Re: Collection Frame Stories

At the AT-Forum I once ( 23-08-2011 ) wrote about the Canterbury Tales .... ... ucer+chess
Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" belong to the category "Framed Story" and also - possibly - to the category "Framed story with Game structure", though this is far from sure, as the Tales were never completed.
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury.
If we trust the General Prologue, Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

30 persons meet at the journey and each has to tell "4 stories". Looking through the surviving stories, then it seems, that Chaucer diverged from the concept. The "Knight's Tale" really has "4 stories", but actually it's only one proceeding story in 4 chapters. The "Man of Law's Tale" has only 3 parts and it's also only one story. Others seems to have only one presentation or chapter.
But the concept had 30 persons (inclusive the author) and an additional person, the "host" as Nr. 31, which has a deciding role, cause he suggests the "game" of story-telling. This form with 30 stories appeared also in the Sindibad story, but in an Eastern version and there's not a guarantee, that Chaucer knew this form (the European forms had only 15 stories).
Chaucer's first literary work "The book of the Duchess" (c. 1368) ...
... refers to the chess game:
part of the description of Wikipedia: "The poet asks the knight the nature of his grief. The knight replies that he had played a game of chess with Fortuna and lost his queen and was checkmated. The poet takes the message literally and begs the black knight not to become upset over a game of chess.

The knight begins the story of his life, reporting that for his entire life he had served Love, but that he had waited to set his heart on a woman for many years until he met one lady who surpassed all others. The knight speaks of her surpassing beauty and temperament and reveals that her name was “good, fair White.” The poet, still not understanding the metaphorical chess game, asks the black knight to finish the story and explain what was lost. The knight tells the story of his fumbling declaration of love and the long time it took for the love to be reciprocated and that they were in perfect harmony for many years. Still the narrator does not understand, and asks the whereabouts of White. The knight finally blurts out that White is dead."

Around the same time (c. 1370) an anonymous French poet wrote the oem "Echecs amoureux" (Chess of Lovers), a work, which later (c. 1398) became a rather voluminous prosaic work by Evrart de Conty, who used 16 Greek-Roman gods and 32 figures in the style of the "Roman de la rose" of Jean de Meung as allegories in a game between the author and a damsel ... the author loses. I haven't seen the original poem and don't know about its content (it's difficult to get any information about it), but it might well be, that it already contained Conty's basic idea.
Conty's work and his "16 gods" as chess figures might well have been the idea or Flippo Maria Visconti, who ordered the production of the Michelino deck between 1418-1425 and placed 16 gods as trumps in it: The oldest Tarot cards. Conty's text also belongs to the category "Frame stories based on game structure".

Chaucer's meta-idea for the Canterbury Tales might have been very similar:
30 figures and 30 stories for all the usual 32 chess figures without king. One of the not considered kings is naturally the figure 31, the "host", who decides in the text to accompany the 30 travelers and to play the governor of their story-telling tournament during their journey to Canterbury ... and back again to the point, where the journey started and the host naturally lived as the innkeeper. The other king (figure 32) is naturally presented by "Canterbury", the other pole of the journey.

Chaucer's choice of his rather "worldly" figures mirrors the idea of Jacob of Cessolis (wrote c. 1300) to change the usual 8 pawns to 8 professions. Cessolis' text should have been in ca. 1390 already well known.

Chaucer's idea with the "32 chess figures" is easy to see and to understand, but it get difficulties, when following it in the details of the surviving text.

This relates to the text of the introduction (called "General Prologue"), when all travelers are introduced and the meta-story is developed (compare :
001-042: Introduction
(group of 3)
043-078: The Knight
079-100: The Squire
101-117: The Yeoman
(group of 5)
118-162: The Prioress
163-164: The Second Nun and Three Priests
165-207: The Monk
208-271: The Friar
272-286: The Merchant
287-310: The Clerk
(group of 2)
311-332: The Sergeant of the Law
333-362: The Franklin
(group of 6)
363-380: The Haberdasher, Carpenter, Arras-maker, Dyer and Weaver
381-389: The Cook
390-412: The Shipman
413-446: The Physician
447-478: The Wife of Bath
(group of 2)
479-530: The Parson
531-543: The Plowman
544-568: The Miller
569-588: The Manciple
589-624: The Reeve
(group of 2)
625-670: The Summoner
671-716: The Pardoner
(additional person = the author)
717-785: The proposal of the Host
786-811: The rules of the game
812-823: The agreement
824-860: Drawing of lots
I observed, that there's some trouble with the above list and the text, which caused it. The text states, that the author met 29 persons and that he joined them ... but in the same part of the text 30 persons are listed with explaining passages (as above given and in the following list is repeated).
General Prologue, Line 20-25
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty [= 29] in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
To Canterbury, full devout at heart,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.
The disturbing list with numbers:
(group of 3)
1 The Knight
2 The Squire
3 The Yeoman
(group of 5)
4 The Prioress
5-8 The Second Nun and Three Priests
9 The Monk
10 The Friar
11 The Merchant
12 The Clerk
(group of 2)
13 The Sergeant of the Law
14 The Franklin
(group of 6)
15-19 The Haberdasher, Carpenter, Arras-maker, Dyer and Weaver
20 The Cook
21 The Shipman
22 The Physician
23 The Wife of Bath
(group of 2)
24 The Parson
25 The Plowman
26 The Miller
27 The Manciple
28 The Reeve
(group of 2)
29 The Summoner
30 The Pardoner
So there's a "funny" contradiction, and it is simply unknown, what's wrong. Various possibilities might be suggested:

