The main exceptions, i.e., magic numbers that do have some meaningful relationship with gaming, appear to be the statistician Kendall's proposal (that it matches the 21 outcomes with two dice, which is a real gaming consideration and which is consistent with the 56 suit cards as the outcomes of three dice), and Ross' proposal about the tradition of anti-gaming sermons.
Here is my most recent statement of that theory, to be published in Taros
(Journal of the Association for Tarot Studies) vol. 2.
The Number 21 and the Tarot Trumps
In the first installment of his article "Fibonacci and the Tarot Trumps" (Taros, The Journal for Tarot Studies, no. 1 (2006) http://association.tarotstudies.org/taros/1_faber.html
), Roland Faber argues that Maurice Kendall's suggestion, later taken up by Gertrude Moakley, that the number of tarot trumps can be explained by analogy to the number of unique throws of two dice, which is 21, is insufficient to explain the number of tarot trumps:
“…many suggestions were put forward by occultists and historians to explain the substructure of the 22 trumps. They were based on the proposition that one must account for a fundamental, intrinsic subdivision into 21+1 elements, with 21 as the number of trumps and 1 representing the Fool, which in the ancient game was not numbered or—later—was numbered either 0 or 22.
“However, until today neither any occult proposal nor any (even profound) historic research has unearthed “rational” (or, for that matter, historically appropriate) arguments that can “explain” the fact of the trump-structure of the Tarot as necessarily implying exactly 22 (=21+1) trumps. On the contrary, the 22 trumps appear as a rather odd addition to a game otherwise structured into 4 suits of 14 cards. Indeed, nothing can be cited which explains the presence of the number 22 in the Tarot. Hence, the number of the trumps seems to be an accidental feature of the conglomerate that became the game of Tarot.
“If the 22 trumps really were there from the very beginning, that is, from the first decades of the 15th century on, we must admit that we know neither why there are 22 of them nor where this number came from.
“The first [solution], suggested by G. Moakley in the 1960s, pointed to the astonishing fact that there is, indeed, something related to both the 4x14 suit cards and the 21 trumps, namely the much older game of dice, from which they might have stemmed. If we take the total number of choices possible when throwing three or two dice, it adds up to either 56 (= 4x14) or 21, respectively. Although this may be a somewhat interesting connection, reaching back to the invention of “games of fortune,” as dice and cards where considered in the late 14th century when cards came into existence, unfortunately, the bare number of dice-throws does not at all account for the substructures of the 4 suits and the 21 trumps. Besides, the number of throws of two dice only sum up to 21, not 22. The number 22 remains mysterious, that is: the number 22 seems to be isolated from the necessities of the game, the 4x14 suit cards, and the possible symbolic sources for the imagery of the Tarot trumps (unless we accept the Fool to be an addition of the number 0, which, however, is not part of the game of dice).”
On the face of it, and since it offers no explanation for the presence of 0 the Fool, this seems to be a reasonable objection. However, there are good reasons to take Kendall's perhaps off-hand remark as providing a sufficient explanation of the number of tarot trumps. In what follows I will argue that in the context of the time of the invention of the tarot pack, and in the themes of the trump sequence itself, the number 21 can be shown to be relevant and potentially attractive to a game designer. Moreover, the presence and role of the Fool can also be explained by analogy to the contemporary Italian dice game.
THE NUMBER 21 AND DICE GAMES.
The number 21 is not a particularly important number in medieval Christian symbolism. Hopper's classic work "Medieval Number Symbolism" (1938, frequently reprinted) does not offer a single example. The earliest account of symbolism for the number 21 that I can find comes from Petrus Bungus (Pietro Bongo), “Numerorum Mysteria” (1584), where he says that it was important for Pythagoreans and that it represents “the completion of human perfection” (absolutionem humanae perfectionis), because it is the Trinity multiplied by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
However, earlier in the middle ages and in the 15th century, the number 21 was important in common dice games. The numerical properties of a cubical die provided the mathematical basis for the understanding of probability in throws, and thus the rules of various games. The number of points on a die are 21 (sum of 1 to 6), and the unique throws of two dice are 21 (1-1, 1-2 etc. to 6-6). Dicemakers made the opposite faces of the cube add to 7 (1-6, 2-5, 3-4).
As early as the year 965, Bishop Wibold of Cambrai (France) designed the rules of his moral dice-game around the mathematical properties of dice; the sum of points on one die is 21, the unique rolls of two dice are 21, and the rules of many three-dice games, including Wibold’s, are based on two results which add to 21.
