In this post I want to examine one feature in particular of the Bateleur (Magician), starting with the PMB, namely, his hat, in relation to his table and his position in the sequence as number one.
On the Bembine Tablet, which Pietro Bembo purchased in 1527 but probably was known before that (if perhaps stolen in the Sack of Rome), in one section a series of gods and priests have headdresses with horizontal wavy horns, as well as a ram. Similar horns, sometimes on a goat and sometimes with a solar disc held between a set of vertical horns, are on various reliefs in Egypt itself (of which I will show one in the image following, and another later on in this post)
At Dendera, to which I have already related several tarot motifs, these same horns are on figures on the exterior wall:
The ram or goat relates them to the sacred animal of the creator god Amun. Herodotus had talked about these animals in his Histories.
About the god with the head of a ram he said (Histories II 42, at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/tex ... D2&force=y
; the comment in brackets is mine, from a footnote at that site):
The Thebans, and those who by the Theban example will not touch sheep, give the following reason for their ordinance: they say that Heracles [Herodotus' name for the god Shu, a footnote tells us] wanted very much to see Zeus and that Zeus did not want to be seen by him, but that finally, when Heracles prayed, Zeus contrived  to show himself displaying the head and wearing the fleece of a ram which he had flayed and beheaded. It is from this that the Egyptian images of Zeus have a ram's head; and in this, the Egyptians are imitated by the Ammonians, who are colonists from Egypt and Ethiopia and speak a language compounded of the tongues of both countries.  It was from this, I think, that the Ammonians got their name, too; for the Egyptians call Zeus “Amon”. The Thebans, then, consider rams sacred for this reason, and do not sacrifice them.
So in Egypt the king of the gods had the head of a ram. On the other hand, in Lower Egypt, at the town of Mendes, it was goats that were not sacrificed.
All that have a temple of Zeus of Thebes or are of the Theban district sacrifice goats, but will not touch sheep.  For no gods are worshiped by all Egyptians in common except Isis and Osiris, who they say is Dionysus; these are worshiped by all alike. Those who have a temple of Mendes or are of the Mendesian district sacrifice sheep, but will not touch goats.
By inference, it is the goat-god that is worshiped there, to the same effect. In other words, the original "goat of Mendes", as Eliphas Levi described his famous picture resembling a Devil, is that pictured above.
There is also a relief inside the "birth house" at Dendera (above) that shows a similar god at a potter's wheel making a human being, or at least its body. Modern Egyptology identifies that god as Khnum, but I do not know of any Greek text ascribing that function to a god of that name. (Decker in The Esoteric Tarot
cites Eusebius, but a quick check online, at http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/euseb ... _book1.htm
, reveals that the god to which Decker refers, which Eusebius calls Cneph and Tauthus, has the body of a serpent and the head of a hawk!)
However, one of the Hermetic texts identifies the potter-god as none other than Hermes, as the Greeks called him, Thoth to the Egyptians (as Eusebius among many others explains). Excerpt 23 of the Roman-era anthology by Strobaeus, in in Scott's translations of the Hermetica (vol. 1 p. 475), has Hermes relating how he got the job of forming the human body. Originally, the dialogue relates, the God of all gave the souls the job of forming bodies for themselves out of a mixture of water and earth, in which he had breathed in a certain life-giving spirit. Instead, they created all the various animals and set themselves up as creator-gods. The "god of all" wanted to punish the souls for their audacity by imprisoning them in matter. The job was given to Hermes (Scott trans., vol. 1 pp. 473, 475):
"And I," said Hermes, "sought to find out what material I was to use, and I called upon the Sole Ruler, and he commanded the souls to hand over the residue of the mixture. But when I received it, I found that it was quite dried up. I therefore used much water for mixing with it; and when I had thereby renewed the liquid consistency of the stuff, I fashioned bodies out of it. And the work of my hands was fair to view, and I was glad when I looked on it. And I called on the Sole Ruler to inspect it, and he saw it, and was glad; and he gave the order that the souls should be embodied."
The result of course was much wailing and weeping on the part of the souls thus imprisoned, but they could do nothing about it.
Modern Egyptology identifies the potter god as Khnum, but that would not have been known to the pre-19th century Western Europeans. With two accounts of different gods, one identified with Hermes and the other with Zeus,p erforming functions attributed to the Christian God, pre-19th century Europeans would simply have seen them as two aspects of "the Creator". Given that the Bateleur has on his table or in his hands symbols readily identifiable with the four elements, it would be natural to identify his magic as that of the creation of the material circumstances of life, the physical world as a whole and individual humans in particular. Just as the dealer in a card game (with cards bearing the same symbols) gives each player its "lot" in the game, so the creator gives each soul its "lot" in the world, to make of as they will. As creator, moreover, he would naturally be number one, the number numerologically associated with God the source of all.