1. The author made this consciously.
2. The author made it, but not consciously.
3. The error occurred in the long later process.

After I noted the error, I found, that I was not the first: ... bury_Tales
In the General Prologue, Chaucer has already checked in, when he says that 29 more arrived in a company. He then names 30 more. With Chaucer and the Host, 32 set out. They are joined by the Canon's Yeoman to make a group of 33 at the end, a suitable number of some religious significance (years of Christ's life, e.g.)

Note that 29 is also of some significance, since St. Thomas a Becket's feast day is Dec. 29.

Why the error? Probably since Chaucer the Narrator is always making quick judgments, which the reader has to take with a grain of salt. This is Chaucer the Poet's ironic way of first indicating this to us.

For more details, see Caroline Eckhardt's "The Number of Chaucer's Pilgrims: A Review and Reappraisal" in The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol 5 (1975), pp. 1-18.

Read more: ... z1Vq5fSiyN
Well ... the 29th of December was the day, at which Thomas Beckett was murdered. From his youth is recorded ... :
Thomas Becket, a London merchant’s son, was a complex person – in his youth he was a normal ebullient young man, stormy and proud, selfish and arrogant, vain, and anxious to please, but in later life, became one of the most pious and devout Archbishops of the 12th century.

Despite differences in their status Thomas’s greatest friend was Henry, who was later to become King Henry II of England. They hunted and played chess together, people said the two men ‘had but one heart and one mind’.

When at the age of 21 Henry became king, Becket became his Chancellor. Both furious workers, they laboured tirelessly to bring law and order to Henry’s realm. ... Becket.htm

Here's a basketball&chess tournament announced in 2007 ...

And from chess history:
Over the years a number of famous religious leaders have played chess, they include Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury), Charles Borromeo (Bishop of Milan), Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Leo
X, Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and Billy Graham.

So there seems to be (at least) a stronger tradition, that Thomas Beckett played chess. So my suspicion, that the Canterbury Tales in their structure are build according "chess figure ideas" get a not expected momentum.

"29th of December" ... in our research it turned clear, that the time between Christmas and 6th of January had been a preferred time for gambling and gaming in the medieval and Renaissance world. In some statutes there were game prohibitions for the rest of the year, but they were allowed around the christmas time - for logical reasons. The days are dark and cold and there is usually not much opportunity to work at the outside. So .. "gaming and gambling" was just allowed at these days, but it couldn't disturb the general work too much.

Considering this above given interpretation for the 29. September, I would set back my earlier assumption ...
Somehow not precise enough: "...One of the not considered kings is naturally the figure 31, the "host", who decides in the text to accompany the 30 travelers and to play the governor of their story-telling tournament during their journey to Canterbury ... and back again to the point, where the journey started and the host naturally lived as the innkeeper. The other king (figure 32) is naturally presented by "Canterbury", the other pole of the journey."
There are 30 persons given on the list, then there is the author (Nr. 31, although it's stated, that he is Nr. 30) and there is the host as Nr. 32. And in Canterbury a 33rd person is added to the company, so changing the company from 32 members to 33, and that's then likely understood as the time "after the chess game of life" and "in the time, when Jesus has arrived", so meant as a religious transformation caused by the pilgrimage.

I get some believe in this interpretation, as my analyses about the chess figures (in the background of this thread) fit with this assumption. I try to tell this my background theory in short.

Theses to the order of the 32 figures (provisional)

1. The first chess team is described with the persons 1-14 at the list with two figures missing (the author Nr. 31 and the host Nr. 32).

2. The figures 15-30 are 16 figures and are with that a complete half chess set.

3. Considering this from the social class perspective, than the group of 1-14 seems to present the "higher social class" and the group of 15-30 present the "lower social class".

