotato wrote:I'm OK with #1. Tarot was played as a game in the 15th century.
Unless it's meant to be all-exclusive?
If you want to say they were used for something else in the 15th century, just say what that was. Of course you will be asked for evidence.
Anyway, at #2 I diverge from the group.

I disagree with #2 Tarot was invented to play a game.
Of course there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support this,
Not just plenty, but ALL. There is no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that it was invented for any other purpose than the one it was exclusively used for for most of its existence.
but there is still plenty of room for me to doubt the absoluteness of this statement.
Moakley states in footnote 9, chapter 4, "No one seems to have noticed that playing cards originated at a time when pictures in general were becoming portable...... ....As soon as you have a set of little pictures you can hold in your hand, especially if they belong to a series, a game is almost inevitable....." (While she could just as easily have said that the possibility of little pictures will inevitably lead to the creation of a set INTENDED as a game, I believe she meant that a set of little images that has been made for one "purpose" can have a set of rules added in order to play with them as a game. She goes on to mention children playing games with bubblegum cards.)
It is entirely possible that the cards were produced as a set of images, (among many sets of images at the time,) and put to use for several different purposes, gaming being among them. If gaming was the most popular use, it is not unreasonable to presume that other uses would fall away, and become quickly forgotten.
Moakley was a very original thinker and speculated fairly freely in her book. But she didn't have the vast amount of research that has gone on for the last 40 years.

All of the surviving Tarot cards are... playing cards. That is a hint to their use. All of the documentary references are to the game of triumphs. In 1448 Jacopo Antonio Marcello recommended triumphs as a good game. In 1450 Florence allowed the game. In 1456 Ugo Trotti recommended the game of triumphs. In 1460 Marcello's young son played the game with his father's friends. In 1468 Galeazzo Maria Sforza commissioned Bonifacio Bembo to paint a fresco of his wife and her ladies playing triumphs.


What on earth makes you think they aren't what they appear to be? And that, therefore, they weren't also invented to be that thing?
I point to the Mantegna series.
The fact that it is not a tarot is more interesting than if it WAS one.
The fact that we do not absolutely know it's original intention is also interesting.
We seem to be ok presuming that IT was not "invented as a game".
It appears to have been a model-book. It never appears as a deck of cards. Already in the 19th century this was noted (Galichon).

The history of the place of the E-Series in the historiography and mythology of Tarot is very interesting and instructive in itself.
The lack of numbers on early cards is contrary to ascribing any ABSOLUTE basis in game play HIERARCHY. What designer would leave off a numbering system, if that was the root purpose of the individual cards? Why allow for both the variation in the ordering of decks, AND the total reliance on the image content as a means to play the game? It supposes that the people using the cards were so completely familiar with the meanings, that they could instantly recognize which image was "higher" in value, without disagreement, and without the need for a simple number to confirm it. Why rely on that if you don't have to? Numbering would have eliminated that issue from the start, and if nothing else, added convenience to play. The fact that several variations in order DID occur begs the question of whether the hierarchy of the images was the ONLY original concept/intention, and suggests to me that it was not.
The Bolognese players played without any numbers or titles on their cards for centuries, right up until the end of the 18th century. There are still no titles on any of the cards (including the court cards), and only 12 of the trumps bear numbers. These people were very used to interpreting the order of an unnumbered series of pictures.

What it suggests to me is not that play wasn't their purpose, but that they considered numbers inelegant.
In other words, perhaps the ambiguity (of not numbering) the set of elements was intentional, and necessary in order to allow variable functions. To allow one to employ those elements in varying orders, combinations, or disorders.
Numbers wouldn't disallow the same thing. Cards are shuffled and dealt randomly - the presence of numbers or not doesn't indicate a particular use. But the unanimous testimony of the evidence proves their use as a card game, numbered or not.
Suppose the variable ordering of the images could serve some other function(s)?
Suppose different ways of organizing your cards could serve a purpose?
What other function? A mental game, a Llullian question-machine? Sure, it's not impossible - but why insist on such a scenario when there is no evidence for it, and when there is no compelling reason to even think it?

Creating definitions like those in the building blocks summarizes the evidence - it doesn't stop the possibility of new evidence coming to light, and changing our minds accordingly.

