There is not much about alchemy's relationship to tarot on this Forum, perhaps for good reason. The most extensive discussion I have found is Robert O'Neill's chapter on alchemy and tarot in his 1986 Tarot Symbolism, pp. 264-291, where he maintains that alchemy is one of the sources of the tarot. His arguments, since they are presented without the illustrations he mentions, are hard to follow. Also, I think he makes mistakes and fails to make important distinctions. But I think the discussion should be continued rather than ignored.
I will work backwards. Here is the beginning of O'Neill’s conclusion (p. 288):
Then he gives three other conclusions:To point out that there are remarkable similarities is not to maintain that alchemy is the source of the Tarot nor that the designers slavishly copied alchemical images. Alchemy was only one of the numerous sources for the symbolism of the Tarot.
O'Neill elaborates briefly on the third conclusion by adding1. The designers were not ignorant of the allegories and symbolism of alchemy and incorporated them into the syncretistic world-view they developed.
2. The Tarot designers showed the same propensity to convey their concepts in emblemata and pictorial symbolism as the authors of the alchemical works.
3. The tarot and the alchemical texts outline the same mystical journey and use the same symbols, e.g., union of opposites, death-rebirth, etc., to portray the stages of the journey.
And so the chapter ends. To evaluate these conclusions properly, I think it is important to be time-specific. When is alchemy a source for the tarot: at its inception, or later? It is one thing to say that some tarot designers modified the tarot images centuries after they were invented, so as to contain allusions to alchemical imagery of that later time. It is another thing to say that alchemical imagery inspired the tarot at the beginning. The first may be defensible but not the second.Both the allegories and the Tarot use an extensive inventory of psychological imagery. Both are preoccupied with the psychological stages of development. The oscillation of depression-elation, the need for isolation, etc. are used as the background for a map of consciousness that resembles modern theories of depth psychology.
O'Neill himself mostly (changed on Jan. 21 from "only") refers to alchemy as it existed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and also mostly with the tarot of that time. But he does not rule out the possibility that alchemy may have been an inspiration for the tarot even at the beginning. He says:
[Author's note: what follows in bold type is a rewrite, Jan. 21, of what I said originally.] I think more can be said about alchemical texts before tarot. Some of the illustrations to which O'Neill refers are assigned to the 15th century, often with no more specificity than that. Tarot cards also originated in the 15th century, sometime between 1420 and 1441. It is not easy to say which of the extant pieces of paper, manuscripts or cards, came first. But we may be able to say with some assurance what alchemy texts looked like before 1420, based on the 15th century manuscripts that are available. Many of them say they are copies of earlier texts, or are quoting earlier texts, and they fall into recognizable traditions to which there are pre-15th century references, e.g. in Chaucer. It may be possible to reconstruct fairly well what pre-tarot alchemy looked like and so judge whether tarot drew on it. In any case more research is in order, as to whether alchemy is one of the sources of the original tarot of the 15th century....the illustrations discussed in this chapter almost all appeared after the Tarot cards were in existence. Thus, the designers could not have copied the specific images cited here. The imagery might have been copied from older manuscripts, but few of these have been unearthed for us to examine.
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
Lynn Thorndike, in his multi-volume History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923-1928), cites numerous 15th century Italian alchemical manuscripts. Some, purporting to be copies of 14th century works, are discussed in a chapter called "The Lullian Alchemical Collection." It starts at
http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... &q&f=false
If you skim this chapter, you will see that many of these manuscripts, all of the so-called Lullian school, date from the 15th century.
Another chapter is devoted to fifteenth century alchemy as such, "Alchemy Through the Fifteenth Century" (starting at http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... &q&f=false.)