4. The first group 1-14 is presented in two subgroups 1-8 and 9-14 (to this group the both additional figures author and host are added). The group 1-8 presents the "Queen-side" (so 4 pawn and 4 officers) and "9-14 + author + host" present the king's side. The king itself is understood as either the "host" or the "author" and the kin's pawn should be presented also by either the "host" or the "author".

5. The second group 15-30 is also presented in two subgroups 15-22 and 23-30. The subgroup 15-22 presents the 8 pawns, and the subgroup 23-30 the 8 officers.

Well, that's not "totally sure", but plausible.

How I arrived at this conclusion:

1. Between the 30 figures there are only 3 women (the Prioress, the Nun, the Wife of Bath). A usual chess set has only two female figures, the both Queens. The nun accompanies the Prioress, so it's rather impossible, that she would be the second Queen. So the Prioress is one Queen and the other is the Wife of Bath.

2. The nun naturally should be then the "Queen's pawn" and for the Wife of Bath (Nr. 23) one can see, that she is accompanied by the Physician (Nr. 22). The physician appears already in the Cessolis chess interpretation (very likely known to Chaucer) as the "Queen's pawn".

3. In the researches to the Chess Tarot already some observations had been done, that the Queen's pawn had a very special function (opening the chess game). For the Cary-Yale Tarocchi - for instance - it is assumed, that the pawn row was presented by 7 virtues and the card Love queen's pawn), similar in the associations to Charles VI Tarot. These "suspicions" were confirmed, when the chess versions "short assize" were detected ...


... about which is stated:
"The short assize" (French court assize = "short sitting") is Harold James Ruthven Murray's name for a chess variant that was played in medieval Europe. It was somewhat like sittuyin but developed independently, probably to get the armies into contact sooner. It was current in England and Paris in the second half of the 12th century, and perhaps at other times and/or places.
As a curiosity we have two figures at one position in the opening (Queen + pawn)
In Conty's "Echecs amoureux" (1398) still a similar position is used:


4. The Prioress (Nr. 4) is presented after 3 martial figures (1-3: Knight, Squire, Yeoman), who according the text "travel together". The Yeoman (according text) fights with a bow (the chess bishop had been occasionally presented as bow shooter), the squire, who is the son of the knight, has favor for the cavalry ("He'd ridden sometime with the cavalry, In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy", so he's similar to the knight in chess, presented with horse) and the knight himself seems to present the rook (which in old chess definitely had been the strongest figure).
The nun (Nr. 5) is grouped together with 3 not named "Priests" (6-8) - these have no individuality, as it is common for pawns in chess (but different in the Cessolis interpretation). In Chaucer's chess interpretation of the Canterbury Tales all other 29 figures find some individuality, the 3 priests are the only exception. It seems, that Chaucer wishes to remember the "pawn as in old times (before Cessolis) with this quality.

So the first 8 figures mirror relatively clearly the situation of a quarter of the chess-figures at the board, not too difficult to decipher.

6. Following now the wisdom, that the Prioress and the Wife of Bath MUST BE the Queens and the Physician must be the Queen's pawn, then it's easily deciphered, that the Wife of Bath (No 23) is followed by 7 others (No 24-30) and the Physician (No 22) is preceded by 7 others (No 15-21). In this situation helps the block of 6 persons, which (according text) travel together: Haberdasher, Carpenter, Arras-maker, Dyer and Weaver, which employ a 6th person, the Cook, for their needs (15-20). This big 6-persons-group naturally MUST BE pawns, as they can't be sorted elsewhere. It's confusing, that the group starts at Nr. 15 (and not at Nr. 17) and Chaucer had installed his "29 travelers riddle" to add to the confusion, but finally it's clear, that there are pawns from 15 - 22, and that the 6-men-group is completed with 21 The Shipman and 22 The Physician.

Chaucer transfers and changes the professions of the earlier Cessolis interpretation, but keeps in this row to the Physician as Queen's pawn, uses his Cook as Innkeeper (Cessolis-figure) and likely understands the shipman as the funny messenger or player from Cessolis. From the 5 professions the Arras-maker, Dyer and Weaver seem to be connected professions and in context to a "shipman" I feel there's something of the story of Ulysses and Penelope. But the evidence is thin, as there are no stories of Haberdasher & Co and only the Cook gets a short passage, which Chaucer never finished:
Decription: The Cook reflects on the Reeve's tale and the Host asks the Cook to tell the next tale. The story introduces an apprentice nicknamed Perkin Reveller. Perkin is a thief, a drunk and a rioter. Chaucer has never finished the Cook's tale.
Perkin Reveller is, beside other nasty occupations, a dice-player (see the short unfinished Cook Tale. This naturally fits with the Cessolis iconography, which knows the messengeras Dice Player with 3 dice in his hands.


