Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#41
I was being unclear. One could call any research program's hypotheses and methodological canons a framing myth (or more politely, a paradigm). My notion is that many modern occultists take as given that the cards' spiritual dimension stems from kabalistic, hermetic, or otherwise archetypal elements in the cards. This presuppostion is historically uncongenial because there is no evidence that such elements were ever incorporated prior to the 19th century.

My positive hypothesis, outlined here, is that there is better evidence for a virtue ethic being incorporated into the cards at their origin. My (completely unproven) hypothesis is that the iconographic traces of this virtue ethic are being misconstrued as hermetic or archetypical by contemporary occultists.I was hoping that the discussion in the cited thread would give me some good tips on what it would take to prove something like this. I believe a monograph along these lines would be beneficial for everyone with an interest in the Tarot as a spiritual or meditative tool.

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#42
Hi, Debra,
debra wrote:The interesting question for me is, what does it mean that tarot is "just a game"?
As the playing-card historians proved, most notably beginning with Dummett's 1980 The Game of Tarot, early Tarot was far more than "just a game". Both in terms of the iconography of the trump cycle and in terms of the uses made of Tarot from an early date, the historians established as fact that it was more than just a game. Of course, no one ever claimed that modern, occult Tarot was just a game either. Again, the playing-card historians detailed and documented the ways in which occult Tarot developed. So why is that particular strawman argument interesting? Occultists make so many bogus claims and arguments that it seem strange to focus on that one. Given that no one has ever made such a claim, the only thing which seems interesting about it is the fact that people keep recycling it.

Best regards,
Michael
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#43
Ah, ok Jim, I see what you're driving at.

I think that if you want to establish that "iconographic traces of [the historical] virtue ethic are being misconstrued as hermetic or archetypical by contemporary occultists" you should begin with the writings and presentations by contemporary occultists.

Who exactly do you have in mind?

This is where to start.

I would also distinguish between "hermetic" and "archetypical" as these are quite different. It would be easier to show that someone has misconstrued a hermetic reference. That would be an historical error.

Showing that someone is misconstruing an archetypical reference--not so easy. Disputing an archetypal interpretation is social-psychological I think.

[edit to elaborate]

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#44
debra wrote:I think that if you want to establish that "iconographic traces of [the historical] virtue ethic are being misconstrued as hermetic or archtypical by contemporary occultists" you should begin with the writings and presentations by contemporary occultists. Who exactly do you have in mind?
Good question. Clearly, I have a lot of reading to do at this end too. I was referring more to the past wrtiers: Eliphaz Levi, Papus, Waite, and Crowley, along with the hints dropped by Blavatsky, Jung, and Gurdjieff/Ouspensky.

My sense is that there is a general ignorance about the virtue ethic as a spiritual discipline (this understanding of classical philosophies was certainly news to me). So contemporary people in search of workable spiritual tradition misread the traces of the once common and very workable virtue ethic as emerging from something more exotic and hidden.

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#46
Well, here's something by a living author, Christine-Payne Towler. However the book is copyright 1999, and whether she still agrees with what follows I don't know. I think once an Arkletter of hers came up for me in a Google search, and she said she'd rethought some things. (I've never met her, even though we live in the same part of the same state.) In any case, On p. 4 of The Underground Stream we read:
A preexisting body of codes and correspondences, coming to us from late antiquity, is the skeletal structure from which Tarot is formed, as I hope these essays begin to demonstrate. Based on the Hebrew alphabet, Kaballah, Pythagorean number and harmonic theory, and the signs and planets of astrology, this structure is as old as Western Civilization. Before there were Tarot cards, these astro-alphanumeric correspondences between related systems were firmly in place.

I have no doubt that the first Tarot cards were a reflection of these early archetypes, but for safety's sake they were stripped of the letters, numbers and other pagan symbols offensive to the Church...

There's more, but I'll stop for now. Notice she's not disagreeing that what's on the cards are symbols acceptable to the Church, i.e. from the Christian virtue tradition. She's saying that there was at the time a secret tradition for interpreting these inoffensive symbols in another way, a way that was suppressed by the church but can be reconstructed through recovered historical knowledge of esoteric traditions from the period before around 1500.

That is harder to argue against. Presumably she has facts, or alleged facts, that support her. You have to show that these "facts" are in fact bogus, or highly dubious, or at least insufficient to have generated anything like what she wants there to be. For example, she says in the next sentence,
Unfortunately, even in this humbler form, Tarot was considered incendiary because of the Cathar-influenced images they contained, and two centuries of bans and persecutions followed.
If you go to Aeclectic Tarot Forum, you will find many evidence-based arguments against the idea that the tarot contained Cathar-influenced images. If you go to Andrea Vitale's essays for the Associazione le Tarot, you will find much evidence that tarot wasn't banned or persecuted. And so forth.