The alchemical writings in this chapter are not by any well-known alchemists; but at least they exist. One (p. 342ff) is by the physician to anti-Pope Felix V, Filippo Visconti's father-in-law, answering Felix’s questions about alchemy. Of more interest--because it says more--is a purported letter between Cosimo di Medici and Pius II. While spurious, it was copied in a manuscript authentically before 1475. Thorndike writes (p. 346f)
In relation to the tarot, the last two stages might correspond to the Moon and Sun card. Black might relate to Death, and the other colors to cards in between Death and Moon; it is hard to say more. After the elixir is made, it is suitable for the regeneration of body and spirit, i.e. the resurrection portrayed in the Judgment. But I am projecting backwards from the tarot. In itself this description is quite mechanical.The most holy father is advised to take water of gold and place it without division into the elements in a spherical glass so that it may circulate and be reduced to the true fifth essence and finally converted into the elixir...The vase is to cook for 170 days continuously over a slow fire until the contents turn successively black, red, yellow, green, the color of a peacock, and that whitest of appearance which indicates the elixir for silver. The fire is then augmented and the elixir for gold is finally obtained.
LODOVICO LAZARELLI, ALCHEMIST
A few 15th century alchemical writings are mentioned in another chapter of Thorndike's study, “The Sixteenth Century up to 1550.” It begins on p. 533 of http://books.google.com/books?id=xjN8f3 ... my&f=false
On p. 532 we see the name of Lodovico Lazzarelli, better known as a humanist and hermetist than as a writer on alchemy. Thorndike puts him in the sixteenth century because Lazzarelli says he began his alchemical instruction in 1495, and it would take more than five years to learn. Also, the handwriting looks in the style of that century. However he admits that most authorities have Lazzarelli dying in the year 1500.
I choose Lazzarelli because he is already known to members of this Forum, for the poem that he wrote to accompany the “Mantegna” images. Now he will serve as an example of his breed, the alchemically-minded humanist. (And he was also a Kabbalist, independently of Pico and Boiardo.)
The introduction and conclusion to his alchemical writings have actually been translated into English, in Hanegraaff and Bouthoorn's Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents. I will start there.
Lazzarelli begins (p. 377)
The editors tell us that Labourgogne is Burgundy or the Franche-Comte. About this Ricardus, or Rigaud, as Lazzarelli also spells the name, we know nothing more. Raymund is Raymund Lull, the 14th century Catalan mystic and missionary to the Arabs, to whom numerous alchemical writings were falsely ascribed. Arnold, or Arnald, of Villanova is another 14th century figure in whose name alchemical writings were produced. Peter is Petrus Bonus, of whom Lazzarelli writes, at the very end of his book, in a dedication entitled “The poet Lodovico Lazzarelli of Sanseverino to his teacher Johannes”:...in this book called Vade mecum we will first of all speak briefly of alchemy, which is a natural magic and is called terrestrial Astrology by Aristotle, the secret of which I owe to Joannes Ricardus de Branchiis from the province of the Netherlands called Labourgogne in popular speech. He was my master in these matters from the year 1495 onwards. He again had it from the books of Raymund of Mallorca and Arnold of Villanova, and from very long practice. Raymund had it from Arnold, and Arnold from a certain master Peter...
Per Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrus_Bonus), this Bonus was a 14th century Ferrarese physician, supposed author of the alchemical "Precious New Pearl" or "Pearl of Great Price," a work known now from 16th century manuscripts.Here Bonus, in name and in reality the renowned son
of which famous Ferrara is proud, has finished his work.
But now I, the poet Lodovico, have copied it down; and this
I give to you, Johannes: therefore be mindful of me....
I find it unfortunate that Hanegraaff and Bouthoorn saw fit only to translate Lazzarelli's introduction and conclusion, and not the parts in between. Their excuse is that the alchemical pieces are not original with Lazzarelli, merely copies of others' work. Perhaps so; but if nothing else, seeing them would help us to see what in alchemy humanists such as Lazzarelli found significant. (They do provide a synopsis in Latin done by Brini, as published in Testi Umanistici su l”ermetismo: Testi di Ludovico Lazzarelli, F. Giorgio Veneto, Cornelio Agrippa di Nettesheim, ed. Garin et al 1955. The work itself, Vade Mecum, is in Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS. 984 (Lami IIIXX). Cart. In 8 (with degree sign superscript), sec. XVI 1 (with degree sign superscript). It is in Lud. Lazereli, Raym. Lulli et Io. De Branchis. Tractatus de Alchimia.)