The 5-persons-arrangement would make possibly more sense, if "Carpenter" would be - as Penelope - Carpet-Producer or had something to do with carpets. Possibly a reading error?


... :-) ... so far I think, that's enough to explain my own statement at the begin of the article ...
Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" belong to the category "Framed Story" and also - possibly - to the category "Framed story with Game structure", though this is far from sure, as the Tales were never completed.
The related game is Chess ... in this case.
The link ...
... gives the content, which I modified according my interest
Chaucer's riddle:

Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

29 are on their way to Canterbury, so declares the text. You may count them, they are introduced.

1 - (043-078): The Knight
2 - (079-100): The Squire
3 - (101-117): The Yeoman
4 - (118-162): The Prioress
5-6-7-8 - (163-164): The Second Nun and Three Priests
9 - (165-207): The Monk
10 - (208-271): The Friar
11 - (272-286): The Merchant
12 - (287-310): The Clerk
13 - (311-332): The Sergeant of the Law
14 - (333-362): The Franklin
15-16-17-18-19 - (363-380): The Haberdasher, Carpenter, Arras-maker, Dyer and Weaver
20 - (381-389): The Cook
21 - (390-412): The Shipman
22 - (413-446): The Physician
23 - (447-478): The Wife of Bath
24 - (479-530): The Parson
25 - (531-543): The Plowman
26 - (544-568): The Miller
27 - (569-588): The Manciple
28 - (589-624): The Reeve
29 - 625-670: The Summoner
30 - 671-716: The Pardoner
****************** .... it are 30, not 29

717-785: The proposal of the Host
786-811: The rules of the game
812-823: The agreement
824-860: Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) - "The Canterbury Tales", from General Prologue, ll. 824-860
I arranged the figures on a chessboard for a better overview to my considerations.


In a recent discussion with Franco I described it in this way:
One has to follow the numbers, they are arranged as in Chaucer's representation. ... 1 Knight is the father of 2 Squire and 3 Yeoman is the servant (green). Prioress and 2nd Nun and 3 priests travel together(4-8, yellow). Light blue (9-14) has three pairs, 2 from the church, 2 for justice, and two others (interpreted as 3 chess officers with 3 connected pawns). 15-20 is a group of 6 professions, 4 professions connected to the textile industry, a carpenter (connection to Jesus ?) and a cook, these all travel together (the 5 travel together together and have an own cook, which is the 6th). The Physician as Queen's pawn, appears in the Cessolis order. The shipman as King's pawn is used on the picture of 1346, which you send me recently (21-22). The connection to the last vertical line is easy (23 Wife of Bath), cause she is only remaining female figure and she MUST be the Queen. Now the question arises, who shall be the King on the right side of the table. The Parson and the Plowman are brothers. The Summoner and the Pardoner travel together, so they are also a pair. Manciple and Reeve have both administrative functions, so they are also a pair. It stays, that the Miller is the last "free man" and the King at the right side of the board (cause the chess officers demand 3 pairs). The free man (the Miller) is a natural object for the Wife of Bath, who was already married 5 times. As Chaucer left the text unfinished, we don't know, if ever happened something between them ... in the secret literary plan of Chaucer (24-30).
The last two figures are naturally 31 "Chaucer himself" and 32 Host, who had the idea of the Canterbury contest and who plays the referee in the following activities. The Host is naturally the King at the left side.

The Miller uses wind as the Shipman, his pawn. His "wheel" possibly associates "Fate" or "Fortune". He is described in a negative manner, with red beard, possibly with "devil"-function. The wife of Bath has rather obviously Venus-function in the text.

The whole somehow presents the social model "feudalism versus new city-pride", a common situation late 14th century.
I've to add the quite interesting picture, that Franco send to me recently: A very early (1346) presentation of the chess figures in the manner of the Cessolis manuscripts, in which the chess king was accompanied by a ship-pawn (I don't remember to have seen this combination elsewhere).


King with ship-pawn, Queen with physician

The frame-story of Egyptian initiation

This is a continuation of Bertrand's and Huck's earlier remarks about Paul Christian's frame story in L'Homme Rouge des Tuileries, 1863, where the tarot appears in a manuscript imagined as translated from a papyrus in Hebrew, signed by a certain rabbi of Alexandria and found in the mid-18th century in a Vatican attic. I don't want to talk about that frame-story, but rather the one in his 1870 book L'Histoire de la Magie, framing a very similar account of 22 very tarot-like images (although he doesn't use the word). Christian thereby initiated a new "frame story" that became quite popular, that of a secret initiation into an ancient Egyptian priesthood. That book was translated into English as History and Practice of Magic in 1952, although the translation is not 100% reliable. The French original is on Gallica,

Christian begins (p. 98 of original, 81 of translation) by describing the measurements of the Great Pyramid, I expect drawn from French archeological reports, as it is reasonably accurate. Then comes the measurements of the Sphinx. Its height, he says, is about 75 feet, from breast to chin 50 feet and from chin to the top of the head 25 feet. Apparently the Sphinx was only dug out above breast level at the time of these measurements.