Even then, the proponents don't just go away; they reformulate their views in more historically sophisticated ways. It wasn't banned, but the images of the Popess and the Pope were often changed to something else, like "papi" or Juno and Jupiter, to satisfy the authorities, and that is evidence for the whole sequence being shaped so as to avoid persecution. And rather than Cathar-influenced images, we have alchemy-influenced images, and everyone knows where alchemy came from (i.e. Alexandrian Egypt). Or perhaps there were no secret sets of Pythagorean, Neoplatonic, or Kabbalist interpretations at first, but they started latching onto the cards as a kind of after-birth soon after, by the 1470s or 1480s. I myself have entertained such thoughts on this Forum, and have welcomed debate in the proper arena: that is, in the nitty-gritty of historical coincidences of particular ideas and images in particular places, works, etc. Indeed, in the pages of Wicked Pack of Cards itself (pp. 33-34), I find an openness to such debate, as long as it is grounded in publicly verifiable evidence as opposed to documents seen by the writer (or given to, in a trance) that they are not in a position to show others, or documents that by their very nature could not exist. Arguments from coincidence in time and place are also what we use to argue for the "virtue" interpretation itself; it is only a matter of going from the masses to an elite--and also from higher standards of evidence to lower, if there was a real threat of persecution for particular interpretations.

And if I may return to the subject of this thread (and yes, Jim, I read your new statement on a new thread), I am beginning to wonder if even the "virtue" iconography wasn't influenced by alchemy. Because right around 1430 there appears in France and maybe elsewhere a "new iconography" (the historians' term, not mine) unlike the preceding. The lady is shown not grabbing a lion's jaws or crushing it underfoot, but subduing a very small dragon at the base of a small tower hardly taller than she is that seems to have its entrance at waist level. The tower is just the right size to be an oven, and looks much like alchemical drawings of ovens, while the dragon is quite fire-like, and indeed dragons (and lions) in alchemy represented fire and primitive volatility. There was the need in alchemical processes to turn down the heat at a certain point, and for that there was an apparatus said to have been invented by a lady Jewish alchemist named Maria (now I'm going to have Sound of Music in my head the rest of the night), a kind of double-boiler; and even today in France there is the "bain-marie".

The tarot image, of course, was not influenced by this change in how the virtue of fortitude was portrayed (although it might add meaning to the pillar that she holds, when it isn't broken, and the lion she holds as well). I am only using it as a possible example of the effect of alchemy on the imagery in miniatures, and perhaps of analogies being drawn then between disciplines.

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#47
When it comes to any subject I know about, Christine's essays strike me as riddled with errors and misreadings... her Gra related chronology I find bizarre, she quotes Kaplan's SY in ways that to my understanding is a complete misrepresentation or a failure in understanding due to biased reading.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#48
MIke seems to want to give Christine the benefit of the doubt, but there is none - she is simply wrong. Tarot was not the subject of a secret tradition of interpretation, much less invented to encode one. I'd say there's a 5-Sigma level of certainty about that - less than a one-in-a-million chance there was a secret, esoteric, occult, Western-Hermetic interpretation of the Tarot in an "underground stream" before circa 1780. The burden of proof is on her and people like her that make those assertions to prove them, not those sober historians who follow the Standard Model to disprove their assertions.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. "Assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" ("Hitchens' razor") etc.

The closest thing to a "tradition" of interpreting the Tarot sequence in an allegorical way is something I helped publish two years ago, the Anonymous Discorso of circa 1565. It is known in at least 6 different copies, dating from the mid-16th to early 17th centuries. The number of copies is evidence of an interest in the allegorical interpretation of the Tarot, albeit localized (they are all in Italian, no translations) and relatively short-lived. It is a very imaginative interpretation of the sequence, and thoroughly "exoteric" and conventional in every way. The images are taken at face value, as in any conventional moralization. It would take Antoine Court de Gébelin and the Comte de Mellet to add the esoteric spin to both the iconography and the sequence.
Image

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#49
I think there maybe an argument along the lines of it sharing the common place of a 'perenial philosophy', which may or may not have been the sort of thing Waite was on about ... I personally don't find that a particularly 'esoteric' idea ...
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Tarot Origins and Early 15th Century Woodblock Printing

#50
The correspondence theories that underlie Payne-Trowler's and many other occult tarot schemes originate with syncretic priesthoods ("my gods aren't obsolete, they correspond with your gods"). Porphyry and Proclus may have had the same conservationist motive when they introduced correspondences and sympathies into Neoplatonism. I do not know how influential the idea is in medieval Europe, but by the time of Ficino, it is generally accessible and quite legitimate.

Frances Yates argues for them being the dominant way the universe is understood from the mid-fifteenth through mid-seventeenth century. But the early history of tarot seems almost a massive counterargument to this assertion, showing no evidence of sympathy and correspondence theory in its iconography or structure (this is true even of the Mantegna cards, which follow the order of the medieval rhetoric texts, and may have been a Lull engine, rather than aligning virtues, muses, metal facilities and people into their proper planetary sphere). It is quite reasonable to search for Neoplatonic influences in the Tarot; but as Ross says, they don't appear to be there to find.

"Perennial philosophy" is a difficult concept to pin down. In addition to the common usage, I've seen it used to refer to natural religion in scholastic writing and natural law in civil law. In these later senses, it is the theological and ethical truth available to any reasoning being. Stoics are the first to claim that true philosophy is an ethics, physics and logic available to all reasoning beings and binding on them, and these natural law and religion ideas originate with them. Hadar applies the term perennial philosophy for the virtue ethic by citing this context.

So claiming a basis of the Tarot in perennial philosophy would be somewhat vague; on the other hand, for a person moved by the concept of a perennial philosophy, seeing it in the cards would be a short step.

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