Thorndike summarizes the omitted material (in English). He says of Lazzarelli
In other words, while the contents might not be original to Lazzarelli, the words are probably his from start to finish. It was common for writers to attribute their productions to famous alchemists of the past, as Lazzarelli does to Bonus. Thorndike includes in a footnote a summary in Latin of the steps involved in the work.He sets forth the usual alchemical process of calcination, solution, purification, projection, and multiplication in seven chapters...He speaks of astrological images and celestial magic...The same manuscript further contains a “treatise of master Raymond lull to his dearest nephew on the investigation of the stone” which is, so far as I know, the earliest occurrence of this particular work of the Lullian alchemical corpus. After it follow excerpts from Lullian alchemy “in volgare,” chemical tables, a sonnet in Italian on alchemy, and a secret recipe for the elixir invnted by the aforsaid de Branchis—now called John Rigaud de Branchiis—when he was in Siena in 1494--with the cooperation of Albert, a physician of Perugia. This secret John had revealed to Lazzarellus with his own mouth. Lazarellus therefore appears to have been responsible for the putting together of this alchemical manuscript in its entirety" (pp. 533f).
This all sounds interesting, but hardly, as described so far, the stuff of tarot. Well, Thorndike was primarily interested in alchemy as a precursor to science. A full translation of its 36 double folio pages might help.
LULLIAN TEXTS AND THE SOLA-BUSCA TAROT
From this summary and my earlier quotes, as well as the large number of Italian manuscripts that Thorndike mentions in the chapter on “The Lullian Collection,” we at least know one variety of alchemy that was admired in Italy throughout the 15th century and probably a little earlier [correction in bold type done Jan. 21]: the "Lullian" and “Arnuldian” schools (they are sometimes differentiated). Their works used diagrams and wheels, just as the real Lull used wheels with words on them, from which he generated interesting associations (Roberts, Mirror of Alchemy p. 40, confirmed by examples in Thorndike, "The Lullian Alchemical Collection," p. 41f). There are also "philosophical trees," another species of diagram. Otherwise, illustrations were of the apparatus to be constructed: furnaces, cauldrons, flasks, etc. There do not seem to have been the colorful tarot-like illustrations, showing people and mythological figures, that became popular later. However Tarotpedia does cite one Lullian manuscript for its picture of a king, in which it finds a dragon similar to one in a Sola-Busca trump (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola_Bus ... chodenasor). They also note wings on another trump (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola_Busca_Cards:_Ipeo) similar to those in another alchemical work, the Rosarium, which I will discuss later.
Several of the SB pips also suggest alchemical apparatus and operations: the Nine of Coins has a man lying on top of flames (an alchemical reference noted by Tarotpedia); the Seven of Coins has a man apparently adjusting the flame of an oven (per Di Vicenzo, p. 75 of Sola-Busca Tarot); the Eight of Batons has its arrows in a container topped with red flowers that resemble flames; and the Five of Swords has its swords in a pot, as though to melt them down;
Likewise, the Ace of Coins seems to represent the three main stages of the Opus, as Tarotpedia argues (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Ace_of_Coins_Sola-Busca). Tarotpedia relates the Three of Swords to Ripley’s alchemical Scrowle, written c. 1460-70 (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Three_of ... Sola-Busca). Ripley is said to have been a Lullian. Its illustrations, in cruder form, might go back to the 15th century. One part, singled out by Tarotpedia (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Three_of ... Sola-Busca), has symbols of the Sun, Moon, and Earth in a triangular configuration similar to the coins on the Ace and Three of Coins.
The Lullian texts are similarly concerned with apparatuses and diagrams, as well as describing how by means of them operations on some obscure material could be performed: dissolving, vaporizing, scraping residue off the sides of containers, condensing, burning, grinding, etc. Here is a sample of the type of illustrations that we mostly see, in an authentic 15th century Ripley manuscript (Jennifer M. Rampling, “Establishing the Canon: George Ripley and his alchemical source,” on the Web).
There is not much here that relates to the usual tarot, as opposed to the Sola-Busca. Even when representing a specific stage of the work, e.g. the nigredo, all we see is a piece of apparatus painted black.