He then gives an allegorical account of the four parts of the sphinx: woman's head, bull's body, lion's paws, eagle's wings. representing intelligence, determination, the strength to fight, and cunning (the Sphinx blends its wings into the body so that they are hidden) with, if needed, "the heights of audacity" (trans. p. 87). These four beasts are also at the origin of another of his slogans, "to will" (the bull), "to know" (the woman), "to dare" (the lion), and "to be silent" (that is, not reveal your plans ahead of time, just as the eagle hides its powerful wings). He does not say where this allegorical interpretation comes from. He does not mention whether the features of a woman extend down as far as the breasts.

Then comes the initiation itself, which Christian oddly says is from a treatise by the fourth century philosopher Iamblichus. In a footnote he even gives a precise reference, in Greek and Latin, to the bilingual edition published in Oxford in 1678, "Iamblichi de mysteriis Aegyptiorum". I say "oddly" because anyone who checked would find no such account in that work. For those without Latin and Greek, there was also an English translation in print, by Thomas Taylor (below left, with a Latin version from Gallica on the left).
The title, which was not Iamblichus's own, seems to have prompted a little practical joke on Christian's part. This is not atypical for Christian: Decker, Dummett, and Depaulis (henceforth DDD) relate (Wicked Pack of Cards, 1996, p. 196f) that he once wrote an eight volume, 400 pages each, Heroes des Christianismeunder the persona of a Trappist monk named Dom Marie-Bernard, as Christian, the presumed editor, explained in his fifty page introduction. It was only in the last volume that he revealed that he himself had been the author all along. Marie-Bernard had been his own religious name as a Trappist novice.

Our frame-story starts with the postulant entering a bronze door at the foot of the Sphinx. From there he will travel to vaults beneath the Great Pyramid. The door can be seen in an engraving in the book, presumably of the Sphinx as it was in the time of the Magi.
I would guess that the engraving is an extrapolation based on a photo published in Paris in 1854, taken by an American who had visited the site (above; the words in red, here and elsewhere in this post, are mine). One could imagine hidden wings along the side, but not breasts. In contrast, the engraving has prominent wings and perhaps just a suggestion of small breasts.
do not know if any Greek sphinx descriptions had her with a bull's body. From what I have seen, the body is simply that of a lion, as it is in the frontispiece of Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptus ( ... -aegyp.png). It may be that Christian just needed a bull's body so that he could say that all of Ezekiel's animals are represented.

Here, for comparison, is the Sphinx as it can be seen when fully excavated. As you see, no wings, no breasts, no body of a bull.
There does seem to be the suggestion of underground vaults, but they are in front of the Sphinx, not inside or behind.

For what was lower than in Greene's photo, people had Greco-Roman statues of the god Nilo, god of the Nile, to which a sphinx was usually inserted in one corner.. There are many in Italy, some of which surely were known in Christian's time. Two are in the Vatican museum. One (my photo) clearly has breasts, the other (from the Vatican Museums website) seems more masculine. Both are Roman, 1st or 2nd century c.e.
Christian's mentor Eliphas Levi (a neighbor, DDD say, p. 194), unlike Christian, seems to have allowed for both types. He used both in illustrations of his proposed tarot cards. Compare his Chariot (from his 1856 Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in Gallica) to his Wheel (from the 1861 La clef des grands mystères, also in Gallica).

Although Christian may have decided that the sphinx was female and winged, his artist may have preferred the ambiguous portrayal. There is one more sphinx in Christian's 1870 book, in the frontispiece. It is suitably ambiguous; even the face is androgynous-looking. Its wings must be well hidden indeed.
After giving the symbolism of the sphinx's four parts, Christian announces what, in his view, the Sphinx as a whole represented in ancient Egypt:
It was the symbol of the incalculable strength that can be used by the human will when directed by the highest intelligence. It is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last word of the great initiation.
That certainly makes it a suitable object to enter for what he plans next.