De Gebelin identified the Bateleur as the creator of this world of illusion, a comparison found in Plato's Republic
which the 19th century occultists echoed by identifying the Bateleur with the Creator. But he and they, it seems to me, were most likely just following a tradition that preceded them, for the reasons I have outlined. Herodotus's account and the Bembine Tablet were well known by the 17th century, and, by then, probably images of the same god from Roman-era at Dendera and elsewhere, such as the one below, which I reproduce from Brian Ines's The Tarot
In fact this interpretation will fit even the earliest known version of the card, the PMB of 1450s Milan. The jagged lines of the hat do not fit that of the Visconti pages, which are more elegant, nor the more vertically enlarged hats of condottiere. The solar disc between the vertical pair of horns on that disc would have been painted red originally, corresponding precisely to the red dome of the hat, both in the PMB and most Tarot de Marseille versions.
Such images could have been known even in the time and place of the first card, because it is where Ciriaco d'Ancona spent his last days, the early 1450s. He was in Cremona, where and when the PMB was originally done. Ciriaco had visited Egypt three times, getting as far as the Cairo area, sketching antiquities as he went. Upon his return he shared what he had found with the rulers of the Italian states, e.g. Leonello d'Este of Ferrara in 1449. Bianca Maria Visconti, Duchess of Milan, and part of the time her husband Duke Francesco Sforza, commissioners of the PMB cards, were also there in Cremona then, escaping an outbreak of plague in Milan; Ciriaco surely would have given his talk and shown his sketches. By then he had written six volumes of illustrated commentaries about Greece and Egypt . Most were later destroyed in a fire at Pesaro, where they had been handed down to another Sforza who ruled that region. A few became famous before that: his giraffe, for sure, and probably other African animals (they show up as far away as Flanders, in the "Paradise" panel of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights
, but nothing of Egyptian antiquities. And while Ciriaco might not have known the significance of that god, there was another expert in Cremona at that same time, also escaping the plague, namely Francesco Filelfo, who had spent years in Constantinople while in diplomatic service, copying and studying the ancient Greek classics, which I expect would have included Herodotus.
I concede that associating the PMB with the creator-god is quite speculative, but a similar association in the 17th century is much less so, and I think even earlier, if some of the hats on other decks are any indication, in particular the horn-like appendages extending from the hat of both the Rosenwald, early 16th century, and the Anonymous Parisian (2nd from left and far left below).
The Cary Sheet card (2nd from right) does not have such a hat. Given that the Cary Sheet has numerous cards similar to the Tarot de Marseille later, and the Geoffroy (far right) is the first with the Tarot de Marseille order, it is somewhat surprising that the Tarot de Marseille design passed over both of these decks and took the hat of the PMB instead. It suggests to me the likelihood of a deliberate choice to use something that would associate the card with what they would see as the creator god or gods of Egypt.
There are independent reasons for thinking that the PMB card does not refer merely to the itinerant, one- step-ahead-of the law entertainer, swindler, and patent medicine seller of medieval Italy. Besides his number, always the lowest triumph, hence the first, and symbols of the four elements on his table, there is also the straw hat, later converted to a purse, which to me resembles the cover on the communion cup of the Eucharist; it is there, and in the Magician's hat, where the magic takes place. And in addition, his face, which resembles that of Jesus in the Bembo paintings of the Coronation and the Ascension, below (both dated at the 1440s; the reproductions come from Bendera and Tanzi's catalog to the 2013 Bembo exhibiton at the Brera, with my enlargements of the faces, together with that of the PMB, on the right).
In other words, the creator in the sense in which the Gospel of John proclaims "Through him were all things made." These are not generic faces, such as we see in the later Visitation of the Magi, but rather specific; the only other Bembo faces it resembles that I have found are those of King David in an illuminated manuscript and the King of Cups in both the CY and PMB.
Another correspondence is with a couple of cards that do not have the wide-brimmed hat, namely the Ferrara, 16th century, and Catelin Geoffroy, 1557, to which the figure of the man at the entrance to the garden of life passing out handouts, illustrating the Tablet of Cebitis, is similar. Here with the Ferrara I would compare only the hat on Holbein's 1523 original; on the later (version D, it is called, artist unknown), The comparison with the Geoffroy is fuller, including stick and beard as well as hat.
Admittedly this "genius" is not a creator of bodies; the theme is Plato's more familiar one of souls' acquisition before birth of images of the archetypes needed to survive this world; the tarot sequence is another example of such archetypes.