No tarot-like grinning skeletons or old men with scythes here.
RIPLEY AND THE HUMANIZATION OF ALCHEMY
Perhaps we will find tarot-like imagery in the alchemical texts’ words more than the pictures. Perhaps Thorndike’s summarizes do not represent the texts fully, since his main concern is the extent to which they anticipate modern science. In Ripley’s case, he gives a sample of the writing. It is a short poem called A Vision . We know it only from a 16th century manuscript; it may or may not be actually by him, but it is consistent with Ripley’s known 15th century works. In it a toad secretes poison, dies, and turns various colors; from its transformed body comes the elixir (Thorndike, p. 353 of his chapter on 15th century alchemy, http://books.google.com/books?id=IbvlQF ... 22&f=false).
All of this would seem to refer to substances in a laboratory rather than to the human psyche. Yet the toad, art historian Laurinda Dixon tells us, was a symbol of human sinfulness (Bosch, p. 224):
In this tradition, Hieronymus Bosch's Adoration of the Magi shows as one of the gifts a small golden sculpture of the sacrifice of Isaac. The sculpture is supported by toads. You can make them out on the ground in the reproduction at http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/7274- ... bosch.html. Below is the detail itself (Dixon p. 208).Chemical theory relegated toads to the lowest sphere of creation, for they were believed to arise spontaneously form the action of heat on rotted substances. Their low nature is also reflected in Christian iconography, which associated toads with sin and heresy. Chemical texts picture them as symbols of nigredo, upon which the entire process rests. Like Christ, they must be killed before their resurrection into perfected substance.
The sacrifice of Isaac was seen as a precursor to the Crucifixion. Hence the sculpture symbolizes the redemption of the toads beneath. A similar redemption is implied in the alchemical transformations described by Ripley: the end result of the toad's transformation is the elixir. If the toad is human sinfulness, the alchemical sequence could also be an "imitatio Christi” within the human soul.
In that context, it is of interest that the toad in Ripley’s poem doesn’t start out black. He only becomes black after excreting a goodly amount of what is inside him; these excretions are what kills him and turns him black. Before he dies, he suffers, as in the passion of Christ. In the PMB tarot trumps, what corresponds might be the Wheel, in which one suffers a loss of status; Strength, in which one figure gives the other a beating; and the Hanged Man, a slow, shameful torture before death. Then we have more changes, shown by the color changes, corresponding perhaps to the cards immediately following Death. Then come the elixir cards, Moon and Sun, and the rebirth at the Judgment.
I have found an early 15th century page of illustrations that anthropomorphizes the alchemical operations in a way strikingly similar to the PMB cards that I have just mentioned. It is from the early 15th century Buch der heilegen Dreifaltigkeit, a manuscript in the Kantonsbibliothek Vadiana, St. Gallen (Dixon p. 269).
St. Gallen, Switzerland, is where images of the “Tarot of Mantegna” turned up in a 1469 manuscript, suggesting interchanges between the monastery there and NE Italy. But in the case of the Heilegen Dreifaltigkeit, the parallel is not close enough for us to say that one influenced the other. The illustrations merely have elements in common with the cards.
In another Ripley poem, the Cantilena, said to imitate an earlier Lullian poem of the same name, an old king gets absorbed by his wife during sex and dies there; she languishes, then gives suck to a “green lion”; the child’s flesh rots and is stripped white; finally a “ruddy son” is reborn. I can find only isolated stanzas of this poem on the Web. It appears in its entirety, in both English and Latin, in Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, pp. 274ff. Like the Vision, the earliest surviving manuscript is sixteenth century. At the time (1460-1470), the old, sick king was identified with Henry VI and the vigorous son with Edward IV (http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199 ... mists.html).
All of this is again colorful, and might indeed be psychological. It is more explicitly anthropomorphic than the poem about the toad. This one adds, near the beginning, another stage, the coniunctio, which corresponds to the tarot Love card. This coniunctio requires the prior existence of a king and a queen; similarly, the tarot sequence has before Love an Emperor and Empress (an observation that O’Neil makes for the 17th century, and which holds true for the 15th). But in the Cantilena, death comes almost immediately after copulation, as opposed to seven or so cards later as in the tarot.