The "Great Initiation"

From the Sphinx, according to the document Christian says he is reproducing in translation, the postulant and his initiators travel through tunnels to secret vaults under the Great Pyramid. He is first given a couple of tests of his will in the face of death. He is given to understand at one point that he is on the edge of a precipice, and they are waiting for the drawbridge. It is a lie to see if he draws back. Then he encounters a figure of death wielding a scythe, which it sends toward his head seven times, but only ruffling his hair .Here the two initiators have a lion's head, representing the Sun, and a bull's, representing the Moon, Christian explains.
Another test is to place him in front of a passageway that ends in darkness and narrows to the point where he will not even be able to fit crawling on hands and knees. He is told to enter it. He does so and the door clangs shut. Carrying the lamp he has been given, he crawls on, while a far-off voice declares "Here perish all the fools who coveted knowledge and power!"

Eventually he finds himself in front of a vast pit and a ladder which proves to have 78 steps. Climbing down, he finds that they simply end, with no bottom in sight. He retraces his steps and notices an opening in the wall which he can reach by stepping off the ladder into the crevice, which he does. It leads to a spiral staircase of 22 steps, at the end of which is a grating through which he can see a gallery of wall paintings. A Magus lets him in, saying that these are "symbols the understanding of which creates for the heart of man an invulnerable armor", and while he contemplates them, the Magus will explain them. Christian gives an explication, first saying what the image expresses in the divine, intellectual, and physical worlds, then analyzing the symbolism, and finally ending with an exhortation.

After the exposition on the 22nd fresco in the hall, the initiation master gives two summaries of them, one point by point and the other in the form of a summary paragraph. These characterizations, here and in the earlier 1863 version, are the first in print for what would soon become standard occultist lore. For the moment I wish to focus on the frame and skip the 22 frescoes of instruction.

After the 22 explanations, the postulant is given two more tests. In one, he has to pass through a curtain of fire. In the second, he has to traverse a passageway filled with water. It gets progressively deeper until with one more step his head will be covered. But then it gets shallower again and he emerges unharmed but soaking wet. He is confronted with a door knocker in the shape of a uroborus (snake biting its tail). Pulling it, a trap door falls open beneath him, and he grabs the knocker for dear life. The trap door quickly closes. He is then led into a vast hall whose walls are covered with astrological symbols and with a colossal statue of Isis behind the Hierophant's throne. He is greeted by the assembled magi and sworn to eternal silence about his experiences. Then he is given two goblets and told that one of them contains poison that will kill him instantly. He is to drink from whichever he chooses. If he refuses, he is imprisoned for "seven moons" and given another chance, with as many more repetitions as needed. Drinking from one of them shows again that he does not fear death. In actual fact neither contains poison, we are assured.

Then he is congratulated, given food and drink, new clothes, and a royal bedroom. Sensuous music serenades him, and a curtain is drawn at the end of the room to reveal young girls, the daughters of the Magi, in short tunics dancing. They scatter, all except two who capture him in a chain of roses and dance wildly around him, "each in turn shaking the chain to provoke him into a choice. The Magi are secretly observing him to see if he betrays the least weakness. If he did, he would be struck dead on the spot. But of course he remains motionless. An engraving in Christian's book illustrates the scene.

With that the postulant is finally declared an initiate, with the rank of Zealot. He is given more instruction, about how in the advanced level if chosen he will learn prophecy and theurgy, that is the ability to discover in the past the reasons for the present and "unveil the future". There follows a procession of all the Magi and one final vision, that of how "perjurers meet their end". First the postulant hears the screams of a man in agony, then silence; then he sees a sphinx tearing at the man's body (at right, p. 143). The postulant almost faints. It is a mechanical sphinx with an artificial victim, we are assured.

There follows a "religious banquet", and the account of the initiation is at an end.

Source of the frame story: some dubious candidates

This frame story was very influential. Of later writers on the tarot, only C. C. Zain in the United States, starting in 1918, actually repeated the claim that the tarot sequence was contained in "The Mysteries" by Iamblichus; it can be read in his book, reproduced on the Internet to this day. The translation from Christian's French done for Zain was published separately in 1965, with Iamblichus listed as an author, according to WorldCat.

There is really no excuse for repeating Christian's falsehood, because Thomas Taylor's English translation of the work by Iamblichus had been reprinted in 1895 and was readily available.

In 1896, in his rewrite of Christian's account, this one memorable mainly for the cards that came with it, Robert Falconnier did not attribute the account to Iamblichus but said he used translations provided for him by the Cairo Museum. Moreover, some of the designs could be seen in the astronomical ceiling.

Of course the facts were the reverse; the cards he produced were based on that ceiling, which had been ripped out of its original location in 1821 and installed in the Louvre.