By 1283, when Alfonso X of Aragon had his Book of Games
composed, the scoring of the dice game "Zara" (Hazard) was based on the principle of "soçobra", which is the difference between the result of the throw and 21. "Soçobra" means literally "below-above", "under-over" or "topsy-turvy", and has come into modern Portuguese in the form "soçobra", and into Spanish as "zozobra" meaning "shipwreck" (capsizing) and even figuratively as "anxiety". In its original sense in Alfonso's book, it refers to the relation between the die-point on the top and its opposite on the face below (e.g. 1 and 6, 2 and 5, 3 and 4).
In their study of Alfonso's game of Zara, Basulto, Camuñez, and Ortega explain -
"In the text of the game of Azar, the “soçobra” of a point is another one that is the complement of value 21. This means that, if on having thrown three dice the sum is 15 points, then the soçobra of 15 will be equal to 21 - 15 = 6 points. Where the value 21 = 3 (6 + 1) is, in this game of three dice, equal to 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6, that is the sum of the points of the six faces of the die. Besides this, a point and its soçobra have the same probability (...). In case of throwing two dice, the point 4 is the “soçobra” of point 10, because 4 + 10 = 14 which at the same time is equal to 2 (6 + 1), that are, two dices, each one with six faces."
("Azar Game in the Book of the Dice of Alfonso X the Learned", trans. by S. Basulto Pardo at http://www.ehess.fr/revue-msh/pdf/N174R837.pdf
, p. 7 (PDF of original in _Mathematics and Social Sciences_ (44e année, n° 174, 2006(2), p. 5-24))
Deriving from the Arabic term for "the dice" (az-zahr), the word "zara" became a generic term for dice games, as well as keeping its original signification as the name of a particular game.
Zara was mentioned by Dante in the Purgatorio, Canto 6.1 -
Quando si parte il gioco de la zara,
colui che perde si riman dolente,
repetendo le volte, e tristo impara;
(When everybody leaves after dicing,
he who has lost remains, distressed,
repeating the throws, and sadly learning)
- and in discussing this passage, many of Dante's commentators through the 14th and 15th centuries provide valuable clues to how zara was played in Italy during that time.
For instance, whereas in Alfonso's rules of Azar, throwing the points 3-6 or their soçobras 15-18 on the first roll was called an "azar", and was an instant win, in the rules of the game as it was played in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, rolling an "azar" was considered a null roll and the dice had to be rolled again.
This rule is explained in Francesco da Buti's circa 1390 commentary on Dante's Purgatory, Canto 6.1-12:
"Note that this game is called zara from the occurrence of the points rolled with three dice below 7 and above 14; and when they get these points, the players say 'Zara', as indicating 'Null', like the zero in the Abacus; and these are not allowed, because they don't have three parities like 7 and 14 and the points in between; thus seven has three parities: that is, threes and ace, five and two aces of one and threes (3-3-1, 5-1-1, 3-3-1); and thus 14, sixes and 2, fours and 6, fives and 4; and so for the other throws in the middle: and this is not found in 3, 4, 5, or 6, nor in 15, 16, 17 or 18, which would be in one or two ways at the most as can be seen by looking at them."
(E nota che questo giuoco si chiama zara per li punti diventati che sono in tre dadi da sette in giù e da quattordici in su; e però quando vegnano quelli punti, diceno li giocatori: Zara; quasi dica: Nulla, come zero nell'Abbaco; e questi sono vietati, perchè non ànno tre parità come à sette e quattordici e li punti che sono in quel mezzo: ecco sette àe tre parità; cioè terno et asso, cinque et ambassi di uno e tre; e così quattordici, seino e dua; quaderno e sei; cinque e quattro; e così l'altre volte che sono in quel mezzo: e questo non si trova in tre, in quattro, nè in cinque, nè in sei, nè in quindeci, nè sedici, nè dicesette, nè diciotto, li quali vanno una o due al più come può vedere chi li ragguarda.
(Text from the Dartmouth Dante Project, from the edition Commento di Francesco da Buti sopra La Divina Commedia di Dante Allighieri
, editor: Crescentino Giannini, Fratelli Nistri, Pisa, 1858-62. Electronic version of Purgatorio
courtesy of Lexis Progetti Editoriali, 2001.