Besides the Lullian works, another school of alchemy known in tarot circles then was that represented by the Turba Philosophorum ("Assembly of Philosophers"). A copy of that work existed in the Visconti Library at Pavia, according to Christiane Joost-Gaugier (Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe, Appendix). But I defy anyone to draw more than the usual parallels (conjunction, death, rebirth) between that work and the Cary-Yale. (A translation is at http://www.levity.com/alchemy/turba.html.) The Turba is cited in various 15th century Italian alchemical writings, including the spurious letter of Cosimo di' Medici to Pius II.
THE ARNALDIAN “AURORA CONSURGENS” AND “ROSARIUM PHILOSOPHORUM”
There are also specically Arnaldian texts, which we know from Lazzarelli was of interest in 15th century Italy. One is the Arnaldian Aurora Consurgens, of which some illustrations are said (by Dixon and others) to date to c. 1400. These illustrations are abundantly anthropomorphic: even the tripods are humanoid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Auror ... odites.jpg and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Auror ... violin.jpg). Bit even granting that they were known in 15th century northern Italian court circles, I don't see much relationship to the tarot. (For more examples see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_consurgens.)
By the time of the printed Rosarium Philosophorum, 1550 (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rosarium.html), another Arnuldian text, anthropomorphic illustrations were commonplace, showing what might plausibly be a mystical journey within the human psyche, as opposed to an anthropomorphic description of chemical processes. This is precisely when the emblem tradition became popular, with its moralistic emphasis. However the Rosarium of 1550 was not the first, but only the first to be printed. Before that were illustrated manuscripts, and before them manuscripts without illustrations. Urszula Sculakowska, in The Alchemy of Light (2000), says that illustrated versions circulated by 1400, called “Rosarium cum figuris” (p. 25). (See http://books.google.com/books?id=ZJox8E ... um&f=false). Before that, Chaucer spoke of it, and in anthropomorphic terms, in his “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” (late 14th century). In the “Rosarie” of “Arnold,” the Yeoman tells us, Sol and Luna are said to be the father and mother of the dragon Mercury (lines 1418-1447). Here I give the original and a modern translation, putting the words I want to emphasize in red:
Actually the imagery that Chaucer invokes here is from a different Arnaldian work, we learn from the footnotes to another modern translation (http://www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necast ... /23cyt.pdf); but this passage shows how early and widespread the Rosarium and other Arnaldian works were known, and the metaphors they used.Lo, thus seith Amold of the Newe Toun,
As his Rosarie maketh mencioun;
He seith right thus, with-outen any lye,
'Ther may no man Mercurie mortifye,
But it be with his brother knowleching.
How that he, which that first seyde this thing,
Of philosophres fader was, Hermes;
He seith, how that the dragoun, doutelees,
Ne deyeth nat, but-if that he be slayn
With his brother; and that is for to sayn,
By the dragoun, Mercurie and noon other
He understood; and brimstoon by his brother,
That out of sol and luna were y-drawe.
Arnold of Villanova I will cite.
In his Rosarium he brings to light
These facts, and says- in this I do not lie:
"No man can mercury ever mortify,
Unless its brother's aid to it he bring,
And also he who first did say this thing
Was father of philosophers, Hermes;
He said the dragon, doubtless, takes his ease
And never dies, unless there's also slain
His brother, which, to make the matter plain,
Means, by the dragon, mercury, none other,
And brimstone's understood to mean the brother,
That out of Sol and Luna we can draw...”
(http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl- ... an-can.htm)
Would the reader have been expected to identify with the process instead of simply seeing chemical phenomena in anthropomorphic terms? Ripley’s use of the toad as a symbol of sinfulness, which I would expect also occurred in alchemical writings earlier than Ripley’s 1460s poem, would suggest that a discerning reader would indeed identify with the process.