Another version was that of a certain M. E. van den Berg in 1981, who declared that Christian had used an 18th century German manuscript that van den Berg was now presenting in Dutch. On WorldCat we find the title for this book: Egyptische Mysterien: verslag van een invijding naar een 18e eeuws manuscript (Egyptian mysteries: report of an initiation in an 18th century manuscript). There is also a summary, "Reconstructie van de inwijdingsriten in het oude Egypte" (Reconstruction of the initiation rites in ancient Egypt).

In 1988 the Dutch version was reprinted (at left below) under a different title , Egyptische mysteriën: inwijding in de esoterische tarot (Egyptian Mysteries: Initiation in [or into] the Esoteric Tarot , with the same author, M. E. van den Berg. WorldCat offers the summary
Verslag van een oude Egyptische inwijding in 22 fasen en de samenhang hiervan met de inhoud en betekenis van de 22 Grote Arcana van de Tarot.

(Report of an ancient Egyptian initiation in 22 phases and its consistency with the content and significance of the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot.)
In the same year the American publishing firm of S. Weiser put out a version in English (at right above), under the title Egyptian Mysteries: An Account of an Initiation. Weiser notes on the page facing the title page that the book wa "first published in Dutch in 1981 by Uitgeverij Schors", then giving the original Dutch title. "Uitgeverij" means "Publishing house". Mr. van den Berg is not mentioned. Nor is he mentioned in the WorldCat entries for this book. Instead "Iamblichus, Chalcidensis" is listed as the author. However one entry, surely by a library rather than the publisher, has a note:
Notes: Translation of: Egyptische mysterien, which is a Dutch translation of an anonymous 18th century manuscript initiation rite (of the Illuminati?)--cf. Introd.
The text of this translation is similar, but not identical, to that found in book 2, chapters 1-5, of The history and practice of magic / by Paul Christian. London : Forge Press, 1952.
Often attributed, incorrectly, to Iamblichus.
The last sentence is correct. The second sentence is correct only in a very broad sense of "similar", as I will show. The first sentence is only true as a report of what the Introduction says. However that Introduction is highly suspect, as I shall argue.

Needless to say, van den Berg in his introduction provided no evidence for his claim. Also, the language is quite different, as can be seen by comparing the two. For example, here are the comparable passages on arcanum 6, "The two roads".

The two accounts are obviously different. Among other things, the womaon with flowers is"virtue" in Christian, "sensuality" (i.e. vice) in van den Bosch, and the one with vine-leaves is vice in Christian and "wisdom" (i.e. virtue) in van den Bosch. There is also van den Bosch's "love" vs. "beauty", both absent rom Christian. Moreover, even the imagery described is not quite the same, in that the arrow points differently in each.

There are many other discrepancies, even in the imagery. The Priestess of card 2 and High Priest of 5 both hold the two keys seen on Wirth's deck (1889), but not mentioned by Christian; Card 13 is Waite's knight surrounded by devastation, not Christian's skeleton; card 19 is "a knight on a white horse doing and poweful jump"--the standard 18th century Belgian-pattern image--as opposed to Christian's "two small children, pictures of innocence" (p. 131). This is a melange of different decks.

In 1998 Lewis Keizer and Payne-Towler used van den Berg's claim, still unverified, along with that of an internet writer named Michael Poe, to justify the assumption of an "underground stream" sustaining the tarot from ancient Alexandria to its emergence into the light of day in 15th century Italy.
Poe's claim was that he had an archeological report translated for him (into English) from the French Archeological Institute in Cairo., of a series of frescoes in a temple of Serapis in Naples, unfortunately destroyed by bombing in World War II. Needless to say, he provided no evidence of his claim, not even any actual quotes from the report. I do not know if at the time it was easy to upload images onto the Web, but it certainly was afterwards. Instead he removed his "report". However I once printed it out, the much later scanned the print out to my computer.
About Pozzuoli, here is the site, safely underwater.
However it is not always so:
Archeologists have determined that it was merely a marketplace.

Poe said he got the idea of writing the French archeological institute from a work by Bromage, who said "The tarot, of course, originated from the Temple of Serapis in Naples." I got the work via Interlibrary Loan. What he says, in the book Occult Arts of Ancient Egypt, is not quite as Poe put it, but equally unsubstantiated.
If there is such evidence, Bromage has not given us much help in locating it. A reference to an archeological report would have been nice.

Sources for the frame-story with more plausibility

Before signing off on this post, I want to ask, could Christian's account with any plausibility have been an 18th century document? For the moment I am only considering the frame story.

One precedent is the novel Sethos, first published 1831, set in ancient Egypt. It imagines tests and cites authorities, as though drawn from ancient sources. There are four such tests in the initiation presented there, one for each of the four elements. This novel was immensely popular and is said to have influenced Masonic initiation rites in an Egyptian direction. Christian's version of the test by water may have something to do with Sethos.

