Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#1
This is a candidate “tarot history building block” that I think deserves some preliminary discussion.

My opinion is that original Tarot was a religious game, based on the Roman Catholic faith. According to the Webster on-line dictionary, “religious” means “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”. The theme of the Trump sequence is a religious one.

If I had to briefly describe the theme of the Trump sequence, I would say “the destiny of the human soul according to the Roman Catholic religion”.

I will try to explain the reasons for this opinion.

The sequence describes three different aspects of human life (a simplified and likely corrupted version of the explanation provided by Michael J. Hurst):
1. The social hierarchy, at the top of which there is the Pope as leader of the Churh (this kind of social structure is typical of Catholicism). I think this two cards justify stating that Tarot explicitly is Roman Catholic, not simply Christian. The Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches separated in the XI century. One of the main differences between the two Churches is that the Orthodox Church does not recognize the power of a single person (there is no equivalent to the Roman Pope).
2. Principles governing human life in this world; at the end of this sequence, we find personified Death. Death is not the end of human life, but a transition from its “lower” part to its “higher” part. This is a concept that is common to many religions. The way in which Death is represented (holding a bow or a scythe) is derived from the Book of Revelation.
3. The higher world that the human soul will access after Death. In this realm we find the Devil as an entity whose function is to punish the souls of the wicked: this entity is typical of the Christian religion (not only Catholicism). The simplified astronomical structure (Moon, Star, Sun) is here because the Christian God resides in Heaven (the sky) which is also the place were the souls of the good go after Death. Judgement, as the Devil, is another Christian element: it is directly derived from the Book of Revelation.

I think that the concept of Judgement is also compatible with the Islamic religion. I am not sure if this holds for the Devil also. Anyway, Islam or Judaism would not approve the representation of God as a human being, as we see on the Bembo Judgement card. Still I do not think that the point is proving that Tarot is not derived from Judaism or Islam or Eastern Orthodoxy. If we agree that Tarot is religious and that it was created in Western Europe in the XV century, we must also agree that Tarot is derived from the Roman Catholic religion (which was the only religion powerful enough to express itself in that time and place).

Other games that were developed in the XV century do not have such religious content, even if they do have moral content (and of course all such games do not contradict the Roman Catholic religion. i.e. they are not “heretic”). For instance:
* Michelino
* Juego de Naypes by Fernando de la Torre (recently discovered by Ross)
* Sola Busca Tarot variant (here we have some religious references, but religious ideas are not so central to the Trump sequence, which is based on the history of the Roman Empire)
* Boiardo Tarot variant

So it is not necessary that a XV century game is extensively based on the Roman Catholic religion. But I think this is the case for the original trump sequence.

Marco

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#2
I'm increasingly convinced of this too Marco.

I recently jokingly said, "Scratch the pagan veneer and there is catechism", rather than the other way around which is more typically suggested.

Of course, I'm still struggling with what "being Catholic" was like in the 15th century anyway. I imagine that it was only really considered a distinction compared to other religions, but for the day to day world, it must have been deeply integrated into daily life. The world of folk customs and the religious calendar certainly must have played a huge part.

I would think that one question that we must struggle with is sorting out the level of "sophistication" of the "inventor" of tarot, and that would depend on whether we lean toward the courts or the common people for the creation of the deck.

Is it fair to suggest that the more "typical" of common ideology, the more possible it is that the game could have been created outside of the court system? Does it take a highly educated court personality to create the structure seen in the tarot? Or could a common printer or other general lay person have done so? Or even a monk or nun!? This of course brings up another question for the building blocks thread, did tarot really originate in the courts? Perhaps a new thread for that if there is interest.

When reading about the Reformation in England in the 1530s, I was really struck by how the "stripping of the altars" tore at the daily lives of the people. Their whole world was based on the teachings of the church, what and when to eat, when to drink, when to fast, who to marry, social rank and responsibilities, god's will, who to pray to, on what days... their entire model of the universe. And the idea that you could "choose" a religion, or even not have one, at least for most people, was simply unimaginable.

So now, after all of the explorations, and theories, and hunts... I'm coming back to seeing the cards as based very much in the world of a 15th century Italian, and the cards as reflecting that religious world that saturated everything. I'd support this suggestion for the list.
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#3
Hi Marco,

I really can't disagree with anything in your analysis, or at least I can agree on the plausibility of everything, but I wonder about the necessity of characterizing it as "Roman Catholic Religion."

Would you be satisfied if Petrarch's Trionfi was described as "The progress of the soul according to the Roman Catholic religion"? It is that, but it is also so much more. Petrarch was a faithful Catholic of course, but his design of the journey of human life is not a doctrinal statement derived from a catechism, although all of it is in accordance with RC teachings (at least his poems were never put on the Index, that I know of).