PREACHING ON GAMES OF CHANCE BEFORE AND AFTER BERNARDINO OF SIENA.
In order to appreciate the unique importance of the number 21 in the preaching about games in the 15th century, and Bernardino of Siena's key role in its prominence, it is necessary to survey preaching against of games of chance before and after Bernardino.
Dice were always subject to strict legislation and were the subject of anti-gambling sermons starting as early as pseudo-Cyprian in the 3rd century; these in turn were always informed by the Biblical image of Roman soldiers playing dice for Christ's seamless tunic (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:23-25; the Gospel image itself was inspired by a verse in Psalm 22:18 (Vulgate 21:19)), thus associating dice-play deeply with sacrilege. Pseudo-Cyprian wrote that a wise man invented games of chance at the inspiration of the Devil (Zabulus). He refuses to name the devil directly responsible, but from the context it is clear that he is referring to Plato's story of the Egyptian Thoth inventing dice and "tables" (any board game using dice) in his dialogue "Phaedrus" (274d). Thus dice and games of chance in general were long regarded with a wary eye by legislators and theologians, and in the later middle ages writers began to develop a catalogue of the sins associated with gambling.
Conveniently for us, in 1686 Jean-Baptiste Thiers assembled five such lists in the two centuries immediately preceding Bernardino. Note that although they have mostly common elements (thus indicating a tradition of sorts), the evils of gambling appear in no particular order and according to different schemes.
Caesar of Heisterbach (c. 1170-1240), in 1222, gives five such sins, writing that "God has an aversion to games of chance, because they are the cause of anger, envy, quarrels and the loss of possessions, and because those who play them express themselves with crude language".
Thomas of Cantimpre (1201-1272), writing in his allegorical "Bonum universale de Apibus (circa 1263) wrote that "there is a game full of vanity under the Sun. For those who play games of chance are so full of hate for the world, that it is difficult to find anything nastier. These are games which strip the poor, and enrich beggars; which make nobles dishonest people and more contemptible than peasants; which cause men to despair, so that they become thieves, robbers of another's goods, and murderers. Once those who play them get the habit, they can not easily break it. They go at it with so much fervour, that they renounce their sense of propriety before everyone, so that they undress down to the parts of their bodies that natural modesty would have one hide."
Henry of Segusio ("Hostiensis", Bishop of Ostia 1261-1271) made a list of sixteen: contempt for the Laws of the Church, usury, robbery, scandal, vain and offensive speech, blasphemy, petty theft, violence, duplicity, murderous quarrels, deceit, wasting time, covetousness, impurity, vain praises, life of infamy.
The Dominican Raymond of Pegnafort (or Pennafort; c. 1175-1275), in his commentary on the Decretals of the Popes (1234), said that "it is a great sin to play games of chance, because of nine things which are encountered in these games: the first is the desire to win. The second, planning to enrich oneself at the expense of the other. The third, the shocking usury of eleven for twelve, not only in one year, or one month, but in a single day. The fourth, the great number of lies and idle and useless talking. The fifth, blasphemy. The sixth, the bad example given to those who watch the game. The seventh, the scandal one creates for people of good will. The eighth, contempt for the Laws of the Church. The ninth, the waste of time and the loss of the good works one could be doing instead of playing."
Thiers notes that Nicholas of Lyra also produced a list like Raymond in his commentary on the seventh Commandment, and then mentions a long summary list by the Franciscan Alvarus Pelagius (c. 1280-1352), from his most famous work "De planctu ecclesiae" (The Plaint of the Church), written and amplified between 1330-1340. Alvarus' list contains 17 sins which accompany games of chance: contempt for the Laws of the Church, robbery, usury, scandal, lying and idle and vain talk, blasphemy, petty theft, violence, duplicity, murderous quarrels, deceptions, wasting time and the chance for good works, the hunger to win, impurity, vain praises given to players, infamy, and perjuries.
But using the number of points on a die as the basis of a sermon does not begin until the career of Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444; made a saint in 1450), a Franciscan like Alvarus Pelagius 70 years before.
Bernardino's list of the evils of games of chance is more systematic and thorough than any writer before him. In a sermon quoted by Thiers, Bernardino condemns those who play games of chance on three counts - on account of the greatness of their sinning, on account of their folly, and on account of their malice.
He lists 12 sins under each of the first two counts, and 4 under the third, for 28 kinds of evils.