There is also a suggestion made by DDD (p. 205) :
Christian may have borrowed some details from the imaginary ancient Egyptian texts and ceremonies in the late XVIII-century work Crata Repoa.
They refer us to their Introduction and to a footnote for more. It is true that the tone of the Krata Repoa is reminiscent of Christian's. It is a work that had been translated into French in 1821, as Gallica confirms (see below).
This short work has been translated into English by Nick Farrell, 2009, and is available on the Web ( The French translation is also online; I have checked it against Farrell and Farrel's is accurate.

Like Christian's fantasy, there are tests as part of the initiation. There is even a reference to Iamblichus, although in only the most general terms, not as the author of the document. The early terms have to do with not fearing death. An ax is swung at the candidate, then he is wound in cloth strips like a mummy. In another, he is grabbed by others, a noose is put around his head, thunder sounds, and so on. In another he told to walk down a dark passageway and decapitate the person at the end. It is a beautiful woman, whom he decapitates without hesitation. Bringing it back, he is told that he has successfully decapitated the Gorgon, I think meaning the Medusa. We are assured that it was merely a wax model, not a real person. To reach the second highest grade, "demiurgos", he has to watch a grisly drama in which a brute of a man kills a monster with serpents for arms. It is identified as Typhon.

These tests have something in common with Christian's but are not the same. He could easily rewrite the one about the axe with a scythe instead. The drama at the end parallels the one in Crata Rapoa, and actually has a point, namely, to remind the initiate about his vow of silence. The decapitation scene has thankfully been turned into an attempted seduction instead, which gets gruesome only if the seduction succeeds. And of course Christian has added the 22 frescoes. It seems clear that Christian's is post-Crata Rapoa.

There is another source, it seems to me, that is generally overlooked: Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. First performed in 1791, it remained immensely popular all over Northern Europe. Mozart had won over the French already by adapting Beaumarchais' play Le Mariage de Figaro. The Magic Flute not only has an Egyptian setting, but has hymns to Isis and Osiris (first below), processions of Initiates, trials by water and fire (second below), and descents into dark pits. These last are to show their resolve in the face of death.
They are also instructed to observe strict silence and particularly to avoid any women they may see (yes, you saw a woman with the man before the trials by water and fire; there is a plot twist in which the heroine gets admitted to the initiation and ends up an initiate). The hero Tamino manfully proves himself in both (prior to his love-interest's being allowed to join him), while his companion, Papageno, who wasn't really interested in initiation anyway, fails both, even though the woman they presented him with was a toothless old hag. Papageno not only talks to her but agrees, jokingly, to marry her. Then (as in the Arthurian legend about Gawain and Lady Ragnell), the old hag is revealed to really be a beautiful young woman, Papageno's exact counterpart. She is dragged away from Papageno's gaze.
In despair Papageno attempts to commit suicide. Apparently that shows he no longer fears death; he can then have the girl after all.

There is no gallery of paintings, but the characters in the opera are suspiciously like the tarot figures and engage in situations like those on the cards. I'll go into those details in another post.

So far, it is possible that someone near the end of the 18th century wrote the frame story, but it seems much more likely it is Christian's invention. After all, it is in his book that it first appears, and not even in the original version of the tarot interpretations but in a later one (yet with a very similar account of the 22 images).

I hope you enjoyed the slide show.

Re: Collection Frame Stories

Bertrand wrote,
Back to Christian's and his frame stories, the description of the 22 "arcana" (the term he was first to use for the cards according to Depaulis) found on the link you gave earlier is included in the narrative as the transcription of a "manuscript" written by an old man and given to a young Napoleon. Said manuscript is said to be inspired by researches from a bishop whose mid XVIIIth century story is told by said old man to said "soon to be emperor".
It turns out later that the old man is in fact the bishop and that the framed narrative was his personal story. The old man vs bonaparte story is itself framed by P.Christian's first person narrative prologue and epilogue.
Actually, there is one more frame. The manuscript itself frames the account of the 78 "arcana" with some Kabbalistic/Hermetic lore at the beginning, situating the 78 in the cosmos, and then at the end, after the exposition of the 78, a large amount of astrology, as the 78 are merely adjuncts to the a natal horoscope. I have discussed both parts in another thread, the astrology at viewtopic.php?p=19582#p19582 and the introductory material at viewtopic.php?p=19732#p19732. For the astrology I used Christian's later book, Histoire de la Magie, where he put it in Book VI, That book, of course, had a different frame-story, that of an Egyptian initiation, which I have discussed at length earlier in this thread.

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