LULLIAN/ARNALDIAN TEXTS AND 15TH CENTURY TAROT
In the Rosarium, the coniunctio (Love) is followed immediately by Death, unlike in the tarot. But in other alchemical sequences, such as Ripley’s with the toad (and less clearly the Cantilena), various forms of suffering occurred before the Nigredo of death. The tarot, with its Wheel, Strength, and Hanged Man, might simply be honoring these sequences. Then the Devil and Tower cards might represent the Putrefaction and other changes after death, as in the Devil and Tower-like imagery that illustrated 15th century editions of Dante's Inferno. Then the Star is the washing (at an astrologically propitious time), the Moon and Sun the elixirs, and Judgment a scene of rebirth. The World card, with its magical city or castles in a globe, is the promise of alchemy’s rewards, material or otherwise. Either that or, as in the “Sforza castle” design (the predecessor of the “Marseille”), it is a diagram of the whole, similar to the “circulation of the elements” diagrams in the Lullian texts, with the quintessence in the middle. An example is below (Roberts, p. 48); admittedly there is nothing in the middle, but these texts talked about the quintessence often enough.
In this scenario, the virtue cards might correspond to “apparatus” drawings in Lullian manuscripts, capable of being inserted in various parts of the sequence. Justice has a scales for weighing and a knife for cutting. Temperance has her flasks for circulation or distillation. Strength is for pulverizing, as Hercules with his lion and Samson with both lion and temple.
The most typical [words in bold added Jan. 21] placement of the 15th century Chariot card in the order does not quite fit the alchemical viewpoint. If the chariot itself is an alchemical apparatus, and the horses the application of heat, the charioteer would seem to suggest the rising of the material above the apparatus, a sublimatio into higher realms. I have not found any alchemical tract in which sublimation follows immediately upon the coniunctio. The alchemists were a gloomy lot: nothing pleasant followed the copulatio, at least not until after death and considerable suffering.
[This paragraph added Jan. 21:]Another possibility is that the Chariot, in an alchemical context, might refer to the dominant color of the substance at a particular time in the sequence. One 15th century manuscript cited by O'Neill (Nicola d'Antonio degli Agli, 1480, plates 31-34 and 47 of de Rola's Alchemy: the Secret Art) actually has seven chariots, one for each planet. Particular planets were associated with particular colors (http://www.skyscript.co.uk/colour.html, at the end). This sequence of colors typically occurs after the Nigredo, i.e. death; but why should the correspondence between tarot and alchemy be so precise? Also, in one early tarot order, that in the Triomphi of 1534, the Chariot card comes before the Love card (http://l-pollett.tripod.com/cards26.htm). Alchemically interpreted, the Love card following might represent the beginning of a process that ends with Death, but takes some time--as it does in the Ripley "Vision." So the King on his chariot is before all that. Or it simply might be that the tarot designers, disagreeing with their alchemical predecessors, thought that after copulation there should be some stages before death, including a period of post-marital inflation indicated by the Chariot. I will discuss this matter more thoroughly in another post later in this thread, on the Chariot card.
Other cards might represent the alchemist himself or herself, in various guises. The Fool is the alchemist who has spent all his money on alchemy and come up with nothing—a common occurrence, at least in the fifteenth century anecdotes about alchemists reported by Thorndike. The Magician is the alchemist at his table, of course. Thus the three-tiered hats on the Cary Sheet Fool and Magician could signify Trismegistus, the thrice-powerful Hermes, lord over the animal, vegetable and mineral realms; or they could represent that other Mercurius, the “philosophical Mercury” who wears the tiara in 17th century alchemical illustrations.
The Pope and Popess are then male and female alchemists as authority figures. The Pope, of course has his tiara, making him Trismegistus. As for the Popess, in the past, there were Maria the Jewess, Isis (mentioned by O’Neil in this context), and a certain Cleopatra. In the 15th century, Empress Barbara was thought to dabble in alchemy, according to a 1440-1448 text cited by Thorndike (“Alchemy Through the Fifteenth Century,” p. 341). Alternatively, as O’Neil suggests in relation to later texts, the two cards could be the active and receptive sides of the alchemist, the one ordering around his assistants—or his chemicals--and the other reading out directions from the recipe books.