Suggesting "could have beens" and "maybes" is just an exercise in imagination, not a reflection on the facts. If you want to imagine various scenarios of use of Triumph cards that have no basis in fact, nobody is stopping you. But do you think it is responsible to try to make a definition out of a fantasy?

You could say, as a building block, "Tarot cards could have been used for other things besides trick-taking games in the 15th century". That's about the furthest such a block could go. I fear it would give a misleading impression that there is evidence for these unnamed "other things", however.
The tack holes on the Visconte Sforza cards suggest an obvious decorative use, presumably after one no longer used them for play.
What if there is another functional explanation that complies with some variable aspect of the original intent?
What if it is apart from game play?
Since so many copies of the Visconti Sforza cards were made, some scholars (most recently Dummett) suggest that the cards were pinned as models for painters. Decoration, in a cabinet, is also plausible.

Appreciating the art of finely painted cards is certainly not card play, but that is a secondary, not primary use of the cards. The very fact of them being playing cards, and the records of people using them as such, is overwhelming evidence of their original intent.

Remember - we are not talking about filthy gambling dens and degenerate gamblers here - elegant people played with elegant cards in an elegant setting. The trumps show ideas and morals appropriate to an elevated and deeply philosophical setting, which at the same time loved to play cards (lots of different games - Triumphs was plausibly made to respond to the "low" nature of most card games, which would also be suitable to play in mixed company (men and women together). The setting and the cards no doubt caused interesting and witty conversation as well).
As to #3 The trump series originally had a coherent meaning...
I think this is misleading.
I see no evidence to exclude the possibility of its having a number of coherent meanings, as did so many works of art of the time. Even within the context of an overall work. (THIS IS NOT LICENSE TO ASCRIBE "RANDOM" MEANINGS TO IMAGES.)
If the trump series was invented in toto at a single place and time, for the purpose of play (and there is no reason to think otherwise), the inventor must have ascribed a coherent meaning to the images and the series they were intended to be in. Since the same set of cards were moved around slightly in three broad families of orders, it is evident that the people who changed the order didn't just add new or different cards, but also saw a coherent meaning in the same set of images, but wanted to change the meaning slightly.

However, these three families tell the same basic story (which again suggests an original coherent meaning), which I have dubbed the "synoptic" meaning - life, fortune, virtue, death, eschatology, resurrection - the differences are in emphases, not overall meaning.
I think it is no accident that tarot is presented as a series of pictures, rather than as words.
I think that "meaning" does NOT have to be a linear hierarchy.
I think this may be a modern bias that obscures other possibilities.
It is the evidence for its being primarily a game that obscures other possibilities, not modern bias. A game requires a linear hierarchy, whatever the pictures "say". There are no other possibilities - or I should say "plausibilities" - other than imaginative excursions - which you are free to do of course. But can you make a really convincing case, one that doesn't rest simply on the desire NOT to be constrained by the evidence?

It is actually modern bias - the longstanding esoteric and mystical approach to Tarot - that obscures the clear message of the evidence. Accept the evidence, work within the evidence, and grow out from there. There is still a lot to be learned.
4. There are three families of orders for the trump series.
Sure, but I'd suggest wording it as "Under the theory of hierarchical sequence, there are three known families of orders for the trump series."
Hierarchical sequence is a fact, not a theory. The three families are precisely such because they are distinguished by their hierarchical sequence. The subjects are otherwise identical. There would be no way to tell them apart if they weren't ordered differently.

That the originial invention of the trumps was in a hierarchical sequence is indeed a theory, because we don't have the inventor's notes to confirm or deny it, but it is a good theory - I'd say the only sufficient and fully explanatory theory. If you can explain how a disordered series kind of "coalesced" into three very similar orders over a very large area in a very short time, without a presumption of non-numbered original trumps which nevertheless had a hierarchy (that could be jiggled since it was not explicit - i.e. written on the cards), I'm willing to listen.
5. Every one of the original orders has a coherent symbolic meaning.
Which orders are "original"?
You seem to have misunderstood what the "three families" (Dummett's A, B, C, Little's Southern, Eastern, Western, associated respectively with Bologna-Florence, Ferrara, and Milan-France) are. Those are the original orders - it cannot be determined further which was THE original - and there is no consensus on the question. These kinds of discussion don't get talked about by very many people.