But in his sermons against games, recorded since 1424, Bernardino goes further than to catalogue sins, however systematically. He developed pseudo-Cyprian's brief account of how the Devil invented games into a story of mythic proportions. He says that the Devil one day decided to parody the Church, and so created an activity that would mimick and invert the teachings, sacred objects, and practices of the Church, thus leading to damnation instead of salvation. That activity was gambling and everything associated with it. When it comes to dice, Bernardino's Devil creates a startling parallel:
"The missals are the dice which, as there are 21 letters in the alphabet, so there are 21 points on a die. The books that are on the altar - missal, gospel, and letters - are the three dice which are used to play."
(El messale sono e dadi che, come nell'abicci sono ventuna lettera, così nel dado sono ventuno punto. E libri sono dell'altare, messale, vangelo, epistola, sono e tre dadi che s'aoperano al giucare.)
(San Bernardino de Siena. Le prediche volgari (preached at Florence, 1424) ed. Cannarozzi (Pistoia, 1934) p. 435 (Sermon XXVI, "Del peccato del giuoco"))
In his Latin model-sermon against games, written around 1435, Bernardino's Satan commands:
" Yes, I want the Missal to be dice, whose convenience and durability, as well as contents, will not be less than in the missal of Christ himself, when in his missal only the alphabet, which is twenty-one letters, is included and just so many points are contained in a die. But because in Christ's missal there are different Masses for the annual cycle of saints in their glory and triumph, therefore - who am I to question all of this? - since I hold you dear from the abundance of my love, I am endowed by many of you with certain solemn masses, if by your wickedness to triumph through their power. You, devil, who is called 'Testa', I give one; 'Sbaraglio', another; 'Sbaraglino', another; 'Minoretto', another. On you named 'Sequentia', I place another;
I want the Mass 'del Sozo' to be all of the demons' common Mass. But the Mass 'de Zarro', like a Sunday mass, I reserve for my own Impious Majesty."
(Missale vero taxillum seu decium esse volo; qui quidem et tractabilior et durabilior atque continentia non erit minor quam sit missale ipsius Christi, cum in eius missali solum alphabetum, hoc est viginti una littera, comprehendatur ac totidem puncti in decio concludantur. Sed quia in Christi missali diversae sunt per anni circulum sanctorum Missae in eorum gloriam et triumphum, ideo, ne mihi videar omnia arrogare, diligo enim vos ex abundantia caritatis meae, multis de vobis impertior quasdam solemnes missas, si per vestras nequitias de illis poteritis triumphare. Tibi diabolo, qui diceris 'Testa', concedo unam; 'Sbaraglio', aliam; 'Sbaraglino', aliam; 'Minoretto', aliam. Tibi, qui 'Sequentia' nominaris, aliam superaddo; aliam quoque concedo tibi, qui 'Spagnulo rivescio' ut plurimum nuncuparis; tibi vero ad hoc et 'Badalas' aliam dono; tibi quoque 'Rapello' aliam praesto.
Missam vero 'del Sozo' volo esse omnium daemonum communem missam. Missam vero 'de Zarro', quasi dominicalem, pro mea impia maiestate reservo.
(Quadragesimale de Christiana Religione
, ed. Quaracchi, 1950-1965, vol. II, pp. 22-23 (Sermon XLII, "Contra Alearum Ludos", c. 2))
This parallelism was to strike a chord in the preachers that came after him in the 15th century, both in the Franciscan and Dominican orders, who as we shall see developed two parallel but distinct ways of using the analogy.
Bernardino must have preached this kind of sermon dozens of times. However, I am not aware of any instance of Bernardino developing his equation of the number of points on a die with the letters of the alphabet nor with the names of games as demons in any systematic way. But other preachers quickly saw the potential for this and made such lists.
DOMINICANS - AN ALPHABETIC MNEMONIC.
The earliest preacher to associate each of the rolls of dice and points on a die to sins seems to be Meister Ingold, a Dominican preacher in Germany who had spent time in Italy. In 1432 he wrote a morality of 7 games called "The Golden Game", and in his chapter on dice he listed 21 sins corresponding to the unique throws of two dice, and also noted the comparison with the 21 letters of the alphabet, although in the text we have he doesn't elaborate.