The lantern-carrying Hermit would be the alchemist as seeker, even to the end of his mortal life. All these cards that I am saying represent the alchemist might also represent specific aspects of the work itself; but there is not enough in the 15th century tarot cards or alchemical texts to say what they would be. This aspect of these cards becomes clearer in later centuries, as I will try to show in other posts.
As I have already indicated, the Empress and Emperor cards correspond to the Queen and King of Ripley’s Cantilena.
Yet the tarot sequence can also be explained easily enough, and less esoterically, in purely Christian terms. It is not surprising that two systems of Christian imagery would have much in common. Where is any sign of direct borrowing from the one to the other? The Pope’s two gold and silver keys, for example (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_regalia_and_insignia), would seem to have occurred independently of either tradition, yet been borrowed by both (in the tarot, the Catelin Geoffrey Pope and Popess, 1557, below, from http://www.poker168.com/bwg/bwg_tl6.htm; in alchemy, a 16th century illustration of which the lower half is shown below; my source is Jung,Psychology and Alchemy, p. 281). (It is conceivable that the Pope’s having two, gold and silver, derives from the alchemical tradition; I don’t know. In that case, the Catelin-Geoffrey might be said to borrow from alchemy, but only indirectly, by way of the papacy, and probably in ignorance, since it lacks the distinctive gold and silver colors which would link the keys to alchemy.)
So I still have to ask, what is specifically alchemical about the imagery in the 15th century tarot, except for some cards of the Sola-Busca? I don’t see anything. All I see is parallel imagery, which some humanist of an alchemical bent could have used to give the cards an unexpected alchemical twist, much as I am doing here.
O’NEIL’S CONCLUSIONS AS APPLIED TO THE 15TH CENTURY
[Author's note of Jan. 21]: In the next two paragraphs, I have put in some phrases, in bold type, to tone down my conclusions.]Thus far, it looks as though the first two of O’Neil’s numbered conclusions are in general false as applied to the fifteenth century or earlier. There is no indication of any borrowing of imagery from alchemy to tarot at that time, with the notable exception of the Sola-Busca. The second conclusion is also false. The fifteenth century was too early for emblemata of any kind, in the sense of the combination of picture with motto and explication that was so popular starting in the mid-sixteenth century. But even in the sense of associating a word or phrase with a picture, the tarot was far in advance of alchemy in the fifteenth century. However I have not yet examined all of O'Neill's sources. I hope to do so later in this thread.
But I think we can say already that the third conclusion, that the tarot and alchemical texts described the same mystical journey, using the same symbols, with the same preoccupation for psychological stages of development, is partially true. They do concern the same or at least similar psychological stages, if by psychology we narrowly mean the psychology of Christian perfectability or purification, and the psychology of Christian mystical experience. In so doing, they drew on a common stock of symbolic imagery that had been developing for centuries in ancient and medieval Western Europe.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
There remains the other part of O'Neill's hypothesis. Could alchemy have been a source for the tarot in the sense that references to alchemical images were added by the card-makers later on, by the 17th century, so as to enhance their mystery and appeal? In "Bianca's Garden" here, I have given an example in the Tower thread (see viewtopic.php?f=23&t=399&p=7246&hilit=alchemy#p7246): the pose of the falling figure, from the c. 1650 Noblet on, looks uncannily like a figure representing gaseousness in an alchemical manuscript.
And it remains possible that even where the imagery was not inspired by alchemy, more parallels came about, for whatever reason, that an interpreter might use to give an added meaning to a card. Here is where O'Neill's card-by-card commentary, linking tarot images with 17th century alchemical images, could be useful. (I am ignoring the 16th century as such because we know so little about tarot in those years.)
It is also possible that tarot’s more hidden side took psychological lessons from alchemy, even when it did not use the same imagery.
In future posts I will attempt to mine O'Neill's card-specific comments about seventeenth century alchemy and tarot, attaching to them the relevant alchemical images, to the extent that I have been able to track down his sources. In the meantime, if anyone has anything to add to, or detract from, my comments about the fifteenth century, feel free to say something.