The fact that the same elements (figures, images) were used, but with a few cards changed, suggests that those who made the particular order saw meaning in the sequence as they presented it. The orders also share a division into three groups, with some cards never varying in any sequence, while others get moved around within the division. All of this resoundingly cries "meaning!", "intent!".
How do we determine what the order WAS at the time, if the cards are not numbered?
What time? If you mean the invented order, that is up for debate, but chances are it will be one of the three standard orders.

That certain cards aren't numbered, in particular the Visconti, makes most people presume that they followed the C or Milanese order.

Which order would you put the unnumbered Bolognese cards in? The Bolognese order, naturally. And you'd be right.
Is Moakley's ordering, based upon her reading of the historical evidence, one of these "originals"?
I believe she followed the order of the Steele Sermon, which is B or Ferrarese. Yes, it is one of the original orders.
9. There is no esoteric, alchemical, kabbalistic, numerological, geomantic, astrological, heretical, magical, or any other message than what an averagely educated 15th century Italian would recognize, in the narrative of the trumps.
This presumes a lot. Is this considered sound historical study?
The building blocks are summary statements, which are supposed to reflect consensus opinion. They are not the historical study in themselves. They do presume a lot - that you know the research that has gone into making this statement.

In this case, over 300 years of historical study of the Tarot has returned negative on any of those subjects. In particular, in the last 40-50 years, starting with Moakley, there have been many more people who have tried to find evidence or make arguments based on the premise of such subjects as explaining the trumps. No evidence has ever turned up, and nobody has made a convincing case otherwise of there being esoteric, alchemical, etc. content in the earliest tarots, nor in any until Etteilla, who deliberately put it there.

All this time and all of these people are a strong negative argument. Which particular subject do you think should be excluded? We already had the discussion about the astrological question, but these things can be revisited endlessly, because of the overwhelming bias of tarotists who insist there must be some or all of these doctrines in Tarot.

It may look like there is some kind of orthodoxy here, but in reality there is nobody handing out diplomas based on adherence to a school of thought. The reason that these consensus opinions can be stated so boldly is because all unbiased researchers, looking at the same evidence over decades, and contributing with discoveries and new insights at the same time, reach the same conclusions about these basic facts. The evidence is that overwhelming and clear. There is no conspiracy, no orthodoxy, no stifling of dissenting opinions.


Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

* Ross:
I think OnePotato is honestly speaking loudly what sounds in his mind,and I share with him his questions.
He never pointed it black or white.He never said things weren t as Moakley or Dummett mentioned.
He slightly suggested another points of view.

- So,and this is mine,if earliest cards were not numbered and named,when was that happened regarding Tarot de Marseille and why ?

- Was a simple matter of the french players ignorance of the order of the sequence?
The order that italians players known well ?

- Thus,who,when,where it was decided ?
The Universe is like a Mamushka.

Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

EUGIM wrote:* Even Mr. Dummett in " A wicked pack of cards " said :

- " Hidden meanings could have have been concealed within the Tarot trumps,even if those meanings were quiet irrelevant to any uses made of the cards in early times. "
That seems so unlike him! What page is it?
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

* Hello Robert...

- At page 29. ( Chapter : " Game or Magic ? " )

. Also I ask here : Which evidences we have that also the trumps were used to card game play ?

-Which evidences we have that pips cards were used to that same purpose ?

Oh ! my sweet Lord !

-How I regret can t have Dummett his 2 capital books !!!!

- Ah !- If we have the library here ...
The Universe is like a Mamushka.

Re: The building blocks of Tarot History

EUGIM wrote:* Hello Robert...

- At page 29. ( Chapter : " Game or Magic ? " )

. Also I ask here : Which evidences we have that also the trumps were used to card game play ?

-Which evidences we have that pips cards were used to that same purpose ?

Oh ! my sweet Lord !

-How I regret can t have Dummett his 2 capital books !!!!

- Ah !- If we have the library here ...
See Ross' excellent post here for a great list of evidences: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=258
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

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