Around 1445, the Dominican Archbishop of Florence, Antonino, explicitly systematized this correspondence, actually giving the list of sins in alphabetical order (Thiers quotes it in French, which turns out to be exactly the same as Antonino's disciple Gabriel Bareletta's, given further below):
"As many points as there are on a die, so many are the evils that proceed from them" (Quot in taxillis sunt puncta, tot scelera ex eo procedunt)".
Antonino's method for aligning the sins alphabetically with the number of points on a die was followed by his student Gabriel Bareletta (c. 1410-1480).
"No sin is so abominable to God, as the sin of games, and there is almost no activity in which so many evils come together as from gaming: and just as God invented the 21 letters of the alphabet, but of different kinds which afterwards were put together to compose the Bible, where all wisdom is revealed, so the Devil invented a bible, dice of course, where he put 21 points like black letters, where, in his use of them, he found out the wickedness of all sin; and as many as are the points on a die, so many are the evils which proceed from it. The first letter is A, i.e. Amissio temporis (loss or waste of time);
second is B, i.e. Blasphemia (...);
3rd C, i.e. Contumelia, because they insult each other, saying "glutton", "stupid ass" (...);
4th D, i.e. Dissipation of physical needs/worldy substance (...);
5th E, i.e. Ecclesie contemptus (contempt for the Church) (...);
6th F, i.e. Furtum (theft) (...);
7th G, i.e. Gula (gluttony) (...);
8th H, i.e. Homicidium (murder) (...);
9th I, i.e. Invidia (envy) (...);
10th K, i.e. Caristia (dearth) of things that suppport the household.
11th L, i.e. Laudatio mala (bad praise), because he praises himself for being a good player (...);
12th M, i.e. Mendacium (...);
13th N, i.e; Negligentia (...);
14th O, i.e. Odium (...);
15th P, i.e. Participatio sceleris (participation in wickedness) (...);
16th Q, i.e. Questio litigiosa (litigious complaining) (...);
17th R, i.e. Rapina;
18th S, i.e. Scandalum (...);
19th T, i.e. Tristicia (sadness) (...);
20th U, i.e. Usura (...);
21st X, i.e. Xpianitatis vituperatio (criticism of Christianity)."
(From David Clement, Bibliothèque curieuse historique et critique ou catalogue raisonné de livres dificiles à trouver
(Göttingen, 1751), vol. II, p. 425; Clement is describing the edition of Bareletta's sermons from 1515, Sermones fratris Gabrielis Barelete sacrae paginae professoris divi ordinis fratrum Praedicatorum
, sermon XXXIIII, Feria II quarte hebdomade quadragesime de ludis fortune
, on folio LXXIX. b. col. 2., i.e. the same sermon as the 1571 edition Merlin quoted. The (...) indicates omissions in Clement's text; I assume Bareletta has followed Antonino's fuller descriptions of the sins, which I have only in French translation.)
(Non est peccatum ita Deo abominabile, ut peccatum ludi, et vix est
dare actum in quo concurrant tot mala sicut ex ludo : et sicut Deus
invenit 21 literas alphabeti, aliae autem postea sunt superadditae
ad componendam Bibliam, ubi est omnis sapientia revelata, ita
Diabolus invenit bibliam scilicet dados, ubi posuit 21 puncta
tanquam literas nigras, ubi, in usu suo, reperitur omnis malitia
peccati, et quot sunt puncta in datis (sic) tot ab eo scelera
procedunt. Ideo videamus per ordinem peccata quae ab ipso procedunt.
Prima litera est A, quasi primus punctus quod est primum peccatum,
i. Amissio temporis... (Feria 2, 4 hebdomadis quadragesimae.
Venetiis, 1571, pet. in-8, p. 148, verso))
Gabriele Barletta's debt to Antonino is clear, as is the Dominican mnemonic preaching method used during this time. Furthermore, we can assume that many thousands of people heard this connection made.
FRANCISCANS - THE DEVIL'S LITURGY.
Bernardino's contemporaries and followers in the Franciscan order developed the die-point analogy in a different way, closer to that of Bernardino in mentioning the names of games as demons' names, but systematically linking them to the image of the points on the faces of a six-sided die.
For instance, Giacomo della Marche (St. James of the Marches; 1394-1476)
Bernardino's disciple, develops the theme more around 1460. Using the story of the Diabolical Liturgy invented by Bernardino, James has the Devil ordain that -
"Cards will be for images on the altar. The altar will be the money-table. The consecrated stone will be the game-board. The chalice will the be wine-ladle. The Host will be the golden ducato. Our missal will be dice with 21 points, just like the missal of Christ, with 21 points consecrated to the Devil."