Petrarch's composition, although rooted in a deep Catholic faith, is a profane vision of life which nevertheless comprehends the essential doctrines of Christianity and the final hope for resurrection and eternal glory. Although nowhere near as extravagant, Tarot seems to me be to more profane in just the same way as Petrarch - its Christian features are essential components, without which it can't be understood, but I am not satisfied with *reducing* it to Roman Catholicism.

The presence of the Pope need not speak to a deep reverence for the office, or at least the current state of the Church when Tarot was invented - it could well have been intended to represent, with the Emperor(s), the eternal see-saw of power between Church and State - hence more a commentary on society than a map of how it should be, or an idealistic portrait of the Divine Order of things.

The message that Michael makes so eloquently for the "middle section" (the moral section) is that it is a De Casibus narrative, otherwise known as a "Fall of Princes", which is bracketed by a "Dance of Death"- this is a profane genre that readily incorporates the ascetic teachings of the Church, that all of life's seductions - worldly love, power, wealth - are vanity, and the only correct response is to treat them with contempt. Contemptu mundi is an ancient Stoic and Cynic attitude as well, that became part of the Christian ethos.

It just seems unnecessarily reductive to call it only "Roman Catholic", when it was just a pervasive cultural feature.
marco wrote: Other games that were developed in the XV century do not have such religious content, even if they do have moral content (and of course all such games do not contradict the Roman Catholic religion. i.e. they are not “heretic”). For instance:
* Michelino
* Juego de Naypes by Fernando de la Torre (recently discovered by Ross)
* Sola Busca Tarot variant (here we have some religious references, but religious ideas are not so central to the Trump sequence, which is based on the history of the Roman Empire)
* Boiardo Tarot variant

So it is not necessary that a XV century game is extensively based on the Roman Catholic religion. But I think this is the case for the original trump sequence.

Marco
I agree these are good observations. Tarot's trumps are the most explicitly Christian of all the invented games from this time, except perhaps for some that have not survived, like "Game of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles".

Ross
Image

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#4
Hello Ross.
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:Would you be satisfied if Petrarch's Trionfi was described as "The progress of the soul according to the Roman Catholic religion"? It is that, but it is also so much more. Petrarch was a faithful Catholic of course, but his design of the journey of human life is not a doctrinal statement derived from a catechism, although all of it is in accordance with RC teachings (at least his poems were never put on the Index, that I know of).
For us it is not easy to see the Christian elements of Tarot (or Petrarch) because, as I think you wrote yesterday, “we are too close”. If I had to explain Tarot (or Petrarch) to an Indian or Japanese that knows nothing about it, I think I would have to make reference to the Christian religion.

I agree that my single phrase definition of Tarot is reductive. It was meant to be. Do you think there are better single phrase definitions for the meaning of the trump sequence?

I would say that in the case of Petrarch there is an autobiographical component that is as important as the religious one. He is talking of two specific people (himself and Laura) and what happened to them. All the things that he involves in the poem are there only to build an explanation for his personal and concrete experience.

So my definition for the Trionfi would be “a sequence of allegories aimed at finding in religion a meaning for the premature death of Laura”.
For instance "morte bella parea nel suo bel viso" (“Death seemed beautiful on her [Laura's] beautiful face”). The allegories here run along orbits whose centre is Laura.

Marco

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#5
robert wrote: Is it fair to suggest that the more "typical" of common ideology, the more possible it is that the game could have been created outside of the court system?
This seems fair to me :)
robert wrote:Does it take a highly educated court personality to create the structure seen in the tarot? Or could a common printer or other general lay person have done so? Or even a monk or nun!? This of course brings up another question for the building blocks thread, did tarot really originate in the courts? Perhaps a new thread for that if there is interest.
My general impression is that the deck was originated in a court, like the other XV century card games. The religious content of Tarot seems to be rather straightforward, so it might not have been the product of a particularly educated person. But in the deck there are other things beyond religion. For instance, the Visconti Sforza Hercules (Strength) required at least some knowledge of classical myths. And if we consider that there is an influence from Petrarch's Triumphs, I think that was not widespread out of the circle of the courts and the very learned.

I am very uncertain about this and I would not take a commitment on the court origin nor on the popular origin.

Marco

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#6
Without disagreeing with the above, I wonder if the enunciate could be rephrased like this:

The tarot is originally from Roman-Catholic Europe.

As with many -if not all- of European art/literature from these times I do think they account for way more that just passing the gospel* -which I don’t think is what Marco is suggesting- but the underlying proposition that I find important here is the fact that Christianity permeated most of these artworks and they didn’t have a counter-cultural intention behind them.

Thanks for the thread,


EE



* Those who have access to the Newyorker would love the small piece on Roberto Benigni (Page 32) and how he compares NY to Dante’s Inferno. The ‘moment’ described by the journalist is pure genius.
What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#7
Hello Enrique,
the fact that you want to replace the statement I propose with a much weaker one makes me think that you somehow disagree. I would like to know more of what you think on this topic :)

Of course, we can say that “Tarot is originally from Roman-Catholic Europe”. But this sentence would also apply to the other XV century card decks, that where created in the same area and at the same time. I would like to say something about the specific meaning of the Tarot trump sequence. We agree on the fact that the sequence has a meaning (Building Block #3), and we partially agree on some of its negative qualities (Building Block #9: non-esoteric, non-heretic, non-magical). What about the positive qualities of the Trump sequence? Can we say what it is or will we only define it by saying what it is not?

Marco

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#8
Hi Marco,

I actually agree with you.

When I came to the States, nine years ago, I was surprised to notice that the tarot’s Christian content, evident to me due to my Catholic upbringing, was not just ignored but bluntly denied. As for the reasons of this, I think they belong to the realm of sociology, not the tarot! :)

You are right on your objections to the way in which I re-wrote your statement. No disagreement there.

I do find truth in what Ross is saying, in that any relevant work of art produced within Christian Europe transcends its theme to become patrimony of humankind by reaching out the scope of a determined religion. One doesn’t have to be Catholic to enjoy Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. Michelangelo’s genius, dante’s genius, even when out at the service of a certain set of ideas, transcends it by giving us aesthetic qualities that go way beyond preaching the gospel. When we think on these artist we don’t think on mere illustrators of Christianity. BUT, I don’t see that as an argument to deny what you are saying. It would be, in any case, an argument to exalt the aesthetic complexity of the trump’s cycle’s design.

So, no disagreement. In fact I am thankful you pointed this out.

I hope I explained myself. (I am not sure I did :) )


Best,


EE
What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#9
robert wrote: I recently jokingly said, "Scratch the pagan veneer and there is catechism", rather than the other way around which is more typically suggested.
To scratch beneath the pagan wrapping to reveal Christian truth was called Integumentum / Involucrum (veiled, wrapped, hidden) :

In general terms a pagan fable, viewed as a fabulous story that sleeves truth in a poetic, picturesque fictional form. Basically allegorical interpretation applied to pagan myth, poetry and philosophy to unwrap the truth veiled (involucrum) beneath the 'pagan lies'.

The difference between allegory and integumentum / involucrum being that the terms integumentum / involucrum were applied to pagan 'fiction', allegory to scriptural 'history' and 'truth'. Concepts of integumentum and involucrum as they developed at the School of Chartres allowed for a study of pagan poetry and philosophy in terms acceptable to a Christian audience.

The concepts were then also used to defend and make acceptable not only the pagan fables of the past but the writing of secular poetry and fables in the present, that may (but not neccesarily) include reference to pagan figures and concepts and even bawdy and rude references and tales, such as in for example the Romance of the Rose, within which the author would veil a hidden truth or philosophy; the unveiling or discovery of which, as with a puzzle, added to the readers pleasure and delight.

Abelard and some others made a distinction between integumentum and involucrum; more commonly the terms came to be used as synonyms. Essential to integumentum and involucrum was the concept of multi-valent symbolism; one thing could represent or reference many things or ideas; and conversely that many things could represent one thing. As a popular mode of poets and artists from the 12th century on the concept of integumentum, involucrum needs to be understood when reading / viewing their works.

Examples of such an interpretation includes that of the castration of Saturn (Judaism, old testament) by Jupiter (Christianity, new testament) and the resulting birth of Venus (love succeeds law); and upon the nature of the two venuses and two loves, a highly popular theme, variously interpreted.
“Therefore, let there be two Venuses in the World Soul, the first heavenly and second vulgar. Let both have love: the heavenly for contemplating divine Beauty, the vulgar for procreating the same in the Matter of the World. For such beauty as the former sees, the latter wishes to pass on as well as it can to the machine of the World."
I agree with Marcus on the doctrinal content.

The theme of ~Christian salvation and of the nature of two loves I think is certainly present in the later Tarot de Marseille pattern.
... a procession from Old Adam to New Adam - from a worthless man (bagatelle) to a worthy citizen (parvus mundum) over 77 generations 56/21.
The tarocch (tree of life-bloodline) of adam to adam, or in older terms, a triumph of Christ.

For juggler as old adam see:
viewtopic.php?f=14&p=2984#p2984
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Tarot was originally based on the Roman Catholic religion.

#10
That's interesting, Steve. Thanks. I didn't know this had a name--I think of it as "wishful revisionism."

EE, I did not recognize the Christianity in my first deck (Rider Waite, what else?) for um hm 25 or 30 years.

"What a nice big cup!" I said, admiring the Ace of Cups. "Very chalice-like." I vaguely conceived the Judgement as Kosmic Justice.

I didn't HAVE to see the Christianity, and I didn't WANT to see it. So I didn't. I do now. No Jesus, though, at least through my non-Christian eyes.

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