(Et carte erunt ymagines ad altare. Altare erit bancum. Lapis consecratus erit tabulerium. Calix erit ciatus vini. Hostia erit ducatus aureus. Missale nostrum erit taxillus cum 21 punctis sicut missale Christi, cum 21 dyabolo consecratis.
Text from: Sermones dominicales / S. Iacobus della Marchia
; ed. Renato Lioi (Ancona, Biblioteca Francescana, 1978-1982, 4 vol.), Sermo 10, "De Ludo", vol. I, p. 202-203 (thanks to Thierry Depaulis for finding and providing it))
James goes on to list a series of games/demons that, except for orthography, is virtually identical to that in the Steele Sermon, grouped according to the number of points on the face of a die. James calls the points "cellule", and the anonymous author of the Steele Sermon calls them "puncti". Both call the faces of a die "stantia" - a resting place, implying the up face, or roll, of the die. James' use of "cellule" gives an image of different rooms being viewed, where the game named is being played:
2. Ambas / Bidas
3. Suçço / Açaru / Sequentia
4. Menarecto corto / Menarecto longo / Sbaraglio / Sbaraglino
5. Perdo e venco / (missing) / Bussa aragiato (Ronfa) / Scarca l'asino / Uno tracto e meçço
6. Al bini / A lo trenta per forza / O chi bada l'as / Lo imperiale / A chi non piace la volta del compagno / Passa dece
"And all of these are names of demons" says James.
Sometime around the same time as James of the Marches, maybe a little later, an anonymous Franciscan wrote what has come to be known as the Steele Sermon, named after the owner who first published it, Robert Steele (in 1900).
The author follows the Diabolic Liturgy scenario, and lists the names of the games just as James of the Marches does (the missing game/demon on the fifth stantia is "sette o sey" (7 or 6)). Besides differing from James on the name of the points (cellule or puncti), the anonymous author also uses distinct imagery. For instance, he says that the "21 points are the steps on one ladder opening to Hell"
(Qui quidem puncti 21 sunt gradus unius scale descedentis in inferum.)
Additionally, and more famously, the author of this sermon discusses, as the last of his three examples of the evil of games, the game of Triumphs. He provides the earliest known list of the names of the standard trump cards, and he explicitly draws a parallel with the dice, saying "these are the 21 triumphs which are another 21 steps on a ladder throwing them into the depths of Hell".
(Sunt enim 21 triumphi qui 21 gradus alterius scale in profundum inferi mittentis.)
Thus, in this earliest list of trumps, perhaps 40 years after Bernardino created an analogy between the 21 points on a die and a catalogue of sins, another author alludes to a parallel between the 21 trump cards and the 21 points on a die (one ladder... another ladder), through the image of a ladder to Hell.
The die-point analogy was developed in two distinct ways over the course of about two decades (1425-1445), by the Dominican preachers and Franciscan preachers, but it occurs for the first and only time in this period. It is also the period when the tarot trumps were invented - which, in their standard form, have 21 trumps in sequence and a card outside of the series for a special purpose, the Fool.
I believe that it is highly plausible that the presence of the number 21 in dice games and the new attention drawn to this number beginning with Bernardino, could have influenced a game-designer creating a series of images to add to a card game which would illustrate the role of Fortune in life and the way of triumphing over it.
NOTE ON THE FOOL -
Francesco da Buti's explanation (above) of "zara" as a homonym of "zero", and referring the reader to the practice of leaving an empty column on the abacus for the place-holder zero when doing calculations, perhaps provides a simple explanation of the role of the Fool in the tarot - his most common and probably original purpose is a "null roll" which allows the player holding him to skip having to play a more valuable card. Moreover, the image chosen for the card would derive from this name - "nulla" is a synonym for fool or idiot, "matto" in Italian. This connection was apparent to the author of the Steele Sermon, who described the Fool as a "nulla" - "El Matto sie nulla" means "The Fool, thus he is null". For him, being a Fool was a sufficient explanation for why he was null. My theory would be that the designer chose the image of a Fool for a null because of this, a rule he had already determined would exist.
If our game designer was thinking about the analogy of a dice game, it is logical that he would think of the "soçobra" or opposite sides adding to seven and providing the probability of key rolls, and that he would also think of the null roll, skipping or voiding what might otherwise be a costly turn.